The U.S. Air Force, which prides itself on its ability to strike with quick and devastating effect, intends to root out religious intolerance at its academy in Colorado Springs -- "if everything goes well," the superintendent says -- in six years. Or eight, if the enemy proves stubborn.How many Americans have these evil 'evangelical Christians' killed? And how many Americans have fundamentalist Muslims killed? Who is the enemy here? How far we have moved from Sept 11! In some ways, this is a good sign.
The enemy, in this case, is Christian evangelicals who, it is alleged, proselytize Air Force cadets and bully those who do not share their faith. Why such a long timetable? According to superintendent Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa, a poisonous, self-centered atmosphere pervades the place. Thus he has embraced a policy of therapeutic "culture change." Today's young people, he says -- even academy cadets, who are willing to die for their country -- "don't respect themselves. They don't respect others."
What is surprising about this assessment is that the academy's religion problem, such as it exists, seems to derive mostly from staff and staff-instigated conduct. Unless Gen. Rosa is beset by insubordination, it is hard to see why his mission cannot be accomplished a lot faster.
Even so, some critics seem to possess a larger agenda that involves stifling innocuous expressions of faith, too. Gen. Weida, for example, has come under attack for an email in which he said, "Remember, you are accountable first to your God, this great nation, our great Air Force," even though he never stipulated who or what "your God" might be. Americans United makes much of the fact that some faculty members used to buy a Christmastime ad in the school newspaper proclaiming their belief in Jesus and offering to discuss Jesus with interested readers -- "directed cadets to contact them" is how Americans United misleadingly puts it. Such an indirect appeal is not remotely comparable to proselytizing in a classroom.
Also possibly overdrawn is Americans United's description of how cadets who "declined to attend chapel after dinner" in basic training "were made to suffer humiliation by being placed by upper-class cadet staff into a 'Heathen Flight' and marched back to their dormitories." Cadets are, in fact, marched all over the academy and would have been marched back to their dorms no matter what the formation was called. An academy spokesman says that the unauthorized moniker was a joke.
We have returned to our usual bickering and squabbling. Like children in a besieged town, we rest in our trust of the violent watchkeepers, content to play our silly games and mock the seriousness of those who stand guard at night against the terrors too scary for us to contemplate. But when that mocking becomes stones, and when those children begin to question the need for a watch, when the terrors of the night are forgotten because they have been kept at bay so long, that is the time for the village to fear.