Monthly Archives: January 2012

God in the Empty Places: Four Years Later

Four years ago I was leaving Iraq for Kuwait, the first stop in the process of coming home.  At that point I wanted to go home but I didn’t want to go either. It was the beginning of a new phase in my life.  I wrote an article shortly after my return for the church that I belonged to at the time. I am reposting article here tonight.  

When I wrote it I really had no idea how much I had changed and what had happened to me.  I feel s special kinship with those that have fought in unpopular wars before me. French Indochina, Algeria and Vietnam, even the Soviet troops in Afghanistan before we ever went there.  

I am honored to have served with or known veterans of Vietnam, particularly the Marines that served at the Battle of Hue City, who are remembering the 44th anniversary of the beginning of that battle.  My dad also served in Vietnam at a place called An Loc. He didn’t talk about it much and I can understand having seen war myself. 

There are no new edits to the article. When I wrote it I was well on my way to a complete emotional and spiritual collapse due to PTSD.  Things are better now but it was a very dark time for several years and occasionally I still have my bad days. Today was a day of reflection.  As I walked my little dog Molly down the street tonight to the beach I looked up at the moonlit sky and I was as I have been thinking lately about seeing all of those stars and the brilliance of the moon over the western desert of Iraq near Syria. Somehow that sight now comforts me instead of frightens me. 

Tonight our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen serve in harm’s way nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan alone. We are out of Iraq but Lord knows how things will turn out in the long run there.  

Anyway. Here is is.

God in the Empty Places. 

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.

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.

French Paratroop Corpsmen treating wounded at Dien Bien Phu

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, guerrilla wars or peace keeping operations, there is no easily discernible 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.

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.

This is not only the case with the United States. I think that we can find parallels in other militaries. I think particularly of the French professional soldiers, the paratroops and Foreign Legion who bore the brunt of the fighting in Indochina, 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.”

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.

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.

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 Indochina 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.

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.

For those interested in the French campaign in Indochina 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 Nuremberg 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.


Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Revisiting the Gift of Religious Liberty: The Danger posed by Fanatics

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Those that read this site and have gotten to know me through it over the past few years know that I am passionately devoted to religious liberty.  I find it throughout the writings of our founders and and have written about it before numerous times and the comment was in regard to this article The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It

I do want to say up front that this article is in no way a denigration of those that believe, especially in this case since my critic claims to be a Christian a criticism of other Christians that are committed to their faith but also respect the religious liberties of others and that give God and his grace a little bit of credit to work in the lives of others that are different from them.

A couple of days ago I received a comment on that post that I quote in part:

“I have a serious problem with anyone who calls themselves a Christian supporting the religious liberty of all those who are not Christians because by doing so you condone their worship of false gods which is idolatry. I would rather see all religious worship outlawed than to allow worshippers of false gods allowed to spew their demon inspired idolatrous lies in public.” (pingecho728 Jonathan) 

It is amazing to me to see such words voiced over a subject that is so much a part of the fabric of our country.  Unfortunately with all the poisonous division in the country that religious liberty is in peril in some cases from left wing fanatics that despise all religion but is becoming more pronounced on the fanatical right particularly in the views of some parts of American Evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity.

But with that said this commentator is a very angry person and a search Facebook and a Google search that took all of about 5 minutes told me more than I wanted to know about this man. He is a fanatic who has flip-flopped in his passionate beliefs, responding to an atheist on another website in December 2010 regarding the irrationality of Biblical faith.

“PingEcho728  Dec 1, 2010 01:55 PM
I love what you wrote and agree wholeheartedly. Ironically I used to be once upon a time one of those religionist who was content with the “God did it” answer..if the Bible said it I believed it a hundred percent but once I opened my eyes and actually examined everything I had once easily believed to see why I had believed those things I found I had no good rational answer or evidence for believing those things. So I did the only thing a rational freethinking person could do, I abandoned beliefs for which I had no reason or evidence to support it.”

When I responded to the man and noted that everyone was someone else’s heretic and that even Conservative Christians might find his views heretical he responded. “There are certainly no Christians more conservative than me nor would any true Christian call me a heretic.”  Talk about flip-flopping, but this is typical among fanatics of every variety. They easily change sides because they need a cause bigger then them to provide meaning to their lives.  This man who on other Tea Party blogs practically deifies the Founders says of them regarding religious liberty: “I trust in the founders no more than I trust in any fallible man. The freedom to disagree is one thing to allow false religions to flourish in America is one that will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of America and the rise of the antichrist.”

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer about mass movements and their fanatical followers.  He did not see the followers of the different causes be they religious, secular, atheist, Fascist or Communist to be that different from each other. He saw them as brothers in a sense and their real opponent is the moderate, not the opposing extremist. Hoffer saw that the “true believers” were far easier to convert to an opposing view than you would think and he noted how fanatical Germans and Japanese often were converted to Communism while in captivity after the war.  It was their devotion to the cause not the cause that they became devoted to serving that was what gave meaning to their life.

Hoffer wrote:

“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self assurance out of his individual resources-out of his rejected self-but finds it only by clinging to whatever cause he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the source of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Through his single minded dedication is a holding on for dear life , he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings….Still his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weened away from his cause by an appeal to reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the cause to which he is attached.”

Unfortunately there are many people on the extremes of the political spectrum that are like this. They can be found in the factions of the Tea Party and in the Occupy Movement as well as other even more extreme groups.  They are the kind of people that in the social, economic and political turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s were sucked into the great radical movements Communism, Fascism and Naziism.  In fact this has little to do with Christianity itself, even the most conservative expressions of it.  It is a matter that fanatics would rather destroy freedom for everyone than to give it to anyone that they disagree.

The real thing that sets our nation apart from others is the fact that when it came to religious liberty that the Founders were quite clear that religious liberty was the property of every individual. It was not to be forced by the state or by religious bodies acting on behalf of the state. We are not Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Israel. Our founders knew the dangers of fanatical religion having seen the effect of it during the brutal religious wars in England which pitted Anglicans against Separatists and Roman Catholics in the 17th Century.  They harbored no illusions about the danger posed by well meaning “true believers” who would use the powers of the state to enforce their religious beliefs on others as well as those that would seek to obliterate religion from public life as happened during the French Revolution.

I will gladly take criticism from people that believe that I am not a Christian because I defend the religious liberties of others.  I am a Christian and make no apology but  I figure that this liberty is too precious to so despised by those that most depend on it.  Religion can and has often been abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon. Those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”


Padre Steve+

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A Weekend of Old Navy Movies: Mister Roberts, The Caine Mutiny and In Harm’s Way

Well I have the duty pager for the hospital this weekend so I have been hanging out at the Island Hermitage with my dog Molly watching classic Navy movies.

Friday night I watched the classic film Mister Roberts. Yesterday I watched In Harm’s Way and The Caine Mutiny.

All three films are fictional and because of that I find them great for understanding the complexity of Navy life and leadership.  Mister Roberts and the Caine Mutiny the films deal with the complexities of life and leadership on small and rather insignificant ships while In Harm’s Way deals with more senior officers and their lives. All three deal with subjects that are uncomfortable because they still exist not just in the Navy but throughout the military. Thus all three offer insights into toxic leaders, poor morale, discipline, mental illness, alcoholism and subjects such as sexual assault and suicide.

Mister Roberts stared Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon and William Powell. It is set on the USS Reluctant a Light Cargo Ship in the backwaters of the Pacific in the closing months of the Second World War. Released in 1955 the film was based on the 1946 novel of the same name by Thomas Heggen.

Cagney plays a despotic former Merchant Marine Captain, LCDR Morton an officer of the type that the Navy did not want portrayed on film then, and still doesn’t today.  He is petty, self serving and rules as a tyrant in order to secure his promotion to Commander. His prize possession is a palm tree which was awarded to the ship for handling the most cargo which he believes will be his ticket to promotion. Lemon plays the ship’s Laundry and Morale Officer Ensign Frank Pulver who creatively finds ways of avoiding work. He is so successful that Captain Morton doesn’t know who he is despite having been on the ship 14 months. Pulver provides amusement and aggravation to Henry Fonda plays the ship’s Cargo Officer LTJG Doug Roberts. Roberts is liked by the crew and always in conflict with hs captain.  He is desperate to be transferred off the Reluctant and serve on a ship on the front lines. He fears that the war will pass him by and sends in letter after letter to get transferred to a fighting ship only to have Morton send them on without recommending approval.

Roberts is caught in the position of many young leaders where they are torn between their duty and their loyalty to their crew.  Eventually he  William Powell in his last film plays ship’s Medical Officer, the wise sage whose advice and counsel is invaluable to Roberts.  Eventually Roberts gets off the ship because the crew forges a request for transfer along with a forged recommendation from the Captain. When he leaves the ship the crew presents him with their “Medal” the “Order of the Palm.” He is transferred to a destroyer and is killed in action. His final letter to Ensign Pulver tells of his appreciation for the crew and comes along with a letter from a friend of Pulver’s on board the destroyer Roberts was transferred telling of Roberts being killed when the ship was hit by a kamikaze.

In the letter Roberts expresses that he finally understood the enemy faced by those in rear areas and all of those that cannot see why they matter or know their place in a war.  The challenge of leaders to understand “that the unseen enemy of this war is the boredom that eventually becomes a faith and, therefore, a terrible sort of suicide.”  He finally after having seen combat that those that he served with on the Reluctant “Right now I’m looking at something that’s hanging over my desk. A preposterous hunk of brass attached to the most bilious piece of ribbon I’ve ever seen. I’d rather have it than the Congressional Medal of Honor. It tells me what I’ll always be proudest of: That at a time in the world when courage counted most I lived among 62 brave men.” 

The Caine Mutiny adapted from the novel written by Herman Wouk deals with a another ship where leadership challenges abound. The Captain of the ship, LCDR Queeg played by Humphrey Bogart is plagued by doubt, fear and paranoia.  A Regular Navy Officer on with a wardroom of reservists he comes to the ship battered from two years in the Atlantic. He is also plagued by his Communications Officer, LT Tom Keefer played by Fred MacMurray who spends the time not writing a novel in spreading poison about his ship, the Navy and his commanding officers. Queeg begs for their support and understanding.

However Keefer is so successful at undermining Queeg that in the midst of a typhoon the Executive Officer, LT Steve Maryk played by Van Johnson takes command and relieves Queeg on the bridge supported by the Officer of the deck Ensign Willie Keith.

Maryk is tried and acquitted at court marital but his defense attorney, LT Barney Greenwald played by Jose Ferrer has to destroy Queeg on the witness stand to do it.  During the trial Keefer is called as a witness for the prosecution lies on the stand to avoid incriminating himself while damaging the case of his friend Maryk. At the end Greenwald confronts Kiefer at a party and provides the leadership lesson for a wardroom which abandoned their sick captain long before the mutiny occurred.

[Greenwald staggers into the Caine crew’s party, inebriated] 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: Well, well, well! The officers of the Caine in happy celebration! 

Lt. Steve Maryk: What are you, Barney, kind of tight? 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: Sure. I got a guilty conscience. I defended you, Steve, because I found the wrong man was on trial. 

[pours himself a glass of wine] 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: So, I torpedoed Queeg for you. I had to torpedo him. And I feel sick about it. 

[drinks wine] 

Lt. Steve Maryk: Okay, Barney, take it easy. 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: You know something… When I was studying law, and Mr. Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton, who was standing guard over this fat, dumb, happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh, no, we knew you couldn’t make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did! And a lot of other guys. Tough, sharp guys who didn’t crack up like Queeg. 

Ensign Willie Keith: But no matter what, Captain Queeg endangered the ship and the lives of the men. 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: He didn’t endanger anybody’s life, you did, all of you! You’re a fine bunch of officers. 

Lt. JG H. Paynter Jr.: You said yourself he cracked. 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: I’m glad you brought that up, Mr. Paynter, because that’s a very pretty point. You know, I left out one detail in the court martial. It wouldn’t have helped our case any. 

[to Maryk] 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: Tell me, Steve, after the Yellowstain business, Queeg came to you guys for help and you turned him down, didn’t you? 

Lt. Steve Maryk: [hesitant] Yes, we did. 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: [to Paynter] You didn’t approve of his conduct as an officer. He wasn’t worthy of your loyalty. So you turned on him. You ragged him. You made up songs about him. If you’d given Queeg the loyalty he needed, do you suppose the whole issue would have come up in the typhoon? 

[to Maryk] 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: You’re an honest man, Steve, I’m asking you. You think it would’ve been necessary for you to take over? 

Lt. Steve Maryk: [hesitant] It probably wouldn’t have been necessary. 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: [muttering slightly] Yeah. 

Ensign Willie Keith: If that’s true, then we were guilty. 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: Ah, you’re learning, Willie! You’re learning that you don’t work with a captain because you like the way he parts his hair. You work with him because he’s got the job or you’re no good! Well, the case is over. You’re all safe. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. 

[long pause; strides toward Keefer] 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: And now we come to the man who should’ve stood trial. The Caine’s favorite author. The Shakespeare whose testimony nearly sunk us all. Tell ’em, Keefer! 

Lieutenant Tom Keefer: [stiff and overcome with guilt] No, you go ahead. You’re telling it better. 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: You ought to read his testimony. He never even heard of Captain Queeg! 

Lt. Steve Maryk: Let’s forget it, Barney! 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: Queeg was sick, he couldn’t help himself. But you, you’re *real* healthy. Only you didn’t have one tenth the guts that he had. 

Lieutenant Tom Keefer: Except I never fooled myself, Mr. Greenwald. 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: I’m gonna drink a toast to you, Mr. Keefer. 

[pours wine in a glass] 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: From the beginning you hated the Navy. And then you thought up this whole idea. And you managed to keep your skirts nice, and starched, and clean, even in the court martial. Steve Maryk will always be remembered as a mutineer. But you, you’ll publish your novel, you’ll make a million bucks, you’ll marry a big movie star, and for the rest of your life you’ll live with your conscience, if you have any. Now here’s to the *real* author of “The Caine Mutiny.” Here’s to you, Mr. Keefer. 

[splashes wine in Keefer’s face] 

Lt. Barney Greenwald: If you wanna do anything about it, I’ll be outside. I’m a lot drunker than you are, so it’ll be a fair fight. 

In Harm’s Way was filmed a decade after the Caine Mutiny and Mister Roberts. Starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Burgess Meredith and Tom Tryon it was a epic that was panned by critics as having a shallow plot. It involved the intersecting lives of a number of officers during the war with John Wayne playing Rear Admiral “Rock” Torrey. Although the plot is relatively shallow the film brings up several very serious subjects that are faced by leaders even today.  The topics of alcoholism, sexual assault and suicide are touched upon through the character played by Kirk Douglas, Captain Paul Eddington.  Eddington is plagued by alcoholism and a failed marriage that ended when his wife was killed while with an Army Air Corps Officer on the morning of the Peal Harbor attack.  Sentenced to a backwater assignment he is called to be Torrey’s Chief of Staff.  In that position he ends up raping a nurse played by Jill Howarth that happens to be the fiancee of Torrey’s son. She then commits suicide. When Eddington discovers that she is dead he sets off on a suicide mission to find the Japanese fleet.

The questions raised in the film are not answered, there is no Barney Greenwald to point out the moral of the story.  John Wayne plays a flawed hero surrounded by characters of that are all in some way dealing with their own personal demons. However the questions are those that have been faced by military leaders for generations.  How does a leader deal with men and women in failing marriages? How does one deal with those that simply are advancing their own careers? How does a leader deal with key staff that are dealing with alcoholism? How does one prevent sexual assault in a combat area and prevent suicide?  The truth is that we still deal with all of these questions and none of us or any military in the world has solved any of them.  Perhaps Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz sums up the situation that we still face “Well, we all know the Navy’s never wrong. But in this case, it was a little weak on bein’ right.”

Taken as a whole the three films all are valuable for today’s naval leader as well as military leaders in general. The I do learn something new every time that I watch them and all challenge me to be a better leader.


Padre Steve+


Filed under film, leadership, Military, movies, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

Flip-Flops in Florida: Who was Before it Before they were Against it Before they said that They Weren’t? I Sure the Hell Don’t Know

We are done with debates for a month and not a moment too soon especially for Newt Gingrich who got his ass handed to him tonight. Unlike in South Carolina where Gingrich was the clear winner Newt seemed to be flat footed in his answers to questions posed by Wolf Blitzer and audience members and in his responses to Romney. Romney seemed much more comfortable attacking Newt tonight. However I think that he was hurt by Rick Santorum who I think won the debate.

Despite beating Gingrich Romney certainly did not help himself for the general election should he be the nominee. Newt’s campaign as well as all of his huge Mitt-stakes over the past month have taken their toll. Even Rupert Murdoch thinks that Romney’s tax issue alone could keep him from winning in November.  Romney is certainly a shrewd businessman and as he calls himself a “winner.”  However he comes across as both arrogant and unprincipled, a flip-flopper of the worst kind as does Gingrich.

These debates and the campaign since Iowa have been a bloodbath in which Romney and Gingrich have done everything that they can do the ensure that neither of them becomes President. These guys are doing the best that they can to destroy each other every hour of the day and then claim ignorance. I am amazed with the alacrity with which they misrepresented each other and themselves.

I know that people wear flip-flops on Florida’s beaches but these guys put the flip in flop.    Both were for it before they were against it before someone pointed out that they were for it and they had to defend being for what they are now against or really are for but can’t admit it and get the nomination.

I am really getting confused and I know it’s not just my Mad Cow causing this. I don’t think that either man actually believes a word that they that they say even before they denied that they believed it.  Both Gingrich and Romney came across as absolutely disingenuous and consumed with destroying each other on the way to getting the nomination.

In my opinion it was Rick Santorum that was the most effective debater tonight and was very impressive. He was much more impressive than either Romnich or Gingney and I think Santorum cleaned Romney’s clock. Unfortunately for him it is probably too little too late regarding the getting the nomination but anything is possible now. Ron Paul made some points but did not have the impact tonight as did Santorum. Santorum hurt Romney on “Romneycare” and taxation aligning himself with none other than Ronald Reagan on the upper bracket tax rates.  He was also the only candidate that spoke directly about the industrial base and the workers that were the Reagan Democrats and recognized that President Obama had made that point in the State of the Union.

While anything is possible in this race I think that it is pretty certain that Romney will now win Florida. I thought that Gingrich might steal it but he didn’t help himself at all tonight. He was way off his game and he needed to reprise what he did in South Carolina in order to win Florida.  He now has to work doubly hard to try to win this or run a close second.

However this race has show that nothing is what it was even four years ago. I think that it will drag on and that anti-Romney forces will ensure that it does. I think that all things being equal that Romney probably wins the nomination but like I have been saying since Iowa that he will be so damaged that he will not be able to win in November.  He may have the support of the GOP elites but he certainly is not winning the hearts of people that he will need to support him in November.

A recent poll said that 33% of Republicans wished that there was another candidate in the race. Likewise President Obama’s positive numbers which were dismal are going up even as Romney’s favorable ratings collapse. I say this only to show just how volatile the electorate is this year and how dissatisfied most Americans seem to be with the status quo and the people running for the nation’s highest office.

This is not like anything that I have ever seen. So many things can happen between now and next week when Florida votes and the the General Election on November 6th that could influence the election it boggles the mind. I know that my mind is boggled. I feel like I am watching the two Republican front-runners do their best to ensure that their party cannot win in November. What do you think?


Padre Steve+

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How Padre Steve Survives the Election Year…and how You Can Too

“It’s such a beautiful sport, with no politics involved, no color, no class. Only as a youngster can you play and as a pro can you win. The game has kept me young, involved and excited and for me to be up here with gems of baseball.” Jack Buck

“I would change policy, bring back natural grass and nickel beer. Baseball is the belly-button of our society. Straighten out baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world.” Bill “Spaceman” Lee 

Well my friends we have just 285 day until the 2012 General Elections to be held on 6 November we will again elect a President, the whole House of Representatives, one third of the Senate and an ass load of Governors, State and Local government officials.

Of course the big kahuna is the Presidential election.  This is the election that usually brings out the most people to vote. We Americans have priorities and electing a President is right up there with voting for the next American Idol.

The Presidential campaign is now in what we call the “Primary Season.” Can you say primary season?

I knew that you could, but I digress.

The Primary season is where the major political parties, those bastions of uncritical thought and ideological bastardization backed by unlimited monetary donations from the wonderful new super-hero called Super-PAC choose who they will nominate for the Presidency. It is an exciting process for of unexpected twists and turns. Well, let me not get too overboard here, most of the time they are boring and predictable once the New Hampshire primary is over, but not this year.

Thanks to the Citizens United decision the amount of political advertising will set records, especially the negative stuff that decides elections will air at all hours of the day will interrupt any television program at any time. Candidates will buy whole blocks of time to sell themselves and Super-PAC will aid them with powerful truth deflection shields and lie-ser beams.  It will be amazing and if you are like me you probably have had enough.

So what can we do?

Well here is what I am going to do.  In 24 days my television is going to be parked on the MLB Channel and any other channel I can get that has a baseball game or baseball show on.  That is when spring training starts and real life begins again.

Now that does not mean that I won’t stay in tune with what is happening in the world or in the elections.  I will because need to be informed so I be informative in a time of disinformation because I don’t want anyone to be dissed by information.

But to do this is stressful and sometimes the high toxic inflamed sphincter speech of the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers gets to me.  Thank God that he created baseball and that there is a refuge for me from the 18th of February when pitchers and catchers report until if the World Series goes the full 7 games until the 1st of November. That means that I only have 29 days without this sure refuge. However there is enough about baseball between now and the official beginning of Spring Training and post series euphoria to limit my exposer to the toxic stew being brewed in the smoke filled rooms of the political campaigns.

Thank God for baseball.


Padre Steve+

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The Lost Art

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best.” Otto von Bismarck

I did my yearly duty of enduring the State of the Union Address.  I have done this every year when not deployed, at sea or in the field since I was in college. I have learned over the years that regardless of who the President is or what party they belong does not make the watching of this speech any less of an ordeal.

Some Presidents were marvelous orators and others not.  Typically the rebuttal to any President’s State of the Union is always a critique of whatever the President said and why the opposition and its ideas or policies are better.  Thus when Presidents like Ronald Reagan, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and even President Obama use   lofty language and rhetoric it is hard for the opposition to sound like anything other than less than exciting.  Now this says nothing about the substance of the ideas or even the truth of what is being spoken by either side especially in an election year. Bismarck so adroitly put it “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.” 

Call me a cynic but I guess I am now old enough to have see that the speeches really don’t matter that much unless the leaders of both parties are willing to work together for the good of the country.  There are policies and positions in both parties that I agree with and those that I disagree with. I don’t think either party has a lock on truth nor have the answers to all of the challenges that we face totally contained in their ideology or party platform.

The speech by President Obama was an excellent speech and the response by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was not bad. Again I am not going into specific details of what either said but rather the tone of both. There were differences and Daniels was pugnacious but not disrespectful and Daniels even found places of agreement with the President. Unfortunately that is rare among the rest of his party.

Maybe I have been in the military too long but some of the things done by leaders, elected leaders and pundits of both parties over the past 10 years since George W Bush was elected turn my stomach. I want the country to do well and for whoever the President is at the time to meet with success.  I may not support all of their agenda but they have the job of President and I don’t.  I believe in the teamwork embodied by the military and particularly that of SEAL Team 6 and the supporting units who killed Osama Bin Laden that the President emphasized so well.

When Nancy Pelosi said of President Bush “Why should we put a plan out? Our plan is to stop him. He must be stopped” I was appalled. When Mitch McConnell said that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” I was equally appalled. That is no way to help the country.

Otto Von Bismarck was was quite the pragmatist. He understood that there is an art to politics. Ronald Reagan understood the same and was able to work with the opposition as much as he could get of his agenda passed and make deals including raising taxes to get it done. Unfortunately the Unholy Trinity of Politicians Pundits and Preachers on both sides of the political chasm have somehow come to the conclusion that it is a winner take it all game.  I’m glad that President Obama and Governor Daniels despite their differences did not use tonight to demonize their opponents. Maybe that is a start.

Of course this is an election year and the country is bitterly divided. We have practically been at war with each other for at least that long, probably longer. I just hope that somehow we as a people can rally around the country and whatever our politics not forget that we are all Americans and are in this boat together.  As Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address at the close of the Civil War:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 


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Iraq Commitment Medal

The US Military campaign in Iraq ended at the end of 2011 and in a ceremony marking that the Iraqi government authorized the United States and other coalition partners to award a medal on their behalf to soldiers that served in Iraq. The award still has to be approved for wear by the United States but I cannot imagine that such approval will not be given. Too many thousands of Americans have been killed our wounded in the war not for it to be awarded. The price has been paid in blood and the cost is born in the minds, bodies and spirits of those that served and survived and in the lives of those who have lost loved ones during the war.

The medal called the Government of Iraq Commitment Medal is similar in character to those issued by other countries to American service members that served in their countries. Such awards have been made by the Philippines, South Korea, South Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The announcement of the award was made in a ceremony attended by Vice President Biden on 1 December 2011in Bagdad.

The letter from the Iraqi Minister of Defense is shown below.

Now to some this award is insignificant and with Iraq’s government in disarray some will mock it. But to many if not most of us that served in Iraq it will be a small thank you and remembrance of our service there. If Iraq can navigate the future successfully and overcome its own divisions perhaps those of us that served will be able to go back as visitors and maybe like those that served in the Second World War be able to help heal the wounds of war alongside the Iraqis that we served alongside, trained and advised.

“Description – The Commitment Medal is a gold-colored medal with enamel, 1 9/16 in diameter. On the front the relief of Iraq represents the area of operation. The lines symbolize the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, recalling Iraq’s title as “the land of two rivers.” The two hands superimposed over the relief symbolize the friendship between Iraq and her coalition allies. The star at the center top represents a vision of unity for the seven peoples of Iraq (Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Turkoman, Assyrian, Yazidi, Armenian) leading to a more secure, prosperous and free future for Iraqis. The inscription in both Arabic and English merge into a continuous circle symbolizing the closeness of Iraq and her allies.
On the reverse side the rayed disc symbolizes the sun, optimism and Iraq’s future of reconstruction and the establishment of the democratic way of life. The relief of Iraq represents the area of operation. The lines symbolize the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, recalling Iraq’s title as “the land of two rivers.” The crossed scimitars recall the partnership between Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces essential to bringing a democratic way of life to Iraq. Gold is emblematic of honor and high achievement. It states JOINT COMMITMENT in both Arabic and English symbolizing the unity of effort between Iraq and her Coalition Partners. The palm trees along with the palm fronds on the front represent the sacrifices made by the Coalition Partners.”

Americans and Iraqis alike have sacrificed and suffered during this war. I hope that this medal will come to symbolize an effort that was not in vain.


Padre Steve+


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The Death of a Tarnished Legend: Joe Paterno dead at 85

Legendary Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno died this morning of complications of Lung Cancer in State College Pennsylvania.

He was college football’s winningest coach and led his teams to 409 wins. In 46 years at Penn State he built a football program that won two National Championships and came close on a number of other occasions. The program was built around the concept of winning with honor. Paterno said “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good”

For years it seemed that Penn State football was just that, a program that stood out among elite teams because of the lack of scandal. But that was before the revelations about former Penn State Assistant Coach and Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys and the cover up of the scandal by the school. When the news of Sandusky’s arrest upon the release of the Grand Jury report it sent the university and much of the nation into shock and brought forth anger, much directed at Paterno for his apparent inaction when he learned of an 2002 incident in the locker room showers from Mike McQueary then a graduate assistant. The fact that allegations had been made and reported to the police in 1998 and went back to 1994 did not help.

Paterno refused to resign and the University trustees fired him along with the President of the University Graham Spanier.  The firing was done late at night and with a phone call, it should have been done in person but the university which refused to do anything to stop Sandusky was willing to unceremoniously dump Paterno.

From Paterno’s statements it seems that he really had no understanding of the gravity or the significance of the allegations. He said after the allegations came to light that “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”  He told the Washington Post in an interview just 9 days before his death that although Mike McQueary was not specific that had he been specific that “to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”

In the end maybe he was simply out of touch with the real world. Insulated in State College and consumed with football, it was his life. He said in 2004 “There isn’t anything in my life anymore except my family and my football. I think about it all the time.”

He will be remembered as one of the great, of not the greatest coach in the history of college football.  However that accomplishment in now obscured by the allegations against Jerry Sandusky and his inaction during the time. We probably will not know all that he knew or did not know about the incidents involving Sandusky.  On the surface one can imagine that he knew more than has been admitted and I believe that is probably the case.  At the same time he may have just been a man out of time who should have retired years ago.

Despite this he will be remembered fondly and with great respect by many of his players as well as the Penn State community. I would imagine that he died as much from a broken heart and spirit as he did lung cancer.  The fact that he was fired, shunned and blamed for the debacle that has destroyed program that was his life’s work had to be a part of his decline.  I imagine that the disgrace that he felt was more than he could bear.

Rest in peace JoePa, rest in peace.

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The Newtron Bomb Blasts Romney

The Newtron bomb exploded and irradiated the long presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney and sent the Republican establishment into shock. Gingrich was left for dead after New Hampshire and Iowa after being savaged by Romney backed Super-PACs. Instead after hard hitting campaign ads attacking Romney and two strong debate performances he won the South Carolina Republican primary. It was stunning. Last Saturday Romney’s Super-PAC released an ad that boldly proclaimed “On Saturday, South Carolina picks a President.” If it did it wasn’t Romney.


He was aided by Romney’s hubris and inability to answer questions about his income, his taxes and his career at Bain Capital without looking like an entitled and out of touch rich politician. Romney’s post primary debate made him look worse. He tried to still project the image of the front-runner and standard bearer that can beat Barak Obama.  Romney basically said that for  anyone to criticize him or his personal success was to be against success and capitalism. His speech seemed devoid of understanding that the combination of his own communicative ineptitude and Gingrich’s appeal to raw populism have damaged him. Likewise his inability to be magnanimous in defeat to either Gingrich or Santorum after their wins in Iowa and South Carolina make him even less attractive to much of the electorate. Otto Von Bismarck said that the “three signs of great men are generosity in the design, humanity in the execution, moderation in success.”  Well that does not describe what many feel about Mitt Romney after South Carolina.

Romney spent more money in the state than any other candidate, had the support of Tea Party backed Governor Nikki Haley and other key South Carolina Republicans including Senator Jim DeMint.

Gingrich won 40% of the vote in South Carolina and won nearly every demographic. The allegations of his second wife Marianne about his infidelity and desire for an “open marriage” had little if no effect on an electorate dominated by Evangelical Christians. The only significant demographic to go for Romney was that of people that made over $200,000 a year.  (see Fox News Exit Poll )

The turnout was significant, nearly a third more people voted in the primary than in 2008. I attribute this to the activism of the Tea Party as well as Ron Paul’s campaign, both of which pack significant energy. Paul finished 4th tonight but had far more of the electorate than he had in 2008.

Gingrich is not well liked. His negatives are incredible but he can fight and with the money that is now coming in to support his Super-PAC he is going to make Florida a real race unless he does something to implode.  This is a big reason that Rick Santorum will remain in the race.

Florida will be important. I do think that Gingrich will make it close and maybe even win.  I think that he wins the Tea Party faction and will make a good run at the Cuban vote. If Gingrich wins big it could send party elites into a panic.  To them Newt is the Neutron Bomb, he is radioactive and and dangerous.  They do not want him as their nominee and they will do whatever they can to stop his momentum.

But even if Romney can right the ship in Florida the fact is that this race will continue to go on into the spring and that bodes ill for him. I think that this will be difficult. Florida has hit the skids economically and that impacts Republican voters as much as it does others and a Romney that seems to be out of touch and flouting his wealth will not go over well with In South Carolina a third of Gingrich supporters polled say that they will not support Romney if he becomes the nominee and the figure among Paul supporters is higher.  Mark my words, Tea Party and Ron Paul activists will not go all in for Romney if he is the nominee.

Right now as unimaginable as it would have ever been Romney is in real danger and he does not seem to be fully aware of it.  Like Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia he and his campaign are too close to running aground and still seem to believe that no matter what they will be the nominee. South Carolina shows that his electability is in question. Why would the Tea Party and Libertarian factions want Romney in office for 8 years should he be the nominee and win against President Obama?

These candidates do not like each other and the loathing of Gingrich for Romney and Romney for Gingrich is palpable. The campaign will be dirty and unsurpassed in nastiness.

This will be a fascinating race to watch and may be historic in terms of its effect on the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

How Romney and the GOP elites must be feeling about South Carolina 

It will be fun to watch if nothing else.


Padre Steve+

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Salvaging the Costa Concordia: An Immense and Potentially Impossible Task

The wreck of the giant cruise liner Costa Concordia could be in danger of sinking deeper into the sea off of Giglio Island or even breaking up.  As of the moment the Italian authorities are still calling the operation a rescue operation but that could change to a salvage operation in the coming days.

The Salvaged Seawise Giant

Provided that the wreck stays intact and does not sink in deeper water the chance of salvaging the ship will be immense. It will not be an easy task.  Only one ship larger than Concordia has been salvaged, the massive oil tanker Seawise Giant which was sunk in very shallow water off of Kharg Island Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.  That ship was only salvageable because she was intact and in the placid shallow waters of the Persian Gulf.

Wreck of the ex SS Normandie

The other ships successfully salvaged and returned to service were the US Navy Battleships USS West Virginia and USS California which were sunk at Pearl Harbor.  Both ships had settled upright in the shallow and calm waters of Pearl Harbor.  The battleship Oklahoma which capsized was refloated but never returned to service.  Other large ships have been salvaged but not returned to service, the great French liner Normandie which burned and sank pier side in New York Harbor was raised but the damage caused by the fire made her not economical to put repair and put back into service.  The battleships and battle cruisers of the German High Seas Fleet were salvaged over a period of nearly 20 years following the “Great Scuttle” following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in a remarkable operation at Scapa Flow.  Many were difficult to salvage and although all were scrapped  the fact that they were raised was engineering triumph.

Raising the USS Oklahoma

One thing that works against a successful salvage operation is the fact that she is on her side and perched atop a number of rocks fully exposed to wind and waves.  Ships, especially merchant ships which are more lightly built than the great battleships do not tend to hold up well when in such a position.  They tend to get battered and break up due to the great stress put on their hulls which they were not designed to endure.

Drawings of High Seas Fleet wrecks at Scapa Flow

Those trying to save the Costa Concordia will first need to ensure that she does not sink into deeper water or break up. If they can do that they will then need to remove her fuel and other hazardous materials.  Once that is completed the massive gash in the hull will need to be repaired and and the hull checked for other damage.  Then she will have to be successfully righted and pumped out. This will not be easy, every step will have to be carefully done to ensure that they salvers do not want her to sink again.  Working against them will be the forces of nature, wind, tides and waves.  These factors will complicate any salvage efforts and it is entirely possible that the wreck will need to be scrapped in place.

The immediate concern is the search for survivors and next the avoidance of an environmental disaster should the ships diesel fuel leak into the ocean and preventing the ship from sinking into deeper water or breaking up. Only then will it be possible to begin salvage operations.  From a technical perspective it is interesting to think about just how the massive ship will be raised.


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