Monthly Archives: December 2010

Let’s Share a Pint for Auld Lang Syne: Padre Steve Remembers 2010

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Second verse of Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year from Padre Steve

In his book A Tale of two Cities Charles Dickens wrote “that it was the best of times and the worst of times” and I think that for many people the year 2010 matched that description quite well. I know for me it has been a year marked by the recovery of faith and personal achievement muddled with failure and loss, life and death, opportunity and disappointment.  It has been a year of personal growth but not without pain, it has been a year where I began to feel joy again but also the pain of loss with the passing of my dad.  It was a year of transition as I left the church that I had served for 14 years as a Priest and a change of duty assignments with a promotion.  It has been better than the past few years but not without its difficulties. It has been the best of times and the worst of times.

It has been the same for many people that I know, friends and family have had similar experiences this year and for many of them 2010 has been exceptionally painful and fraught with tragedy, suffering and great loss.  Having shared these times with friends I know that there is little that can be said except to sit quietly with them.  Having experienced such times since returning from Iraq I know that it was the people that were there for me that didn’t have the answers that were the most helpful.

2010 was difficult for many around the world due to war, economic crisis and natural disasters.  Close to home over 700 American and other NATO troops were killed fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the war there will certainly continue with casualties likely to rise as the intensity of combat increases. For those that return with injuries that affect them in body, soul and spirit the war does not go away simply because they have returned home.  The past for those of us that have experienced war tends to always remain in the present and cloud our vision of the future.

The English poet Thomas Hood penned this poignant verse which I think encompasses what many have gone through in 2010 but with the hope that 2011 will be kinder to all of us.

And ye, who have met with Adversity’s blast,
And been bow’d to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass’d
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury -
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen.

The passing of the Old Year and beginning of the New Year always is a time of reflection for me looking back as well as looking forward. For those that have experienced a loss in the past year the time can be filled with pain because the hole left in our lives by the loss is not filled. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in “Creation Fall and Temptation” something that means much to me and which I often paraphrase when conducting the funeral or memorial service for a young person.  It is a quote born of wisdom and which recognizes the loss and holds it dear.

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”

The marking of the New Year and remembrance of the old with our friends and families is important, something that binds us together in ways that are both personal and spiritual.  While for many the coming of the New Year is marked by drunken revelry I think that it is best spent quietly with friends and family if at all possible.  I remember New Year’s Eve of 2008 in Iraq when I celebrated it quietly with Father Jose Bautista after returning from my two week journey to the Syrian Border. We celebrated quietly watching movies and drinking non-alcoholic beer, they only kind that we were allowed to drink.

I found then that the New Year is a time to be human as God intends us to be living in the real world because it is God that wants us to, caring for each other and not avoiding life, but living in its joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy, love and loss.  As Bonhoeffer wrote: “I’m still discovering, right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing, we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.”

To live in the moment with those that we love in the real world and to know that God loves the real world, both the good and the bad, not our idea of an ideal human, but real people just as they are. God loves this real world not an ideal world of our imaginations, but the real world. This world and humanity that we are often tempted to shrink back from with pain and hostility is the real world.  It is imperfect and often unjust, but it is the world that we are called to live in that is for God the ground of unfathomable love.

2010 was a difficult year and for me the best of times and the worst of times but it is what it is and maybe 2011 while certain to have its share of sorrow will be better for all of us.  I think some of what I feel can be summed up in the song Happy New Year by Abba.  The song is somewhat melancholy but it is real.

No more champagne and the fireworks are through

Here we are me and you feeling lost and feeling blue

It’s the end of the party and the morning seems so grey

So unlike yesterday now’s the time for us to say…

Happy new year, Happy new year May we all have a vision now and then

Of a world where every neighbor is a friend

Happy new year, Happy new year may we all have our hopes, our will to try

If we don’t we might as well lay down and die

You and I

Sometimes I see how the brave new world arrives

And I see how it thrives in the ashes of our lives

Oh yes, man is a fool and he thinks he’ll be okay

Dragging on, feet of clay never knowing he’s astray

Keeps on going anyway…

Happy New Year, Happy New Year may we all have a vision now and then

Of a world where every neighbor is a friend

Happy new year, Happy new year may we all have our hopes, our will to try

If we don’t we might as well lay down and die

You and I

Seems to me now that the dreams we had before

Are all dead, nothing more than confetti on the floor

It’s the end of a decade in another ten years time

Who can say what we’ll find what lies waiting down the line

In the end of eighty-nine…

Happy new year, Happy new year may we all have a vision now and then

Of a world where every neighbor is a friend

Happy new year, Happy new year may we all have our hopes, our will to try

If we don’t we might as well lay down and die

You and I

Abba Happy New Year Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcLMH8pwusw

As I look to the New Year and remember the old I do pray that 2011 will be better for everyone those here are home and those in harm’s way in combat zones.  As someone once said:  “Here’s a toast to the future, A toast to the past, and a toast to our friends, far and near. May the future be pleasant; The past a bright dream; May our friends remain faithful and dear.”


Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Top 25 Articles of 2010, some Statistics and a Big Thank You to My Readers

Well we are coming to the end of the year here at Padre Steve’s World and as if you didn’t know from my baseball posts I am a fanatic about statistics.  Last year I published my “Top 10” in order to just get an idea about what my readers were reading and to kind of point new readers to articles that might interest them.

Before I delve into this I want to say thank you to all those people that take the time to stop by my little realm of cyber space and to those that take the time to leave comments, positive and even negative. You help me out a lot both in what I write and making me look at different angles on the subjects that I write about. Likewise various reads comments and suggestions have inspired and sometimes provoked me into writing articles that I might not have written otherwise. So thank you for taking the time to look at this site. Unlike the talk radio hosts that as us to give them 3 hours a day 5 days a week I just hope that you stop by once in a while and if you like what you see to come by more often and recommended the site to friends.

What is interesting to me is the way that some of these essays have almost taken on lives of their own and become much more popular than I could have ever imagined.  Who knows maybe I can actually work on finding a publisher this year and get some of this into print and maybe just maybe actually make a little money for my efforts.  I’ve been looking at the 700 plus posts that now are on the site and I can see a few book possibilities and if you have suggestions please let me know.

So as far as statistics go Padre Steve’s World is coming up on 2 Million total views and should go over that mark late today or early tomorrow.  Of those views about 1,280,000 have come this year, I won’t get an exact count until the New Year but then who but me is counting anyway? With those numbers I am averaging about 3500 views a day with the highest today being on June 17th when I had 9647 views.  I have had readers from almost every country or territory in the world from the United States to Togo and almost everywhere in between.  I think that is pretty cool and shows how the internet can reach almost all parts of the globe and I hope that the people in far off lands are getting something positive out of what I write.

This year I have posted 377 articles of which 169 had something to do with Baseball and 70 were about the military and of the military articles 18 dealt with various types of warships and a further dealt with history.  Another 21 articles dealt with Iraq or Afghanistan in one way or another ranging from historical, operational and theoretical articles interspersed with essays about the human cost of war.  Now the categories dealing with religion were harder to quantify as I posted them in several different categories with some articles listed in more than one category. Of these 24 articles dealt with faith, 29 with the Christian life, 49 in the general category of Religion and 53 fit into the rather amorphous category of Philosophy. I also listed 20 in the Pastoral Care section.  Again many of these posts overlapped so depending on the subject an article might be listed under several categories.

I have also more interactive this year with my readers in terms of the comment section and comments listed on my Facebook page for different articles. If you want to subscribe to the site or a single post and its comments feel free to do so and if you want to be a Facebook “friend” just tell me that you read the site when you do the request.

So this year I am posting my top 25 essays of 2010 as I think it gives me and you a better grasp on what people find interesting on this site.  I have also written a little bit of what caused me to write about those subjects.

Music of the 1970s and 1980s topped my list with 3 articles in the top 25 coming it at number 1, 5 and 9

1. I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s I wrote this because I am went to High School and College in the 70s and 80s and like anyone my musical tastes and preferences were set back then. This year the essay which includes a lot of links to music videos has had over 46,000 viewers.

My article about the Rape of Nanking got me some hate mail from Japan

2. “Revisionist” History and the Rape of Nanking 1937 This article grew out of a research paper that I did in one of my classes for my Masters Degree in Military History. I found the subject interesting because I remember some of the Holocaust deniers when I was in college and the fact that people try to expunge the reality of such crimes against humanity is something for which that I have little tolerance. I did get a couple of nasty responses from some Japanese deniers regarding this article. Almost 20,000 people read this article this year.

3. Padre Steve’s World: Top 10 articles of 2009 What can I say? A lot of people, a bit of 13,000 have found my site and other articles through this post.

4. Halloween Book Burning Update: Bring the Marshmallows Please! I wrote this just prior to Halloween of 2009 on a lark. It was fun but serious and deals with a little church near Ashville North Carolina that publicized a book and Bible burning.  About 10,500 folks read this one.

5. More about Why I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s Obviously I wrote this because I didn’t get enough 70s and 80s songs in the first time. Evidently a lot of people like this one as well as about 10,500 folks read it in 2010 and like the first edition it is chocked full of links to music videos.

The Einsatzgrüppen were a key component of Hitler’s racial war in the East

6. The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia This article also came out of a lot of study and thought. I was a history major in college and my concentration area was in modern German History particularly Weimar and the Nazi Era. In the following 28 years or so I have continued to study and I wrote this essay for one of my Masters Degree classes.  About 10,300 people have read this one this year.

7. Reformation Day: How Martin Luther and Hans Kung Brought Me to an Anglo-Catholic Perspective, a Book and Bible Burning Reaches Ludicrous Speed and Yankees take Game Three 8-5 I wrote this during the 2009 World Series and it was kind of a catch all article for that day. The primary focus was Reformation Day and my journey to a Catholic faith.  It also included an update about the previously mentioned book and Bible burning and game three of the 2009 World Series between the Yankees and Phillies. About 7300 people looked at this article since January 1st 2010.

Star Trek is a part of my spiritual journey

8. Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 This article came out of my spiritual journey and kind of wove my faith with Star Trek.  I grew up with the original series but find Star Trek TNG and DS9 to be my favorites and I loved the new movie.  When I wrote the article back in May of 2009 I was still struggling with faith and in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Even though it is a relatively old article on the site that it had almost 6000 views this year which I attribute to the popularity of Star Trek and not this site or me.

9. Padre Steve’s Favorite Love Songs…Happy Valentine’s Day! Once again I write about music in this post with many love songs from the 1970s and 80s as well as a few from other eras. Close to 6,000 folks have looked at this since I wrote it in February and it too has a lot of music video links.

10. Can Anybody Spare a DIME: A Short Primer on Early Axis Success and How the Allies Won the Second World War This I kind of wrote on the spur of the moment as I was thinking about the concept of the DIME, or the Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic factors of national power and how it relates to war, in this case World War Two. About 4800 people read this and though it is to me a rather innocuous post it attracted the attention of a Neo-Nazi White Supremacist who didn’t like it.  The guy would bother me a number of other times and even threaten my life on one of my Norfolk Tides Baseball posts.  Such is the danger of putting stuff in public but the Neo-Nazis can pound sand.

11. Oh the Pain…Padre Steve’s Kidney Stone Naming Contest In February I got slammed hard by a nasty 7mm Kidney Stone that lodged at the top of the bladder and would move. I was out of action for over a month and as I waited for my surgery to get the nasty thing out I had a naming contest. So far about 4600 people have read this and I guess that it is one of the more humorous posts on this very painful subject on the internet. By the way I named him Adolf.

12. Background to “The Pacific” Part One: The Guadalcanal Campaign and the Beginning of Joint Operations I had originally written this article for my Master’s Degree program. When the HBO series The Pacific came out I re-wrote it and published it. Almost 4600 people have read this article.

The Landings at D-Day have always been a favorite subject of mine and this article was written in a more reflective moment

13. D-Day- Courage, Sacrifice and Luck, the Costs of War and Reconciliation This article was written in a more reflective moment before the 2009 D-Day anniversary. It has retained its popularity with almost 4500 views this year.

14. 20 Years: The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War I wrote this around the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since we lived in Germany where I was a Platoon Leader, Company XO and Company Commander in the Cold War and having travelled to East Berlin in November 1986 I couldn’t help but write about it. We cried when the wall came down and I have had the chance to travel in the former East Germany on a number of occasions since the fall of the wall. A bit over 3700 people have read this article.

The loss of shipmates and friends like Senior Chief Pam Branum played a big role in my writing since I started Padre Steve’s World

15. Turning Points: The Battle of Midway, Randy Johnson Gets his 300th Win and Chief Branum Gets Her Star This was a catch-all article when I wrote it back in June of 2009. I was thinking about the Battle of Midway, celebrating Randy Johnson getting his 300th career victory and remembering a shipmate and friend Senior Chief Petty Officer Pamela Branum who was posthumously promoted at her memorial service.  A bit over 3600 people had read this article.

16. Memorable Recruiting Slogans and the All Volunteer Force This was a fun article because it took me back to the days when I first enlisted in the Army national Guard in 1981.  About 3600 folks viewed this article this year.

17. Operation “Dachs” My First Foray into the Genre “Alternative History” I wrote this originally for my Master’s Degree when I asked permission of a professor to do an alternative history of the Battle of Kursk.  I write it using actual sources but altering one key fact which changes the story. What sets it apart is that I get to kill off Hitler before the battle presuming that the anti-Hitler plotters bomb had gone off in his aircraft as he returned to Germany following his visit to Army Group Center.  Almost 3600 people read this in 2010.

The Battle of Stalingrad

18. The Anniversary of Disaster: Stalingrad 67 Years Later This was an article that I modified from a paper that I wrote for my Master’s degree.  I find I have sympathy for the struggle of common soldiers in hopeless causes, even when they fight in causes and under leaders that are unjust or even evil as the Nazis were. Just over 3000 people read this article this year.

The role of Jackie Robinson and other African American Baseball Players in helping end segregation and give added support to the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr Martin Luther King and others

19. Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King they Changed America I find the Civil Rights movement to be one of the most important parts of American history and Jackie Robinson possibly had as much or more impact in the movement as anyone with the exception of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior. I know a number of former Negro League players and I respect their struggle on the diamond and how they helped integrate America.  Almost 3000 people read this article.

20. Laughing to the Music: The Musical Genius of Mel Brooks Mel Brooks is my favorite filmmaker and I probably know almost every song in his films by heart. Most people don’t know that Brooks wrote almost all the music in his films. Just over 2900 folks have read this article which like my other music articles is full of links to videos of Mel Brook’s music.

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor essay focused on what happened to the great ladies of Pearl Harbor like the USS West Virginia above

21. The Battleships of Pearl Harbor This was the first article about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I looked at the Battleships which were present and what happened to each of them. Almost 2900 people took a look at this article which spawned articles about the ships on the far side of Ford Island and one about all the ships present.

22. Padre Steve’s Decade in Review: Up Down Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again I wrote this on New Year’s Eve day in 2009. It was kind of a fun but serious look at some of the events of the first decade of the new millennium. Almost 2800 folks read this one.

23. Why Johnny Can’t Read Maps: NCAA Tournament Geography for Dummies and a Solution I wrote this as the 2010 NCAA Basketball Tournament began. I just hit tilt on way that the NCAA names the brackets by geographic areas that have no connection with some of the cities in them. Like when is Seattle in the Southeast? Give me a break. Evidently almost 2600 people agree with me.

24. Mortain to Market-Garden: A Study in How Armies Improvise in Rapidly Changing Situations I wrote this originally for my Master’s degree program a few years back. I thought about it more and took another crack at it for the website. Almost 2500 folks took a look a this article this year.

The French in Indochina and Algeria and how we can learn from their experience especially on how such campaigns affect the men that fight them

25. Lessons for the Afghan War: The Effects of Counterinsurgency Warfare on the French Army in Indo-China and Algeria and the United States Military in Vietnam I have studied insurgencies since before I went to Iraq when I started my Master’s Degree in Military History program.  As I studied it I began to buy all the books that I could on the subject and with my Iraq experience still resonating in me, I wrote about how counter-insurgency campaigns affect the Armies and Soldiers that wage them.

So my friends thank you for your support over the past year. I pray that you have a wonderful New Year and hope that you keep stopping by.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Four of a Kind: The Illustrious Class Aircraft Carriers

HMS Illustrious in 1944

In the mid-1930s the Royal Navy recognized the need to develop and built new Fleet Carriers. The Illustrious Class of four ships was ordered as part of the 1936 Naval Program.  The four ships of the class HMS Illustrious, HMS Formidable, HMS Victorious and HMS Indomitable were some of the most important ships to see service in the Royal Navy in the Second World War and would see action in the Atlantic, Arctic, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Pacific.  They were tough ships and all sustained serious damage at least once in their careers that might have sunk other ships.  Different in concept than the Royal Navy’s only modern carrier the Ark Royal they displaced more than the U.S. Navy Yorktown Class and just somewhat less than the following Essex Class ships although they were over 100 feet shorter in length as compared to the American ships.

The class was built with an armored flight deck which covered the hangar deck with both as an integral part of the ship’s structure and defense.  The American ships hanger and flight deck were part of the superstructure with the armored deck being that of the hangar deck itself.  This provided advantages in protection against bombs and later Kamikazes but there was a trade off in both aircraft capacity and the ability for the ships to handle the larger aircraft that came into service following the Second World War.  As designed the ships carried just 36 aircraft as compared with the 80-100 aircraft of the American ships and the 72 that the Ark Royal was rated at.  Later in the war the Royal Navy adopted the American practice of an air park on the flight deck which increased their capacity to up to 70 aircraft. The last ship of the class, the Indomitable was built to a modified deign with an expanded two deck hangar with increased aircraft capacity similar to that of the Ark Royal.  An additional drawback to the design was that any bomb which penetrated the armored flight deck exploded inside the hangar causing deformation to the actual ship’s structure.

British defensive doctrine for these carriers was focused on the passive protection provided by the armored flight deck and by a far heavier anti-aircraft battery than the Yorktown Class and comparable to the Essex Class. This was a different doctrine than that of the Americans and the Imperial Japanese Navy which embarked large air groups believing that the aircraft were integral to the defense of the ship.

The ships displaced 28,919 tons full load and were capable of steaming at 30.5 knots with an operational range of 11,000 nautical miles at 14 knots, far more than any previous Royal Navy carrier but far less than the Essex class which could steam 20,000 nautical miles at 15 knots. The Essex Class ships were had a greater displacement as well as a higher top speed of 33 knots.  The Illustrious class was best suited for operations in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and less suited to the vast expanse of the Pacific where they would spend the last year of the war.

Illustrious under attack by German Bombers

HMS Illustrious: Illustrious was laid down in April 1937, launched in April 1939 and commissioned in May 1940. Upon commissioning she and her air group deployed to the Mediterranean where in the dark days following the fall of France they escorted vital convoys, supported the Royal Army in the war in North Africa and conducted strikes against Italian shore installations and fleet units.  Illustrious launched the first major raid against an enemy shore base by carrier aircraft on 11 November 1940. Her aircraft from number 813, 815, 819 and 823 Squadrons made a night attack on the Naval Base at Taranto sinking the battleship Conte di Cavour and heavily damaging the battleships Andrea Doria and the new battleship Littorio and moderate damage to the Caio Dulio This strike helped cripple Italian naval power and helped give the Japanese inspiration for the Pearl Harbor attack.    On 10 January she suffered severe damage from 6 bomb hits while escorting a convoy near Malta. She was attacked again at Malta causing more damage and she was withdrawn from action and sent to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for repairs. The damage was severe enough to keep her out of the war until May of 1942.  One of her shafts was so badly damaged that it had to be cut away and could not be replaced which reduced her speed to 23 knots. On her return to action she covered the landings against the Vichy French island of Madagascar and the Sicily landings. In 1944 she was in action with the Far East Fleet conducting raids against Japanese held islands in Indonesia and in 1945 was in action as part of the British Pacific Fleet where she saw action at Okinawa where she was hit by two Kamikazes and Formosa where a near miss close aboard by a Kamikaze caused severe damage below her waterline.  She sailed home where she underwent repair until 1946 when she was returned to duty as a training carrier in which capacity she served until she was decommissioned and scrapped in 1954.

Grumman Marlett (F4F Wildcat) on flight deck of HMS Formidable

HMS Formidable: Formidable was laid down in June 1937, launched in August 1939 and commissioned in November 1940.  She actually “launched herself” a half hour before her Christening ceremony which gave her the nickname “The ship that launched herself.”  Formidable saw action in the Mediterranean in 1941 and was heavily damaged by two 1000 kg bombs while escorting a Malta Convoy. This put her out of action for 6 months as she was repaired at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  On her return she saw service first in the Indian Ocean and then in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and the Italian Campaign. She also saw service in the Arctic sinking U-331 and in raids against the German Battleship Tirpitz.  She was in action in 1945 against the Japanese with the British Pacific Fleet where she relieved Illustrious after that ship was withdrawn from action. On 4 May 1945 while supporting operations off Okinawa she suffered massive damage from a Kamikaze, temporary repairs kept her in action until hit by another Kamikaze on 9 May. She was withdrawn from action and a fleet review determined that she was not economically repairable in the austere post war years. She was placed in reserve in 1947 and sold for scrap in 1953 with the scrapping taking place in 1956.

HMS Indomitable

HMS Indomitable: Indomitable was built to a modified design which allowed her to operate far more aircraft than her sisters. She was laid down in November 1937, launched in March 1940 and commissioned in October 1941. She was slated to accompany the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to the Far East and the defense of Singapore but ran aground on a coral reef during her shakedown cruise in the Jamaica which prevented that deployment.  After repairs she operated with the Far East Fleet in the Indian Ocean and took part in the invasion of Madagascar in November 1942.  In July of 1942 she took part in the Malta resupply mission Operation Pedestal where she was heavily damaged by two 500 kg bombs which penetrated her flight deck. She was withdrawn to the United States for repairs which lasted until February 1943 when she returned to the Mediterranean.  She took a torpedo hit from a German Ju-88 bomber on 15 June 1943 during the build up to the invasion of Sicily and again returned to the United States for repairs which were completed in February 1944. She then took part in operations with the Far East Fleet in the Indian Ocean before joining the British Pacific Fleet in 1945. She received minor damage from a Kamikaze hit on 4 May 1945 while operating near Okinawa. She finished the war in good shape compared to Illustrious and Formidable but was damaged by an internal fire and explosion in 1947 the damage from which was never repaired. She remained in service until she was placed in unmaintained reserve in 1953 and scrapped in 1955.

HMS Victorious

HMS Victorious: The Victorious was probably the most celebrated aircraft carrier in the history of the Royal Navy. Her World War Two service was remarkable by any standard and she was the only ship of her class to be modernized to carry jet aircraft following the war being refitted in much the same way as the American Essex Class ships were in the 1950s with an angled flight deck.  She was laid down in May 1937, launched in September 1939 and commissioned on 14 May 1941. Within 10 days of her commissioning she was taking part in the Hunt for the Bismarck and her Swordfish torpedo bombers scored one torpedo hit on that ship.  She saw much action in the North Atlantic and Arctic escorting convoys and deterring forays of German raiders into the Atlantic. She served in the Mediterranean during some Malta operations including Operation Pedestal and the Operation Torch landings in North Africa.  Due to the shortage of U.S. Carriers from heavy combat in the South Pacific in 1942 Victorious was “loaned” to the U.S. Navy deployed to operate with the U.S. Pacific Fleet following refits to operate U.S. built aircraft. She operated in the South Pacific from March to September of 1943 with the USS Saratoga in operations against the Japanese to include the New Georgia landings. She returned home and took part in raids against the Tirpitz which put that ship out of action for several months. She deployed to the Far East in 1944 and support operations in the Indian Ocean before being transferred to the British Pacific Fleet.

Victorious on Fire off Okinawa

She was involved in extensive Pacific operations including Okinawa and the raids on mainland Japan. She was stuck on a number of occasions by Kamikazes but remained in action.  After the war she was modernized and remained in service until 1969 when the Royal Navy decided that it was going to end its fixed wing operations and decommission its remaining attack aircraft carriers. She was broken up at Faslane beginning in 1969.

The modernized HMS Victorious

The Illustrious Class ships were great ships which performed admirable work in the Second World War. They and their brave crews continued the proud tradition of the Royal Navy. It is my hope that at least the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers will be renamed for a ship of this class, preferably Victorious.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

Our Bottom Line is our Honor: Padre Steve Talks About Wall Street

“It was the mystical dogma of Bentham and Adam Smith and the rest, that some of the worst of human passions would turn out to be all for the best. It was the mysterious doctrine that selfishness would do the work of unselfishness.” G.K. Chesterton

The United States is one of the most religious of Nations especially in what we worship. I’m not talking about God her I’m talking about money. The High Priests of this religion are those that run the financial institutions as well as much of what is sometimes described as “American” business. The bottom line is their honor and profit their goal.

I tell you what there is no such thing as an “American” Banker, Investor, Broker or President of any major corporation based in the United States they are men and women without a country with their only loyalty being their profits and what benefits their bottom line. The truth is as Napoleon Bonaparte said so succinctly “Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”

This has never been in more evidence than today.  The situation has been worsening since the end of the Cold War when under the name of “Free Trade” financial institutions and multinational corporations based in the United States have been selling us short once they figured that they could do better elsewhere like in Communist China as well as Third and Second World countries controlled by tyrants and despots who couldn’t give a damn about human rights.  Mind you that for many years it was American money, the American people and military power that enabled them to prosper particularly in the days when Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt maintain protectionist policies that actually helped them and the country at the same time.

The United States was never stronger than when we practiced protectionism. It benefited out people as well as businesses.  But when people like Teddy Roosevelt saw things that business did which were criminally irresponsible either in the treatment of workers or the environment business cried foul and it has been that way ever since. All “good” conservatives and libertarians have worshiped at the foot of the God of Capitalism and its prophets and the sacred doctrine of Free Trade.

The end of the year numbers are out and it looks like Wall Street and Major U.S. based corporations are doing quite well thank you while doing everything that they can to avoid being good citizens to the people of this country that made them what they are. Profits are up as are stocks and Wall Street is living high on the hog despite having made a mess of things to the point that the American Government had to give them our money, and lots of it to stay solvent and not crash the entire economy. It is as Thomas Jefferson once said “I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” To be blunt “American” financial institutions have raped this country and now that they are done with us are willing to take our money, use our military to protect or even enhance their operations overseas are willing to throw us under the bus because they can make more money elsewhere.

Well it seems that there is happiness in Mudville or shall I say on Wall Street as the year end numbers roll in.  Unfortunately for many Americans those profits won’t benefit this country.  Unemployment remains high, our personal and government debts are skyrocketing and deficits are killing the country while good paying technical and industrial jobs are moved overseas as supposedly American business shutters their U.S. production centers.  Meanwhile business and financial leaders carp about the United States not being a “friendly corporate environment” with “too much government regulation” and too many “powerful unions” as the reason for them to invest elsewhere.  Little things such as safety, the environment and even God forbid the lives of the people that work for them are of little concern, if the citizens of the U.S. or any other country decide that they want a bit more control of such issues then they are thrown under the bus by the financial institutions and corporations. If the U.S. Government asks them for anything it is “screw you” we’ll move to India where incidents what happened like the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal India don’t matter too much and Communist China which does its damndest to violate the human rights of its own people and run roughshod over its neighbors.

Andrew Jackson, perhaps the last President with the guts and moral principles to stand up to the likes of such people said:

“Every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add… artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.”

What Jackson said then is just as applicable now. Nearly every law that is passed in Washington is full of loopholes and benefits for the rich who then after bankrupting the country have the nerve to complain about government social programs. Usually they say that caring for the poor is the voluntary responsibility of individuals, churches and private charities which on principle I agree with, but on the whole is not practical because the need is too great mostly due to the power of the financials and the incompetence of government agencies.

The attitude of these supposedly “American” financial institutions and corporations seems to be all about “Free Trade.” The sad thing is that the moniker of “Free Trade” is somewhat Orwellian if you ask me.  The reality of “free trade” is that these interests should be able to do whatever they want, however they want without anyone being able to regulate them of tell them what to do.  In reality their carping about this not being a “business friendly environment” is them dictating to us that they should be able to operate for free from here while trading wherever they want without any responsibility or return to the country and people that made their success possible in the first place.  I would argue it is the financial houses and multi-national corporations based in the United States that are the real power in the world and that they have used us up and are now in the process of dumping us like they have so many World powers before us.

Napoleon saw this and said: “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. The late Marine Corps Major General and two time Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler said back in 1933 concerning the way that financiers use the government, in particular the military to advance their interests:

“I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism….I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.”

Let’s fast forward on this while American soldiers get killed by Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, many made with the assistance of Iranian agents the Treasury Department granted over 10,000 permits for U.S. corporations to trade with Iran with you guessed it my friends, some of the Largest U.S. banks reaping the profit.  This has been going on for years and while the bulk of such trade is limited to food items like Louisiana Hot Sauce it has also included deals which allowed other U.S. corporations to trade with Iranian companies that are suspected of involvement in terrorism or weapons proliferation.  http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/12/23/report-treasury-okd-business-iran/#ixzz19SAQIwIu Pardon my ignorance but isn’t that like blood money when our troops die from Iranian assisted attacks?

Don’t worry though, we are in good company as such people have done the same to those that came before us as well, just look at Britain, once business bled her dry they cast her aside.  You see my friends our government doesn’t really control anything. It is the corporate and financial elites that run the country and dare I say the world.  James Madison saw it coming noting that “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance.”

Financial institutions and many multinational corporations have acted in the most unseemly of fashions literally bankrupting nations and individuals while they continue to prosper and it seems that they can never get enough.  Great Americans have warned of the dangers of the financial elites controlling both national as well as private lending institutions. In fact if you look at the leadership of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department there is an almost incestuous link between them and Wall Street. Dwight Eisenhower talked about the danger of the “military-industrial complex” but that threat is nothing compared to the control that those that come out of Wall Street Investment Banks have over the nations’ economic and monetary policy and over the legislators that supposedly exercise oversight of such institutions. Thomas Jefferson noted that:

“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their money, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them (around the banks), will deprive the people of their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

While Andrew Jackson lectured the leaders of the 2nd Bank of the United States before (probably unwisely) withdrawing U.S. assets from the Bank and eventually destroying it:

“Gentlemen, I have had men watching you for a long time and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the bank. You tell me that if I take the deposits from the bank and annul its charter, I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin! Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves.”

I think that even though Jackson’s decision hurt the economy which resulted in the Panic of 1837 but his reasons were sound:

It concentrated the nation’s financial strength in a single institution.

It exposed the government to control by foreign interests.

It served mainly to make the rich richer.

It exercised too much control over members of Congress.

It favored northeastern states over southern and western states.

Banks are controlled by a few select families.

Banks have a long history of instigating wars between nations, forcing them to borrow funding to pay for them.

Now tell me what has changed in this? If I hadn’t said that Jackson used these reasons to abolish the Second Bank of the United States one might think that I am talking about Wall Street and the Federal Reserve.  Let’s see….it looks to me like the only people getting rich are the Wall Street financiers and those that they favor. It seems that foreign nations, particularly the Chinese Communist have us by the balls holding a huge amount of our debt.  It seems that Congress under both Democratic and Republican control is in their power and will do anything that they want in order to “help the economy” but in reality secure their own power and I could go on but won’t.

Now I’m sure that some of my conservative friends and readers will label me as a liberal or Socialist but I’m not, I just want to see those that benefit from the security that our military provides and the hard work of Americans just actually start helping our side rather than looking to their our filthy money grubbing interests. Some things never change do they?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under economics and financial policy, History, laws and legislation, Military, national security, philosophy

Early British Aircraft Carriers: HMS Argus, Furious, Eagle, Courageous, Glorious, Hermes and Ark Royal

The British Royal Navy was the first to grasp the importance of the aircraft carrier and the first to embark on a carrier construction program and establish a Fleet Air Arm. Between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second the Royal Navy would build 7 carriers.  These ships in almost all cases were somewhat experimental as the Royal Navy experimented with flight deck and island designs, arresting systems, catapults and designs. The initial ships were all converted from other types with only two the Hermes and Ark Royal being built from the keel up as carriers.

HMS Furious

HMS Furious: Furious was built as a Courageous class large light cruiser and mounted two 18” guns in single turrets. A flying off platform was added as was a second flight deck aft following the removal of those guns. She operated Fleet Air Arm Sopwith Pups but aircraft that attempted to land on her aft deck encountered severe turbulence caused by the air currents coming around the superstructure and funnel gasses. She was the first ship to land an aircraft underway on August 2nd 1917 during her trials however the pilot Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning was killed when his Pup’s engine choked on a later attempt. After the war Furious was laid up until she was taken in hand for conversion to an Aircraft Carrier between 1921 and 1925.  When she was completed she could operate a 36 aircraft air group. Between the wars she supported Fleet operations and was used in the testing and evaluation of aircraft. She conducted the first night landing on a carrier when she landed a Blackburn Dart on 6 May 1926. She received a number of overhauls and modernizations. During the war she supported numerous fleet operations including the North Africa landings, operations in the Mediterranean and operations against German fleet units in Norway including the Battleship Tirpitz. Her limitations began to show and she was placed in reserve in September 1944 and paid off in April 1945. She was subsequently used to evaluate the effects of explosives on her structure. She was sold for scrap in 1948.

HMS Argus 1918

HMS Argus: The Argus was converted from the Italian Ocean Liner Conte Rosso which was purchases by the Royal Navy with the intent of converting her into an Aircraft Carrier.  She was built with a flush unobstructed flight deck after the Royal Navy’s unsuccessful divided flight deck experiment used on the HMS Furious following her conversion from a Light Battle Cruiser to a carrier. Argus was launched in 1917 and commissioned just prior to the end of the war on September 19th 1918.  Argus was small (15,775 tons) She was only capable of 20 knots and carried 18 aircraft. Like the USS Langley she was not a true frontline though she was used in that role as well as a training ship until the end of the 1920s when she was withdrawn from frontline service. Since she was built before the Washington Naval Treaty she was considered an experimental ship and not counted against Britain.  By the 1930s she was regulated to serving as a tender for remote controlled DH.82B Queen Bees.  During the early part of World War II the Royal Navy suffered heavy losses and the Argus assumed front line duties escorting convoys in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and ferrying badly needed aircraft to Malta for the Royal Air Force. She finally was withdrawn from service in 1944 and used as an accommodation ship until scrapped in 1946.

HMS Eagle 1942

HMS Eagle: Eagle was laid down as the Chilean Battleship Admirante Cochrane prior to World War I and her construction was suspended until the Royal Navy purchased her for completion as a through deck Aircraft Carrier. She was 667.5 feet long and displaced 26,000 tons full load and carried up to 21 aircraft.  She conducted sea trials but was taken back to the shipyard for improvements including an all oil-fired plant, anti-torpedo bulges and a longer island structure. She was commissioned in 1924 an saw much service through the 1920s and 1930s serving in the Mediterranean and the Far East until the outbreak of the Second World War.  With the outbreak of hostilities she was recalled from the Far East where she spent most of her time in the Mediterranean escorting convoys, launching airstrikes against Italian bases and fleet units sinking the submarine Iride and the depot ship Monte Gargano in the Gulf of Bomba on 22 August 1941.

HMS Eagle burning and sinking

She was damaged by near misses by Luftwaffe bombers in October returned to England for repairs before returning to the Mediterranean in February 1942. She and her aircraft were very important in the defense of Malta until she was sunk during another Malta relief mission Operation Pedestal by the German U-Boat U-73 on 11 August 1942.  Hit by 4 torpedoes she sank in 4 minutes with the loss of 160 officers and crew.

HMS Hermes

HMS Hermes: The Hermes was the first carrier built as such from the keel up using a cruiser type hull.  The design of the Japanese carrier Hosho was influenced by Hermes which was launched before Hosho was laid down although Hosho commissioned earlier. Hermes was a pioneer design with a full length flush flight deck and starboard side island structure. She was limited by her small size and slow speed although she could embark almost as many aircraft than could the much larger Eagle. She did have significant limitations including protection, endurance, only 6,000 miles at 18 knots and small air group size which varied from 15-20 aircraft. She primarily served on the China Station until placed in reserve in 1937. In 1939 she was reactivated briefly serving with the Home Fleet before being assigned to the South Atlantic Station. She sailed with HMS Prince of Wales for the Far East in late 1941 but did not accompany the Prince of Wales and Repulse to Singapore where they would be sunk when trying to intercept a Japanese convoy on December 8th 1941.

HMS Hermes sinking after Japanese air attack new Ceylon

She remained at Ceylon and escaped from the harbor before the Japanese carrier’s arrived, however returning to port she was spotted by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft and attacked by 70 Japanese attack planes which hit her 40 times sinking her with the loss of 307 of her 664 man crew on 9 April 1942.

HMS Glorious and a destroyer taken from Ark Royal at close of Norwegian campaign

HMS Glorious: The Glorious was one of the three Courageous class Battlecruisers designed and built in World War One. Her sister ship HMS Furious had already been taken in hand for complete conversion to an aircraft when the Washington Naval Treaty was ratified. Under the terms of the treaty the Royal Navy had to significantly reduce its number of capital ships.  With their large size and high speed the Courageous class ships, like the American Lexington class were ideal candidates for conversion to aircraft carriers.  Glorious underwent conversion from 1924 until 1930 when she was recommissioned.  With an overall length of 786 feet and full load displacement of 27,859 tons she could carry 48 aircraft and steam at 30 knots. She would spend much of her career in the Mediterranean and undergo modernization from 1934-1935.  At the outbreak of the war she was in the Mediterranean and would take part in the hunt for the German Pocket-Battleship Admiral Scheer in the Indian Ocean until being brought back to the Home Fleet for operations in the Norwegian Campaign.

HMS Glorious sinking picture taken from Scharnhorst

As the British withdraw was completed her Commander requested to steam independently to Scapa Flow to hold a courts martial proceeding against his former Air Group Commander. Sailing with two escorting destroyers Glorious was sighted by the German Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on June 8th 1941.  Unprepared with no Combat Air Patrol up or aircraft at the ready Glorious and her two escorting destroyers were sunk by the German warships. Only 43 of her complement and air group of nearly 1400 men survived.

HMS Courageous entering Malta

HMS Courageous: Courageous like her sister HMS Glorious was taken in hand for conversion to an aircraft carrier in 1924 was recommissioned as such in 1928.  She would serve primarily with the Atlantic and Home Fleets between the wars and upon commencement of hostilities.

HMS Courageous sinking after being torpedoed by U-29 17 September 1939

He became part of a U-Boat Hunter Killer Group and on the 17th of September 1939 barely 2 weeks after the start of the war she was sunk by two torpedoes fired by the U-29 taking with her 518 of her crew including her Captain.  Her loss sent a shudder through the Admiralty and resulted in Fleet Carriers being pulled from this type of duty.

HMS Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal: Ark Royal was the first truly modern Royal Navy carrier. Designed from the keel up as such she incorporated arresting gear and steam catapults. She also was built with two hangar decks as well as elevators that were integral to the hull and thus protected by the ship’s armor belt. Designed to operate 72 aircraft she normally operated 50-60 as the size and weight of aircraft had increased during the time of her construction and commissioning. Displacing 27,800 tons fully loaded she was 800 feet long and had a top speed of 31 knots and range of 7600 nautical miles (8700 miles) at 20 knots being the only British carrier of the era to compare favorably with her American and Japanese counterparts.  Commissioned in December of 1938 Ark Royal which was intended for service in the Far East was deployed with the Home Fleet and in the Mediterranean until the outbreak of the war. Initially employed on Hunter Killer duty she and her escorting destroyers sank the U-39 on 14 September 1939 followed by the hunt for the Pocket Battleship Graf Spee. She saw action in Norway and was a bulwark of British strength in the Mediterranean where she took part in the attack on the French Fleet at Mes-el-Kébir following the French surrender to Germany and the refusal of the French Commander to either scuttle the fleet or bring to British controlled waters.  She was engaged in numerous engagements and operations including the support of Malta, operations against the Italian Fleet and air strikes on Italian shore installations. She survived frequent air attacks by the Luftwaffe during these operations.  When the Bismarck broke out into the Atlantic Ark Royal was dispatched with Force H to assist in the hunt. Ark Royal’s Fairly Swordfish torpedo bombers found the Bismarck on 26 May 1941 and on their last chance to damage the German behemoth stuck her with a torpedo which jammed the Bismarck’s rudders allowing British Battleships to sink her the following day. She returned to the Mediterranean after this where she was again engaged in protecting convoys bound for Malta. While returning with Force H to Gibraltar following one of these runs on 10 November 1941 she was attacked by U-81 which scored a hit with one torpedo. A combination of poor command response, for which her Captain was found guilty of at court-martial as well as design flaws related to her electric power plant which made damage control nearly impossible once power was lost were responsible for her sinking.

The Royal Navy helped pioneer the development of the aircraft carrier but most of their early ships had significant limitations in design, obsolescent aircraft and poor employment which were responsible for the losses of several of the ships.  However they did contribute to Britain’s ability to survive during the early years of the war.  The ships officers and men of these ships company as well as their air groups helped maintain the sea lanes which kept her in the war and allowed her forces to continue to fight in North Africa during the darkest days of the war.  One can never minimize their service or sacrifice in the especially in the early days of the war.

Today the Royal Navy has no Aircraft Carriers in commission. The last the Ark Royal was paid off this year and it will be nearly a decade before the new Queen Elizabeth class enters service. Until then the Royal Navy will have no capability to project air power in support of any contingency.  Let us hope for Britain that no such contingency arises.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

Christmas at the Front 1776-2010

Note: I wrote most of this on Christmas but didn’t finish it until a bit after 1AM on the 26th.

Today as on so many Christmas Days in days gone by military personnel serve on the front lines in wars far away from home and sometimes not far from their homes. Today American and NATO troops engage a resourceful and determined enemy in Afghanistan. To the west Americans support our Iraqi allies in their continued battle to end terrorism in that country while in many corners of the globe others stand watch on land, at sea and in the air. Unfortunately wars continue and until the end of time as we know it there will likely be war without end.

I have done my time in Iraq at Christmas on the Syrian-Iraqi Border with our Marine advisors and their Iraqis.  Since returning home have thought often of those that remain in harm’s way as well as those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, American and from other nations that have spent Christmas on the front lines. Some of these events are absolutely serious while others display some of the “light” moments that occur even in the most terrible of manmade tragedies.

In American history we can look back to 1776, of course we could go back further but 1776 just sounds better. On Christmas of 1776 George Washington took his Continental Army across the Delaware to attack the British garrison at Trenton. Actually it was a bunch of hung over Hessians who after Christmas dinner on the 24th failed to post a guard but it was an American victory. In 1777 Washington and his Army had a rather miserable Christmas at Valley Forge where they spent the winter freezing their asses off and getting drilled into a proper military force by Baron Von Steuben.

While not a battle in the true sense of the word the Cadets at West Point wrote their own Christmas legend in the Eggnog Riot of 1826 when the Cadets in a bit of holiday revelry had a bit too much Eggnog and a fair amount of Whiskey and behaved in a manner frowned upon by the Academy administration. Needless to say that many of the Cadets spent the Christmas chapel services in a hung over state with a fair number eventually being tossed from the Academy for their trouble.

In 1837 the U.S. Army was defeated at the Battle of Lake Okeechobee by the Seminole Nation, not a Merry Christmas at all.  In 1862 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other across the Rappahannock River after the Battle of Fredericksburg while to the south in Hilton Head South Carolina 40,000 people watched Union troops play baseball some uttering the cry of many later baseball fans “Damn Yankees.” In 1864 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other again in the miserable trenches of Petersburg while General William Tecumseh Sherman enjoyed Christmas in Savannah Georgia after cutting a swath of destruction from Atlanta to the sea. He presents the city to Lincoln who simply says “nice, but I really wanted Richmond.”

Napoleon had something to celebrate on December 25th 1801 after surviving an assassination attempt on Christmas Eve and 1809 he was celebrating his divorce from Empress Josephine which had occurred on the 21st.

Meanwhile in Europe the 1914 “Christmas Truce” began between British and German troops and threatened to undo all the hard work of those that made the First World War possible.  Thereafter the High Commands of both sides ensured that such frivolity never happened again.

U.S. Soldiers and Anti-Tank Gun at the Battle of the Bulge

World War II brought much suffering in 1941 after Pearl Harbor the Japanese forced the surrender of Hong Kong and its British garrison while two days later the Soviets launched their counterattack at Moscow against Hitler’s Wehrmacht and the British were retaking Benghazi from the Afrika Corps.  A year later the Americans were clearing Guadalcanal of the Japanese and the Red Army was engaged in a climactic battle against the encircled German 6th Army at Stalingrad. At Stalingrad a German Physician named Kurt Reuber who is also a Lutheran minister draws “The Madonna of Stalingrad.”

The drawing which was taken out of Stalingrad by one of the last German officers to be evacuated now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Reuber would draw another in 1943 while in a Soviet POW camp in which he would die in less than a month after that Christmas. Reuber wrote:

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”
“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St.John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

In 1943 the Marines were battling the Japanese at New Britain while the Red Army was involved in its winter offensive against the Wehrmacht. In 1944 the Russians were advancing in Hungary, the Americans were engaged in a desperate battle with the Germans in the Ardennes with the German 2nd Panzer Division running out of gas 4 miles from the Meuse River and were destroyed by the American 2nd Armored Division. In the Pacific McArthur’s forces were battling the Japanese in the Philippines.

French Chaplain and Soldiers in Indochina

In the years following the Second World War Christmas was celebrated even while armies continued to engage in combat to the death. Christmas of 1950 was celebrated in Korea as the last American forces were withdrawn from the North following the Chinese intervention which the 1st Marine Division chewed up numerous Red Chinese divisions while fighting its way out of the Chosin Reservoir.  In the following years a stalemate along the front brought no end to the war and In French Indo-China the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu celebrated Christmas in primitive fashion unaware that General Giap was already marshalling his forces to cut them off and then destroy them shortly after Easter of 1954.   In 1964 the U.S. commits to the war in Vietnam and for the next 9 years American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen will battle the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong with Marines fighting the North at Khe Sanh during Christmas of 1967.

Christmas on the Syrian Border with USMC Advisors

In the years after Vietnam American troops would spend Christmas in the Desert of Saudi Arabia preparing for Operation Desert Storm in 1990, in Somalia the following year and in the Balkans. After September 11th 2001 U.S. Forces spent their first of at least 10 Christmas’s in Afghanistan and in 2003 begin the first for at least 8 Christmas’s in Iraq.

Today Americans serve around the world far away from home fighting the war against Al Qaeda and its confederates and some will die even on this most Holy of Days while for others it will be their last Christmas.

Please keep them and all who serve now as well as those that served in the past, those that remain and those that have died in your prayers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Melancholy Christmas Eve 2010

Ever since I returned from Iraq in 2008 Christmas has become a much more melancholy season for me. I love the Advent and Christmas season where we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation when God condescended to be born of a woman in the fullness of time.  For me I have always found Christmas to be the most important part of the liturgical year because as I see it you don’t get to the Resurrection of Christ at Easter unless you start with the Incarnation where God becomes vulnerable. The Triune God becomes vulnerable because he elects to become incarnate by sending Jesus who comes to us in the weakness of a baby born in a time of persecution to a young mother and father. For me it was always Christ’s coming that was the great mystery of faith.

No it still is but the observance for me has shifted in focus and not due to any doctrinal changes in my life, but because of war and the cumulative effect of seeing too many young men and women die at a young age.  The effect of seeing devastated cities and towns and maimed children.  The effect of images of wounded Marines at TQ Surgical, burned, bleeding and not knowing if they lived or died after they left us sometimes haunts my attempts to sleep.

Thursday we said goodbye to yet another young sailor who died far too young, a sailor who was loved and appreciated by his shipmates and who had accomplished much during his life. I had met the young man a couple of times since reporting on board in late October and from everything that I had heard and seen he was a man that lived life and accomplished much in his all too short life here on Earth.

War has made me much more reflective and a bit melancholy at Christmas.  Three years ago I was bouncing around the western deserts of Iraq visiting advisors in isolated places and celebrating Christmas with them even while going out with them on missions. I have to say that I miss that camaraderie. In the years after I struggled with faith itself becoming for all purposes an agnostic struggling desperately to discover God again.  This year I can say that faith has returned but at the same time my heart goes out to my friends and comrades that are deployed in harm’s way, those that near the scars of war and those that have paid the ultimate price. When I see the grieving mother of one of these men or women at a memorial service it reminds me of the price paid by so many.

This is also my first Christmas without my dad. I know that last year he was suffering with Alzheimer’s and did not recognize me in November of 2009 when I last saw him alive but when I addressed my mother’s Christmas Card his death was fresh again as for the first time I addressed a Christmas card to her alone.

Last night was difficult, I slept little. I am glad to be home with Judy. We opened our presents and watched in amusement as our little dog Molly went through her Christmas ritual of unwrapping her presents. In the morning we shall celebrate a Christmas Day Mass at home as we are both rather tired and we shall wait for the snow that the weather guessers say is coming.

Yes for me this Christmas is a bit melancholy but not without faith or hope. Someday the wars will be over and men shall beat their swords into plowshares and we will know the Prince of Peace.

Merry Christmas my friends and I pray that the coming year be filled with joy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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NUTS!

Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe

On December 16th 1944 the German Army launched an assault in the Ardennes Forrest completely surprising the thinly spread American VIII Corps.  The German 6th Panzer Army, 5th Panzer Army and 7th Army attacked and forced the surrender of 2 regiments of 106th Infantry Division, mauled the 28th Division in the center of the American line while battering other U.S. forces.  To the north the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions were tenaciously defending Elsenborn Ridge while to the south the thinly spread 4th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions resisted the 7th Army advance. As elements of the two German Panzer armies advanced west Eisenhower dispatched his only reserves the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to meet the threat. The 82nd moved to the town of St Vith to aid the 7th Armored Division while the 101st was dispatched to hold the key road center of Bastogne.

By the 22nd the besieged American defenders of Bastogne were causing Hasso Von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army headaches. Manteuffel’s leading Panzer units of the 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr had been thwarted from taking the town by a Combat Command of 10th Armored Division and lead elements of the 101st.  After failing to take the town the Germans invested it with the 26th Volksgrenadier Division and a regiment of Panzer Lehr while 2nd Panzer and the bulk of Panzer Lehr continued their westward advance.

Cut off from any other American forces the 101st and a collection of stray units including CCB 10th Armored Division and remnants of CCR 9th Armored Division, three 155mm artillery battalions including the African American 969th Field Artillery Battalion held out. By the 21st of December they were completely surrounded.

The Commander of the American garrison was Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe. McAuliffe was the acting commander of the 101st and normally was the commander of the Division Artillery. Major General Matthew Ridgeway and many key commanders and staff were away from the division when it was hastily deployed to the Bulge to combat the German offensive.  McAuliffe commanded a division short of ammunition, food and cold weather gear.

General Der Panzertrüppen Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz

The German forces surrounding the city were commanded by the veteran General Der Panzertrüppen Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz commander of XLVII Panzer Corps.  Lüttwitz believing that resistance was futile sent the following message under a flag of truce to McAuliffe:

To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.

The German Commander

McAuliffe’s response has become one of the immortal responses to a surrender demand in military history. According to staff members present when he received Lüttwitz’s note he simple said “nuts.” One of his staff officers suggested that he use “nuts” as his official reply to Lüttwitz and the following reply was typed:

To the German Commander

NUTS!

The American Commander

The reply was delivered by the commander of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Harper and his S-3 Major Alvin Jones. When Harper delivered the message he told the German delegation that in “plain English” it meant “Go to hell.” The scene has been immortalized on film in the movie The Battle of the Bulge http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73OiRZf7DsM

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The garrison held out until it was relieved on December 26th by the 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army.  Despite that the situation remained tenuous and the town was the scene of much hard fighting over the next two weeks.

McAuliffe went on to command the 103rd Infantry Division by the end of the war.  He returned to Europe as Commander of 7th Army in 1953 and U.S. Army Europe in 1955. He retired in 1956 with the rank of General.  He died in 1975 at the age of 77. His adversary Von Lüttwitz died at the age of 72 in 1969.

As we remain engaged in the current war it is always worth our time to remember the heroism, courage and faith of those that served before us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Post Script: To read more about the Battle of the Bulge on this site go to Wacht am Rhein: The Battle of the Bulge

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Padre Steve’s Thoughts on the Proliferation of Bad College Football Bowl Games

Northwest Nowhere State Defeats Middle of Nowhere University 3-0 to Win the Kruger Industrial Smoothing Absolutely Meaningless Bowl in Overtime


Minot North Dakota (AP) The Northwest Nowhere State Thunder Pigs defeated the Middle of Nowhere Rabid Foxes in the first annual Kruger Industrial Smoothing Absolutely Meaningless Bowl by a score of 3-0 on a last minute overtime field goal in front of 4633 fans.  Despite the low attendance and low television ratings the NCAA and the Kruger Industrial Smoothing officials consider the Bowl a success. George Louis Costanza spokesman for Kruger said “5-7 versus 6-6, right in the middle of the Bell curve. The teams weren’t flashy but they were real.” When he was asked about the quality of the game itself Costanza replied “whatever, where’s the toilette?”  The game was forgettable marred by turnovers penalties and sloppy play.  The winning score came with 12 seconds left in overtime after Nowhere State Quarterback Demond Winnemaker collided with running back Jarod Nutzinski causing a fumble which was recovered by Northwest Nowhere State at the 12 yard line. The Thunder Pigs kicking team was sent in and kicker Johnny Leadfoot booted a ball that grazed the inside of the left upright to score the winning field goal.  Neither team had more than 150 offensive yards causing ESPN commentator Chris Berman to remark to Mike Golic “My God Mike I have never seen such a bad game, why the hell did ESPN get into this?” Nonetheless Thunder Pigs Head Coach Levi Bergman commented in his post-game interview “This win was a triumph for the school and the kids and great for the program. Hopefully we can do as well next year.” Middle of Nowhere Head Coach Joe Pistichinni simply commented “Whatever” when asked about how his team played.

 

Of course the little bit above is completely fictitious it is not too far removed from reality in today’s college football bowl season.   While I am not an avid football fan, my heart belonging to the one true religion of the Church of Baseball I do like a well played football game between quality teams, something way back when the College Bowl Season represented quite well, until well the money took precedence over the product.  College football is big business and major corporations of a wide variety of ilk’s line up to sponsor a bowl game.  There are 35 Bowl Games in 2010 which means that 70 teams will play in a bowl game this year. Now mind you there are only 120 Division schools and even my limited math skills tell me that 58% of Division I schools in the NCAA will play in a bowl game, I mean we are getting almost to the point of the NBA playoff system here where almost everyone gets a chance at the post-season.  It is not uncommon at all to see teams with a 6-6 record playing in a bowl and with the need to fill 70 slots there may be the day that a team with a losing record is invited to a bowl game; in fact the statistical probability of this happening in the next 5 years is quite high.

The NCAA doesn’t mind this because it is for all practical purposes a pimp that profits off of players that they don’t pay.  Not even going into the multi-millions of dollars that football generates for the member schools of the NCAA in ticket sales, television contracts, sponsorships and merchandise sales, which by the way include name rights to player’s jersey sales the bowl games are a cash cow for the NCAA. In fact this year a player was penalized and ruled ineligible because he sold one of his own game worn jerseys. Each of the BCS games pays out $18 million and even the paltriest of the bowl games net small schools a decent chunk of change on the average $1,141,225.58 excluding the 4 BCS games which are worth $72 million between them.

To be fair there are some “bottom feeder” bowls where the payout is under a half million, but on the whole it is a money making enterprise which feeds on the insatiable need of fans for more football regardless of the quality.  Frankly many bowl games are like fast foot, they fill you up but you will neither remember them nor care the next day, unless you are the school that makes money or a play hoping to get extra visibility in the NFL draft, which makes sense since they don’t get any money in college. Even the NCAA says that only 1.8% of college players will play in the NFL so in effect they are asking the players to throw themselves on a grenade for nothing.

Speaking of nothing, I won’t even go into the “scholarship” business because for the most part NCAA Division I Universities in the major conferences don’t give a damn whether the athlete learns anything or even graduates. The scholarship is a write off to make bigger money for the athletic program.  If a player is smart enough to take advantage of the scholarship knowing that he stands almost no chance of playing in the NLF then more power to him.  However the programs, agents and scouts with rare exceptions don’t care about what the players learn or even worse care about the injuries that these unpaid players will likely incur in their college football career that will impact them the rest of their lives.  The graduation rates for many of the top schools in division 1 football are abysmal with many below the average and only a few schools such as Stanford and Vanderbilt close to 90% both at 89%.  Auburn comes in at 63% while their title game opponent Oregon a dismal 49%.   Of course there are injuries with head injuries are a major issue at all levels of football as are knee injuries which can result in long term physical limitations and even in the case of the neurologic injuries death at an early age and early onset Alzheimer’s disease or forms of dementia.

But I digress….back to the bowl system and the proliferation of bowls that are nothing more than another way to milk the cash cow after the regular season and before the BCS bowls.

It wasn’t always that way.  In 1930 there was one, count it ONE, bowl, and that was the Rose Bowl. By 1935 there were 5, the Rose, Cotton, Orange, Sugar and Sun Bowls.  By 1950 the number of bowls had grown to eight and in 11 by 1970.  The number was up to 15 in 1980, 19 in 1990, 25 in 2000 and 35 now. Now obviously the majority of these games will not be high quality football, I mean who cares if two teams from pathetic conferences with barely winning records even play in a game unless they are the players working their ass of for nothing or the schools and sponsors that benefit from the bowl system?

This year is a case in point.  Even the most avid of college football fans and commentators are wondering what the point is in even watching many of these bowls. If you look at the 58% as a benchmark for which teams get into a post season bowl game and applied it to professional sports the NFL would have 18 playoff eligible teams and baseball 17.  Since the NFL stands to have a 7-9 team win a division can you imagine the quality of play if the NLF allowed that many teams in?

My argument is that the proliferation of bowl games is bad for college football in every way except the pocketbook. It is bad for the players that must sacrifice the Fall-Winter academics to play and risk injury with little payoff. It is bad for fans that are “treated” to game after game of less than quality football in games that due to the BCS system are all meaningless except for the National Championship game.   Of course I have to add to the players and athletic programs of the various schools they mean something but in real terms they matter little except to enhance revenue for the NCAA and the corporate sponsors.

Please know I’m not against business or even schools making money but this is just sad.

So there, that is my take on the farce that we call the college bowl system. A 16 team playoff should be developed for the best teams in the country regardless of which conference they come from. The rest of the teams can go to bowls if they want but the bowl system as we know it needs to be abolished and the NCAA should lose its stranglehold on college football. Is that harsh?

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Christian Grinch’s: How the Puritans nearly stole Christmas

There are a lot of people now days in the United States that believe that the Christmas Holiday is under attack and to some extent they are right. It seems that lawsuits are as abundant as public displays of Christian themed holiday observance and décor as various individuals and groups attempt to expunge such observances from public life, even some of those erected on “private” property.

Now I am not one to go out and all these people are evil or even anti-Christian as some do from the pulpit and the even more influential “pulpits” of radio talk show hosts. However there are times that I have to admit that it seems that there is Grinchlike element present in our society. The Grinch’s who come in various types are often well meaning and concerned that religious displays of any kind but mostly the Christian kind will either offend people or create an environment where religious and non-religious minorities might be discriminated against by the religious folks. Thus they believe that all religious displays need to go lest someone be offended or discriminated against.

 

Above all it seems that they really don’t like the displays with the kid in the crib surrounded by a temporarily indigent family, smelly animals, even smellier migrant worker type pre-Bedouins and undocumented aliens from realms of glory.  I find the whole notion that is somehow harmful to individuals or society be quite Grinchlike and wonder of these people had their sentimental and fun glands removed at birth or simply got too many lumps of coal in their stockings.

 

Despite this I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even dare I say from those within the faith.  Yes my friends way back in the bad old days a group influential in our early development as a nation the Puritans were big into cancelling Christmas.  Despite the fact that they were Christians they were pretty Grinchlike and in some sense the philosophic predecessors of those that want to banish Christmas from public life today.

 

You see after the Protestant Reformation, the English, who despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World were actually more like unruly football fans in matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors. English Protestants of the non-monarchical reformation type did their best to rid the Church of England of anything Catholic. Of course this often included people who were Catholic or even Anglo-Catholic.  The English of all denominations tended to lop off the heads of, burn at the stake or crush with heavy stones those that deviated from the beliefs whoever was in charge. Of course those that leaned Catholic reciprocated in kind whenever they had power which made the era something like the Premier League “lite.”

 

The English Grinch and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell


However when the Puritans took power they didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas. Of course they did so for noble reasons such as ridding the country of anything that smelled Catholic or did not fit within their rather harsh and purist views of the faith. Thus when they took power they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas which they objected for a number of reasons.

 

So in 1647 the Puritan dominated Parliament backed up by the brute force of the Army and Police led by Oliver Cromwell simply abolished the feast and all that went with it.  Like the Grinch himself they tried to eliminate everything including the Roast Beast. Gone were such nasty pagan ideas as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations. And let’s not forget the favorite target of Grinch’s everywhere, Nativity scenes, which were banned as the worship of idols. Indeed, the Puritans even frowned on the use of the word Christmas because they believed that it was akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Wassailing


Not content with inflicting their beliefs on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England they even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing.  Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink called wassail, was a hot spiced wine and not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a equally pungent English wine, thus the need for spices and heat. The result of the wassailing sometimes was an out of control drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously.
Be it known that the Puritans did have their sentimental and fun glands removed on conversion had no sense of fun, or what they viewed as harmful religious practices and wanted to remove them from public life altogether.  Well altogether now: “kill the fun and sentimentality! And if need be those that practice them!” Very good you are honorary Puritans for the day doesn’t that make you feel good? It does me, I just love reenacting history sometimes.
Well this lasted until 1660 when the Lord Protector and head of the Army and Police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket.  The anti-Christmas laws were overturned and the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing and everyone, save those being lopped, crushed or burned was happy.
Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted similar laws which were on the books from 1659 through 1681 when a newly appointed Governor in the employee of the Crown Sir Edmund Andros.  However during the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. Like others in places like Iran and Afghanistan the General Court banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior. Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in another manner. The law read like this:
“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? Just kidding. At least they didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing with heavy stones unless you were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch. Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Colonists up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony frowned upon the celebration until the 1820s when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.   By the way the last “State Church” in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts back in 1833, seems that they didn’t appreciate that separation of Church and States stuff thought up by Tom Jefferson and Jim Madison very much.

 

So the next time you hear about those that want to impose their beliefs to quash Christmas realize that this isn’t a new thing at all. Christians have been doing it for centuries and some of the un-fun Fundamentalists that want to re-establish the faith in the way the Puritans had imagined or legislated it to be, would do it again if they ever took control of Congress.  But for now we have to suffer those fun and sentimentality deprived army of Grinch’s that without the religious flair attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas in the name of tolerance.

 

So Merry Christmas my friends,

 

Peace
Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, purely humorous, Religion