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The Cancer From Within
Posted on Nov 7, 2007
By David Antoon
In the following weeks, a uniformed Army Maj. Gen. William Boykin began sharing his Christian supremacist views from church pulpits around the country, declaring that he was “God’s Warrior” and that “America is a Christian nation.” He demeaned the entire Muslim world by stating that his God was bigger than a Muslim warlord’s god and that the Muslim’s god “was an idol.” He received little more than a token slap on the wrist. At the time, Joseph Schmitz, then the Department of Defense inspector general (Schmitz is currently the chief operating officer of Blackwater International), found that Boykin had committed no ethics violations.
Days later, the May 10 edition of The New Yorker featured the Abu Ghraib torture article by Seymour Hersh, who more than three decades earlier had brought us the story of My Lai.
As a late critic of the Vietnam War, in which I lost many high school and academy classmates, I was skeptical and critical of the drum beat for war orchestrated by the Bush administration. When then-Secretary of State Colin Powell again sold his soul in front of the United Nations and the world, the die was cast. I say again because as a major on his second tour in Vietnam, Powell whitewashed reports of the My Lai massacre and attempted to discredit and silence those few, most notably Ron Ridenhour, who had the courage to get the story into Hersh’s hands.
These were some of my thoughts on the day my son had to decide whether or not to accept his appointment to the Air Force Academy. It was a time in my life when fatherhood and truth were confronted with faux nationalism. With tremendous courage and sadness my son declined his appointment and ended his dream—and my dream for him—to attend the Air Force Academy. Though deeply saddened, we were not sorry.
Square, Site wide
In what would have been my son’s academy summer encampment, chaplain Watties “suggested” that cadets return to their tents and tell their tent mates they would “burn in hell” if they did not receive Jesus as their savior. At the same time, the academy commandant, Weida, made a habit of including biblical passages in official e-mails and correspondence to subordinates and cadets. He had developed a secret “chant and response” with the cadets: When he yelled “Airpower,” the evangelical cadets in the know would respond “Rock, sir” in reference to the Bible story that Jesus built his house upon a rock.
Coincidentally, at this time and at the invitation of the academy, the Yale Divinity School was observing the pastoral care program for sexual assault victims at the academy. Under the leadership of professor Kristen Leslie, the Yale team issued a stunning report on the divisive and strident evangelical pressures by leadership and staff at the academy.
The response from academy leaders was telling. They at first denied the reports of Watties’ “hell-fire” threats. Under media pressure, they later claimed the violations were committed by a visiting reserve chaplain, when in fact they were by the recent Air Force Chaplain of the Year himself: Watties. In an interview after receiving his Chaplain of the Year award, Watties boasted of baptizing young soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s swimming pool. It is difficult to think of more inflammatory and Crusader-like behavior in an Arab nation.
In response to the Yale report, the academy demanded that chaplain Morton denounce the report she had co-signed. When she refused, she was transferred to East Asia, ultimately resigning from the Air Force in protest. Morton was the only officer who put her oath of office “to support and defend the Constitution” above careerism.
Then-DoD Inspector General Schmitz, noted for his Christian supremacist rhetoric in the book “Blackwater,” sent a team led by evangelical “born again” Lt. Gen. Roger Brady to investigate the academy. Schmitz had recently found no ethics violations in the actions of Gen. Boykin and allowed Boykin’s promotion to senior military officer in charge of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and “extraordinary rendition.” The “Brady Report” found the academy only to have an “insensitivity” problem. Air Force Academy graduate Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, “silenced” and removed from the major general promotion list, was secretly promoted with back pay the following year at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
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