Daily Archives: February 15, 2010

Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate at One Year…

When I started Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate one year ago it was pretty much an place for me to deal with what was going on with me after coming back from Iraq in February 2008. When I started the site I was still pretty much a mess.  Initially the site began as a place to deal with what was going on in me and as I began to write I began to realize that there was a lot more going on in me than I had imagined. As I began to hit the keyboard and fill cyber trees with my musings it was at times cathartic and even painful.  I cannot recount the number of times that I would start writing and end up in tears trying to get hold of myself.  This was especially true when writing about Iraq, PTSD and the spiritual crisis which enveloped my life over the past two years.  There are still times when I will read some of those posts and feel the emotions well of from the depths of my soul and nearly overwhelm me.  Since I am by nature a thinker who is much more comfortable in the realm of logic, fact and exploring concepts and not someone who is really wired well for these ugly things called emotions this was unsettling to say the least. It was like LCDR Data in Star Trek the Next Generation getting the emotion chip….very unsettling. As a result as a logical kind of person I had to find a way to make sense of my world and all the changes that I was experiencing.

As I did this the number of subjects that I wrote about began to multiply not just PTSD and Iraq and my struggles with life, faith and where I fit on the theological and political spectrum but branched out into baseball which I guarantee that you will see a lot more of, history, military history and military theory; theological, philosophical and ethical issues and matters of social and political controversy.  As I wrote I began to live in the moment and in real time take on things that hit me where I was.

With My Dad in May 2009

Enmeshed in the all that I was going through were my real life and current struggles with my father’s Alzheimer’s disease, struggles with my mother and my relentless push into the issues of life and death in the Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in the medical center where I serve and a multitude of other duties.  Eventually I hit the wall and my boss rearranged my duties in order to give me the chance to begin to heal emotionally, physically and spiritually.  I still remained engaged but he smartly limited me so that I would have a chance to recover.  Thankfully, despite my initial reluctance to do this it was the right move.  In December I had what can only be called a Christmas miracle where after nearly two years I began to feel reconnected to my faith and revitalized in life and ministry.  Thankfully that continues even now.

With Judy and Stein Club Friends at Gordon Biersch Virginia Beach

While writing on this site I have encountered a lot of very kind people from all walks of life who have served to encourage me and by some stroke of luck on their part found that things that I wrote helped them or touched them in some way.  I have also encountered some people who to be kind are idiots, but who in their own way also helped me along the path to doing better spiritually and emotionally and to better formulate the theological, philosophical and existential foundations of whom I am as a Priest, Chaplain and Naval Officer.

My Time in Iraq has Changed Me

So without getting deeper into that right now what has been the result of this site?  Personally it has allowed me to integrate my experience in Iraq with the rest of my life and to become much more settled and happy with the person that I am. The site itself and the subjects that I have written about have become much more diverse than I could have expected.  From PTSD, spirituality, ethics and philosophy, history and military theory as well as baseball the site has dealt with issues such as gay rights, abortion, right and left wing ideologues, heath care, freedom of speech, the civil rights movement, the rights of minority groups such as Moslems, the nature of the American republic, national security counterinsurgency history and theory, local issues, music, television, relationships, football, the Olympics, veterans issues, relationships, the death of shipmates and friends, love and a ton of writing on various military history subjects as well as things much less serious and just simply humorous.  There is a series of articles on my deployment to Iraq which is incomplete and that I need to finish, a number of series about Navy ships and even a alternative history about the Battle of Kursk.

Jackie Robinson in His Kansas City Monarchs Uniform

It has also brought me back in contact with people in my life that helped me at various times or the relatives of those friends who have since passed away.  I have had comments from people in Europe, Australia, other locations around the world and many of the 50 States.

More Military History is Certainly on the Horizon

The site has surprisingly to me had a bit over 851.000 visitors and had articles on military history and theory translated into other languages including Russian.  The most traffic that I had in a 24 hour period was on November 5th 2009 when 6,713 visitors showed up, good thing it was cyber space or I would have never had enough beer or food. The most hits in a month were also in November with 112,672 while my average number of hits per day was 2251 in 2009 and 2878 in 2010. I have had articles linked to the Washington Post, the New York Times, Slate.com, the Huffington Post, Jay Mariotti’s ESPN blog and a bunch of other places that I never expected it to attract attention.  In the coming year I hope that it will be even more successful.

The Most Popular Seach Term…Star Trek

People tend to find this site through a wide variety of search terms the most popular of which are: Star Trek, Kirsten Dunst, Checkpoint Charlie, Hitler, Martin Luther, Tom Brady, Joan Jett, Satchel Paige, Caen and Einsatzgruppe.

The top ten posts over the first year are:

Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 (May 29th 2009)

Halloween Book Burning Update: Bring the Marshmallows Please! (October 25th 2009)

The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia (September 14th 2009)

I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s (January 9th 2010)

D-Day Courage Sacrifice and Luck (June 6th 2009)

The Forgotten Cold Warriors (July 26th 2009)

Operation “Dachs” My First Foray into the Genre “Alternative History” (August 9th 2009)

Cowboys Stadium meets Seinfeld: A Scoreboard and a Nose that You Can’t Miss (August 30th 2009)

Turning Points: The Battle of Midway, Randy Johnson Gets his 300th Win and Chief Branum Gets Her Star (June 4th 2009)

Reformation Day: How Martin Luther and Hans Kung Brought Me to an Anglo-Catholic Perspective, a Book and Bible Burning Reaches Ludicrous Speed and Yankees take Game Three 8-5 (October 31st 2009)

I Miss the Music of the 1970s and 1980s Gained More Hits in a Shorter Amount of Time than Any other Post

Now some articles that have not attracted as many hits but I think are worthy of mention are listed below. Some are more specialized in their emphasis but certainly worthwhile.

Lessons for the Afghan War: The Effects of Counterinsurgency Warfare on the French Army in Indo-China and Algeria and the United States Military in Vietnam (October 26th 2009)

Brothers to the End…the Bond between those Who Serve Together in Unpopular Wars (July 10th 2009)

Remembering the Veteran’s of My Life has Been a Big Part of my Journey

Remembering the Veterans in My Life…Memorial Day 2009 (May 21st 2009)

How Padre Steve Got His Driver’s License, Passed Geometry, Escaped Advanced Algebra and Selects Mood Music for a Book Burning (October 25th 2009)

This is Nuts…The “Conservative Bible Project” (October 4th 2009)

The Manhattan Transfer: Why I Cannot Sign the Manhattan Declaration (December 2nd 2009)

Learning to Apply the Principles of Counterinsurgency Part One: Introduction to the Soviet-Afghan War (January 7th 2010)

Revisting the Demons of PTSD: Returning to Iraq in Virginia a Year and a Half Later (July 21st 2009)

Baseball in Between Life and Death in the ICU (May 7th 2009)

Can Anybody Spare a DIME: A Short Primer on Early Axis Success and How the Allies Won the Second World War (November 28th 2009)

Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle (December 24th 2009)

Vindictive Angry Christians: When Faith is subordinated to a Political Agenda Redemption Dies (February 6th 2010)

Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King they Changed America (January 18th 2010)

Mark McGuire, Tony LaRussa and the Dirty Secret of the Steroid Era (January 12th 2010)

Padre Steve’s World Series Prediction and Book and Bible Burning Update (October 27th 2009)

My Life and Baseball: How Padre Steve Makes Some Sense of the World (October 15th 2009)

For the Love of the Game and the Love of Life; Finding Meaning Life and Love in the Perfect Game (October 13th 2009)

You Win a Few, You Lose a Few. Some Get Rained Out. But You Got to Dress for All of Them (June 12th 2009)

So what is next?  Some of the things I want to do are to finish the Going to War series and continue to write military and naval history and theory.  I also want to do more with baseball and begin to write more about the Negro Leagues as I have an idea for a book that I want to pursue this year. I figure that there will be planned and unplanned ventures in theology, philosophy, ethics and social issues.

Above all I hope to remain a moderate in all and try to always remain objective and not be captivated by any ideology.  I will be writing an essay in the next few days about ideologues and the various idols that they fashion of their ideology, but that is not for tonight.  I’m sure that those on the extremes of the right and left will not find that a comfortable subject but certainly something that needs for the sake of truth to be addressed.

I am hoping to be published in some professional journals in the coming year and as baseball season takes off I will definitely keep you informed of my view of that most wonderful of sports from my place in Section 102, Row B Seats 1 and 2 at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

So I thank all of my readers who have through their reading and comments helped me through this past year and I pray God’s blessings on you all in the coming year.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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God in the Empty Places…Padre Steve Remembers the Beginnings of Padre Steve’s World

The 16th will be the first anniversary of Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate. When I began the site it was about a year after I returned from Iraq.  When I began the site I was running pretty ragged from my PTSD, the deteriorating condition of my father who has end-stage Alzheimer’s disease and from throwing myself so intensely into work in the ICU and PICU at the Medical Center that I was operating on fumes.  This is one of my earliest posts and reflects to a large degree where I was in my life at the time.  It is a reflection on life, ministry and military history and identity.  For me the return from Iraq and the continued wars that we are engaged in bring to mind the experience of the French military in Indo-China and Algeria and as I note here it is my view that the current generation of American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen have more in common with the career soldiers of the Foreign Legion, Paratroops and Colonials (Marines) who served in Indo-China and Algeria than we do with the men and women of the “Greatest Generation.”  Unlike those veterans who by and large were draftees and were able to fight a conventional war against nation state actors which they vanquished, the current generation serves against shadowy forces in counterinsurgency campaigns in wars that show no sign of ending soon. I came back feeling isolated and alienated from people who had not served in Iraq, Afghanistan or our predecessors in Vietnam. This is my reflection on that at the beginning of this website a year ago I have added pictures as well as some video links about the Battle of Dien Bien Phu but have not altered the post.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Foreign Legion Troops in Indochina

I have been doing a lot of reflecting on ministry and history over the past few months. While both have been part of my life for many years, they have taken on a new dimension after serving in Iraq. I can’t really explain it; I guess I am trying to integrate my theological and academic disciplines with my military, life and faith experience since my return.

The Chaplain ministry is unlike civilian ministry in many ways. As Chaplains we never lose the calling of being priests, and as priests in uniform, we are also professional officers and go where our nations send us to serve our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. There is always a tension, especially when the wars that we are sent to are unpopular at home and seem to drag on without the benefit of a nice clear victory such as VE or VJ Day in World War II or the homecoming after Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

VJ Day…It will never happen again

It is my belief that when things go well and we have easy victories that it is easy for us to give the credit to the Lord and equally easy for others to give the credit to superior strategy, weaponry or tactics to the point of denying the possibility that God might have been involved. Such is the case in almost every war and Americans since World War Two have loved the technology of war seeing it as a way to easy and “bloodless” victory. In such an environment ministry can take on an almost “cheer-leading” dimension. It is hard to get around it, because it is a heady experience to be on a winning Army in a popular cause. The challenge here is to keep our ministry of reconciliation in focus, by caring for the least, the lost and the lonely, and in our case, to never forget the victims of war, especially the innocent among the vanquished, as well as our own wounded, killed and their families.

But there are other wars, many like the current conflict less popular and not easily finished. The task of chaplains in the current war, and similar wars fought by other nations is different. In these wars, sometimes called counter-insurgency operations, guerilla wars or peace keeping operations, there is no easily discernable victory. These types of wars can drag on and on, sometimes with no end in sight. Since they are fought by volunteers and professionals, much of the population acts as if there is no war since it does often not affect them, while others oppose the war.

Marines at Hue City

Likewise, there are supporters of war who seem more interested in political points of victory for their particular political party than for the welfare of those that are sent to fight the wars. This has been the case in about every war fought by the US since World War II. It is not a new phenomenon. Only the cast members have changed.

Foreign Legion in Algeria, the ancestral home of the Legion

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YSsetJU-tU&feature=related

This is not only the case with the United States. I think that we can find parallels in other military organizations. I think particularly of the French professional soldiers, the paratroops and Foreign Legion who bore the brunt of the fighting in Indo-China, placed in a difficult situation by their government and alienated from their own people. In particular I think of the Chaplains, all Catholic priests save one Protestant, at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the epic defeat of the French forces that sealed the end of their rule in Vietnam. The Chaplains there went in with the Legion and Paras. They endured all that their soldiers went through while ministering the Sacraments and helping to alleviate the suffering of the wounded and dying. Their service is mentioned in nearly every account of the battle. During the campaign which lasted 6 months from November 1953 to May 1954 these men observed most of the major feasts from Advent through the first few weeks of Easter with their soldiers in what one author called “Hell in a Very Small Place.”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=th7tImvzutc

Another author describes Easter 1954: “In all Christendom, in Hanoi Cathedral as in the churches of Europe the first hallelujahs were being sung. At Dienbeinphu, where the men went to confession and communion in little groups, Chaplain Trinquant, who was celebrating Mass in a shelter near the hospital, uttered that cry of liturgical joy with a heart steeped in sadness; it was not victory that was approaching but death.” A battalion commander went to another priest and told him “we are heading toward disaster.” (The Battle of Dienbeinphu, Jules Roy, Carroll and Graf Publishers, New York, 1984 p.239)

Of course one can find examples in American military history such as Bataan, Corregidor, and certain battles of the Korean War to understand that our ministry can bear fruit even in tragic defeat. At Khe Sahn in our Vietnam War we almost experienced a defeat on the order of Dien Bien Phu. It was the tenacity of the Marines and tremendous air-support that kept our forces from being overrun.

Terrorism and the Battle of Algiers

You probably wonder where I am going with this. I wonder a little bit too. But here is where I think I am going. It is the most difficult of times; especially when units we are with take casualties and our troops’ sacrifice is not fully appreciated by a nation absorbed with its own issues.

French Chaplain and Soldiers Indochina 1950

For the French the events and sacrifices of their soldiers during Easter 1954 was page five news in a nation that was more focused on the coming summer. This is very similar to our circumstances today because it often seems that own people are more concerned about economic considerations and the latest in entertainment news than what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan. The French soldiers in Indo-china were professionals and volunteers, much like our own troops today. Their institutional culture and experience of war was not truly appreciated by their own people, or by their government which sent them into a war against an opponent that would sacrifice anything and take as many years as needed to secure their aim, while their own countrymen were unwilling to make the sacrifice and in fact had already given up their cause as lost. Their sacrifice would be lost on their own people and their experience ignored by the United States when we sent major combat formations to Vietnam in the 1960s. In a way the French professional soldiers of that era have as well as British colonial troops before them have more in common with our force than the citizen soldier heroes of the “Greatest Generation.” Most of them were citizen soldiers who did their service in an epic war and then went home to build a better country as civilians. We are now a professional military and that makes our service a bit different than those who went before us.

Yet it is in this very world that we minister, a world of volunteers who serve with the highest ideals. We go where we are sent, even when it is unpopular. It is here that we make our mark; it is here that we serve our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. Our duty is to bring God’s grace, mercy and reconciliation to men and women, and their families who may not see it anywhere else. Likewise we are always to be a prophetic voice within the ranks.

Marine Advisers and Afghan Soldiers

When my dad was serving in Vietnam in 1972 I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that he was a “Baby Killer.” It was a Catholic Priest and Navy Chaplain who showed me and my family the love of God when others didn’t. In the current election year anticipate that people from all parts of the political spectrum will offer criticism or support to our troops. Our duty is to be there as priests, not be discouraged in caring for our men and women and their families because most churches, even those supportive of our people really don’t understand the nature of our service or the culture that we represent. We live in a culture where the military professional is in a distinct minority group upholding values of honor, courage, sacrifice and duty which are foreign to most Americans. We are called to that ministry in victory and if it happens someday, defeat. In such circumstances we must always remain faithful.

French Commanders at Dien Bien Phu

For those interested in the French campaign in Indo-China it has much to teach us. Good books on the subject include The Last Valley by Martin Windrow, Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall; The Battle of Dienbeinphu by Jules Roy; and The Battle of Dien Bien Phu- The Battle America Forgot by Howard Simpson. For a history of the whole campaign, read Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. I always find Fall’s work poignant, he served as a member of the French Resistance in the Second World War and soldier later and then became a journalist covering the Nurnberg Trials and both the French and American wars in Vietnam and was killed by what was then known as a “booby-trap” while covering a platoon of U.S. Marines.

There is a picture that has become quite meaningful to me called the Madonna of Stalingrad. It was drawn by a German chaplain-physician named Kurt Reuber at Stalingrad at Christmas 1942 during that siege. He drew it for the wounded in his field aid station, for most of whom it would be their last Christmas. The priest would die in Soviet captivity and the picture was given to one of the last officers to be evacuated from the doomed garrison. It was drawn on the back of a Soviet map and now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin where it is displayed with the Cross of Nails from Coventry Cathedral as a symbol of reconciliation. I have had it with me since before I went to Iraq. The words around it say: “Christmas in the Cauldron 1942, Fortress Stalingrad, Light, Life, Love.” I am always touched by it, and it is symbolic of God’s care even in the midst of the worst of war’s suffering and tragedy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, Religion, vietnam