At the end of January, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was contacted by an Air Force officer requesting MRFF’s assistance in getting a set of posters currently on display at Air Combat Command (ACC) headquarters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia removed. The officer sent MRFF photos of two of the seven posters, all of which quote AF Manual 50-21, an Air Force Manual from 1955.
As the officer (who is one of MRFF’s sixteen USAF officer, NCO, and civilian clients, nine of whom are women, who are opposing these posters) said in an email to MRFF, the two posters that they sent photos of “clearly violate AFI 1-1, para 2.12. Their messages clearly advocate a higher value in religious Airmen over non-religious Airmen, and communicate a necessity for religious faith to be successful as Airmen.”
AFI (Air Force Instruction) 1-1, Section 2.12, states (emphasis added):
“Leaders at all levels … must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.”
These were the two posters that were initially sent to MRFF with the text of the quotes that appear on them:
But the religion over non-religion message of these quotes was not the only issue that the officer who sent MRFF the photos found with these quotes from 1955, a time when, as the officer noted, was during “the heart of the Red Scare when being non-religious was viewed as a trait of Communism and hence a threat.” One of the quotes, wrote the officer, “harkens back to days of male dominance in the Air Force, and is not appropriate.”
And it is the overt sexism of the posters that led the National Organization for Women (NOW) to join forces with MRFF in demanding that these posters be removed.
In an open letter to General Herbert J. Carlisle, the commander of the Air Combat Command, NOW president Terry O’Neill wrote:
Dear General Carlisle,
I write you today to express the National Organization for Women’s (NOW’s) support for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) regarding MRFF’s demands that the Air Combat Command (ACC), immediately and permanently remove the two terribly offensive, sexist/faith-based posters currently on display in Building Number 602 of the ACC Headquarters complex.
The posters, which were the subject of a February 7, 2017 Air Force Times article, contain sexist, male supremacist language from a 1955 Air Force Manual, written at the height of the Red Scare hysteria when being non-religious was seen as a trait of Communism and a threat to the American way of life.
Even worse, the passages glorify the military’s reliance on male dominance, stating without equivocation that “It is only a man of deep convictions, a man of deep faith, who will make the sacrifices needed to save his manhood…”
What message does that send to young women who currently serve, or want to serve, in the military? What do you say to the women in your command who make the same sacrifices to protect their country as do men? Is the purpose of the U.S. armed forces really to assist “only” men to make sacrifices necessary to save their “manhood?”
This offensive propaganda must NOT be allowed to continue on display at ACC Headquarters. MRFF has demanded their immediate removal on behalf of its 16 USAF member clients currently under your command (9 of whom are female) and NOW joins MRFF in this demand.
Sexism and the pernicious sexual assault it breeds are still a matter of grave concern throughout the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force. Military women, especially military women of color and LGBTQ military women, often disproportionately suffer from these incidents, particularly when it comes to retaliation and reprisal for reporting and seeking help.
General, there is simply no compromise when it comes to fighting the bigotry of sexism nor the prejudice of religious triumphalism. Women are just as patriotic, just as dedicated and just as worthy of our nation’s trust as their male counterparts. You should honor them, not disrespect them, with the watchwords you choose to display.
Terry O’Neill, President
National Organization for Women
(MRFF’s demand letter to General Carlisle can be found here.)
And it’s not only the one quote singled out by the officer who contacted MRFF and cited by NOW in its letter that promotes a blatant message of sexism and male supremacy. As already mentioned, the two posters initially sent to MRFF because of their messages of religious supremacy are only two of a set of seven posters on display at the ACC headquarters, all of which quote the same 1955 Air Force manual. These are the quotes on four of the other five (emphasis added):
“Single-minded, strong, self-controlled, gentle and always considerate – this is what is expected of you. This is the key to a better world – this is the secret of of great leadership – this is the role of a true gentleman.” – AF Manual 50-21, August 1955
“Great goals and great convictions make great men – mediocre ideals, mediocre men.” – AF Manual 50-21, August 1955
“History has proved beyond doubt that we cannot have better times until we first have better men. We must have better men to lead us and to guide us, for better men will make a better world.” – AF Manual 50-21, August 1955
“We have forgotten that, if men are to remain free, they must consistently strive for personal integrity – making themselves worthy of that freedom.” – AF Manual 50-21, August 1955
Along with all the references to “men” and “manhood” in this 1955 manual, the word “he” appears over 160 times, while the word “she” appears only three times, and in none of these three instances is the word “she” even used to refer to a female Air Force officer. Two of them appear in the quote on the seventh and final poster, where America is referred to as “she.”
“We are ready to fight to the death for all that America stands for. But we dare not forget that our most vital task – more important than the production of guns and planes and tanks and battleships; more necessary than naval or military victory – is seeing to it that what America stands for, she increasingly becomes. She can become that only through the individual lives of her leaders – and you are the leaders of the future. Hold fast to the faith by which you live – and for which you will fight.” – AF Manual 50-21, August 1955
As the Air Force Times reported on February 7, officials at the ACC are refusing to remove the posters, claiming that the sexist (and religious) quotes on these posters are not inappropriate because they are “historical.” And, according to the command’s latest statement, published in an article on Military.com they are sticking to this “historical” argument.
So we at MRFF decided to create a few posters of our own, showing today’s military women coupled with quotes from some other “historical” military manuals. If all it takes is for something to be considered appropriate is for it to be “historical,” then nobody should have any problem at all with posters like these.
This first one quotes War Department Field Manual 35-20, a 1943 manual on physical fitness for WACs. I’m sure that today’s military women, like the one pictured here in Ranger training, will find this “historical” 1943 advice very helpful.
The quote on our second poster comes from AF Manual 50-22, a 1966 manual for airmen to improve their reading comprehension. This “historical” manual used reading selections like the one on our poster, titled “Women’s Secret Language,” which was quoted in the manual from Reader’s Digest. Displaying this quote should be completely non-offensive to modern military women such as the Marine drill instructors in the photo on our poster, right? After all, it’s “historical.”
In a nutshell, the 1955 Air Force manual from which the quotes on the ACC posters were copied, which was titled “Living for Leadership” (and can be found in its entirety here), explained to Air Force officers of the Red Scare era that the basis of the United States was religion; that an officer must become a gentleman, and that to be a gentleman a man must, of course, be religious; and that it was absolutely necessary for a man to be religious so as not to fall prey to the lure of godless communism but be able to fight the threat of communism.
And this manual made no secret of this religion vs. communism message. For example, in one of it’s sections, with the heading “Spiritually Adrift,” the manual says of men who don’t attend church, and are therefore spiritually adrift: “This self-imposed ignorance of the purpose of man is the only explanation we can find for the easy enlistment of soft-thinking dupes into ‘pinko’ organizations.” Yes, this manual actually used the word “pinko.” But my reason for bringing up this point isn’t merely to mock outdated military manuals. It’s because, while the ACC is claiming that the posters are appropriate because they are “historical,” one of the quotes that appears on these posters was deliberately edited to strip this so-called “historical” quote of its actual historical context by deleting its reference to communism.
On the poster shown above depicting the beams of light where the World Trade center once stood, one of the sentences of the quote on the poster reads: “It is obvious that our enemy will attack us at our weakest spot.” But that’s not how that sentence appears in the 1055 manual, where it says (emphasis added): “It is obvious that our enemy – Communism to be explicit here and now – will attack us at our weakest spot.” So much for the quote on that poster being “historical.” It isn’t even an historically accurate quoting of this “historical” manual.
And, on one more sadly laughable note about history, in the Air Force Times article, Col. Edward Sholtis, an ACC spokesman, was quoted as saying that these posters have been displayed at the ACC for “perhaps up to 20 years.” Really, Col. Sholtis? A poster with a photo of the beams of light where the World Trade Center once stood could perhaps have been displayed for as long as 20 years. How could that perhaps be possible when the attack on the World Trade Center didn’t even occur until less than 16 years ago? Col. Sholtis apparently needs a history lesson. (For the record, the photo on that poster is actually from 2006.)
So, where do things stand now? MRFF has demanded that the complaint about these posters be turned over to the Headquarters Air Force Inspector General’s Office at the Pentagon rather than being investigated by the ACC’s inspector general for the simple reason that, as MRFF’s founder and president Mikey Weinstein told Military.com, General Carlisle “cannot have his own inspector general people look into this, because they report to him,” creating an obvious conflict of interest.