As a mild-mannered atheist and a harsh critic of the Air Force, you might expect me to be up in arms regarding the use of Christian just war theory in a USAF PowerPoint presentation to missile jocks. Really, though… not so much.
If you reject the idea that the United States Air Force should prepare young men and women to fire nukes at China and Russia, then the religious versus secular content of missile training is largely irrelevant. There are a fair number of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists who hold to the position that preparing to destroy a city full of people, much less actually pushing the button, is wrong in an absolute sense. This is an entirely reasonable belief, and is completely compatible with a wide variety of interpretation of major religious and non-religious doctrines. However, people who hold to the belief that firing nuclear weapons is always going to be wrong, regardless of how sensible that belief may be, probably shouldn’t seek secular careers in which the firing of nuclear weapons is a significant part of the job description. There’s an obvious parallel to pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or Plan “B”; if you want to be a pharmacist licensed by the state, your secular role requires you to set aside certain religious beliefs.
Understood in these terms, I think that what the Air Force presentation is really doing is putting forth an interpretation of Christianity that makes it possible for missile jocks to set aside their religious beliefs in favor of doing their secular job. The presentation is pretty clearly NOT arguing that there is a Christian or Jewish duty to launch nukes at the Russians or the Chinese. Rather, it’s arguing that launching nukes is compatible with Christian religious belief. These two claims are very different, and I don’t think that from a secular point of view the latter is objectionable. I also think that the case for nuclear weapons in the cause of Christian just war is a good deal more complicated than is discussed here. While on the whole I’m inclined to agree that Christians should abhor nuclear weapons, the body of just war theology is immense and complex, and plausible-ish arguments for at least the preparation for defensive or retaliatory use of nukes can be made.
Another objection to the presentation is that it does focus very heavily on Christian and Jewish moral principles, to the exclusion of Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, etc. On this point, I’m inclined to bow to the needs of practical necessity. If the Air Force had lots of Muslims or atheists who were sketchy on the prospect of wasting Moscow, then the PowerPoint might have a few more slides. I’m also genuinely curious as to the content of similar presentations in Russia and China. I don’t doubt that a certain wariness about incinerating millions of people is a problem common to nuclear armed military organizations, but I do doubt that a Soviet course on the morality of nukes focused on Russian Orthodox just war theory.