The Option of Having no Opinion

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I like reading the words of ancient philosophers when I am perplexed or troubled. One of my favorites is Marcus Aurelius. Occasionally I will look at my paperback copy of his Meditations and look through it. This evening something from it stuck me as quite profound. So I will share it to close out this day, as it is a thought that I think all of us, including me, can learn from.

“You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”

Have a nice night,

Peace

Padre Steve+’

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Political Folly and the Lust for Power

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Note: this was inadvertently posted in incomplete for late last night as I closed up my iPad thinking I would complete it today. This is the completed article.

I have been to war. I have been shot at and had rockets pass over my head. I have seen the wounded, and I have seen the devastation caused by war. Likewise I have also trained and prepared for worse worse than I served in. Back in the 1980s the unit that I commanded, the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) had the mission of helping to support the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment on the Fulda Gap. They and we were expected to take 75-90% casualties if the Soviets came over the border. I have to tell you that you haven’t really had to contemplate the reality of war if your neighborhood is not in the fallout pattern of nuclear weapons or the contamination zone of chemical or biological weapons. Mine was, thus ever since I was a young Army Lieutenant I have had a tremendous appreciation for what could happen if all hell broke loose and a worse case war scenario developed. For me it is not that hard to imagine worst case scenarios.

Sadly, that does not seem to be the case with President Trump. He seems hell bent at forcing the military to provide him with expressly demands faster military options for whatever he is planning; he mocks his Secretary of State’s efforts to use diplomacy to defuse the growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula, a crisis that he has made worse by taunting the North Korean leader; he is about to end an agreement with Iran which with the cooperation of our allies has been relatively successful in spite of Iran’s other provocative actions in the Arabian Gulf, in Syria, and in Yemen.

Despite the President’s rhetoric there has been no significant strengthening of the military since he took office. In fact the President’s policies are further stretching a force that spent the better part of a decade and a half wearing itself out in counterinsurgency campaigns that knew no end and cannot be won without the host nations being stable and secure enough to address the underlying causes of the insurgency. Now those forces are being tasked to go back and get ready for potential high intensity conflicts in Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Middle East.

The military is not the solution for every situation. This is something that those of us with significant military experience in peace and war, and who have studied the fundamentals of strategy and strategic thinking using history, economics, political science, geography, science and technology, diplomacy, and information know this. Sun Tzu wrote: “He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.” It is in choosing which elements of national power to gain advantage without war where true success lies, as Sun Tzu noted “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

There are a host of elements of national power, and for the President to be enamored with just one, the most costly and the destructive is foolish. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all the passions.” Because it can only be satisfied by power over others, government is its favorite field of exercise. Business offers a kind of power, but only to the very successful at the top, and without the dominion and titles and red carpets and motorcycle escorts of public office.”

One can see how the lust for power infected President Trump and how business was not enough to satisfy that need, and how even the domestic power of being President is not enough. To me it appears that the President like so many before him sees glory in war conquest and does not consider the cost. When he told reporters that they “could be watching the calm before the storm” and when asked what he meant said “you’ll find out,” not just once but a number of times going into the next day it was unnecessary and unnerving.

Honestly it seems to me that the President through his words and actions is sowing the wind and that in time we will reap the whirlwind unless sane and wise counsel prevails. I do see that senior military leaders are stating their differences with the President on policy matters and one hopes that they if no one else will be able to restrain the President who cannot stomach criticism, attacks his opponents and seems to desire affirmation and not information.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Calm Before the Storm… You’ll Find Out” The President’s Cryptic Message

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night President Trump met with high ranking military officers at the White House. After the meeting where he pressed them, without being specific to his intent, pressed the leaders to be faster at providing him with “military options” when needed. He said: ““Moving forward, I also expect you to provide me with a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace. I know that government bureaucracy is slow, but I am depending on you to overcome the obstacles of bureaucracy.”

After the meeting at a photo op prior to dinner he quipped to reporters “You guys know what this represents?” Then remarked “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.” When a report asked “What storm” the President said “you’ll find out.”

After all of the President’s saber rattling with North Korea and Iran I truly am afraid. Could it be more bluster? Yes, but I always go back to history and history shows that words like Trump’s often bring about war.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Clowns to the Left of Me Jokers to the Right… Irresponsible and

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post today about some of the most remarkable comments about the massacre in Las Vegas. Truthfully, I am still trying to get my head around what happened; and since there is as yet no evidence of why Stephen Paddock committed this heinous act I am still perplexed by it. I cannot imagine anyone whether they were in their right mind or not deciding to meticulously plan and execute such a cold blooded massacre. I can say that it was an act of unequivocal evil and had it been perpetrated by a Muslim, an undocumented alien, or an African American there would be more outrage and you can bet that people who in the immediate aftermath of the massacre said it shouldn’t be politicized would have politicized the hell out of it.

But instead of outrage I see Alex Jones blaming it on “the deep state,” Pat Robertson blaming it on “a lack of respect for President Trump and the flag,” Bill O’Reilly saying it was “the price of freedom,” Senator John Thune seemingly blaming the victims saying that “they should have made themselves smaller,” and a CBS News legal counsel said that she had no sympathy because “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans are often republican gun toters.” At least CBS fired her within hours of her abominable comments. However, I honestly doubt that any supporter of Robertson, Jones, Thune, or O’Reilly, would demand that they be fired. Of course there were a host of others that said that the shooting was part of God’s judgment or blamed people for any of a number of half-baked theological reasons.

The terrible thing about the commentators was that none of them seemed to give a damn about the victims, or those who lost loved ones or friends in this. For these soulless hacks it is all about finding blame and exculpating themselves from any responsibility when they all through their constant political invective and promotion of conspiracy theories help prepare the way for people to justify the massacre of so many people. In fact other right wing outlets like the Gateway Pundit seemed almost gleeful when they made a false identification of the shooter as “Registered Democrat and anti-Trump partisan.” They had to delete their posts and articles because they blamed the wrong person. But for a while they certainly defamed and libeled an innocent man all in the hope of making a cheap political point.

So anyway, I am frustrated and angry about those who make such comments, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that we shouldn’t debate the politics of the availability of the weapons and devices that made Stephen Paddock’s assault so deadly. As a career military officer I cannot imagine why we allow weapons like those used by Paddock, modified military weapons that have only one purpose: efficiently killing people in mass numbers, to be legal. I’ll probably write more about the subject another time, but the irresponsibility of ideologues only makes events like this even more tragic.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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No Answers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Almost two days after millionaire Stephen Paddock killed 59 people and wounded over 500 more there are still no answers as to why the Paddock attacked a country music festival in Las Vegas. In fact, it appears that he engaged in much planning and preparation for his assault while carefully maintaining an appearance of nondescript innocence in the months and weeks leading up to the massacre.

Honestly, I still don’t know what to say other than that Paddock was exceptionally gifted at concealing himself and his motives from anyone. Perhaps we will find out something when his live-in girlfriend returns from Japan where she was before and during his assault in Las Vegas.

The fact that his attack seems to have no underlying ideological, political, cultural, or religious, or even personal motivations such as being makes it much harder to understand. Any reason, abhorrent as it might be to us is at least something that regardless of our personal belief system is something that we might use to explain what happened and to distance ourselves from Paddock’s crimes. Instead, at least at the moment we are left with no explanation, and therefore no answers for the evil that was perpetrated by Stephen Paddock. Rick Yancey wrote, “The monstrous act by definition demands a monster” but as Primo Levi noted: “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

Stephen Paddock appears to be that common man, that person who goes unnoticed, appearing to be completely normal who commits the most monstrous of atrocities. That to me is what makes him, and others like him so terrifying.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Most Unsettling of Massacres

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is one of those days that I really don’t know what to say. I woke up yesterday to go to work for the first time in two weeks after taking leaving in Germany. On my way to work I saw a news flash about the massacre in Las Vegas, but once I got to work I was too busy catching up and in meetings with my staff that it wasn’t until after noon before I was able to read more about it. As of when I am writing there are 60 confirmed dead and almost 530 wounded, all the victims of one man, a man named Stephen Paddock. Police say that Paddock had no criminal record, was well off, owned property in Florida and was a private pilot who owned two aircraft. Most people who knew or met him described as being normal. He had no history of mental illness, drug use or alcoholism.

But this supposedly normal man conducted the single worst massacre done by an individual in American history. Yes, there have been other massacres that have come close to or exceeded this, but they were conducted by organized bands of people, not just one man.

There is something terribly unsettling about this massacre. It was committed by a man who was ordinary and unremarkable; a man with apparently no deep political, ideological, or religious convictions. A man who according to everything I have read appeared for decades to be a perfectly normal citizen, a good neighbor and worker who had made enough money to be comfortable and to spend time gambling in $100 a hand poker games, in which he made a lot of money.

But despite that, he had twenty-three firearms in the hotel, including at least one which may have been modified to fire on full automatic as well as two pedestals to mount them. At his home he had another nineteen weapons, as well as explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition.That is not normal, and neither is getting a hotel room overlooking a concert venue where over 20,000 people were packed and opening fire with weapons set on automatic on the unsuspecting people below.

The blood flowed in Las Vegas as Paddock dealt death from on high on people that he did not know. I cannot get my mind around this and as of now police know of no racial, religious, or ideological reason for the massacre of 59 people and he wounding of 527 others. Each one of those people was an individual with his or her own story. They were men and women, sons and daughters, wives and husbands, children and parents, and Paddock massacred them in cold blood. If Paddock had a terrorist who had written a manifesto, or links to a terrorist group, or a person with a link to the people that he killed, such as being an angry coworker bent on revenge, it would still be shocking and evil, but easier to explain.

Unless something is found that explains his motive this will be difficult and unsettling to process because it makes no sense. I guess that is why Hannah Arendt noted “Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.” At this time there is nothing for us to fall back on, except to say that it was an act of evil committed by a man who was by all accounts rather normal and nondescript. By our standards of morality and judgement his normality makes his actions much more frightening than the actions of a terrorist with a known political, ideological, or religious contempt for his victims. Such a man could be anyone’s next door neighbor. While it will not bring anyone back from the dead I do hope that the authorities will find evidence that explains why Paddock did this.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? A Glimpse of How the President Will Handle Disasters not of His Making

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’ve been back in the United States for a bit over three full days. Over the past two weeks I kept up with events in the United States while traveling in Germany and was spared the real time 24-7 coverage of the the soullessness, callousness, and incompetence of President Trump and his administration to real world crises.

However, over the weekend I was blown away by the President’s response to the desperation of the people of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, all American citizens, following Hurricane Irma and then Maria. As I have seen the President deal with the crisis I can only hope that Otto Von Bismarck was right when he said “God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America.” If he doesn’t then we are doomed because the sociopathic soullessness and incompetence of the President is unmatched by any of his 44 predecessors. Even the most sociopathic of them like Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk were hard working and competent, while the most incompetent Presidents had at least some redeemable qualities. But President Trump appears to be not only a sociopath, but lazy and incompetent too.

For the first time in his nine months in office we have seen this President deal with a crisis not of his making in real time, and it has not been pretty. In fact it is terrifying. As the storm hit the President went golfing at took to twitter to chastise NFL players and team owners about kneeling during the national anthem. For four days after declaring a state of emergency the President and the administration did nothing.

Not only did the administration not proactively prepare for a disaster that they knew was coming, they delayed the response by days as the President praised his supposed actions to help while doing nothing. When the Mayor of San Juan confronted him the President went on the attack because how dare she criticize him. The President blamed he government and people of Puerto Rico for what was going on even though the island is devastated, 90% of the island is without electricity, 90% of people have no cell-phone service, fuel is running out, over half of the island has no potable water; ports and airports are heavily damaged, many people have no homes left standing, while many roads, bridges, and other are critical infrastructure are damaged or destroyed. Army National Guardsmen and Reservists mobilized to help are in terrible shape. Not only are their families struggling, but the storm means that their bases and armories are damaged, they lack fuel for their vehicles, they are dealing with knocked out communications networks, and have little support from any higher echelons.

Likewise, the are few supplies, or equipment for the people devastated by the storm to even begin a recovery operation, even as the President demeans them and their political officials from the safety of his golf course while imputing to them motives which make him the victim while saying that Puerto Ricans are not doing enough for themselves. From his golf course the President tweeted: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.” Frankly, they are doing everything they can for themselves, but they don’t have what they need to do it, the island is in ruins, the infrastructure devastated, and supplies in short supply.

The President shows no concern for the millions of people struggling amid the ruins of their community, without much outside help, following a massive natural disaster which hat it hit anywhere on the American East Coast or Gulf Coast would be getting far more attention from the government and the media. The problem for Puerto Rico is that most of its citizens, though Americans, are not White.

Likewise, while this was going on it was revealed that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was communicating directly with North Korea in order to avert a potential nuclear war, to which the President took to twitter to shame his chief diplomat saying that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” And “Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done.” Of course this signaling to all that the President either thinks that threats of war will force Kim Jung Un to back down or that he really wants a war with North Korea. Sadly, regardless of whether the President is using the threat of force as a tool to enforce his will on North Korea, or whether he really wants war, the end result will likely be a war that devastates much of the region, causes millions of casualties, including thousands or even tens of thousands American lives, and possibly even the nuclear destruction of American cities.

Sadly, this is the behavior of a sociopath. The President demonstrates on a daily basis the characteristics of a sociopath listed in the DSM-V. The President, a sociopath feels no empathy, no emotion. He is unencumbered by feelings such as fear, anxiety, stress, depression, remorse, guilt, caring, and love. Gustave Gilbert, who served as an U.S. Army Psychologist to the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg noted:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

Yes, the response of the administration is not merely incompetent, but it is sociopathic, and being directed by a man who exhibits enough of the clinical clinical criteria to be judged the Sociopath in Chief. We can only hope that the Iron Chancellor was right about the providence that protects this country, because if he wasn’t right we are in big trouble.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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