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Another Tragic Day at Fort Hood

Thirteen Dead In Mass Shooting At Fort Hood

Back in November 2009 Fort Hood Texas was rocked by the killing of 13 people and the wounding of 32 others when Major Nidal Malik Hassan went on a religious based rampage at the giant installation. Hassan now sits on death row at the Military prison at Fort Leavenworth Kansas after being convicted of his crimes by a General Courts Martial.

This afternoon there was another mass shooting. Reports are that at least four people have been killed and another 14 wounded. The alleged shooter, Specialist van Lopez was among the dead.

It was yet another tragic day on the largest Army installation in the country, the home of the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions, over 450,000 soldiers plus their family members, the civilian support staff. I am well acquainted with the base having spent much time as an Army National Guard officer there in the 1980s and 1990s.

Though I left the Army Reserve to go on active duty in the Navy back in 1999 I still have many friends that serve in the Army as well as its Reserve and National Guard components. Likewise I serve at a Joint Command where many of our faculty are active duty or retired Army officers. So when something like this happens I get worried as I have lost friends and others that I have served with in Iraq, Afghanistan and on September 11th 2001 at the Pentagon.

This time it was not a American Jihadi doing the killing. Instead is was an ordinary solder with a wife and young child who served in Iraq and was being treated for some kind of mental health issues. Of course that did not stop some from immediately raising the specter of Moslem extremist terrorism. One blogger or as he calls himself a “journalist” Pat Dollard at Breitbart site tweeted this which sounds a lot like Nazi “journalist” Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer rants against the Jews:

“If there is even one more act of Muslim terrorism, it is then time for Americans to start slaughtering Muslims in the streets, all of them.”

Threatening to “slaughter” all American Moslems “in the streets.” My God, what the hell? But such rants are par for Dollard who tweets such race hatred as well as conspiracy theories so outlandish as to be laughable if he were not serious and followed by a lot of people on a daily basis.

So we have a mentally ill soldier who killed 3 and wounded 16 others creating havoc and destroying the lives of many people, including his own wife and child before taking his own life. Such incidents have occurred at other bases including one at Camp LeJeune where I was last stationed. The fact is there are a lot of active duty, reserve, retired and other veterans with significant medical and mental health problems that are not being addressed well in the either the military, civilian or VA medical systems.

We know very little about this soldier, Specialist Ivan Lopez, who served in Iraq but took part in no combat. We don’t know what his mental issues are nor do we know the motive. One thing we do know is that he was not a Moslem and that this was not an act of terrorism. It was a criminal act committed by a man not authorized to carry a concealed weapon who was possibly insane.

We will certainly find out more about Lopez in the coming days and hopefully that will shed light on this crime.

We also know something else, much more disturbing than Lopez’s crime. That there are people in this country just waiting for a Moslem terrorist to kill some people on this country in order that they might have the excuse to start slaughtering Moslems in the streets.

That my friends is truly frightening.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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24 Heroes: An Honor Long Overdue Finally Rectified

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In a White House ceremony President Barak Obama awarded 24 Congressional Medals of Honor to soldiers who in World War II, Korea and Vietnam for heroism above and beyond the call of duty. All fought in desperate actions and gave their full measure of devotion for their comrades. For many it was the last full measure of devotion as they were killed or mortally wounded in battle. All were initially denied the Medal of Honor due to their race or religion. African Americans, Hispanics and Jewish Soldiers were represented.

It took nearly a dozen years after Congress put language in the 2002 Defense Department Authorization to see if there were soldiers denied the award due to their race or religion. The records of thousands of soldiers were reviewed, thousands of records, including award citations, unit diaries and after action reports were reviewed while as many living witnesses as could be found were interviewed by investigators.

Three of the soldiers were present. The other twenty one died, either in combat or after their return home. Seven awards were for World War Two service in Europe and the Pacific. Nine were for heroic actions in Korea, and eight for Vietnam.

Three living soldiers, all Vietnam veterans were present at the ceremony.

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Sergeant First Class Melvin Morris of Cocoa, Florida born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, was commended for courageous actions while a staff sergeant during combat operations in the vicinity of Chi Lang, South Vietnam, on Sept. 17, 1969.

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Specialist 4th Class Santiago J. Erevia of San Antonio, born in Nordheim, Texas, was cited for courage during a search and clear mission near Tam Ky, South Vietnam, on May 21, 1969.

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Master Sergeant Jose Rodela of San Antonio, born in Corpus Christi, Texas, was cited for courage during combat operations in Phuoc Long province, South Vietnam, on Sept. 1, 1969. All of their actions took place 45 years ago, in a war that many still long to forget.

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The posthumous awards for Vietnam were awarded to the relatives of the deceased.

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Sergeant Candelario Garcia, born in Corsicana, Texas, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Lai Khe, South Vietnam, on Dec. 8, 1968.

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Specialist 4th Class Leonard L. Alvarado, born in Bakersfield, California, who died during combat operations in Phuoc Long province, South Vietnam, on Aug. 12, 1969.

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Staff Sergeant Felix M. Conde-Falcon, born in Juncos, Puerto Rico, who was killed during combat operations in Ap Tan Hoa, South Vietnam, on April 4, 1969.

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Specialist 4th Class Ardie R. Copas of Fort Pierce, Florida who was killed during combat operations near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia, on May 12, 1970.

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Specialist 4th Class Jesus S. Duran of San Bernardino, Calif., for courageous actions during combat operations in South Vietnam on April 10, 1969.

Nine Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroism in Korea.

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Corporal Joe R. Baldonado, born in Colorado, was killed during combat operations in Kangdong, North Korea, on Nov. 25, 1950.

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Corporal Victor H. Espinoza of El Paso, Texas, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Chorwon, North Korea, on Aug. 1, 1952.

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Sergeant Eduardo C. Gomez, born in Los Angeles, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Tabu-dong, South Korea, on Sept. 3, 1950.

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Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz, born in New York City, was killed during combat operations in Yangpyong, South Korea, on March 6-7, 1951.

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Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Kalma-Eri, North Korea, on April 28, 1951.

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Master Sergeant Mike C. Pena, born in Newgulf, Texas, was killed in action during combat operations in Waegwan, South Korea, on Sept. 4, 1950.

Private Demensio Rivera, born in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Changyong-ni, South Korea, on May 23, 1951.

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Private Miguel A. Vera, born in Puerto Rico, was killed during combat operations in Chorwon, North Korea, on Sept. 21, 1952.

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Sergeant Jack Weinstein of Saint Francis, Kansas was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Kumsong, South Korea, on Oct. 19, 1951.

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Seven Soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their Service in World War Two.

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Private Pedro Cano, born in La Morita, Mexico, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Schevenhutte, Germany, on Dec. 3, 1944.

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Private Joe Gandara, born in Santa Monica, California was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Amfreville, France, on June 9, 1944.

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Private First Class Salvador J. Lara, of Riverside, California was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Aprilia, Italy, May 27-28, 1944.

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Sergeant William F. Leonard, of Lockport, New Jersey was cited for courageous actions during combat operations near St. Die, France, on Nov. 7, 1944.

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Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza, born in Miami, Arizona was cited for courageous actions during combat operations on Mount Battaglia, Italy, on Oct. 4, 1944.

Sergeant Alfred B. Nietzel, born in New York City, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Heistern, Germany, on Nov. 18, 1944.

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1st Lieutenant Donald K. Schwab, born Hooper, Nebraska, for courageous actions during combat operations near Lure, France, on Sept. 17, 1944.

As I listened to the citations being read I full of admiration for all of these men, as well as others who have sacrificed so much who have been awarded the Medal of Honor and those whose sacrifices have not. Of course for every recipient, living or dead there are many more who made gave their last full measure of devotion in desperate and forgotten battles and those who came back from war changed.

I have had the honor of meeting a number of Medal of Honor recipients from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. When I meet them I am always humbled to hear their stories and  see the scars that they still bear.

Today was a special day. Twenty four brave men were recognized for heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Hate Never Wins: Fred Phelps Dying and Excommunicated by the Very Monster He Created

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“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” Blaise Pascal

It appears that the Reverend Fred Phelps, the infamous leader of the Westboro Baptist “God Hates Fags” Church is dying. Apparently he is dying alone in hospice care, excommunicated by the members of the church that he led and isolated from family members who had left that church.

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The 84 year old Phelps, a self described “Old School Baptist” whose “church” was not affiliated with any Baptist denomination brought his tiny congregation to prominence through its outlandish and hate filled protests at the funerals of anyone, especially homosexuals who they deem as damned by God. Bearing placards proclaiming the message “God hates fags” he and his church members made their presence known in every state, bringing controversy and filing legal challenges against their opponents. In 2010 Phelps won a case overturning a judgement against him and Westboro Baptist (Snyder vs Phelps) on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Phelps’ motivation for what he did sprang from his hyper-Calvinist religious beliefs, beliefs that led him to condemn even Billy Graham as a “false prophet.” His actions were motivated by a religious belief that is all consuming. Those beliefs, though protected by the Constitution have been used for decades to vilify anyone that he disagrees with and opposes.

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Though homosexuals are the most visible targets of his church’s rage, they are not alone. Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Catholics, Mormons and most other Christians are condemned by Westboro and Phelps. He and his flock launched vicious attacks on the United States and, picketed the funerals of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and even the victims of 9-11-2001. I am quite sure as a progressive Christian, and military Chaplain had I been killed in action in Iraq that his minions would have spread their hatred at my funeral.

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Reactions to Phelps being on his deathbed have been varied. Many of those that he vilified, attacked and tormented are overjoyed, and to a certain extent I think I can understand. Through much of his life he has been nothing more than a man driven by hate and intolerance and a pathological need to torment others in their time of grief and loss. Likewise a number of his children have recounted the extreme abuse that they suffered at his hands.

Phelps and his clan are people that I have little sympathy for and who by their actions have angered me countless times. They take their freedom and use it to bludgeon others, usually when they are most vulnerable. When I heard that he was dying I mused about him going to a Southpark type Hell where he would celebrate Christmas in Hell with Satan, Hitler and Saddam Hussein, and wondering if he needed asbestos water skis for his vacation on the Lake of Fire.

That being said I can take no joy in his death or his excommunication from the church that he led. I have to agree with George Takei who said: “I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding “God Hates Freds” signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.”

But there is nothing to celebrate in his death. He has caused too much pain and suffering to too many people, including some of his children and grandchildren. A cruel and unforgiving man is dying alone and abandoned by the flock that he groomed to hate and reject all others. It seems a fitting epitaph and the ultimate form of irony.

His estranged son Nathan Phelps remarked: “I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made…”

May God have more mercy on the soul of Fred Phelps than he ever showed to others.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Putin’s Crimean “Anschluss”

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Vladimir Putin has successfully annexed the Crimea and reincorporated it into Mother Russia. It was masterfully done but it was not the first time that something like it has been accomplished. The last time was in March 1938 when Hitler with the assistance of Austrian Nazis and Pan-Germanists brought Austria into the Third Reich over the objections of its democratically elected leaders.

The pretext was the same. Ethnic Germans in Austria who wanted to be part of Germany ere being persecuted, just as was claimed about ethnic Russians in Crimea and the eastern Ukraine. The larger power, backed by military force moved to support the their allegedly persecuted brothers and sisters.

Like in the Crimea, the Nazi conquest of Austria was aided by Austrians. Austrians who with the assistance of the SS ensured that Jews, Socialists and others had their votes suppressed. According to official Russian news sources over 95% of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia. That number is lower than the 99.7% of Austrians who “voted” for incorporation in the German Reich, but numbers such as this are suspect.

The elections in both places were aided by the presence of a large military contingent from each major power. The Germans of course were more overt, their forces openly crossed the border with Hitler accompanying them. The German SS supported the moves of their Austrian counterparts as well as the Austrian SA in bludgeoning all opposition.

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The Russians acting under the same pretext in 2014 denied that their troops had entered the Crimea, despite massive evidence to the contrary. In less than two weeks an “election” was held backed by Russian military forces and local police forces and political groups. Ethnic Ukrainians and Tartars who make up close to 40% of the population of Crimea were kept from the polls.

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The parallels are startling. I expect that by tomorrow the Russian Duma will recognize the results of the Crimean election, and that with days Russian forces will move to annex other potions of the eastern Ukraine. These areas are gripped by Russian nationalist forces that are agitating against the Ukrainian government. The situation is so bad that many ethnic Russians in the region are objecting to the methods and propaganda.

But that will not stop Putin. For whatever reason he has decided that now is the time to begin to restore Russian dominance in the areas nearest to Mother Russia. It is a dangerous move.

Putin is moving more military forces into Crimea. There are credible reports that Russian military units, including the elite Spetsnaz commandos have entered the Ukraine and are attempting to create “false flag” incidents in order to justify Russian military intervention in the Ukraine.

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This is dangerous. The Ukraine is not Austria of 1938, nor is it Czechoslovakia of the same year where a similar drama was playing out in the Sudetenland where Hitler again taking advantage of the supposed oppression of ethnic Germans was used as pretext to threaten war. Then it forced the west to back down, and a Munich the leaders of Britain, France and Italy forced the Czechs to surrender that territory. But now, with the exception of Russia, the world is condemning the Russian aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine.  The UN Security Council voted 13-1 with one abstention to condemn the Russian adventure in Crimea.

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The next week promises to be eventful. A military “truce” has been agreed to by the Ukraine and Russia. That truce is set to expire Friday the 21st of March. Meanwhile the rhetoric in Ukraine and Russia is becoming more elevated even as military forces of Russia, the Ukraine and NATO move into positions around the region. The military situation could easily escalate beyond the best efforts of diplomats and a real disaster could ensue.

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It is a dangerous and potentially volatile situation. Much blame can be laid at leaders of various Ukrainian political factions, the European Union, Russia and the United States for allowing the situation to get to this point. However, that being said the overwhelming responsibility for the increasing rise in tensions and potential for violence has to be laid at the feet of Russian President Putin. It is Putin who has not taken the path of conciliation and negotiation regarding what is happening in Ukraine. He has instead opted for confrontation. That course is is dangerous and is not in the interest of anyone, especially the citizens of the Ukraine.

Let it be clear that I am not a fan of some of the Ukrainian nationalists involved, who are neo-Nazis and fascists. That being said if cooler heads prevail, that negotiations taken in good faith followed by elections that are free, fair and not held under the threat of military intervention take place that the situation might resolve itself. However, if that does not happen I hate to see what happens.

I would hope that some kind of solution, maybe of the order of of a non-aligned Ukraine such as Cold War Finland would be negotiated. Such a course has been recommended by no less than Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately I do not think that will happen. The politicians, pundits and preachers, the Trinity of Evil in Russia, the Ukraine and the West are stoking the fires of passion with results that at best will make the world a less stable and more dangerous place, and at worst could lead to a disastrous war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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My Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370 Conspiracy Theory

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There are a lot of theories of what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Since no one really knows anything of substance about actually happened to the flight we are left to speculate. Today the Malaysian government went on record to announce that they believe that terrorism or highjacking by an expert is a likely scenario.

The only problem is that we don’t know who did it, how they did it, why they did it nor to we know where the aircraft went after last contact.

I have believed from the beginning that foul play was involved. However, until the latest release of information about the aircraft’s movements and the apparently deliberate shutdown of the aircraft’s ACARS system did I begin to imagine what might have occurred.

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I suspect that one of the pilots, possibly both, but more than likely one acted to seize the aircraft. My guess is that the whichever pilot did this was acting as part of a broader plot involving a Central Asian separatist group, possibly the Moslem Uighur’s of China. Since approximately two thirds of the passengers were Chinese this makes some sense. Various Uighur groups have committed violent terrorist attacks in China so they should be suspected.

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If not the Uighur’s there are numerous other separatist groups and terrorist organizations in Central Asia with motivation and ability to conduct such an operation. The pilot, involved could have become radicalized in his Moslem beliefs, or have some other basis for cooperating with such a group.

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My theory is that a pilot smuggled a small amount of a form of hydrogen cyanide, which the Germans used in the Second World War in the gas chambers of Auschwitz under the name Zyklon-B. That formula is still produced in the Czech Republic under the trade name Uragan D2, which is used in many countries to eradicate insects and small animals. In a confined space such as an airliner a small canister of these crystals could kill everyone on board in under 10 minutes. Once the hijacker reaches his destination the aircraft can be ventilated and safely used again.

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The scenario goes like this. The pilot with the canister kills or incapacitates his fellow pilot after the aircraft reaches cruising altitude. He then dons a protective mask (gas mask) and gloves opens the door to the cabin and releases the toxin. He then rapidly closes and locks the door to the flight deck while the poison does its job. Within three minutes all passengers and crew are incapacitated and with 10 minutes all are dead. The pilot remains in the cockpit disables the ACARS system and flies the aircraft to a remote airfield in Central Asia, or other remote location where the aircraft is hidden. The terrorists the ventilate the aircraft and remove the bodies. The aircraft is then, with the help of the pilot readied for future use.

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In such a case no terrorist group would claim credit for the seizure of the aircraft. It would be their hope that authorities would finally assume that the aircraft crashed in the Indian Ocean. The aircraft could then be outfitted for whatever use the terrorists desire, including as suicide aircraft.

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This is a very dark and macabre scenario, but it does answer the who, why and how questions that plague us now. As more facts come out, information about both pilots, other passengers on the aircraft as well as the flight path we will find out more.

Again, this is just my conspiracy theory. I have no proof of anything. But do believe that this is a possible scenario that can be supported by the technology involved as well as the situation surrounding the flight. It explains while cell phones continued to operate but no contact was made. It provides some motive particularly if it is a Uighur group with anti-Chinese views.

Of course I would like to be wrong on every count. Maybe I have read too many Tom Clancy novels and watched too many crime shows. The thought of anyone doing such a thing is too frightening to contemplate, but those who can do such evil are incapable of empathy for their victims.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Nothing is as Clear and Certain as it Appears to Be: The Ukraine Crisis

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“in the midst of war and crisis nothing is as clear or as certain as it appears in hindsight” Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August

There is nothing more uncertain than how leaders and people will react in crisis. We would like to think that we can be certain in our predilections, but we cannot because the reality is that human nature is always at play, and human beings have a penchant for doing things that are not expected.

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It did not take long after the showcase of the Sochi Olympic Games for Vladimir Putin to move against the Ukraine and for all practical purposes annex the Crimea. But now after a few weeks it seems that the West is beginning to galvanize in its opposition to the Russian action. Germany is leading the charge from the side of the European Union, with Chancellor Merkel taking the lead. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been taking a hard diplomatic line while military forces gather.

It appears that targeted economic sanctions are in the offing while the European Union prepares to help supply the Ukraine’s energy needs.

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The Russians have blockaded the small Ukrainian Navy in its Crimean ports, it has an estimated 30,000 soldiers in the Crimea and other forces are conducting “exercises” near the Ukrainian border. The Provisional Government of the Ukraine has called up its reserve forces, the United States is deploying naval and air force units to the Black Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean as well as Poland and the Baltic States.

But at the same time this is not the Cold War where two ideological blocks wrestled for domination. Instead the motivations, geopolitical and economic factors that connect the West and Russia make this much more complicated. Money is a big factor and it is of interest to note that a good amount of the resupply of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan is conducted over what is called the Northern Route, which goes through Russia and the Ukraine.

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The situation in the Crimea and the Ukraine is potentially volatile. Any situation that costs the lives of Ukrainians of either Ukrainian or Russian background could spiral out of control. Passions on both sides are running high. We in the West also need to remember that many Russians and men like Putin still feel the humiliation of the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and end of the Soviet Union. Many Russians who even now are not fans of the Soviet system long for the days of empire and Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.

In 1914 France was motivated by the humiliation that she suffered in 1871 at the hands of Prussia and the loss of Alsace Lorraine. The Russians have a similar attachment to areas where sizable ethnic Russian populations live, including the Eastern Ukraine and the Baltic. One has to remember the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “A generation that has taken a beating is always followed by a generation that deals one.”

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When looking at why this is happening we have to remember history.  Likewise we have to also remember the historic Russian paranoia when it comes to the influence of Europe and the West on areas that they believe are still part of Greater Russia. Their memory is long and past wounds are still fresh. Thus the blundering of the EU during the Fall of 2013 in its dealings with Ukraine, dealings which looked to the Russians like an attempt to draw Ukraine further away from them helped cause this situation. Likewise the Eastward expansion of NATO in the 1990s and early 2000s following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact is considered both an insult and threat. The same is true of the presence of the American Anti-Ballistic Missile system in Poland, which is considered by many Russians to be directed at them, not Iran.

The situation is complex and influenced by many factors, and unlike some American politicians and pundits say, it has nothing to do with Benghazi or even what they claim is the “weakness” of President Obama. The roots of this crisis are long standing and diverse and have almost everything to do Russia’s relationship with Europe and very little to do with the United States. Thus for American politicians and pundits to demonstrate their woeful ignorance of history by blaming this all on President Obama is so self serving and transparent that it is embarrassing. But then American politics is almost always a demonstration of ignorance and arrogance.

The problem for the United States is that we have little credibility when it comes criticizing nations like Russia when they do the same as we do. Our actions to invade Iraq in 2003, actions which under the criteria that we laid down at Nuremberg violated international law make it hard for any American leader to criticize another power. This is true even when Putin’s actions, also illegal under international law are no worse and certainly by the historic ties of Crimea to Russia are more justifiable than what we did in Iraq.

Thus the outright hypocrisy of the architects of that invasion like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld shamelessly attack President Obama for his “weak” response to Putin’s actions are in large part to blame for them. They squandered our international standing and credibility, broke the military and bankrupted the country. They then lay the blame on Obama. By the decisions that they made and the subsequent consequences they tied Obama’s hands.

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Sometimes these crisis blow over. Sometimes they stabilize but cause problems that continue for some time after the initial crisis. But there are some times that they take on a life of their own and that the people who think they are directing events end up being caught up in them, often with tragic results. While I do not think this will end in war, the possibility of such cannot be dismissed.

Tuchman in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam wrote:

“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Calling the X-Files Team: Agents Scully and Mulder Please Find MA-370

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I hate to admit it but the strange disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is beginning to look like an X-File.

When the aircraft was first reported missing I thought the aircraft had to have fallen victim to either a mechanical failure or terrorism. However it looks like that things are not what they would appear to be. The latest information has the aircraft traveling hundreds of miles in the opposite direction of its flight plan.

It has been four, soon to be five days since the aircraft disappeared. In that time there have been reports that the families and co-workers of the presumed victims have been able to get calls through to cell phones which have rang through and some of which have shown up as active on a Chinese internet provider tracker.

Frankly I don’t know what to think. The aircraft a Boeing 777-200 ER had a good maintenance record and the aircraft type has a very safe operational history. The only fatal accident occurred when a Korean Air aircraft crashed due to pilot error while landing at San Francisco International Airport. It was a testament to the design and strength of the aircraft that keep causalities to a bare minimum.

From what Interpol and other police and security agencies are saying right now this does not appear to be a terrorist incident. Of course that could change if evidence is uncovered that shows this to be the case.

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The last reported position was over the Straits of Malacca, one of the busiest maritime transit corridors in the world, but no one on the ground or at sea reported anything out of the ordinary at the time when the aircraft disappeared.

I hope, as I imagine most people hope that the aircraft made a safe emergency landing in some remote area and that the passengers and crew are safe. However with every passing day the chances of that grow more remote and personally I cannot imagine this to be the case to begin with.

Could the aircraft and the 239 souls aboard been the victim of a terrorist incident or hijacking? I assume that it is possible. Could it have been the victim of a catastrophic mechanical failure. Yes, but since it appears that it continued on for hours after its last contact with land based ground controllers I think not.

Authorities in Malaysia and around the world are checking every possible lead that might shed light on this most likely tragic situation. Nothing has been ruled out.

The are other possibilities, but all are at best speculation. Thus I wonder if we should call in Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder from the X-Files to figure this out.

To me the whole thing is totally weird. I want things to work out and the people traveling aboard her to be safe. However, this is very unusual. A jumbo-jet with an experienced Captain and crew making a turn away from its course without notifying ground control. That is strange.

Likewise no matter what happened I cannot help but imagine the terror that the passengers and crew felt, unless it somehow did land safely in some remote place.

The whole situation is perplexing. I really don’t know what to make of it, though for all concerned I how that the aircraft is found, and the souls aboard are safe.

Maybe we should call the real life versions of Scully and Mulder to figure this out, and I am not kidding. This is pretty weird.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Policies Contrary to Their Own Interests: Putin’s New Cold War

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“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by government of policies contrary to their own interests.” Barbara Tuchman

Today Russian forces continued their occupation of Crimea in spite of international outrage. Not only did they continue to build up their forces in Ukraine to the point that they operationally control the peninsula, they upped the ante demanding that Ukrainian army and navy units to surrender by Wednesday or face a “military storm.”

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It is something that Europe has not seen since the Cold War when the Soviet Union used military force and violence to put down revolts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Polen, Parade vor Adolf HitlerCzechoslovakia 1939

However, I think in political terms it is much closer to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 after Britain France and Italy stripped that country of its power by forcing the Czechs to surrender the Sudetenland to Hitler in October of 1938. Up to that moment the European powers bet on the appeasement of the Hitler regime. In a sense over the past decade the West has given Putin free reign to exercise his power over former territories, coercing them and occasionally using economic and even military power to bring them into line.

But now it is Ukraine. a complex region where Asiatic Russia meets Europe. The Ukraine is not Georgia or Chechnya. It is a region that has been a battlefield between Russia, the indigenous peoples as well as Germany, Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Turkey. It is the dividing line between western Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy. In the 1850s even England and France found themselves intervening in the Crimea.

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I believe that Putin under the flimsiest of pretensions has elected to use military force to attempt to coerce the Ukraine back under the thumb of a Russian Hegemon and to frighten the West into not intervening. It is a mistake. Just as in 1938 when Hitler believed that he could continue to steamroll the through Europe without war. In betting on the weakness of the West, Putin is playing the same game. Contrary to the speculation that Putin is doing this as a show of strength it is actually a display of Putin’s domestic insecurity.

Russia is not nearly as economically or militarily strong as Putin acts. There are serious ethnic and social divisions in the country and despite its assertions the Russian economy is much more dependent on the good graces of other nations as it is not. Already following Putin’s move into the Crimea the Russian currency and stock markets are tanking. I suspect that the West will soon impose sanctions that hit Russian economic and banking oligarchs where it hurts which will undercut support for Putin where he needs it most. Likewise I expect that Russia will be expelled from the G-8 and possibly cut off from other international banking and economic organizations.Likewise both the U.S. and the United Kingdom are bound by treaty to protect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.

140302073009-03-ukraine-0203-horizontal-galleryPutin has had a run of success until now. However his crackdown against dissidents, campaigns against homosexuals and the state supported Russian Orthodox Church assault against other Christian denominations have already undermined his credibility as a world leader.

The invasion of the Ukraine will solidify opposition to Russia abroad, and increase anti-Putin sentiment in Russia. Should the Russian military attempt to invade other parts of Ukraine as they are threatening, Putin will find that he has bit off more than he can chew. His forces are certainly more than a match for the Ukrainian military, but he will not be able to hold or occupy the vast areas of the Ukraine in the face of opposition that will rapidly move toward a protracted insurgency. This insurgency will be supported by nations such as Chechnya which will take the war to the heart of Russia. It will turn out worse for Russia than the invasion of Afghanistan for the Soviet Union.

A new Cold War has already begun, Putin has made sure of that. The world that existed just three weeks ago when athletes from around the world gathered in Sochi for the Winter Olympics no longer exists. The only thing that we can hope is that the new Cold War does not become a hot war.

I am reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s words in The Guns of August: “The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.” 

The world that we knew is now changed.

Let us pray for peace.

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Putin’s Mistake: Creating an Afghanistan in the Ukraine

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It appears that  it is 1980 all over again. From  all accounts Vladimir Putin will succeed in chopping off the heavily Russian region of Crimea from the Ukraine. His troops accomplished the task in short order. The weak and isolated Ukrainian border guard and military units stood no chance against an invasion which had obviously been planned for month. This was not a knee-jerk response by Putin. Though events moved rapidly,  the alacrity with which the Russian troops moved in, aided by ethnic Russians, and the rubber stamp action of the upper house of the Russian legislature to approve it demonstrates that it was not simply a move to “protect Russian citizens.”

The response of the new provisional government in Ukraine is that the invasion, and it is an invasion no-matter what Putin and his allies claim, is an act of war. The Ukrainian President has mobilized all reserves, however conventional Ukrainian military force is insignificant compared to what Russia can deploy against it. That being said if Putin elects to continue his aggressive and short sighted overreach by moving troops into other parts of the Ukraine it will trigger a massive insurgency against his forces and it may cause other now independent regions of the old Soviet empire to offer support to Ukraine. The President of Chechnya has already made the offer and its hardy and brutal soldiers are quite good at conducting insurgency and terrorist campaigns.

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The West’s response is limited by geography. Any U.N. response against it will be vetoed in the Security Council by Russia. The United States, the European Union and NATO will protest. They will probably enact sanctions on Russia’s financial oligarchs on which Putin’s power rests and will possibly move troops to the western areas of the Ukraine and maybe limited naval forces into the Black Sea.

For those like Representative Mike Rogers of the House Intelligence Committee and others who said the Obama “missed the opportunity to deploy military forces to Ukraine,” I have to ask what forces and for what purpose?  U.S. military options are quite limited after 13 years of fighting costly wars, including the preemptive invasion of Iraq. Those wars, fought on borrowed money because the Bush administration refused to raise any taxes of any kind to support them harmed the country. Our forces, both the troops and equipment are worn out by war. The ability of the nation to rebuild and sustain them has been compromised by the economic costs of the 2008 banking and real estate crisis.  Likewise the Republican actions to force sequestration and other cuts on the military in order to get President Obama to cave to their domestic agenda has been detrimental to our overall national security.

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Those efforts themselves will not immediately accomplish much. However, when combined with an insurgency that has the ability to strike Moscow and St. Petersburg, the costs of maintain an occupying army in hostile territory are factored in they become more important. Likewise the ambivalence of the Russian people, who despite the imperialistic Russian media blitz has not risen to support war will eventually bring Putin problems at home.

The invasion of Crimea is not good for anyone. Ukraine needs time to sort out what it will become and a war is not in the interests of anyone.

The situation is intense and fraught with danger. Passions in many parts of the Ukraine are riding high and Putin’s move is more risky than he may realize. This is not the Republic of Georgia which Putin successfully invaded in 2008, abetted by the incompetence of that country’s leaders. If Putin continues down this course he will open the door to a real life Pandora’s Box, one that may take him and his government down just as Afghanistan helped end the Soviet empire.

Of course it is too early to say what will happen. The geopolitics, and economic realities, the internal politics of Russia, the Ukraine and the West will all influence what happens. In the past Putin has conducted a skillful game of realpolitik, however this time he may have overplayed what was a strong diplomatic, economic and political hand by launching this invasion. Those that think that simply because the EU depends on Russia for much of its natural gas and oil forget that Russia cannot cut off the supply without financial repercussions that directly affect Putin’s allies in the Russian financial oligarchy.

So now we watch as all the actors make their moves. It is a dangerous game that Putin has embarked upon.

We can only pray that it does not turn into disaster for all concerned.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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An Unsettled Saturday

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I am attempting to relax today and while I am still working on doing research and writing for my upcoming Gettysburg Staff ride with our Staff College students my mind is unsettled today. It appears that I have a lot going on in it. As Hedley Lamarr said: “My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.”

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As I said I have a lot more work to do on Gettysburg to prep me and my students for the trip. In the next few days I need to write a few articles as well as do some editing on others that they can use for the trip and their future reference. Likewise I need to take my materials and decide exactly what events and people I want to focus on as we walk the battlefield Saturday and Sunday.

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Because of that I have not been doing much writing on other subjects that I think are important. These include the recent focus some to attempt to use their religious beliefs to legislate discrimination by the state on those that the disapprove. I did write about what was happening in Kansas a couple of weeks back but have not had any time to write about the situation in Arizona as well as other battleground states in the struggle of the LGBT community for basic civil rights that others enjoy.

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Likewise I am very concerned with what is going on in Russia and the Ukraine and worried that the West and Russia have entered a new Cold War. When I think about that I remember the euphoria of the Iron Curtain falling, and how the West missed the opportunity to embrace Russia and instead treated her as a defeated power. In a sense I can understand the Russians taking advantage of the West’s weakness to re-stake in some manner its claim to Crimea. Whether they outright annex it, use their military and economic leverage to get the region autonomy or divide it along ethnic lines is not the point. The point is that this goes back long before Putin and is the product of centuries of intrigue and political calculation going back to Catherine the Great.

In a sense the end of the Cold War was a defeat for the old Soviet Union.  But I think that the West in its triumphant celebration and euphoria about “democracy” taking over failed to remember something that is common to the end of all wars that beget new ones. Eric Hoffer wrote: “A war is not won if the defeated enemy has not been turned into a friend.” Sadly to say we did not attempt in any real way to make Russia a friend, and now it appears they are once again an enemy.

I certainly do not condone what Putin and the Russian legislature is doing to ratchet up the tensions by sending in troops, moving naval forces and potentially recalling their ambassadors to the United States and maybe the EU. It is very dangerous and any time a nation embarks on military conquest to solve a problem it almost inevitably produces undesired negative effects. It is my hope that the crisis will be defused and that Ukrainians and Russians in the Ukraine can sort this out. Unfortunately I think that things will get worse before they get better. At best I think we can hope for is a partition of the region and a Cold War, at worst a regional war between Ukrainians and Russians that could draw in others.

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However, amid the din of these crisis, as well as the continued disruption of home life as we wait for the repairs and reconstruction following our great household flood there is hope. Baseball spring training games are beginning and opening day is a mere 30 days away.

As Sharon Olds wrote back in 1987: Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” 

With that in mind I wish you peace,

Padre Steve+

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