After reading Douglas MacKinnon's post here a few weeks ago about his latest release, The Apocalypse Directive, I had to read this book. I don't get a chance to read many novels. Almost all of my "leisure" reading over the last five years or so has been work related in one way or another (with the exception of Harry Potter). The Apocalypse Directive, however, immediately caught my attention because, although a work of fiction, it's based on the Pentagon's Christian Embassy, a real life group exposed a few years back by the organization I work for, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
From the first page, where MacKinnon, in DaVinci Code fashion, presents a "fact list," which is entirely factual, and throughout the book, all of the examples and descriptions of the fundamentalist Christian infiltration of the military used as background material are real. I know this because I personally took part in uncovering some of them, and the rest were all well documented by MRFF before I joined the foundation. I started working for MRFF at the tail end of the Christian Embassy scandal, a few months before the Department of Defense Inspector General issued its report finding seven officers, including four generals, guilty of violating multiple regulations for appearing in the infamous Christian Embassy promotional video, a video from which MacKinnon directly draws the dialogue for a meeting of the "Christian Ambassadors" in his book.
The president in MacKinnon's fictional administration, set in a time in the not too distant future in which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not only still going on, but more terrorist attacks have occurred here in the United States, is a fundamentalist Christian who believes he receives his instructions directly from Jesus. The instruction he gets as his second term is coming to an end is to bring on the apocalypse. The president, along with his fellow Christian Ambassador and former Air Force Academy classmate, now a top Air Force general, lead the way to put into motion a plan to annihilate most of the world, all the elements of which are already in place.
At one point in the book, MacKinnon goes back in time to when the president and the general met, describing the fundamentalist influence at the Air Force Academy that sowed the seeds for these two cadets to blossom into religious zealots who, decades later, would see it as their duty to their savior to destroy a sinful world.
What MacKinnon describes in his look back into the "past" is, in reality, the present day climate at the Air Force Academy. The details are pulled from actual news reports of investigations initiated by MRFF. From the Christian indoctrination by the fictional Commandant of Cadets, Brig. Gen. Johnny Wedman (in real life, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, now a Maj. Gen.), to the "I am a member of Team Jesus Christ" banner in the locker room, to the unrestricted access of the mega-churches surrounding the Academy to the cadets, these details are, unfortunately, all quite real. Just how intertwined are the Colorado Springs mega-churches and the Air Force Academy? Well, members of Focus on the Family, for example, were permitted to use the Academy's firing range until MRFF stepped in and put a stop to that perk.
Campus Crusade for Christ, the parent organization of the Pentagon's Christian Embassy, is also alive and well at all of the largest enlisted basic training installations, where they teach new recruits that "The Military = 'God's Ministers'" and that one of their responsibilities is "To punish those who do evil" as "God's servant, an angel of wrath," as well as at the service academies and on ROTC campuses. As former Campus Crusade Air Force Academy program director Scott Blum said in a promotional video filmed at the Academy, Campus Crusade's purpose is to "make Jesus Christ the issue at the Academy" and for the cadets to be "government paid missionaries" by the time they leave.
The support of Campus Crusade by the Air Force Academy's faculty is undeniable. Another example used by MacKinnon is a full page ad that appeared on the back of the Academy's newspaper that read, "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us! There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." This Campus Crusade sponsored ad, as MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein calculated a while back and MacKinnon notes in his book, was signed by sixteen department heads, nine permanent professors, the dean of faculty, and the athletic director.
Some of MacKinnon's other examples include the plan to send, with the support of the Pentagon, copies of Tim LaHaye's Eternal Forces video game to our troops in Iraq so they could unwind by pretending to kill non-Christians and U.N. representatives in their spare time (a plan thwarted by MRFF last summer so that now the troops get a Christian skateboarding video starring Stephen Baldwin instead), and the shipping into Iraq of both English and Arabic language evangelizing materials (this is still going on, but we're working on it).
I found the religious variety of MacKinnon's characters to be an unexpected plus, and quite believable to someone like myself who is familiar with the real life battle against the Christian fundamentalist takeover of the military. Many of the characters attempting to stop the Christian Ambassadors are Christians themselves -- from nominal Christians whose faith is not a central part of their lives but who nonetheless define themselves as Christians, to the Vice President, who is a devout, conservative, evangelical, pro-life, anti-gay marriage, etc., Baptist. If a scenario such as that in The Apocalypse Directive were actually to take place, most Christians, even those among the most devout and conservative, would think it was nuts. A real life fact, which comes as a bit of a surprise to most people, is that 96% of the service men and women who contact MRFF for help are actually Christians who are apparently not Christian enough or not the "right kind" of Christians for today's military.
For Douglas MacKinnon, himself a conservative and a Christian, to write this book just goes to show that some things do transcend both religion and politics -- and this is one of them. In fact, my own boss, Mikey Weinstein, is a registered republican (although I try my best to get him to see the error of his ways) who served as a counsel in the Reagan White House. If anyone had told me a few years ago that I'd be working for a republican and consider it the most important job I'd ever had, I would have asked them what they were smoking. Protecting the Constitution, however, is the one thing that both of us put above all else.
One last part of MacKinnon's book that I want to mention, just because I found it so oddly amusing, was that as the actuation of president's diabolical plan became imminent, and the various government and military officials who had been, in some cases unbeknownst to each other, tracking the movements of the Christian Ambassadors for years, were finally all gathered together with a window of only hours to stop Armageddon, they were careful to make sure they did it according to the Constitution, and that all the officials necessary to invoke the 25th Amendment were present. For the good guys, even the impending destruction of planet earth was no justification for ignoring the Constitution!
Could the scenario presented in The Apocalypse Directive really happen? Well, according to this work of fiction, all it would take is a secretly built facility capable of sustaining a few thousand true believers during the destruction of much of the world and its aftermath; a few young fundamentalist Christian Air Force officers with the codes to launch ballistic missiles, who aren't sleeping on the job but eagerly awaiting orders from a president with a direct line to Jesus; and a nuclear submarine commander awaiting the same orders, prepared to sacrifice his own life and the lives of his crew to carry out the will of the lord. As MacKinnon points out in his facts list at the beginning of his book, Green Brier, the top secret facility built in 1959 to house Congress and other essential government officials in the event of a nuclear war, was capable of sustaining a thousand people for sixty days, and remained a secret until being exposed in 1992, so we know that could happen. A handful of strategically placed military officers -- and it would only take a handful -- who would be fanatical enough to blow up the world if they thought the directive came from Jesus himself? Hmmm...
Highly recommended by both myself and (republican, at least for now) Mikey Weinstein.