Military

Air Force Academy Drops ‘So Help Me God’ from Honor Oath

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets during commencement ceremonies in 2010. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Air Force Academy cadets will no longer be required to include the words “so help me God” when taking their annual Honor Oath.

On Friday officials at the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus announced its 4,000 current cadets would be allowed to opt out of the final phrase of their honor code, which they reaffirm each of their four years of study and training.

“Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy’s superintendent, in a statement.

“So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”

The current oath reads: “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.”

Drones and Terrorism: Is the U.S. Scapegoating Al Qaeda?

U.S. Drone, Paul Drabot / Shutterstock.com

U.S. Drone, Paul Drabot / Shutterstock.com

Is the U.S. scapegoating Al Qaeda? It’s an odd question, I know, but it reared its ugly head as I read about the new reports from Amnesty International and Humans Rights Watch on U.S. drone strikes. The scapegoating mechanism is a very precise instrument that accrues enormous benefits to the scapegoater. By accusing their scapegoat of wrongdoing, a scapegoater ingeniously hides from the reality of their own guilt. Now here’s the weird thing: a scapegoat does not have to be innocent to function as a scapegoat. Scapegoats can be evil, nasty, ruthless, amoral sons-of-bitches and still function perfectly well as a scapegoat. Which is why I ask the question: Is the U.S. scapegoating Al Qaeda to hide from its own guilt?

With that in mind, I invite you to read these few excerpts that raised the question for me, with key phrases in boldface:

[continued at jump]

Navy Chaplains to Receive More Training on Sexual Abuse

Photo by Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Kristen Leslie, (left), a professor at Eden Theological Seminary. Photo by Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Kristen Leslie began her 2003 book, When Violence Is No Stranger, with a verse from Psalms, a nod to her training as a theologian.

“It is not enemies who taunt me — I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me — I could hide from them. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend…”

The book’s subject was acquaintance rape, and it got the attention of a chaplain at the Air Force Academy. The school was then reeling from a Pentagon report indicating that 7 percent of its cadets reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape. Nearly 90 percent of the perpetrators were their own classmates.

Leslie, now a professor of pastoral theology and care at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo., was invited to Colorado to consult with academy leaders on how to train Air Force chaplains to deal with sexualized violence on campus.

Now, a decade later, the U.S. Navy has come knocking.

Commentary: Islamist Suppression Could Reach U.S. Shores

Photo courtesy Matthew Elmaraghi via Neon Tommy's Flickr stream

Aftermath from violence in Mabaa, Cairo, Egypt on Aug. 14, 2013. Photo courtesy Matthew Elmaraghi via Neon Tommy's Flickr stream

Egypt now teeters on the edge of an abyss. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was in Cairo earlier this month at President Obama’s request to mediate between the military-backed interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, told CBS News: “Oh my God, I didn’t know it was this bad. These folks are just days or weeks away from all-out bloodshed.”

The widely anticipated military crackdown against pro-Morsi demonstrators began last week, so we’d better brace for the blow-back.

The rising specter of repression in Egypt is difficult to watch for two reasons. First, it confirms that the counterrevolution is successfully restoring the deep state — the vast security apparatus upon which military autocracy in Egypt has been based since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule in the 1950s, effectively extinguishing any hope of transition to democracy. Second, the violent crackdown evokes bad memories of earlier efforts by Egypt’s military strongmen to crush their Islamist opposition.

The Truth About Religious Freedom in the Military

Photo courtesy RNS/ Rabinowitz/ Dorf Communications.

The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy (right) and the Rev. Barry Lynn (left). Photo courtesy RNS/ Rabinowitz/ Dorf Communications.

Serving in the armed forces is one of the most honorable professions one can choose in our society. And putting one’s life on the line in defense of freedom is a sacrifice the rest of us can never repay.

That’s why it saddens us that these very freedoms are being undercut by forces seeking to infuse the military with a very specific version of Christian culture. Leaders from the religious right claim that the religious liberty rights of Christians are under assault in the military. This is simply not true, and the implication is an insult to people around the globe and here at home who truly do face persecution for their faith.

What is true is that military life is different than civilian life. A chain of command impacts every aspect of a service member’s life; because of that, safeguards must be in place to ensure that no member of the military is being coerced into religious practices unwillingly.

Conservatives Say Religious Freedom is 'Under Attack’ in Military

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) seeks support during a Capitol Hill press conference on July 9. Photo courtesy RNS.

Republican lawmakers and conservative activists concerned that religious expression in the military is “under attack” are rallying behind a measure to provide greater protection for religious “actions and speech” in the armed forces.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. John Fleming, R-La., would specify in the military spending bill that, “Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech” of service members.

Previous spending bills protected the “beliefs” of service members and chaplains, but the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act would expand protections to include religious “actions and speech.”

Clifford Sloan Selected As Guantanamo Closure Envoy By President Obama

In an effort to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, President Barack Obama has called to action one of Washington’s most resourceful lawyers, Clifford Sloan. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are confident in their decision to employ Sloan as the State Department's envoy for Guantanamo's closure. The Huffington Post reports:

"It will not be easy, but if anyone can effectively navigate the space between agencies and branches of government, it's Cliff," Kerry said. "He's someone respected by people as ideologically different as Kenneth Starr and Justice Stevens, and that's the kind of bridge-builder we need to finish this job."

Read more here.

Violence Rules: North Korea, Syria, U.S.

Military plane, Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock.com

Military plane, Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock.com

Does violence rule our species? The barrage of international conflicts now in the headlines seems to suggest that violence may be the one language we have in common. 

Though we all speak it fluently, very few of us learned it in school. We didn’t have to study its “vocabulary” and “grammar rules” – no, it was much easier than that. Humans pick violence up by immersion and so we are all native speakers. From Syria to Korea to Pakistan to Iraq to the U.S., the language of violence is so natural to us that we couldn’t recite one of its “grammar rules."

Sadly, ignorance of language rules does not diminish fluency. The odd thing is that if we stopped to learn the rules governing our fluency in violence, it would actually make us less fluent. Why? Because the rules of violence reveal an unpleasant reality: We don’t use violence; violence uses us.

And the Truth Shall Set You Free

catwalker / Shutterstock.com

catwalker / Shutterstock.com

Recent news, including the Oscar nomination of The Invisible War and the looming sequester, which threatens drastic cuts in defense spending, doesn’t sound good for military recruiters. But recruiters are still active at my local high school, offering freebies and making promises. For six years I’ve been visiting the high school to encourage students to stop and think about their choices.

I’m not a biblical literalist, but I take the commandments to love your enemies, not to kill and not to overcome evil with evil seriously. I don’t make this argument at the school;  it would violate their rules about religious expression, and I think it might alienate our neighbors who believe simultaneously in Jesus, the right to bear arms, and the need to fight ‘terrorists.'

I also have a concern for the truth. Many young people enlist in the armed forces without understanding what they’re getting into. My county is rural and poor; jobs are scarce. Many students who lack money or grades to make college a viable option are attracted by the promise of steady work, sign-up bonuses, travel opportunities, money for education — and sometimes, it seems, by clearly false promises.

How To Really Support Our Troops

Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin / Shutterstock.com

Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin / Shutterstock.com

A 10-year-old boy holding a grenade approaches a group of soldiers. He does not respond to their shouts. One shoots him with his M-16 and the boy crumbles to the ground, dead.

Did he have a choice? It was do or die, kill or be killed. Still he killed a little boy, and those images still haunt him.

This is a classic example of psychological trauma: A person is put in horrific life-threatening situation where they do not feel they have control. That's the situation he found himself in. It was a no-win scenario — kill a little boy or have you and your friends all die.

Soldier suicides have reached epidemic numbers. As the AP reports, More soldiers are taking their own lives than are falling in battle. Add on top of that, the many who suffer from PTSD, and who as a result find themselves estranged from their home, their loved ones, and indeed from themselves.

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