Monthly Archives: June 2014

“If the Enemy is There Tomorrow, We Must Attack Him” Lee’s Decision to Continue his Attack and Failure to Appreciate Changing Technology

 

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One of the key issues that military leaders must face is how new and changing technology changes the shape of the battlefield and impacts operations at the tactical as well as the operational level. While some technological advances merely adjust how military organizations fight, others force military organizations to completely change the way they conduct war. Examples are found throughout history, but truly became more far reaching during the Civil War with their echoes redounding to the present day.

Those changes can include firepower, protection, mobility, communication and even the frontiers of war to what goes on underwater, in the air, in space and cyber-space. None of these advances are necessarily limited to how military professionals conduct war at any given time. In fact technological changes are often unwelcome by military professionals who have invested their professional lives and careers defending doctrinal traditions. Likewise those victimized by opponents who use new technology to their advantage sometimes accuse their opponents as being unfair, as if fairness counts in war.

The development of the rifled musket just prior to the Civil War and its widespread usage on the battlefield brought about change that most leaders were slow to appreciate, including Robert E. Lee. The fact was that the rifled musket changed war even when military tactics were still rooted in Napoleonic tactics, which were built around the weaponry commonly employed in 1800, the smoothbore flintlock musket, with an effect range of barely 100 yards and smoothbore artillery. The artillery, even when firing grapeshot and canister was superior in range, lethality and as a result dominated the offense. [1] Thus Napoleonic tactics emphasized the artillery as an assault weapon, placed in advance of the infantry, breaking up enemy formations and allowing the infantry to close with the enemy and finish him with the bayonet charge.

The advent of the rifled musket, use of percussion caps and the Minie’ ball bullet by necessity changed how war had to be fought. Rifles firing the Minie’ ball “had an effective range of at least 500 yards” [2] and the new weapons outranged both grapeshot and canister, putting artillerymen exposed to the long range rifle fire in more danger on the battlefield. Not only did they do this but they allowed the infantryman to increase his rate of fire.

Prior to this the limitations of the smoothbore flintlock musket necessitated that the infantry form in dense formations where their firepower could be concentrated. Dennis Hart Mahan was one of the first to recognize how this would change warfare and in 1847 advocated that close line and columns be “replaced by the regular infantry advancing in the loose order of skirmishers” and “take advantage of available cover and close by rushing within about 200 yards.” [3] Even so both armies, as well as their European counterparts were restrained by their continued adherence to “a body of tactical doctrine with long roots back to the 1790s,” the debate between the virtues of line and column formations. [4] The effectiveness of the new weapons was seen by American observers to the Crimean War and despite this both the Union and Confederate armies insisted on employing the old tactics in massed infantry attacks.

This was in part because many of the senior leaders had last experienced combat in the Mexican War, where both sides still used smoothbore muskets and in which frontal attacks and bayonet charges were used effectively. However, as Bruce Catton so well noted:

“the generals had been brought up wrong. The tradition they had learned was that of close order fighting in the open country, where men with bayonets bravely charged a line of men firing smoothbore muskets. That used to work well enough, because the range at which defenders could kill their assailants was very short….But the rifle came in and changed all of that. The range which charging men began to be killed was at least five times as great as it used to be, which meant about five times as many of the assailants were likely to be hit…A few men, like young Colonel Upton, sensed that new tactics were called for, but most could not quite get the idea.” [5]

Lee was one of them.

This new technology changed the battlefield, although many leaders were slow to appreciate who. “The artillery now had to fall back behind the infantry and became a support instead of an assault weapon.” [6] The new firepower available to the infantry “reduced artillery to the defense and forced cavalry to fight dismounted beside the infantry,” [7] something that had been show in its best form in John Buford’s defense of McPherson Ridge on the morning of July first. “The devastating increase in firepower doomed the open frontal assault and ushered in the entrenched battlefield.” [8]

Despite the plentiful evidence which showed that the defense now had the advantage, including his own experience at Malvern Hill and at Fredericksburg, Lee as well as his “right arm” Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were firm believers in the offense. In their vision of battle, the the close assault of infantry and the bayonet retained its Napoleonic prominence, in 1861 Jackson enunciated his tactical philosophy: “my opinion is that there should not be much firing at all. My idea is that the best mode of fighting is to reserve your fire until the enemy get- or until you get them- to close quarters. The deliver one deadly, deliberate fire- and charge [with the bayonet].” [9] In fact the more time that Lee worked with Jackson the more he became an adherent of the offense, requiring “large scale battles and large casualties” [10] in order to bring about a climactic victory that would secure Southern independence.

At Gettysburg, Lee was “counting on the fighting spirit- the élan, as it is called in the French army- of his officers and men to win the day.” [11] The war in Mexico had not prepared Lee for the advent of the rifle and its effect on the battlefield and despite the tactical preference for the bayonet, the use of that weapon proved rare in combat. Heroes Von Borcke, a Prussian who served under the command of Stuart wrote the “accounts of bayonet fights are current after every general engagement, and are frequently embodied in subsequent ‘histories,’ so called; but as my experience goes, bayonet-fights rarely occur, and exist only in the imagination.” [12] Russell Weigley noted that “bayonet and saber wounds combined accounted for only 922 of some 250,000 wounded treated in Union hospitals during the war.” [13] But as late as 1862 Jackson just before Second Manassas “urged the Light Division under attack to hold their fire and use their bayonets” while “Lee’s penchant for frontal attacks when flanking and enveloping maneuvers failed to secure the results he hoped for…suggests slowness on the part of this otherwise astute and even brilliant commander to appreciate the power of the new weaponry.” [14] However, that being said, in defense of Lee, Jackson and so many commanders of the Civil War, despite the predictions of Mahan 15 years prior, “had no precedent to guide them, for all intents and purposes this was a new weapon.” [15] However, that was before the war began and bitter experience and massive casualties had demonstrated the power of the new weapons, especially when used by troops in strong defensive positions.

At about 5 p.m. on July 1st Lieutenant General James Longstreet reached the battlefield ahead of his corps, the closest division being still six miles away from the battle. He joined Lee on Seminary Ridge and commenced to survey the battlefield for a period of about ten minutes. While the scene before him gave the appearance of Confederate victory, Longstreet thought otherwise and believed that the Federal troop’s position on Cemetery Hill and Ridge “was a strong one.” [16] However, Lee despite his initial hesitancy to engage the Federal army was now certain that he could follow up the success of the day, and if the Union forces which he had driven back to the hill were still there the next morning “he had plenty of fresh troops to move in behind them and finish them off.” [17] Lee believed, even without any true idea of where the rest of the Federal Army was that he would be able to defeat it in detail as each Union corps arrived on the field. But Lee had misjudged Meade’s response and the movement of the Army of the Potomac to Gettysburg, and instead of a part of that army, almost all of it would be in place on ground of Meade and his commanders choosing.

The actions of Lee and his “Old Warhorse” on Seminary Ridge are part of much of the myth of Gettysburg, and the cause of endless debate between Lee’s supporters and Longstreet’s detractors. After Longstreet surveyed the ground he was pleased. The battlefield appeared to be set up for what he believed was a repetition of the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, as he was under the assumption that Lee had promised to fight a defensive battle when contact was made. [18]

However, Longstreet was not aware of Lee’s though process on the march up. Lee had discussed the matter with Isaac Trimble on June 27th, before he discovered that Hooker had been relieved and was across the Potomac. Trimble recalled Lee’s words:

“Our army is in good spirits, not overly fatigued, and can be concentrated on any point in twenty-four hours or less….They will come up, probably through Frederick; broken down with hunger and hard marching, strung out on a long line and march demoralized, when they come into Pennsylvania. I shall throw an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, drive on corps back and another, and by successive repulses and surprises before they can concentrate; create a panic and virtually destroy the army.” [19]

Trimble’s account of Lee’s state of mind is consistent with how Lee had conducted his operations over the previous year, Lee’s watchword in nearly every encounter with Union forces was “we must destroy this army” and the “aim of his maneuvers was always the battle of annihilation.” [20]

The only record of the conversation between the two men is that of Longstreet, written in his memoirs after years of being blamed by Lee’s supporters for the loss at Gettysburg. Without that knowledge and still under the impression, or “delusion” as Clifford Dowdey wrote, [21] that Lee had accepted his idea of fighting defensive battles in Pennsylvania. He “said that “he didn’t like the look of things, and he urged quite vehemently that the Confederates avoid any attack on the union position at Gettysburg.” [22] Longstreet commented: to Lee: “We could not call the enemy to position better suited to our plans. All we do is have do is to file around his left and secure good ground between him and his capital.” [23] Thus Longstreet was stunned by Lee’s impatience with the suggestion noting that Lee said “If he is there tomorrow I will attack him.” [24] Longstreet and Lee debated the matter for a while and Longstreet replied to Lee’s comment: “If he is there, it will be because he is anxious that we would attack him- a good reason, in my judgment, for not doing so.” [25]

That conversation has ignited a debate that continues today, but both Lee and Longstreet had sound arguments to support their positions, but both were hamstrung by the absolute lack of intelligence as to where the rest of the Federal army was and Meade’s intentions. Longstreet’s strategic and tactical concepts regarding employing the tactical defensive in the offense “grew out of an appreciation of the advantages Civil War military technology gave to the side having strong defensive positions.” [26] But the course of action that he suggested to Lee was vague and impractical, he did not specify at any time whether he meant a strategic sweeping move to the south or a shorter tactical move around the Round Tops, and “Lee rightly dismissed it at the time. Without Stuart’s cavalry he could not agree to a movement into the unknown.” [27]

Those that believe that if only Longstreet’s advice to move around the enemy was followed that the Confederates would have won a victory are mistaken. One of the key errors that many military history buffs make is that they assume that if one strategy failed and another had been suggested that the neglected course of action would have brought about victory. This is the case with those who assume that if only had lee followed Longstreet’s advice he would have won the battle. That neglects the understanding that the enemy too has a say in one’s plan. Several other factors have to be considered in this. First Meade had already prepared at strong position at Pipe Creek on the Maryland Pennsylvania border, this position was actually a stronger defensive position than Gettysburg. Likewise it neglects to account for the fact that any such maneuver would have exposed Lee’s army’s flank as it was strung out on the march in front of a now concentrated Federal army, and it ignores the logistics of the move deep in enemy territory without knowledge of the enemy’s positions. Additionally and possibly more important neither Lee nor Longstreet “had no idea where this “magic” good ground could be found, and no way to look for it until Stuart arrived with the cavalry.” [28]

But while rejecting Longstreet’s advice to move around the enemy what other choices did Robert E. Lee have on the evening of July 1st 1863? Lee obviously and with good reason rejected maneuver as a possibility, but there were other options, as Porter Alexander and others have noted. Freeman and others have discussed the concern that Lee had with forage, and his fear that if he remained in place that with supplies low that “the Federals could easily block the mountain passes and limit the area in which the Southern army could forage.” [29] But this need did “not require his renewal of the battle on July 1 any more than days following….” [30] Alexander noted that it was possible “for the Confederates to have abandoned Seminary Ridge on the night of July 1 or on July 2: “The onus of the attack was on Meade….we could have fallen back on Cashtown & held the mountain passes… & popular sentiment would have forced Meade to take the aggressive.” [31]

It seems that Lee’s decision to attack on July 2nd was mistaken, despite his appraisal that “A battle had, became in a measure unavoidable, and that the success already gained gave hope of a favorable issue.” [32] But Lee’s assertion is very much a matter of his framing life and actions in the context a nearly fatalistic understanding of Divine Providence and God’s will, it was not in accordance with the facts on the ground. Lee remarked “as soon as I order my army into battle, I leave my army in the hands of God…” [33] Porter Alexander later wrote “Not fully appreciating the strength of the enemy’s position, and mislead by the hope that a large fraction of the Federal Army was out of reach, Lee had determined to strike….” [34]

Lee elected to attack again, and even when he had the knowledge that most of the Federal army had come up he continued with his attack, committing his troops to fight an enemy who had strong defensive positions, high ground and interior lines from which they could shift troops and artillery to endangered sectors. Lee had taken heavy casualties on July 1st, three of the four divisions committed had been severely blooded and two division commanders wounded and he still did not have his entire army in position. As night settled on July 1st the only decision Lee had not made was where to make his attack.

Lee’s decision to attack, even when knowing the full Federal army was on the field was an exercise of both bad strategy, hubris and the refusal to acknowledge how the battlefield had changed with the advent of the rifled musket. It showed that even a great commander and a man associated with military genius was not infallible, despite the myth of the Lost Cause and its icon, General Robert E. Lee.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.104

[2] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.104

[3] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.10

[4] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.38

[5] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 pp.154-155

[6] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.104

[7] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. p.xii

[8] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. p.xi

[9] Weigley, Russell F. American Strategy from its Beginnings to the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age edited by a Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 1986 p.428

[10] Weigley, Russell F. American Strategyp.426

[11] Korda, Michael Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Books, New York 2014 p.593

[12] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 1957 p.48

[13] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.428

[14] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.428

[15] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee p.48

[16] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.559

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.215

[18] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 pp.574-575

[19] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 pp.293-294

[20] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.427

[21] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.169

[22] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.360

[23] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in Americaoriginally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition loc. 5059

[24] Ibid. Longstreet From Manassas to Appomattox loc. 5059

[25] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.234

[26] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.360

[27] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.258

 

[28] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.561

[29] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.575

[30] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.24

[31] Ibid. Nolan R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg p.24

[32] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.575

[33] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee p.112

[34] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition loc. 7517

 

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The Gettysburg Campaign: Lee Moves North, the Battle of Brandy Station, Stuart’s Ride and the Relief of Fighting Joe Hooker

Friends of Padre Steve’s World
It is now the evening of June 29th and 151 years ago two armies, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Federal Army of the Potomac were on a course that would lead them into one of the most decisive as well as the bloodiest battle every fought on the North American continent. This is a short introduction to the movement of the armies leading up to the battle. I am in the process of doing a major revision of it as part of my Gettysburg Staff Ride text that I use to teach that at the Staff College. That being said, apart from being less academic and detail oriented than I prefer I believe that it is a nice introduction to that part of the campaign for anyone with a casual interest in this battle. I will be posting more Gettysburg articles over the next few days, including a new one for my text on Robert E. Lee’s decision to continue his attack on the night of July 1st and if I finish it in time one on Pickett’s Charge. As for the last subject I have three articles on it already, two about the artillery and one about the tragedy of friends at war, dealing with Lewis Armistead and Winfield Scott Hancock. Those are all on this site. I have been working on the article on Lee’s decision the past couple of days, hopefully I will have it completed tomorrow. But then with me it seems that nothing is ever complete when it comes to Gettysburg, I am always reading, researching and discovering new things, some of which cause me to revise previous thoughts or ideas. While in the newer articles I seek to provide as much detail as possible, I also attempt to find current application for leaders, as well as to shape a readable and interesting story. That is harder than it looks. Barbara Tuchman so eloquently wrote “Historians who stuff in every item of research they have found, every shoelace and telephone call of a biographical subject, are not doing the hard work of selecting and shaping a readable story.” To find the balance is what I seek. While this article is less detailed and sourced than my other work, it does tell the story. So until tomorrow,
Peace
Padre Steve+

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

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Lee with his Commanders at Williamsport 

Note: This is another of my preparations for for the Gettysburg Staff Ride that I will be conducting with students from the Staff College that I teach. 

On June 3rd 1863 Robert E Lee began to move his units west, away from Fredericksburg to begin his campaign to take the war to the North. He began his exfiltration moving Second Corps under Richard Ewell and First Corps under James Longstreet west. Initially he left A.P. Hill’s Third Corps at Fredericksburg to guard against any sudden advance by Hooker’s Army of the Potomac toward Richmond.

Once it was ascertained that Hooker was not making for Richmond, Hill’s Corps followed and on June 7th all three Corps were reunited at Culpepper. Lee’s movement did not go unnoticed, Hooker’s aerial observers detected the move, but Hooker after throwing pontoon bridges across the river and discovering that Hill’s…

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A Wrong Turn, a Holy Cause and Two Bullets: The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

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

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was eager to leave Sarajevo. He had opposed the empire’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina when it occurred in 1908 as a “needless provocation of the South Slavs” and their Russian supporters, he knew that the action was “a diplomatic time bomb that could go off at any time.” He had come to Bosnia to help win over the loyalty of the resentful populace and in a sense to consecrate Austrian rule over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Franz Ferdinand 

The visit included military maneuvers in the western part of the province away from Serbia to be less provocative, as well as motorcades and official visits to political officials and cultural venues. The Archduke brought with him his beloved wife, Sophie. His marriage to her was looked upon with scorn by hie father Emperor Franz Josef I and the royal family. Sophie, though a child of obscure Czech nobility she and her family were too impoverished for the Hapsburgs, likewise the relationship was scandalous because Sophie had been the lady in waiting to the Hapsburg archduchess who Franz was supposed to marry. He was forced to sign an “Oath of Renunciation” in which he declared that their children would be excluded from imperial succession.

Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo

 

Last Meeting with Sarajevo Mayor and Religious leaders 

The final day of the royal visit to the region was Sunday June 28th. The date coincided with the signature of the oath of renunciation as well as a Serbian holy day, the anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. In that battle the Turks had destroyed independent Serbia. However, that it was and still considered a symbol of national pride and resistance for Serbians, as a Serbia knight had killed Ottoman Sultan Murad I during the battle. Likewise, June 28th 1914 was the celebration of St Vitus day, or Vidovdan, the day set aside by Serbian government and religious authorities as consecrated to all those who sacrificed their lives for the faith and the fatherland. For Serbian radials and nationalists the establishment of a Greater Serbia and the liberation of Bosnia from Austria was a holy cause, that they were willing to give their lives to achieve.

The visit and itinerary had been planned and published for months, and some Serbs began planning to assassinate the Archduke. Members of the militant-terrorist group the Black Hand and its Bosnian offshoot Narodna Odbrana assisted by Serbian military officers developed plans assisted three conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, Nedjelko Chabrinovitch and Trifko Grabezh with travel, weapons and training to accomplish their mission. Once across the border and in Bosnia they linked up with other conspirators where they planned the assassination attempt.

By the final night Franz was ready to leave, and was heard to say “thank God this Bosnian trip is over.” He would have left with the Austrian Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf, but stayed because he was “warned that breaking off the Sunday program would damage Austria’s prestige in Bosnia.”

The next morning was uneventful until the Archduke’s motorcade was attacked by a local conspirator who threw a bomb which deflected off the Archduke and his car and blew up under the next car in the motorcade at 10 a.m. The Archduke stopped to check on the wounded and proceeded to city hall mayor and Christian, Moslem and Jewish religious leaders. It was an awkward meeting considering the attempt on his life and following it, he and his party left first to visit the military hospital where the wounded had been taken and then to a final luncheon, a last minute change to the itinerary, skipping a museum visit. However, the word of the route change did not reach the first two vehicles made a wrong turn, and in the confusion as the motorcade attempted to reverse course the Archduke’s vehicle stopped for a few seconds, not more than 8 feet from Princip just after 11 a.m. The Bosnia was surprised by the sudden opportunity and quickly fired two shots from his Browning FN Model 1910 pistol, one which struck Franz in the neck and the other which struck Sophie in the abdomen and by 11:30 both were dead.

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Gavrilo Princip after his arrest

In the days and weeks that followed the nations of Europe, each for their own reasons negotiated, threatened and finally mobilized for war, a war that would destroy the political order of Europe that had existed since the end of the Napoleonic wars, kill nearly 17 million people and wound 20 million more. The peace that followed was fraught with peril and followed by a second even more destructive world war in which and estimated 50 to 80 million people were killed, and millions more wounded.

The consequences of those wars, and the Cold War that followed are with us even today. Among the empires that died in the First World War was the Ottoman Empire, whose remains were divided between the English and French in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. That agreement’s arbitrary and indiscriminate redrawing of national boundaries is a large part of the reason for the current unrest in the Middle East, especially the civil war in Syria and the Sunni-Shia war in Iraq.

A wrong turn and two bullets, followed by the and the rest is a century of war, desolation and carnage. Otto von Bismarck had said that “If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans.” The results of the war caused by “some silly thing in the Balkans” are still felt, including the psychological and spiritual effects on peoples and nations. Barbara Tuchman wrote of the period after the First World War: “An event of great agony is bearable only in the belief that it will bring about a better world. When it does not, as in the aftermath of another vast calamity in 1914-18, disillusion is deep and moves on to self-doubt and self-disgust.”

It is sobering to think and reflect on how a wrong turn, a holy cause and two bullets can bring about so much death, destruction and instability.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited

Friends of Padre Steve’s World
I have spent much of the day writing another chapter of my Gettysburg tome, after which I got together with my wife and friends at our local watering hole. This article is a few years old, but like last night’s is still relevant. Look forward to some material over the weekend, including the Gettysburg article. Have a great weekend.
Peace
Padre Steve+
P.S. Yes I am watching Star Trek the Next Generation episodes on Blu Ray tonight.

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Picard being interrogated by Satie and her assistants (Paramount Pictures)

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again. Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Back in May of 2009 when still struggling with faith, belief and God as I wrestled with PTSD and a number of other life issues I wrote an article entitled Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 . At the time I was pretty much a mess but as I wrote it I realized that all of life is connected and my Christian faith does not occur in a void that has no connection with the rest of life. It is this rediscovery of the reality of faith that helps guide me now…

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Be Careful of What you Vote Against: A Warning from History

Friends of Padre Steve’s World
It has been a long but good day at work today and when I got home I caught up on some the news and found that some nutty stuff is going on in conservative evangelical punditry, stuff that just makes me shake my head. So because I am tired and I have spent the day in writing, research and working with our new students and their families I am doing a timely re-run. It is an older article but so pertinent considering some of the things that are happening, I thought that this warning from history would be a good read.
Peace and blessings
Padre Steve+

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

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

Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and…

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Inshallah Iraq (إن شاء الله) Maybe Someday things will be Better

Whenever I read about Iraq I am reminded of how much of my life has been intertwined with that country and people. As I have said on more than one occasion I left my heart in Al Anbar. Back in 2007 and 2008 things were different there. Sunni’s and Shia were at least in the Iraqi military working with Sunni tribesman cooperated with American forces to destroy or drive out the forces of Al Qaida Iraq.

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Now the group that formed out of AQI, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIL has driven Iraqi government forces from the area. Because of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s determination to exclude and marginalize he Sunnis of Al Anbar who were so important in stabilizing that region after the departure of U.S. Forces that Maliki pushed for those tribes are not resisting ISIL/ISIS or in some cases allying themselves with that group, if only to drive out Maliki, who they, as well as many Shia Iraqis despise.

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When I was there I traveled the whole province from Fallujah to the border of Syria and Jordan. With our advisors I was treated with great respect and hospitality by officers of the Iraqi Army, Border forces and civilians of all Iraqi religious sects. General Sabah of the 7th Division who hosted me to dinner and met with me a number of times, General Ali of the Habbinyah base who as we shared Chai tea showed me his well worn Arabic-English Bible which he said he loved because it contained things not in the Koran. He told me that he hoped in 5-10 years that I would be able to come to Iraq as his guest. There was the Iraqi operations officer of 2nd Brigade of 7th Division who told me after dinner that he “wished that the Iraqi Army had Christian priests” because they would take care of the soldiers and families no matter what their religion, and the Army company commander at COP South who told me that Iraqis would gladly defend Iraq against the hated Persians if Iran ever attacked. Then there was the first class of female Iraqi Police recruits, who were putting their lives and their family’s safety in danger by volunteering to serve in Ramadi, I was able to spend time with that group of brave women. Of course there were the common soldiers who when they saw me blessing American HUMMVs with Holy Water before a convoy asked me to do the same for them. Then there were the Bedouin who invited us into their tents and homes and treated us to Chia, coffee, dates and other food.

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I did see the Sunni Shia division when a Shia staff officer, the Logistics chief of the 2nd Border Brigade at Al Waleed, and a crony of Maliki was accused of selling coalition fuel to insurgents in Al Anbar. I was with our senior advisor and the new Iraqi brigade commander, a Sunni who had served in the old army who had been sent to rid the brigade of those like the logistics officer fired the man. The meeting was one of the most tense I have ever been in, it was like a meeting with a crime family, where weapons were locked and loaded and fingers on the trigger because even the Iraqi commander did not know who was friend or foe. The disgraced logistics officer on finding out I was a Priest tried to curry my favor during the meeting, quite strange and very scary. I still have nightmares and flashbacks about that meeting.

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You see for me the current conflict is quite personal, I have known too many good and decent Iraqis who in many respects are not that much different than your average American. However they have had to bear the domination of the Persian, the Turk, the British and the Americans. Have a king appointed for them by a foreign power, borders drawn to fit British and French interests, been ruled by the dictator Saddam Hussein who most admit now was better than Maliki because he was an equal opportunity oppressor determined to maintain a unified Iraqi state. They have also endured over thirty years of war or wartime conditions, including a civil war and now a war that has a good chance of destroying any hope of an unified Iraqi state. For them violence, disruption and for many being refugees or exiles has become a way of life.

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The Iraqis that I know were some of the most kind and hospitable people that I have ever met in my travels around the world. I grieve for what is happening to them and their once proud country. The towns, cities and bases that I served at have almost all been taken over by ISIL/ISIS and their allies. Fallujah, Ta’quadum, Habbinyah, Ramadi, Hit, Haditha, Al Rutba, Rawah, Al Qaim, Al Waleed, Al Turbial and so many others. Syrian and Iranian warplanes are attacking Iraqi towns and cities, including places I have spent time.

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When I left Iraq in 2008 I had hopes that the country might survive, as did many of the Iraqis that I met. I hoped one day to go back and travel to the places that I served, and maybe had the opportunity to see the gracious people that I love again. Maybe in 15 or 20 years there might, God willing be an opportunity. I hope and pray that those I know who were so good to me are safe. Until then I can only pray and hope that for them things will one day be better.

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When I think of the Iraq war and its costs I am reminded of the words of Major General Smedley Butler in his book War is a Racket: “What is the cost of war?…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….”

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For the Iraqis and us the cost will be with us for at least a generation. But I do always hope and pray that things will be better.

Inshallah (إن شاء الله)

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, News and current events

31 Years of Marriage: Thoughts of an Inept Romantic

 

meandjudy

“A toast before we go into battle. True love. In whatever shape or form it may come. May we all in our dotage be proud to say, “I was adored once too.” – Gareth Four Weddings and a Funeral

“I love you. You annoy me more than I ever thought possible, but… I want to spend every irritating minute with you.” Scrubs 

Today Judy and I celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. So I won’t be writing much except to say that I am an incredibly lucky man. I have the day off and this morning we will take our oldest dog Molly to the vet for a follow up visit about her eyes, then Lord knows what we will do. I will try to do something special for her, I am sure we will go out to dinner but I don’t know what else yet. I found out this afternoon that  what I ordered for an anniversary gift won’t get here for two months so plan worked out well.

I am a very inept romantic. Though I am very good with the English language I am not very good in how I express myself, which means that I find movies that deal with this pointedly funny.

One of my favorite movies about marriage is the classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. There are a could of great sequences in the film that kind of hit home to me. One is where Charles (Hugh Grant) is stumbling all over himself when talking to Carrie (Andie McDowell). It almost reminds me of the first time that I asked Judy out in college. I was stumbling over my words so badly that she thought I was about to ask her to marry her on the spot. I do happen to be terribly shy and back then just asking a girl to go out with me was a major adventure in fear.

Charles: Ehm, look. Sorry, sorry. I just, ehm, well, this is a very stupid question and… , particularly in view of our recent shopping excursion, but I just wondered, by any chance, ehm, eh, I mean obviously not because I guess I’ve only slept with 9 people, but-but I-I just wondered… ehh. I really feel, ehh, in short, to recap it slightly in a clearer version, eh, the words of David Cassidy in fact, eh, while he was still with the Partridge family, eh, “I think I love you,” and eh, I-I just wondered by any chance you wouldn’t like to… Eh… Eh… No, no, no of course not… I’m an idiot, he’s not… Excellent, excellent, fantastic, eh, I was gonna say lovely to see you, sorry to disturb… Better get on…

Carrie: That was very romantic.

Charles: Well, I thought it over a lot, you know, I wanted to get it just right.

The fact that Judy’s ring tone for me is the song “I think I love you” by the Partridge Family is somewhat ironic in light of both my inept attempt at romance and that scene in the movie. There is another scene in the movie that amuses me, one again because of my shyness, and I wonder if there is some truth in it.

Gareth: I’ve got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.

Charles: Uh-huh.

Gareth: Totally. I mean they can’t think of a single thing to say to each other. That’s it: panic! Then suddenly it-it occurs to the chap that there is a way out of the deadlock.

Charles: Which is?

Gareth: He’ll ask her to marry him.

Charles: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Gareth: Suddenly they’ve got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

Charles: Basically you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.

Gareth: The definitive icebreaker.

We dated for nearly five years before we got married, and got married just six days after I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant. Now 31 years later I am a Navy Commander and we are still married, which is kind of a miracle when you consider some of the things we have been through together and all the years that we have spent apart due to military assignments. I think since 1996 we have spent about ten years apart. Thankfully, since we are married we still have things we can talk about to get around that awkward pause.

But then seriously I have to agree with Agent Dana Scully in the X-Files when she said something that I totally agree with and which is true about us:

“It seems to me that the best relationships, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is… suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.”

Truthfully, I cannot imagine being with someone else. So here’s to us, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, in peace and war, may we continue to live, love and laugh together.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under marriage and relationships