Air Force Cancels ‘Jesus Loves Nukes’ Training

The Air Force has suspended a course that teaches nuclear officers that Christian ethics permit them to do their job.

The Air Force has suspended a course that teaches nuclear officers that Christian ethics permit them to do their job.

DoD Buzz (“AF suspends ‘Jesus loves nukes’ training“):

Air Force missileers may no longer get decades-old, Bible-centric ethics training, designed to help them resolve moral or religious doubts about the use of nuclear weapons, our own Bryant Jordan reports. The training, known colloquially among the blue-suited as “Jesus loves nukes,” has been in place for 20 years, Jordan writes, and it sounds like a version of what Malcolm McDowell underwent in “A Clockwork Orange:”

Actually, it looks a whole lot like a standard PowerPoint presentation on Just War Theory. Which, well, it is.

Jordan’s account:

The training slides include quotations from the Bible, portraits of Christian saints, prophets, and famous American generals known for their faith, including George Washington, Union Army Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, and Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Every new missile officer had to take the training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, regardless of their own religious beliefs or lack of them, according to [Air Education and Training Command spokesman Dave] Smith.

AETC halted the ethics training last week after an article on the training was posted at Former Air Force Capt. Damon Bosetti — described as a missile officer who took the training in 2006 — said he and others referred to the religious section of the ethics training as the “Jesus loves nukes speech.”

The website also published the training slides, which it acquired from the watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization that has filed numerous lawsuits against the Air Force for allegedly infringing on the rights of religious minorities and non-believers and promoting evangelical Christian beliefs.


[MRFF President Mikey]Weinstein said more than 30 Air Force officers, most of them practicing Protestants and Roman Catholics, contacted his group in July to ask if he could help get rid of the Christian-themed nuclear missile ethics training. The Air Force released the slides under a Freedom of Information Act request.

“If this repugnant nuclear missile training is not constitutionally violative of both the ‘no religious test’ mandate of the Constitution and the First Amendment’s ‘No Establishment’ clause, then those bedrock legal principles simply do not exist,” Weinstein said.

Several nuclear-trained Air Force officers in the comments sections of both posts and on Twitter have stated that they did not receive this training back in the 1990s, which calls into question the notion that it has been in place for 20 years. But that’s not shocking: military units often have little institutional memory, since assignments rarely last more than three or four years.

Regardless, the notion that the Air Force has been run by an “evangelical Christian mafia” has been around for quite some time and this doesn’t help dispel it. The presumption that all officers would be presumed to be religious and should be trained by a chaplain on their ethical responsibilities is simply wrong.

As to the presentation itself, though, I have a hard time getting particularly upset about it. While I’m not only an atheist but an anti-theist, I nonetheless find the PowerPoint rather innocuous. It’s a rather generic ethics presentation, with examples drawn from sports figures, politicians, and military heroes, followed by a standard presentation of Just War Theory as devised by Augustine and other Catholic theologians and built upon by secular scholars in subsequent centuries. Further, the theology is ecumenical, including Catholic and Jewish verses.

My guess is that this will be repackaged in a slightly less theological manner and presented in the future by missile officers rather than chaplains.

via Matt Vallone

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay Tea says:

    Oh, this could be fun for the usual suspects to kick around…


  2. PD Shaw says:

    The emphasis on the religiosity of Stonewall Jackson and Chamberlain has the whiff of Jeff Shaara’s Gods and Generals (1996 novel; 2003 film), so I wouldn’t be surprised if those aspects of the program are closer to 10-15 years old.

    I generally agree with James, Augustine is an important just war philosopher irregardless of his religious precepts. But his views on just war are not universally held by the various sects as the Christian view. To the extent the program suggests otherwise, it does strike me as an establishment problem.

  3. Liberty60 says:

    I haven’t seen the training slides, so I don’t know if they justify some war, limited war, or any and all forms of war as being within Christian doctrine.

    If it somehow teaches that all out nuclear war is within the Just War Christian theology, my concern would be more along the lines of its dishonesty.

    In that, the Just War theory is only one of many, and doesn’t come close to justifying nuclear war.

  4. anjin-san says:

    Oh, this could be fun for the usual suspects to kick around…

    Hmm. Preemptive whining.

  5. Richard Gardner says:

    presented in the future by missile officers rather than chaplains

    Nah, I’ll give you even odds it will be presented by a junior JAG as a lawfare issue.

  6. Jay Tea says:

    @anjin-san: My ego wants me to conclude that my first statement scared off the usual gang of idiots. But realistically, I suspect the Biden/terrorist thread sucked up the oxygen, and a thread on religion just isn’t that interesting to you and your compatriots.

    Which surprised me, as Doug’s headline seemed to make this a ripe thread for religion-bashing. Oh, well…


  7. Debutopia says:

    I’m a big fan of the separation of church and state — this clearly crosses the line. It always surprises me when people of faith do not value this more because clearly they were being exploited by the military for twenty years. For more on this: