Category Archives: shipmates and veterans

Memorial Day 2014: Remembering the Memorial Day Order of 1868

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Oliver Wendell Holmes ended his Decoration Day 1884 speech:

But grief is not the end of all…Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death, — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and glory of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.

Frederick Douglass noted the same year in his Decoration Day Speech:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.” From Frederick Douglass’ Memorial Day Speech 1884

The words of both men are something that we should not forget as we remember and honor all who have given the “last full measure of devotion to duty.”

It was after the great bloodletting known as the American Civil War that Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day was established. The first observance was made by the recently freed slaves of Charleston South Carolina who honored the memory of the Union Soldiers who had died at the Washington Racecourse Prison Camp on May 1st 1865.  Other celebrations began around the country in May and June of 1866. By 1868 the Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic Union Veterans association General John Logan issued an order directing that the 30th of May 1868 be designated to the memory of the Union Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who had given their lives in the defense of the Union.

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Since its establishment the holiday has grown to encompass the honored dead of all American wars.  However its roots were in the Civil War, a war that claimed the lives of between 600,000 and 700,000 American military personnel on both sides of the conflict. It is hard to imagine that on one, September 17th 1862 that over 23,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. At Gettysburg more men were killed and wounded than in the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Two percent of the population was killed in the war. To put that in perspective that casualty rate would involve the deaths of more than 6 million soldiers, well over twice as many men and women as currently serve on active duty and in the reserve components. Abraham Lincoln noted in his Gettysburg Address the importance of not forgetting those men:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

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General Logan’s order is remarkable in its frankness and the understanding of the war in the immediate context of its conclusion.  In 1868 the day would be observed at 183 cemeteries in 27 States and the following year over 300 cemeteries. Michigan was the first state to make the day a holiday and by 1890 all states in the North had made it so. In the South there were similar observances but the meaning attributed to the events and the sacrifices of the Soldiers of both sides was interpreted differently. In the North it was about preserving the Union and in the South the interpretation of the Lost Cause.  Yet in both regions and all states, the surviving Soldiers, family members and communities honored their dead.

This Memorial Day we will honor all that have fallen but in our mind are the few that fight our current wars, wars that unlike that terrible Civil War, the majority of the population does not experience.

The order of the Grand Army of the Republic establishing Memorial Day is posted below.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC, General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

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Rest In Peace Captain Tom Sitsch USN

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Captain Tom Sitsch died by his own hand on January 6th outside a hospital Emergency Room in Littleton New Hampshire. Captain Sitsch was loved and respected by his sailors. As an Explosive Ordnance Demolition officer and expert he was deployed into harms way many times. As the commanding officer of Task Force Troy, a Joint Task Force in Iraq his expertise and leadership helped save countless lives from Improvised Explosive Devices or as they are more familiarly known “IEDs.”

He was my last Commodore at EOD Group Two in Norfolk. He took command from Captain, now Admiral Frank Morneau. Both men mean a lot to me. They were leaders of men and care for those who they commanded. When I collapsed from the effects of PTSD in June 2008 then Commodore Morneau made sure that I got the help I needed and worked with our Medical Officer to make it happen. Commodore Sitsch was one of the first men, maybe the first to ask me the hard question: “where does a chaplain go for help?”

Both were men of compassion, and Captain Sitsch’s suicide has stunned me. I learned of his death tonight on Facebook as I had lost track of him after he was retired from the Navy in 2009.

Evidently his demons were too much for him. He suffered from PTSD, which considering his vocation is not surprising. In 2009 he was relieved of his command and forced to retire after he was caught shoplifting a pair of shoes from a local Navy Exchange. Following his retirement he struggled and was in and out of trouble. He was estranged from his wife, and he was forbidden to enter the state she lived by a court order. Four weeks before he took his life he was arrested for shoplifting at a Fredericksburg Virginia Wal-Mart. When arrested he told the police that he was a kleptomaniac.

Some who do not understand will condemn him even as he lies in his grave. I cannot. I didn’t know Captain Sitsch well, but no matter what his flaws may have been, he showed me compassion when I needed it most. For that I am grateful. Many of his EOD officers and sailors, as well as the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force EOD technicians Who served alongside him will say the same thing.

The one question all of us are probably asking is “what could any of us done to prevent this?”

Truthfully I don’t know. Captain Sitsch is not the first and will not be the last legitimate American hero to fall victim to his own demons, or end his life by his own hand. The physical wounds of war, PTSD, traumatic Brian Injury as well as what is called “moral injury” not to mention the months and years away from hearth and home take a tremendous toll on our veterans and their families.

From my perspective it seems that rank, age and experience are not necessarily safeguards against any of these conditions. It is my opinion after over 30 years of service that our military bureaucracy and promotion systems contribute to tragedies like that of Captain Sitsch. As they are set up they ensure that those who admit to struggles are shunted aside even as equally damaged individuals who “suck it up” and say nothing move up.

I was able to chat with some EOD friends this evening. That was helpful. I pray for the soul of Captain Sitsch, as well as his family, friends, and shipmates during this time of inexpressible loss.

I pray that the soul of Captain Tom Sitsch and all the departed will rest in peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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My Melancholy Memorial Day Thoughts

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“It’s funny isn’t it. He’s dead, I’m crippled, you’re lost. Suppose it’s always like that. I mean war.” Flying Officer David Campbell played by Richard Burton in “The Longest Day” 

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I came back a different man from Iraq. It seems that for me with every passing year Memorial Day becomes more of a melancholy observance. It is a weekend and observance that I feel deeply having lost friends in war and served in Iraq as well as Operation Enduring Freedom. It is also a day in which I feel more and more disconnected from the vast majority of my fellow Americans. I don’t know, but just from my observation it seems that for most Americans the weekend serves as not much more than the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer holiday and vacation season.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that for most Americans, the vast majority who have themselves never served a day in uniform and who have no more than a passing relationship with anyone who is either serving in our current wars or has served in any war that war is at best a spectator sport. It is an attitude that has been nurtured by our politicians of all parties, political pundits and preachers for decades. As a result there is a grave disconnect between the society at large and the men and women who serve in the military and in our wars.

To be fair I don’t think it is a matter of ordinary people not caring, not that at all, just that no one has really called the nation to war, as such we have been at war but only a small amount of the population is called on to serve. The real fact of the matter is that the wars that we have fought since World War II have not been national affairs. If they were we would not be continually fighting wars that most people neither understand and which in many if not most cases we would be better off staying out of completely.  That being said I am appreciative of those who do things to care for and honor our veterans, honor our fallen and do practical things for the survivors. There are some really wonderful people, many who have never served who do what they can for those who fight and die in or come back forever changed from these misbegotten and unpopular wars.

What I do find offensive are the war mongers and profiteers who have never served. I feel this way about those who did all that they could to avoid serving in the military and those who did the very minimum to satisfy outward appearances of service while avoiding anything difficult, especially deployment to combat zones. Of the latter I can think of five to six currently serving and very outspoken conservative members of the House of Representatives and the Senate that fit the description. I shan’t mention the members of the previous Presidential administration who through their willing lies caused the deaths of nearly 4500 American military personnel in Iraq. I speak about men who in their writings, their appearances on news networks and their think tanks and corporations that do nothing but profit off of war. Some are current or former politicians, others supposedly “academics” and others men who smell a profit in war.

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I find such people to be loathsome and wonder how on Memorial Day weekend they can show their faces. But then they are rather shameless. Sometimes their actions make me wonder if the sacrifices made by those who serve are in vain. However, I strive to resist that and pray that our sacrifices will not be in vain. While they profit from war others pay the bill and it has always been this way. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, a two time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor wrote after World War One in his book War is a Racket:

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

Maybe I feel this way because I grew up in a military family where my dad was frequently deployed and served in Vietnam, a place where some of my friends fathers died, and because I have been in the military 32 years between the Army and the Navy. Maybe it is partly because I am a military historian, theologian, priest and chaplain who has seen the horrors of war and the wounds that remain for life in the bodies, minds and spirits of those that fight in them.  I cannot speak of how my heart feels when I see young men and women, wounded in war, their lives forever changed bravely struggling to go on even as the war mongers, war profiteers and chicken-hawks profit off of their suffering.

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So for me this is a rather melancholy time. A time where I struggle. I honor the fallen, my brothers and sisters who have given the last full measure of devotion in serving this country, those that I know personally or have served with and those who did so before I was every born.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, News and current events, shipmates and veterans

Remembering Why We Keep Memorial Day

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“even if those who come after us are to forget all that we hold dear, and the future is to teach and kindle its children in ways as yet unrevealed, it is enough for us that this day is dear and sacred…”

Nearly 20 years after the Civil War, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. then serving as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court spoke on Memorial Day 1884 in Keene New Hampshire at a gathering of veterans. He recalled an incident not long before where he had heard a young man ask “why people still kept up Memorial Day. The question was one that he pondered before his speech and that he attempted to find an answer, not to his fellow veterans who certainly understood their shared memories of war “but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories.”

I think that having an answer for the question is as timely now as when Holmes first pondered it. Though his war was twenty years past and had torn the nation apart, there were still many men on both sides who had served in that terrible time and but even so many people were not only forgetting the war and the sacrifices made by so many but intent on becoming rich. Something that he would directly state in a Memorial Day address to the graduating class of Harvard University in 1895:

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Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr in the Civil War

“The society for which many philanthropists, labor reformers, and men of fashion unite in longing is one in which they may be comfortable and may shine without much trouble or any danger. The unfortunately growing hatred of the poor for the rich seems to me to rest on the belief that money is the main thing (a belief in which the poor have been encouraged by the rich), more than on any other grievance. Most of my hearers would rather that their daughters or their sisters should marry a son of one of the great rich families than a regular army officer, were he as beautiful, brave, and gifted as Sir William Napier. I have heard the question asked whether our war was worth fighting, after all. There are many, poor and rich, who think that love of country is an old wife’s tale, to be replaced by interest in a labor union, or, under the name of cosmopolitanism, by a rootless self-seeking search for a place where the most enjoyment may be had at the least cost.”

However his message to his fellow veterans, mostly men from his own former regiment, the 20th Massachusetts was quite personal and something that they could find meaning in. Holmes understood war, he had seen much action and had been wounded at Ball’s Bluff, Antietam and Chancellorsville. He talked of the shared experience of war, something that those who have fought in our nation’s wars, as well as combat veteran soldiers in other countries can understand far more than people that have only known peace, even while their countrymen are at war.

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Holmes remembrances of the war and the comrades that he and those present had served with, those living and those dead is powerful. Many of us who have served in the wars that began on September 11th 2001 have lost friends in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and many more who are wounded or maimed in body, mind and spirit. Many survivors of wounds today would have died in previous wars.

Likewise his descriptions of the memories of war, triggered by “accidents” are real to those that have experienced war and combat.

“Accidents may call up the events of the war. You see a battery of guns go by at a trot, and for a moment you are back at White Oak Swamp, or Antietam, or on the Jerusalem Road. You hear a few shots fired in the distance, and for an instant your heart stops as you say to yourself, The skirmishers are at it, and listen for the long roll of fire from the main line. You meet an old comrade after many years of absence; he recalls the moment that you were nearly surrounded by the enemy, and again there comes up to you that swift and cunning thinking on which once hung life and freedom–Shall I stand the best chance if I try the pistol or the sabre on that man who means to stop me? Will he get his carbine free before I reach him, or can I kill him first?These and the thousand other events we have known are called up, I say, by accident, and, apart from accident, they lie forgotten.”

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We all have our memories of our wars, those of us who remain, be we veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, Somalia, Desert Storm, Lebanon, Vietnam, Korea or World War II. It is hard to believe that so few remain from World War II and Korea, and that even the Vietnam veterans are aging rapidly, most now in their 60s or 70s. In as much as the wars of the past decade have been fought by a tiny minority of American citizens fewer and fewer will understand the bond that we share through our memories of the living and the dead. We have been set apart by our experiences, even though the wars that we have fought differ in many ways.

As such we should whenever possible take the time to meet and remember. That might be as groups of friends, unit associations or perhaps local chapters of Veterans organizations. We do this to remember but also to remind ourselves that we cannot live in the past alone, for the present likewise calls us to action, even after our service is complete.

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Holmes put it well: “When we meet thus, when we do honor to the dead in terms that must sometimes embrace the living, we do not deceive ourselves. We attribute no special merit to a man for having served when all were serving. We know that, if the armies of our war did anything worth remembering, the credit belongs not mainly to the individuals who did it, but to average human nature. We also know very well that we cannot live in associations with the past alone, and we admit that, if we would be worthy of the past, we must find new fields for action or thought, and make for ourselves new careers.”

We remember the past, we remember our fallen and we remember the families who have lost loved ones in these wars as well as those whose lives have been changed and maybe even torn apart by the changes that war has wrought in their loved ones who returned different from war. In our service we have been set apart and as such as Holmes so well states we have the duty to “bear the report to those who will come after us.” His words carry forth to us today, we few we happy few as Shakespeare so eloquently wrote.

“nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us.” 

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I will remember my time in Iraq and those that I served alongside. I will also remember friends who served in other units who did not return as well as those Marines, Sailors and Soldiers that I see every day in our Naval Hospital suffering from the physical, psychological and spiritual wounds of war.

This weekend I will remember and on Monday, that sacred day that we set aside to remember the fallen I take some time at noon to join in that time of remembrance and pray that maybe someday war will be no more.

That is why I think that we should remember Memorial Day even if others forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, shipmates and veterans, vietnam

Happy 105th Birthday to the United States Navy Nurse Corps

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Last week was National Nurses Week. Today was the 105th Anniversary of the Navy Nurse Corps. Nurses are the lynchpin of medicine. Physicians are incredibly important and as a society we usually ascribe more value to them. However in many case, if not most it is a nurse who is the person that does the heavy lifting in the care of the sick. Before the modern era of nursing was often done by Nuns or by women that volunteered to assist military physicians.

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The First 20 Navy Nurses “the Sacred 20″ 1908

It was in the quagmire of the Crimean War that Florence Nightingale brought about the modern era of nursing, even though physicians and hospitals often saw the women who served as nurses as inexpensive help to care for the sick. Despite this nursing became more and more professional and technical over the years without ever losing that particular calling of ministering to the afflicted that is the essence of their history. In the later 1800s the first nursing schools were established and in 1901 New Zealand was the first country to have Registered Nurses. In 1903 North Carolina became the first US State to require the licensure of nurses.

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Chief Nurse Lena Higbee, Second Superintendent of the Nurse Corps, and first woman awarded the Navy Cross (above) and the ship named after her the USS Higbee DD 806 (below)

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The US Navy Nurse Corps was established n 1908 with nurses being commissioned as officers and assigned to Naval Hospitals. However it was the needs of war that brought nursing into the modern age where it is formally recognized as a key component of Health Care. In the World Wars nursing came into its own as a profession. Nurses were among the US personnel that endured the initial onslaught of the war in the Pacific. The Army and Navy Nurses that served and cared for the wounded, starving and emaciated Soldiers, Marines and Sailors on Bataan and Corregidor were heroes in their own right.

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Navy Nurses released from Japanese Captivity (above) and a Nurse aboard USS Benevolence with a POW released from Japanese Captivity in 1945

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The profession of nursing continues to grow and the women and men who serve as nurses at various levels, from the most highly trained Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Practitioners, or other highly specialized Registered Nurses many of whom have advanced degrees including doctorates down to the most humble Licensed Vocational (or Practical) Nurse and even Certified Nursing Aides. These women and men are the backbone of medicine and despite the long hours, the years of training and certification required of them, many people don’t fully appreciate them until they become sick and are cared for by these wonderful people.

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Ensign Jane “Candy” Kendeigh, the First flight nurse to serve in Iwo Jima and Okinawa Campaigns

Today US Navy Nurses serve in every place one can find a Sailor or Marine. They serve in Hospitals, Medical Centers and other Medical Facilities in the United States and overseas. They serve aboard surface ships, combatants as well as Hospital Ships, with the Fleet Marine Force, in Joint and Multi-National Medical activities deployed in combat zones and in humanitarian operations.

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I have been blessed to have known and worked with many amazing nurses in the course of my career as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army and as a Chaplain in the military and civilian settings. Today I was present and offered a prayer at the cutting of the Navy Nurse Corps Birthday Cake at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune. It was my 5th year serving in Navy Medicine and offering this prayer and blessing was an honor that I will always remember. Since I will be transferring out of Navy Medicine in the August-September time frame to assume new duties at the Joint Forces Staff College this will be the last one of these events that I get to officiate at for a few years.

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LCDR Eric Gryn in Afghanistan tending a wounded Afghan Soldier on a Medivac flight in 2011, he serves at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune

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As such I just want to thank all of my friends that serve as Navy Nurses with whom I have shared joys and sorrows the past several years. Blessings on all of you!

God Bless all Nurses tonight, especially those tending the sick, ill and injured and those in harm’s way.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, shipmates and veterans, US Navy

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

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

With all the domestic political news and the apocalyptic talk and actions surrounding John Roberts the Supreme Court and Obamacare it is hard to believe that we are at war for over 10 years and are at war or now preparing for war all over the Middle East. Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, you name the place there is a real a present danger of US forces becoming involved in even more war.

Maybe it is just me but it doesn’t seem that anybody in Washington has a damned bit of sense. I saw the “tweet” of a Michigan Republican party leader asking if “armed revolt was now justified” because of the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. That makes my blood boil, we are at war and this idiot wants to have a real live civil war and he is not alone. The process is to win elections if you want to change laws not to threaten civil war or revolution when the cause that you are against and take to the Supreme Court gets upheld for whatever reason. Anyone with a half a grain of sense knows that if you take something to the Supreme Court that you need to ask yourself the “Dirty Harry” question: “Do you feel lucky? Well do you punk?” When you go to the Supreme Court you put your case in front of nine Justices and not the electorate. That goes for Liberals as well as Conservatives.

The simple act of working together in the legislative process has been sabotaged by both parties over the years.  This finally hit the culminating point when GOP pushed through the self inflicted wound of the Budget Control Act of 2012. It is this act which now threatens the military which is at war with “sequestration.”  This threatens deep cuts in the military beyond those already anticipated and planned for by DOD. The Republicans are now trying to change it and the Administration is refusing to budge on the issue. Again this didn’t need to happen but brinksmanship is the order of the day.

There are no statesmen left in Washington DC only shills of the Right and Left and their masters from Wall Street to K Street. The only people profiting from this are the war profiteers who even if the budget gets cut and they fail to deliver usable weapon systems on time or in budget will still get paid. The losers will be the military personnel who must fight the wars who will get tossed onto the street by those that claim that personnel costs are the problem. Of course those that make this point are almost always the same lobbyists that shill for the defense industries and the banks. But enough about them.

Right now over 100,000 American military personnel and tens of thousands of other Department of Defense, Federal law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, humanitarian workers as well as contractors are fighting a war in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands more (mostly contractors)  are helping to shore up the Iraqi government or are fighting wars by other names in Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa or are deployed to counter Iran or standing by to assist Turkey if it comes into conflict with Syria. Of course this does not take into account the instability in Egypt, Libya, Eastern and Central Africa that threatens even more war or the potential of turmoil in Europe should the Euro Crisis bring about more financial disaster or even revolution in countries that are our allies. By the way let’s not forget about the nutcase leaders of North Korea who could provoke war on that side of the world in a heartbeat.

But never mind this, let’s fight each other instead threaten insurrection when we don’t get our way. But wait, I digress…

Did you know that while Americans stand in harms way almost every real or potential enemy has been armed, subsidized or assisted by American corporations and paid for by American tax dollars.  We have armed much of the world with weapons that have already in Iraq and Afghanistan killed thousands of American military personnel. But those were small time weapons compared to what we have provided to Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and yes even Israel. F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighter planes, Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles, M-1 Tanks, M113 Fighting vehicles, Patriot Air Defense systems, you name the weapons system the war profiteers will sell it and US taxpayers will pay for it. These are weapons that very easily could be used with great effect to attack American interests should leaders in any of those countries decide to use them against us. I only include Israel because in 1967 its forces viciously attacked the USS Liberty which was operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as Israel launched its pre-emptive war against Egypt. Although all of these countries are “allies” we must remember that alliances are only as good as the interests and values that unite nations.

Our defense industries with the support of the government sell advanced weapons to nations that often are less than trustworthy allies, allies of convenience that have little love for the United States but welcome the weapons and training that we provide.  They often use them to suppress the aspirations of their own people and plant the cultivate the seeds of radicalism and revolution.  It is hard not to cringe when pro-democracy protestors are killed by totalitarian regimes whose police and military are armed to the teeth with American made weapons. When those totalitarian regimes fall as did that of the Shah of Iran in 1979 those weapons fall into the hands of people radicalized against us by our support of their former oppressors.

Certainly nobody seriously believes that the angry masses in the countries that we have armed to the teeth with the latest in American weaponry would not use that weaponry against us should they desire.  But wait…. our politicians, arms dealers, bankers and their political, religious and financial backers certainly wouldn’t put Americans in harms way? Perish the thought, but not so quickly. They have done so before and will do it again.

Smedley Butler is one of under two dozen American military personnel to win the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. He saw the dangers of Fascism as well as the danger of unlimited corporate and business power to profit by war. Butler was not only a  valiant Marine he was also a commander that in war and peace cared about those who served. He saw how American finance and banking interests helped drag us into the Fist World War, the promises broken by the government and the lives destroyed by war.

In his book War is a Racket Butler wrote eloquently about how the heads of corporations and their political supporters in both parties were the only benefactors of war. He wrote of the plight of the soldiers that served and returned wounded and often changed by war and he did not mince words in what he saw. He became an anti-war activist. He was a supporter of the Bonus Army, the veterans that “occupied” Washington DC during the last year of the Hoover Administration to get the bonuses promised for their service and were violently evicted by troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. If he was alive today I have no doubt that he would be an active supporter of the current “Occupy” movement and opponent of politicians, political activists, lobbyists and even preachers that advocate even more war.

Butler’s War is a Racket as well as other published works are a worthwhile read and should make the most rabid fan of war think twice. Butler’s patriotism and devotion to the United States and the Constitution is unquestioned. His warnings are strong, he was a prophet in regard to the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex well before President Eisenhower coined the term as he left office. He detailed how corporations made obscene profits often by selling the US Military vast amounts of materials that it could not possibly use and which taxpayers bought while business leaders and bankers made their fortunes that they never had realized when the nation was at peace. He reminds us of the dangers that our founders recognized about entwining ourselves in other people’s wars. While his answers on how to end war are now utopian dreams because of advances in technology and the wars which now rage without end in sight they are nonetheless not a bad place to start a debate.

Butler writes movingly about the price paid by veterans years after the war, men broken in body, mind and spirit from their war service.

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

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

One would think that things would be better now but our veterans’ health care system is a train wreck and there is an epidemic of suicide among active duty troops and veterans. In 2005 after years of hand wringing the Bush administration grudgingly increased the number of Soldiers and Marines even while cutting Navy personnel and ships to the  minimum that they could despite ever increasing operational tempos. The Navy was reduced by over 50,000 sailors during the Bush years and now when the Navy is needed more it has been reduced to the point that 8-10 month deployments with short turn arounds will be normal.

Now the Obama administration is cutting back partly due to the withdraw from Iraq but mostly because of the economic crisis. However the bulk of these cuts are falling on the military personnel and not the war profiteers. The Army will be cut by nearly 80,000 in the coming years the Marines by 20,000 and that may increase if the budget takes the sequestration hit without any reduction in operational tempo. These Soldiers and Marines will enter a bleak job market where many employers give little value to military experience or training, which has resulted in a vastly higher unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans than the general population.

It wasn’t much different in Butler’s day. He writes:

“Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. They were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think of nothing but killing and being killed.

The suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face”! This time they had to do their own readjusting, sans mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice, sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them anymore. So we scattered them about without any “three minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades.”

Butler recounted another visit to a different veterans’ hospital:

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

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

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

I could go on but I think that Butler says it quite well and with the passion of a Marine who was wounded on more than one occasion and won the Medal of Honor twice.

The only people that want war are those that profit from it and don’t have to pay the price paid by those that have to fight them and pay for them. When I see pictures of Mitt Romney protesting in support of the Vietnam war while getting deferment after deferment to avoid service it makes my head spin. My head spins even more when I hear him talking brazenly about committing US troops to even more war. For me the pictures of Romney’s pro-war protests as a college student avoiding war on educational and religious service deferments as millions of other Americans went to war are up there with the pictures of “Hanoi” Jane Fonda giving aid and comfort to those that were killing our troops.

Butler’s detractors and they are legion on the political right attempt to paint him as an isolationist or appeaser of Hitler. However they misunderstand him and his work. They don’t understand as Butler understood that there would not have been a Nazi Germany without Versailles and that was not possible without the American intervention on the side of Britain and France in 1917. That involvement was driven by the bankers and industrialists who had supplied raw materials, weapons and technical patents to the British and French, and had done so before with the Germans who believed that they would lose their investments if the Germans won the war. That would have happened in late 1917 or early 1918 had not the Americans declared war and entered the war on the side of the British and French.

Most of Butler’s current critics have never served a day in uniform much less a day in a combat zone. They make their livings and profits by the sacrifice of others and other than a few of his quotes have never read anything about him.

If you sense indignation in my voice it is real. I have lived the nightmare of PTSD for over 4 years. I see and work with the young men and women that have bravely endured the hardship of combat deployments and come home physically, mentally and spiritually wounded. To our credit we are trying to do better but for the war profiteers that will be too much. If military spending is cut you can bet that they will not take the hit that military personnel, their families and our veterans will take. They and their political benefactors will not allow it.

I am a military man through and through. I have spent nearly my whole life associated with the military as a dependent of a Navy Chief who served in Vietnam and a career of over 30 years divided between the Army and Navy. Some of my friends dads did not return from Vietnam, other friends and those who I have served with have paid with their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan while others suffer the continuing wounds of war.

This is personal for me and it is also motivated by my faith as a Christian. Butler chided the pro-war clergy propagandists of the Great War. He wrote:

“So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill Germans. God is on our side…it is his will that the Germans be killed.”

Such preaching is not much different from the right wing pro-war preachers who advocate killing Moslems simply because they are Moslems and that go out of their way to preach the value of “pre-emptive war” despite such wars being against the Christian understanding of the  “Just War” or international law against such war that we as Americans helped develop after World War Two at Nuremberg and to which we hold the leaders of what we call “rogue nations.”

I only wish that our leaders; political leaders of both parties, religious leaders, and even business leaders would see the folly of this course and their responsibility for the results.

Someone has to say it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: All quotations from “War is a Racket” by Smedley Butler copyright 1935 and 2003 by the Butler family. Amazon Kindle edition. 

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The Fallen: Remembering the Human Cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Today I read through and looked at the pictures of every American service member to die in harm’s way since last Memorial Day in this week’s Navy Times. When I looked at those pictures of men and women, officers and enlisted from every service and state, native born and immigrant alike, representing many races, religions and probably sexual preferences I was again reminded of the human cost. I knew or had served with a number of these people.  The sacrifice of our military is too often unappreciated.

There is a human cost to war. As I wrote yesterday it is a cost mainly borne by those that serve in the military, their families and those close to them. There are also civilian employees, both government and contractors that also share the cost of war. I have written about men that I have known that have died in harm’s way as well as others that have died while on active service, most recently Commander Marsha Hanly.

I think that in this interregnum between Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day that we remember the fallen.  They are too often forgotten in the politics and economics of war as are the men women and children non-combatants that die in the crossfire of war either to premeditated action by one or both sides or simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Washington Post has a section online called Faces of the Fallen http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/ which shows the pictures of the servicemen and women killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn. 

Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman

I simply ask that readers spend some time there before Memorial Day to reacquaint ourselves with this cost, the real human cost of war. Just about a year ago a former Marine that I had served with at 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in 2000-2001 was killed in Afghanistan with 6 members of his platoon when they were ambushed with an Improvised Explosive Device while pursuing a Taliban leader. His name was Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman. he had left the Marines and then enlisted in the Army and was serving with the 101st Airborne Division when he was killed on May 26th 2011, one of over 2400 American Servicemen and women killed by IEDs.  I have lost other friends and comrades in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association has a pledge to “Go Silent” on Memorial Day at 12:01 Eastern Standard Time to remember the 6433 servicemen and women who have fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan to date. One can pledge to do so in honor of a fallen Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman at their website http://iava.org/

In addition to Americans 593 British and 753 other non-Iraqi or Afghani coalition personnel have died in these wars. A further 468 contractors employed by the US military were killed in Iraq and 763 by Department of Labor count in Afghanistan as of March 31st 2011.  Nearly 50,000 more American military personnel have been wounded and this total does not include those with TBI or PTSD nor do the numbers killed reflect those that died by suicide following their time in Iraq or Afghanistan or those who died after they left the service due to disease, injury or psychological malady following their service in a combat zone. A well sourced listing of casualties can be found on the icasualties.org website http://icasualties.org/Iraq/index.aspx  Over 10,000 Iraqi Army, Police or Security Force personnel were killed fighting alongside US and Coalition forces. Numbers of civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated the hundreds of thousands.

Please take some time this week to remember the fallen as well as those wounded in body, mind and spirit during the last 10 years of war. I will be focusing on different aspects of these wars and wars past this week as we prepare to observe Memorial Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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