“My God, what have we done?” ~ Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay Americans love anniversaries, and especially of horrific events. Every year at this time we are reminded that the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima on Monday, August 6, 1945 (“Little Boy”), and on Nagasaki on Thursday, August 9 (“Fat Man”) ended World War II (or began the Cold War, depending on how you look at it). Since the 9/11 attacks, we have heard a lot of talk about Iraq, Iran, or some terrorist group having weapons of mass destruction; that is, nuclear weapons. Yet, when it is pointed out that the United States is the only country that has actually used these weapons of mass destruction – against civilians no less – we are told that it was necessary to incinerate 200,000 people – civilians – to save the lives of “thousands and thousands” (Harry Truman’s original number) or “millions” (George H. W. Bush’s figure) of American soldiers who might die invading Japan. So, according to the American myth that is trotted out every year, the atomic bombing of Japan was not only justified and necessary, but sane and moral. After all, the U.S. Army Air Force had already killed 100,000 Japanese civilians when it firebombed Tokyo on the night of March 9, 1945, with seventeen hundred tons of bombs. “War is hell.” “All’s fair in love and war.” “Remember Pearl Harbor.” I write now, not about Truman’s decision to drop the bomb or to rethink World War II, but about the United States using nuclear weapons again in another “good war.” It was recently brought to light that U.S. Air Force chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California were appealing to the Bible and just war theory in a mandatory Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare session for missile officers in order to morally and ethically justify the launching of nuclear weapons. In other words, nuke ’em and God will bless you. A watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, filed a complaint on behalf of thirty-one instructor and student missile launch officers. The program has since “been taken out of the curriculum and is being reviewed,” said David Smith, chief of public affairs of Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. It turns out that the Air Force has been citing Christian teachings in its missile officer training materials for twenty years. A forty-three-page PowerPoint presentation given in the Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare session by Chaplain Captain Shin Soh can be viewed here.
Many armchair Christian warriors, Christian Coalition moralists, Religious Right warvangelicals, Reich-wing Christian nationalists, theocon Values Voters, imperial Christians, Red-State Christian fascists, and God and country Christian bumpkins might object, not to the existence of a Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare session that appeals to Scripture to soothe the consciences of religious people, but to the cancellation of such a program because it “takes God out of government” and other nonsense. David French, senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, dismissed complaints about the program as what he called “another attempt to cleanse American history of its religious realities.” “It’s about cleansing religion from the public square and building a completely secular society and military,” added French. I am not one of those Christians and I think French should go to France. I wish I could say that the only things wrong with the PowerPoint presentation are that page sixteen is duplicated and page forty-three is blank. I find the presentation to be a blasphemous misuse and perversion of Scripture to justify the idea that Christians can launch nuclear weapons with the blessing of God. I want to focus on the examples given in the presentation from the Old Testament, the Intertestamental Period, and the New Testament. I reproduce the text of the presentation exactly as it appears. On page eighteen we are told that there are “many examples of believers engaged in wars in the Old Testament.” Here are the four examples we are given:
- Abraham organized an army to rescue Lot (Gen 14)
- Judges (Samson, Deborah, Barak) – God is motivating judges to fight and deliver Israel from foreign oppressors
- David is a warrior who is also a man after God’s own heart
- Hebrews 11:32-34 uses as examples of true faith those OT believers who engaged in war in a righteous way
Chaplain Shin Soh should have just said what he meant: Abraham organized an army to rescue Lot, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. God motivated judges to fight and deliver Israel from foreign oppressors, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. David was a warrior and a man after God’s own heart, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. Hebrews 11:32-34 uses as examples of true faith those OT believers who engaged in war in a righteous way, so nuke ’em and God will bless you.
What does Abraham, “the friend of God” (James 2:23), rescuing his nephew Lot have to do with launching nuclear weapons? Absolutely nothing, of course, unless you are deluded enough to think that the United States is the “friend of God” and other nations are God’s enemies. So, God motivated judges to fight and deliver Israel from foreign oppressors. Does this also mean that God motivates U.S. soldiers to fight and oppress foreigners? I didn’t think so. True, David was a warrior (Psalm 144:1) and a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), but he was also an adulterer (2 Samuel 11:2-4) and a murderer (2 Samuel 12:9). And besides, because David was a man of war, the Lord said to him: “Thou shalt not build an house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3). The “OT believers” mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-34 include four judges (already discussed), King David (already discussed), and Samuel and the prophets. What they did is irrelevant since, as the presentation says, they did it “in a righteous way.” There is nothing righteous about nuking cities. And especially nuking civilians after their military strikes a military target like the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. And besides, the Bible in Hebrews actually says that these people in the Old Testament “wrought righteousness” (Hebrews 11:33), not that they did something in a righteous way. At least get your Scripture straight before you pervert it. There is one PowerPoint slide on the “Inter-testimental [sic] Period”:
- Maccabees – Jewish revolt against their Syrian oppressors
- No pacifistic sentiment in mainstream Jewish history
What Chaplain Shin Soh means to say is that since the Jews revolted against the Syrians and there is no pacifistic sentiment in mainstream Jewish history then go ahead and nuke ’em and God will bless you. Although it is true that God commanded the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to fight against heathen nations (Judges 6:16), the president of the United States is not God, America is not the nation of Israel, the U.S. military is not the Lord’s army, the Christian’s sword is the word of God, and the only warfare the New Testament encourages the Christian to wage is against the world, the flesh, and the devil. On pages twenty-one through twenty-three we are given six examples from the New Testament:
- Luke 3:14 – John the Baptist doesn’t tell the Roman soldiers to leave the army before being baptized
- Luke 7:10 – Jesus uses the Roman centurion as a positive illustration of faith
- Acts 10:2, 22, 35 Paul interacts with Cornelius, a Roman army officer – known as “devout and God fearing”
- Romans 13:4 In spite of personal blemishes, God calls the emperor to be an instrument of justice
- II Timothy 2:3 Paul chooses three illustrations to show what it means to be a good disciple of Christ
- Farmer – work hard and be patient
- Athlete – be self disciplined, train
- Soldier – be willing to put up with hardship
- Revelation 19:11 Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior
Again, Chaplain Shin Soh should have just said what he meant: John the Baptist doesn’t tell the Roman soldiers to leave the army before being baptized, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. Jesus uses the Roman centurion as a positive illustration of faith, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. Peter (the chaplain wrongly says Paul) interacts with Cornelius, a Roman army officer, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. In spite of personal blemishes, God calls the emperor to be an instrument of justice, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. Paul uses the illustrations of a farmer, an athlete, and a soldier to show what it means to be a good disciple of Christ, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. Regarding Roman soldiers, centurions, and army officers, it’s funny how apologists for the U.S. military never refer to the ones that beat and crucified Jesus Christ, an innocent man (Matthew 27:4). They would be more akin to U.S. soldiers that kill foreigners in unjust wars or train to launch nuclear missiles at civilians. On John the Baptist, I have written a whole article here. The emperor was “an instrument of justice” in his empire; he was not the policeman of the world. Unless Chaplain Shin Soh wants to acknowledge the U.S. empire of troops and bases that encircles the globe, he might want to rethink his example. He can’t have it both ways. The Bible does liken a Christian to a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3, Philemon 2, Philippians 2:25). But as soldiers, Christians are admonished to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11), “the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14), and “the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17). The weapons of the Christian soldier are not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:4); his shield is “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16) and his sword is “the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Not exactly a description of a soldier in the U.S. military. It is blasphemous to even remotely imply that since Jesus Christ is pictured as a mighty warrior, so nuke ’em and God will bless you. The New Testament section of the presentation closes with this statement: “If war in the natural order is inherently unethical, it cannot be a good illustration in the spiritual order.” Sorry chaplain, wrong again. First, it depends on what kind of war. War that is truly defensive (not just said to be defensive like Bush declaring the Iraq war to be defensive) or war that is divinely sanctioned (limited to Jews in the Old Testament, not U.S. wars) is not inherently unethical. Anything else is not just unethical; it is wholesale murder. And second, the Bible records Jesus as saying: “Behold, I come as a thief” (Revelation 16:15). Although stealing is inherently unethical, it is a good illustration in the spiritual order because the Lord Jesus made the illustration. On page thirty-two of the presentation, under “Nuclear Ethics,” the question is asked: “Can we exercise enough faith in our decision makers, political and military, to follow through with the orders that are given to us?” This is a good question, and one that all current and potential U.S. military personnel should consider. I would say that our decision makers, political and military, are the last people that anyone should put faith in. The presentation concludes with a statement by a Captain Charles H. Nicholls that I wholeheartedly agree with: “Those of us on missile or bomber crews must also make the decision now. Before taking the oath of office or donning the uniform, we must commit ourselves to duty. We must decide now that our mission is compatible with our morality, or else we must resign our commissions.” This is a great statement. I would say – nuclear mission or no nuclear mission – that since so much of what the military does is immoral (like, for instance, bombing, invading, and occupying other countries that were no threat to the United States), those young people that can’t find a good job or are looking for money for college should not even consider the military in any capacity. And to those entrusted with nuclear weapons, we can only hope and pray that they resign their commissions. God will not bless them for launching nukes just because they were following the orders of political and military decision makers.