Category Archives: national security

“I Imagined it Would Be Different” Passing the Baton on my Last 9-11 on Active Duty and Reflecting on All We Have Lost

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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 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.

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.

Eighteen 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 and was preparing to transfer to the USS Hue City, a guided missile cruiser stationed in Mayport, Florida.

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 had inadvertently flown into the building.

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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. my friend Fregattenkapitäne Micheal Hufnagel, then the  First Officer Of the German Guided Missile Destroyer Lutjens was among the first to express support for the United States. Steaming next to the USS Winston Churchill helped put up a banner that said We Stand By You. It was an iconic moment. Eight months later I met Michael and we became fast friends, to this day.

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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.

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Honestly, I didn’t expect the war to go on for more than a few months, but months became years, and years became decades. I guess I was a lot like the German military officers who in the wake of the dramatic success of the Wehrmacht in the west and the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa  the German victory was so certain that resistance was futile and the best course was to follow orders, believing that victory over the subhuman Taliban and Al Qaeda was just around the corner. In the beginning I was little different than your average Wehrmacht officer, but by the time I left Iraq I realized just how wrong I was in supporting that misbegotten invasion.

I was so spellbound by Operation Desert Storm and operations in the Balkans that I ignored history. I knew the results of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the British, Indian, and Macedonian adventures there, but we were the United States. We would win. Then the Bush Administration forgot Afghanistan and went into a war with Iraq, which was doomed from the start, and which met every standard of the war crimes that we tried the Nazis for at Nuremberg. As the American Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson noted before those trials:

“If certain acts of 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.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

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. Then 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.

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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 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 an old guy by military standards. I recently celebrated 38 years of service and will, God willing, retire next year. Sadly, I know all too well that those who I have worked with, and those who are yet to enlist will be continuing to fight a war which seems to be without end long after I retire, despite the efforts of President Trump to make a deal with the Taliban.

Tomorrow there were and will be many ceremonies and services to remember the victims of the attacks. I think that is fitting, Lest We forget. However, I don’t think any should be used as platform to promote war without end. We will be conducting a 9-11 Remembrance Ceremony in the morning. I am having my brand new junior chaplain do invocation and benediction. I have helped him and given him guidance, but he has produced a good result that didn’t need much of my guidance to be something that honored the victims of 9-11, the U.S. military, and our allies since, as well as the innocent victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and so many other places this unending war has touched. It is time for me to step aside and let the young men and women who were children when this began to be up front. My goal now is to help the young folks get recognized for good work and train them to represent the best in the Chaplaincy and to be guardians of the First Amendment, not religious theocrats.

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. Honestly I did not think that we would still be at war today. It is hard for me to believe that we still are at war and that there is no end in sight.

As Erich Maria Remarque wrote “I imagined that it would be different…”

At the same time I do hope that things will get better and that some semblance of peace will return to the world.

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under afghanistan, counterinsurency in afghanistan, crime, ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism

“So it Goes” Remembering the Day Before 9-11-2001 and the Beginning Of War Without End

The twin Towers, September 10th 2001 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After 18 years of unending war, terrorism, and the paranoia that come with it, I almost find it hard to remember what things were like on September 10th 2001.

I had been in the military over 20 years by then, but having resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve in order to return to active duty as a Navy Chaplain serving with the 2nd Marine Division at a lower rank, I try to think about Monday, September 10th once in a while.

Despite coming close to a ground war in Kosovo in 1999, we had settled into the norms of peacetime training and preparation for whatever the next crisis might be. I had participated in the preparations for the Kosovo campaign, which thankfully we were prevented from going into a ground war over due to Serbian President Slobodan Miloševićat blinking at the last minute and agreeing to a ceasefire and withdraw from Kosovo, which could have led to a wider war in the Balkans and with Russia.

On the night of September 10th 2001 my mind was as far from war and terror as it could be. I was much more interested in the MLB Pennant Race than I was anything going on in the world, after all the only issues we faced were occasional, if deadly terrorist attacks on foreign installations and deployed ships like the USS Cole.  But as to the security of the Continental United States, or as it has been referred to by some since 9-11 as “the Homeland” I wasn’t concerned. Somehow, despite my knowledge, understanding and study of terrorist groups I just never thought anyone could pull off an attack of this magnitude.  The next morning I discovered just how wrong I was as the first reports came in while I was on my way to a late PT session at Camp LeJeune North Carolina where I was serving with the Second Marine Division, but that is a story for tomorrow night.

September 10th was a normal and pretty much a typical September day in America. The Denver Broncos beat the New York Giants in Denver that night. The Seattle Mariners won their 104th game of the season, defeating the Anaheim Angels 5-1.

But the next morning changed all of our lives and ushered in what is now 18 years of war which has cost the United States military almost 80,000 casualties including over 7,000 dead or died of wounds. Of course that does not count non-DOD agency casualties, or those of the contractors who have been a big part of the war effort, nor does it count the number of friendly Afghans, Iraqis, and others who have to use the antiseptic and dehumanizing term collateral damage, who have been killed, maimed, or displaced by nearly two decades of war.

Eighteen years after 9-11-2001 we are not only still at war, but it is becoming a war without end. President Trump tried and failed using ham handed tactics to make a deal with the Taliban, including a meeting that was to occur yesterday at Camp David to allegedly secure a peace deal that would net him the Nobel Peace Prize. That didn’t happen after Taliban fighters killed yet another American soldier in combat last week. Of course the deaths of over a dozen other Americans since January, not to mention hundreds of Afghan soldiers, police and civilians who have died at the hands of the Taliban and the descendants of the original Al Qaida. Those lives didn’t matter as long as the President thought he could get a deal to end the war, then with Taliban representatives at his doorstep he called the talks off. Personally I don’t think the President really cared about any of those lives, he hasn’t mentioned any of them over the past year, nor gone to their funerals, or met their remains at Andrews Air Force Base, so what happened had to be about him, otherwise why invite Taliban leaders to meet with him of the week of the anniversary of the 9-11-2001? If not to get a deal.

Eighteen years ago, I figured that after a few months Al Qaeda would be no more, and the war that they had unleashed upon us would be over. however I was wrong. Now now, many of the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen I deal with were just children or not even born when the attacks happened.

In just over six months I will be retired from the military, and as Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse Five: “So it goes…” 

Have a good night, until tomorrow,

Peace

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Filed under crime, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism, War on Terrorism

The Battle of Savo Island and Threats to the U.S. Navy Today

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                         USS Quincy under Attack off Savo Island 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am going back to my World War II vault and reposting an older article about the Battle Of Savo Island off Guadalcanal. It was the most lopsided defeat in modern American Naval history. It happened a long time ago and in an age where the United States Navy has not lost a ship in combat, other to mines since August 6th 1945, we forget to remember that should a war break out with a near-peer competitor, like the Chinese Communists or the Russians in waterers where they can gain local superiority, or even regional powers such as Iran which could use asymmetric means of large numbers of small missile equipped ships and attack boats, costal submarines, and land based anti-ship missiles in “swarm attacks” to overwhelm technologically superior American ships in confined waters. We have come close to losing major ships, the cruiser USS Princeton and Helicopter Carrier USS Tripoli, to very primitive moored mines during the First Gulf War, the USS Ruben James to a mine during the tanker wars, and the USS Stark which was hit by Iraqi Exocet anti-ship missiles in 1987. Likewise we have come close to losing the Guided Missile destroyers USS Cole (Terrorist attack), USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald (avoidable collisions with merchant ships). 

We have been lucky. We won’t be as lucky in a real live shootout today. Ships will be lost, damaged, and sailors will die. Compounding the problem for the United States is that years of focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, failed experiments with reducing crew size (smart-ship), reductions in numbers of ships and sailors to satisfy the budgets needs to the unnecessary invasion of Iraq, and the stress put on remaining ships and aircraft have worn us down. Readiness rates remain down, and we no longer have the shipbuilding and repair facilities to replace losses and repair damaged ships, especially in a war with China. 

That is why instead of commenting on today’s news I write about the worst defeat suffered by the U.S. Navy in the modern era, which I label from World War II to the present. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

On August 8th 1942 the U.S. Task Force supporting the invasion of Guadalcanal was tired. The crews of the ships had been in continuous combat operations conducting naval gunfire support missions, fending off numerous Japanese air attacks and guarding against submarine attacks for two days. The force commanded by Admiral Richmond K. Turner was still unloading materials, equipment and supplies needed by the men of the 1st Marine Division who they had put ashore on the morning of the seventh.

On the afternoon of the eighth Turner was informed by Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher that he was pulling his carrier task force out of action. Fletcher alleged that he did not have enough fighter aircraft (79 remaining of an original 98) and as low on fuel. The carriers had only been in action 36 hours and Fletcher’s reasons for withdraw were flimsy. Fletcher pulled out and left Turner and his subordinate commanders the responsibility of remaining in the area without air support with the transports still unloaded, and full of badly needed supplies and equipment.

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                                          Admiral Gunichi Mikawa

As the American drama played out, the Japanese moved forces into position to strike the Americans. Admiral Gunichi Mikawa commander of the 8th Fleet and Outer South Seas Force based at Rabaul New Britain quickly assembled a force of 6 heavy cruisers, the 14,000 ton Atago Class Chokai, and the four smaller ships of the Kako Class, the Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furutaka, the light cruisers Yubari and Tenryu and the destroyer Yunagi. Mikawa raised his flag aboard Chokai and the force sped down “the slot” which ran the length of the of the Solomon’s chain mid day on the seventh.

The Americans had warning of their coming. The first sighting was by B-17s before the Japanese forces had reached Rabaul. The second was the elderly U.S. Navy submarine S-38 at 2000 on the 7th when they were 550 miles away not far from Rabaul. This report was discounted because it would not be unusual to find a number of fleet units steaming near a major naval base and fleet headquarters. The last which should have alerted the allies was a sighting by a Royal Australian Air Force patrol aircraft on the morning of the 8th. However the pilot did not report the sighting until he returned from his mission returned to his base and had his tea. The eight hour delay in reporting the information as well as errors in it which reported 2 submarine tenders as part of the force lulled the Allied forces into believing that the Japanese were setting up a seaplane base and posed no threat to the invasion forces. It was a fatal error of reporting and judgment by the pilot.

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USS Astoria on August 8th off Guadalcanal and USS Chicago (below)

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In the absence of good information Turner deployed his support ships to cover the three entrances into what soon would be known as Iron Bottom Sound. He placed the Anti Aircraft Cruiser USS San Juan and Australian Light Cruiser HMAS Hobart to the east with two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott. To protect the south west entrance into the sound south of Savo Island Turner placed the Heavy Cruisers USS Chicago, HMAS Australia and HMAS Canberra and two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral R.A.C. Crutchley RN who in theory commanded the screening force. To the north of Savo he deployed the Heavy Cruisers USS Vincennes, USS Astoria and USS Quincy and two destroyers under the tactical direction of Captain Frederick Riefkohl aboard Vincennes. To the west of Savo he placed two destroyers to act as picket ships. Unfortunately these ships radar sets were insufficient and would fail to pick up the approaching enemy.

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                                                   Allied Dispositions

During the early evening Turner recalled Crutchley to his flagship for consultations of what to do regarding Fletcher’s retreat. Crutchley came over in his flagship the Australia denuding the southern force of its commander as well as one of its three heavy cruisers. He left the commanding officer of Chicago Captain Howard D. Bode in tactical command but Bode did not have his ship take the lead position in the patrol assuming Crutchley would return bymidnight.

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USS Vincennes (above) and USS Quincy (below)

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HMAS Canberra Sydney Harbour

                                                    HMAS Canberra 

Mikawa launched float planes to scout the locations of the American ships and to provide illumination once the battle began. Some of these aircraft were spotted but no alert measures were taken as many assumed the Japanese to be friendly aircraft. Many commanding officers were asleep or resting away from the bridge of their ships, lookouts were tired and not expecting the Japanese and Condition Two was set in order to provide some of the tired crews a chance to rest.

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Light Cruiser Yubari illuminating American cruisers at Savo Island

Admiral Mikawa now new the Allied disposition and ordered his ships to battle stations at 0045. At 004 he sighted and passed astern of USS Blue the southern picket which also failed to detect the Japanese force. Mikawa assumed that the destroyer might have reported his presence, briefly turned north but turned back to his original course when a lookout allegedly spotted a destroyer to his northeast. He gave the order to attack at 0132 and promptly spotted the American destroyer USS Jarvis which had been heavily damaged and without radio communications was making her way toAustralia for repair and passed her after some ships fired torpedoes and raced toward the southern force at 26 knots. With the southern force just a few miles away Mikawa ordered his ships to commence firing at 0136 and at 0138 torpedoes had been launched.

Mikawa’s lookouts spotted the northern group at 0144 and changed course. The maneuver was badly executed and left the Japanese in two columns as they swiftly closed on the Americans. Mikawa’s flagship Chokai launched torpedoes at 0148 and Astoria the cruiser closest to the Japanese set general quarters at 0145 and at 0150 the Japanese illuminated her with searchlights and opened fire. Astoria under the direction of her gunnery officer returned fire at 0152 ½ just before her Captain came to the bridge unaware of the situation. He ordered a cease fire until he could ascertain who he was firing at assuming the Japanese to be friendly ships. He delayed 2 minutes and ordered fires commenced at 0154 but the delay was fatal. Astoria had opened fire on the Chokai which then had time to get the range on the American cruiser and hit her with an 8” salvo which caused fires which provided the other Japanese ships an aiming point.

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Japanese artist depiction of attack on US Navy Cruisers at Savo Island

Astoria was left burning and heavily damaged barely maintaining headway but attempted to fight on scoring a hit on Chokai’s forward turret even as the Japanese opened up on the next cruiser in line the USS Quincy. Quincy caught between the two Japanese columns. Aoba illuminated her with her searchlight and Japanese forces opened fire. The gunnery officer order Quincy to return fire getting two salvos off before her skipper Captain Samuel Moore came to the bridge, briefly ordered a cease fire assuming that he was firing on Americans and turned on his running lights. Quincy was ripped by salvo after salvo which killed Captain Moore and nearly everyone in the pilothouse just as a torpedo ripped into her engineering spaces turning them into a sealed death trap forcing the engineer to shut down the engines. Burning like a Roman candle Quincy was doomed she was ordered abandoned and capsized and sank at 0235. However Quincy did not die in vain, at 0205 two of her 8” shells hit Chokai causing enough damage the Admiral’s chart room that Mikawa would order a withdraw at 0220 which spared the now defenseless American transports.

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Vincennes, the lead ship and flagship was next in the line of death. Captain Reifkohl order General Quarters sounded not long after the Japanese illuminated the southern group. At 0150 Vincennes was lit up by the searchlights of three Japanese ships which opened fire on her. Vincennes returned fire at 0153 hitting Kinugasa before she was hit starting fires on her scout planes mounted on their catapults. The Japanese mauled Vincennes, three possibly four torpedoes ripped into her as shells put ever gun out of action. At 0215 she was left burning and sinking by the Japanese who soon withdrew from the action. Ordered abandoned she sank at 0250.

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         HMAS Canberra being evacuated by the Patterson and Blue

Canberra struggled against the odds but was abandoned and was sent to the bottom by an American torpedo at 0800. Astoria also struggled for life but the damage was too great and she was abandoned sinking at 1215. Mikawa withdrew up the sound but on his return the Heavy Cruiser Kako 70 miles from home was sunk by torpedoes from the American submarine S-44 sinking in 5 minutes.

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The Americans and Australians lost 4 Heavy Cruisers sunk and one heavily damaged. Two destroyers were also damaged. Casualties were heavy; Quincy lost 389 men killed, Vincennes, 342, Astoria, 235, Canberra, 85, Ralph Talbot, 14, Patterson, 10, and Chicago, 2.

It was an unmitigated disaster, an allied force destroyed in less than 30 minutes time. Boards of inquiry were held and Captain Bode hearing that he shouldered much blame killed himself in 1943.

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     Wrecks of the USS Quincy, Astoria, Vincennes, and HMAS Canberra

It was a rude awakening to a Navy which had believed that technical advances would give it victory and which  in the words of Admiral Ernest King  was not yet “sufficiently battle minded.” It was the first of many equally bloody battles in the waters around Guadalcanal which in the coming campaign became known as Ironbottom Sound.

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“I am Death, the Destroyer Of Worlds” Hiroshima and the Genie that Will Not go Back in the Bottle at 74 years


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-four years ago the world changed. A remarkably destructive weapon was introduced in combat, a single bomb that annihilated the city of Hiroshima Japan. The effects were immediate, 70,000 to 100,000 people were killed, tens of thousands of others wounded, many of whom would suffer from the effects of radiation and radiation burns the rest of their lives. Within days a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki with similar results, and Japan sued for peace. The Second World War was over and a new world was born, a world under the shadow of nuclear weapons.

The anniversary of that event today is something that all of us should ponder with great trepidation as the world seems to lurch towards a day when such a weapon will be used again. The question should not be one of mere military or tactical expediency, but must consider the moral dimension of the use of these weapons as well as the whole concept of total war.

In his book Hiroshima, John Hershey wrote:

“The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result? When will our moralists give us an answer to this question?” 

His question is worth considering. It is no wonder that Robert Oppenheimer one of the members of the team that developed the bomb quoted a verse from the Bhagavad-Gita after he witnessed the test explosion “Trinity” on July 16th 1945: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” 

Up until April of 2017 I spend the last three and a half years teaching the ethics of war to senior military officers at a major U.S. Military Staff College. One of the things that we do in the class is to have the officers do presentations on different historical, or potential ethical problems faced by national policy makers, military commanders and planners. The goal was to have these men and women dig deep and examine the issues, and think about the implications of what they will do when they go back out to serve as commanders, staff officers, advisors to civilian leaders and planners. Sadly, in the gutting of that institution after I departed the Ethics elective and all other electives were eliminated. They also cut back the number of seminars from 13 to five and limited the students to O-5s and O-6s, with command experience, directly contravening the intentions of the Goldwater-Nichols Act which was designed to prevent repeats of Vietnam, the failed Iran hostage rescue attempt, and the invasion of Grenada. The intent of the legislation was to better coordinate the efforts of the services and inculturation of younger officers to understand the capabilities of their sister services, as well as teach history, strategy, and ethics to rising leaders in the Defense Department, State Department, CIA, DIA, and other agencies charged with our national security.

In each class that I taught, at least one student dealt with the use of the Atomic bombs.  Most were Air Force or Navy officers who have served with nuclear forces. Unlike the depiction in the classic movie Dr. Strangelove or other depictions that show officers in these forces as madmen, the fact is that I was always impressed with the thoughtfulness and introspective nature of these men and women. They sincerely wrestle with the implications of the use of these weapons, and many are critical of the use of them at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is comforting to me to know that at least in the U.S. military that there are many who can reflect and do try to look at things not just from a purely military standpoint. Of course since I know humanity I figure that there are others in our ranks who are not so reflective or sensitive to the moral implications of the use of these weapons, among whom is our current President. The fact that President Trump acts on impulse and seems to have no moral compass, strategic sense, or anything apart than what benefits him causes me to shudder, especially when he has to actually confront North Korea on their ICBM and nuclear programs, not to mention the use of weapons of mass destruction by a terrorist group. As Barbara Tuchman wrote: “Strong prejudices and an ill-informed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.”

I am no stranger to what these weapons, as well as chemical and biological weapons can do. Thirty-five years ago when I was a young Army Medical Service Corps lieutenant I was trained as a Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Officer. I learned the physical effects of exposure to these weapons, how many Rads of radiation a person could receive before they became sick and died. I learned what radiation exposure does to people at each stage. We trained with maps to chart fallout patterns, and the maps had the cities and towns that we lived in, this was Cold War Germany and yes both NATO and the Warsaw Pact expected that tactical nuclear weapons and chemical weapons would be used and we had to be able to operate in contaminated environments. We operated under the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction or MAD as a deterrent to war. It was chilling and made me realize that the use of these weapons today would be suicidal. When Chernobyl melted down we were in the fallout zone and were given instructions on what we could and could not do in order to minimize any possible exposure to radiation poisoning.

So when it comes to the first use of the Atomic bomb I am quite reflective. As a historian, military officer, chaplain and priest who has been trained on what these weapons can do I have a fairly unique perspective. Honestly, as a historian I can understand the reasons that President Truman ordered its use, and I can understand the objections of some of the bomb’s designers on why it should not be used. I’ve done the math and the estimates of casualties had there been an invasion of the Japanese home islands is in the millions, most of which would have been Japanese civilians.


My inner lawyer can argue either point well, that being said the manner in which it was used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki troubles me. Hiroshima did have military targets, but a big part of the choice was its location, surrounded by hills, which created a bowl that would focus the explosion and maximized its effect. Many of the larger military and industrial targets lay outside the kill zone. The designers and officers on the committee wanted to show the Japanese, as well as the world the destructive power of the weapon. Those who opposed its use hoped that it would convince the leaders of nations that war itself needed to be prevented. These men wrestled with the issue even as they prepared the first bombs for deployment against Japan. The recommendations of the committee can be found here:

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/Interim.shtml
Of the 150 scientists who were part of the bomb’s design team only 15% recommended the military use without a demonstration to show the Japanese the destructive power of the bomb and a chance to end the war. The poll of the scientists can be found here:

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/Poll.shtml
Leo Szilard wrote a letter to Edward Teller seeking his support in sending a petition to President Truman regarding his opposition to the use of the weapon based on purely moral considerations. Szilard wrote:

“However small the chance might be that our petition may influence the course of events, I personally feel that it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this field want clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of the war.

Many of us are inclined to say that individual Germans share the guilt for the acts which Germany committed during this war because they did not raise their voices in protest against those acts, Their defense that their protest would have been of no avail hardly seems acceptable even though these Germans could not have protested without running risks to life and liberty. We are in a position to raise our voices without incurring any such risks even though we might incur the displeasure of some of those who are at present in charge of controlling the work on “atomic power.”

The entire text of Szilard’s letter can be found here:

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/SzilardTeller1.shtml
The two petitions of the scientists to the President are here, the second letter concludes with this recommendation:

“If after the war a situation is allowed to develop in the world which permits rival powers to be in uncontrolled possession of these new means of destruction, the cities of the United States as well as the cities of other nations will be continuous danger of sudden annihilation. All the resources of the United States, moral and material, may have to be mobilized to prevent the advent of such a world situation. Its prevention is at present the solemn responsibility of the United States–singled out by virtue of her lead in the field of atomic power.

The added material strength which this lead gives to the United States brings with it the obligation of restraint and if we were to violate this obligation our moral position would be weakened in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes. It would then be more difficult for us to live up to our responsibility of bringing the unloosened forces of destruction under control.

In view of the foregoing, we, the undersigned, respectfully petition: first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender; second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the consideration presented in this petition as well as all the other moral responsibilities which are involved.”

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/SzilardPetition.shtml

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/Petition.shtml

Ralph Bard, Undersecretary of the Navy wrote to Secretary of War Stimson his opinion on July 17th 1945:

“Ever since I have been in touch with this program I have had a feeling that before the bomb is actually used against Japan that Japan should have some preliminary warning for say two or three days in advance of use. The position of the United States as a great humanitarian nation and the fair play attitude of our people generally is responsible in the main for this feeling.”

I think that those who debate the history of this need to look at the entire picture and read the letters, the documents and take into account everything. My hope is that leaders, policy makers, legislators and we the people continue to work to eliminate nuclear weapons. It is true that the nuclear stockpiles of the United States and Russia are significantly smaller than when the Cold War ended, but even so what remain are more than enough to extinguish human life on the planet. Add to these the Chinese, French, British, Indian, Pakistani and the hundreds of undeclared weapons of Israel the fact is that there remains the possibility that they could be used. Likewise there are nuclear programs in other nations, especially North Korea, which given enough time or believing them necessary could produce weapons. But the North Koreans are not alone, they could easily be joined by others including Iran and Saudi Arabia. Add to this the possibility of a terrorist group producing or acquiring a weapon the world is still a very dangerous place.

That is the world that we live in and the world in which policy makers, legislators and educated people who care about the world must attempt to make safe. If you asked me I would say outlaw them, but that will never happen. Edward Teller wrote Leon Szilard:

“First of all let me say that I have no hope of clearing my conscience. The things we are working on are so terrible that no amount of protesting or fiddling with politics will save our souls…. Our only hope is in getting the facts of our results before the people. This might help to convince everybody that the next war would be fatal. For this purpose actual combat use might even be the best thing…. But I feel that I should do the wrong thing if I tried to say how to tie the little toe of the ghost to the bottle from which we just helped it to escape…”

We are on the brink again. India and Pakistan are once again girding themselves up for nuclear war over Kashmir. Iran, after having ceased its production of enriched uranium, has resumed it following the Trump Administration voiding the nuclear nonproliferation agreement signed during the Obama administration. Despite its promises to President Trump, North Korea still seems intent on developing nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The Russians are developing hypersonic missiles and torpedoes which could deliver nuclear warheads against American targets, and the Chinese are increasing their nuclear capability. The United States is now embarked on a plan to modernize its nuclear arsenal and under the Trump administration loosen the restraints on the use of nuclear weapons.

The ghost is out of the bottle, and nothing can ever get it back in. We can only hope and pray that reasonable people prevent any of these weapons from ever being used and that war itself would end. But then, General Of the Army Omar Bradley said in 1948:

“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.”

I think that the “soldier’s General” was correct. Too many people just don’t care about life, Ethics, or peace.

So, until tomorrow, I leave you with that less than cheerful thought.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s Not the Video Games Stupid, It’s the Ideology and Easy Access to Military Grade Weaponry

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today President Trump, sounding according to Washington Post Columnist, Helen Olen like he was “like a hostage making a video.” The President, attempting to be the best consoler that he has the Reality Show in Chief tried to present some sort of empathy for the victims. He also placed the blame on violent video games, entertainment, and promising an emphasis on mental health care. Despite being on a TelePrompTer he got the name of the site of the second mass murder wrong, he called it Toledo, not Dayton.

Of course for years conservative politicians and pundits, as well as reputable physiological professionals have blamed violent video games for desensitizing their users into being able to move from virtual killing to real killing. I don’t dispute that such things occur. But I have to say that those games, readily available around the world, and those movies and television series, also readily available and popular around the world don’t seem to trigger the kinds of mostly race and religious based mass killings.

I propose that most of the people who engage in such killings have some kind of ideological belief, or personal grievance against others that motivated their attacks. A few like the teenager who shot and killed all the children at Sandy Hook had mental problems, but in his violence was ensured by a mother who got him as much weapons and familiarization as possible. He killed her too.

But most were motivated by any numbers of political ideologies, and racial and religious hatreds that go beyond violent popular entertainment. They are ideologically motivated terrorists (political, racial, religious) who have easy access to military grade weaponry and body armor. Some, like the Unibomber and Timothy McVeigh and his associates who killed almost 200 innocent people at the Murrah Federal Building were trained or self-trained in the use of explosives.

The real problem is that unlike most countries that share our Western, Jude-Christian, and Pluralistic ideals, we allow the easiest of access to the most lethal weapons and military type hardware for almost anyone. State standards vary, background checks are not always required, and the Supreme Court emasculated the original intent of the Founders regarding the Second Amendment. The only other countries that allow such access are places that we tend to label terrorist states. 

It is not enough to utter platitudes about violent entertainment, and mental health care that neither the government or private insurers wish to pay. In fact “inpatient mental health” is pretty much limited to warehousing troubled people until they are deemed not a risk to themselves or others. There are no real mental health rehabilitation programs in this country because nobody wants to pay for them. You can’t make a profit off the mentally ill, and that is what our medical system is about.

Countries with tighter gun controls and easier access to mental heath care do not have our epidemic of violence, unless they are in the middle of religious, racial, or ideological driven civil wars. It’s the ideology and the dehumanizing of others that leads to the terrorist killings we are seeing in our country today.

Take away the easy access to military grade weaponry, and pay for real mental health care treatment, even long term care. We have to stop carding more about people than profit. It is also necessary for the Congress and the Courts to revisit the case where the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that the entire first section of the Second Amendment related to its necessity to “the maintenance of a well disciplined militia” which at the time was the basis of our new nation’s land based defense; into an individual right to own whatever weapon they need to protect them from the government.

Regardless of the ideology of the terrorists, you shut down their ability to get such weapons and gear, they have a much tougher time committing such crimes.

I’m not anti-gun. As I have written many times before I have qualified or familiarized on most individual or crew based weapons used by the United States military. That being said, there is no reason for anyone with any competence to own an AR-15 type weapon with more than the original 10 round magazine that came with the military version of the military issued M-16. No one needs more than that for self defense. Flash suppressors, silencers, bump stocks, and extended magazines serve no reason other than to kill.

Pour crisis is not a crisis made by the entertainment industry, through I don’t deny that it could be partially to blame. At its heart the true problem is political, ideological, religious. It is founded on hatred of the other and encouraged by all sorts of politicians, preachers, and pundits, including the President. The ease of obtaining such weaponry and protective gear simply makes it a greater problem.

As a nation we are dooming ourselves and our prodigy to many more of these events. That cannot all be blamed on President Trump, and it would be foolish to do that. Sadly, he is one of the least emotionally, and intellectually able men to handle such a crisis as has ever been elected to his office.

His words are empty. I wish that wasn’t so. I wish he would rise to the measure of someone like Theodore Roosevelt, and that is my prayer for him.

Think about that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Beginning Of the End Of a Beginning Of Another End: The First World War at 105 Years

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

it is hard to believe that 105 years ago Germany declared war on Imperial Russia. They did it to support their Austro-Hungarian allies and expected that the war would be short. But within days they would also find themselves at war with Britain and France. Eventually almost all of continental Europe, it’s colonial dominions, and others, including the United States and Japan would be at war.

The American President, Woodrow Wilson who promised to keep the United States out of the war would lead the country into it in April 1917, calling it the War to End War. Wilson was an idealist in international relations and did not understand how deep the hatred of war could run, despite being a son of the South, the first elected President from a former Confederate State since before the Civil War. However, Wilson was a revisionist Of Civil War history and race relations. Despite his knowledge, he lived in a fantasy world, and when the war ended French President Clemenceau, and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George completely outmaneuvered him during the negotiations over the Treaty Of Versailles. Wilson had thought that his allies would support his idealistic 14 Points, which the interim German Government had agreed to in order to gain an armistice. The final treaty blamed the Germans for all war guilt, saddled them with massive reparations, and humiliated them. The treaty would end up dooming the prospects of democracy in Germany and ensuring another war, this on barely than twenty years after the signing of the Treaty Of Versailles.

That war would, the Second World War would be even more costly than the first. More lives lost, most of Europe and much of Asia devastated, and the world divided into the American led alliance, and the Soviet led Warsaw Pact. It would end most European colonies and birth new wars during the Cold War.

When the Cold War ended many idealists expected the Democratic ideal to take hold in former communist countries, and for a moment in time it did that, but many of the same tensions that brought a return to authoritarian governments in the 1920s, especially globalization and migration have led to the election of authoritarian, nationalist, and racist parties with fascist leanings in much of Eastern Europe, and spreading in to Western Europe, even the Republican Party in the United States led by President Trump is moving in a rapidly authoritarian direction.

The First World War ended a period of relative stability, prosperity, and slow movements toward democracy in Europe. It brought forth disaster after disaster. One can only hope that our generation will do better. But, then that is only hope, history shows that we will not do better. God help us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Resistance is Not Futile: Remembering the Men and Women of the German Resistance and Operation Valkyrie

 The Courtyard at Bendlerstraße Where Von Stauffenberg and others Were Executed

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

July 20th holds many meanings and provides for inspiration for anyone who is human, with the exception of conspiracy theorists and deniers of history. Today we remember the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Landing Module Eagle of Apollo XI on the Moon. The success of the mission can be described as miraculous, a triumph of human achievement in an era of deep division. But twenty-five years to the day before the landing a few imperfect, yet courageous men and women dared to attempt the overthrow of Adolf Hitler and his genocidal Nazi regime.

Stauffenberg with Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim, another key Conspirator who was murdered with Stauffenberg when the Plot Failed 

The participants knew that if they failed they would be labeled as traitors, and they were right. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who planted a bomb at Hitler’s East Prussian Headquarters was quite correct when he noted:

“I know that he who will act will go down in German history as a traitor; but he who can and does not, will be a traitor to his own conscience.” 

Another conspirator, Major General Henning Von Tresckow was even more blunt about their prospects.

“It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?”

The plot failed, Hitler lived. Stauffenberg, Tresckow, many of their immediate associates died. Eventually, thousands of people, many of whom only were guilty of association. The purge and executions of those connected with the plot would continue to Hitler’s death.

In the days we live we are witnessing our President using the same words and terminology to describe anyone who opposes him. He disrespects the Constitution, and the instructions that were designed by our founders to prevent the rise of a tyrant. His words, actions, and policies tend toward both racism and fascism; and they foster violence. The steady rise in White Nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, that the President has not condemned, as well as the number of open White Nationalist and neo-Nazi men running for office at the local and state level as Republicans show that Trump is not a casual anomaly in the GOP. The President, like it or not, has become the voice of White Nationalism, and the far right. Republican moderates for the most part have acquiesced to the new order. Even long time supporters like former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, hardly a man considered liberal, were ruthlessly jettisoned by the President.

There are times that resistance seems almost hopeless. I was talking with one of my friends who is very discouraged about the situation. He is an idealist. I spent much of the evening trying to buck him up.

British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

We have to put an end to the Trump regime at the ballot box, or should Congress fulfill its Constitutional duties and begin impeachment hearings, regardless of whether a conviction is attained, he and his supporters have made statements that he may not give up power without a physical fight, that of course would bring about a Constitutional crisis and maybe civil war.

His former attorney, Michael Cohen has said exactly that. Trump is destroying the hard work of Americans and our allies to build a better would, and in almost every country, Trump is destroying the image and moral leadership of the United States. Patriotism requires that those committed to the ideals, institutions, and the laws of the country must resist when those are threatened, from inside or outside the country, and if they resist an elected President who shows no regard for those ideals, institutions, and laws, they will be labeled traitors.  Tresckow said in his time:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Henning von Tresckow 

Those are import words, but just substitute the name Trump for Hitler. Tresckow was no socialist or liberal, but he believed in freedom. In fact he wrote regarding the Prussian political tradition and how it could be subverted to support evil:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

Truthfully that is a spirit much like the United States that which is engulfing the United States today, soulless routine and narrow minded dogmatism. The tension that exists in the key ideal of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, and the words of Trump and his supporters men who desire to rule by fiat and by extra-Constitutional means, cannot be more marked than it is today.

In the movie adaptation of the plot to kill Hitler Valkyrie: Tresckow is quoted:

“God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men… I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.”

To be sure, Trump is no Hitler, though his words sound more and more Hitlerian every day. I will not call the President a Nazi, though he has give tacit support to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups and frequently engages in racist diatribes. He is certainly acting as any authoritarian leader would, and we have to heed the warning of Russian dissident Gary Kasparov:

“dictators & would be autocrats do not ask “Why?” when it comes to using power for their advantage. They ask “why not?”

To go back to the words of Tresckow in Valkyrie, in noting it may come down to the actions of one man or woman, my friends, that “one” may come down to you or me. We cannot sit silently by as more and more actions that would have been considered as criminal in any other era of United States are perpetrated by the President and his followers.

It was not until the late 1960s that most Germans considered the men who attempted to kill Hitler heroes and not traitors. Those who criticize, and work through legal and constitutional means to oppose Trump are already being labeled by him, his supporters, and the right wing media machine based at Fox News as enemies of the state, traitors, and mislabeled as Socialists and Communists; an old tactic of the American Right since the Russian Revolution. The truth doesn’t matter, it’s simply a way to stake rage against fellow citizens.

At this time we still have recourse to the law, elections, and our institutions. How long that remains is another matter. Once Hitler took absolute power, most Germans found ways to make their peace with his regime and turn a blind eye even to its crimes.

I don’t know if Trump will ever attain such absolute power, but it is possible. In which case the equation will change. If that happens risk of risk of resistance will be so high that many will go silent and just try to get along. Even without that kind of threat most Republicans have already done that.

Sophie Scholl and Members of the White Rose in Munich Near the Ost Bahnhof in 1942

That is the real danger, when people who know better acquiesce for their own safety. Sophie Scholl, a 22 year old student at the University of Munich was part of a resistance movement called The White Rose. She and her friends, students and professors embarked on writing pamphlets to distribute throughout Germany to tell the truth about the evils of the Nazi regime. She wrote about this danger:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I have more to write on this but will close for the night.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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