“They Won’t Get in Our Way…” to Armageddon

US-ISRAEL-CONGRESS-NETANYAHU

“I know what America is. , move it in the right direction. They won’t get in our way…” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 2001

Yesterday I watched the address of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it occurred live. I watched as the majority of our elected Senators and Congressmen, seem to hang on every word and rise to give thunderous applause to Netanyahu’s blatant attempt to not just hijack but to commandeer U.S. foreign policy to serve Israel. If any other foreign leader had been invited by any other party to do the same at any point in our history there would be an outcry.

 Now please do not get me wrong. Iran is an enemy, they continually work against us in attempting to destabilize the Middle East and advance their Shia’ Moslem version of the Apocalypse. However, they are very pragmatic and with the major demographic shifts there could easily come a point when the young people of Iran, tired of the repression of the Mullah’s overthrow them. Likewise I do believe that the Iranian nuclear program must be monitored and if it looks as if they are about to produce a bomb that can be delivered by air or missile that could harm us or any ally that they will have to be stopped. I have written about this before so I will not go into that here. Likewise, before calling me anti-Semetic please look at the body of my writings which not only are supportive of Israel but those of a realist who understands that anything which involves the United States in yet another pre-emptive war is not in the interest of the United States or Israel. 

 At the same time the speech was insulting because the United States has given Israel everything that it ever has needed since its founding in 1948. American Presidents from Truman to Obama have bent over backwards to support Israel. In 1967 the Israeli Navy and Air Force launched a sustained coordinated attack on the USS Liberty during the Six Day War which killed 34 and wounded 171 United States Navy Sailors. The Israelis, despite evidence to the contrary, including the testimony of the crew of the Liberty claimed that they had mistaken the ship for an Egyptian destroyer. The Johnson administration accepted the Israeli version and quickly buried the incident.

In October 1973, if it had not been for the actions of Richard Nixon Israel very likely would have ceased to exist, Nixon rushed emergency supplies of tanks, aircraft and weapons aboard U.S. ships and cargo aircraft, and confronted the Soviets who were threatening to intervene. 

Since then we have provide Israel advanced weapons and weapons technology in abundance, we share intelligence with Israel that we share with no-one else, and we have always supported Israel in the United States every time there is an attempt to rebuke, condemn or sanction Israel. Even President Obama and his administration has done this with abandon. 

 And what credit do we get? We get a few meaningless platitudes from Netanyahu before he attempts to commandeer U.S. foreign policy with the active aid and support of John Speaker of the House Boehner, support that is in clear violation of one of the oldest laws dealing with foreign policy enacted by this country’s founders in 1799. 

 The speech and the reception of the Representatives and Senators who invited Netanyahu to give it and their wild adulation was not only insulting but flies in the face of what our every one founders believed reference foreign policy and relations and actually a clear violation of the Logan Act of 1799 that prohibits unauthorized citizens from negotiating with a foreign government.

The Logan Act reads:

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.” 

 And this my friends was exactly what happened here. While negotiating with members of the Israeli government as Speaker of the House, Boehner kept his efforts secret for over three weeks. Boehner only told the White House when he had secured a deal for the Israeli Prime Minister to address a Joint Session of Congress, which is in itself a highly unusual event. If fact Winston Churchill was the only foreign leader to receive such an invitation. I do not want to be cheeky, but Netanyahu is not a reincarnated Winston Churchill. Unlike Britain in late 1940 Israel has the capability of destroying every one of its enemies with its large stock of fully operational and deplorable nuclear weapons and delivery systems, most of the latter supplied by the United States and other Western Allies. 

Not only this, but the invitation coincided with the closing weeks of Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection campaign, and is a blatant attempt to sway Israel voters to vote for him.

What the Speaker did was unethical, illegal and against every founding principle of American foreign policy dating back to George Washington and John Adams.

The nearly orgasmic applause of the Republicans to every thing that Netanyahu said was sickening. Especially when Netanyahu demanded that  the United States walk away from the negotiation table, and especially when Netanyahu threatened to attack alone if necessary. Of course, knowing his audience, he said, he knows that would not happen. It was like watching them cheer on Armageddon. 

 Mr. Netanyahu knows that he can use fear to get Americans to do his bidding, as well as the beliefs of the militant Conservative Christians who pray for such a war in order for Jesus to return.

Netanyahu presented a very black and white image of the Middle East. It was as insulting as it was fear based, conflating Iran and the Islamic State competing “for the crown of militant Islam.” He said, “In this deadly game of thrones, there is no place for America or Israel…” and urged no middle ground short of destroying Iran. Netanyahu’s option was to walk away and offer Iran a deal that no nation with any self-respect would agree to, in fact walking away will usher in the war that Netanyahu says that the tactic will avoid. 

 The speech was eerily reminiscent of Netanyahu’s words to a Congressional committee in 2002 in the lead up to the Iraq War, which of course was such a success. Netanyahu has been using the same tactics to get the United States to do Israel’s bidding for two decades, capitalizing on America fears, and the underlying apocalyptic strain of American Evangelical Christianity which has found its way into the political mainstream. Back in 2002 Mr. Netanyahu said:

“There’s no question that [Saddam] has not given upon on his nuclear program, not [sic] whatsoever. There is also no question that he was not satisfied with the arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that he had and was trying to perfect them constantly…So I think, frankly, it is not serious to assume that this man, who 20 years ago was very close to producing an atomic bomb, spent the last 20 years sitting on his hands. He has not. And every indication we have is that he is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. If anyone makes an opposite assumption or cannot draw the lines connecting the dots, that is simply not an objective assessment of what has happened. Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs, atomic capabilities, as soon as he can.”

“Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it — if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror networks will have nuclear weapons.” 

 
“If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region… The task and the great opportunity and challenge is not merely to effect the ouster of the regime, but also to transform the region.” 

 The scary thing is that when you look at the Americans who most strongly “support” Israel, they are men like fundamentalist Christian zealots like John Hagee, and Tim LaHaye, who have spent the better part of fifty years preaching a version of Bible prophecy which for Jesus to return and institute his “millennial kingdom” Israel must be devastated by a war that claims two-thirds of Israelis before the “remnant” accept Jesus as their Messiah. By the way this point of view is also held by top contenders for the GOP nomination in 2016 for the GOP nomination in 2016 and many House and Senate GOP leaders. But, my friends, if you disagree with them, some of their “Christian” pundits will call you a traitor who should “be hanged” in from of the Capital Building. 

 Now, be assured, Netanyahu doesn’t believe that for a second, he is a cunning politician, and he has no problem using the political power of the people who believe this to get his way with America. I believe that this will in the long run be bad thing both for the United States and Israel. I think that it is unbelievably unwise and may create an actual rift between our countries and fracture what has been throughout our history a bi-partisan support for Israel, and for what reason, short term political gain, both in Israel and the United States by those that brought it on. 

 My objection to what happened yesterday was not that Iran should not be opposed, nor the security of Israel be compromised. My objection is that what happened yesterday was against everything that our founders believed in and violated the law. Of our land. 

As an American my loyalty is to this country and our Constitution, not to an errant and heretic view of scripture that surrenders American rights to the whim of a particular warmongering Israeli politician. Netanyahu is a politician who has more than once stated his disdain for this country and sees us as a means to achieve his end, even if that means committing the United States to a war from which no good can come.

 Mr. Netanyahu and his American allies pushed us into a war in Iraq which was disastrous, not only for the human lives lost and devastated, the reputation and image of this country, and the economic burdens incurred, but also because it has unleashed turmoil in the region far greater than anyone imagined.

I am an American and my allegiance is not to Israel, it is to this country and our Constitution. I will be damned if allow myself to be silent while religious zealots, be they American, Iranian, the Islamic State, or Jewish try to bring about their version of Armageddon.

 Peace

Padre Steve+

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Busting National Myths

In light of the many historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by pseudo “historians” like the infamous David Barton it is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens. Some myths can be positive and inspiring, but others can lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents. They also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them.

A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.

Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive. Such was the case in Germany following the First World War.

After the war the certain parts of the German political right posited that the German Army was not defeated by the Allied powers, but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left. But such was not the case the German Army was on the verge of collapse.

Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth. It is true that there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II, including the mutiny  of the German High Seas Fleet, as well as Army units stationed in Germany. However, in truth, the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918, the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.

The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the crisis which Ludendorff suffered what could be called an emotional collapse and  was relieved of his duty. His successor, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted that the Kaiser Wilhelm abdicate his throne.

The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages because to not sign was to have the Allies resume the war against Germany.

The treaty required the Germany to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle, and pay massive reparations to the Allies. The  legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany during the chaotic years of the Weimar Republic.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to battlefield losses or the entry of the United States.  He made the “stab in the back” a staple of his attacks on the Republic. This was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.

The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.

Thus for Hitler, the Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey noted Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.” (Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel wrote about the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295)

Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth.

Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events.

The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.

The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world. Sadly in the case of the United States, a portion of the political Right,  mostly found in the conservative Christian elements of the Tea Party movement are spreading their own version of the “stab in the back.” They blame Democrats, liberals, atheists, racial and religious minority groups, educators, labor unions and a host of others for the calamities that those that they have supported: the big banks and financial instructions that collapsed the economy in 2008, the politicians of the Republican Party who took the country into an unwise, unjust and illegal war in Iraq that not only cost many American lives and treasure but brought on the crisis that has led to the advance and power of the Islamic State, and the list can go on and on, and includes social issues, race, education, and even religion. But ignoring the responsibility of those they support,mother create myth, and cast blame on everyone but themselves.

That myth that they preach has become a staple of our political crisis. It is little differnt in tenor and intent of those who promoted the stab in the back myth during the Weimar Republic.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Reward of Teaching



I love getting to do what I do as an Assistant Professor teaching Ethics and the Gettysburg Staff Ride. Through most of my career, be it as a Medical Service Corps officer and Chaplain in the Army, as well as a Navy Chaplain has been dealt with teaching ethics or history. However, until this assignment those duties have been things I took on in addition to my normal duties. 

I try to challenge my students, no matter what I teach to see issues in relationship to people; their character, intellect, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, faith, ideology, and their relationships. In other words, their humanity. For it is our humanity that is the common thread in all of history. Technology changes, political models change, and humanity is constantly evolving, or sometimes devolving, but the one constant is people. 

Sadly all to often humanity is left out, we find a way to dehumanize almost everything, even how businesses, governments and even religious bodies refer to people as “human capital,” “resources” or in the case of some money grubbing churches “tithing units.” 

However, when I teach, I may teach about history, philosophy, or ethics, I still concentrate on people; who they and why they matter. That is at least for me is what matters. Events, inventions, theories, methods are all important, but if we leave out the actual part about the people they don’t connect. 

So in addition to the classroom, or touring historic sites, I focus on people, and then, especially on trips where I am out with my students for two or three days. On these trips we travel tighter, we eat and drink together and spend time discussing the events and people we are studying, but also share our life experiences and time together. So for me, teaching is also about my students, and to see their interst piqued, who then come back and later tell me that they went and explored the life of the people that we discussed. It is like them dis coving buried treasure. 

I think that is the joy and the reward of teaching, especially higher education, but I am sure any teacher, even those who teach primary and secondary education could do the same thing if they are creative, for it is the people who connect us, people matter.



Today we had to break off the last day of our Gettybsurg trip due to a winter storm that shifted south and made road conditions really bad. From DC to Richmond I lost count of the number of accidents. Thankfully it looks like things get a bit better south of Richmond. 

But anyway for now, and if you live in the path of this storm, stay safe.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“You Must Have Faith…” RIP Leonard Nimoy

Today we lost a great human being and wonderfully actor who playing the Vulcan “Mr Spock” in Star Trek help to teach us to be better human beings. As I mentioned earlier I am on the way to Gettysburg and I found out as my iPhone lit up with news alerts. Thankfully I am not driving. 

Those who follow my writings know just how much Star Trek in all its forms means to me, it is one of the constants in my life, which along with baseball and history has helped make me who I am today. 

One of the key players in that show, who I have always had a certain fondness for was Mr Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy played a character who could have been a one dimensional caricature with a depth, sensitivity, and complex subtlety that enriched us who watched him. 

Of course Nimoy was much more than Spock, he was a tremendously gifted actor and his career even without Star Trek would have been considered quite successful. But it was his portrayal of Spock in the original series, the films that flowed from that series and his reprise of the role in Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek: Into Darkness which made him an icon of film and television, and made me look for something higher, better and more noble in life. I’m sure others who grew up with him would agree with me in that. 

I was thinking about the many things that Nimoy said, as Mr Spock as well as out of character which were so rich. One of the most fascinating is in the movie Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country where Captain Spock startles a young Vulcan Lieutenant when discussing a possible peace treaty with the Klingon Empire. 

Spock: History is replete with turning points, Lieutenant. You must have faith.” 

Valeris: Faith?

Spock: That the universe will unfold as it should

Valeris: But is that logical? Surely we must….

Spock: Logic, logic and, logic….Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, not the end…

I am a terribly logical person, I doubt at least as much and often more than I have faith. Sometimes I have a hard time getting around my logical side to believe, to have faith. Thus the exchange is something that resonates with me. 

Nimoy, as Nimoy had a profound wit, as well as wisdom. Nimoy tweeted his last tweet on February 23rd it is quite profound.

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP” 

For those who don’t get the last bit of that LLAP is the line that Spock and Nimoy are both most remembered for, live long and prosper. 

It is a fitting benediction. I shall miss him. 

Live long, and prosper.

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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A Weekend In Gettysburg



Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Well we survived the latest iteration of the great Hampton Roads Snowmageddon 2015. I have to say  that the VDOT and local city governments did a great job in clearing the roads. 

Now I am on the way up to Gettysburg to lead the winter Staff Ride, now with an academic promotion and title of Assistant Professor. 

I love doing this, for me it is more than just looking at and studying a battle. What happened when I started teach this was that I began to study, research and write. As I did that my interst was piqued by the people who led the armies, as well as the politicians on both sides. In doing so I began to see this as more than an event, and the people as something more than caricatures with little depth who we typically only study in relation to what they did on the battlefield. Personally I think that is a terrible way to do history, I think we miss the really important stuff when we, and I am talking historians as well as laymen do that. 

So when I reach I spend a lot of time dealing with the people, their strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, character, motivations, intellect, personality, the things that give life to them. These are the things that my students can relate to because they are not just past events, but the the people in a sense serve as a mirror for us. 

When we get to Gettysburg tonight we will have some dinner and drinks at the Irish tavern doing some bonding and “table talk.” That is a wonderful way to learn, so much better that power point lectures and canned case studies. 

Anyway, I will check in over the weekend. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Living in the National Security State

Patriot-Act-HR-3162

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, in time of war the law stands silent…

James Madison wrote that “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

After September 11th 2001 the National Security State went into overdrive with the passage of the so called Patriot Act. That act opened the floodgates for an ever expanding national security state.

I have a lot of apprehension when I read the reports about the activities of the National Security Agency, other intelligence and police agencies at all levels of government and the pervasive erosion of civil rights.  The national security state and the seeming all pervasive security and surveillance apparatus which demolishes any sense of privacy, especially the protections enunciated in the Fourth Amendment and to some extent the First Amendment. Of course the use of similar methods by the private sector, often in conduction with government agencies is another concern, but that needs to wait for another day.

I also understand from history and empirical evidence that many others, many from unfriendly countries do not share those apprehensions. Many of these competitors are willing to use whatever openness that we have as a society against us, using similar technology and methods used by our intelligence, police, governmental and private sector. It makes for an ethical, legal and even constitutional conundrum. I know that I am not comfortable with this, and perhaps maybe none of us should be.

It is very easy on one hand in light of history, our Constitution and democratic process to condemn the NSA, the FISA courts and other lawfully constituted agencies and those that drafted the laws over the decades that allow the activities which they now conduct. The same can be said of foreign intelligence agencies which all engage in similar activities including the British GCHQ, the German Bundesnachrichtendienst and so many others including the Chinese and Russians.

Likewise it is equally easy in light of history, current events and national security concerns for people to jump to the other side of the fence and not only defend the activities of the NSA and agencies like it, and to demonize those that protest or expose such activities.

When I see the talking heads on cable news shows defending or condemning such activities and not agonizing over the complexity and issues involved I get worried. Because there are legitimate concerns voiced by critics as well as defenders. But since we live in an era of soundbites, gotcha and half-truths being portrayed as all truth I find it helpful to use either historical examples, literature or fiction, and even science fiction to wrestle with the fundamental truths. So I find looking at such issues through the prism of Star Trek sometimes more interesting and provocative than simply doing the whole moralizing pundit thing.

enimsilentleges_210

There was an episode of  Star Trek Deep Space Nine that aired well before the events of 9-11-2001, and the subsequent Global War on Terror, that I find fascinating. The episode deals with a secretive agency in Starfleet operating in the gray areas between the laws and ideals of the Federation and the threats that the Federation faces. Even when the Federation is a peace, Section 31, as it is called is engaged in activities against historic or potential enemies. In a way it is somewhat like the NSA or the Defense Intelligence Agency.

At the beginning of the Deep Space Nine Episode Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges the head of Section 31, a man only known as Sloan comes back Doctor Julia Bashir to involve him in an clandestine operation. An operation to on the Romulans who at this point are a Federation ally against the Dominion.

Sloan makes his approach and Bashir, who expresses his reservations:

BASHIR: You want me to spy on an ally.

SLOAN: To evaluate an ally. And a temporary ally at that. I say that because when the war is over, the following will happen in short order. The Dominion will be forced back to the Gamma Quadrant, the Cardassian Empire will be occupied, the Klingon Empire will spend the next ten years recovering from the war and won’t pose a serious threat to anyone. That leaves two powers to vie for control of the quadrant, the Federation and the Romulans.

BASHIR: This war isn’t over and you’re already planning for the next.

SLOAN: Well put. I hope your report is equally succinct.

BASHIR: How many times do I have to tell you, Sloan? I don’t work for you.

SLOAN: You will. It’s in your nature. You are a man who loves secrets. Medical, personal, fictional. I am a man of secrets. You want to know what I know, and the only way to do that is to accept the assignment.

I find the exchange both illuminating and riveting. The fact is that in the situation we face today the arguments of both sides should make us very uncomfortable.

Whether we like it or not or not, the incredibly rapid technical and communication advances of the past couple of decades have primed us for our present conundrum of liberty and privacy or security. That technology, as wonderful as it is  has enabled a generation to grow up in a virtual world in many ways detached from the moral and ethical balances between individual rights and liberties as well responsibility to community.

All the wonderful gadgets that we employ in everyday life, make it easy for enemies and “friends” to do things that were unimaginable to people other than science fiction writers even twenty to thirty years ago. Likewise they were certainly beyond the wildest imaginations of any of the founders who drafted Constitution.

The reality is, the things that make are lives so easy are also the things that have the potential to remove the very liberties that we treasure, either by our enemies using them, or those that defend us.

The truth is, that throughout history, even our own there have been operatives within the government in charge of secrets, as well as spies. In the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode we see an operation that is full of duplicity and moral ambiguity all committed in the name of security. I won’t go into the details because it is too full of twists, and turns, you can read the plot of the episode at Memory Alpha.org http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Inter_Arma_Enim_Silent_Leges_%28episode%29

There is an exchange between Dr. Bashir and Admiral Ross of Starfleet command which is very enlightening because it practically mirrors how many on both the civil liberties and the national security side of the current controversy feel about the War on Terror.

BASHIR: You don’t see anything wrong with what happened, do you.

ROSS: I don’t like it. But I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life ordering young men and young women to die. I like that even less.

BASHIR: That’s a glib answer and a cheap way to avoid the fact that you’ve trampled on the very thing that those men and women are out there dying to protect! Does that not mean anything to you?

ROSS: Inter arma enim silent leges.

BASHIR: In time of war, the law falls silent. Cicero. So is that what we have become? A twenty fourth century Rome driven by nothing more than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong!

ROSS: This conversation never happened.

In light of the controversy of today regarding the NSA, FISA Courts, government secrecy and intelligence gathering information on its own citizens, as well as allies, friends and and enemies we face a growing tide of reporters and others seeking to reveal those secrets. Back in 1989 ethicist Sissela Bok wrote something very important in her book Secrets: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life:

“…as government secrecy expands, more public officials become privy to classified information and are faced with the choice of whether or not to leak … growing secrecy likewise causes reporters to press harder from the outside to uncover what is hidden. And then in a vicious circle, the increased revelations give government leaders further reasons to press for still more secrecy.”

As we wade through the continuing controversy surrounding these issues we will see people do exactly what Bok said. These are the exact arguments are being made by the people and officials directly involved in such activities, as well as former elected and appointed officials, and members of the press.

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The interesting thing to me is that very few of the people or agencies, past and present, Republican and Democrat involved have clean hands. It is amazing to see former champions of civil liberties defend the NSA actions and those that empowered the NSA in the Patriot Act now condemn it. I find it both fascinating and frightening.

At the end of the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode the mysterious Sloan pops back in on Doctor Bashir who is in his quarters, asleep and depressed by what he experienced during the operation on Romulus and with Admiral Ross.

SLOAN: Good evening.

BASHIR: Are you expecting applause? Have you come to take a bow?

SLOAN: I just wanted to say thank you.

BASHIR: For what? Allowing you to manipulate me so completely?

SLOAN: For being a decent human being. That’s why we selected you in the first place, Doctor. We needed somebody who wanted to play the game, but who would only go so far. When the time came, you stood your ground. You did the right thing. You reached out to an enemy, you told her the truth, you tried to stop a murder. The Federation needs men like you, Doctor. Men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You’re also the reason Section Thirty one exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong.

BASHIR: Should I feel sorry for you? Should I be weeping over the burden you’re forced to carry in order to protect the rest of us?

SLOAN: It is an honor to know you, Doctor. Goodnight.

We live in this kind of world and maybe it is good to sometimes step back and look at issues using a different prism. I really don’t have the answers. I am a civil libertarian who places a high value on the openness of a government to its people. I also know that there are those that have no regard for such openness or, to quote Sloan don’t “share your sense of right and wrong.”

Maybe that is not a good answer. I really don’t know. All I know is that as uncomfortable as this all is that those on both sides of the issue have valid points and concerns. It is a debate that needs to happen if we are able to balance that a society needs to balance individual rights and responsibility to the community; openness and secrecy; civil liberties and national security.

But that being said. it is a debate that needs to happen, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I for one think that it is better that we be uncomfortable when looking at such an important debate than to be prisoners of our certitude.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, national security, Political Commentary, star trek

Traumatic Truths

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A few years ago I attended a conference about spirituality and trauma conducted by Dr. Robert Grant. I highly recommend his book The Way of the Wound if you have either been affected by trauma in any way, or if you deal as a professional counselor, therapist, or pastoral care giver. The fact is that we all experience difficult times and very often trauma is at the heart of them.

During that seminar he went through a number of things and going back through my notes I decided to pull some of them out, you can note some of my dark humor and sarcasm, not that there is anything wrong with that…. But really all kidding aside these are abiding truths and they can be both uncomfortable and comforting at the same time. To me they actually help make sense of the world.

Back when I was in seminary and in  my early years of ministry, in fact up until the time I landing in Iraq, I was filled with a lot of certitude. I can’t say that now, I have faith but I doubt at least as much as I believe. As baseball great Earl Weaver said: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 

So here are some truths, and as Oscar Wilde noted “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Everyone Dies…. We can’t get around this one a recent study said that 96% of Americans will die someday.

Despite my snarkey comment the fact is that we live in a culture that denies death, while death is such an integral part of life.

No Guarantees…. We are not guaranteed anything in this life. You can live right, maintain good health, treat others right but still can meet with tragedy, betrayal and abandonment. 

We all know people, very good people who do all the right things and despite that still experience trauma and tragedy.

No one can cover all contingencies…. No matter how well we plan there will be unanticipated events in life that shred our plans.  The old saying that “no plan ever survives contact with the enemy” is true.

Now be assured I do believe in planning, including thinking about contingencies, and I do this pretty well. That being said there is seldom a week that goes by where I do not experience something that gums up my plans.

The things that we sometimes believe are solid and long lasting are often transitory in nature…. Even things that we think are solid and will last to the end of time change, deteriorate or dissolve over time.

Need I say more about this?

We and our world are finite…. We have a beginning and an end and our finiteness is sandwiched between the creation and the consummation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about “living in the uncomfortable middle.” Bonhoeffer was right, we don’t know the beginning because we were not there and we do not know the end because it has not yet happened.

This thought by Bonhoeffer one drives a lot of people crazy, especially religious people who have to try to prove things that they cannot prove.

Evil and malevolence exists in individuals, organizations and systems, even those that we esteem highly…. One only has to look at the number of trusted people and organizations that have perpetrated and covered up their own evil acts to know the truth of this. 

I believe in the goodness of most people, but I am also a realist, evil and malevolence is all too real and all to much a part of our world. Until we get that, we will never understand those that commit evil, especially those that do so in the name of God.

So anyway, since we are getting ready for another big winter storm I will close for the day. Tomorrow we’ll see what I put out, until then I think that I just might drink beer instead.

Peace and blessings

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy