Category Archives: Loose thoughts and musings

Enter a New Year

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

2022 was a momentous year for me. My book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion and the Politics of Race in the Civil War Era and Beyond was published on October first, and I am very happy about it. I also started a Doctor of Strategic Leadership program in the fall and I am doing well in it. The only disappointing thing was how my teaching job has changed for the worse, how it has hindered me from doing work publicizing my book and from doing research and writing on my next book.

Because of this 2023 will have to be different. The teaching job has been incredibly frustrating and just before the Christmas break I realized that I had pretty much hit the wall there. There is too much to go into here, but I am going to have to leave it in order to keep my health, and to focus on the things that are really important to me. That means Judy, the puppies and our home, my writing, research and development of my LLC to do Staff Rides, history tours, and consulting work, getting my second book done and on the way to publication, and being able to do the travel I need to do in order to do explore libraries, archives, and historical sites to dig deep into my work. I can’t keep the day job and do those things. I will need to make up so of the cash flow, but since I make so little money there, that should not be too hard. Finally, the doctorate, which the VA is paying for through the Post-911 GI Bill is far more important than spinning my wheels teaching.

The teaching job has also kept me from writing here, doing op-eds, and doing the other things that help keep me centered, like an exercise routine and walking, since my knees are too shot to run anymore.

Thus, in 2023 I begin anew by casting loose of the thing holding me back and sailing into a yet unwritten future. I hope to see more of you here in the coming year.


Padre Steve+

By the way, if you want to get a copy of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, the quickest way to get it is on Amazon. The link follows. Likewise, if you want to work with me on setting up a Staff Ride, a history tour, or for me to do some consulting work, let me know.


Filed under History, life, Loose thoughts and musings

A Legacy of Hubris, Disaster, and Betrayal: The Cost of Robert E. Lee’s Final Assault, Pickett’s Charge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For the past three days I have critiqued the myth about Robert E. Lee being a great commander. I have written about his inability to comprehend the strategic situation of the Confederacy as he rejected all the counsel to send reinforcements to the west to defeat Grant before he could capture Vicksburg in order to prevent the Union from cutting the Confederacy in half and opening the door to Grant’s armies from advancing across Tennessee to Georgia, where they posed a threat to Atlanta and the heart of the Confederacy.

However, with his myopic view and obsession with the defense of Virginia, ignored the warnings, and convinced Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Cabinet to support his ill-advised invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. While Commandant of Cadets at West Point, Lee studied Napoleon through the lens of Dennis Hart Mahan, the first military theorist of the United States, and learned all the wrong lessons. Lee believed in climactic battle of annihilation, but in an invasion of the North in the hopes of annihilating the Army of the Potomac was an irrational gamble. Lee had just lost the one subordinate who better than anyone else in his army who understood his vague discretionary orders, Thomas ”Stonewall” Jackson, whose corpse was barely cold when Lee met with Davis and his cabinet. Likewise, he had just reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia promoting many officers to positions that they were not qualified to hold, units that had never operated together or under their new commanders. Lee knew just how starved his army was for competent commanders, remarking to John Bell Hood, “this army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered.”

Instead for following logic Lee decided to invade Pennsylvania thinking that he annihilate the Army of the Potomac over 200 miles from his nearest railhead, with no hope of reinforcements or supplies of ammunition, that even if he was victorious, he would not have enough troops or artillery ammunition to continue his campaign. The Union was not short of troops and even if Lee had triumphed at Gettysburg, Grant’s experienced army, fresh from its victory at Vicksburg would have been moved east within weeks, joined with a large part of the Army of the Potomac, as well as with other Federal forces protecting Washington, DC and being moved from Hampton Roads and the Carolinas. Had he continued, Lee’s army would have been destroyed North of the Potomac, thereby ending the war.

As it was, Lee ignored his senior commanders and in his last desperate attempt to win a decisive battle, lost thousands more troops and experienced commanders by attacking the Union Center in what is now known as Pickett’s Charge. This is the story of that attack, the unfortunate George Pickett, and an unforgiving and vindictive Robert E. Lee.

The great German theoretician of war Carl von Clausewitz had an exceptionally keen understanding of the human element in war and its importance in setting policy, deciding on operations, and especially in what men face on the battlefield. Clausewitz wrote, “Danger is part of the friction of war. Without an accurate conception of danger we cannot understand war. That is why I have dealt with it here.” [1] This is an important understanding because it brings the human element to the fore, thus, when commanders send their troops into battle to execute the plans of their staff, they cannot forget, as Clausewitz so succinctly that War is the province of danger and, “In the dreadful presence of suffering and danger, emotion can easily overwhelm intellectual conviction, and in the psychological fog it is so hard to form clear and complete insights that changes in view become more understandable and excusable….No degree of calm can provide enough protection: new impressions are too powerful, too vivid, and always assault the emotions as well as the intellect.” [2] The memories of the men who fight in such conditions are vivid and seldom forgotten.

However, in the more modern wars of today, many soldiers of developed nations with modern high-tech militaries are not exposed to the same type of danger. Thus it is important to examine the issue in light of history and understand that no-matter how much technology advances that the human element remains the same. Understanding the element of danger is important, for leaders, as General Martin Dempsey noted, Understanding equips decision makers at all levels with the insight and foresight to make effective decisions, to manage the associated risks, and to consider second and subsequent order effects. [3] The fact is that many current and recent wars fought by the United States and its NATO and coalition allies have shielded many military professionals from this aspect of war. But the realm of danger it is still present and should not be ignored. As noted in the 2006 edition of the Armed Forces Officer:

The same technology that yields unparalleled success on the battlefield can also detach the warrior from the traditional ethos of the profession by insulating him or her from many of the human realities of war. [4]

However, The nature of the warrior leader is driven by the requirements of combat [5] and courage, both courage in the face of the danger, and the courage to accept responsibility [6] are of paramount importance. That is why the study of history is never a waste, and in fact should be given more importance in general education, but even more so in the education of those who are to lead men and women in combat.

Both Pickett’s Charge and the life of George Pickett provide excellent case studies in courage and responsibility. We live in a time where the numbers of soldiers that actually experience combat or served in true combat conditions where the element of danger is present is shrinking. As such the Battle of Gettysburg and the climactic event of Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd is a good place to reimagine the element of danger from the point of view of the soldiers, but also the commanders involved in the action.

Gettysburg is also a place that we can look to find the end of dreams, the shattering of legacies, the emergence of myth as history, and the terrible effects ill-conceived of plans gone awry.

Major General George Pickett’s men’s opinions varied as they anticipate the approaching battle. Some in Richard Garnett’s brigade were “in splendid spirits and confident of sweeping everything before them;…never was there anything like the same enthusiasm entering battle.” [7]Others were not so confident. In Armistead’s brigade, Lieutenant James F. Crocker of the 9th Virginia ,who had been wounded at Malvern Hill surveyed the ridge before them and told a number of officers that the attack “was going to be another Malvern Hill, another costly day to Virginia and Virginians,” [8] while a Colonel in Pickett’s division noted that when the men were told of the attack that they went “being unusually merry and hilarious that they on a sudden had become as still and thoughtful as Quakers at a love feast.” [9] Their commander, George Pickett received the plan of attack from James Longstreet who later noted that Pickett “seemed to appreciate the severity of the contest he was about to enter…but was quite hopeful of success.” [10]

A member of Pickett’s staff noted years later that It is said, that the condemned, in going to execution, the moments fly.To the good soldier, about to go into action, I am sure the moments linger. Let us not dare say, that with him, either individually, or collectively, is that mythical love of fighting, poetical but fabulous; but rather, that it is the nervous anxiety to solve the great issue as speedily as possible, without stopping to count the cost. [11]

Porter Alexander’s artillery began its bombardment at 1:07 p.m. As it did, the Union artillery commenced a deliberate counter-fire, in which the Confederate infantry behind Seminary Ridge began to take a beating. Unlike the Confederate barrage which had mainly sailed over the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge causing few causalities, a large proportion” of the Union long shots landed squarely in the ranks of the gray soldiers drawn up to await the order to advance. [12] Estimates vary, but the waiting Confederates lost 300 to 500 men killed and wounded during the Union counter-barrage. The most affected was Kemper’s brigade of Pickett’s division which lost about 250 men or fifteen percent of its strength. [13] Other units lost significant numbers, with those inflicted on Pettigrew’s brigades further depleting their already sparse numbers.

The Union counter fire had an effect on many of the Confederates including Pickett. As the artillery duel continued Porter Alexander found Pickett in a very positive and excited frame of mind. [14] There are conflicting opinions of Pickett’s state of mind; supporters tending to believe the best about him and his conduct on the battlefield, while detractors, both his contemporaries and current historians allege that he was afraid and quite possibly minimizing his exposure to enemy fire due to his obsession with his young fiancée La Salle “Sallie” Corbell. Edwin Longacre wrote: While not himself under fire, Pickett appears not to have taken the barrage too calmly. Aware that Longstreet had asked Alexander recommend the most opportune time for our attack based on the enemys response to his cannonade, Pickett at least twice sent couriers to as the colonel if they should go in. [15]

Like in any historical account, the truth probably lies in the middle of the extreme viewpoints and while we think that we know much about the greatest charge in the history of the United States, we are hindered by the lack of written accounts by most of the senior Confederate officers who took part in Pickett’s Charge. This complicates the task of attempting to separate the true from the false and the truth from a judgment or verdict rendered by a less than impartial judge. Lee, Hill and Longstreet “treated the charge as just one episode in long campaign reports, and modern readers, like some of the participants, can wonder how much of any of the three generals really saw once the firing started.” [16]

Since no reports of the Confederate division commanders are available, Pickett’s was suppressed because of how critical it was toward other commanders. Pettigrew and Pender were dead, Trimble was wounded and in a Federal prison and Harry Heth, Pickett’s cousin limited his report to the action of July 1st 1863. Likewise, only two of the nine brigade commanders filed reports and none of them were from Pickett’s division, so it is hard to get a complete and accurate view from official sources. Longstreet discussed Pickett’s report and said that it was not so strong against the attack as mine before the attack was made but his was made in writing and of official record. [17] Pickett was reportedly furious at being forced to destroy his report and refused to submit an edited report. So what we are left with on the Confederate side are the reports of two corps commanders and an army commander who were far away from the scene of the action, after action reports of regiments, many of which had lost their commander’s and most of their senior officers, and the recollections from men with axes to grind and or reputations to defend; some Longstreet, some Pickett, some Pettigrew.

                                                        Picketts Charge

The assault force was composed of Pickett’s fresh division from First Corps, Harry Heth’s battered division now under Johnston Pettigrew which had already taken close to 40% casualties and two brigades of Pender’s division now commanded by Isaac Trimble. Of these two brigades, only Lane’s was fresh while Scales brigade, now under command of Colonel William Lowrence had suffered greatly on July 1st; its “casualty rate was 63% and it had lost its commander and no fewer than fifty-five field and company grade officers. [18] And now, these battered units began to take casualties from well directed Federal fire. George Stewart wrote: In most armies, such a battered unit would have been sent to the rear for reorganization, but here it was being selected for a climactic attack! [19]

“The Confederate losses mounted at an alarming rate. The psychological impact of artillery casualties was great, for the big guns not only killed but mangled bodies, tore them apart, or disintegrated them.” [20] A survivor wrote his wife days later: “If the crash of worlds and all things combustible had been coming in collision with each other, it could not have surpassed it seemingly. To me it was like the “Magazine of Vengeance” blown up.” [21] A soldier of Kemper’s brigade recalled that “The atmosphere was rent and broken by the rust and crash of projectiles…The sun, but a few minutes before so brilliant, was now darkened. Through this smoky darkness came the missiles of death…the scene beggars description…Many a fellow thought his time had come…Great big, stout hearted men prayed, loudly too….” [22] Colonel Joseph Mayo of the 3rd Virginia regiment was heavily hit. One of its survivors wrote: “when the line rose up to charge…it appeared that as many were left dead and wounded as got up.” [23]

On the opposite ridge, Union forces were experiencing the same kind of intense artillery fire. But these effects were minimized due to the prevalent overshooting of the Confederate artillery as well as the poor quality of ammunition. This resulted in few infantry casualties with the worst damage being taken by a few batteries of artillery at “the Angle.” Soldiers behind the lines took the worst beating, but the routing of these non-combatants was of no military significance, [24] This did create some problems for the Federals as Meade was forced to abandon their headquarters and the Artillery Reserve was forced to relocate a little over a half mile to the rear.” [25] The effects of this on operations were minimal as Brigadier General Robert Tyler commanding the Artillery Reserve posted couriers at the abandoned position, should Hunt want to get in touch with him. [26]

Despite the fusillade Meade maintained his humor and as some members of his staff tried to find cover on the far side of the little farmhouse quipped:

Gentlemen, are you trying to find a safe place?…You remind me of the man who drove the oxen team which took ammunition for the heavy guns to the field at Palo Alto. Finding himself in range, he tipped up his cart and hid behind it. Just then General Taylor came along and shouted You damned fool, dont you know you are no safer there than anywhere else?” The driver responded, I dont suppose I am general, but it kind of feels so. [27]

A bombardment of this magnitude had never been seen on the American continent, but despite its apparent awesome power, the Confederate artillery barrage had little actual effect on the charge. The Prussian observer traveling with Lee’s headquarters dismissed the barrage as aPulververschwindung,”…a waste of powder. [28] The Federal infantry remained in place behind the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge ready to meet the assault. Henry Hunt replaced his damaged artillery batteries on Cemetery Ridge. But even more importantly Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery’s massive battery was lying undetected where it could deliver devastating enfilade fire as the Confederate infantry neared their objective. Likewise, Rittenhouse’s batteries on Little Round Top and Osborne’s on Cemetery Hill were unaffected by the Confederate bombardment were poised to wreak destruction on the men of the three Confederate divisions.

Unlike the Federal Army which had a large pool of artillery battalions in the Artillery Reserve with which to replace batteries that had taken casualties or were running low on ammunition, Porter Alexander had no fresh artillery batteries and suffered a want of ammunition. The manifestation of the effect of this was not long in coming: “soon the drivers of the caissons found that the heavy fire had exhausted their supply of shot and shell, and they had to go even farther to get it from the reserve train. As a result some of the guns remained mute and their gunners stood helpless during the cannonade and charge, for Alexander had no batteries in reserve to replace them.” [29]

There were two reasons for this. First was that Lee had reorganized the artillery before Chancellorsville. He eliminated the artillery reserve and assigned all artillery battalions and batteries directly to the three infantry corps. This meant that Alexander could only draw upon the battalions assigned to First Corps and had no operational control over the batteries of Ewell’s Second Corps or Hill’s Third Corps.

The second was due to the meddling of Brigadier General William Pendleton, Lee’s senior artilleryman who as a staff officer had no command authority over any of the guns in the army. Pendleton relocated the artillery trains of First Corps further to the rear without informing Alexander or Longstreet. Likewise, Pendleton also ordered the eight guns of the Richardson’s artillery away without notifying anyone. These were guns that Alexander was counting on to provide direct support to the attack by advancing them to provide close support to the infantry.

At about 2:20 p.m. Alexander, knowing that he was running short of ammunition sent a note to Picket and Pettigrew advising them:

General: If you are to advance at all, you must come at once or we will not be able to support you as we ought. But the enemys fire has not slackened and there are still 18 guns firing from the cemetery.” [30]

About twenty minutes later Alexander saw some of the Federal guns along Cemetery Ridge begin to limber up and depart. He also noticed a considerable drop off in Federal fire. He interpreted this to mean that his guns had broken the Federal resistance, and at 2:40 Alexander sent word to Pickett For Gods sake come quick or my ammunition will not let me support you. [31]

However, what Alexander did not realize was that what was happening on Cemetery Ridge had little to do with his bombardment but instead was directed by Henry Hunt. Hunt ordered batteries low on ammunition or that had sustained damage to withdraw and was replacing them with fresh batteries that Alexander could not see, Although he assumed that such might be the case, he noted that the withdraw of batteries was new, for the Federals had never done anything of that sort before, & I did not believe that they were doing it now. [32] He had also decided to conserve ammunition by ordering an immediate cessation and preparation for the assault to follow.[33]

Alexander’s message reached Pickett and Pickett immediately rode off to confer with Longstreet. Pickett gave the message to Longstreet who read it and said nothing. Pickett said, “General, shall I advance!” Longstreet, knowing it had to be, but unwilling to give the word, turned his face away. Pickett saluted and said “I am going to move forward, sir” galloped off to his division and immediately put it in motion.” [34] Sadly, Pickett “had no inkling that his corps commander was immovably opposed to the charge” [35] and Pickett, caught up in the moment with the excitement of leading his Division into battle did not notice his friend’s mood.

A few minutes later Longstreet rode to find Alexander. Meeting him at 2:45 Alexander informed him of the shortage of ammunition. The news was surprising to Longstreet as neither he nor Lee had checked on the supply of ammunition during the morning. [36] The news took him aback enough that he seemed momentarily stunned [37] by it. Longstreet told Alexander: Stop Pickett immediately and replenish your ammunition. [38] But Alexander now had to give Longstreet even worse news telling him I explained that it would take too long, and the enemy would recover from the effect of our fire was then having, and too that we had, moreover, very little to replenish it with. [39] Longstreet continued to ride with Alexander and again eyed the Federal positions on Cemetery Ridge with his binoculars. As he looked at the Federal position he slowly spoke and said I dont want to make this attack,” pausing between sentences as if thinking aloud. I believe it will fail- I do not know how it can succeed- I would not make it even now, but Gen. Lee has ordered it and expects it. [40] Alexander, who as a battalion commander now in charge of First Corps artillery was very uncomfortable, he later wrote:

I had the feeling that he was on the verge of stopping the charge, & that with even slight encouragement he would do it. But that very feeling kept me from saying a word, or either assent I would not willingly take any responsibility in so grave a matter & I had almost a morbid fear of causing any loss of time. So I stood by, & looked on, in silence almost embarrassing. [41]

While Longstreet was still speaking Pickett’s division swept out of the woods to begin the assault. Alexander wrote that the battle was lost if we stopped. Ammunition was too low to try anything else, for we had been fighting for three days. There was a chance, and it was not my part to interfere.” [42]

Despite this Pickett and many of his soldiers were confident of success, and: “no officer reflected the men’s confidence better than George Pickett. There was no fatalism in him. Believing that his hour of destiny had come and expecting to take fortune at its flood, he rode down the slope like a knight in a tournament.” [43] Pickett was “an unforgettable man at first sight” [44] Pickett wore a “dark mustache drooping and curled at the ends, a thin goatee, and hair worn long and curled in ringlets. His hair was brown, and in the morning sunlight it reflected auburn hints. George Pickett stood slender and graceful at the middle height, and carried himself with an air. Dandified in dress, he was the most romantic looking of all Confederates, the physical image of that gallantry implicit in the South’s self concept. [45]


Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Christian Nationalism, Judicial Activism, and the Looming Threat to the Republic

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For the first seven years that I wrote on this blog I never imagined any real threat to the American Republic from within or without. That changed in 2016 when Donald Trump seized control of the Republican Party as I watched its leaders bow to him, and the true believers of the base rally behind him like fanatical Nazis.

I knew this because I had been a Republican for 34 years, from 1976 when I volunteered for the Ford Campaign, until 2008 when after coming home from Iraq to see Sarah Palin becomes the Vice President nominee despite her incredible inexperience, incompetence, and fanatical Dominionist Christian beliefs.

I saw the change over a period of over two decades as a member and later clergy in churches and denominations that taught this incredibly corrosive doctrine, which despite the words of Jesus who said ”my Kingdom is not of this world, insists that the Church is to take over dominion of all earthly life. It was taught at clergy conferences, where our study did not focus on anything to do with the faith of the Church but rather on extreme right wing politics, an anti-abortion crusade, and a lot of time on the importance of tithing.

I never openly admitted my change of political parties, but I began to question beliefs of my Church, not in any major theological matters, but in suggesting that women should be ordained to any office of the Church; of stating that many Iraqi Sunni and Shia Muslims had a higher regard for Jesus and the Virgin Mary than most American Christians, and that we should acknowledge that LGBTQ people could be faithful Christians with no strings attached.

The next day I was called by the Archbishop for the Military with the message that I was ”too liberal” and had to find another Church to endorse me, which as a military chaplain is the kiss of death since one needs a valid church endorsement to remain in the service. Thankfully, the Military Bishop of a large progressive denomination who I knew from active duty made contact with and recommended me to the Bishop of my current church, which gave me refuge and allowed me to remain in service. The bishop who banished me was later to banished by the church for attempting to take the entire military archdiocese into another Anglican denomination behind the backs of the other bishops.

All of that was simply preparation for the mind numbing obedience of friends that I had known for years who abandoned me after Trump began his campaign. A year and a half later a Trump supporting retired navy officer at my Chapel attempted to have me tried by Court Martial on entirely spurious charges that if true would have not only ended my career but put me in Leavenworth, for exercising one of the most sacred rights held by any military chaplain, to faithfully represent my faith tradition in the pulpit, and not to infringe on the religious and civil rights of others. That right was attacked by a man who blatantly lied about what I said in the sermon.

Nonetheless, I had to endure an investigated me which cleared me of the charges based on the testimony of other chapel members and staff, with the help of Mikey Weinstein and the legal team at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. I refused to use a Navy defense attorney, because the Navy and Marine Corps usually assign their most junior and inexperienced officers to trial defense, and winning cases, especially high profile cases as mine would have been a disaster to his young career, but he would have won. He was the only defense attorney on base, and though a nice young man, we would not have had a chance. The investigating officer was a man of honor, he interviewed almost everyone present among the parishioners and staff, including a man who loved all of the chaplains on my staff and recorded our sermons because he wanted to learn and study the scriptures and church teaching. His recording of the sermon help prove my innocence of the accusations of a Christian Nationalist, aided an abetted by a spineless Commanding Officer and the largely indifferent senior leadership of the Navy Chaplain Corps that refused to support the Constitutionally and Military protected rights of a Chaplain preaching in his pulpit.

It pains me to say that everything that I experienced prepared me for the day when Christian Nationalists in gerrymandered states that deny civil rights, voting rights, and religious rights to their citizens of racial and religious minorities, as well as women, LGBTQ people and others and have the backing of a six Justice, all Conservative Roman Catholics in overturning those rights.

In the past week these Justices, despite their assurances of respecting precedent and claims not to judicial activists overturned a century old New York law that required those seeking permits to carry pistols in public places why they needed to do so. Then they overturned a Maine law banning the use of taxpayer money to expressly fund Christian schools that publicly discriminate against non-Christians attending their schools. Then there was the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade on grounds that violated legal precedent, and used horrible historical examples to overturn it. Finally, yesterday they further demolished the Establishment Clause in Kennedy v. Bremerton.

The walls between the minority rule of Christian Nationalist fascists backed by a theocratic Conservative Catholic Supreme Court majority are on the verge of completely subverting the rule of law, destroying constitutional protections, and returning us the 1850s, when Blacks were chattel slaves and free Blacks in Free States were required by law to be returned to their supposed owners based solely on the word of a slave owner or his representative, given to extrajudicial magistrates paid more to return a Black to slavery than allow them to remain free. To a world where Native Americans were exterminated with the survivors herded into reservations. A world where women had no rights to their bodies, property, or suffrage. A nation that denied citizenship rights to Asians, a world where Mexican Americans were subjected to racial laws little different than Blacks, and where after Reconstruction the Supreme Court denied freed blacks civil rights, voting rights, and made them less than citizens.

I have written about all of this before, but to see the Supreme Court of United States upend over a century of progress based on incredibly bad history and legal precedent, shredding constitutional protections and what most people considered to be established law, which all six of these justices lied about in their confirmation hearings.

We have a choice. We most resist or be condemned by history. By the way for suggesting a manner of self defense and resistance on my last blog I was repeatedly defamed and attacked by a man in Austin, Texas.

To quote Major General Henning von Tresckow who gave up his life in the attempt to kill Hitler:

“I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” I say that about these Christo-Fascist minorities and their allies on the Supreme Court.

I know what I will do. I will remain within the law and Constitution, practice no violence, but prepare for armed defense once those laws and constitutional rights are voided, by a minority that will use every means to return us to antebellum America. As far as these Supreme Court rulings go I will quote from the words of Spencer Tracy playing Henry Drummond, the fictional version of the great American attorney Clarence Darrow in the film Inherit the Wind:

“I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you, that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys every one it touches. Its upholders as well as its defiers.”

Until next time,


Padre Steve+


Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

“I Do Not Want to be a Winner by Cheating”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Frederick Douglass said: “In my view there are no bygones in the world, and the past is not dead and cannot die. The evil as well as the good that men do lives after them … The duty of keeping in memory the great deeds of the past and of transmitting the same from generation to generation is implied in the mental and moral constitution of man.”

This is true. The evil and the good that men and women do lives after them, and the transmission of them by every generation is necessary for the truth to be told. Today we saw that in action as men and women of our day display both the evil and the good of history and the actions of our predecessors that has been transmitted to us.

Today those who watched former President Trump use all of his personal power as President to try to force Republican election officials and state office holders to violate their oaths and principles to overturn the election. He and his coconspirators organized mobs to terrorize them and their families. He also by name cast dispersions and threats against a low level election official and her mother who was a volunteer election worker based on a conspiracy that was disproved by the Georgia Secretary of State and multiple Georgia election officials as well as investigators from Trump’s own Department of Justice. The two women were targeted by often violent Trump supporters, were threatened with prosecution by Trump campaign officials unless she perjured herself by confessing crimes that she did not commit. Her mother was told by the FBI to leave her home for her safety. She was not able to return for two months. Her mother, the grandmother of the election official had her house assaulted by a mob seeking to execute citizens arrests. The President identified Ms. Shaye Moss and her mother by name, putting their lives in danger, and maybe even more so today.

The testimony of Rusty Bowers, the Republican Speaker of the House of Arizona was amazing. Such a man of courage. He spoke truth to power directly to President Trump, he resisted the pressure of many others, and he and his endured, and still endure threats at their home. He was a Trump supporter during the election, he wanted him to win, but refused to do anything to violate his oath to the Constitution, or lie or cheat to see Trump win. He told that to Trump himself.

He discussed his faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which he did not name) and how he viewed the Constitution as divinely inspired and how he could not stand before God if he did so. I don’t have to agree with all of his positions or believes to admire him. I admire him. He upheld his oath. He spoke truth to power, he remained steadfast to his Oath and thank God for his actions over a period of several months of extreme pressure and physical threats to his family.

Others Republican officials in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin received similar threats and pressure, but did not budge despite the pressure.

The threats did not even end with the attack on the Capitol which Trump egged on to the point of pushing for the execution of Vice President Pence, who in a rare moment of clarity, after consulting former Vice President Pence and the retired eminent conservative Judge Michael Luttig followed his oath and despite danger to himself and his family remained in the Capitol to certify the Electoral College count making Joe Biden the President Elect.

Despite this, Trump and his faithful have continued to propagate the Big Lie that the election was stolen, despite the mountains of forensic evidence. Instead their fantasy world has created such a great divide that anything is possible, so much that at its convention last weekend the Republican Party of Texas declared that Joe Biden was not the legitimate President and called for a vote on secession in 2023. Don’t forget that Texas was among the original seven Confederate States, and the last to surrender. Personally I think that the Federal government needs to start moving major units and headquarters of Texas to other States that will remain loyal.

The danger is not over. The threats continue, including death threats to Republicans who are not MAGA enough, Democrats, and others who will not go along with their attempt to create an authoritarian state, which is Fascist in orientation and led in part by Christian Nationalists, who like their predecessors in the Confederacy and Nazi Germany do not understand the consequences of their complicity with liars and those that would destroy the republic, undermine the Constitution, and end the rule of law.

We dodged a bullet on January 6th 2021, but we may not be able to do it again if people do not put country and Constitution over party and resist the slide to fascism. We need more men like Rusty Bowers who put his sacred oath to the Constitution over loyalty to a man he supported in the election, and would not lie to win. We also need people at all levels of government of both parties who will do the same, regardless of the violent threats made against them by Trump, his allies, and the violent paramilitary groups who do his bidding.

So for tonight, peace and stand strong,

Padre Steve+


Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Praise for ”Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion and the Politics of Race in the Civil War Era and Beyond

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been over two months since I last wrote on the blog and I do apologize. During those months I was kicking off the first quarter of a new school year, working hard in the house until a combination of carpal tunnel and tendonitis sent me to a hand surgeon who put any heavy work on ice. I’ve been wearing wrist and hand braces which are really a pain, but between them and physical therapy the pain of the tendonitis has pretty much subsided. That being said the tingling and numbness of the carpal tunnel continues.

While this was going on I spent the better part of October and November doing my part of the copy editing of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. Authors who have good publishers understand how important this is, and since this is my first book, this has been a learning process. I had an awesome copy editor with Potomac of University of Nebraska Press, and though the process was hard, the final result is an even better book. I learned a lot in the process that will make my future initial manuscript submissions much better. Stephen King said, ”to write is human, to edit divine.”

I have received a good number of really great book blurbs from prominent historians, writers, and civil rights leaders with most arriving in the two weeks before the publisher’s due date of 1 December. In the process of getting them I was greeted with so much kindness and encouragement even from men and women whose schedules, projects, or health prevented them from writing blurbs. I think than when normal travel resumes and COVID becomes less widespread that some of my new friends and I will get the chance to break bread and enjoy tasty beverages together as we discuss history, politics, and pick one another’s brains.

So here are the comments of these great historians and leaders who I am so grateful to in their affirmation of my work of the past seven years in their praise of the book. I cannot thank them enough. Once I get the expected publication date, I will let you know. I will be making so changes to the website to make it a launching pad for Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory and future books, in addition to my articles and commentary. Thank you for continuing to follow my work despite months of inactivity on the site this year.

Dr. Charles Reagan Wilson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Mississippi and author of numerous books on Souther history and society including ”Baptized in Blood, the Religion of the Lost Cause” wrote:

“The ghosts of American slavery and the Civil War haunt this sweeping interpretation of how a toxic blend of white supremacy and tribal religion continue to shape American society. Beginning with the arrival of the first Africans in North America in 1619, Dundas traces how race and religion became an American ideology that influenced politics and public policy. The extensive citation of first-person quotations lends unusual authority to the account. The heart of the study is the period from the antebellum era through the end of Reconstruction, but within a chronological narrative, Dundas weaves philosophical meditations on the mix of idealism and ruthless power that shaped the antebellum and postbellum worlds, with special insight on the American South’s pivotal role in his story. While this is a historical study, the author analyzes its significance for the social and political divisions of the twenty-first century, making it an especially timely study. The author’s wide knowledge of military history serves him well, as he looks at the American experience of the Civil War in a broad perspective. Scholars of southern history, American religion, the Civil War, and contemporary politics will all find this work of interest.”

Dr. Leanna Keith of the New York Collegiate Academy and author of ”The Colfax Massacre” writes:

“In this concise, personal account, Steven L. Dundas offers a review of religion and ideology in the Civil War era and its aftermath.  Taking a broad view, Dundas considers expressions of religious fervor and sermonizing in relations to the establishment of slavery in 1619, the role of the Constitution of the United States, and the painful legacies of the Civil War in Jim Crow and Lost Cause America.  Dundas adopts a friendly and familiar tone, quoting at length, and synthesizing based on his careful reading of secondary sources.  In its most original passages, the book considers the role of evangelical zeal in promoting conflict in the leadup to the war on both sides of the divide.”

Chris Rodda, Senior Researcher at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and author of ”Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History writes:

“With no sugar coating of America’s history of slavery and racism, Steve Dundas adds to the story of the religious ideology used to slavery, not as a side note but as the significant factor that it was. A very timely read as we face the growing threat of of today’s Christian nationalists and white supremacists.”

Dr. Riccardo Herrera, Professor of History at the the Army Command and General Staff College, and author of ”For Liberty and Republic, the American Citizen as Soldier: 1775-1861” writes:

“Steven Dundas has written a powerful call for Americans to reexamine their too-often mythologized Civil War, Reconstruction, and their ongoing impact on American life. Dundas has infused his work with a strong moral and ethical clarity that is rarely seen.” 

Dr. John Fea, Distinguished Professor of History at Messiah University and author of ”Why Study History?”, ”Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” and ”Believe Me: the Evangelical Road to Donald Trump” writes:

“Steven Dundas offers us a fast-moving introduction to the links between Christianity and slavery in early America. If you are interested in learning more about the roots of racial strife in America, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is a good place to start.”

Dr.John Patrick Daly of the State University of New York, Brockport, and Author of “When Slavery was Called Freedom: Evangelism, Proslavery and the Causes of the Civil War” writes:

“Steve Dundas’s “Mine Eyes have seen the Glory” is a lively and wide-ranging account of religion and the politics of race in the South. His expert handling of religion and religious ideology is compelling and especially powerful on the origins and lasting power of the Lost Cause.  The book’s innovative style will appeal to college students and all students of history.”

Dr. Margaret Sankey, Professor at the USAF, Air University and author of “Blood Money: How Criminals, Militias, Rebels, and Warlords Finance Violence” and “Women and War” writes:

“Moved by a staff ride to Gettysburg, Professor Dundas–a career naval officer, chaplain and educator–has written an electrifying new take on the American Civil War and its continuing presence in politics, race relations and corrosive mythology.  From the first chapters, he center the long tail of slavery, back to the colonial origins of the states, with a grip that does not permit a reader to slide into ‘it was about states’ rights’ or to look away from the system of enslaving human beings that underwrote the commodity production of the southern economy and had the enabling support of northern brokers like Fernando Wood.  His key insight, which should have a place in the anti-racism and anti-extremism training we do in Professional Military Education, is that the south definitely lost the war but infiltrated the peace with rhetoric of reunion, white brotherhood, U.S. imperialism (making up with brothers in grey by fighting in Cuba, for one!), Jim Crow constraint of African-American civil rights and vicious terrorizing in the form of nightriders, Klan activities and local lynching.  Dundas’ history is visceral, often told in the voices of the participants, and pulls no punches with the searing injustices, large-scale violence and personal tragedies of the nation’s founding and original sin of slavery.  This is a book to put in the hands of any military reader who understands that racism, an ugly thread woven into our American story, is a national security issue.”

Dr. Charles Dew, Ephraim Williams Professor of American History at Williams College, and author of “Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the  Causes of the Civil War” writes:

“Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is a book for our time. Steven L. Dundas has skillfully woven slavery, race, racism, politics, and religion into a single entity in telling this country’s complex story. Every American would profit from what he is telling us.”

Dr. Lloyd “Vic” Hackley, military civil rights pioneer and Vietnam War hero before becoming President of the North Carolina Community College System, Vice President of the University of North Carolina System, and Chancellor of North Carolina A & T University writes:

“Steve Dundas has written the definitive account of America’s onerous history with African Americans. A must read to fully understand, teach or discuss the institution of slavery, racism, religion and their current impacts. Every school library should have a copy.”

Dr. Joe Levin, Esq., cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center writes,

“Commander Dundas not only brings us a powerful history of slavery but, more importantly, the consequence of untruths and how twisted religious beliefs shaped America. All educators should read it and ensure that its message is delivered to their students.”

Dr. James ”Jim” McPherson the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University, and author of “Battle Cry of Freedom, the American Civil War” wich won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 writes:

“A richly documented history of the ideology of racism that manifested itself in slavery, the Confederacy, the overthrow of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the myth of the Lost Cause that glorified the Old South and the Confederacy.”

Kristopher D. White Chief Historian, Emerging Civil War, and author of several books on the Civil War writes:

“Military history is more than just the mud and blood of the battlefield. The enduring values and beliefs of a nation equate to policy, policy and politics drives strategy, and strategy drives the prosecution of a war. In Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, Steven L. Dundas weaves together the story of the country’s original sin, slavery, into the larger fabric of antebellum and wartime America. Every aspect of American life was directly or indirectly touched by the “peculiar institution.” From the pulpit to the slave auction block, and from the cotton fields of the Deep South to the ramparts of Battery Wagner, Dundas takes readers on an unforgettable journey through the heart of perhaps the darkest chapter in American history—chattel slavery. Through exhaustive research and primary and secondary accounts, Dundas allows the evidence to speak for itself in this powerful examination from the Middle Passage to Emancipation, and beyond. This tome will be welcomed by military and social historians alike as it peels back the layers of some of the most overlooked and critical aspects of our collective history like never before.”

The book will be released in the heat of the the 2022 mid-term election. Those elections will be dominated by Right Wing hysteria regarding Critical Race Theory, and claims by conservative snowflakes that the mere mention of American racism will cause their children to be uncomfortable and traumatized. The people doing this have been terrorizing educators and school boards, with many educators receiving death threats and violent demonstrations at school board meetings. Since I have long experienced online harassment and death threats from White Supremacists and many who claim to be Christians, I expect that this book will considerably raise my profile and lead to much more targeted harassment and threats by these modern day book burning fascists.

But that is the path that I have chosen. Freedom and truth matter, and for those who believe as I that tyranny must be resisted, and that White Supremacists and theocratic Christians pose an existential threat to our democracy I cannot be silent.

What makes these people even more dangerous is that many believe that their actions to crush the rights and persecute other citizens are blessed and ordained by their god. They are banning and burning books, undermining civil rights, constitutional rights, and voting rights. the support open violence including murder of Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Women, LGBTQ people, other racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and political Liberals, who they call ”Communists and Socialists.” On January 6, 2021 they under the direction and with the wholehearted encouragement and support of former President Donald Trump, attacked the Capitol in order to allow Trump to remain in office after he lost a free and fair election.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

I completely understand why that happens. Yehuda Bauer said,  “Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.” I cannot be a bystander, and thus as long as I have breath I will continue to write and fight.


Padre Steve+


Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

My Allegiance: To the Union, Free and Undivided with Liberty for All

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been too busy to post the last week or so I am kind of catching up. Things are going well but I have been incredibly busy working in the house, working with authors and those reading my book manuscript. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion and the Politics of Race in the Civil War Era and Beyond, with the intent of writing blurbs for it.

Many have responded and are in the process of doing this, four have already submitted their blurbs, and I am honored. Here are the ones that have already gone to the publisher. Another dozen or so are in process and they include some big names.

Pulitzer Prize winning historian James McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom wrote “ A richly documented history of the ideology of racism that manifested itself in slavery, the Confederacy, the overthrow of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the myth of the Lost Cause that glorified the Old South and the Confederacy.”  

Dr. Charles Dew, Ephraim Williams Professor of History at Williams College and author of Apostles of Disunion: The Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War wrote:  “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is a book for our time. Steven L. Dundas has skillfully woven slavery, race, racism, politics, and religion into a single entity in telling this country’s complex story. Every American would profit from what he is telling us.” 

Dr. Lloyd “Vic” Hackley, military civil rights pioneer and Vietnam War hero before becoming President of the North Carolina Community College System, Vice President of the University of North Carolina System, and Chancellor of North Carolina A & T University wrote, “Steve Dundas has written the definitive account of America’s onerous history with African Americans. A must read to fully understand, teach or discuss the institution of slavery, racism, religion and their current impacts. Every school library should have a copy.”

Joe Levin, Co-Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Commission wrote, “Commander Dundas not only brings us a powerful history of slavery but, more importantly, the consequence of untruths and how twisted religious beliefs shaped America. All educators should read it and ensure that its message is delivered to their students.”

I cannot wait to get the others. I hope that it becomes a best seller and in the process help persuade people sitting on the fence.

Our Guest Room

We have been working hard in the house and have never taken more satisfaction with the work of my hands in transforming this house as a place of rest, study and peace. But it is also a place of where I will plant my flag in opposition to the White Nationalists, Neo-Confederates, Neo-Nazis, Christian Nationalists, and every potential secessionist or insurrectionist know where I stand. So I have posted my flags on our forever home in the historic, heavily African American neighborhood in Norfolk.

I posted this on Facebook this evening.

“To any secessionists or insurgents out there, know that I am a Union man dedicated to the words of the Declaration that “All men are equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Likewise the words of the Constitution echoed by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, that we commit ourselves to “building a more perfect Union.” This applies to all Americans and those who want to be, who come here many times giving up all. It is an ever expanding liberty and cannot be allowed to be denied or rolled back like it was during Jim Crow and other unfortunate times in our history.

My ancestors on both sides of my family fought for the Confederacy,even though their neighbors in Cabell County Virginia voted not to secede and instead with the rest of Wets Virginia seceded from Virginia and joined the Union. Of course they owned slaves and much land, so they turned their backs on their neighbors. Had I been alive back then I would have probably already have joined the Army because I never could just sit back and stay in one place all my life, and my choices would have been more centered around my oath,my life in the Army and loyalty to the Union like George Thomas and John Buford, more than to family members bent on destroying the country for the sake of slavery and profit.

The flags displayed are the 34 star Circle Union flag, the regimental guidon of the 6th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry, with the Circle Union circling it’s 1st Cavalry Division of the Army of the Potomac with Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg on its stripes. The flag of the gallant 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry most famous for its stand at Little Round Top, and finally the flag of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry of the legendary Irish Brigade, many of whose soldiers were recent immigrants fighting for a country where many people treated them like dirt.

Joshua Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine remarked, “But the cause for which we fought was higher; our thought wider… That thought was our power.” It still is.

We fight today with our voices, ballots, and even peaceful protests for that freedom that those men fought and died fir their descendants and all to have. Here stand I, I can do no other, so help me God.”

I will speak the truth, write the truth, and lay my life down for the truth. I fight for the truth that these people try to co-opt as being patriotic turn to myth and use to support flagrant policies of authoritarianism and race hatred that go so deep that I have a hard even fathoming as to how they can get there if they were honest in the myths that they claim to be historical facts were true.

With the resurgence of these heavily armed and violent nationalists and Nazis I expect that when Mine Eyes Have Seen They Glory is published, and if it becomes the best seller that I expect that it will become, that I will be a potential target of violence. Hell, I started receiving death threat over a decade ago, and I am in too deep to back down now.

So until tomorry.


Padre Steve+


Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Somberly Remembering 9-11-2001 and its lasting Consequences

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

September 11th is a day that always makes me more introspective. It brings back so many memories, some that I wish I could forget; but I cannot get the images of that day out of my mind. The burning towers, the people jumping to their deaths to escape the flames, and the scenes of devastation. I have decided to take the time tonight to share that day and what followed in my life and with the people that I served, including those who died.

I knew one of the victims in the attack on the Pentagon, an Army Lieutenant Colonel, Karen Wagner who commanded a Medical training company at Fort Sam Houston where I was serving as the Brigade Adjutant in 1987 and 1988. She was a very nice person, very gracious and decent, admired by everyone who knew her; I was shocked to see her name on the casualty list after the attack.

Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner, Medical Service Corps, US Army

The emotions that I feel on the anniversary of these terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of so many innocent people, and which devastated so many families, still haunts me, and my subsequent service, especially in Iraq has changed me. Years after he returned from his time in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence; the immortal Lawrence of Arabia wrote to a friend, “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” I often feel that way.

Nineteen years ago I was getting ready to go to the French Creek Gym at Camp Le Jeune North Carolina where I was serving as the Chaplain of Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division. I had returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea just two months before with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines.

Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman, US Army, former US Marine, KIA, Afghanistan 26 May 2011

One of the Marines I got to know well at 3/8 was Corporal Ergin Osman. He eventually left the Marines enlisted in the Army and was serving with the 101st Airborne Division when he and 6 members of his platoon were killed on May 26th 2011 by an Improvised Explosive Device, while hunting down a Taliban leader.

Father (Chaplain) Tim Vakoc

Another man I knew was Father Timothy Vakoc, an Army Chaplain I knew when he was a seminarian going through the Army Chaplain Officer Basic Course with in 1990. He was horribly wounded by an IED when traveling in a HUMMV to say mass for his troops near Mosul, Iraq in 2004. At the time he was a Major in the Chaplain Corps. He never made a full recovery from his wounds but was inspirational to all he met and served until he died in 2009 after having eithe been dropped, or fallen in a nursing home.

On the morning of 9-11-2001 I was preparing to transfer to the USS Hue City, a guided missile cruiser stationed in Mayport, Florida, to deploy in January 2002 to support operations against the Taliban and take part in the UN Oil Embargo against Iraq.

At the time of the attack I had already been in the military for over 20 years and I had actually taken a reduction in rank to transfer from the Army, where I was a Major in the reserves, to the Navy to serve on active duty. In those previous 20 years I had served overseas during the Cold War along the Fulda Gap. I had been mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996, and I had just missed being mobilized for Operation Desert Storm as my unit was awaiting its mobilization orders when the war ended. I had done other missions as well as the deployment to the Far East that returned from in July 2001; but nothing prepared me for that day. Like other career military officers I expected that we would be at war again and thought it might be back in the Middle East, and probably a result of some fool’s miscalculations; but like the American officers who were serving at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, I never expected what happened that morning.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 had started like so many days in my career. Routine office work, a couple of counseling cases and what I thought would be a good PT session. I was about to close out my computer browser when I saw a little headline on Yahoo News that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I paid little attention and figured that a private plane, something like a Cessna piloted by an incompetent pilot had inadvertently flown into the building.

9-11 jumpers

That delusion lasted about two minutes. I got in my car and the radio, tuned to an AM talk station had a host calling the play by play. He started screaming “oh my God another airliner flew into the other tower.” Seeking to see what was happening I went to the gym where there were many televisions. I got there and saw the towers burning, with stunned Marines and Sailors watching silently, some in tears. I went back out, drove to my office and got into uniform. After checking in with my colonel a made a quick trip to my house for my sea bags and some extra underwear, and personal hygiene items.

When I got back the headquarters we went into a meeting, and the base went on lock down mode. The gates were closed and additional checkpoints, and roadblocks established on base. Marines in full battle-rattle patrolled the perimeter and along the waterfront. I did not leave the base until the night of the 15th when things began to settle down and we all went into contingency planning mode for any military response to the attacks.

My wife, who as waiting for a doctor’s appointment with a friend saw the attacks on live television and knew when the first plane struck she told her friend that it was terrorism. Her friend responded “that damned Saddam Hussein.” Like so many of us who initially thought this, my wife’s friend was wrong.


Those were tumultuous days, so much fear; so much paranoia; and so much bad information as to who committed the attacks and what was going to happen next. One thing that I do remember that for a brief moment in time we were united as Americans. Say what you want about him now and his later decisions which proved deceitful, unwise and embroiled us in a military conflict and failed attempt to build a nation in our image in a land that never accepted foreign models of government. But on the ruins of the World Trade Center, President George W. Bush was inspirational in the days after the attack. He rallied us and led us in our grief in a way that former President Trump, who lied and continues to lie about what he saw and did that day, never could.

The fact that in February of 2020 President Trump made a peace agreement that sold out the government of Afghanistan, recognized the Taliban, forced the Afghans and others to release 5,000 Taliban fighters, including leaders who were wanted by the U.S. Government on charges of terrorism, murder, and crimes against humanity. He reduced American intelligence and air support to Afghan forces and reduced the amount of U.S. ground forces from over 7,000 to 2,500 by the end of his term. He also reduced the number contractors that the Afghan military needed desperately to maintain its fleet of U.S. weapons, vehicles, and aircraft. The deal put the official seal of defeat on the U.S. and NATO effort to stabilize the country after the withdraw. When President Biden announced to finally pullout the military moved so fast that it left the Afghans, NATO and our own State Department reeling. The military withdraw, and that of our contractors amounted to a ”skeedaddle” opening the way for the Taliban to overrun the country in under two weeks. President Biden owns the chaos of the withdrawal and the numerous failures in planning by every agency involved. at least the military was able to implement a contingency airlift that got 125,000 people out of the country in less than two weeks. it was an amazing feat, but many more could have escaped between 2018 and 2021 had not Trump and his senior advisor, Stephen Miller not slowed the pace of admitting Afghans who helped us to a crawl. The effects of that are still being felt.

hue city boarding party

A few months later I deployed aboard Hue City to the Middle East where we supported the air operations in Afghanistan, anti-terrorist operations off the Horn of Africa and in Operation Southern Watch and the U.N. Oil Embargo against Iraq.

I then did three years with Marine Security Forces, traveling around the world to support Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team companies. For three years I was on the road one to three weeks a month traveling to the Middle East, Europe, the Pacific and many parts of the United States.

In 2008 I was promoted and transferred to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group Two, from which I was deployed with my assistant to Iraq, where we served as members of the Iraq Assistance Group in all Al Anbar Province supporting small teams of Marine Corps, Army and Joint Force adviser teams to the Iraqi Army, Border troops, Port of Entry police, police and highway patrol.


When I returned from Iraq I was a changed man and while I am proud of my service I am haunted by my experiences. One cannot go to war, see its devastation, see the wounded and dead, as well as the innocents traumatized by it. One cannot get shot at, or be in enclosed rooms, meeting with people that might be friends, or might be enemies, and while everyone else is armed, you are not.

War changed me, and my homecoming was more difficult than I could have imagined. I never felt so cut off from my country, my society, my church, or even other chaplains. My experience is not uncommon among those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter those who have served in almost any modern war. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic All Quite on the Western Front who wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

That being said I would not trade my experience for anything. The experience of PTSD and other war related afflictions has been a blessing as well as a curse. They have changed my world view and made me much more emphatic to the suffering and afflictions of others, as well when they are abused, mistreated, terrorized and discriminated against. These experiences along with my training as a historian, theologian, and hospital chaplain clinician before and after my tour have given me a lot bigger perspective than I had before.

But I have to live with all of the memories. Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

As hard as this has been these are good things, and as I go on I wonder what will happen next. I do not think that the wars and conflicts which have followed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks will be over for years, maybe even decades. I pray for peace, but too many people, some even in this country seem to live for the bloodlust of war. One can only hope and as my Iraqi friends say, Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

I wonder too, if the words of T.E. Lawrence reflecting on his service in the Arab Revolt are not as applicable to me and others who came back from Iraq, “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” I have lost too many friends in these wars, including men who could not readjust to home, many like me. I have seen the men and women, broken in body, mind and spirit and I wonder if any of it was worth it, and if in some of our response, especially the invasion of Iraq has not made a bad situation even worse, and turned the war into a generational conflict.

As for me, I am now retired after 39 years, 4 months and 6 days of military service. Yesterday I was given the honor of giving the invocation and benediction at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Though retired I am part of the shipyard family, and get invited back for events like this. It was more somber, reflective and less vindictive than in the past. I think that it will take a long time for us to digest the attacks of 9-11-2001 and their aftermath, especially our defeat in Afghanistan.

But that being said there are still U.S. Military personnel in harm’s way in many places around the world. I wish I could say that they will be safe and that there will be no more killed or wounded, but I know that will not be the case. Now we have young men and women serving in wars that began before they were born, but now Afghanistan is not among them. We have to now ask if it was worth it and

Yesterday and today there were many ceremonies and services to remember the victims of the attacks. I think that is fitting. As I said, I gave the invocation and benediction at one of those events. As I gave them I could feel the emotions, see the faces, and remember all the people I knew and served alongside who died that day or in the following wars.

So please, have a good day and whatever you do do not forget those whose lives were forever changed by those dastardly attacks and all that has transpired in the years since. I do hope that things will get better and that some semblance of peace will return to the world, and even more importantly that amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic and the damnable political division and violence in our country, much of it brought on by the President and some of his White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi followers, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and Christian theocrats whose message and goal is little different than the people who attacked us twenty years ago. Under the direction of former President Trump these people attempted to overthrow the United States in a way that no foreign enemy could ever attempt. They conducted an armed insurrection and attempt to capture the Capitol in order to prevent the Congress from fulfilling its Constitutional duty to certify the vote of the Electoral College in hopes that Trump, who lost the election could illegally remain in power.

Sadly, they pose more of a threat to our Republic and democracy than Osama Bin Laden, A Qaida, or the Taliban ever could.

Since my retirement we have moved to our forever home in a historic neighborhood in Norfolk. I am now teaching and writing, and my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion and the Politics of Race in the Civil War Era and Beyond which will be published by Potomac Books of University of Nebraska Press next year. We have made the transition to civilian life with our four Papillon babies, Izzy, Pierre, Maddy Lyn, and our newest a rescue named Sunny Dae who was rescued from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

That is all for the night.

Peace, Shalom, and blessings,

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…


Padre Steve+


Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

The End In Afghanistan: A Misbegotten Campaign Without a Strategy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have resisted writing or commenting much on the final defeat of the United States on Afghanistan’s Street Without Joy. It has been a disaster 20 years in the making, 40 if you include the initial U.S. support to the Mujahideen resisting the Soviet invasion and intervention in Afghanistan. Please note, this article has no political animus. The disaster in Afghanistan was presided over by two Republican and Two Democratic Administrations, as well as the previous Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations, which though connected are a separate subject.

As I said there are four Democratic and four Republican administrations that are complicit in what happened over the past 40 years in Afghanistan. Four administrations, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton were the prologue to the disaster. The following four, the Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden administrations the principal culprits.

Since I was a Republican from 1976 until 2008 and a Democrat since I try to be honest about all of them. I write from the point of view of history, policy and strategy, not my allegiance to any President or Party. Thus you will see criticisms of President George W. Bush who I voted for twice, Barack Obama who I also voted for twice, and Joe Biden for whom I also voted.

I do not neglect the responsibility of Republican and Democrat controlled Congresses who did not exercise their duty to declare war or enforce the War Powers Act. Instead they passed legislation that passed the buck to the President on foreign and domestic military and security policy in a broad Authorization of the Use of Force, and Patriot Act of 2001. Both were passed by large bipartisan majorities signaling the mood of the time to “get something done.” They were signed by a “Who’s Who” of leading Democrats and Republicans and out of 535 Senators and Congressmen and women, only Representative Shiela Jackson Lee of Houston, Texas, voted against the amorphous Authoritarian of Use of Force. Her arguments on the House floor were sound, but she was called a traitor and sympathizer with our enemies. As far as the Patriot Act, only Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin voted against it along with 62 Democrats and 3 Republicans in the House.

Now many people on the extremes of the political right and left are consumed in the search for blame, something that runs deep in American history. Lost in this search for blame was the fact that our military and those of our NATO allies evacuated almost 125,000 people by air from a landlocked land, in a contested and chaotic environment in just 10 days. Nothing like this has ever been done before. The evacuation, despite the failures in planning was a miracle brought about by the skill and bravery of our military that executed it.

Unfortunately the American and NATO war in Afghanistan never had a consistent strategy that military or civilian leaders could articulate to the public, explain to the troops, or convince the world of its rightness. This does not diminish the valor, courage or honor of most of our soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen and CIA officers, and our allies who served in the field. Unfortunately we had who’s actions resulted in war crimes that harmed our cause and national reputation. These actions added to a list of actions by the United States Government government, particularly the ambush administrations in Afghanistan and Iraq that would have met many of the criteria that we tried the Germans for war crimes at Nuremberg.

The problem was that after the heinous attacks and mass murder on American soil by Al Qaida on 9-11-2001 our nation momentarily came together to punish those who did this. The Bush administration rapidly decided to not deal with this as a terrorist attack by a non-state actor, but as something akin to Pearl Harbor, an attack by a nation state. The Bush administration would continue to use that reasoning to attack Iraq which had not been a participant in the attacks of 9-11-2001, but identified as part of an “Axis of Evil” along with Iran, which condemned the attacks and at that time, as well as North Korea. The propaganda was initially successful, but once the American people got bored and realized they actually were not going to be asked to make any sacrifices because the burden they lost interest. Thus the war, which required the utmost support of the people was placed on the volunteer military which including reserves and national guard forces numbered under 1% of the population. Evidence and intelligence to the contrary was ignored or dismissed, with devastating consequences.

Unfortunately, we, as we most always do did not take the time to learn the lessons of history. The fact is that every foreign power that has ever invaded and tried to occupy Afghanistan all failed, often at great cost. The Greeks under Alexander the Great, the Persians, the Indians, the British on more than one occasion, and the Soviet Union all failed miserably. The truth is that Afghanistan cannot be ruled by foreigners, or even Afghan tribal leaders who refuse to make alliances with other tribal leaders, even ancient enemies, and appointing a national leader that they agreed upon. So long as that King did not ally himself with foreigners, offend Islam, or betray his supporters Afghanistan retained some stability, even though it was not a true nation in our understanding. Afghan history has been dictated by mix of Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Muslims who did not war against each other based on their sect of Islam, but on family and tribal grievances. We never understood this, despite the vast amount of literature left by those we followed into the deadly abyss. That willful ignorance of history was perhaps the most significant factor in our failed adventure on our own “Street Without Joy.” (The Street Without Joy” was a highway in French Indochina upon which many French, French Foreign Legion, Vietnamese and North African “Colonials” fought and died, and is the title of a book by French Journalist Bernard Fall who was killed by an IED while accompanying a patrol of U.S. Marines during our Vietnam War. Fall died in 1967, and Commentary Magazine wrote of him I. 1968:

“Intellectually an American pragmatist with a French sense of irony, Fall did not take a doctrinaire stance against American intervention in South Vietnam. On the other hand, he made two general criticisms of the U.S. Indochina policy: first, that it lacked a coherent frame of reference and second, that, based on theories unrelated to the local situation, it lacked flexibility. Though Fall continued to hope for improvement, his description of U.S. policy in Vietnam points to a long case history behind its now-apparent symptoms Of schizophrenia.”

The same could be said of the American invasion and attempt at nation building in Afghanistan.

Israeli Historian and former Ambassador to the United Staes, Michael Oren, wrote in his book “Faith Power and Fantasy: American and the Middle East from 1776 to the Present” regarding how President Bush took the US to war in Afghanistan and Iraq:

“Not inadvertently did Bush describe the struggle against Islamic terror as a “crusade to rid the world of evildoers.” Along with this religious zeal, however, the president espoused the secular fervor of the neoconservatives…who preached the Middle East’s redemption through democracy. The merging of the sacred and the civic missions in Bush’s mind placed him firmly in the Wilsonian tradition. But the same faith that deflected Wilson from entering hostilities in the Middle East spurred Bush in favor of war.”

Likewise, we built a military to fight peer competitors, not insurgents. We have never succeeded in any “small war” that we have ever engaged, even if we won the military actions. When we left we sowed seeds of distrust and hatred, and the feeling that we did not uphold the values espoused in our founding documents. As Mark Twain wrote concerning the American War against the Philippines after we took them over following the Spanish-American War:

“There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .”

But the Afghan war was left to a small professional military and Federal law enforcement agencies to fight, while Bush in the aftermath of 9-11 told people to “go shopping” and to resume normal lives. We were led into these wars based on the false premise that we could remake the Middle East in our image. Lie after lie, from every administration from Bush to Biden assured us that things were going well against all evidence to the contrary.

It began with the Bush Administration which led us into the quagmire, followed by the Obama administration, which afraid to oppose General Stanley McCrystal’s urge for a major surge halfheartedly acquiesced because Afghanistan was the “good war.” After meeting some of the military objectives we began a withdraw after killing Osama Bin Laden in 2011. The surge resulted in the highest numbers of US casualties during the war and only temporarily hindered the Taliban. Like the Bush and Obama administration’s conduct of the war the Trump Administration did not tell the truth about their intentions in Afghanistan which differed from Bush and Obama. As early as 2013 Trump said that the war was lost, announced his decision to withdraw if he became President, praised the Taliban and took cheap shots at the US military, its leadership and even the troops. However, he did not fully withdraw during his term, and negotiated the withdraw with the Taliban and excluded the Afghan government from those negotiations. At that point the moral of the Afghan military which had been increasing in effectiveness collapsed. They had often fought valiantly and at great cost, they could fight and even defeat Taliban forces, but Trump’s betrayal of them cost us their support. Had they been included in the Trump-Taliban negotiations and treated and supported as they should have been, they might have met or exceeded the expectations that we based our assessment of their strength and resilience upon and been able to support our withdraw so long as the contractors who maintained their advanced weapons, a certain amount of former military trainers and advisors remained, and were provided needed air support from ships and bases outside Afghanistan. Trump’s deal was a disaster for the Afghans and ensured that no-matter how it was done a certain amount of chaos would affect our withdraw.

President Biden, has responsibility for the mistakes made in the withdraw. That is in his wheelhouse, but he did tell the truth and kept the promise to end this war, despite the political cost. He has been heavily criticized for this, but Trump would have done the same, after all he negotiated the withdraw with the Taliban that excluded the Afghan government from those negotiations. His actions set the stage for the collapse of the Afghan military and government.

The Afghan Army, especially their highly trained Special Forces had often fought valiantly and at great cost, they could fight and even defeat Taliban forces, but Trump’s betrayal of them cost us their support. This was much the fault of DOD and NSC leadership who should have fought harder to maintain full support support to them until our withdraw was safety accomplished.

Taliban leaders understood this and made deals with local tribal leaders/ warlords, governors, local officials, police,and military commanders. These deals ensured that when the Taliban launched their final offensive when the bulk of American military forced withdrew, that those leaders mostly surrendered and allowed the Taliban to advance. The Afghan soldiers knew that they had no chance after the May 2020 agreement between Trump and the Taliban, they wanted to fight and win but knew that they had been betrayed.

In today’s blame game people criticize not starting the withdraw earlier and there is truth to this, but that being said, had we started earlier the panic would have began then. There is criticism of handing Bagram Air Base to the Afghans in early July, but we had already removed the troops needed to guard it because DOD pulled out as fast as it could leaving State, CIA, and everyone else out to fend for themselves. State should have gotten approval early to begin processing our Afghan friends and scheduling flights out from Kabul and Kandahar well before the final collapse of the Afghan government, military and security forced began. The Afghans knew in 2020 that we had abandoned them, and the rush by DOD to get our troops and contractors out hindered everything else that happened.

Unfortunately, Biden required nothing of the Taliban, just as Trump had not. Afghan soldiers who would have fought to the death were left to their fate, having no logistical support, no air support, being cut off from their supply lines, and serving a corrupt government that often refused to pay them or protect their families.

Biden could have prevented the rout of Afghan forces by not allowing DOD and the contractors to withdraw so fast which would have made the withdraw less chaotic. His decision to,withdraw was correct but could have been accomplished much better as I will explain.

As to the withdraw, our interagency planning sucked. With the deadline of 31 August DOD, State, the NSC, CIA, and NATO should have met and settled on a plan to determine what had to be done to ensure a safe and successful evacuation by early April at the latest. That is something that Biden should have ensured and placed a single individual in charge of a joint, interagency and international effort to safely evacuate all the people we could. To my knowledge hat wasn’t done before everything started going to shit, then we acted with speed but in crisis mode.

Despite all of our mistakes, poor planning, lack of coordination, and our over optimistic estimation of the Afghan military and government strength and resilience, the evacuation should be considered like Dunkirk. Dunkirk was not a victory, but it was miraculous.

The fact is that no-matter when we began we were not going to get everyone out. In 1940 the French very much resented that more French were not evacuated from a Dunkirk, Calais, or Cherbourg, and that following their surrender to the a Germans the British Royal Navy attacked French Navy units who had been their allies days before sinking several battleships and cruisers, seizing French ships in British ports, and killing many French sailors.

However, like then when the British and French high commands did not coordinate their efforts we didn’t coordinate ours. We also ignored intelligence and put our bets the the rosy assessments about the capability and resilience of the Afghan government and military. This meant in July when things started falling apart we were caught flat footed, just like when the Germans broke through the Ardennes, crossed the Meuse River, outflanked the Maginot Line and made for the English Channel, and like a scythe cut off the best French armies and the British Expeditionary Force. Likewise, the British and French did not expect that the King of Belgium would without warning surrender his army, which still had a lot of capability to fight. The Belgian surrender opened a massive hole in the defense that could not be plugged.

I think that the Battle of France the example to best explain what happened in Afghanistan, not South Vietnam or Beirut.

There is another similarity, many French had not desire for war after the bloodletting of the First World War. Likewise conservative French politicians, generals and admirals hated the Third Republic and as General Weygand, the last commander before the French surrender said, “I didn’t get the Boches but I got the Republic.” Their country had been tearing itself apart as the left and right battled to rule the country. I wonder how much of this is true of Americans today. There are certainly many on the political right praising the Taliban and encouraging the overthrow of or government and system of government for an authoritarian and theocratic regime. Most of those advocating this, in and out of government are fanatical Fundamentalist Christians.

We can easily pass the blame for what happened to the President’s, Congresses, and Courts who initiated policies, launched wars, passed legislation which was mostly upheld by Courts, including the Supreme Court. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were fought but less than 1% of our population, all volunteers. With not skin in the game most Americans became cheerleaders for or against the wars, voting for politicians without regard for policy. Policy and strategy was what mattered most and we never had one.

I emailed the late great Catholic Priest, theologian, sociologist and political commentator Andrew Greeley from Iraq in 2007. My concern was what would happen to the Iraqi people. He emailed me back and said, “Sadly, Father, most Americans don’t care about the Iraqis.”

Likewise, most of us did not care about the Afghan people unless it suited our domestic political ends and the leaders that we backed. Morality, faith, and ethics were damned, we just didn’t care.

I lost too many friends to let things remain this way. The truth matters. Our Declaration and Constitution matter, our form of government maters, our respect for our laws and international law matter. The same is true of the people in lands we attack, invade or occupy matter, as do those of the nations who stand by us as allies.

Finally our freedoms here matter, especially the freedom of speech, association and the right to call our government into account for what it does or does not do, regardless of what political party has power. These rights are being eroded across our country, even as we seek to impose them on others. However, if we trample them why should anyone in any other country believe us.

As a nation we left Afghanistan with a stain on our national honor. Like T. E. Lawrence wrote about the British occupation of Iraq following the First World War:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.

Well, we experienced a disaster 20 years in the making. However, that does nothing to detract from the military, CIA and State Department personnel who evacuated 120,000 souls in less than two weeks by air in a landlocked land under intense military and terrorist pressure. Call it the “Miracle of Kabul” for lack of a better name. God bless the men and women of these air crews and the men and women on the ground who provided security to get so many people out. They are heroes.

Our war in Afghanistan is over, despite the words of those so addicted to war that they insist that we will have to go back in, but like in 2001 they have no strategy, or no logical explanation of just what they expect the military to accomplish in another campaign to eradicate terrorists based in Afghanistan.

So until the next time,


Padre Steve+


Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Venting My Spleen About the Afghanistan Lies and Terrible Loss of Life

The British Military Cemetery in Habbinyah Iraq, 2008

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been doing a lot of work around the house because it has to be done and because t keeps me from getting sucked in to the nonstop blame game going on regarding the recent events relates to our withdrawal from Afghanistan. I posted this on my Facebook timeline tonight. It went rather long so I decided to post it here exactly as it appeared on Facebook.

Have a good night.


Padre Steve+

I am so freaking tired of the bullshit that I see being promoted by some people of Facebook about what is going on in Afghanistan, including by an active duty Marine nephew of mine. I am tired of seeing the bullshit. If people don’t like it screw your and drop me. I am angry about what is going on but to blame Biden for everything and “losing Afghanistan” is pure lies. He has resposbilty for the way the evacuation was conducted, but he didn’t lose a 20 year long war. Bush, Obama, Trump, most of Congress, the defense contractors and many in the military and intelligence establishment are also at fault, and probably more so. Then there are us, the citizens who really never cared because most of us had no investment in the war. I did and didn’t turn my back those 20 years. I have lost too many friends dead, maimed, or broken psychologically, physically, and spiritually to do so. Among all, the cheerleaders of ware and those who nodded their heads and looked the other way while their guy was in the White House are the most guilty. Think about it hard. That is the truth. I no longer care if people like me or not. This is about truth and it is about those who gave their all in a doomed war. When you point the finger of blame Biden or any other single President take a look in the mirror, four are pointed at you.

Our policies though described as noble by Presidents going back long before 9-11-2001 have often, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq would have been considered as war crimes had we been the Germans at Nuremberg. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who served as the chief US prosecutor at the major war crimes trials said as the rules for the trials were developed said: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Marine Corps Major General and two,time Medal of Honor recipient Smedley Butler wrote of the soldiers going to fight in WWI “Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. The was the “war to end wars.” This was the “war to make the world safe for democracy.” No one told them that dollars and cents were the real reason. No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here…”

The military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower described before he left office is alive and well, now joined by a professional propaganda network or war cheerleaders who cannot justify their lives without promoting endless war. When the Cold War ended they found new enemies, and they are now strengthened by a Taliban-like version of a Christian Nationalism that is devoid of the teachings of Jesus as are the Taliban and ISIS devoid of the teachings of Mohammed.

As was written of the British Invasion and intervention in the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-1842 “WITH THE BENEFIT of hindsight, among the more important lessons the British should have learned from the First Afghan War were many that resonate today. Their leaders were not honest with themselves or their public about their motivation, providing partial and misleading information to both Parliament and public. In their own minds they exaggerated the threats to their position in India and exaggerated the power of their available troops to cope with the demands an Afghan campaign would make on them. The British entered Afghanistan without clear objectives or a defined exit strategy or timetable. In what could be termed regime change, they endeavored to impose on the country a ruler unpopular with his people. The Duke of Wellington correctly prophesied that Britain’s difficulties would begin when its military success ended. These successes led them into an open-ended commitment to a ruler whom they had not chosen well and, when they realized this, hesitated to different from each other and speaking mutually incomprehensible languages. They did not understand that these tribes united only rarely and that when they did so it was against a foreign invader such as themselves…. In general, British troops struggled to distinguish between hostile and peaceful Afghans, both in Kabul and in the countryside, even when, as was not always the case, they tried hard to make such distinctions. As a consequence innocent civilians were punished and killed, and even more of the population were turned into ready recruits for the enemy. The British and the Afghans alike had problems in understanding each other’s cultures and characters. The British stereotyped the Afghans as cunning, corrupt and deceitful and thus found it difficult to believe in the motives of those who were in fact well disposed toward them. The Afghans accepted British protestations of their reputation for straight dealing at face value and were thus the more let down when the British proved duplicitous and Machiavellian.26 The Afghan propensity for assassination as well as the taking and subsequent trading between themselves of hostages initially appalled the British, but later they at times found themselves complicit in plans for targeted assassination as the easiest way to rid themselves of troublesome opponents. The attitudes and ambitions of Persia and the passage of forces and weapons across the Helmand River as well as the porous, imprecise border complicated British policies. Changes of government in Britain changed policy in Afghanistan. Politicians—even those who favored the intervention—were concerned about cost as timescales extended, preferring to take the short rather than the long-term view. In Kabul, too, British civilian officials and military commanders bickered about the division of responsibilities between them. Civilian officials such as Macnaghten, whose careers depended on the success of the mission, created a conspiracy of optimism.27 Generals protested in vain against withdrawal of forces to a level that led to an overstretching of resources and a consequent inability to control more Changes of government in Britain changed policy in Afghanistan. Politicians—even those who favored the intervention—were concerned about cost as timescales extended, preferring to take the short rather than the long-term view. In Kabul, too, British civilian officials and military commanders bickered about the division of responsibilities between them. Civilian officials such as Macnaghten, whose careers depended on the success of the mission, created a conspiracy of optimism.27 Generals protested in vain against withdrawal of forces to a level that led to an overstretching of resources and a consequent inability to control more Changes of government in Britain changed policy in Afghanistan. Politicians—even those who favored the intervention—were concerned about cost as timescales extended, preferring to take the short rather than the long-term view. In Kabul, too, British civilian officials and military commanders bickered about the division of responsibilities between them. Civilian officials such as Macnaghten, whose careers depended on the success of the mission, created a conspiracy of optimism. Generals protested in vain against withdrawal of forces to a level that led to an overstretching of resources and a consequent inability to control more than a few strategic outposts outside Kabul, rather than the whole countryside. Sometimes even these outposts were overrun. The British found it easier to purchase acquiescence to their own and Shah Shuja’s activities than to win over Afghan hearts and minds. Therefore, perhaps the biggest British miscalculation was—in response to cost-cutting pressures from home—unilaterally to reduce some of the subsidies paid to Afghan tribal chiefs. Their economy measure was immediately followed by an Afghan rising.

Auckland, a pleasant character, had proved a good administrator in less demanding posts in the government in London. However, even if the post of governor-general was slightly less powerful than that of Roman emperor, he was insufficiently strong a character or leader when placed in supreme command of policy in India, thousands of miles and many weeks in terms of communication away from London, to withstand either the conspiracy of optimism generated by Macnaghten from Kabul or pressures from home both to economize and to expedite success and withdrawal. It was not that he was a complete failure—he did restrain some of Macnaghten’s plans for operations beyond Afghan borders—but that he was not equipped temperamentally or intellectually to dominate the situation. He preferred to acquiesce in his subordinates’ plans to continue existing policies when they began to go awry, rather than ordering either a halt or a thorough review. Chief among Auckland’s subordinates was Macnaghten. Though an undoubtedly clever man, he was out of both his milieu and his depth in Afghanistan. Nearly all his career had been spent in the secretariat in Calcutta, and he had little experience of independent command. His ingrained optimism led him throughout to minimize or ignore difficulties. He underestimated the military capabilities of the Afghans and overestimated those of the British and Indian troops, leaving him both to accept troop reductions and deployments when he should not have and to propose grandiose operations beyond Shah Shuja’s borders—for example, against Herat—which were entirely unfeasible. Though he understood the importance of making it appear to the Afghan population that Shah Shuja was a true king and thus ensured that his troops led the army on its marches and made the first ceremonial entries into cities, in promoting the invasion and Shah Shuja himself, he was far too optimistic in his assessment of Shah Shuja’s abilities and of the ease with which the diverse and stubborn Afghans could be induced to accept as a ruler a man they considered to have an aura of ill fortune.”

Back in Britain, politicians and others concentrated on the political and moral aspects, both more subjective and more difficult to analyze. Sir John Kaye, the historian who collected many of the primary documents and indeed published in full those that had been expurgated or omitted from the government’s publication justifying the war in 1839, saw the hand of God in the outcome: “The calamity of 1842 was retribution sufficient … to stamp in indelible characters upon the page of history, the great truth that the policy which was pursued in Afghanistan was unjust, and that, therefore, it was signally disastrous. It was … an unrighteous usurpation, and the curse of God was on it from the first. Our successes at the outset were a part of the curse. They lapped us in false security, and deluded us to our overthrow. This is the great lesson … ‘The Lord God of recompenses shall surely requite.’ ”

Henry Lushington, another commentator, wrote in a book-long analysis of the conflict in 1844: “We entered Afghanistan to effect a change of dynasty—we withdrew from it professing our readiness to acknowledge any government which the Afghans may themselves think fit to establish. We entered it above all to establish a government friendly to ourselves. Are the Afghans our friends now?… Except for the anarchy we have left in the place of order, the hatred in the place of kindness, all is as it was before … The received code of international morality is not even in the nineteenth century very strict. One principle however seems to be admitted in the theory, if not the practice of civilised men, that an aggressive war—a war undertaken against unoffending parties with a view to our own benefit only—is unjust, and conversely that a war to be just must partake the character of a defensive war. It may be defensive in various ways … either preventing an injury which it is attempted to inflict, or of exacting reparation for one inflicted, and taking the necessary security against its future infliction but in one way or other defensive it must be.” He could find no justification for the campaign being a defensive war since “the Afghans had not injured us either nationally or individually.” He believed that individuals could not place the blame for the war solely on the government: “The crime … is one of which the responsibility is shared by every Englishman. It is no new thing to say that a nation and especially a free nation is generally accountable for the conduct of its government.” Lushington placed particular emphasis on the impact of misjudgment. “The great error of Sir William Macnaghten,” he wrote, “appears to us to have been the attempt to bestow too soon and without sufficient means of coercing those who had hitherto lived at the expense of their weaker neighbours, the unappreciated blessings of an organised and powerful government upon the people of Afghanistan.

We have received a severe lesson which we may make a useful one if we choose to learn from it well, if not we shall perpetrate injustices again and again.” A report produced while the war was still in progress by one of the committees of the East India Company, which, as Hobhouse had confessed, had been largely ignored in the conduct of the war, stated, “This war of robbery is waged by the English government through the intervention of the government of India without the knowledge of England or of Parliament … and therefore evading the check placed by the constitution on the exercise of the prerogative of the crown in declaring war. It presents, therefore, a new crime in the annals of nations—a secret war. It had been made by a people without their knowledge, against another people who had committed no offence. Effects …: loss of England’s character for fair dealing; loss of her character of success; the Mussulman population is rendered hostile.” The Times in May 1842 commented, “This nation spent £15 million on a less than profitable effort after self-aggrandisement in Afghanistan, and spends £30,000 a year on a system of education satisfactory to nobody.” However, calls for a full parliamentary inquiry into the background to the war and into the doctoring of the government papers, led by, among others, a newly elected Tory member of Parliament named Benjamin Disraeli, came to nothing.

Outside Britain there was general satisfaction at Britain’s unexpected reverses in Afghanistan. In the United States the Afghan War took up numerous column inches in the nation’s newspapers, large and small. Outrage at the “odium” and “wickedness” of the British intervention and admiration for the “indomitable love of independence” of the Afghans were almost universal. Atrocities committed by the British as they sought retribution were equally condemned. Afghanistan became somewhat of an issue in the 1842 congressional elections with British attitudes and actions being seen as emblematic of behavior America should avoid….”

“Now was the time for analysis and blame-sharing. Sir Jasper Nicolls, commander in chief in India, wrote to Ellenborough, succinctly listing eight reasons for the campaign’s failure.

1st: Making war with a peace establishment. 2nd: Making war without a safe base of operations. 3rd: Carrying our native army … into a strange and cold climate, where they and we were foreigners, and both considered as infidels. 4th: Invading a poor country, and one unequal to supply our wants, especially our large establishment of cattle. 5th: Giving undue power to political agents. 6th: Want of forethought and undue confidence in the Afghans on the part of Sir William Macnaghten. 7th: Placing our magazines, even our treasure, in indefensible places. 8th: Great military neglect and mismanagement after the outbreak.

The Afghans regardless of tribe or branch of Islam have long memories.

“The Afghans see the last two centuries of interaction with the European powers and the United States as one continuum. A British officer reported recently how an Afghan government minister had reproached him that the British had burned down the covered market in Kabul. Fearing some hasty action by his nation’s troops, he eventually discovered that the remark had referred to the burning of the bazaar by the British at the end of the First Afghan War. Along the route of the catastrophic retreat Afghans today show coins seized from the British baggage train, which have passed down their families, and recount the deeds of their ancestors in slaying the infidel British, while pointing to the sites of the battles. Invoking events long past, a recent Taliban recruiting slogan asked Afghans, “Do you want to be remembered as a son of Dost Mohammed or a son of Shah Shuja?”

(From “The Dark Defile: Britain’s Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan” by Diana Preston, 2012.)

T.E. Lawrence wrote of the British intervention and occupation of Iraq following the First World War: “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

British military historian and theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart wrote in his book “Why Don’t We Learn from History”:

“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about…

The most dangerous of all delusions are those that arise from the adulteration of history in the imagined interests of national and military morale…

We learn from history that men have constantly echoed the remark ascribed to Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” And often in circumstances that make us wonder why. It is repeatedly used as a smoke screen to mask a manoeuvre, personal or political, and to cover an evasion of the issue. It may be a justifiable question in the deepest sense. Yet the longer I watch current events, the more I have come to see how many of our troubles arise from the habit, on all sides, of suppressing or distorting what we know quite well is the truth, out of devotion to a cause, an ambition, or an institution; at bottom, this devotion being inspired by our own interest.”

That is where we are after 20 years of folly. Young Marines who were babies when Al Qaida attacked the Twin Towers and Pentagon on 9/11/2001 are dying to rescue people who put their trust in us. Unfortunately, four Administrations have proved that we used them to further our strategic interests with little regard for them.

There. I have said my peace. I have not made this political because there is enough blame to go around to implicate every President, most members of the House and Senate, professional and appointed officials in DOD, State, CIA, FBI, NSA, the media, DOD contractors and the defense industry, church leaders, and the endless supply of talking heads on every cable news channel justifying their actions or blaming others to go around.

So if you have any sense stop getting your news from Facebook and Twitter memes, half truths and complete falsehoods put out from every part of the political spectrum and start learning history or shut your damned mouths. Don’t like me saying that then go fornicate yourself.

A Gravestone at Habbinyah


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More Thoughts on the Afghan Collapse from 2012

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

this is another article that I published in 2012 about Afghanistan. Once again it is an article that is informed by history, culture, and military strategy devoid of a clear political goal. It deals with our violations of the laws of war, war crimes, and how they effected the campaign, and the duplicity of former Afghan President Karzai and the number of attacks on U.S. and NATO forces by our supposed allies in the Afghan military and police forces. The article, first posted on March 17th 2012 was entitled Failing to Learn from History: the Lesson of the First Anglo-Afghan War and Questions About the U.S. – NATO Campaign. Like the article that I republished last night it deals with our mistakes, but even more importantly the unreliability for the Afghan government and security forces in being committed to with the war for their freedom over the Taliban. The link to the article is here in case the reader thinks this is something that I just came up with. I pride myself on being honest so here is the link that is the original article that follows below.

I will continue to republish some of my older Afghanistan articles and write more as I find out more about the collapse of the Afghan government and military in the past week and a half.


Padre Steve

“The Americans in Afghanistan are Demons. They claim they burned Korans by mistake, but really those were “Satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies.” Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai

It seems that we in the West seldom learn from history nor do certain Afghan leaders like Hamid Karzai. The situation in Afghanistan has taken on a more ominous tone as the situation continues to spiral downward with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s demand for the US and NATO to redeploy their troops to large bases and leave the countryside to Afghan control. Even more ominously he said that the Afghan-NATO relationship was “at the end of the rope.”  Karzai alluded that he did not believe that US and NATO account of the killing of 16 Afghan villagers near Kandahar.

This should come as no surprise to any observer of Afghanistan or anyone familiar with the relationship of Afghan leaders with western occupiers.  Karzai knows that the US-NATO era is coming to an end and even though he rules only because he is buttressed by western military power he is now trying to ensure his political and literal survival when we leave be it in 2013 or 2014.  The one thing that Karzai needs to keep in mind is that like his predecessors who turned on their western supporters be they British or Soviet he will be dangling from the end of the rope when we leave. He and his corrupt band of thieves who have alienated and plundered their own people will not survive their wrath once the protective cordon of American and NATO troops is withdrawn.

Karzai’s anti-American stance is further reinforced by the growing number of killings of US and NATO troops by Afghan police, soldiers and other personnel. Even this week an attack was made by an interpreter who drove a stolen pickup truck at a Marine Corps General and his British Brigadier assistant commander at Kandahar while awaiting the arrival of Secretary of Defense Panetta. Likewise the death of a Marine in February was officially announced as being at the hand of an Afghan soldier. The death occurred before the Afghan reaction to the burning of the Koran and was the 7th NATO service member who died at the hands of Afghan forces in February.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales at the National Training Center in 2011 (US Army/DoD Photo)

The final nail in the coffin for the campaign occurred last week when Staff Sergeant Robert Bales for unknown reasons went on a shooting rampage killing 16 Afghan civilians including 9 children when they were asleep in their homes.  Bales actions whether attributable to a psychological breakdown, being drunk or if he was simply a cold blooded killer have effectively destroyed any chance of the United States and NATO recovering the situation in Afghanistan. It is already said that Bales attorney plans to use the case to also put the US war effort on trial. Since Bales reportedly has a Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI and possibly PTSD who allegedly was told that he would not be deployed again expect that the Army Medical Department and Madigan Army Medical Center will be raked over the coals. Those institutions and the Commanders of Joint-Base Lewis McChord are already being investigated for downgrading PTSD diagnosis to other mental illnesses that do not qualify for medical disability payments.

Staff Sergeant Bales appears to be a man who appeared until this incident to be an honorable and professional soldier with a distinguished combat record. However he had a number of potentially troubling legal and personal situations occur over the past number of years and had not been selected for promotion. How those events play into this and what may have happened to push him over the edge or to unleash an evil in him that no one knew was there will be the subject of much debate in the coming weeks.  None of it will be good for the United States.

At the same time the question will have to be asked how and why a soldier with injuries of PTSD and TBI was deployed as part of a small team supporting Special Forces troops instead of with his own unit even after allegedly being told that he would not redeploy.  That is a question that must be answered.  Why would the Army deploy a soldier with known PTSD and TBI as an Individual Augment with different unit than which he was assigned? In this environment he would not be in a place to have the same camaraderie of being part of his own unit probably suffer much more isolation with the inherent dangers of such a situation. Having served on small bases in Iraq with the small teams of advisors and having worked with Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen assigned to commands as Individual Augments (IAs) and having been one myself I can say that these assignments are often much more dangerous for those with preexisting trauma.

The result of this latest incident coming on the heels of the burning of the Koran and other religious texts at Bagram Air Base, the release of a You Tube video of a US Marine Scout Sniper team urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters and the revelation of the “Kill team” in 2010 has for all practical purposes ended any chance of making a successful transition in Afghanistan.

Last Stand of the 44th Regiment of Foot 1842

Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good war” and for a couple of years that is what it was. US forces had taken down the Taliban regime with minimal effort in 2001 and appeared to be well on their way to finishing off Al Qaeda and banishing the Taliban from Afghanistan. However in 2003 the US took its focus off of Afghanistan by invading Iraq. We also had placed our trust in Hamid Karzai to guide Afghanistan into a new and democratic era. Karzai has proven to be much like Sujah Shah Durrani who the British imposed on Afghanistan in 1838 when they could not get Emir Dost Mohammed Khan to do their bidding in trying to keep Russia and Persia from dominating Afghanistan. That was a mistake of epic proportions that led to one of the greatest British military, diplomatic and political disasters of the Empire.

A survivor to the First Anglo-Afghan War Chaplain G.R. Gleig wrote about that war something that may be said about our campaign there in years to come:

“a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.” 

We can pray that it doesn’t happen that way. What started as an attempt to find and kill Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan in October of 2001 has turned into a long term occupation that serves no strategic interest of the United States.  Nearly 100,000 US troops are tied down in a country where they can do little conduct local operations against an intractable enemy to support a corrupt government that the people of Afghanistan loathe.  It is so similar to the British experience that it makes one wonder if anyone has ever read a book about the country before invading it.

Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is still reeling from continued strikes on its leadership. The goal of the war was achieved. Afghanistan is Afghanistan. It will not change and any threats brought by terrorists that may try to use it as a base can be defended so long as we are able and willing to whack a mole whenever they raise their head up, just as we are in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and even Pakistan. That does not require 100,000 tied down in Afghanistan where they are exposed to local threats as well as the possibility of being cut off from supplies should Pakistan or the Russian Federation cut supply lines or should hostilities break out with Iran.


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