Category Archives: Korean Conflicts

Military Civil Rights Pioneers, Buffalo Soldier & the Red Tail: Benjamin O. Davis Senior and Junior

Benjamin_o_davis

Brigadier General Benjamin O Davis in France 1944

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his I Have a Dream speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave all of us a vision of what can and in spite of what I see going on today will be the future of the people of this country:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

American History would not be the same without the life, work and prophetic ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was born in a time when most of the country was segregated when “separate by equal” was simply façade to cover the lie that in no way did African Americans have equal rights or privileges in the United States.

Dr King was born less than 60 years after the secession of the Southern states from the Union and the beginning of the American Civil War. Though that blood conflict had freed the slaves it had not freed African Americans from prejudice, violence and discrimination.  When Dr. King began his ministry and was thrust upon the national stage as the strongest voice for equal rights and protections for blacks the discrimination and violence directed towards blacks was a very real and present reality in much of the United States.

However there were cracks beginning to appear in the great wall of segregation in the years preceding Dr. King’s ascent to leadership as the moral voice of the country in the matter of racial equality. In baseball Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in Major League Baseball opening a door for others who would become legends of the game as well as help white America begin its slow acceptance of blacks in sports and the workplace.

Likewise the contributions of a father and son Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. were advancing the cause of blacks in the military which eventually led to the desegregation of the military in 1948.  The impact of these two men cannot be underestimated for they were trailblazers who by their lives, professionalism and character blazed a trail for African Americans in the military as well as society.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was a student at Howard University when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor.  He volunteered for service and was commissioned as a temporary 1st Lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry. He was mustered out of service in 1899 but enlisted as a private in the 9th United States Cavalry one of the original Buffalo Soldiers regiments.  He enlisted as the unit clerk of I troop of 3rd Squadron and was promoted to be the squadron Sergeant Major.

Davis was commissioned while the unit was deployed to the Philippines and assigned to the 10th Cavalry.  He was assigned in various positions throughout his career including command, staff and instruction duties including as Professor of Military Science and Tactics in various ROTC programs.  He reached the rank of rank of temporary Lieutenant Colonel and Squadron Commander of 3rd and later 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry from 1917-1920 in the Philippines before reverting to the rank of Captain on his return as part of the post World War I reduction in force.

Davis continued to serve during the inter-war years and assumed command of the 369th Infantry Regiment New York National Guard in 1938. He was promoted to Brigadier General on 25 October 1940 becoming the first African American elevated to that rank in the United States Army and was assigned as Commander 4th Brigade 2nd Cavalry Division. He later served in various staff positions at the War Department and in France and was instrumental in the integration of the U.S. Military. He retired after 50 years service in 1948 in a public ceremony with President Harry S. Truman presiding. He was a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission from 1953-1961 and died in 1970.

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Colonel Davis with his son Cadet Benjamin O Davis Jr.

His son Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was appointed to West Point in 1932.  He graduated and was commissioned in 1936 graduating 35 out of 278, the fourth African American graduate of West Point. During his time at the Academy most of his classmates shunned him and he never had a roommate.  Despite this he maintained a dogged determination to succeed.  The Academy yearbook made this comment about him:

“The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.”

He was denied entrance to the Army Air Corps because of his race and assigned to the Infantry first to the all lack 24th Infantry Regiment at Ft Benning where he was not allowed in the Officers Club due to his race. Upon his commissioning the Regular Army had just 2 African American Line Officers, 2nd Lieutenant Davis and his father Colonel Davis.

After completion of Infantry School he was assigned as an instructor of Military Science and Tactics and the Tuskegee Institute.  In 1941 the Roosevelt Administration moved to create a black flying unit and Captain Davis was assigned to the first black class at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and in March 1942 one his wings as one of the first 5 African Americans to complete flight training.

In July 1942 the younger Davis was assigned as Commanding Officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron which served in North Africa and Sicily flying Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. He was recalled to the United States in September 1943 to command the 332ndFighter Group. However some senior officers attempted to prevent other black squadrons from serving in combat alleging that the 99th had performed poorly in combat. Davis defended his squadron and General George Marshall ordered an inquiry which showed that the 99th was comparable to white squadrons in combat and during a 2 day period over the Anzio beachhead the pilots of the 99thshot down 12 German aircraft.

davis Library of congress photo public domain

Colonel Benjamin O Davis Jr (left) with one of his Tuskegee Airmen

Davis took the 332nd to Italy where they transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts and in July 1944 to the P-51 Mustang which were marked with a signature red tail. During the war, the units commanded by Davis flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 111 enemy planes, and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground at a cost of 66 of their own planes.

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Their record against the Luftwaffe was outstanding and their protection of the bombers that they escorted was superb with very few bombers lost while escorted by them men that the Luftwaffe nicknamed the Schwarze Vogelmenschen and the Allies the Red-Tailed Angels or simply the Redtails. Davis led his Tuskegee Airmen to glory in the war and their performance in combat helped break the color barrier in the U.S. Military which was ended in 1948 when President Truman signed an executive order to end the segregation of the military. Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan and the Air Force was the first of the services to fully desegregate.

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Lieutenant General Benjamin O Davis Jr

Colonel Davis transitioned to jets and led the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing against Chinese Communist MIGs in the Korean War.

Davis Leading a Flight of F-86 Super Sabers in Korea 

He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954 and served in numerous command and staff positions. He retired in 1970 with the rank of Lieutenant General and was advanced to General while retired by President Clinton in 1998.  He died in 2002 at the age of 89.

The legacy of Benjamin O. Davis Senior and Benjamin O. Davis Junior is a testament to their character, courage and devotion to the United States of America. They helped pioneer the way for officers such as General Colin Powell and helped change this country for the better.  During times when discrimination was legal they overcame obstacles that would have challenged lesser men.  Benjamin O. Davis Junior remarked:

“My own opinion was that blacks could best overcome racist attitudes through achievements, even though those achievements had to take place within the hateful environment of segregation.”

Such men epitomize the selfless service of so many other African Americans who served the country faithfully and “by the content of their character” triumphed over the evil of racism and helped make the United States a more perfect union. That may seem threatened today with the open display of White Supremacy movements which are now openly being supported by many Republican politicians, at all levels of government. However, it was worse before and in the words of the old spiritual, “we shall overcome.” In days like ours it may seem not to be the case, but we must persevere.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Unfolding of Miscalculations: Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump on the Bubble

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As we approach the seventy-six anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into the Second World War I am becoming ever more concerned with the situation on the Korean Peninsula. This is in large part because I believe that when different officials from the President, to his UN Ambassador, his National Security Advisor, and senior Senators begin to speak openly of the increased chances of armed conflict while increasing military drills and presence that war is more likely than not.

I’m a historian and my studies of the path to war in the 20th and 21st centuries is full of bluster and full of miscalculations on both sides of any conflict. That includes the years and months leading to Pearl Harbor when the Japanese leadership decided upon war when a host of other diplomatic and economic options were still viable. In our day the North Korean leadership could chose the logical course of action to expand economic activists with China, Japan, and South Korea while engaging the United States in diplomatic efforts. Instead they seem intent on provoking an American President who is equally intent on throwing diplomatic and economic courses of actions to the wind in favor of a military option.

This is not a good situation and I really do think that the odds are far more favorable to war breaking out by this time next year if not far sooner as Kim Jong Un pushes the envelope on his ICBM and nuclear programs.

When war comes, and I really do think that it will, it will be because Lil’ Kim, President Trump and their advisors made numerous miscalculations. I really don’t think that either party wants to bring about war, but the miscalculations are too troubling to ignore. Someone is going to slip up. As Barbara Tuchman wrote: War is the unfolding of miscalculations.

As for me I hope that at least one sane member of the Trump Administration has the moral courage to find a way to stop, delay, or turn North Korea into a friend before things get too out of hand. Sadly, I don’t think that that is going to happen.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

“The Unfolding of Miscalculations” With Fire and Fury…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

While I have been on leave I have been re-reading Barbara Tuchman’s classic work on the outbreak of the First World War, The Guns of August. I find a a fitting read for our time, not because there are exact parallels between that era and today, but because human beings are remarkably consistent in times of crisis. Tuchman wrote: “One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”

Yesterday after I got back to our friends house after taking Izzy on a four mile walk through Huntington’s Ritter Park I learned that President Trump had warned North Korea, following an announcement that it had now produced nuclear weapons small enough to be mounted on a missile, that if it did not stop threatening the United States that it would be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before…” 

Not long afterward the North Koreans announced that they were examine a plan to attack the American territory of Guam and the bases, which house some of the long ranger bombers used by the United States to buttress its defense of the Pacific it with ballistic missiles. 

The rhetoric and preparations on both sides are continuing to mount and there is a real possibility that either Trump or his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jung Un could miscalculate the will of the other and provoke a regional, and maybe World War. Threats of preemptive strikes, which the North Koreans habitually make, and President Trump alluded to yesterday can easily cause on side or the other to want to strike first and precipitate a war that no-one can really win. As Kathy Gilsinin wrote in The Atlantic in April: “When two leaders each habitually bluster and exaggerate, there’s a higher likelihood of making a catastrophic mistake based on a bad guess.” 

Most Americans are clueless as to what that would mean and I don’t think that the understand how many millions of people would die, and how much the country would be devastated by such a war, especially if it involved nuclear weapons. Secretary of Defense James Mattis understands. He told CBS’s John Dickerson, “A conflict in North Korea would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.” In June he told the House Appropriations Committee: “It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953… It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” but “we would win at great cost.” 

Of course people from across the political, and even the religious spectrum are weighing in on the situation, especially the President’s words to meet future North Korean threats with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Of course some of his supporters like Trump’s de-facto Reichsbischof, Pastor Robert Jeffress are all in favor of war. Jeffrey’s said when asked about Trump’s remarks “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.” It is always comforting to know that prominent Christians like Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals are the cheerleaders of any war party. 

Many others on both sides of the political divide including Senator John McCain, have pointed to the danger that the Presidents comments pose. McCain said:  “I don’t know what he’s saying and I’ve long ago given up trying to interpret what he says.” He added, “That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure how it helps.” He observed, “I take exception to the president’s words because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do.”

In an interview the discredited Trump advisor, Sebastian Gorka, who has ties to Hungarian Fascist organizations, did what all good servants of totalitarian leaders do, paint the opposition as unpatriotic and disloyal to the country:

“It saddens me,” Gorka said. “We need to come together. And anybody, whether they’re a member of Congress, whether they’re a journalist, if you think that your party politics, your ideology, trumps the national security of America, that’s an indictment of you, and you need to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what’s more important: my political party or America. There’s only one correct answer.”

Of course the opponents of what the President said were not arguing against our national security but for it. The President’s words were dangerous, not because he drew a line in the sand, but because of the parameters of his threat. Instead of being specific and saying if the North Koreans conducted another nuclear test, tested another long range missile, or made a specific kind of military action, he threatened fire and fury if North Korea issued a threat to the United States, which they did a few hours later against the American forces on Guam, a threat that was not met with fire and fury. 


By threatening fire and fury the President continues to remind people that he is prone to speaking loudly and making great exaggerations, but doing little of substance. Throughout his business career and public life often makes bad “gut” decisions because he prefers to go with his gut rather than hard data or facts. His four corporate bankruptcies demonstrate that all too well. Likewise, his habitual tendencies to lie and exaggerate have already proven detrimental to U.S. foreign policy because world leaders do not believe that he can be trusted. 

Deterrence only works if people believe that a leader or country will do what it says. That was a hallmark of the Cold War, despite their threats both the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union understood each other. That understanding was instrumental in defusing the threat of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and on a number of other occasions when computer or radar systems gave false alerts which could have resulted in missile launches and war had both sides not understood each other. 

The problem is that the Kim Jung Un and President Trump appear to be very similar in temperament. They bluster and exaggerate, they demand absolute loyalty, and they are paranoid and narcissistic. They are are not deep thinkers, their closest advisers tend to be sycophants who praise their greatness and refuse to give them bad news or present contrary views. History shows us that such tendencies does not bode well for peace. When I see them act out their drama I am reminded of Tuchman’s descriptions of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in the years leading up to World War I. Of Nicholas Tuchman wrote:

“The regime was ruled from the top by a sovereign who had but one idea of government—to preserve intact the absolute monarchy bequeathed to him by his father—and who, lacking the intellect, energy, or training for his job, fell back on personal favorites, whim, simple mulishness, and other devices of the empty-headed autocrat.”

Of Wilhelm she noted how he told 300 visitors at a State banquet in Berlin, that his uncle, English King Edward VII was: “He is Satan. You cannot imagine what a Satan he is!” As Tuchman wrote: “The Kaiser, possessor of the least inhibited tongue in Europe, had worked himself into a frenzy ending in another of those comments that had periodically over the past twenty years of his reign shattered the nerves of diplomats.” 

Character and temperament matter more than anything when nations teeter on the brink of war. Neither Trump, nor Kim Jung Un possess an ounce of character and their mercurial temperaments only add to the danger of war. On the American side we have to hope that some of the President’s more level headed advisers can reign him in, as far as the North Koreans, one doesn’t know what to hope for or expect. Tuchman wrote in her biography of General Joseph Stillwell that “History is the unfolding of miscalculations.” 

I only wonder what miscalculation will be next. 

Until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+


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Filed under Foreign Policy, Korean Conflicts, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

“No More Dangerous Thing for a Democracy…”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some times when my education and experience as a historian and ethicist. Last week was one of those times as I watched Secretary of State Tillerson and President Trump raise the specter of preventive war on the Korean peninsula. Combined with the evisceration of the State Department and other levers of “soft power” in the Trump budget proposal and the President’s near total commitment to military force as the preferred option in foreign policy it makes me believe that we will be in a substantial and potentially devastating war in terms of lives, treasure, and moral standing, if not in Korea, somewhere else in the world within the next couple of years.

I do seriously hope that I am wrong, but I do not see patience, prudence, or wisdom as strengths of the Trump Presidency in either domestic or foreign policy. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote: “There is no more dangerous thing for a democracy than a foreign policy based on presidential preventive war,” but it appears that this is the foreign policy of the Trump administration.

Preventive war is also something called aggressive war, because the target of it has not committed an act of war before it is attacked. This was the policy of Nazi Germany for which its leaders were convicted at Nuremberg. Former Senator Ron Paul noted, “Another term for preventive war is aggressive war – starting wars because someday somebody might do something to us. That is not part of the American tradition.” As such most people have no understanding how the crime of preventive or wars of aggression poison and ultimately kill a democracy.

People also forget that once the Pandora’s Box of war is opened that nothing is certain but death, destruction, and the seeds of more war. Winston Churchill noted, “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

In terms of the destructiveness of such a war, including as Churchill noted the unforeseen effects of it President Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today. How could you have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled, the transportation systems destroyed, sanitation implements and systems all gone? That isn’t preventive war; that is war.

I’ll leave it at that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Committing Suicide out of Fear of Death: The Possibility of Preventive War on the Korean Peninsula

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Otto von Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor” of Prussia and Germany once noted that “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.” Sadly, most Americans, do not seem to understand this, nor the distinctions of what is and is not permissible and how preventive war is different from the concept of pre-emptive actions.

While in Korea this week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, most likely acting on behest of President Trump spoke of the real possibility that the United States could embark on a preventive war against North Korea. Tillerson said: “Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” and “We’re exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.” He also said “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.” 

Now let me be clear, the military option is always on the table when dealing with North Korea, but that military option has always been focused on deterrence and the ability to deter, defend, and respond to any North Korean military action, not by the open threat of preventive war. The latter is something that could well push the paranoid regime of Kim Jung Un into actual military action, rather than the provocative actions they make in defiance of the United Nations most of the world. However, that threshold, which successive American administrations have not crossed since the Korean Armistice of 1954 has been crossed.

That being said the North Korean nuclear threat and ability to strike distant targets is growing and may reach a point that it could hit the United States. The question is, when, or if, the North Korean threat justifies either a pre-emptive military strike or launching a preventive war. In the run up to the invasion of Iraq the United States used the supposed threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al Qaeda to justify a preventive war against Iraq to eliminate the threat and overthrow Saddam Hussein. That war has been shown to be both in violation of the standards of the Just War Theory and international law concerning preventive war.

Michael Walzer, the foremost expert on Just War Theory today wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

Now, what acts are to count, what acts do count as threats sufficiently serious to justify war? It is not possible to put together a list, because state action, like human action generally, takes on significance from its context. But there are some negative points worth making. The boastful ranting to which political leaders are often prone isn’t in itself threatening; injury must be “offered” in some material sense as well. Nor does the kind of military preparation that is a feature of the classic arms race count as a threat, unless it violates some formally or tacitly agreed-upon limit. What the lawyers call “hostile acts short of war,” even if these involve violence, are not too quickly to be taken as signs of an intent to make war; they may represent an essay in restraint, an offer to quarrel within limits. Finally, provocations are not the same as threats. “Injury and provocation” are commonly linked by Scholastic writers as the two causes of just war. But the Schoolmen were too accepting of contemporary notions about the honor of states and, more importantly, of sovereigns. The moral significance of such ideas is dubious at best. Insults are not occasions for wars, any more than they are (these days) occasions for duels.

For the rest, military alliances, mobilizations, troop movements, border incursions, naval blockade~-all these, with or without verbal menace, sometimes count and sometimes do not count as sufficient indications of hostile intent. But it is, at least, these sorts of actions with which we are concerned. We move along the anticipation spectrum in search, as it were, of enemies: not possible or potential enemies, not merely present ill-wishers, but states and nations that are already, to use a phrase I shall use again with reference to the distinction of combatants and noncombatants, engaged in harming us (and who have already harmed us, by their threats, even if they have not yet inflicted any physical injury). And this search, though it carries us beyond preventive war, clearly brings us up short of Webster’s pre-emption. The line between legitimate and illegitimate first strikes is not going to be drawn at the point of imminent attack but at the point of sufficient threat. That phrase is necessarily vague. I mean it to cover three things: a manifest intent to injure, a degree of active preparation that makes that intent a positive danger, and a general situation in which waiting, or doing anything other than fighting, greatly magnifies the risk. The argument may be made more clear if I compare these criteria to Vattel’s. Instead of previous signs of rapacity and ambition, current and particular signs are required; instead of an “augmentation of power,” actual preparation for war; instead of the refusal of future securities, the intensification of present dangers. Preventive war looks to the past and future, Webster’s reflex action to the immediate moment, while the idea of being under a threat focuses on what we had best call simply the present. I cannot specify a time span; it is a span within which one can still make choices, and within which it is possible to feel straitened.

I know that is a lot to digest, but the fact of the matter it takes a lot to justify pre-emptive military strikes, or a preventive war, and that in doing so we have not simply to look to the present moment but to the past and the as yet unwritten future. President Dwight D. Eisenhower noted that “Preventive war was an invention of Hitler. I would not even listen to anyone seriously that came and talked about such a thing.” But now, it is being talked about, and as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, Kim Jong Un will raise the ante, and then question will be, then what?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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