Category Archives: philosophy

I Will Live a Thousand Times Before I Die: Reading as a Way of Life

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

George R.R. Martin wrote in his book A Dance With Dragons:  “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I constantly read and because I try to imagine what I am reading so that in a way I live it. I have been to places that have never traveled to before and on entering them I know exactly where everything is and what happened there. I remember leading a group from my Army chapel in Wurzburg Germany to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. As I led the group through the town a couple of people asked me how many times I had been there. I told them, “physically, never until today, but I have been here a thousand times before because of books. I saw Wittenberg in my minds eye before I ever saw the city.” They were surprised and both said that it seemed like I had been there many times.

I have had the same thing happen other places that I have visited, and again, it is because I read, and as I read, I imagine and occasionally dream.

I have a huge number of my books in my office most dealing with the history, especially the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the World Wars, and the insurgencies and counter-insurgency wars of the past seventy or so years. I have a lot of biographies, books on American history, military theory, sociology, philosophy, psychology related to war and PTSD, and a few theological works, though most of my theology books are at home because I don’t have room for them in the office.

Coupled with mementos of my military career, other militaria, artwork, and baseball memorabilia the sight and smell can be both overwhelming and comforting at the same time. I hear that a lot from my visitors, including those who come in for counseling, consolation, or just to know someone cares. They tell my visitors volumes about me without them ever asking a question or me telling them, and occasionally someone will ask to borrow a book, and most of the time I will lend them the book, or if I have multiple copies even give it to them.

In a sense my books are kind of a window to my soul, the topics, and even how I have them organized, and they are not for decoration. Many times while I am reflecting on a topic, a conversation, or something that I read in the news I peruse my books and pull one or more out to help me better understand it, or relate it to history. sometimes when in conversation something will come up and I can pull out a book. One of my Chaplains said that he should “apply for graduate credit” for what he learns in our often off the cuff talks. But, for me that is because I read so much and absorb it.

Likewise my memorabilia is there to remind me of all the people in my past who I have served with. I don’t have all my medals, honors, and diplomas up for everyone to see, instead I have pictures and collages, many signed by people who made a difference in my life. When I see the signatures and often all too kind words on them I am humbled, and in some cases a tear will come to my eye, but I digress…

I always try to read a decent amount everyday. I in the past couple of weeks I have finished reading a number of very good books dealing with different historical dramas. Since my trip to Germany at the end of September I have read, or re-read a number of books. One that I read for the first time was Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich by David Clay Large. I read it while during the week that we spent in Munich and it was very a very enlightening look at a complex and often contradictory city that has seen a number of cultural and political shifts since the Eighteenth Century, including its place as the spiritual home of the Nazi movement.

I re-read British military historian, Max Hastings book Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944. It focuses on the leadership, and culture of the Waffen SS Division, and on the war crimes committed by its units and personnel it moved from Southern France to Normandy during the week following the Allied invasion of France. The book deals with especially the extermination of the population of the town of Oradour Sur Glane. For those who mythologize the Waffen-SS as an elite military formation, it should be required reading.

Also on my reading list in Germany and after were Anthony Beevor’s The Fall,of Berlin 1945. I read it in order to refresh my memorial on the Battle of Berlin, and the locations that we would visit while in the city. I finally decided to read Robert Massie’s Castle’s of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea, which I have had on my bookshelf for years, and re-read Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle, also about the Battle for Berlin. I first read that book as a teenager.

One of the most troubling books that I read while in Germany was Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine, by Christian Ingrao. Believe and Destroy is particularly troubling because it shows that racism, anti-Semitism, and the planning and execution of genocide is not just the work of poorly educated thugs.

I read Barbara Tuchman’s The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution; and The Butcher of Poland: Hitler’s Lawyer Hans Frank, by Garry O’Connor. To change things up I read Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House, Rick Wilson’s Everything Trump Touches Dies, and the late Tony Judt’s I’ll Fares the Land.

I love complex characters, people who may be heroes and at the same time scoundrels. I like the contradictions and the feet of clay of people, because I am filled with my own, and truthfully saints are pretty boring. Unfortunately I haven’t read any biographies of late, although most of my reading deals a lot with biography as the characters weave their way through history.

Since we just observed the Centenary of the end of World Aar One, I have started re-reading Edmond Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922 and Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Both of these are very important reads which should help us to reflect reflect on what is happening in our world today. There are many similarities and reading them causes me to wonder if world leaders will allow hubris, arrogance, greed, and pride to drag the world into another catastrophic war. Sadly President Trump, doesn’t read, and doesn’t learn from history. Unfortunately, his ignorance is very much a reflection of our twenty-first century media culture.

But to me, books are important, far more important than anything that is shouted at me on television. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his little but profound book, On Tyranny:

“Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books. The characters in Orwell’s and Bradbury’s books could not do this—but we still can.”

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

But anyway, I am late getting this out. So have a great day and a better tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books, books and literature, History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Political Commentary, Teaching and education

People Matter Most: History, Biography, and Truth

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a very difficult day that I cannot write about here at this time. Eventually I will write about it, but tonight I will re-post an older article about how I try to write history.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, to make the subjects appear saintlike, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. There are others who go to the opposite extreme and do all they can to demonize their subject. In either case the method is less than honest, but for many people, profit and propaganda value mean more than truth. Of course either type of writing appeals to the masses who do not care about nuance, or for that matter truth.

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

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

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman who in her writings about events, never forgot importance of people, and refused to turn them in to one dimensional caricatures.

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

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

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.In the next few days you will be seeing some of my Gettysburg work, and hopefully as you read it you will notice that I attempt to find that nuance in the various men, on both sides of the conflict, who are part of the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They are Not Just Names: September 11th 2001 at Seventeen Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine there is a scene where the deputy commander of the Space Station, Major Kira Nerys gives a casualty report to Captain Benjamin Sisko. It resonates with me every time that I see it and especially on the anniversary of September 11th.

KIRA: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.
SISKO: How many this time?
KIRA: Including the troops lost at AR five five eight, seventeen hundred and thirty.
SISKO: Seventeen hundred thirty.
KIRA: That’s a lot of names.
SISKO: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

Today marks the seventeenth year since the attacks of September 11th 2001 and we do have to remember those who lost their lives that day, all those Americans and our coalition partners who died, and all the innocents lost, even to those of American military action. None of them are just names, they are real men and women, as well as children cut down by terrorism and unending war.

When we were attacked on September 11th 2001 I had already passed twenty years of service, though about half of them were service in the reserves and National Guard. Now I am over 37 years of service and by this time next year I should be on the retired list unless something very unexpected happens.

My base will be marking it with the dedication of a nature trail that now has plaques commemorating over 80 eighty men and women from our base who have died in action, on deployment, or training to go to combat since that occasion. While this ceremony is taking place I will be driving out to a Veteran’s Cemetery an hour or so away to perform the internment of a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer whose family requested me by name.

Thus I will be turning over the big high profile ceremony to my deputy chaplain. It will give him a chance to be on the big stage and get recognized for his own talents and abilities while I do something less visible but very meaningful to that Navy Chief’s family and to me as the son of a Navy Chief. In addition to conducting the service I will have the honor of presenting the colors of the nation to his daughter.

For me it is a chance to pay back the goodness shown to my dad and family when he passed away in 2010. The base ceremony and the internment were pretty close together time wise. My Commanding Officer and I talked about it decided and decided that since I am now in pretty much constant pain with knee and hip injuries since I fell down my stairs last month that I shouldn’t be doing back to back ceremonies with a long drive in between.

But anyway. Since September 11th 2001 I have lost count of the number of friends and comrades who died during the attack and the subsequent wars. This includes those that died by their own hand during or after their service due to the effects of combat trauma, PTSD, or Traumatic Brain Injury,  or the never ending pain of physical wounds and injuries. I often see their faces when I think about the past 17 years, their names are forever etched in my memory, but they are not just names and we cannot forget them. I cannot and I will not.

It seems like every week or so we lose another soldier, sailor, marine, or airman in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Africa. I loom at their names, where they are from, and the number of deployments that they have made. Some entered service well after me but because of their specialities and assignments made far more deployments that I can imagine. One soldier who was killed in action serving in Iraq had made 13 deployments, 9 of which were combat deployments in a 16 year career, and for the most part they are forgotten by all but their family, friends, and comrades, most barely get a mention elsewhere.

Sadly at this point in my career I believe that for many Americans, especially the faux patriots of the Fox News set, the political preachers of the Christian Right, and the President himself, that the troops are merely a prop to place in the background to promote their political causes and slam other Americans for not being patriotic enough.

Today I will continue to serve and I will mourn in my own way the friends, comrades, and shipmates that I have lost over these past 17 years. For me they are not just numbers or names, they are real people and no amount of flag waving will bring them back. No amount of corporate sponsored “patriotism” will make up for the lost lives, and the destruction of these wars. We can remember and honor the lost, and those who still suffer, including the wounded in body, mind, and spirit, and of the widows and children of the men and women who never came home or were never the same. I came home, but I am not the same.

They are not just names.

So as you go about your activities today take time to remember the victims of war, terrorism, and as I do the men and women who I knew who never came home, couldn’t make the transition back from war, or who still suffer in mind, body or spirit.

Never forget, they are not just names.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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Filed under History, middle east, Military, ministry, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, star trek, terrorism, Tour in Iraq

The Capstone of a Life: John McCain’s Parting Words

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I didn’t get to sleep until about 4 A.M. I had been up until 1 A.M. working in the house and today I spent about 10 hours ripping out carpet, moving furniture, and working to lay new flooring in our house. My friend who has been doing the really hard stuff that requires skill to make it look good is coming back tomorrow to help finish the job. I I’d the furniture moving and carpet removal. Why anyone would put carpet in a house is beyond me. It is amazing, even with vacuuming and shampooing just how much dirt and crap is in and under the carpet. All I can say is yuck, which coincidentally is the mildest thing that I can say or think about President Trump.

However, that term does not apply to the late Senator John McCain’s message as he decided not to go on a ventilator to try to prolong his life. He knew his time had come and he released this message in which he quoted John Hemingway. McCain’s words were that of a thankful man who knew the ups and downs of life, it’s success and failure, but left life thankful and content.

In life he taught us much in positive and negative examples. He owned his failures but was happy that he had some influence in the life of this nation and the world at this time in history. I think that it is important that Senator McCain was the kind of person who did not reject people if they differed in opinion with him. His selection of President Barack Obama to do a eulogy at his funeral symbolizes that far too scarce ability to be friends with political or ideological adversaries. That used to be a pretty normal state of affairs in our country, but it is almost extinct today.

His words about the end of his life are remarkable and should be read by all. But before I share them I have to note that his last Tweet on Twitter was extending his sympathy to an Army officer and pilot killed in Iraq on his ninth deployment in 16 years of service. I cannot imagine something similar to be President Trump’s final tweet.

However, what I cannot say that there was anything in Senator McCain’s final note that could be described as “yuck.” Instead is was a very personal letter of someone schooled in life who never stopped reading or learning. The Senator from Arizona wrote:

“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it … I hate to leave it. But I don’t have a complaint. Not one. It’s been quite a ride. I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make a peace. I’ve lived very well and I’ve been deprived of all comforts. I’ve been as lonely as a person can be and I‘ve enjoyed the company of heroes. I’ve suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times. What an ingrate I would be to curse the fate that concludes the blessed life I’ve led. I prefer to give thanks for those blessings, and my love to the people who blessed me with theirs. The bell tolls for me. I knew it would. So I tried, as best I could, to stay a ‘part of the main.‘ I hope those who mourn my passing, and even those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued service is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.” —John McCain

Rest In Peace Senator McCain, for I know that you will.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Broken Fragments of Antique Legends and the Kaleidoscopic Present

Twain
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since I am still enjoying a time of reflection following the submission of my retirement request from the Navy I am re-posting an article from about a year ago which I still think is relevant to today. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

I am trying to place what is going on in the Trump White House, the country, and the world in some frame of reference for some time now. There are many historical parallels to draw from and make analogies, but like all analogies they tend to break down at some point, none are perfect, but some tend to resonate more than others. Mark Twain wrote “History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.” 

In the Trump world I see fragments of the worlds of Richard Nixon, of Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Leopold of Belgium, Adolf Hitler, and Pierre Laval; of of the Robber Barons, the owners of the Titanic, and other leaders going back to antiquity. I have written about some of those parallels, even recently; however the past few days of turmoil have caused me to step back a bit as I try to find the right manner in which to write about them.

Marcus Tillius Cicero wrote something that in the midst of the self-inflicted chaos of the Trump administration that we should try to heed right now. I wish that the President would stop for a brief moment to ponder before he does something incredibly rash that leads him and the nation to disaster. Cicero wrote: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

So I am reading and researching and trying to make sense of the madness that we are all witnesses to, and if we do not speak out complicit in.

 

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Raymond Reddington, Me, and the Forgiveness of Sins

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In spite of being very busy working in the house and going  back to work to deal with the crisis d’jour I have been very reflective about all I have been through over the past few months. Unlike past times of reflection this has been a rather uplifting experience of grace and not a de-evolution into a morbid state of moroseness.

As I wrote on Saturday I drafted and sent up my retirement letter today for my Commanding Officer’s endorsement. I also let my detailer, the officer who manages officer assignments know that I was putting in my papers so he can plan to replace me. I also let the men and . It was a strange but very freeing. I will have much to do to get ready for that day about a year from now but knowing that I can begin working on everything that I need to accomplish. There is much to do but I am at peace and really looking forward to what comes next, whatever it may be.

Due to a situation dealing with my Catholic congregation  I am having to do a town hall meeting to explain howe things work to all of my faith group leaders and contractors on Sunday afternoon. Thus I will be going in to the chapel on Sunday and I will make an appearance before my Protestant congregation to discuss my feelings about the member that tried to get me sent to court martial. I have finally been able to deal with the anger from that experience but the pain is still there. At least I am in a better place to talk about it and know now that I won’t do anything to blow the situation up.

This experience has taught me something about grace, forgiveness, and trust, but I digress…

The fact is that I have a tremendous ability to dwell upon injustices and I have a terrible time with forgiveness. I do really love the concept and as a Christian I have no idea of how Jesus managed to forgive nor the great saints of every faith who managed to live lives full of grace and forgiveness have managed to do so. It probably goes back to my Irish-Scottish DNA, the DNA that can make one a hilarious hoot one minute and a brooding bore the next regardless of whether or not alcohol is involved.

But there is something that I have learned recently: forgiveness doesn’t require me to be dishonest about how I feel about something. I learned that from Raymond Reddington, and yes I have been binge-watching The Blacklist of late and I find Reddington’s grip on philosophy, religion, and the human condition to be quite fascinating. Reddington observed:

“Sins should be buried like the dead. Not that they may be forgotten but we may them and find our way forward nonetheless.”

Truthfully I don’t believe in the forgive and forget bullshit, it’s a nice thought, but our brains don’t work that way. We can forgive someone every day, but the memories will still be there. That’s what makes it so hard. That is why the Christian understanding of the forgiveness of since is so important and so difficult. It wasn’t meant to be easy or painless, but it might make a difference, as Reddington noted:

“A friend told me recently that forgiveness won’t change the past but could very well change their future. Apparently, everything is forgivable.” 

So that’s all for tonight. Yes I know there are many things going on that I can write about but right now I need to stay in this place for a moment.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Principiis obsta, Finem respice—Resist the beginnings, Consider the end: A Name Change at Padre Steve’s World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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I have been so busy working in the house the last couple of day, Monday in fact until about 10 PM that I didn’t get much in the way of writing done. Our contractor came today and began work in the house and I have about done almost everything to complete work in the most heavily damaged section of our home. I still have a bit more to do in that room as we get it in shape to be Judy’s art work room and a secondary library and overflow guest room.

I am happy with my work. Tomorrow we should be able to start moving her art supplies, materials, and equipment into it. I will also finally be able to take a crack at our personal belongings that were damaged when our air conditioning condensation pan drains got plugged while we were on leave back in May. We finally got the money from the insurance to begin the repairs and because I am doing much of the work myself have been able to use the much of what I saved to be able to do some badly needed renovations. It has been stressful but in the end it our home will gain a lot in value, but I digress…

Late last night I decided to change the title of this website. I actually did it twice and finally settled on this tonight:

Padre Steve’s World: Resist the beginnings, Consider the end. 

I think it is more appropriate than what I first came up with which was “The Best Little Blog You Never Heard of ” I decided that was a little too pompous despite the fact that I actually do put a lot of research and reflection into almost everything that I post here. The fact is that the twin phrases Principiis obsta and Finem respice, the first from the Roman philosopher Ovid, and the latter most likely from the Book of Ecclesiastes and the writings of the early Christian apologist Tertullian. The were quoted to American Jewish Professor Milton Mayer by a German colleague after the Second World War as a warning of what happens when otherwise good people say nothing and fail to resist evil.

So anyway. I am very tired and need to get some decent sleep since I got so little last night.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under christian life, History, holocaust, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Political Commentary