Category Archives: books and literature

In Memory of Father Andrew Greeley: A Man Who Helped Me Believe Again

Andrew Greeley

“I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.”Andrew Greeley 

By the halfway point in my tour in Iraq I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis that I could not comprehend. Nor would I understand the depths that the crisis would reach. However by November 2007 prayer was difficult if not impossible.  As I tried to comprehend the distress that I was in I continued in a downward cycle, only being out with my advisors and our Iraqis helped, but when I returned to base between missions and eventually when I returned home in 2008 I felt alone and began to wonder about the existence of God.

Since I have always been a voracious reader, primarily of history, theology, military history and theory and more difficult subjects subjects such as ethics and philosophy I tried to use that to get through my crisis. My favorite authors included such men as Carl Von Clausewitz and Von Molkte the Elder, Sun Tzu, T.E. Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Kung, Jurgen Moltmann, David Galula, Roger Trinquier, Bernard Fall, Alistair Horne and a host of other authors that most normal Americans would never consider reading or do not know even exist. Fiction of any type was low on my list. About the only works of fiction that I had read were those of Tom Clancy and his Jack Ryan novels, W.E.B. Griffin and his Brotherhood of War series and the baseball fiction of W. P. Kinsella such as Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.

I had a good number of books with me on the deployment. Some which I had packed for the trip and others which I had sent to me. However by November 2007 it was hard to read anything, much less pray. In between missions to Ramadi and the Syrian border I walked in the paperback lending library. I really didn’t know what I was looking for but I looked through every shelf in the small building. The non-fiction and biography sections were not worth the trouble, anything in them that I was interested in I had already read. So I began to look at fiction. I decided to look for authors that I knew, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth who had written a lot of World War II mystery and spy novels including Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed, Forsyth’s The Odessa File as well as Anton Myrer’s classic Once and Eagle.

The books were arranged alphabetically by author. Between Forsyth and Higgins there was the letter “G” and a number of books by one Andrew Greeley. I knew Greeley, at least I thought that I did. He was to be distrusted because he was a rather “liberal” Catholic Priest, sociologist and columnist for the Chicago Times. So I had been taught. However, I picked up a couple of the books, Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries, The Bishop Goes to the University and The Beggar Girl of St Germain. 

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In spite of my inherent prejudice from so many years in conservative churches I decided to take both of them. That night as I prepared for my next mission I started reading The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain. There was a section where Bishop Blackie was talking about a French Priest, very similar to many American televangelists. Quoting the priest, the charismatic Father Jean Claude, Blackie noted:

“Do you exist? I think not. I have never seen you or touched you or felt you. Well, sometimes I think you’re present but that may be wish fulfillment. Intellectually, I have no reason to believe. Yet much of the time I act like I do believe …. Only when I have time to reflect do I feel doubts, and then after the doubts certainty that the universe is cold and lonely. I know that I am a hypocrite and a fool. Then I preside over the Eucharist in my unsteady bumbling way and I know that you are. I don’t believe but I know.”

The words reflected what I was going through. I believed, but I didn’t. Of course that would not only continue as my tour in Iraq progressed but got worse after I returned from Iraq. However, I discovered, much to my surprise that I was not alone. That there were a number of other very good, caring Chaplains, Priests and ministers going through similar doubts, fears and pain.

The irrepressible Bishop Blackie continued:

“Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.”

The words were an epiphany to me. Belief and unbelief co-existing and strangely congruent with the testimony of scripture, the anguished words of a man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit confessing to Jesus: “I believe, help my unbelief.”

I was hooked. I began to read every book by Father Greeley that I could find. Any of the lending libraries that I visited I scoured to shelves to find Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries. When I returned to the Unite States I continued to read them. They were the only spiritual reading that I could manage. My Bible. Prayer Book, and other theological books were too difficult. In Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie I found a kindred spirit and in his books, full of flawed characters, an often corrupt ecclesiastical structure I began to re-discover God. Now I admit that the books were an interim step. It did take an encounter in our Emergency Room at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Virginia when I was the duty Chaplain in December 2009 administering the “last rites” to a dying man that faith much to my surprise returned.

It wasn’t the same faith, or shall I say the same form of faith that returned. It wasn’t a faith of absolute orthodoxy, but rather a faith that still questioned, God and the Church, especially the very culturally American Church that I could find little solace in or honesty, a church consumed with the need to be in political power which derided those not like it. Eventually as I continued to write on this site I began to voice how faith had returned but how it was different. One of those posts in September 2010 got me asked to leave my old denomination. It seemed that I had become in the words of my former Bishop for the Armed Forces “too liberal.”

At first that hurt. It was traumatic, not only was I dealing with PTSD, a crisis in faith and the loss of my father just a couple of months before, but then being cast aside. I knew that it would eventually happen but it was a shock. Thankfully tow things happened. First I was helped to find a denomination in the Old Catholic tradition that was really where I needed to be. Second, those people that were friends in my old denomination remained my friends, including many current leaders in that denomination as well as chaplains. The funny thing was that the man who threw me out was himself removed from his episcopal office for an act of duplicity against his church and his brother bishops that involved every member of the military diocese. That happened barely three months after I was asked to leave. Some friends have speculated that the real reason for my dismissal was that he did not trust me to keep his secret. That I do not know, just that it was speculated by others that knew him and me for many years.

As it was it was a good thing in the long run and through all of it the writings of Father Andrew Greeley, fiction and non-fiction, theological and sociological helped me through the crisis.

Father Greeley died today at the age of 85. For the past five and a half years he had been struggling to recover from a traumatic brain injury incurred when entering a taxi-cab in Chicago in November 2008. The injury curtailed his writing and speaking but he lives on through those writings and in spirit through the many people that he inspired. However, before that happened he was a spokesman for the truth who did not hesitate to critique the church and care for God’s people.

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I am one of those people, like Blackie Ryan a “miscreant Priest” who has learned to believe yet question but most of all realize that the people that I meet in person or those that meet me on this forum are God’s people. That being said I realize that as imperfect and flawed as I am that I might be the only Priest, minister or Chaplain that they ever meet. A quote from Greeley’s last novel, The Archbishop in Andalusia sums up my understanding of ministry, both in the sacraments of the church and the sacrament that we call life.

“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I have had ministers like the fictional Bishop Blackie in my life as well as those that did not embody that ethic that he represented. I had someone tell me recently that I was able to relate to anyone of any rank or position. In the military that is a big thing. Too often the higher we go in rank the more detached from lower ranking people we become. Thankfully, I think in large part to my dad, who was a Navy Chief Petty Officer, and my wife Judy, whose dad was a truck driver and who never lets me get too big for my britches have a lot to do with that. I think another part is how we have gone through many difficult times in our life and know what it is like to be on the bottom rung or society and the at times quite unfortunately, the church.

Father Greeley inspired me in many ways since I returned from Iraq and I am forever grateful. In another book “White Smoke” Greeley has a fictional papal contender named Luis Emilio Cardinal Menendez y Garcia make a speech which I find particularly inspiring. While it speaks of the Roman Catholic Church I think that it speaks to most churches and reflects how people see us, the Christian Church, no matter what denominational tradition we claim. Likewise it speaks of what we can become:

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.

Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?”

I have missed Andrew Greeley’s new writings ever since he was injured. However, when I read how many lives that he touched, especially those who struggle with faith or have been hurt by the church I know that the Spirit of God will still use him and that as of today that freed from the bonds of his earthly infirmities that he will keep us in his prayers. That being said, I will always be grateful to Andrew Greeley. When I was despairing of life itself, his writings, particularly the fictional ministry and work of Bishop Blackie Ryan helped me rediscover an authentic faith.

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Greeley and the wonderful characters that he created will continue to help me and I’m sure from the comments I have seen many others. I also know that through them that he and his witness of Jesus will live on.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Modern Baseball Magic: Chin Music by Lee Edelstein Padre Steve’s Review for TLC Book Tours

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Chin Music, Lee Edelstein Sela House Publishers Boca Raton Florida 2012

“I’ll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They’re too much fun.” Babe Ruth

I don’t read much in the way of fiction but when I do there is a good chance it has something to do with baseball. In fact someday I hope to publish my own baseball fiction fantasy novel someday but I digress….

I guess that it is fitting that I am watching the Semi-Final game of the World Baseball Classic between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic on television and that my brother Jeff and nephew Nate are in attendance at AT&T Park as I write this tonight. Baseball is a big part of my life as anyone that is a regular reader of this site knows.

Chin Music by Lee Edelstein is actually the first work of fiction of any genre that I have reviewed. Thus I found that reviewing it was a different task than biographic, historic or policy books that I have done in the past.  I write about baseball a lot and do a lot of reading regarding baseball history. To me baseball is something of a religion. To quote the irrepressible Annie Savoy (Susan Saradon) in Bull Durham “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

It is hard to compare this book to other great works of baseball fiction such as W P Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa, which became the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams or his less known but perhaps more metaphysically interesting The Iowa Baseball Confederacy; Bernard Malamud’s The Natural or Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Perfect Game which became the Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game.

Those books are all classics in their own right; Edelstein’s work has the potential to become a classic in its own right. Now days a book becoming a baseball classic may be harder than in previous times. It is sad to sad but Baseball is no longer America’s game. Baseball is timeless but somehow it seems that for many Americans the sport is neither violent or “fast” enough to warrant their attention. The long season and intricacies of the game seem beyond a society addicted to speed, violence and instant gratification. To me that is sad, but this book though a modern look at baseball fiction and fantasy reaches back to a time when it was the dream of almost every American boy to be a professional Baseball player.

Edelstein weaves together the stories of the legendary Babe Ruth, a notorious drunk and womanizer and the Buck family over a period of 85 years.

It is a story that begins in St Petersburg Florida in 1926 when a young woman becomes a barber and ends up with one of the most famous men in America as a customer. The relationship, without concludes in a hotel room, the only records of which are the young woman’s diary, a couple of pictures of her with the Babe in the barber shop and a fair amount of unique and highly valuable baseball memorabilia.

The woman, turns out to be the great grandmother of a gifted but underperforming young high school baseball player named Ryan Buck. The book begins with a motor vehicle accident in which Ryan’s father dies, his brother loses a leg and he suffers what we understand as a Traumatic Brain Injury. Ryan suffers from survivor’s guilt and does not live up to his full potential. His mother, now a working mom and widow embarks to sell her grandmother’s Babe Ruth memorabilia at a baseball card show to help pay the bills and to pay for the costs of Ryan’s brother Michael’s prosthetic leg replacements.

Now I am well acquainted with baseball card shows and memorabilia. My house, much to the chagrin of my wife Judy is filled with objects, none as valuable as original Babe Ruth merchandise portrayed in the book, but for me just as valuable if for nothing else because of my love for the game.

The story that Edelstein paints is fascinating and I do not want to give away too many spoilers because unlike the biographical and historical works I have previously reviewed my audience does not know the ending. As such I will limit the discussion of the plot. I will simply note that it deals with a young man’s miraculous climb from high school to the Major Leagues and reconnection with his late father, the healing of the soul of a woman who has lost her husband who has seen the struggles of her children and held on to the hopes of her late grandmother; a woman considered by her mother a tramp and whore. It includes their interaction with an elderly widower who saves the mother from a bad deal at the card show which leads to the discovery of her grandmother’s diary and other items that lead to an interesting search, not just for memorabilia but also for a family heritage. If you don’t get my drift look back at the Babe Ruth quote that begins this review.

Edelstein did what I did not think possible. He got me interested in a fictional work about baseball that was not already a classic. It grew on me as I read it and even though I began to anticipate the ending about three quarters of the way through I had to keep reading and in doing so was captivated by the story.  No it is not Shoeless Joe, The Perfect Game, or The Natural. Those books stand on their own as classics, but Chin Music has the potential to become a baseball classic for a new generation. It is a story of redemption, healing and hope, something that among all sports that baseball seems to embody. As Walt Whitman said:

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

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I hope that it does and hope that in reading it people will regain their love for what is rightly called “America’s game.” I highly recommend Chin Music by Lee Edelstein to my readers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“To Remain Oneself” A Review of “Prague Winter” by Madeline Albright

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“The main thing is to remain oneself,under any circumstances; that was and is our common purpose.” From an unpublished novel by Josef Korbel, the father of Madeline Albright

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Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War 1937-1948, Harper Collins Books New York, 2012.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s book Prague Spring provides an important look at the history of Czechoslovakia during the period between 1937 and 1948. It also provides the reader a succinct history of the Czech people and nation throughout the history of Europe going back to Charles IV (1316-1378) King Wenceslas, the pre-reformation martyr John Hus and revolutionary leader Jan Zizka.

Albright is the daughter of one of Czechoslovakia’s most distinguished diplomats and advocates for Czech independence, democracy, religious and ethnic pluralism. Her father, Josef Korbel was raised during the latter years of Bohemia and Moravia’s subjugation under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He would become a diplomat in the years just prior to the dismemberment and occupation of his homeland by Nazi Germany. Serving as a press-attache at the Czech embassy in Belgrade Yugoslavia he and his family, including his young daughter, the future Secretary of State were forced into exile in Britain.

The book is a history written from the very personal perspective of a woman who when most of the events transpired was a child who experienced her first memories of life as an exile. She would not be able to return to her country of origin until after the fall of Soviet Union and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

The book fills a void for many Americans whose understanding of European history is limited to the popular coverage of British monarchy or the barbarity of the Hitler regime. The book provides a look at the relationships of the men who made Czechoslovakia beginning with Tomas Masaryk, the founder of the newly independent republic in 1918. Masaryk stressed that “love of nation does not imply hatred toward another.” In an age where xenophobic nationalism and race hatred was a staple of politics in much of Europe Masaryk emphasized tolerance, good relations between religions, peoples, and the equality of religion. Albright notes that the solution of Masaryk to the ways that the settled order of civilization, political order, religious convictions and economic status were under attack was “to embrace religion without the straightjacket of the Church, social revolution without the excesses of Bolshevism, and national pride without bigotry.”

Masaryk would die shortly before the deal cut by the leaders of Britain, France, Italy and Germany at Munich to dismember Czechoslovakia in 1938. His successor, Edvard Benes would be left to deal with a situation where despite the strengths of his nation would be abandoned by the leaders of nations that he, and many of his countrymen felt abandoned by the world. That was the world that Madeline Albright came to age in.

Albright would grow up to see her father working on behalf of Benes and the exiled Czech government during the war, and the post war struggles in the nation between Democrats of various parties against the Communist Party led by Klement Gottwald supported by the occupying Soviet Red Army.

Her narrative provides a very effective and history of the period meshed with the experiences of her family, both in exile and those who remained. Her family, of Jewish origin, though largely secular and Czech in outlook faced deportation to the Theresienstadt Concentration camp and extermination camps and many died. While in England her parents converted to Catholicism and she was baptized into the Catholic Church. Her own story is fascinating, though remaining a Christian in the Episcopal Church she honors her family who died as Jews at the hand of the Nazis and her own countrymen.

The book provides a badly needed narrative of a small but critical country which for much of the 20th Century was ground zero of the struggle between Democracy and Totalitarianism. It does not seek to make heroes of those that were not, but it does seek to understand the dilemmas faced by people whose existence is threatened by larger neighbors and how the experience of victimhood can lead to retribution and revenge. It points out the dangers of ideologues who have no other agenda but their own and the crushing of any opposition. Albright’s father, Josef would again have to go into exile following the Communist takeover of his country. His daughter, raised in that exile would go on to become an American citizen and rise to the pinnacle of the diplomatic world, as Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State, the first woman to become Secretary of State.

She touches on her own connections to her family’s Holocaust experiences in this book, though they are secondary to the history of Czechoslovakia before, during and after the Second World War and the work of her father in that critical period.

I have always admired Secretary Albright and has the honor of meeting her and conversing with her on a flight between Madrid and London in March of 2005. I was traveling in connection with a trip to visit my Marines in Spain, Bahrain and Scotland and she, accompanied by former Senator Gary Hart were traveling between Madrid and London for a security conference on the anniversary of the March 11th 2004 Islamic terrorist bombings in Madrid. She was a most gracious woman and interested in what I was doing. I will not forget that trip.

In reading it I felt that I began to feel that I was beginning to know and understand men who were instrumental in history but always have been regulated to bit parts by American and British histories of the period. It is hard to imagine what those men placed in such and unenviable position had to endure, particularly the tragic story of Jan Masaryk, the son of Tomas Masaryk who would serve as foreign minister under Benes before and after the war and be murdered by the Communists shortly after the takeover.

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I think that the message that I took away from the book was the message penned by Secretary Albright’s father Josef in his unpublished novel: “The main thing is to remain oneself,under any circumstances…” I believe that in an age where political, racial and religious ideologues of various persuasions seek to divide the peoples of nations against each other it is an important work. What the Nazi leaders of the German minority in the country led by Konrad Henlein did was to divide and destroy a people who had lived in peaceful co-existence for centuries. Their actions led to the Nazi seizure and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Following the war 9/10ths of the pre-war German population of the country would be forced out by the Czechs and Slovaks now under the control of Soviet agents, something that occurred throughout Eastern Europe following the war.

To remain oneself, under any circumstances.

I highly recommend this book. Secretary Albright has written a fitting companion to the other histories of the period that fills a critical gap for American readers about the history of Czechoslovakia.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Fish Called Wanda, Padre Steve and the Five Love Languages

A while back a conservative Christian author published named Gary Demonte Chapman authored a book on marriage and relationships called The Five Love Languages. The book has nearly a cult following in Evangelical Christian circles and is used by many pastors, lay leaders and teachers to help couples develop a sense of intimacy. I think this is commendable but for the life of me I cannot get past the title of the book to read it. Thus apart from internet reviews on Amazon.com I have no earthly idea what languages that Chapman is speaking. Personally I can speak, read and write German and some French and I can say that German class and German Club helped bring Judy and I together at San Joaquin Delta College, I cannot figure out how it would figure in my love life.

The book came out in October 1992 shortly after I graduated from seminary. Many of my friends recommended it as I said I couldn’t get past the title. The book was published four years after I saw the movie A Fish Called Wanda starring Jamie Lee Curtis, John Clease, Michael Palin and Kevin Kline which forever has colored my twisted view on language and love.

When I was in Iraq traveling about the country I had an office space at Taqaddum Air Base Chapel where I coordinated my team’s travels about Al Anbar Province.  Since I was not there most of the time I shared the office with a Chaplain who covered some of the Marine units on the base. He was a Southern Baptist and also did a lot of Bible studies and marriage classes. To do the marriage classes he ordered cases of the Five Love Languages as well as workbooks and videos. A came back from a mission and they filled half of the office. While the chaplain was good and had a good number of takers for his classes I am sure that when we left the base during the withdraw from Iraq that many copies were left behind. I can only image an Iraqi Airman seeing the title and knowing little English think that it was a book on foreign languages.

When I saw the books I could not help but think of the movie. I tried to keep it to myself but shared my humorous insights with others that I knew would understand. Eventually I confessed my twisted musings with the Baptist Chaplain who thankfully appreciated the humor.

In the movie which I do not want to spoil for those that have not seen it, language plays an important part. But because it plays such an important part in this story I have to give away a spoiler. Jamie Lee Curtis, who I have always thought was totally hot plays Wanda Gershwitz . She is the American girlfriend of a character named Friedrich Nietzsche Otto played by Kevin Kline. The two double cross their British partner in crime after robbing a diamond merchant in London with Curtis co-opting British barrister Archie Leach played by John Cleese who is defending the partner that they double crossed. But I digress and don’t want to spoil the whole thing.

However I do have to share the one point that ensured that I could never ever pick up a copy of The Five Languages without laughing.

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Anyway Curtiss’ character has an interesting quirk. She gets excited when the men that she makes love to speak foreign languages as they make love to her. Kline’s character Otto was somewhat an idiot and would speak incoherent Italian gibberish as he makes love to her like “Per cominciare, due insalate verdi con peperoni e un linguini primavera.” However she was really taken by Cleese who when she asks him if he speaks Italian says “I am Italian! Sono italiano in spirito. Ma ho sposato una donna che preferisce lavorare in giardino a fare l’amore appassionato. Uno sbaglio grande! But it’s such an ugly language. How about… Russian?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyKy2JzREiE

The rest is history.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Why This? Why Me? Why Now? “Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat” by Max Holland

Motives do matter and actions often have unintended consequences. That is the lesson of Max Holland’s book about Mark Felt. Felt was the man whose leaks helped end the Presidency of Richard Nixon and skyrocket the young and obscure Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to fame. For more than three decades Mark Felt’s identity remained hidden a mystery man to the public, a man popularized by the dark moniker “Deep Throat.” His role as the leaker was suspected by some, including President Nixon and some of his staff but known only for sure by Woodward, Bernstein and Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee.

In this truly scholarly book Max Holland pieces together the dark underside of the Watergate tapestry that Woodward and Bernstein helped to break in 1972 and would go on to write about in All the President’s Men and The Final Days. It is a book that is important because it is the first account to seriously explore the motivation of Mark Felt when he began to leak and the background story of the monumental post J. Edgar Hoover FBI power struggle.  That story which in normal times would have been a major story was missed in an era where the country was in turmoil and there were so many other “big” stories to cover.

Taking advantage of more recent revelations, disclosures and evidence Holland paints a picture that not only broadens one’s understanding of Watergate but helps the reader understand how important it is to understand the motivations of those that were involved, Nixon and his staff, Felt and other FBI officials and the media.

The picture painted by Holland of Felt makes his role in the story more understandable. Felt was not the altruistic leaker of myth who sought to destroy the Nixon Presidency, something that was the picture painted by Woodward and Bernstein. His motivations were much more down to earth. He wanted to use his knowledge to ensure that he became Hoover’s successor as the Director of the FBI. He used it to destroy L. Patrick Gray who served as the interim Director and his chief rival in the Bureau William C. “Bill” Sullivan in the eyes of the White House, Congress, the Bureau and the media. Felt’s leaks helped blow the lid off of the White House cover up of the Watergate break-in and which led to the resignation of President Nixon and the conviction of a number of his closest advisors. Felt’s duplicity which included deceiving the Administration, Congress, his superiors and the media with falsehoods even as he revealed key truths is amazing to behold.

The picture that Holland paints of the White House is not pretty. The moral depravity and ruthlessness of Nixon and his advisors is shown without dehumanizing them.  In fact they become more human in Holland’s account.  Likewise Holland’s portrayal of other key figures in Felt’s story at the FBI, L. Patrick Gray, William Ruckelshaus and William Sullivan is compelling. The naive and compliant Gray, Felt’s bitter rival Sullivan and the “sweeper” (to use the term given to Harvey Keitel’s character Winston “the Wolf” Wolfe in Pulp Fiction) Ruckelshaus who helps to “sweep” Felt out of the FBI.

But the most interesting part of the book for me is Holland’s portrayal of Woodward and Bernstein. They are young and idealistic and Woodward believes whatever Felt tells him, including deliberate misinformation. What jumped out at me was their willingness to take at face value what Felt told them and not to explore his motivations which could have led to even more revelations that could have shaken the FBI to its core.  Likewise was Woodward’s willingness to press the limits with information provided by Felt going beyond what Felt demanded for secrecy but which Felt, even though upset by the reporter continued to provide information cumulating in his long and rambling confession to Woodward following his retirement under pressure on May 16th 1973.

They, particularly Woodward did not ask themselves the three key questions that anyone should ask when someone comes to them with this kind of information: Why this? Why this information. Why Me?  Why am I being chosen to receive the information. Why Now? Why is the source telling me this information now. Those three questions could have blown the case open even more had they explored them. Of course they were caught up in the chase for “scoops” with rivals at the New York Times, The Washington Sun and Time Magazine and chose to believe what Felt told them, something that occasionally left them hanging when the information was wrong.

Conversely Felt’s distain and lack of respect for the media and the belief that he could use Woodward, Bernstein and others in the media to further his goals with impunity proved false. He became careless and caused the Nixon Administration to suspect him and work to force him out of the FBI without drawing more attention to themselves.

Holland also covers the “cover-up” of “Deep Throat’s identity which was maintained by Felt, Woodward and Bernstein until Felt was in the beginning stages of dementia and his family was ready to reveal his role.  The dual myths of Deep Throat’s motives and the role of the press as the “men in the  white hats” against the evil bad guys in the White House are exposed by Holland who points out how much of the investigation broken by Woodward and Bernstein was being accomplished by FBI agents and appointed to investigate the break-in and staff members at the Committee to Re-Elect the President who were appalled by the illegality of what they saw being done by their superiors.

The book is excellently sourced and researched. It is a compelling narrative that sheds light on a dark period of our nation’s history which also serves as a reminder to those who investigate “leaks” from well placed sources that there is always another layer of motivation and intent that cannot be discounted and must be factored into the investigation.

This is relevant today as the media, Congress and the the Justice Department investigate leaks from inside the Obama White House regarding national security information. Why This? Why Me? Why Now? Those are the questions. Thanks to Max Holland we now know much of what transpired behind the scenes as Woodward and Bernstein investigated and published their accounts of the Watergate break-in and cover up with the information provided by Mark Felt.

The book Leak: How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat is published by the University of Kansas Press and is available at http://www.amazon.com/Leak-Mark-Felt-Became-Throat/dp/0700618295/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339544616&sr=8-1&keywords=leak

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Padre Steve Reviews “The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity” by Michael O’Hanlon

The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity (An eSpecial from The Penguin Press)

• Format: Kindle Edition
• File Size: 1685 KB
• Publisher: The Penguin Press (November 15, 2011)

I was recently asked to do a review of Michael O’Hanlon’s new book The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity by the folks at TLC Book Tours http://tlcbooktours.com/ I am a historian and have served 30 years in the United States Army and United States Navy. As such I try to look at the nuances of Defense policy from a historical as well as current point of view.

O’Hanlon’s book deals with a topic that is receiving much attention and debate in the wake of the 2011 Congressional Budget impasse and deal and the recently release of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and the FY 2013 Department of Defense Budget request. O’Halon’s book was published in the midst of the budget impasse in which could bind Congress into cuts well in the excess of the proposed $500 Billion in cuts proposed by the Pentagon and the Obama Administration. Cuts that could total over a trillion dollars over the next decade.

O’Hanlon deals with the economic necessity of Defense budget cuts laying out his thesis in the first two chapters dealing with the history of US military budgets since the Second World War with particular attention to the post-Cold War cuts under the Bush and Clinton administrations. In the following chapters O’Hanlon argues for what I would call a strategy of calculated risk in which Defense budgets and the necessary force cuts are balanced with the economic realities of our present time. He does not argue for massive cuts and disengagement from the world that some argue for, at the same time he realizes that defense cuts are necessary but cannot be too great.

He then goes on to discuss the potential reductions for ground forces as well as air and naval forces within the context of potential threats, especially those posed by Iran as well as the potential threat from China.  He argues for a leaner military but also acknowledges the danger of cutting too much.

His conclusions regarding force size and composition will be attacked by some and defended by others.  I think that his arguments regarding ground forces which support going back to the approximate numbers in the Army and Marine Corps in 2001 are reasonable presuming that there is a substantial reduction of US forces in Afghanistan and no other major ground campaigns arise.  The current personnel authorizations were only made reluctantly after years of war by the Bush administration whose first Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was no advocate of large ground forces.

O’Hanlon also discusses the possibility of savings through some base closure as well as reductions in some Air Force and Naval capabilities while attempting to minimize the effects of the reductions by crew rotations of forward based warships and more use of drone aircraft. He also discusses the US capabilities in intelligence and Homeland Security in the context of the overall defense structure.

One thing that I find lacking in O’Hanlon’s treatment of the defense strategy and budget is the lack of attention paid to the overall industrial base required to support the replacement or modernization of our current forces. He argues in favor of keeping production lines open but neglects the fact that most of the US defense industrial base is now the property of about five major corporations. At one time we had more shipyards  and other facilities that made the rapid production of war materials in times of national emergency which at the end of hostilities could revert to civilian industrial production. Much of that capability is now gone, outsourced to China and South Korea.

O’Hanlon has some good proposals and his numbers are not much different than those proposed by the Pentagon. His analysis does included what is called the DIME, the diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic aspects of national security strategy. He describes his vision for a military that despite cuts can still be mission capable. One may argue with his overall strategic thinking and his detailed proposals and many will. I have issues with some of the proposals.  Likewise anyone attempting to project a vision of a national security strategy and military force structure is always fraught with the ever present reality that no one can predict the future. However history tells us time and time again that we seldom are right and that threats yet unimagined can shred the most well thought out and detailed plans.  Making such decisions in an election year makes them all the more prone to being wrong because the political establishments of both parties

It is a good read for anyone seriously interested in national security strategy.It is not perfect by any means but worth the read.  It it is published in paperback as well as the Amazon Kindle edition.

The Author: Dr. Michael O’Hanlon is is director of research and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, homeland security and American foreign policy. He is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and adjunct professor at John Hopkins University. O’Hanlon is the author of several books, most recently A Skeptic’s Case for Nuclear Disarmament. His writing has been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, among other publications, and he has appeared on TV or radio almost 2,000 times since 9/11. Before joining Brookings, O’Hanlon worked as a national security analyst at the Congressional Budget Office and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Congo/Kinshasa (the former Zaire). He received his bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees from Princeton, where he studied public and international affairs.

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Once an Eagle: A Classic Novel of Military Life

“This classic novel of soldiers and soldiering ranks with Red Badge of Courage and All Quite on the Western Front as time-tested epics of war and warriors.”– John W. Vessey, Jr., Gen., US Army (Ret.)

Sam Damon (Sam Elliot) cries over a fallen friend

Tonight I started watching the NBC television mini-series adaptation of Anton Myrer’s classic novel of war military life and love Once an Eagle on DVD. I had been hoping to find the series on video or DVD for years and it was released again last year. I was introduced to the book through the series which I saw in High School when it came out in 1976. Back then I never missed an episode. I found the story which weaves the life of a soldier who rises from the ranks named Sam Damon who is played by Sam Elliott and a self-serving careerist named Courtney Massengale to be compelling then and caused me to get the book and read it back in High School and I found it even more compelling than the series.

Coutney Massengale (Cliff Potts)

Years later while deployed to Okinawa I saw a few episodes on AFN and purchased another copy which I took to Iraq with me in 2007. Reading the book there made even more of an impact on me.  I guess it was something about getting shot at and being out in locations with small groups of Americans and our Iraqis with the big battalions far away that made it more poignant. I was pleased to find it this week on DVD at the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Exchange.

I guess for me the hook is that ever since I was a small child I dreamed of all things military and knew that I would probably spend a major part of my life in the military I was attracted to the story. Since I grew up in a Navy family and lived up and down the West Coast and the Philippines it was in my blood. Part of this was being surrounded by the Navy as well as the Marines. I remember seeing the movie The Green Berets when I was in second grade and listening to the Ballad of the Green Berets on the radio. A couple of my friends and I got sent to the principal’s office because we decided to play war a bit long at recess and didn’t go back to class. If there was something military on television I was going to watch it and I remember films like Patton, The Battle of the Bulge, Kelly’s Heroes, The Dirty Dozen, The Desert Fox, M*A*S*H, The Sands of Iwo Jima and tons of others. I built hundreds of model tanks and armored vehicles, ships and aircraft and lived for the day that I could join.

The idealistic and altruistic character of Sam Damon struck a chord in me. The Character of Sam Damon is man who worked his way up from the ranks and not afraid to speak his mind who is able to lead men in the worst situations and accomplish the mission. He cares for his troops but knows his job and knows that men, even friends die in war. At the same time he does not recklessly throw his men’s lives away and they believe that he will get them through. The book takes Damon along with his wife “Tommy” who is not a big fan of the Army despite being an Army Brat and the daughter of a General through their sometimes tumultuous marriage as they are stationed in many places both the glamorous and the not so glamorous in the United States and overseas. It follows Damon’s career from the days before World War One thorough the Great War, the doldrums of the 1920s and 1930s, World War Two, Korea and as a special envoy retired from the Army in a fictionalized Vietnam.  It also traces his relationship with the ambition driven Courtney Massengale.  To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail but the two characters are in a sense stereotypical of the best and the worst types of men that populate the Officer Corps of the Army, but in a broader sense any military institution.

Tommy Damon (Darlene Carr)

The book is very real in its descriptions of combat as Myrer was an enlisted Marine who was wounded during the invasion of Guam and his descriptions of military life including the hardships endured by military families and while the novel is set in an earlier time where military personnel and their families did not have the communication abilities as we do now, but even with such niceties deployments and family separations, especially those where the military member deploys to a combat zone take a terrible toll on military families.

The novel is very pertinent for those of us in the military because it makes us ask the hard questions of what we will do to further our career and the cost of such a life on our families. I am coming up on 30 years service including about 10 years in the reserves and have made many deployments and my wife has had to endure many separations including my current geographic bachelor tour. Thankfully I am close enough to see her most weekends but we are apart more than we are together.  It is funny that knowing what I knew from my life as a Navy Brat and from books like Once an Eagle that I chose such a life. It is in a sense a calling for me. I know that I’ll never be an Admiral nor do I want to be it is enough to have the privilege to continue to serve when most or all of my contemporaries from my early days in the military have long since left the service or retired. I thank God for that privilege as well as a wife who when she was looking forward to me retiring from the Army Reserve saw me decide to join the Navy to go back on active duty following a mobilization tour where I lost my civilian job, without asking her first. She has endured years of me being gone.  Someday I’ll lay it down but not yet as I still feel that sacred call and thankfully despite the hardship she still loves me but is not unaware of my shortcomings.

In spite of this I am a realist when it comes to the institution of the military. It is not perfect. We have our Sam Damon’s and Courtney Massengale’s but most including me fall somewhere in between these polar opposites to one degree or another. I think that is why men or women who are too idealistic sometimes struggle when their leaders don’t measure up to those ideals.  I remember who my idealism was shattered.  After that I have endeavored to do the best as a Line Officer, Priest and Chaplain knowing that that I won’t always get it right but also knowing that I will try to always uphold the best ideals of the Navy and the military.

The book is required reading in many advanced military schools and is on the Army and the Marine Corps required reading lists.  There is much to learn from it and a lot of wisdom on its pages.  When I finish the mini-series I will read the book again. I recommend it highly.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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