Monthly Archives: February 2015

“You Must Have Faith…” RIP Leonard Nimoy

Today we lost a great human being and wonderfully actor who playing the Vulcan “Mr Spock” in Star Trek help to teach us to be better human beings. As I mentioned earlier I am on the way to Gettysburg and I found out as my iPhone lit up with news alerts. Thankfully I am not driving. 

Those who follow my writings know just how much Star Trek in all its forms means to me, it is one of the constants in my life, which along with baseball and history has helped make me who I am today. 

One of the key players in that show, who I have always had a certain fondness for was Mr Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy played a character who could have been a one dimensional caricature with a depth, sensitivity, and complex subtlety that enriched us who watched him. 

Of course Nimoy was much more than Spock, he was a tremendously gifted actor and his career even without Star Trek would have been considered quite successful. But it was his portrayal of Spock in the original series, the films that flowed from that series and his reprise of the role in Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek: Into Darkness which made him an icon of film and television, and made me look for something higher, better and more noble in life. I’m sure others who grew up with him would agree with me in that. 

I was thinking about the many things that Nimoy said, as Mr Spock as well as out of character which were so rich. One of the most fascinating is in the movie Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country where Captain Spock startles a young Vulcan Lieutenant when discussing a possible peace treaty with the Klingon Empire. 

Spock: History is replete with turning points, Lieutenant. You must have faith.” 

Valeris: Faith?

Spock: That the universe will unfold as it should

Valeris: But is that logical? Surely we must….

Spock: Logic, logic and, logic….Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, not the end…

I am a terribly logical person, I doubt at least as much and often more than I have faith. Sometimes I have a hard time getting around my logical side to believe, to have faith. Thus the exchange is something that resonates with me. 

Nimoy, as Nimoy had a profound wit, as well as wisdom. Nimoy tweeted his last tweet on February 23rd it is quite profound.

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP” 

For those who don’t get the last bit of that LLAP is the line that Spock and Nimoy are both most remembered for, live long and prosper. 

It is a fitting benediction. I shall miss him. 

Live long, and prosper.

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under faith, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, star trek

A Weekend In Gettysburg



Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Well we survived the latest iteration of the great Hampton Roads Snowmageddon 2015. I have to say  that the VDOT and local city governments did a great job in clearing the roads. 

Now I am on the way up to Gettysburg to lead the winter Staff Ride, now with an academic promotion and title of Assistant Professor. 

I love doing this, for me it is more than just looking at and studying a battle. What happened when I started teach this was that I began to study, research and write. As I did that my interst was piqued by the people who led the armies, as well as the politicians on both sides. In doing so I began to see this as more than an event, and the people as something more than caricatures with little depth who we typically only study in relation to what they did on the battlefield. Personally I think that is a terrible way to do history, I think we miss the really important stuff when we, and I am talking historians as well as laymen do that. 

So when I reach I spend a lot of time dealing with the people, their strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, character, motivations, intellect, personality, the things that give life to them. These are the things that my students can relate to because they are not just past events, but the the people in a sense serve as a mirror for us. 

When we get to Gettysburg tonight we will have some dinner and drinks at the Irish tavern doing some bonding and “table talk.” That is a wonderful way to learn, so much better that power point lectures and canned case studies. 

Anyway, I will check in over the weekend. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Living in the National Security State

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Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, in time of war the law stands silent…

James Madison wrote that “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

After September 11th 2001 the National Security State went into overdrive with the passage of the so called Patriot Act. That act opened the floodgates for an ever expanding national security state.

I have a lot of apprehension when I read the reports about the activities of the National Security Agency, other intelligence and police agencies at all levels of government and the pervasive erosion of civil rights.  The national security state and the seeming all pervasive security and surveillance apparatus which demolishes any sense of privacy, especially the protections enunciated in the Fourth Amendment and to some extent the First Amendment. Of course the use of similar methods by the private sector, often in conduction with government agencies is another concern, but that needs to wait for another day.

I also understand from history and empirical evidence that many others, many from unfriendly countries do not share those apprehensions. Many of these competitors are willing to use whatever openness that we have as a society against us, using similar technology and methods used by our intelligence, police, governmental and private sector. It makes for an ethical, legal and even constitutional conundrum. I know that I am not comfortable with this, and perhaps maybe none of us should be.

It is very easy on one hand in light of history, our Constitution and democratic process to condemn the NSA, the FISA courts and other lawfully constituted agencies and those that drafted the laws over the decades that allow the activities which they now conduct. The same can be said of foreign intelligence agencies which all engage in similar activities including the British GCHQ, the German Bundesnachrichtendienst and so many others including the Chinese and Russians.

Likewise it is equally easy in light of history, current events and national security concerns for people to jump to the other side of the fence and not only defend the activities of the NSA and agencies like it, and to demonize those that protest or expose such activities.

When I see the talking heads on cable news shows defending or condemning such activities and not agonizing over the complexity and issues involved I get worried. Because there are legitimate concerns voiced by critics as well as defenders. But since we live in an era of soundbites, gotcha and half-truths being portrayed as all truth I find it helpful to use either historical examples, literature or fiction, and even science fiction to wrestle with the fundamental truths. So I find looking at such issues through the prism of Star Trek sometimes more interesting and provocative than simply doing the whole moralizing pundit thing.

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There was an episode of  Star Trek Deep Space Nine that aired well before the events of 9-11-2001, and the subsequent Global War on Terror, that I find fascinating. The episode deals with a secretive agency in Starfleet operating in the gray areas between the laws and ideals of the Federation and the threats that the Federation faces. Even when the Federation is a peace, Section 31, as it is called is engaged in activities against historic or potential enemies. In a way it is somewhat like the NSA or the Defense Intelligence Agency.

At the beginning of the Deep Space Nine Episode Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges the head of Section 31, a man only known as Sloan comes back Doctor Julia Bashir to involve him in an clandestine operation. An operation to on the Romulans who at this point are a Federation ally against the Dominion.

Sloan makes his approach and Bashir, who expresses his reservations:

BASHIR: You want me to spy on an ally.

SLOAN: To evaluate an ally. And a temporary ally at that. I say that because when the war is over, the following will happen in short order. The Dominion will be forced back to the Gamma Quadrant, the Cardassian Empire will be occupied, the Klingon Empire will spend the next ten years recovering from the war and won’t pose a serious threat to anyone. That leaves two powers to vie for control of the quadrant, the Federation and the Romulans.

BASHIR: This war isn’t over and you’re already planning for the next.

SLOAN: Well put. I hope your report is equally succinct.

BASHIR: How many times do I have to tell you, Sloan? I don’t work for you.

SLOAN: You will. It’s in your nature. You are a man who loves secrets. Medical, personal, fictional. I am a man of secrets. You want to know what I know, and the only way to do that is to accept the assignment.

I find the exchange both illuminating and riveting. The fact is that in the situation we face today the arguments of both sides should make us very uncomfortable.

Whether we like it or not or not, the incredibly rapid technical and communication advances of the past couple of decades have primed us for our present conundrum of liberty and privacy or security. That technology, as wonderful as it is  has enabled a generation to grow up in a virtual world in many ways detached from the moral and ethical balances between individual rights and liberties as well responsibility to community.

All the wonderful gadgets that we employ in everyday life, make it easy for enemies and “friends” to do things that were unimaginable to people other than science fiction writers even twenty to thirty years ago. Likewise they were certainly beyond the wildest imaginations of any of the founders who drafted Constitution.

The reality is, the things that make are lives so easy are also the things that have the potential to remove the very liberties that we treasure, either by our enemies using them, or those that defend us.

The truth is, that throughout history, even our own there have been operatives within the government in charge of secrets, as well as spies. In the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode we see an operation that is full of duplicity and moral ambiguity all committed in the name of security. I won’t go into the details because it is too full of twists, and turns, you can read the plot of the episode at Memory Alpha.org http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Inter_Arma_Enim_Silent_Leges_%28episode%29

There is an exchange between Dr. Bashir and Admiral Ross of Starfleet command which is very enlightening because it practically mirrors how many on both the civil liberties and the national security side of the current controversy feel about the War on Terror.

BASHIR: You don’t see anything wrong with what happened, do you.

ROSS: I don’t like it. But I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life ordering young men and young women to die. I like that even less.

BASHIR: That’s a glib answer and a cheap way to avoid the fact that you’ve trampled on the very thing that those men and women are out there dying to protect! Does that not mean anything to you?

ROSS: Inter arma enim silent leges.

BASHIR: In time of war, the law falls silent. Cicero. So is that what we have become? A twenty fourth century Rome driven by nothing more than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong!

ROSS: This conversation never happened.

In light of the controversy of today regarding the NSA, FISA Courts, government secrecy and intelligence gathering information on its own citizens, as well as allies, friends and and enemies we face a growing tide of reporters and others seeking to reveal those secrets. Back in 1989 ethicist Sissela Bok wrote something very important in her book Secrets: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life:

“…as government secrecy expands, more public officials become privy to classified information and are faced with the choice of whether or not to leak … growing secrecy likewise causes reporters to press harder from the outside to uncover what is hidden. And then in a vicious circle, the increased revelations give government leaders further reasons to press for still more secrecy.”

As we wade through the continuing controversy surrounding these issues we will see people do exactly what Bok said. These are the exact arguments are being made by the people and officials directly involved in such activities, as well as former elected and appointed officials, and members of the press.

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The interesting thing to me is that very few of the people or agencies, past and present, Republican and Democrat involved have clean hands. It is amazing to see former champions of civil liberties defend the NSA actions and those that empowered the NSA in the Patriot Act now condemn it. I find it both fascinating and frightening.

At the end of the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode the mysterious Sloan pops back in on Doctor Bashir who is in his quarters, asleep and depressed by what he experienced during the operation on Romulus and with Admiral Ross.

SLOAN: Good evening.

BASHIR: Are you expecting applause? Have you come to take a bow?

SLOAN: I just wanted to say thank you.

BASHIR: For what? Allowing you to manipulate me so completely?

SLOAN: For being a decent human being. That’s why we selected you in the first place, Doctor. We needed somebody who wanted to play the game, but who would only go so far. When the time came, you stood your ground. You did the right thing. You reached out to an enemy, you told her the truth, you tried to stop a murder. The Federation needs men like you, Doctor. Men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You’re also the reason Section Thirty one exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong.

BASHIR: Should I feel sorry for you? Should I be weeping over the burden you’re forced to carry in order to protect the rest of us?

SLOAN: It is an honor to know you, Doctor. Goodnight.

We live in this kind of world and maybe it is good to sometimes step back and look at issues using a different prism. I really don’t have the answers. I am a civil libertarian who places a high value on the openness of a government to its people. I also know that there are those that have no regard for such openness or, to quote Sloan don’t “share your sense of right and wrong.”

Maybe that is not a good answer. I really don’t know. All I know is that as uncomfortable as this all is that those on both sides of the issue have valid points and concerns. It is a debate that needs to happen if we are able to balance that a society needs to balance individual rights and responsibility to the community; openness and secrecy; civil liberties and national security.

But that being said. it is a debate that needs to happen, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I for one think that it is better that we be uncomfortable when looking at such an important debate than to be prisoners of our certitude.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, national security, Political Commentary, star trek

Traumatic Truths

motivational pictures

A few years ago I attended a conference about spirituality and trauma conducted by Dr. Robert Grant. I highly recommend his book The Way of the Wound if you have either been affected by trauma in any way, or if you deal as a professional counselor, therapist, or pastoral care giver. The fact is that we all experience difficult times and very often trauma is at the heart of them.

During that seminar he went through a number of things and going back through my notes I decided to pull some of them out, you can note some of my dark humor and sarcasm, not that there is anything wrong with that…. But really all kidding aside these are abiding truths and they can be both uncomfortable and comforting at the same time. To me they actually help make sense of the world.

Back when I was in seminary and in  my early years of ministry, in fact up until the time I landing in Iraq, I was filled with a lot of certitude. I can’t say that now, I have faith but I doubt at least as much as I believe. As baseball great Earl Weaver said: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 

So here are some truths, and as Oscar Wilde noted “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Everyone Dies…. We can’t get around this one a recent study said that 96% of Americans will die someday.

Despite my snarkey comment the fact is that we live in a culture that denies death, while death is such an integral part of life.

No Guarantees…. We are not guaranteed anything in this life. You can live right, maintain good health, treat others right but still can meet with tragedy, betrayal and abandonment. 

We all know people, very good people who do all the right things and despite that still experience trauma and tragedy.

No one can cover all contingencies…. No matter how well we plan there will be unanticipated events in life that shred our plans.  The old saying that “no plan ever survives contact with the enemy” is true.

Now be assured I do believe in planning, including thinking about contingencies, and I do this pretty well. That being said there is seldom a week that goes by where I do not experience something that gums up my plans.

The things that we sometimes believe are solid and long lasting are often transitory in nature…. Even things that we think are solid and will last to the end of time change, deteriorate or dissolve over time.

Need I say more about this?

We and our world are finite…. We have a beginning and an end and our finiteness is sandwiched between the creation and the consummation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about “living in the uncomfortable middle.” Bonhoeffer was right, we don’t know the beginning because we were not there and we do not know the end because it has not yet happened.

This thought by Bonhoeffer one drives a lot of people crazy, especially religious people who have to try to prove things that they cannot prove.

Evil and malevolence exists in individuals, organizations and systems, even those that we esteem highly…. One only has to look at the number of trusted people and organizations that have perpetrated and covered up their own evil acts to know the truth of this. 

I believe in the goodness of most people, but I am also a realist, evil and malevolence is all too real and all to much a part of our world. Until we get that, we will never understand those that commit evil, especially those that do so in the name of God.

So anyway, since we are getting ready for another big winter storm I will close for the day. Tomorrow we’ll see what I put out, until then I think that I just might drink beer instead.

Peace and blessings

Padre Steve+

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People Matter: Thoughts on History & Biography

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English historian and military theorist Colin Gray noted that “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, especially in the matter of war.

I think one of the sad things about history is that many authors, especially in military history, but other areas as well, seem to treat the participants as bit players in a series of events, rather than a prism from which to understand and view history.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had students, and even colleagues tell me that history is dry, boring and uninteresting to them.  I will not condemn them, for certainly if it is that is case, it is not their fault, but rather those who write and teach history. If all history is, is arbitrary dates, lists of disconnected events and names of people, without any context to their lives, why should they care about it?

When I first began to study history I was much more concerned about events than people. However, over the past couple of years I have began to develop what I call my philosophy of history. That has come about through my study of the events leading to the American Civil War and in particular my study of the Battle of Gettysburg, but also in other historical events such as the Arab Revolt of 1917, and the French adventures in Indochina and Algeria.

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. The same style of writing is found in hacks like David Barton and Bill O’Reilly for whom truth matters less than profit and propaganda value.

Such is not history. Neither is history which is designed to support a particular ideology, be it political, religious, or economic. Such is not history, but propaganda. When I see people, in this country forbidding the teaching of history because it is not patriotic enough I want to scream. It is like I watching the propagandists of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, or any of many ( that rhymed nicely) other nations that used ideology or religion to supress history that didn’t meet their definition of “patriotic.” But then I digress…

My gut feeling says that such artificial divisions between history and biography do a disservice to the reader.  I take a tremendous pleasure in writing, and I like to try to communicate and interpret facts, which is indeed the vocation of the historian, in a manner that makes them interesting. What I am finding is that when telling the stories of events we must also tell the stories of the people who make these events.

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman

In my writing now I attempt to bring the prism of the biography into the events that I write about.

I had a fellow faculty member note that he liked what I wrote about Gettysburg because it was more than just the events, it was the personal connection he felt to the people.

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.

Image found that the complexities and contradictions of the subjects of history, the people help me understand the events more than anything. That is a “warts and all comment.” I think my epiphanies came in reading about the lives, as well at writings of men like T.E. Lawrence and Gouvereur Warren whose triumphs, struggles, weaknesses and injuries mirror my own. In learning about these men as people, in the context of what they accomplished helps me to understand their history and the era that they lived far more than simply recounting how they influenced a battle.

I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layers and often contradictory. My heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about more fascinating, because then I gain a holistic perspective and develop an empathy for them. Even good and honorable people who find themselves due to race, religion, or nationality fighting for an evil cause, or evil people fighting for a good cause. If you are trapped by ideological or religious certitude that may confuse or even offend you, but it is a part of the human condition. That my friends is history.

Barbara Tuchman noted “that if the historian needs to submit himself to his or her material instead of trying to impose himself on his material, then the material will ultimately speak to him and supply the answers.” 

This is very important, because when we do this we discover the answers to the why questions, the why questions that are often very uncomfortable, yet necessary if we want to discover truth.

I know that I can find connections in the strengths as well as their weaknesses of people that I admire.  Thus when I see ordinary people taking part in events, for good or for evil,I can say that given the same set of circumstances that that could be me. Context matters, nuance matters, people matter. If we do not understand that, history becomes nothing more than a set of manipulate facts that can be used to buttress the most evil of

I do plan on developing these thoughts over the coming weeks and months, but for now it will suffice to say that when I write about history, that people matter.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Southern Justice and Its Relevance Today

NormanRockwellSouthernJustice-1Southern Justice- Norman Rockwell 1965

I have been writing about the continued problem of racism and hatred in this country, as well as in others lately. Fifty years ago, three young men working to register blacks to vote as part of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The three men were idealists who would all die because they fought for the right of Blacks to vote harassment and intimidation.

Twenty year old Andrew Goodman from New York City, was a progressive activist and Anthropology student at Queens College. Twenty-four year old Mickey Schwerner was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish. Twenty-one year old James Chaney was from Meridian Mississippi and was a volunteer with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equity working on voter registration and education with local churches.

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The Ruins of Mount Zion Church

On June 21st 1964 the three men were investigating the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale. They had been working with the church  to assist in registering blacks to vote.  In the wake of their visit to the town and to the church, the local Klan, which included many men of influence, including those in law enforcement sought to lure CORE workers into the town to make an example of them. They did this by upping the ante and instigated a campaign to harass, attack and brutalize the black citizens and church members. They then burned the church to the ground.

 

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The three went to the site on June 20th and were arrested for an alleged traffic violation. They were then jailed and released later in the evening without being allowed to make any phone calls. On the way back to Meridian, two carloads of Klan members forced them over, abducted them and killed them. The bodies were buried at the base of a dam and not discovered for 44 days.

Cecil Price, a deputy Sheriff involved in the arrest was one of the murderers. He was one of the men later convicted of their murder. After the killing he told his helpers:

“Well, boys, you’ve done a good job. You’ve struck a blow for the white man. Mississippi can be proud of you. You’ve let those agitating outsiders know where this state stands. Go home now and forget it. But before you go, I’m looking each one of you in the eye and telling you this: “The first man who talks is dead! If anybody who knows anything about this ever opens his mouth to any outsider about it, then the rest of us are going to kill him just as dead as we killed those three sonofbitches (sic) tonight. Does everybody understand what I’m saying. The man who talks is dead, dead, dead!”

The disappearance of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman brought national attention and a major investigation to the town. Eventually seven men, including deputy Price were convicted of the murders. The murders and the investigation became the subject of the movie Mississippi Burning.

In 1965 Norman Rockwell, well known for his portraits of American life and the Civil Rights movement painted “Southern Justice” which is sometimes known as “Murder in Mississippi”  This was not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which has been under attack in many southern states over the past decade and had a key provision gutted by the Supreme Court last year.

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50 years ago the murders of these three young men brought national attention to the pervasive racism and discrimination in the country. Until this incident most of the murders, lynching’s and burnings of homes, businesses, and even churches had been covered up by the media and law enforcement.  Frankly, a black life wasn’t worth investigating or the air time.

I do hope and pray that we never go back to those days, but as laws are passed to limit voting rights in various states I wonder if the clock is being turned back. I don’t think that it will in the long run these efforts to disenfranchise blacks, other minorities, students and the working poor will be successful, but we can never assume that. Freedom always hangs in the balance and it can be lost when we do nothing. The Klan is still active, and sadly its hatred for Blacks, immigrants, Jews, Moslems, Catholics, and Gays, or for that matter anyone who stands against them has spread to others not traditionally affiliated with the Klan.

Some might say that it has been fifty-years, that things have changed, so why bother bringing up the past? I’ll tell you why, because freedom is always under siege, and the sacrifice of so many, including these three young men, for those rights should never be forgotten.

In memory of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner and others of the Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights movement who died or suffered to peacefully bring about change to our society.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the Miracle on Ice

We all remember where we were when tragedy happened.  No one can forget where they were when John or Bobby Kennedy or the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. Likewise few can forget where they were when the Space Shuttles Challenger or Columbia, blew up or where they were during the the events of September 11th 2001.

Tragedy we remember well, but good news not so much.

But, despite the fact that good news is not always as memorable as tragedy there are some good news stories that make a lasting mark.

Back in 1980 there was one of those sentinel events. I am sure that if you were alive back then that you remember it well.

I am speaking about the victory of the US hockey team, Team USA over the Soviet team at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid New York. Some might be prone to dismiss this as merely a sporting event with little relevance, but the context of an event makes all the difference. English historian and military theorist Colin Gray wrote “Wars are not free floating events, sufficient unto themselves as objects for study and understanding. Instead, they are entirely the product of their contexts.” 

I like what Gray said, but I think that we can expand it to other historical events, not just war. If this was just a stand alone hockey game with would have little meaning. There are times when underdogs win championships and defeat heavily favored perennial champions. Most of those times, except for the devoted fans these events pass into relative obscurity and pop-up from time to time on an ESPN special. This event is much more important than a remarkable sporting event.

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Back in 1980 times were tough in the United States, recession, double digit inflation, 20% interest rates, a gas crisis, as well as the residual effects of the Vietnam War created a specter of anxiety for many people.

Even as the domestic economic lurched from crisis to crisis the United State was reeling  and the humiliation that the Iranians were inflicting on the United States on a daily basis following the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran and a seemingly unending hostage crisis. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was yet another thumb in the eye of the United States.

So as the United States prepared to host the Winter Games at Lake Placid New York there was not much to cheer about. The country was mired in political crisis as the sitting President Jimmy Carter was continually at odds with his own Democratic Party and to all appeared weak in dealing with the Soviets, their satellites or the Iranians. When Cater made his “malaise” speech in July 1979 the reaction around the country and world was I was less than positive. I was in the UK touring as a spotlight tech with a  singing group and the reaction of the Brits and other Europeans was ridicule of the President, and pity for the United States. It seemed to many that the United States had hit bottom and was not coming up any time soon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fztlLwgSFCg (highlights and live call)

In 1980 Team USA was nothing more than a bunch of American college kids playing teams of Warsaw pact professional all-stars from powerhouse teams such as the Soviet Red Army team.  The Soviets had dominated international hockey since 1956 and with the exception of the US Gold Medal team of 1960 had won every Olympic gold since that time. In 1980 the Soviets were once again expected to win Olympic Gold.

When it came to the American hockey team no one expected much, with the exception of head coach Herb Brooks.  Brooks and his collection of college players, a number of whom would later become stars in the NHL, began their time together inauspiciously conducting a 61 game exhibition tour against teams from around the world.  On February 9th in the final game leading up to the Olympics  the Americans faced the Soviets at Madison Square Garden and were blown out by a score of 10-3 by the Soviet team.  In the lead up to the Olympics the Soviets toured North America and played against NHL teams. The Soviet team went  5-3-1 against their NHL teams.  The previous year a Soviet team had shut out an NHL All-Star team 6-0.

When the Olympic completion began the Soviets as was expected dominated their opponents in the preliminary round going 5-0 and outscoring their opponents 51-10.  The United States surprised everyone tying Sweden 2-2 with a last minute goal and then stunning a highly favored Czech team 7-3 before defeating Norway, Romania and West Germany to advance to the medal round.

Brooks practiced the team hard as they prepared for the Soviets who they were scheduled to meet in the opening round of the medal competition. A loss for the Americans would force them to play for Bronze and no one expected the Americans to defeat the Soviets. Yet when the day came the Lake Placid Field House was packed with 8500 fans decked out in Red White and Blue, American flags displayed everywhere and the crowd spontaneously singing “God Bless America.”  Unfortunately because the Soviets refused to allow a later start time the game was not televised live nor broadcast live on the radio in the States.

On February 22nd I had finished work making and rolling pizza dough at Shakey’s Pizza in Stockton, went home showered and then got in my car to head over to Judy’s house.  On my way over I was listening to the radio when ABC radio broke in to air the last minute of the game live. I was listening as Al Michaels made the famous call “Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

I could not believe it and was screaming with joy and wild abandon in the car. As soon as I got to Judy’s I went in and told her and her parents When the game came on I watched it with undivided attention and to this day I cannot forget that night.  The Americans had beaten the vaunted Soviet team 4-3 and would go on to defeat Finland in the Gold medal game 4-2.  The next day they were guests at the White House and after that the team broke up.  13 players would go on to NHL careers, Brooks would lead the 2002 Team USA to a Silver in 2002 before being killed in a car crash in 2003.

The Soviet people and their news media were stunned by the loss and the fact that the Soviet Team won Silver by defeating Sweden 9-2 the team had lost its luster.  While it remained dominant until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990 it was the end of an era.  Today many Russian players star in the NHL and live in the United States even after their careers.

That team and its members did something that no one expected in defeating the Soviets and going on to win the Gold medal against the Finns. No one could have expected the effect on the country either. It was a miracle, a miracle on ice.

Thirty-five years later the triumph of Team USA against all odds on that night is remembered as an event nearly unequaled in sports history as well as contemporary American history.  That game actually marked a return of pride to the country after a decade of discontent, defeat and discouragement.

Some people, especially those on the political right in their Reagan myth, mistakenly give Ronald Reagan the credit for turning around the attitude of the country in the 1980s. I don’t think that they could be more wrong. It wasn’t Reagan or any other politician, it was the 1980 American Olympic hockey team that made us believe again.

That is why this event meant so much more than a a game.

I don’t know about you, but I still believe in miracles.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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