Category Archives: ethics

Miscellaneous Musings on a Wednesday Night

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Well my friends it is another Wednesday night in the season of Lent and all is well at our little household. Since my return from Gettysburg Sunday night I have been in recovery mode. It is amazing how much work went into that trip and when I count in the fact that I had to spring forward over the weekend I have to admit that I was totally exhausted when I got home. I was in bed early last night and for once I got a relatively decent night of sleep in.

At work today I spent time with people, read, and did some reflecting on other Civil War and Gettysburg subjects. I also did some musing on Ethics and the state of it in our military, especially in the senior leadership over the past 15 to 20 years or so.

Both history and ethics matter a great deal to me. I think in our quest to become more efficient that we have forgotten both, and that many of the troubles that we face in this country are because we lack any real appreciation for history, philosophy or ethics. The fact is that they are not disciplines that lead to “job creation,” which is the mantra of so many Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, that Unholy Trinity, that it makes me want to vomit. Last year after he became Governor of North Carolina, the new governor and former “successful businessman” Pat McCrory promised to cut off financial aid for students taking courses not directly related to a “job.”

Of course to him this meant the humanities, history, philosophy, the social sciences and the arts. Not STEM or classes that teach people how to turn widgets, those  are immune because they produce a truly subservient class of people who do not ask questions.

Of course the study and teaching of the subject that McCrory and others want to cut are distinctly related to the preservation of our culture and society so I can see why a businessman like McCrory would so deftly attempt to sweep them aside. They are inconvenient if you are intent on creating a society to create a society of mindless drones who can do jobs but are incapable of any critical thought. So we wonder why at every level of government, private industry and even the church that people behave in ways which defy the norms of a civilized society.

Despite how loud many religious conservatives decry how far we have fallen, they are often complicit in the very things that they decry and condemn. The reason for this? Because they exalt in thought and action the very philosophies that they supposedly stand against. But then they have bought into the hateful philosophy of Ayn Rand and her violent Social Darwinism and are too poorly educated to realize it.

Wow, I think I just chased that rabbit and I have to admit that I digress… sorry.

So anyway, where was I?

Okay I remember, I was writing about what I was doing after the Gettysburg Staff Ride. It has been an interesting few days. I love the fact that there are baseball games on television again. It is a pleasant sensation to look up from a couch, bed or bar to see a baseball game. It will be even better when I am back at Harbor Park in section 102 watching the Norfolk Tides of the International League. Baseball you see is one of the few things that brings peace to my soul. No matter where or what level the sight of that diamond and smell of the freshly cut grass brings peace to my often troubled soul.

Tonight I am watching the Ken Burns Baseball series. I was struck by the comment that men who fail seven out of ten times are heroes. I think that is the case in real life. Most of us are lucky if we hit .250 in the game of life, much less .300. As for me I tend to operate by the grace of God at the Mendoza Line, or .200, just enough to stay in the game.

I have a number of writing projects planned, I am completing an application for a Ph.D. program in Organizational Leadership in which I will be able to combine my academic and professional interests into a multidisciplinary degree program. Unlike a lot of people pursuing a Ph.D. I already am pretty sure about the subject I will pursue for my dissertation. For those that haven’t guessed by what I have written the past few weeks it might have something to do with the Civil War.

So tomorrow at work I will start working on my Ethics class, the Gettysburg Staff Ride and preparations for teaching some other classes.

It is a good life. Have a great night and blessed tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, ethics, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary

Military Ethics, Legality and Morality: The Damage Being Caused by the Emphasis on STEM to the Detriment of the Humanities in Military Officer Programs

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“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

I have lost count of the number of scandals regarding the ethical failures of American military leaders. Today at lunch I was talking with a gentleman in charge of the military outreach for a local university where I am considering beginning a Ph.D. program in Organizational Leadership.

There are many reasons given for the these ethical failures, everything from the disintegration or the nuclear family, to the lack of religious upbringing, to the supposedly liberal educational system. However, while I think some of these issues may have some impact, I am not convinced that they are the root cause of the ethics crisis that seems to be plaguing the military.

As we discussed aspects of the program the subject got to the subject of military leaders being fired for ethical, legal and moral lapses. This is something that I am giving much though since I am now teaching ethics at a senior level military staff college. What I am noticing is that many officers struggle with basic concepts regarding history, philosophy, ethics, political science, religion, the arts and literature and other subjects that because I immerse myself in them just assume that any military professional should know.

But that is not the case. For the last thirty to forty years the commissioning programs of our services have given preference to those in the STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. In fact the probability is that the liberal arts or social science major will not be admitted to service academy or ROTC program, even a non-scholarship program unless they are in a STEM major. This is especially true of my own service, the Navy and the Air Force but is not absent from the Army and the Marine Corps.

This is not new. In 1981 I joined Army ROTC because the Navy told me that even to be a non-scholarship student in the program I would have to change my major from history to a STEM major.

This is not simply a military issue, but it is a systemic issue in higher American education programs, programs which due to the demands of the business and technology sectors have gutted liberal arts programs and the social sciences. All of this has been done in the name of making sure that people are “prepared for jobs” and that education is related directly to employability and again jobs. That is why in large part for profit schools have proliferated offering programs focused on narrow job fields in technical majors. This has impacted higher education in public and private universities which at one time had thriving liberal arts, humanities and social science programs as well as the military where the emphasis on STEM has created havoc in terms of ethics.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“The ‘polymath’ had already died out by the close of the eighteenth century, and in the following century intensive education replaced extensive, so that by the end of it the specialist had evolved. The consequence is that today everyone is a mere technician, even the artist…”

Education is now viewed by most as a pathway to a better job, not a quest for understanding, knowledge or even personal improvement. That attitude is enmeshed in our culture and has been for decades. It even shows up in seminaries where programs are not focused in the classics and timeless subjects in theology, history, philosophy, ethics, languages and hermeneutics but instead methods of “growing” a church or running a program. When I was in seminary, a large conservative evangelical seminary many students complained about having to take classes that had nothing to do with running their church. Many of my fellow students despised Church History, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, and even Systematic Theology and then complained that the courses that were oriented to running a church would be out of date in a few years.

The common theme whether this be in the for profit schools, the public and private universities, the military and seminaries is that we have trained two generations of people to be good technicians and technocrats. Men and women very skilled at getting at job done but that lack the basic ethical and moral grounding that those in previous generations received as part of their education, in the home, in their religious institutions and in the educational system.

The problem is that when you strip away a solid grounding in the arts, liberal arts and social sciences you breed people who may be very good at getting a job done. However they are people who lack the knowledge passed on by people who have shaped civilization for millennia.  They are ignorant of Hammurabi, Moses, Plato, Cicero, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Aquinas, the great philosophers and thinkers from the East and the West, those who brought about the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and even the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, Universal Suffrage, Emancipation and Civil Rights.

Their technical education divorces them from those that developed the legal, ethical and moral codes of our culture. They lack the cohesive understanding of social responsibility and connection that have held western civilization together. Those have been replaced by ethics that are dominated by pragmatism or utilitarianism, even in seminaries where classes on ethics or moral theology are often relegated to elective status. How else can we explain the wholesale disintegration of moral and ethical codes of behavior across the vocational spectrum be it business, government, the military or religious institutions?

The question for many people, and maybe most people in our society, including the military is not what is moral or ethical but what is “legal,” and what are the loopholes in the law that allow one to escape the consequences of their immoral, illegal or unethical behavior.

We have raised at least two, maybe three generations of technicians and technocrats, and that trend shows no sign of abating. In North Carolina last year the Republican Governor proposed eliminating tuition assistance from any program not directly related to “jobs.” By that he meant eliminating such assistance from non-STEM programs.

What this does, and I think we are seeing this today is produces people who are good at doing jobs, but have a difficult time in critical thinking or looking at the logical consequences of their ideas and actions.

Many cannot see the moral or ethical dimensions of life and even turn religion to an exercise designed to benefit them in a tangible material way. Thus there is a proliferation of churches that preach some kind of “prosperity Gospel” and those that pervert religion and use it to suppress the freedoms of others by force of law.

But let me return to the military implications of my thesis. What I have observed in my career of over 30 years of military service is a culture that has developed in an ethical vacuum. We have sought to inculcate a service culture based on Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps “values” such as “honor, courage and commitment.” However, for many maybe even most those are mere words. They are shibboleths akin to religious creeds recited by people for whom they are irrelevant because they are not job related.

Now this is not an attack on those in the military, for those in the military simply reflect the culture that they come from. This includes the family, religious, social and educational systems of our society. In fact I actually believe that for the most part people in the military do a better job with values, ethics and morality than many in the civilian society. That being said there is something seriously wrong in what we are doing. If there wasn’t there would not be so many egregious lapses that call the moral fitness of senior military leadership into question.

This is especially important because the trust of the nation is invested in these men and women. The responsibilities that they have regarding the lives of people, the security of the nation and the maintenance, security and use of powerful weapons, including nuclear weapons and information technology that can be used to pry into the private lives of unknowing citizens all dictate that the ethical and moral standards of the military have to be above those found in the private sector.

Unfortunately there is no immediate “fix” for the problem because it it so systemically rooted in our society. However something will have to be done, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense have directed the military redouble its emphasis on teaching ethics at every level. However it is my opinion that we will have to go far beyond the recitation of creeds and repetition of words about “values” that have little relevance to people educated and brought up to simply do a job. This will be a difficult task, especially in military organizations being reduced in number while still engaged in war and increasing other operations around the world.

As to the broader societal issues, those run deep, but one thing in my mind is certain, there has to be a renewed emphasis on the humanities, liberal arts and social sciences to include the classics of western and world literature, art, philosophy, history and thought. We cannot reduce education to technical elements that require little in the way of critical thought, or for that matter provide people with “education” that does not force them to deal with the dark areas of life that are uncomfortable and the gray areas that fill our universe.

In the Second World War many of the best and brightest of young German intellectuals joined the SS and its sister organizations, organizing and executing the extermination of the Jews and others in Germany and occupied lands. Most of these men did not give their actions a second thought. They were doing their jobs, most of the time in a very dispassionate matter. They carried out orders because they were “legal.” Ethics and morality were no concern simply because they were sworn to obey orders.

The task to change this cannot be that of the military and its leadership alone. If we fail to change our education systems, our home life and even our religious life we will unleash the greatest generation of amoral technocrats who have ever walked the face of the earth. They will be men and women who will have no problem committing the greatest crimes, simply because they are “legal” and because they have only been taught to do their job.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, leadership, Military, News and current events, philosophy

The Dehumanization of America: Tom Perkins, Peter Schiff, The Wall Street Journal and the Absence of Empathy

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“Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” Adam Smith The Wealth of the Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

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Let me start this essay by categorically that I do not oppose people making money, becoming rich through their genius, their hard work, and being successful. In fact I applaud people who can do that. Adam Smith who developed what we know as Capitalism understood this. Unfortunately what now is described as Capitalism bears little resemblance to the understanding of Smith, and thereby his name is often dragged through the mud by people who seeing the bastard seed of the “new capitalists” reject the truly remarkable aspects of what Smith wrote about.

These men, and the society that they desire were described by Smith:

“As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.”

Smith understood the value of free markets, but he also understood that the value of a human being was greater than a means to a profitable end. He had a sense of social responsibility, something that those who profess to be his disciples today lack. Smith noted:

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.” 

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In the past week we have been witnesses of the banal attitudes of some men and the institutions that they represent toward those who they make their riches from. Tom Perkins, a now retired venture capitalist wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal which complained that the rich were the targets of a new Kristallnacht against the rich. Later when defending his ideas, though lamenting his use of the term Kristallnacht, he boasted of his wealth including a James Bond like car which could “fly” underwater and a nearly 400,000 watch. It was a crass vulgar display or his wealth. It was almost as if Smith had wrote about Perkins in 1776:

“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.”

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Peter Schiff equated the value of a worker to what they are and not what they produce, especially in regard to the mentally retarded but an argument that can equally apply to those of lower education, those with physical disabilities or even mental illness. Of course the Wall Street Journal then had to rise to the defense of such sentiments.

I mention these men because they were crass enough to voice what so many like them actually think, thus the criticism is not of these two men, but of the lifestyle, culture and attitude that they represent, which pervades almost every part of modern American economic life. We live in a society which our news media, entertainment industry and often even religion exalt the wealthy and in which our political, social and economic elites see wealth as their divine right. Smith noted:

“This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and powerful, and to despise or, at least, neglect persons of poor and mean conditions, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

Smith makes a direct connection between the attitudes toward wealth and the near worship of the rich and powerful to the corruption of the moral sentiments of a society. One only needs to look at the great banking, savings and loan and real estate meltdowns of the past 20 or so years to see the effects of this unquestioned worship of the rich and powerful has on the society at large. Even so those who have brought our economy to near ruin on numerous occasions do not see the connection. They are so insulated by their riches and success that they feel nothing of the suffering of others.

Theirs is a condition of intense narcissism and insecurity. They boldly assert their superiority over the majority of humanity, but are so insecure that they need to ensure that the government safeguards their position in society. Smith wrote:

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Men like Perkins and Schiff and the shills at the Wall Street Journal have a profound lack of empathy, something that is common in narcissistic personalities. In fact the criteria listed for the psychiatric condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are present in many highly successful and powerful people, in politics, business, government, entertainment and even religion. Thus the  criteria serve well to illuminate the attitudes of such people, even if they themselves do not match enough of the criteria meet the clinical diagnosis.

*Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

*Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

*Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

*Requires excessive admiration

*Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

*Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

*Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

*Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

*Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Now it is possible for people to demonstrate some of these symptoms without being diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in fact at least five have to be present for a clinical diagnosis. That being said, the words and actions Perkins, Schiff and others demonstrate some characteristics of a a narcissistic personality, especially the lack or absence of empathy, which I think is the most dangerous narcissistic trait of all.

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When men no longer can empathize with other human beings, and only see others, especially the weak, the poor, those different than them and the disabled as a means to their own riches, power or success; the stage is set for great human tragedy. It does not matter in what type of political or economic system that it takes place, it can be Capitalist, Fascist, Communist, Nationalist, Tribal or even Theocratic; the issue is not the system, but the underlying lack of empathy for others in those who rise to power in it.

The terrible result of such a lack of empathy is the dehumanization of a society.

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a U. S. Army Psychologist at Nuremberg noted something about them men that he observed and worked with during the Nuremberg Trials. The men included bankers, industrialists, propagandists, technocrats, police, party and military personnel who served the Nazi regime. Gilbert wrote:

“In my work with the defendants I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

Now before someone jumps the shark and says that I am calling either Perkins or Schiff “Nazis” or Nazi sympathizers, be aware I am not. I just feel that Gilbert’s assessment of the definition of evil, is a lack of empathy is a universal statement. Though Gilbert worked among Nazi War Criminals, I believe that the statement is true in any society where a minority of the people live in such a manner that they control the society and are incapable of having empathy for others.

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There is an antidote to this, and it is not in trying to protect one’s position, but rather to be generous to others regardless of our estate and to avoid vanity. Smith wrote that “Bounty and hospitality very seldom lead to extravagance; though vanity almost always does.”  Likewise he noted something that all of us should take note of before in our attempt to climb to the top crush all beneath us:  “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

So though my criticism falls on Perkins, Schiff and the Wall Street Journal it is something that all of us have to be aware of and guard against, regardless of our political, ideological, religious or economic philosophy of life; lest we sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under economics and financial policy, ethics, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Night of Memories: Syria, Iraq and The Middle East in 2014, Echoes of T. E. Lawrence

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Inshallah, (إن شاء اللهGod willing…

It is now 2014, almost eleven years since the Bush administration launched its ill advised, preemptive and probably war illegal under international law, against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Tonight instead of watching the State of the Union Address, and the four separate Republican responses, or a sporting event, or some thing more frivolous I am watching Lawrence of Arabia.  

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It is fitting that I do so. I left Iraq just six years ago. In fact six years ago tonight I was in Baghdad at the Headquarters of the Iraq Assistance Group, on my way out of country, being awarded a Defense Meritorious Service Medal for my work with our advisors and the Iraqis in Al Anbar. It was a melancholy night. That night I was wearing my last serviceable uniform, which I had preserved for the trip home by wearing flight suits and baseball caps with no badges of rank, throughout most of the deployment. Like Lawrence’s donning of the Bedouin robes, my uniform choice, done purely by necessity made me stand out conspicuously among other Americans in country.

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I was heading home but didn’t really want to leave, but in the process I left part of me in that long suffering country.  I have written much about my experience there and how even today I have a deep regard for the Iraqi people and their hopes for a better future. However, I wonder if what Lawrence wrote will be true:

“We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” 

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In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq and made short work of that country’s military. Many Iraqis of all creeds looked upon the US and coalition forces as liberators but within a few months the illusion was over. Within weeks of the overthrow of Saddam, the US military personnel and leaders who were working with Iraqi officials, both military and civilian to get the country back on its feet were replaced by the Bush administration.

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In their place a new entity, the Coalition Provisional Authority was created and staffed. The first administrator of the entity was retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner. He had much experience in Iraq but was sacked quickly by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for not conducting an immediate purge of members of the Baathist Party from key positions in the civil service or security forces, or implementing the agenda of the administration.

After Garner’s dismissal the CPA was led by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, a man who had no experience in the Arab world, much less in Iraq. Bremer and his staff, most of who had little experience or knowledge of the country created conditions that directly led the the Iraq insurgency, the sacrifice of thousands of American and allied lives and the loss of friendship of the Iraqi people. They also gave a a bloodless strategic victory to Iraq’s traditional enemy and oppressor Iran, which became a dominant regional power without having to worry about their traditional Arab nemesis.

It was as if Bremer, the leaders of the Bush administration and their neoconservative allies knew nothing of history. If they did they decided to ignore it. Whether it was ignorance of history, or a wanton disregard for it, and the country we invaded it was immoral, unethical and probably criminal.

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T.E. Lawrence wrote of the British incursion into Turkish Mesopotamia in 1915, managed by the British Indian Office:

“By brute force it marched then into Basra. The enemy troops in Irak were nearly all Arabs in the unenviable predicament of having to fight on behalf of their secular oppressors against a people long envisaged as liberators, but who obstinately refused to play the part.”

The actions of the CPA destroyed the plans pragmatists in the Pentagon and State Department to incorporate the existing civil service, police and military forces in the newly free Iraq.  Instead Bremer dissolved the Iraqi military, police and civil service within days of his arrival. Since the military invasion had been accomplished with minimal forces most Iraqi weapon sites, arsenals and bases were looted once their Iraqi guardians were banished and left their posts. The embryonic insurgency was thus provided by Bremer a full arsenal of weapons to use against American forces; many of whom were now mobilized Reservists and National Guardsmen that were neither trained or equipped to fight an insurgency or in urban areas.

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The reaction of the Iraqi Arabs to US occupation should have been anticipated. Lawrence wrote in 1920 a letter that could have easily been written in 2004:

“It is not astonishing that their patience has broken down after two years. The Government we have set up is English in fashion, and is conducted in the English language. So it has 450 British executive officers running it, and not a single responsible Mesopotamian. In Turkish days 70 per cent of the executive civil service was local. Our 80,000 troops there are occupied in police duties, not in guarding the frontiers. They are holding down the people.”

The actions of Bremer’s incompetent leadership team led to a tragic insurgency that need not have taken place. The now unnumbered US forces had to fight an insurgency while attempting to re-create an army, security forces and civil service from the wreckage created by Bremer’s mistakes; as well as its own often heavy handed tactics in the months following the invasion.

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Nearly 4500 US troops would die and over 30,000 more wounded in the campaign. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or died of disease during the war.  Lawrence wrote about the British administration of Iraq words that could well have been written about Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority:

“Meanwhile, our unfortunate troops, Indian and British, under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Bagdad.”

It took dramatic efforts in blood and treasure to restore the some modicum of security in Iraq, something that was only accomplished when the Sunni tribes of Anbar Province turned against the Al Qaeda backed foreign fighters. The surge under the command of General David Petreus achieved the desired result. It gave the Iraqis a chance to stabilize their government and increase their own security forces.

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Unfortunately many of those that remained in power of the Shia sect refused to share power in meaningful ways with Iraq’s Sunni and Kurds leading to a political crisis. The US military mission ended in December 2011 and since then Iraq security forces and civil authorities, often divided by tribal or sectarian loyalties have struggled to maintain order. The result is that by 2013 that Iraq was again heading toward the abyss of civil war. Sunni protestors in Anbar and other provinces conducted frequent protests, sectarian violence spread, and an Al Qaeda affiliated group gained control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. Casualties in Iraq are continuing to mount.

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To the west in Syria a brutal civil war has been going on for three years. Like Iraq it pits Sunni against Shia, as well as Kurd and foreign fighters from a score of nations, some fighting as part of a Free Syria movement, others as part of the Al Qaeda coalition and others beside Syria’s government.

In 1920 Lawrence wrote of the British intervention and occupation of Iraq:

“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.”

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His words have a sadly familiar tone. The US invasion of Iraq did have a different outcome than we imagined. The Arab Spring erupted and the consequences of it will be far reaching and effect much of the Middle East and the world. The internal conflicts in Iraq and Syria threaten every country that borders them, and the instability has the potential of bringing on an regional war.

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That being said, many if not most Arabs in all of these lands simply desire to live in peace and enjoy some amount of freedom for themselves and future for their children. One has to remember that the freedom for which many are striving, and dying is for them, not for the United States or any other power.

Lawrence’s words and wisdom concerning the Arabs who rebelled against the Turkish Ottoman Empire are as true today as when he wrote them after the war:

“The Arabs rebelled against the Turks during the war not because the Turk Government was notably bad, but because they wanted independence. They did not risk their lives in battle to change masters, to become British subjects or French citizens, but to win a show of their own.”

That is the case in many Arab countries today. One can only hope that in those countries as well as in Afghanistan where our troops are embroiled in a war that cannot end well, that somehow peace will come. I do hope that we will do better than we have over the past dozen years of conflict, or than the British or French did almost 100 years ago.

As my Iraqi friends say Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Tour in Iraq

The Impending Death of Thanksgiving as We Knew It: Black Thursday and the War on Thanksgiving

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“Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.” The Ferengi 6th Rule of Acquisition 

 I have written before about Black Friday. It is a custom that seems to destroy any meaning of a sacred holiday with greater abandon every passing year. In fact I have been very critical of the abject materialism of Black Friday which I think has its own God, the God of profit. 

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This year the festivities are starting early, in fact in some places people have been lined up since the weekend so they can be first to get the latest greatest gadgets that will be obsolete in less than a year. Not actually that they will be obsolete but rather that new and improved models of the same gadget will be on sale this time next year. The sad thing is that many of the same people who have been lined up since the weekend will be doing it again next year. `

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When it was just Black Friday it was bad enough, especially as Black Friday started encroaching on Thanksgiving. But now the last remaining line between Thanksgiving, the one holiday where getting together with family or friends regardless of your religious beliefs has been obliterated. Thanksgiving is now for all intents and purposes Black Thursday. It like Christmas before it has been sacrificed to the God of materialism and consumerism. It has been sacrificed for corporate profits and the individuals perceived need for stuff. It will be observed on the backs of retail workers making poor wages often with no benefits who will have to sacrifice time with family just to keep their jobs. 

Pope Francis in his first Apostolic Exhortation noted that “the thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits.” He is absolutely correct in this, but churches in the United States, especially supposedly conservative ones say little. 

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I am sorry this is a war on Thanksgiving and a war on vulnerable workers. But then as the Ferengi 111th Rule of Acquisition says “Treat people in your debt like family … exploit them.”

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Religious conservatives and their media allies on Fox News rage about the supposed “War on Christmas” but for decades have sacrificed Christmas on the Godless altar of materialism and consumerism. Now they are throwing the last remaining holiday where families and friends can gather out the window, without saying a word about it. 

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I wonder which is worse in the eyes of God, to give lip service to the religious aspects of the holiday? Or to mistreat and abuse the most vulnerable workers all while becoming indebted to the banks and corporations who have no regard for the real meaning of any holiday and only seek a greater profit? 

But then “greed is eternal.” So says the 10th Rule of Acquisition.

Goodbye Thanksgiving it was good to know you. 

Peace 

Padre Steve+

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The Absence of Empathy

hqdefault-2Colm Feore as Rudolf Höss

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0hJqNuRH1A

“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” ~Rush Limbaugh 25 September 2009

One thing that I find amazing in our world, particularly among many pundits who profess themselves to abide by supposed “Christian Principles” who like Rush Limbaugh make comments that defy any sense of Christian morality. If Limbaugh was a lone person making such comments we could blow him off. However there are many like him, professional pundits and politicians but even more concerning are the preachers who make similar statements.

Some of these men and women are quite influential. Their ideas penetrate to many parts of our society, and not just religious people. They include pastors of some of the most politically influential churches and ministries in the country. Whether the comments are directed against Native Americans as was this particular quote from Limbaugh or African Americans, Mexican Americans, Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, Jews (especially liberals) or political liberals they demonstrate a profound and troubling lack of empathy.

In comments about the genocidal extermination of Native Americans by whites David Barton said: “You have to deal, a lot of it, with how the enemy responds. It’s got to be based on what the enemy responds [to,] you cannot reason with certain types of terrorists; and see that’s why we could not get the Indians to the table to negotiate with us on treaties until after we had thoroughly whipped so many tribes …”

If that was not enough he justified those comments and continued his diatribe in much the same manner as the Nazis did the Jews.

“People complain about the fact that the American military and buffalo hunters went out and wiped out all the buffalo in the western plains.  Doing that was what brought the Indians to their knees because the Indians lived on those wide western plains where there were very few towns; Indians didn’t go into town to buy supplies, they went to the buffalo herds, that’s where they got their meat, that’s where they got their coats, the hides provided coats, they provided covering for their teepees.

If you don’t have the buffalos, those Indians cannot live on the open western plains without those buffalo and so what happened was the military wiped out the supply line by wiping out the buffalo.  That’s what brought those wars to an end, that’s what brought the Indians to their knees and ended all the western conflict.”

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who is one of the primary preachers of hate against a wide range of groups said about the Native Americans: “Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native [sic] Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture.”

It is the defense that the end justifies the means, a defense that was excoriated at the various Nuremberg trials. Barton’s defense of the extermination of the Native Americans is akin to what some of the Nuremberg defendants said in their own defense.

But it is not just the extermination of Native Americans that is a concern. Preachers of hate claiming to be speaking for God often show no compassion, empathy or feeling for victims of natural disasters, disease or mass murder. The examples are too numerous to quote from all of them and in the interest of brevity I will just mention a few.

Bryan Fischer who seems to have something to say about everything said after the school shootings in Newtown Connecticut last year:

“The question is going to come up, where was God? I though God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here’s the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted.” 

Likewise he said about the Moslem extremists who carried out the attacks of 9-11-2001: “The jihadist on 9/11 were the agents of God’s wrath in order to get our attention as a people.” I could go through speech after speech, column after column, diatribe after diatribe of men like Limbaugh, Fischer and so many others demonstrate any sense of empathy for those that they condemn. Some of the worst are from ministers like Fischer.  John Hagee who pastors Cornerstone Church, a mega-church in San Antonio with over 20,000 active members said last week on the Trinity Broadcasting Network that the 9-11 attacks were “God’s judgment on America.” In fact any time a natural disaster hits, especially areas with high percentages of poor people and minorities such as New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina these preachers almost line up gleefully to ascribe them to God’s judgment. Franklin Graham said at the time: “This is one wicked city, OK?  It’s known for Mardi Gras, for Satan worship.  It’s known for sex perversion.  It’s known for every type of drugs and alcohol and the orgies and all of these things that go on down there in New Orleans…There’s been a black spiritual cloud over New Orleans for years….” Later on CNN when confronted about the comments by Larry King Graham backtracked saying:  “I would never say that this is God’s judgment on New Orleans or any other place.”

There is no empathy among these people, no real care or concern, and that is of itself evil.

The comments have become all too pervasive and poisonous. The sad thing is that those make these kind of comments really do have no compassion or empathy for people that they have labeled “enemies of God” or “enemies of America.” They honestly believe that they are doing right. Philosopher Eric Hoffer noted:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Captain Gustave Gilbert an Army Psychologist at Nuremberg wondered about how people could commit the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

I think he is right the more that I read and listen to men like Limbaugh, Hagee, Fischer and their fellow travelers. That lack of empathy was demonstrated in the words of Rudolf Höss the Commandant of Auschwitz. In an interview with Army Psychiatrist Major Leon Goldensohn at Nuremberg Höss said in regard to his crimes and how he had no feeling or empathy for his victims:

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” said Höss. “I was obeying orders, and now, of course, I see that it was unnecessary and wrong. But I don’t know what you mean by being upset about these things because I didn’t personally murder anybody. I was just the director of the extermination program at Auschwitz. It was Hitler who ordered it through Himmler and it was Eichmann who gave me the orders regarding transports.”

The fact is that these pundits, preachers and politicians lay the groundwork by which people justify the persecution of others by demonizing and dehumanizing those that they detest. While the men doing the preaching today may never actually commit atrocities their words are laying the groundwork that others will use to justify their actions. The crimes committed by the Nazis had their genus in decades of fierce anti-Semitic campaigns conducted often by the same Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Preachers and Politicians.

In Nazi Germany one of the Chief media propagandists was Julius Streicher, publisher of the daily “Der Sturmer.” At Nuremberg the prosecution summed up its case against Streicher:

“The defendant Streicher is an accessory to the persecution of the Jews within Germany and in occupied territories which culminated in mass murder of an estimated six million men, women, and children. The propaganda in Der Stürmer and other Streicher publications, for which he had admitted responsibility, was of a character calculated to stir up fanatic fear and hatred of the Jewish people and to incite to murder…Through propaganda designed to incite hatred and fear, defendant Streicher devoted himself, over a period of twenty-five years, to creating the psychological basis essential to carrying through a program of mass murder. This alone would suffice to establish his guilt as an accessory to the criminal program of extermination.”

I have seen what the dehumanization of people does in Iraq. When I was there both Sunni and Shia military officers refused to have Imam’s in their units because they saw how Imams and Mullahs from both factions in the country fanned the flames of hatred against the other and led the country into civil war and threaten to again. The troubling thing is that I am seeing the same thing here from the religious propagandists of the American political right.

However this is not something that some of these “Christian Leaders” understand. Ideas do have consequences and the preachers of hate are responsible for the evil that they incite, they are accessories to any crimes committed by those who embrace their ideology.

One of the philosophical leaders of the Dominionist movement Gary North who is closely connected to the power structure of the Tea Party wrote: “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

It is little different than the philosophy which drove the Nazi persecution of the Jews. It is interesting to compare North’s writings with the Nuremberg Laws: The Law on German Citizenship stated:  “A citizen of the Reich is that subject only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” and that “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich. He has no right to vote in political affairs and he cannot occupy public office.”

That poisonous message is something that allowed people like Höss do what they did and feel nothing for their victims. They were and are truly men without empathy.

Well, I am tired, so I will say goodnight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christian Culture Warriors Versus Pope Francis and Boarding the Wrong Train

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“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It has been amazing for me to watch and listen to influential leaders of the Christian Right vilify Pope Francis for “being liberal” and “surrendering in the culture war.” I find it amazing because for the past 30 years I have been watching the culture warriors fight this war.

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It was in 1992 when Pat Buchanan announced at the Republican National Convention that “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

I had deep ambivalence that speech back then and I was a conservative Republican and moderately conservative Christian. I had already seen how vicious the politically driven Christian conservatism was when I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the early part of the Fundamentalist takeover of that school.

When I was ordained as a Priest in a more conservative Episcopal denomination back in 1996 I became part of a denomination at the time that had fully embraced the ideas of the culture war. When we went to clergy conferences our textbooks were those of Buchanan, Robert Bork, and Thomas Sowell as well as many others which espoused the necessity and rightness of the religious and culture war. Leadership indoctrinated us in this.

However as a military chaplain I had deep qualms about what was going on in this because I was already seeing the practical effects this was having on those who I served. I remember talking to some of the other chaplains in the denomination, a number who had similar concerns.

Gordon Klingenschmitt

So for many years I operated in the nether world of representing a denomination which by the day was growing more deeply aligned with the culture warriors. It began to come to a head in 2006 when Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Navy Chaplain on active duty began a campaign which ended caused a great uproar among religious conservatives and caused chaplains from many conservative denominations great grief as people in our churches looked to Klingenschmitt as a some kind of hero. In fact he was not. He was and is a pathological liar who has been on a Jihad since even before he entered the Navy as a Chaplain in 2003. I saw the unbridled vicious and unethical behavior exhibited by Klingenschmitt and his allies in the extreme Christian right and the right wing political hacks and pundits who use the Christian faith and unwitting but sincere Christians to advance an agenda which is neither Christian nor faithful to the vision of our founding fathers.

It was after that that I deployed to Iraq where what I saw and experienced changed me in profound ways. Suffering from chronic and severe PTSD I suffered a collapse of faith and for two years was for all intents and purposes an agnostic just hoping that God existed. Only my strong sense of vocation and the grace and mercy of God kept me going. But when faith returned it was different and as I began to write about it I realized who much I had changed. In September 2010 I was told by my Bishop that I needed to leave the church because I was “too liberal.”

So now when I see the same right wing political hacks, pundits, preachers and politicians who have been stoking this Christian version of Jihad against a plethora of enemies, Moslems, Gays, women, Liberals, progressives in fact anyone that they want to label as different then them or “enemies” of God or “America” I get my hackles up.

When I heard Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin condemning Pope Francis for his alleged liberalism I realized that no Christian leader was safe from their foolish and shortsighted agenda. Pope Francis has chosen the way of Jesus, he is embracing people that conservative Christians have not only marginalized, but have persecuted for years and are still attempting to do so in the United States and elsewhere. There are times that I fear for the life of Pope Francis because there are people who believe so strongly that they would kill him if they believed that God wanted them to, and when people like Buchanan accuse Francis of surrendering in the culture war they help justify people wo will kill in the name of God.

What seems to me that most of these people lack is a real sense of historical context, not only of the importance that the founders of the United States placed on the freedom of religion and freedom from religion as well as the history of other countries.

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One of my special areas of study is the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period of German history. Religious conservatives were often willing partners with Hitler and the Nazi movement because of their opposition to socialism and what they saw as an atheistic movement in Germany, which many lamed on the Jews. Martin Niemöller was a prominent pastor in that era. His writings reflected the feelings of many. He wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

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Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.

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All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against inGermany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat toGermany.  Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked inGermany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well inGermany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

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When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they leftGermany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

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Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Homosexuals, and “Liberals” who are the targets of the xenophobic and ideological rage vocalized by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.

Their support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible Project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities as did Timothy Rollins of “The American Partisan.”

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….”

Glenn Beck made this comment about a people reacting against Moslems:

“When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”

Doug Giles a seminary educated columnist for Townhall.com a leading conservative opinion site made this comment

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants especially those from Mexico or Latin America.  I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican.   Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals and even deporting them. Some Christian political action groups are going overseas to Russia and Africa to help enact laws against homosexuals and recently the same people have been hosted by members of Congress to promote their ideology.

These actions and proposed laws are so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

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This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

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I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

What the good people who suggesting these “collective guilt” actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but ultimately for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.

So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place.  It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems, Gays, Secularists and others and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political or religious affiliation, sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Christian culture warriors have become so enamored with political power and using the state to enforce their beliefs. They  have forgotten that the people are not converted by religious laws enforced by the police power of the state but on the love shown by God’s people to others. They have forgotten that the sword that they desire to use against those that they despise can easily be turned against them. Many German Christians found this out far too late.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If Christians would only learn that lesson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Injustice in Syria and the Impotence of the World

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“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  Ellie Wiesel 

I do not think that any surgical strike against Syrian military forces and chemical weapons facilities by a handful of US Navy ships and submarines will stop the unrelenting bloodbath that is the Syrian Civil War. It would be nice if it would but realistically it will not.

What is going on in that country fits every definition of war crimes and crimes against humanity as defined by Nuremberg, the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the Geneva protocols of 1925 which Syria is a signatory to specifically state that “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world.” This message was strengthened in the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992, a document that 98% of the nations of the world are signatories to, although Syria  is not one of them.

There are strong moral and legal arguments to be made for intervention in Syria. Unfortunately morality and legal arguments against crimes against humanity seem to have very little weight in the world. But then they never have. It is only when nations decide that the threat extends beyond the deaths of unfortunate people that they really could not care less who lived or died, but directly threaten the economic and security interests of the great powers then the vast majority of people and nations would rather not get involved.

This is especially true after the American led coalition invaded Iraq on the basis of the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The intelligence about the threat has been widely discredited, Iraq remains devastated, Iran empowered and the United States military hamstrung by 12 years of war. The Iraq War and its aftermath, the casualties, the costs and the loss of credibility of the United States as a result of it haunt the actions of the Obama Administration and will haunt future presidencies. As Harry Callahan noted “there are always results.” 

As Barbara Tuchman so well put it: “An event of great agony is bearable only in the belief that it will bring about a better world. When it does not, as in the aftermath of another vast calamity in 1914-18, disillusion is deep and moves on to self-doubt and self-disgust.” 

That was the result of the Iraq war. Though the vast majority of Americans had no direct link to the war that was fought by a small minority of military personnel the effects linger. Our politicians, pundits and preachers talk about us being “war weary” but that really can only be applied to the tiny number of men and women who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan and in numerous other places that no one knows or cares about. I think that people are less war weary than they are apathetic to anything that they do not believe directly effects them.

Bertold Brecht wrote:

“The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread. 

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”

When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.”

That being said the consequences of a military action that not only does not destroy the Assad regime’s military capacity to kill innocents could make matters even worse than they are now, a thought that is hard to imagine. Likewise the possibilities of the action going awry  and the situation escalating and even expanding outside the borders of Syria bringing are quite high.

The arguments against intervention as far as military consequences and the low probabilities of success of surgical strikes is a strong argument for non-intervention. Realistically unless there is the participation of major military forces from many nations back by the UN, the Arab League and NATO with boots on the ground to find, secure and destroy the chemical weapons a military strike may achieve a modicum of success but most likely fail in its ultimate goal. The result would be that the situation would continue to escalate and a broader intervention ensue.

I am not happy with the way this has played out. The moral thing would have been for the UN Security Council take strong action against the Syrian regime and the world join in. However that will not happen, too many nations see this as an opportunity to advance their own agendas in the region using both the Syrian government and the rebel forces, some of which are allied with the Al Qaida organization. Some of the Syrian Rebels are as bad as Assad when it comes to indiscriminate killing of innocents and the commission of war crimes.

This week there will be votes in the Senate and House of Representatives regarding a Senate resolution for limited military action against the Assad regime requested by the Obama White House. The political posturing of many opponents as well as supporters of intervention has been nothing but shameful. In many cases it is not about actual foreign policy but on politics dictated by gerrymandered districts and the politics of mutual assured destruction. There is a good chance that the resolutions will not pass and one or both houses of Congress. However there is a strong chance that even without Congressional approval that the Obama administration will most likely attempt to do the morally right thing with inadequate means.

I am torn on this. I do think that as Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that we are at a “Munich moment.” The consequences of inaction and limited action alike are potentially disastrous. The hope of many for the Arab Spring has turned into a nightmare. The question is how bad the nightmare will get.

Honestly I cannot say what is I think should be done. I can make the case for intervention based on moral, legal and ethical grounds and I can make the case against based on realpolitik.

All that being said, for the sake of humanity echo the words of Ellie Wiesel“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, national security

Re-entering Academia

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Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. Socrates

I signed in to my new assignment at the Ethics faculty and Command Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College today. The JFSC is part of the National Defense University and as such is not a Navy Command. it is a joint command responsible to the joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Department. There are faculty members from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, NSA, State Department and other agencies and the student body is composed of US military personnel from all branches, other Federal agencies as well as NATO and other allied nations. To put it succinctly my diverse background seems perfectly tailored for the job.

My friend Hal Scott is the outgoing chaplain and has already been a great help during the transition before I reported and today. What was really cool is even the little things were taken care of, right down to the name plate on my office door. Like Denny Crane said in Boston Legalname on the door.” But I digress…

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It is a good thing to have a friend in the position that you are moving in to. I have had many assignments in the military and had a number of good turnovers as we call them, but when someone who knows you and has your best interests at heart is on deck preparing the way it makes things a lot easier.

I met with the Commandant and Chief of Staff as well as some of the academic deans and professors today. It was really nice. Every single person asked me what “I wanted to do” at the college. Today the door to teaching, learning and deeper academic education was thrown open to me. I was told that I will have the chance to do anything I desire.

Now says my desires are pretty simple. I want to care for the faculty and staff members of the college as well as our students. Many of whom are catching one of our programs between arduous operation assignments and combat deployments. Quite a few I understand suffer from PTSD or some other type of combat stress injury and since they are senior officers many choose not to get help because of the stigma attached to getting it. Hopefully I will be someone who can be an encouragement to those that have not sought help,to get it and to be there for those that suffer in silence.

I also want to teach, not just Ethics, which is incredibly important in our world which appears to have gone mad, but also Military history and theory. Since I have my second Masters Degree in Military History it looks like I will get that chance as well. The doors have been opened.

That being said I do want to continue my own education. I for one do not think that a person should ever stop learning, no matter what their academic field or vocation. Since I lean toward academia it follows that I desire to continue to learn, both in my individual study and in formal education. I am looking at a number of doctoral programs which will,help me do that and help me in the academic world when I eventually retire from the military. Admittedly in that all I want to be is an adjunct professor to keep myself in the game but the additional education will help.

My first 10 weeks will be spent as a student in the Joint Advanced Warfighting School, which focuses on Joint, Multi-National and Inter-Agency operations even as I transition to being the Command Chaplain. I will be in a seminar group composed of a cross section of the student body that i already described. once i complete the course I will be teaching a number of Ethics courses and most likely get to teach other subjects as well. The last time I taught college courses was when I taught Western Civilization for Park University back in 2001.

From what Hal tells me the teaching methods encourage class participation and not doing data dumps of Power Point slides. That is good because I am okay with that and don’t mind chasing a rabbit once in a while if it helps students think more critically, ask hard questions and not be satisfied with easy answers to questions where there either are no easy answers or where multiple answers might be correct. That being said I believe that when we do this we give leaders the chance to do the right thing no matter what kind of situation that they find themselves in be it deployed or supporting combat operations or in garrison.

In this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” in it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth… in my book that sums up ethics.

Likewise the pursuit of truth, learning and seeking can never be brushed aside no matter how old we get or who wise that we think that we are. As the late great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver put it so well “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

So on Monday morning I will report to class and also give my first briefing on chaplain services, operational and combat stress issues, suicide prevention and other topics to an incoming class. My own class at that. Since we will have a few German officers in the class I will probably do at least part of my introduction in German. My Arabic or French is not good enough at the present to pull that off in either of those languages, but give me time.

Until tomorrow

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, leadership, Military

The Inconvenient Truth About Iraq and Benghazi

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“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based. And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!” Captain Jean Luc Picard to Wesley Crusher Star Trek the Next Generation “The First Duty” 

I was talking with a conservative friend the other day and he ended up bring up the subject of Benghazi and the tragic loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and 3 other State Department personnel at the consulate last September 11th. He was talking about the scandal of this and the political impact that he hoped it would have on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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I was actually shocked that he said this so for once I decided to actually say something and mention the 4486 official US military deaths in Iraq. My friend who I really do like and respect commented that they were “the result of what happened in war.”

It stunned me when he said that because he is a military brat, but then I realized that he had bought the lie about Iraq and was so solidly partisan that he could not see the moral, ethical and even legal discrepancy in what he was saying. For me the question was far less about whatever impact it might have on Hillary’s campaign should she decide to run but about the truth.

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When I confronted him about it I was stunned by how easily he dismissed all of the dead and wounded and other casualties of Iraq but was so insistent on some kind of conspiracy to cover up Benghazi. But this is how so many people think today thanks to the constant bombardment of ignorance on Fox News and other partisan outlets. It is not about the truth, it is about the nastiest kind of politics.

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I too am upset about Benghazi, but likewise I am upset about the 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers killed at Beirut in October 1983 when the Reagan Administration ignored warnings about putting US troops into Lebanon while taking sizes in that county’s civil war. I am upset about the nearly 3000 killed on 9-11-2001. I am upset about dozens of other terrorist attacks that occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations in which DOD, the State Department and other agencies made mistakes that cost lives.

Some attacks could have been prevented and others probably not. However they were terrorist attacks committed by our enemies, not an illegal undeclared war of preemptive choice conducted by a United States administration against the will and recommendations of many of our closest allies. That is the inconvenient truth.

What has happened over the past decade is that many on the political right cannot admit that they were wrong about Iraq. This despite the fact that President Bush, Karl Rove and almost every senior member of the the Bush administration have admitted that the reasons that they took us into war with Iraq were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear program was a shambles and Iraq was not working with Al Qaida, which like most secular military dictatorships in the Middle East loathed. That is the inconvenient truth.

The fact that so many people on the political right go into a nearly toxic lather about four people lost in Benghazi while shucking off the deaths of nearly 5000 Americans who died in a war that was not only a mistake but violated the very laws that we helped establish at Nuremberg infuriates me. This is no longer about national security to them, it is about politics. This is not about ethics for those that led us into Iraq have none. It is not about justice for if there was justice those who made the decision to attack Iraq would be tried for war crimes.

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I served in Iraq and was fortunate that I served with our advisors and the Iraqis in Al Anbar during the time of the Anbar Awakening. I saw a different war than many people observed and for that I am glad because it busted my illusions about what we did in Iraq forever. I needed that. I may have come back thoroughly goofed up with PTSD and at times I am sure certifiably crazy, but I needed it to see the truth.

The fact is that unlike Benghazi the war in Iraq has crippled this country. Nearly 5000 dead, 30,000 wounded and trillions of dollars of national treasure dumped into the abyss. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or driven into exile, many who greeted us as liberators.  Of course that was before the Bush Administration put the kleptocrats of the Chalabi group rape and pillage the country.

Likewise it was after the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, a man who had never in his career served in the Middle East threw out ever carefully orchestrated plan of DOD and CENTCOM for a peaceful transition in the country thus bringing misery to Iraq and triggering the anti US-Coalition insurgency and Iraqi Civil War. The great military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz said: “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.” The fact is that the Bush Administration was not only not clear, but they were inept and lawless in invading Iraq.

Additionally the invasion cost the United States the goodwill and trust of many allies and friends. No one will ever see us in the same light again. Instead of being a liberating power and “light to the nations” we are seen in much of the world as a rogue, lawless and imperialist state. Otto Von Bismarck put it so well when he said “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

I don’t know about you but I am sure that is not the vision of our founders. I was told on my first day in the Army back in 1981 that “there are attaboys and aww shits and it takes 2000 attaboys to make up for one aww shit.” The Bush Administration’s lawless invasion of Iraq and incredibly inept occupation was a disaster for the United States, Iraq and most of the region, except maybe for Al Qaida and Iran. By the way let us not forget the crippling effects of the Iraq invasion on the campaign in Afghanistan which allowed both the Taliban and Al Qaida time to regroup, consolidate and regain the advantage in that God forsaken land.To the 4486 we can add a couple of thousand more deaths in Afghanistan thanks to the decision to invade Iraq. That is the inconvenient truth.

For people to ignore a war that defies American and International Law as well as common sense which cost us and the world so much while making cheap political points by exploiting the deaths of four men is a disgrace. Had the men who started the invasion of Iraq been tried for by Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg they would have been convicted as war criminals and sent to the gallows. That is the inconvenient truth.

Justice Jackson said at those trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

My closing thought is that those that want to make political hay out of Benghazi need to take a serious look at Iraq. What’s fair is fair. 4486 dead and over 30,000 wounded not counting another 100,000 or so with PTSD or TBI versus 4 dead and no wounded. I don’t make light of any of the deaths of Americans serving this country at any time or in any place.  I would not dishonor their memory by playing politics with their deaths. But the truth is indeed terribly inconvenient and those who do this must be called out regardless of their political orientation.

If there were mistakes or cover ups by Obama administration officials regarding Benghazi, so be it let them be investigated fairly an impartially not with an eye to political advantage and those that partake of this cup must be willing to drink of the cup of crimes committed by the Bush Administration in Iraq. The same is true when Democrats do the same to Republicans.

Truth matters too much to be sacrificed on the altar of politics even while those doing it ignore far greater crimes of far more epic dimensions committed by members of their political party.

Truth is terribly inconvenient and even when painful should never be sacrificed on the altar of political advantage by partisans of any party.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security