Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lt. General Mike Gould, 2010; J.C. Hallman, In Utopia, 2010

What do you call an amplification -- not a correction -- issued in advance of the original statement? A preemptive post-publication addendum? Whatever it is, here's one. In my forthcoming book, C Street, I expanded on 2009 Harper's article of mine on Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. military, in which I briefly mentioned U.S. Air Force Academy superintendent Mike Gould:

Gould granted himself the nickname “Coach” after a brief stint in that capacity early in his career. Coach Gould enjoys public speaking, and he’s famous for his  3- F mantra: Faith, Family, Fitness. At the Pentagon, a former senior officer who served under Gould told me, the general was so impressed by a special presentation Pastor Rick Warren gave to senior officers that he e-mailed his 104 subordinates, advising them to read and live by Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life. 
“People thought it was weird,” recalls the former officer, a defense contractor, who requested anonymity for fear of losing government business. “But no one wants to show their ass to the general.” 
The "heroes" of the chapter are the activists of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a nonprofit watchdog dedicated to defending first amendment freedom of (and from) religion for military personnel of all faiths and no faith. Tonight, MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein forwards an email he received from an Air Force Academy professor that shows Gould has turned a corner. 
Today, I heard the most astonishing words from an Air Force Academy Superintendent that I have ever heard in my entire 16 years as an Academy professor.  Quoting from a well-known 1997 United States Air Force report, Lt Gen Mike Gould, Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy, actually said in a Commander’s Call addressed to the entire permanent population of the base that “military officers shouldn’t push their religious views on subordinates”.  My jaw dropped in astonishment.  This man clearly “gets it”.  My elation was tempered only by the sad fact that it took multiple Superintendents and several years of painful turmoil for us to finally get a top guy in here who clearly sensed that the environment was right to say something so blatantly obvious and true to every single person here at the Air Force Academy. 
 Credit, he continues, belongs to Mikey Weinstein and MRFF.

I sadden only when I realize that two years from now, this Air Force Academy Superintendent will retire, we will have a different USAF Chief of Staff, and the process of training yet another chain of command must begin anew.  Who knows what we will get.  That means, Mikey, that you and the MRFF must be vigilant.  You must be vigilant, and you must have staying power.  The forces you so appropriately and aggressively oppose here at the Air Force Academy, and indeed all over the Department of Defense, think in terms of eternity, so four years between Academy Superintendents is nothing to them.  Please, Mikey and MRFF, be there for an eternity too. 

Meantime, I have to give Gould some credit for being better than anyone expected or even hoped.


In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better ParadiseUnrelated, and, really, a lot more interesting, is the arrival in my mail today of J.C. Hallman's newest book, In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradisethe official pub date of which is today. (Or, yesterday, when I started this post.) It deserves more attention and will get it, but for now I'll go with the jacket blurb I contributed: 
Hallman brilliantly explores the idea of utopia and its applications in the real world, from hippie communes to shooting ranges to a massive floating city. We could hardly ask for a better guide: Hallman is an erudite but humble writer, with the skepticism, wit, and compassion necessary for those close encounters with the distant possibility of a perfected world.
Here's an excerpt from Hallman's last book, The Devil is a Gentleman, we published on Killing the Buddha.