Monthly Archives: April 2013

I Have a Bridge to Sell You: Don’t Want That? How About These Pills and Money Instead? Padre Steve Muses on Radio Advertising

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Sometimes a writer has to write about something less than serious, even if it has somewhat serious implications….

I have to drive a lot. As such my current vehicle is equipped with Sirius satellite radio. I am not particularly esoteric in my radio tastes. I listen to the Sirius 70’s music channel, “70’s on 7” as well as various sports and news channels. Thankfully the 70s channel is commercial free, however, the others are filled with commercials and these are not your what you see on TV, despite the fact that at one time satellite radio was advertised as being advertisement free. That being said I have enough capitalist in my moderately liberal constitution to tolerate advertising because businesses have to make money.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK2p5TAhd0s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjYVk9cz_aE

Now I don’t mind advertising or people and businesses making money, except some of these advertisements, in fact I think most of them seem more than unseemly. They seem to me to be somewhat grotesque in their appeal to the most base, carnal and insidious passions known to humankind. They play on most wanton passions  that we know as people. It is actually fascinating when one decides to listen to the barrage of advertising for products that appeal to every one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Well at least the more exciting ones of them that are not that are not explicitly forbidden by law.

I am actually amazed when I listen to these advertisements. I have kind of lost count of the numbers of different variations in them but here are a few of my favorites.

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I think that the most common ads that I hear are ones for male Erectile Disfunction, or E D, The fascinating thing about these advertisements are the shear numbers and variations of them. There are the supposedly legitimate “real” prescription drugs, in their original prescription form, modified variants that give new life to the languid male sexual appendage in as little as 7 seconds. Of course there are the supposed “generic” versions of these little blue pills of happiness as well as foreign manufactured “organic supplements” that supposedly make the otherwise languid male organ do backflips or something like that all for a fraction of the costs of the real thing. For the first time this week I heard advertisements for female sexual enhancement supplement. That was interesting, but I digress…

Of course we can’t leave out weight loss medications sold over the airwaves and the internet, nor the one that I heard this week on a program to help you gain weight. I thought that answer to gaining weight was eating Big Macs at every meal, but evidently I was wrong, there is a program guaranteed to help you get a fat ass, if you are willing to spend the money. My advice, save the money and spend every waking hour at McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and Hardy’s with occasional forays to Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme.

Then of course there is money. Money, money, money, must be funny, living in the rich man’s world. I find the money making schemes, or the presented on these radio advertisements to be worthy of a Ferengi, not that there is anything wrong with that because I admire the Ferengi.

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But as much as I admire the Ferengi I am a mere “Hu-man” and have to point out that despite my admiration for the Ferengi that I have a hard time with Hu-mans like me attempting to outdo the Ferengi in the acquisition of capital, earned or swindled. The financial “opportunities” presented include “opportunities” in gold, silver and other precious metals, most of which have lost value after speculators took them to unimagined heights due to world economic uncertainties. Then there is the economic apocalypse promised by those that promote secret ways to avoid the economic catastrophes that they promise, except that they keep running the same commercial that they did last year as if was new. I guess that the warning may not been as critical as the advertisement.

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Then there are the advertisements that promise to deliver people from their debts, especially massive amounts of debts to the IRS and state tax agencies that could only come through attempting to illegally not pay taxes in the first place or those that simply want to escape paying for things that they bought. Those are just a few of the economic scams that await people should they respond to them. There are a host of others including those of payday loan agencies and even unregulated agencies on Indian reservations.

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Of course there are the “Christian” relationship and dating sites like Christian Mingle, which promises to help you “find God’s match for you.” Sorry to sound cynical but I have seen too many Christian friends duped by such sites to believe anything that they advertise. I can’t wait to hear an advertisement for “Christian Mangle” the site that links “Christian” abusers to victims, at least there might be some truth in advertising in it, but again I digress….

All of these advertisements promise to give those desperate enough to send money to them to eliminate debts, both honestly and dishonestly incurred, to get rich quick on the misfortunes of others, to increase sexual drive and performance and even to use God and the internet to find a mate to dominate.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pqXfq3f4jE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYz7HHbaums

The sad thing is that these are just a sampling of the offerings being marketed to those gullible enough to throw down a credit card number. Somehow the proliferation of such ads makes me long for the days of K-Tel and Ronco back in the 1970s and even the Saturday Night Live satires of them.

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http://www.hulu.com/watch/19046

About the only thing I haven’t heard an advertisement for is premature ejaculation, but I hear that’s coming quickly.* I guess that is why that for the most part I listen to my 70s music, brought to me without commercial advertisements.

So for tonight,

Peace

Padre Steve+

* Credit to Mel Brooks for that line

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Baptism and Water Boarding: When Professed Christians Defile Their Own Faith to Make Cheap Political Points

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In the past few days I have seen quite a few people, all of whom claim to be Christians post the picture above on their Facebook pages or blogs. Bottom line up front: I think this both demeans the Christian Sacrament or Ordinance of Baptism and the rule of law. I find the above picture an attack on my Christian faith and on the rule of law. Torture never leads to freedom.

Of course the picture appeared not long after the capture of one of the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers, who happened to be Chechen Muslims. Since that time quite a few people, especially pundits, politicians and politically minded preachers, the Unholy Trinity have beating the drums of war, especially on the social media. In the name of “freedom” they advocate measures that in past times Americans have stood in judgement of at Nuremberg and which Senator John S McCain, who was a POW of the North Vietnamese called “torture.”

Funny how people, most of whom call themselves “Christian” are willing to debase and demean the faith that they supposedly profess by using the symbols of being reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Baptism and for those that do not hold that dear, the sacred honor of our nation as a nation of laws and justice.

I like social media. I read a lot of blogs from many perspectives. But try as I might I cannot fathom the shallowness of faith that equates torture with the Sacrament of new life in Christ.

The sad thing is that almost every person that I have seen post this on Facebook claims to be a Christian of some denomination, or be favorable to the Christian faith in opposition to Islam. Some of them I have known for years. I do understand wanting to prosecute terrorists and protect innocent people against terrorist schemes. I have taken and re-affirmed an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic many times in the course of a nearly 32 year military career. I have served in combat and been deployed and have for the past five years been involved in the direct care of the wounded ill and injured of war. I have no love for the actions of terrorists and their accomplices.

That being said, I also believe in the rule of law and the importance of faith. I believe that when “faith” is used as a weapon that it rapidly becomes evil. So many atrocities have been committed by Christians in the name of “faith” that it makes the crimes of Islamists terrorists pale in comparison.

To cut to the chase I don’t find it particularly funny, witty or brilliant for Christians of any denomination to compare something as important as the Sacrament of Baptism to an act of torture to be used against Moslems. In fact I find that use of this Sacrament to do so as a faithless, sacrilegious and self-defeating act, no better than the use of the Koran by Islamic extremists to justify their criminal acts.

I have held off saying anything for about a week on this. I thought that it might pass, but I see that it has taken on a new life of its own. I know that there are some that have posted this picture without thinking. There are others who will think that I am being too serious about this because they think that it is funny. But the funny thing of the nearly 1200 friends that I have on Facebook I haven’t seen one of my professed Atheist or Agnostic friends post this on their wall, nor have any of my Jewish friends. It seems that they only friends that post such an offense to the Christian faith are people who call themselves Christians.

That makes me wonder. Maybe it should make you wonder too.

If this means that some people write me off, that is fine. But I would rather err on the side of a God who loves and cares and does not hate humanity and a system of laws and government that reject the use of torture and other war crimes. If that makes me a “liberal” so be it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Living in the Chronically Offended World

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I was skimming through my Twitter and Facebook feeds this evening after spending the day on the road. After listening to Mel Brooks being interviewed on Sirius Radio while driving home I was relaxing watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine once again confronted with the absolute fact that there are a lot of people in this country have gone totally stupid crazy in their paranoid hatred of fellow citizens who may not happen to look like or believe like them.

Now people who read this site regularly as well as people that really know me know I am a pretty moderate kind of guy. Now I am moderate but will admit that I fall to the left of the political, social and religious spectrum on many issues and to the right a bit on others. That being said I have so many friends that span the spectrum who represent about every point on the compass of belief in this country I try to be both respectful of them. That doesn’t mean that I agree with them or they with me, but the people that really know me and I them agree to disagree and be friends. We find common things that bind us together and can even laugh at each other even when we don’t agree.

Personally that is what I think our country is about, or at least what it used to be about.

Too be fair I have to say that this situation has been building for years and spans the political and religious spectrum of the country. I hate to say it but I wonder where this is going to end, especially when I see violent attitudes and words in so many of the posts that I read today.

It just seems to me that we now live in a country that has transformed itself into one of the thinnest skinned, easily offended societies in the world.  It doesn’t seem to matter what political affiliation, religion, race, gender, socio-economic group a person belongs, they are bound to be offended at something and rather than reason things out as friends do take things personally and want somehow to exact revenge on their adversaries. It almost seems to me that we are getting as bad as the countries that have regularly scheduled Holy Days of Rage.

I could be wrong but it seems to me that almost everyone is offended at something or someone.  Hell I even offend myself sometimes usually muttering to myself “asshole” when I do this.  There are some people who almost seem to live with a chip on their shoulder. I call them the chronically offended who are quite often the most easily offensively offended.

Most of the time I try not to give offense. However, I have been known to offend the chronically offended and even the merely offendable with twisted or sarcastic comments and oddball humor which Judy tells me is not always as funny as I think it is.  Nonetheless there are many people who are both patently chronically offended and very, yea verily very angry. So as Mel Brooks says, “when you go to the bell, ring it.” 

I am assured by the Deity Herself that raging anger combined with a sense of being easily offended is not a good or virtuous combination. Even history tells of this, countries have been ripped apart and millions of people murdered in cold blood when this putrid and venomous kettle boils over.

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Now I know from experience that this is true.  I am one of the guilty parties questioning the parentage and Oedipal tendencies of the idiots who move across four lanes of traffic without signaling on I-264 or who insist on driving 10 miles an hour under the speed limit on rural Eastern North Carolina highways.  Sometimes I find that I wish that this was Iraq so my turret gunner could shoot them.  Thankfully my newly honed skills using the force that I developed in Iraq, which I am told is actually hyper vigilance, does allow me to sense Kamikazes and tortoises well before I even see them.

I remember once about 17 years ago or so when I was a civilian hospital chaplain and stopped by a grocery store to pick up some food to take to work.  An older gentleman was going toward the sliding automated door and out of simple politeness I said “Sir, please, after you.”  Hell, the way I walk, which is as those who see me rapidly racing down the long halls of our medical center without breaking into a jog can testify is pretty fast, it was a safety thing too.  I could have run the gentleman down had I not stopped to let him through first.  In retrospect I think that I should have run him over but would not have been cool.  I could have seen the newspaper headline in that town:

LOCAL HOSPITAL AND ARMY RESERVE CHAPLAIN SLAMS ELDERLY MAN TO GROUND TRYING TO BEAT HIM THROUGH KROGER DOOR.

That would not have been good.  The man, instead of smiling and thanking me or even ignoring me stopped in front of the door, turned around and said “Why are you calling me sir? Why are you disrespecting me?” He said it very loud, very sharply and I was wondering what the hell was going on.  There was hatred in his eyes and I realized that I had to defuse the situation in some way.

Not wanting him to pull out a concealed handgun I defused the situation by using humor.  I said, “Sir, I call everybody sir, even ma’ams.”  The man cocked his head; the fiery glint in his eyes gave way to a stunned look of confusion. He then shook his head, muttered something under his breath and went through the door. I didn’t know that being polite and respectful could be taken as offensive and disrespectful.  Maybe when some young guy does that to me someday and I whack him with my tazer from my motorized scooter because I think he is being disrespectful I might understand. Of course I will probably one of those old guys that takes a perverse pleasure in tazing the offender and enjoying his writhing in pain and twitching all over the place.  But then maybe not as I do have some sense of decorum, I would simply taze the twerp and keep going.

I knew a young Chaplain who was spouting off in a public forum once in a manner that did not offend me, but which I thought if certain other people read it could affect him and his career in a negative manner. This is no one that I have ever worked with, just someone that I know in passing. I was concerned for the young man, so I contacted him just to let him know to be careful and I got an earful, the little twerp blasted me with both barrels.  I was really surprised at the venom with which he reacted to my comment which was only meant to help keep him out of potential trouble but no good deed goes unpunished.  Maybe he will go to a self-help course, but then again, selves are very difficult to help.

Now I think everyone at some time has been offended by something or someone.  Crap we are human; we can’t help but be, though I do find the Romulan that resides in me very appealing. However, to live my life is a perpetual state of offendedness is something that I refuse to do, even though I both give and take offense probably every day, especially during the morning or afternoon commute.  Hell, judging by the number of people I have lost as friends on Facebook after I have written articles on this site I know I give offense, even when I don’t mean to do it.

I really don’t want to offend anyone but when I look at the political extremes of our country and observe the words and actions of these people I am truly frightened for the country. People are talking about war against their political opponents and even revolution.

The situation is not helped by the litigious nature of our society. Lawsuits are as common as business suits. Someone gets offended and someone sues it’s almost a cause and effect principle. Someone else gets offended and pretty soon offensensitivity reigns and it is like half the country are Frank and Estelle Costanza on steroids.  Serenity now!

Now our electorate is so spun up by the loudest and most shrill accusatory voices in the media and politics that it is frightening. Politics especially has become venom filled and hatred driven. A lot of our electorate is now so polarized and offended by anything anyone else says that there is almost a civil war going on. Albeit a war without weapons marching armies and crashing cannon, but instead being waged with great energy on the airwaves and on the internet with occasional talk of secession or armed revolt by one side or the other depending on who’s in power.

Politicians and political parties are no longer opponents, they are mortal enemies. Sometimes interest groups within the various parties opt for a no-quarter approach to how they do business pushing their parties further to the extreme. The Pelosi type Democrats did everything that they could to push conservative’s buttons and now conservatives led by the Tea Party are taking no quarter even in the Republican Party.  The attitude of both sides is “if you aren’t totally with us on everything you are against us.”

Caricatures and sound bites suffice for truth for many people regardless of them being on the left or right wing of the body politic. This is especially true on Facebook where people blast the rudest, most cynical and often simply ignorant posts imaginable. For a while I was kind of into that but I have really tried to pull back from that type of discourse. I made a decision a while back after getting pulled into a number of very nasty debates not even to comment and simply move along. In light of some of the things I have seen I believe that the extremists in in our society, regardless of their actual ideology have more in common with each other than they do the middle where traditionally most Americans live.

I think that as highly divided, hypersensitive and easily offended we have become that we are heading for big trouble.  That is unless people stop taking themselves so seriously and get about with finding a way to cooperate and make things work.  I know that is important to remain principled, but there is also a duty to be civil and respectful even when there are real differences in ideology, politics, faith or whatever.

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Sometimes I have to tell myself that restraint, respect and civility is a virtue, even when I convinced I am right.  That being the case there are times that I will just go up and as Brooks says “ring the bell.” If when I do that it offends someone I’m sorry. So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Red Lines… Syria and Sarin and United States Military Intervention: A Warning from History

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Updated August 23rd 2013: Since this article was written back in April of this year the situation in Syria, not to mention the rest of the region has continued to get worse. This past week there appear to be credible new reports of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against their own people. It appears that the US and other powers are cautiously moving military forces into the region closer to Syria and that Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Israel could be drawing closer to involvement in the war. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians of all ethnic groups and faiths are fleeing the country, primarily to Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. Lebanon is beginning to collapse and Israel launched air strikes into Lebanon after being hit by rockets fired by the Assad regime’s ally Hezbollah. This is all taking place as Egypt is perched at the abyss of civil war, and much of North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is in the throws of war, civil war or the collapse of any governmental order.

Needless to say it is not a good situation and the United States as well as many other governments and international bodies are trying to find a way through the eye of the needle to keep the multitude of problems from coalescing into a truly disastrous regional conflict which could effect the political, economic and military security of countries in the region and yes, like us on the far side of the globe. 

Carl von Clausewitz wrote: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” 

Personally I don’t think that there is anyone who has a clear understanding of what they think their country should do or accomplish in Syria of the Middle East. 

That being said here is what I wrote in April.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

For the past number of weeks various news agencies and governments have reported the use of Sarin nerve gas by the Bashir Assad led Syrian government against rebels in that country’s civil war. The use of such weapons would be in defiance of international law and the law of war. The confirmed use of such weapons has been defined as a “red line” by the Obama administration. Israel, NATO and Turkey have all warned of the danger of the use of such weapons. Sarin has been banned and almost all nations have signed the 1993 treaty, but Syria is not one of them and reportedly has one of the largest stockpiles of Sarin in the world.

Today US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated:

“the U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”

Last week both Britain and France wrote the Secretary General of the United Nations that they had evidence that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against their own people. The Russians, a long term traditional ally of Syria have accused the West of attempting to “politicize” efforts to determine whether chemical weapons have been used and compared such efforts to the pre-Iraq War hunt for alleged Iraqi WMDs.

It is a dangerous time. The United States and NATO have deployed a number of Patriot Missile batteries to Turkey, which is harboring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and a small number of US troops are in Jordan assisting with refugees and working with the Jordanians on other security matters. Lebanon is becoming involved in the conflict due to the activities of Hezbollah and Israel has stepped up its security along its border with both Syria and Lebanon. In Syria the civil war has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives with hundreds of thousands more displaced or living as refugees in other countries.

It is a human rights disaster and in a perfect world the international community would come together to right the situation. That will likely not happen. Instead I expect that hawks in the United States Congress and press and potentially Israel and its Washington lobby will force President Obama to intervene in the Syrian Civil War, perhaps unilaterally or as part of a relatively small coalition. Both Senators John McCain and Diane Feinstein made statements today on the need for intervention.

The fact is that as terrible as the situation is that an even worse situation will most likely develop should such a limited intervention take place to secure the chemical and possible biological weapons stored by the Syrian regime. Before Iraq I would have probably been on the bandwagon urging intervention, but I did learn something from Iraq. The fact is that though our intelligence agencies may believe that Sarin has been used in small quantities we need to be absolutely sure before any intervention is made. Some in the Defense Department are concerned because of what happened regarding supposedly good and solid intelligence. As such the Miguel Rodriquez of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs noted:

“Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin. This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. …

“Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experiences, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient — only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making …”

I know what Sarin and other nerve gasses can do. I trained extensively as an Army Medical Service Corps Officer in NBC (Nuclear Chemical and Biological) weapon defense. The Soviets called Sarin GB and it was something that we trained to defend against during the Cold War. Back then we trained extensively to defend ourselves against chemical weapons, we practically lived in our MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) suits and protective masks. We trained to decontaminate personnel and equipment, we trained on knowing how such weapons were used, fallout patterns and half-life of the agents. We trained with atropine injectors in case we were contaminated and we learned that the triage of wounded was different when they were contaminated with chemical agents.

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However, since 9-11 and our counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan the general preparedness of most units in this type of warfare has been neglected because those wars did not require them.  With the exception of highly specialized units organized with the mission of Chemical, Biological and Nuclear weapon defense and response in the Continental United States few units are trained to the level that we were in the Cold War and even then most of us expected that if such weapons were used in the quantities amassed by the Soviets that most of us would die.

That being said we had damned well be absolutely sure that we know a lot more than we know now before committing a single American Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman to the mission of securing these weapons. Securing them in the existing environment in Syria would take tens of thousands of troops and based on the geography of Syria, the potential for Iranian intervention and the use of these WMDs against our troops by Syria should we intervene.

The question that I would ask anyone advocating military intervention now is “what is the cost in lives and treasure you are willing to make to do it? and what is your endgame?” The fact is that in two “low intensity” counterinsurgency campaigns we have lost over 6500 US troops killed and over 50,000 wounded not counting the hundreds of thousands afflicted with Traumatic Brain Injury and and PTSD. How many more would be sacrificed in a campaign in Syria and what will be the long term cost to them, their families, the military, national security and the economy?

The easy answer for the Hawks in Congress, the Beltway pundits and lobbyists is to send in the military. I think that it is a reflexive response now, send in the troops, damn the costs. That is easy for them to say because “the troops” are less than 1% of the US population. They can win elections without our vote. Sending in the troops looks strong and patriotic and people applaud when they see us on television doing a great job. But it is unrealistic. The military has been worn down by nearly 12 years of war. Equipment is wearing out, troops are tired, suicide rates skyrocketing, medical costs increasing. Add to this the fact that operational units are being squeezed by the budget fiasco forced by Congress in 2011 known as the sequester. But few will say this and that is as close to criminal negligence as one can get on the part of those advocating intervention in Syria.

I am offended by the knee jerk reactions of Congressmen and Senators as well as their enablers in the media and the beltway who seem to be advocating US involvement in yet another civil war in a Middle Eastern country. What is the legal basis for such an invasion or intervention? What is the human cost and what is the economic cost and who pays the bill?

Smedley Butler, Marine Corps Major General and two time Medal of Honor winner said it well when writing about the costs of war in his book War is a Racket following World War One, which by the way was the last time that US troops faced Chemical weapons:

“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill.

If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit  any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.”

In another part of his book Butler wrote:

“In the government hospital at Marion, Indiana 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around the outside of the buildings and on the porches. These have already been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically they are in good shape but mentally they are gone.” 

There are thousands and thousands of these cases and more and more are coming in all the time…

That’s a part of the bill. So much for the dead-they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded- they are paying now with their share of the war profits. But others paid with the heartbreaks when they tore themselves away for their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam- on which a profit had been made….”

Before any military actions are taken against Syria someone had better ask the hard questions that were so buried and ignored in the build up to the Iraq War. What is the cost? What is the legal basis? What is the endgame? If those questions cannot be answered in a satisfactory manner then not no American military forces be committed and not a dime spent.

Yes the situation in Syria is a tragedy, but intervention would likely make it even more so. As terrible as this conflict is, it is a Syrian affair. Yes we will have to deal with whatever comes out of it, but is American military intervention to secure the Syrian Chemical weapons the wise course of action, especially in light of how much that we do not know?

How many more coffins containing the bodies of US military personnel need to be shipped back from yet another war? Oh wait, I’ll bet you didn’t know that the bodies of soldiers killed by chemical agents are contaminated and most would not come home because of that risk. Somehow I don’t think that a military cemetery in Syria would be as well maintained as those in France, Belgium and Luxembourg where so many Americans lay in final repose following the First and Second World War. I know this because I have seen the British military cemetery in Habbaniyah Iraq.

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Yes this is a big deal for all of us. It is much too important to be made without a full accounting before a single American Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman is committed to action.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, national security, News and current events

The Anomaly of Operation Desert Storm and Its Consequences Today

padresteve:

Something I wrote in 2010 that deals with the fantasy world of what some people think “normal” war is fought.

Originally posted on Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate:

Armor Advancing During Operation Desert Storm

There are few occasions in history where an army is given exactly the scenario to which its organization, training and doctrine coalesce against an opponent that uses the template of organization and training that it has been designed to defeat.  Operation Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait by the United States and its coalition from Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army and Republican Guard was such a war. The operation was built up in the popular media to the extent that it created a false image of the cost of war and belief that wars can be won “one the cheap” because of superior technology and organization.  That belief was shattered during the Iraq insurgency which began in earnest following the occupation of Iraq following the defeat of Saddam in 2003 by a significantly smaller US force than was used to liberate Kuwait twelve years before.

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The Terrible Costs of Not Learning the Lessons of War: Vietnam, Iraq Afghanistan

481801_10151367001287059_1003164983_nIn 1986 a Army Major working at the Office of the Secretary of Defense wrote a book that was a history of the US Army in the Vietnam War, and as it turns out to be a work of military prophecy. The young officer, Andrew Krepinevich wrote his book, The Army in Vietnam: 

“In the absence of a national security structural framework that address the interdepartmental obligations associated with FID operations, and considering the lack of incentives for organizational change within the Army, it is presumptuous for the political leadership to believe that the Army (or the military) alone will develop the capability to successfully execute U.S. security policy in Third World countries threatened by insurgency. This being the case, America’s Vietnam experience takes on a new and tragic light. For in spite of its anguish in Vietnam, the Army has learned little of value. Yet the nation’s policy makers have endorsed the service’s misconceptions derived from the war while contemplating an increased role in Third World low-intensity conflicts. This represents a very dangerous mixture that in the end may see the Army again attempting to fight a conventional war against a very unconventional enemy.” (The Army in Vietnam, Andrew F Krepinevich Jr., The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1986. p.275)

Krepinevich retired from the Army in the 1990s as a Lieutenant Colonel and has been busy in the world of think tanks and national security policy. Unlike his book, which is probably one of the best accounts of the Vietnam War and as I said before a book that is somewhat prophetic his later work has not been as well received. He has his critics. But despite that criticism once cannot deny the accuracy of his predictions concerning the Army’s subsequent operations in low intensity, or counter-insurgency campaigns beginning in Somalia and encompassing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If Krepinevich had been alone in his criticism, or his book not been widely read one might excuse policy makers of the 1990s and 2000s who sent the Army and the military into counterinsurgency campaigns involving massive numbers of troops and the commitment of blood and treasure that had practically no value to the national security of the United States. Instead thousands of American and Allied lives were sacrificed, tens of thousands wounded and one nation, Iraq that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9-11-2001 left devastated and crippled empowering Iran the sworn enemy of the United States no regional rival.

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One cannot say that the Iraq war was worth the lives and treasure spent to cover the lies and hubris of the Bush Administration. Nor can one say that the effort to change the tribal structure of the fiercely independent Afghan peoples after driving Al Qaeda from that “Graveyard of Empires” been worth the expenditure of so many American lives and treasure. In fact the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan damaged the United States in more ways than their proponents could every admit. The military, now drained by years of war is hamstrung and will be hard pressed to meet legitimate threats to our national security around the world because of the vast amounts of blood and treasure expended in these wars.

In 1920 T.E. Lawrence wrote about the follies of the British government in Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq. His words could have been written about the Bush Administrations 2003 war in Iraq. Lawrence wrote in a letter to the Sunday Times:

The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

Krepinevech, like Lawrence before him was right, but he was not the only one. in 1993 Ronald H Spector in his book wrote:

“Americans dislike problems without solutions. Almost from the beginning of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam they have attempted to find “lessons” in the war. The controversy about the appropriate lessons to be learned continues with the same vigor and lack of coherence as the debates about the war itself.

Lessons are controversial and fleeting but lessons long. The memories of 1968 have remained and served to influence attitudes and expectations well into the 1990s. The ghosts of Vietnam haunted all sides of the recent deliberations about the Gulf War. In the wake of that war, President Bush hastened to announce that “we have kicked the Vietnam syndrome.” 

Doubtless many Americans would like to agree. It is easier to think of the Vietnam War as a strange aberration, a departure from the “normal” kind of war, like World War II and the recent war in the Gulf, where the course of military operations were purposeful and understandable and the results relatively clear cut. Yet the Vietnam War may be less of an aberration than an example of a more common and older type of warfare, reaching back before the Thirty Years’ War and including World War I. A type of warfare in which a decision is long delayed, the purposes of the fighting become unclear, the casualties mount, and the conflict acquires a momentum of its own. In a world which had recently been made safe for conventional, regional and ethnic wars, Vietnam rather than World War II may be the pattern of the future.” (After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam, Ronald H Spector Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 1993 pp. 315-316

After serving in Iraq with the advisors to the Iraqi 7th and 1st Divisions and 2nd Border Brigade in 2007-2008 and seeing the results of the great misadventure brought upon our nation and Iraq by the Bush administration I cannot help but recognize how disastrous the wars unleashed after 9-11-2001 have been. I have lost friends and comrades in them, I see the human costs in our Navy hospitals every day. I have told too many If they had actually accomplished something it would be another matter. But the human, economic, strategic and even more importantly the moral costs have been so disastrous to our nation to make the loss of the Twin Towers and the victims of 9-11-2001 pale in significance.

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The sad thing is that these wars have gone on so long that many of the young Marines and Soldiers fighting them have no understanding of why they deploy and deploy to Iraq and then Afghanistan, and they are far more knowledgeable than the population at large, many of whom are untouched by the personal costs of the war. We as Americans love to say “we support the troops” but most don’t even know one. For the most part big bases from where our troops train and deploy are far from where most Americans live and might as well be on a different planet. We are invisible to most of the country, except when they see a color guard at a sporting event or bump into one of us in uniform at an airport.

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As a result the sacrifices that the under 1% of the population that serve in the military and fight these wars are really not understood, or fully appreciated. I don’t think that this is so much the fault of the people. but rather the product of the post Vietnam era and the “Peace Dividend” of the post Cold War era when the military was reduced, the draft ended and bases in major populations centers closed.

I have written about the effects of these kinds of wars before, not just Iraq or Afghanistan. You can see some of that writing the following articles on this site. They are not comprehensive but they do tell some of the tale of where we have been since 9-11-2001. 

The Anomaly of Operation Desert Storm and Its Consequences Today

Why History Matters: The Disastrous Effects of Long Insurgency Campaigns on the Nations that Wage them and the Armies that Fight Them 

Irrelevant Incidents and Un-winnable Wars: Thoughts on Returning from War 5 Years Later

 349: Active Duty Military Suicides Hit New High in 2012

The Fallacy of “Complete” Victory and the Seeds of Perpetual War and the Way to Peace

Thoughts on Choosing a President and the Results of Not Getting it Right: Lieutenant General Harold Moore at West Point

War is a Racket: Remembering Major General Smedley Butler USMC and Why He Matters

Armed Forces Day 2012: The Disconnection of the Military and Society and the Terrible Result

Failing to Learn from History: The Lesson of the First Anglo-Afghan War and Questions about the US-NATO Campaign

The War that Cannot Be Won: Afghanistan 2012

The 9-11 Generation: The Few

The “Comfortable” Experts and the Real Soldiers

Adjusting Strategy to Reality

No Illusions: The Cost of the Long War and its Potential impact on the United States

The sad thing is that we don’t learn from history. Krepinevech, Spector and Lawrence could have written what they wrote yesterday. Instead they all wrote many years before the 9-11 attacks and our military response to them. As a historian, a career officer and a chaplain I cannot help but think of the terrible costs of such wars and how they do not do anything to make us more secure. The fact is that we do not learn from history much to our detriment despite the great human, spiritual, moral and economic effects of such wars.

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What is the cost of war? what is the bill? Major General Smedley Butler wrote: “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Truth of Faith and Wisdom of Doubt

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“The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.”  St Thomas Aquinas 

I am always amazed at Christians, of any denomination or people of other religions rush to proclaim belief as absolute dogma, even when it is contradicted by science and new learning. I think that such attitudes are based more on fear that somehow God is not big enough to withstand scrutiny and that if God cannot withstand scrutiny that what they believe is threatened.

Somehow I do not think that God in his wisdom determined that our faith as Christians was to remain unscrutinized and frozen in the time and culture of the ancient near east. I think that was part of St Thomas’ attraction to Aristotelian philosophy. For his day Thomas was a modern thinker, and from reading his works I cannot imagine him being afraid of any advance in science, nor being afraid to hold Christian, or Catholic dogma up to the lens of scientific scrutiny.    

I guess that is why I am not afraid of science, scientific advances, archeological or literary discoveries that shed new light on what we as Christians believe. Somehow I think that God is bigger than any paradigm that I or for that matter that we as human beings can describe or imagine. 

I am convinced that we have been given the Scriptures, the Creeds and the Councils as steps to understanding the revelation of God in Christ. That being said I cannot imagine that God has stopped revealing himself to people in various ways over the 2000 years of the Church, or that his spirt has not given men and women insight into both the Divine and human aspects of faith and life, to include the physical, the spiritual and the intellectual. 

When I look up at the sky on a clear night and see the multitude of stars and planets I cannot help but imagine that God is far bigger and more mysterious than any of us can explain in any number of volumes of theology or Biblical commentary. Nor do I believe that any one person, or for that matter any church as a certain point in time knows all truth. I know that doesn’t sound like a safe way to do “faith” but when was faith, or attempting to follow God in faith ever safe or belief completely certain? That is not the case with those that followed God whose accounts are in recorded in the canonized books of the Christian Bible, much less stories recorded the non-canonical books not included in the Bible or the writings of Jewish and early Christian writers that recorded the history and lives of the faithful as well as interpreted the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  

In fact I believe that God allows us to navigate an often unsafe universe as we live and evolve as his people and that in our walk, in our faith, in our search for truth that God does not mind allowing us to get a bloody nose sometimes. That doesn’t mean that God does not love us, but like the people that we read about in our Scriptures, that none of us knows all truth and all of us are capable of misreading the mind of God. I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation where the being known as “Q” chastises Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise after their initial encounter with the Borg: “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you oughtta go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.” I think in his great mercy God also allows us to get a bloody nose once in a while as we attempt to navigate this life of faith.

Doubt and faith are inexorably linked, faith without doubt is not faith. Faith and belief always has to be held up under the scrutiny of the new knowledge that is acquired as human being explore the universe and human condition with instruments undreamed of by the writers of Scripture or those who came after them. I think that is what St Thomas meant when he wrote the passage that I quoted at the beginning of this little article. I think that is a key to having a living faith, not that we know everything now or even are sure that we have interpreted what has been handed to us by tens of generations of the faithful. I think when we approach God we must do so with the utmost of humility knowing that we can never fully understand all of God, the human condition or the universe. 

St Anselm of Canterbury prayed “My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness…” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Tsaraev Brothers and the Danger of Faith Without Love

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“The separation of faith and love is always a consequence of a deterioration of religion.”  Paul Tillich 

There are many who claim faith of every type, be it religious, political, economic or scientific who have nothing but hatred in their hearts for others.

This was again made manifest this past week in the actions of the brothers Tsaraev in their orgy of violence inflicted on the people of Boston. Their crimes were committed in the name of Islam, as are many like them. However, such actions be they in the name of Allah, Yahweh, Jesus or any other deity show the intrinsic falseness and evil of such “faith” no matter how orthodox it may be.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Faith can be a powerful thing, for good or for evil. However when that faith is separated from love it is no longer of God, or even human. I do think that the apostle was absolutely right when he noted that if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Love is actually the key and love of God is always connected to love of neighbor, practical, observable and tangible love, not mere words. G.K. Chesterton said it well in this. “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

However to the “true believers” of so many religions, political, social and scientific orthodoxies, the two sometimes seem inexorably linked by the often fanatical actions of their most devout adherents being more concerned with power than love. The sad thing is that I don’t think that any of us are completely immune to such behavior and attitudes and probably all of us have a at least a little potential to be terrorists given the right circumstances.

When I read some blogs and websites written by some people that can be best described as “true believers” I am amazed at the violence of the words as well as the hatred and derision for others that do not believe like them that are contained. The fact that those are not occasional slips, errors of judgement on bad days like all of us are capable of making and do make all the time.

If that was the case it would not be that much of an issue. However, the authors of the majority many of these site are consumed with hatred toward others as a means of “defending” their beliefs. Some advocate violence in doing that, unencumbered by any doubts in their beliefs no matter what “orthodoxy” they believe in. Eric Hoffer wrote “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.”

I think this is exactly what motivates men like the Tsaraev brothers to kill the innocent and which lurks in those that preach hatred in the name of their god or whatever belief system is the functional equivalent of a god for them. The only difference is that most have not crossed the physical boundary from “nursing a fanatical grievance” and advocating violence to actually killing. Somehow I think that once that seed is planted, and cultivated that it sometimes takes on a life of its own.

The apostle was right: “If I have not love….” 

Peace

 

Padre Steve+

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Terrorists Don’t Get to Be Heroes

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“How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”  Salmon Rushdie

The events in Boston this week have shown us once again that we in the United States are not able to completely be safe from the acts of terrorists. While we do not know the motivations or affiliation of the Tsarnaev brothers, nor if they are connected to others in this country or abroad who would attempt similar acts of terrorism.

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The attack by the brothers Tsarnaev was unsettling but it did not fill the city of Boston with fear. Instead, that city, its citizens, its law enforcement agencies as well as Federal and State law enforcement showed a resolve that I do not think that either the Tsarnaev brothers or other terrorists, foreign or domestic expected. Even as the citizens of the city grieved a systematic investigation that relied on the help of citizens identified the brothers and flushed them out of hiding. When the battle with the terrorists began in the streets of Watertown the city went on lockdown until one was killed and the other captured. The operation to identify and capture the two brothers was like nothing seen in this country.

Americans, especially those in the “liberal” Blue states like Massachusetts are supposed to be soft and cowardly. However the people of Boston showed how wrong they are in their assessment.

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Terrorists tend to be rather dismissive of how Americans will react when attacked. They are a rather arrogant type of people. They are “True believers”  who believe that they alone and those that agree with them completely are right, that they alone have heaven’s blessing and that others be damned. Salmon Rushdie, the Iranian novelist who has lived under the threat of death for decades said of them: “The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong.”

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It was fascinating for me to read that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was thrown out of the Boston Islamic center recently for going into a tirade against the Imam for using Dr Martin Luther King Jr as an example to emulate. Tamerlan shouted “You cannot mention this guy because he’s not a Muslim!” to the shock and dismay of those in attendance. When I read this I immediately thought of something written by Eric Hoffer: 

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Somehow I do not think that this will be the last terror attack that we see from some true believer, be they Islamic and connected with one of the myriad of Islamic terrorist groups, or domestic American ant-government or anarchist types from the right or the left. Their world views may seem disparate, religious, political, economic or social from points all around the spectrum of belief but they are surprisingly alike. They believe that they are the holders of truth and righteousness. Those that do not agree with them or who they believe have offended them, their “god” be that “god” a deity, a book of scriptures or their political, economic or social beliefs are the enemy and worthy of desruction. However, I think that Charles Dickens writing in David Copperfield said was right when he said “what such people miscall their religion, is a vent for their bad humours and arrogance.”

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This week we saw two young men who had lived in our country for over a decade decide to, for yet unknown reasons decide to attack, kill and maim fellow citizens as well as visitors to this country. I’m sure that they thought that they were doing something heroic. However, the real heroes were the people of Boston who responded to the attack providing help and hospitality to those injured or displaced and the men and women of law enforcement who helped hunt the Tsaraev brothers down. Salmon Rushdie was right the way to fight terrorism is not to be terrorized and not to live in fear. It is time that we learned that lesson like so many Bostonians did this week.

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As far as the terrorists themselves, to quote Major Kira Nerys from Star Trek Deep Space Nine “Terrorists don’t get to be heroes.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Joy and Sorrow in Boston: The Boston Marathon Bombers are Killed or Captured

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“joy and sorrow are inseparable. . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” Kahlil Gibran 

I was listening to the radio tonight on my way home from dinner when news broke that Boston Police, the Massachusetts State Police and the FBI had cornered and eventually captured the second suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing. The capture came after a city wide lock down in which the FBI, the Mayor and Governors shut down public transportation systems and asked people to “shelter in place” or remain in their homes.

That order came after the suspects had killed a MIT Police Officer and commandeered a SUV after the FBI had released photos of them and asked for assistance in identifying and finding them. Within minutes the phone lines and websites were flooded with tips and reports. They were found and the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a gunfight with police. The younger brother Dzhokhar escaped though wounded and found refuge in a boat parked in a driveway on Franklin Street in Watertown.  At about 5PM the owner of the boat, leaving his house when given the all clear saw blood leading to the boat and discovered the wounded suspect in the boat and immediately called police.

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After it was confirmed by NBC’s Pete Williams and other news services people poured onto the streets of Watertown and Boston. People were cheering and waving American flags some chanting USA, USA USA! There was a collective sigh of relief and shout of victory when law enforcement officials captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

It was amazing thing to see it, in fact I went back to my local watering hole to celebrate with whoever still might be around. It was a cathartic moment. I think the last time I saw this kind of reaction was when Osama Bin Laden was killed by SEAL Team Six.

However despite the joy it I saw the following tweet on Twitter from the Boston Police Department.

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It was a moment that struck me. For when I saw that tweet it became apparent to me that what I was witnessing was real joy, but it was joy because the two brothers had inflicted great pain and suffering on hundreds of people. They killed four, wounded nearly 180 more and terrorizing a city. My thought, which I posted on my Facebook page was “Remember…the reason we are cheering now is because so many wept…” I saw the paradox inherent in this expression of joy. It was a kind of deliverance from evil, people rejoiced for good reason but their rejoicing was the product of the suffering of the people that they knew who had been affected by the evil perpetrated by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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I felt the same joy because though I did not know any of the men, women or children killed by them the victims were my fellow citizens and others who were guests in my country. I don’t know about you but when someone be they a citizen or non-citizen attacks my country and kills and injures my fellow citizens and those that are our guests it angers me. I felt that anger in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and in 2001 when Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I felt in on Monday when I heard about the Boston Marathon Bombing while waiting for my flight home at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. For the days between that afternoon and this evening I felt the collective anxiety of so many others as we all wondered who had conducted this attack and what might happen next.

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True joy is almost always the sister of unwanted pain and sorrow. This week so many Americans experienced both sorrow and joy. It was a surreal week. Now the story isn’t over. Dzhokhar is badly wounded and has to recover from those wounds before he stands trial in a Federal Court and before we find out more of the reasons for this attack and the relationship, if any of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Chechnyan or Islamic  terrorist groups.

That being said, today is a day to celebrate even as we recognize how so many others suffer. It is a paradox.

Until tomorrow

Peace,

 

Padre Steve+

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