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So who did the dirty work for us? Armed Forces Day 2016

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Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am reposting something I wrote last year regarding Armed Forces Day. I was pretty emotionally raw when I wrote it but at the same time after re-reading it I cannot disagree with anything that I wrote. So today in honor of the fewer than 1% who serve in the uniform of the United States at any given time I am glad to share this. The faux patriotism displayed by so many, the bumper stickers that say “I support the troops” while supporting politicians and corporations that exist solely to make war on the backs of such a small segment of society, while cavalierly tossing veterans aside is no patriotism at all.

This may piss some people off, but as a man who has served 35 years in uniform and who has been to war and seen its horror, I cannot be less than honest.  

So please, take some time today to thank a currently serving Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman, or Coastguardsman for their service, and don’t do it flippantly. Recognize that they make sacrifices that go beyond what most people make, and all too many suffer for their service.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Marine Major General and two time Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler wrote, “What is the cost of war? what is the bill?…“This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

Today is Armed Forces Day and unfortunately most of the country will not notice unless they are attending a Baseball game where it is being observed or some special event on a base, national cemetery, monument or VFW hall. Armed Forces Day was established in 1948 by President Harry Truman after the founding of the Department of Defense.  It was established to honor and remember those currently serving, not the discharged or the retired veteran, they are remembered on Veterans Day, the former Armistice Day, nor the fallen who are commemorated on Memorial Day which we will do next weekend.

Unlike Veterans Day or Memorial Day there is no national holiday for Armed Forces Day. I find this ironic for a nation which claims to support the troops that the men and women who we honor are honored on a day that unless they are deployed in harm’s way or have duty, is regular day off like any Saturday. Personally I think the day should be celebrated by giving the active duty force a real day off and if they are deployed given some kind of down time as operational needs allow, and maybe even given them a ration of beer. We did this for the Marine Corps birthday in Iraq, so why not on Armed Forces Day? But I digress…

Back when Armed Forces Day was established there was still a draft which meant that in theory everyone had skin in the game and that our leaders were far more hesitant to commit the nation to war.

Back in 1952 the New York Times editors wrote:

“It is our most earnest hope that those who are in positions of peril, that those who have made exceptional sacrifices, yes, and those who are afflicted with plain drudgery and boredom, may somehow know that we hold them in exceptional esteem. Perhaps if we are a little more conscious of our debt of honored affection they may be a little more aware of how much we think of them.”

But sadly today in all honesty were think very little of them. Today of course there will be a fair number of local celebrations to honor members of the Armed Forces across the country, but for the most part they will be small and not well publicized. Most of the people in attendance will not even be there for the troops. They will be there for the event and their hearts will be warmed by the tributes paid to the troops. As a career officer and son of a Vietnam veteran Navy Chief I appreciate those events and at least some of the good hearted the people that put them together. Being a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, especially those that have taken the time to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans like me who have returned from war totally fucked up. But again I digress, badda bing, badda boom, badda bomb…

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Bu here is what really s upsetting to me, good number of these patriot, flag waving, war porn satiating, yet somehow inspiring ceremonies to honor the troops are not even coming for the heart of the people putting them on. Until it was exposed last year many of these ceremonies, particularly those done by the NFL were coming out of the Pentegon budget and being paid for by the taxpayers. These events are nothing more than faux patriotism and little more than propaganda that exploits the troops. They are being done as a recruiting tool with the Department of Defense which is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the tax exempt National Football League and its teams to put on shows that give all the appearances of honoring the troops but are really nothing more than propaganda and recruiting commercials. Likewise for all which for all the money we the taxpayers spend on them actually net few recruits if any as a huge number of our current troops are the sons and daughters of men and women who have also served this country. They, like me, serve for something greater than partisan politics  greater than money, greater than anything that can easily be repaid. For most it is the ideal of the love of this country and the principles found in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. However, that is fodder for another article.

But honestly I am so offended by this faux  patriotism shown by the NFL and God knows who else that it causes me a great deal of anger. I say this because throughout our nation’s history our political leaders, business leaders and the populace as a whole have despised the military, and those who in the absence of a draft chose to serve. That despicable attitude was well recounted in Herman Wouk’s monumental novel, which became a classic film The Caine Mutiny. In the film a defense attorney for those accused of mutiny, Barney Greenwald played to perfection by Jose Ferrer told the acquitted mutineers of the Caine’s wardroom:

“You know something…when I was studying law, and Mr Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton,method was standing guard over this fat dumb happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh no, we knew you couldn’t make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did! And a lot of other guys. Tough, sharp guys who didn’t crack up like Queeg.” 

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For those who are now getting pissed off at me, let us look at facts. At any given time less than 1% of Americans are serving in all components of the military. For nearly 15 years we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other locations that we don’t like to talk about too much. However this has not been the effort of a nation at war, it is the war of a tiny percentage of the population, a segment that everyone is far too willing to exploit.

As a nation we are disconnected from the military and the wars that the military fights. The fact is that most Americans do not have a personal or vested interest in these wars, they have been insulated by political leaders of both parties from them. There is no draft, and no taxes were raised to fund the wars and the military is now worn out.

We have been at war for nearly 15 years and truthfully there is no end in sight. In that time every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman volunteered for duty or reenlisted during this time period. Motives may have varied from individual to individual, but unlike the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam every single one volunteered to serve in time of war. I think that this makes the current generation of veterans quite unique in our modern history, but not so different than the professionals who served before and after the Civil War,and  those who served before and after the First World War. The situation after the Second Wolrd War and the Cold War required a large standing military and large reserve force. This required the draft, which though hated by many  leavened the professional force with civilians who got a taste of military and when they left did not forget they meaning of their service and the sacrifices made by the professionals. We do not have that anymore. We are no longer are no longer a military composed of citizen soldiers. We who serve,  even in our reserve components are  a Warrior caste, set apart from the society that we serve.

There is a tragic disconnection between the military and civilian society in the United States. This is the result of deliberate public policy since the end of the Vietnam War supported by both political parties. For almost 40 years we have relied on an all volunteer force. It is that relatively small and socially isolated military which is sent to fight wars while the bulk of the population is uninvolved and corporations, lobbyists and think tanks get rich.

Andrew Bacevich wrote in his new book Breach of Trust: How Americans failed their Soldiers and their Country:

“Rather than offering an antidote to problems, the military system centered on the all-volunteer force bred and exacerbated them. It underwrote recklessness in the formulation of policy and thereby resulted in needless, costly, and ill-managed wars. At home, the perpetuation of this system violated simple standards of fairness and undermined authentic democratic practice. The way a nation wages war—the role allotted to the people in defending the country and the purposes for which it fights—testifies to the actual character of its political system. Designed to serve as an instrument of global interventionism (or imperial policing), America’s professional army has proven to be astonishingly durable, if also astonishingly expensive. Yet when dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan, it has proven incapable of winning. With victory beyond reach, the ostensible imperatives of U.S. security have consigned the nation’s warrior elite to something akin to perpetual war.”

Bacevich, a retired Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran who lost a son in Iraq is dead on, as is Rachel Maddow who wrote in her outstanding book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power:

“The reason the founders chafed at the idea of an American standing army and vested the power of war making in the cumbersome legislature was not to disadvantage us against future enemies, but to disincline us toward war as a general matter… With citizen-soldiers, with the certainty of a vigorous political debate over the use of a military subject to politicians’ control, the idea was for us to feel it- uncomfortably- every second we were at war. But after a generation or two of shedding the deliberate political encumbrances to war that they left us… war making has become almost an autonomous function of the American state. It never stops.” 

The lobbyists, pundits, politicians, preachers and war profiteers that promote war don’t care about the troops. This especially applies to the likely GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump, a man who brazenly and shamelessly equates his time at a military high school as being equal to actually serving while using multiple deferments and medical excuses to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War. Trump called military personnel who were captured by the enemy “cowards,” a man who cares not a whit about real men and women who serve this country. When Trump and other most other politicians say they do care about the troops they are lying out their asses. This is because no matter who is in office or who controls congress these people and corporations will promote policies that keep them employed and their businesses enriched, and yes, Bernie Sanders is on that list, despite his denunciations of war and vote against the Iraq war he has consistently supported weapons programs like the F-35 fighter plane fiasco which is such an example of waste, fraud and abuse,  not to mention overpriced, overdue, and underperforming weapons systems ever, in order to bring jobs to Vermont.

Marine Major General and Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler was quite right when he said:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

I think that the reason that our current wars have gone on so long is the that misguided policies have brought about a chronic disconnection in our society between those that serve in the military. But how can there not be when in the weeks after 9-11 people like President Bush and others either directly or in a manner of speaking told people to “go shopping” * as we went to war in Afghanistan? When I returned from Iraq I returned to a nation that was not at war whose leaders used the war to buttress their respective political bases.

The results are terrible. Suicide rates are continuing to rise among veterans who have returned to find that neither the VA nor the civilian mental health care sector is prepared to care for them. Even worse the members of the GOP controlled Congress are working their asses off to screw the troops. Ohio GOP Congressman, Tea Party favorite,  supposedly deeply committed Christian and even worse a Colonel in the Ohio Army National Guard has attempted and is attempting again to attach an Ammendment to the 2016 Nation Defense Authorization Act which would keep the Defense Department from enformice rules which would protect young troops from the predatory payday lenders who line the avenues leading to every major military base in the country. My opinion, this man is a traitor to the country even though he wears the uniform and has deployed and led soldiers in in Iraq and other locations during this war. He is selling out the the young troops to protect the payday lending industry with which has had a nearly incestuous relationship since he day that was elected to Congress.

But Congressman Stivers is not alone, Congressmen and women of both parties sell out the troops to prop up banks, insurance companies and Wall Street. Those military health benefits not directly provided in military medical centers are run through an organization called Tricare. Tricare, which is managed by the insurance companies who bid on competitive contracts is a for profit industry. These insurance companies routinely deny services to the families of military members, pay so little or are so mind numbingly  incompetent that many medical providers refuse to deal with them, leaving the troops their families stuck in the middle. That my friends is fact. Now the GOP led by the Koch brothers is attempting to privatize Veterans Admisistration Heath care. Now in all honesty, the chronically underfunded and bureaucratically bound VA. That being said my friends privatization will only make things worse for veterans who will now have to deal with private for profit insurance companies and Heath care systems that see them and their wounds and infirmaries as a way to make a buck off of taxpayer and to screw the veteran.

But let’s not stop there. Politicians of both parties and their backers from the financial sectors have been working overtime since the Adminstration of George W. Bush to roll back retirement benefits which they call  “entitlements” which are supposedly destroying the financial health and well being of the nation. Never mind the fact that these same  politicians have spent trillions of dollars bailing out the corporations which have almost single handed lay destroyed this nation’s economy time after time since the 1970s, and who support corporations who are based in this country but have sold the nation out and work against the interests of Americans.

But never mind, I digress, for as we all know it is the troops who are the leches who are bankrupting the country.

But this isn’t new my friends it began during the Reagan Administration which changed the retirement system from the flat 50% of one’s final active duty pay that one would retire with at 20 years of service or high multiples up to 75% at 30 years to an average of the last three, or the highest three years of pay that one earned while on active duty.  In effect the Reagan Adminstration robbed military retest of hundreds of thousand of dollars of hard earned benefits. But again the beloved Saint Ronald loved the troops, after all he said so.

Likewise, did you know that some GOP legislators want to cut the disability payments to military members who have been wounded or injured during their service?  You probably didn’t and you won’t find that fact out on Fox News or CNN. This is not to be confused with the retirement benefits that they are looking to cut.  This, my friends is the debt of honor that this nation owes to the men and women who have given everything and now are broken in body, mind and spirit. But, those who promote such policies, even those who have worn the uniform, like Congressman Stivers have no honor. Like those that sold out the Union veterans after the Civil War and the Doughboys after World War One they are much more indebted to their political benefactors than they are to te troops no matter what they say.

Now I do believe that Armed Forces Day should be better celebrated and I am grateful to the people that do things every day to thank and support military personnel. These wonderful people that do this come from across the political spectrum. Some are veterans and others non-veterans, but they care for and appreciate the men and women that serve in and fight the wars that no-one else can be bothered to fight.

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Of course the politicians, pundits, preachers and the defense contractors, banks and lobbyists will find a way to profit. They will do so no matter how many more troops are killed, wounded or injured and how badly it affects military personnel or their families and will push to abandon those who fought as they do after every war. After all, to quote Smedley Butler, “war is a racket.”  So that is what I believe; and if God is just, and if there is a Hell, I hope that the people who promote war and profit from it, and then abandon those who fight their wars end up there, especially the preachers who this very morning will invite the troops to their churches to supposedly honor them even as they support the politicians whose policies damn the very troops that they pretend to honor today. 

That may sound harsh, but is it any more harsh than condemning people to Hell who have different beliefs or lifestyles who have harmed no one by their actions? I think not. 

As so to these preachers, I say, to use the words of one of my football coaches, “your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word that you are saying.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

President Bush’s actually words were “Now, the American people have got to go about their business. We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t — where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop…” http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011011-7.html

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Filed under History, Military, Political Commentary

Days Seem to Dawn: Reflections on 9-11-2001 & War

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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.

Fourteen 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 been back 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.

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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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 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…

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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. In a couple of years I hope to retire with 36 years of service, knowing that those who I have worked with will be continuing to fight a war which seems to be without end.

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Today there will be many ceremonies and services to remember the victims of the attacks. I think that is fitting. President Obama has declared a day of prayer and remembrance which is also good. I will not attend the ceremonies because I still get too emotional, but I will be there in spirit, even though much of me is still in Iraq. 

I will quietly reflect at the office today as I get ready for our incoming class at the Staff College. Afterward I will go get a beer and dinner with Judy and our friends at Gordon Biersch after catching to remainder of the Norfolk Tides vs. Columbus Clippers International League playoff game which was postponed due to rain last night. I guess that is fitting to as it was baseball that helped begin the healing in Nee York in the days after the attack. 

Have a good day, and do not forget those whose lives were forever changed by those dastardly attacks and all that has transpired in the years since. Maybe things will get better… Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD

There Will be Nightmares: PTSD & Memories of War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I’m really very tired today so another short post. I haven’t slept well in several weeks, part of this of course was the worry I had regarding my wife Judy and her cancer diagnosis, surgery and recovery. As she has gotten better I have been dealing with stuff from my own closet of anxieties. Those who have been reading my articles here know that I deal with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and moral injury from my time in Iraq, and my return home.

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Last year I went through a very difficult time dealing with the military mental health system that I never want to repeat again. I hope I don’t have to, but I may. My therapist who I have had since last summer took a new job thousands of miles away and now I am going to have to find another therapist. I am hoping the man I see for my medication management can get me referred to someone good, because I do not want to be thrust back into the system and take the luck of the draw. That scares me to death, and since I found out my therapist was leaving and that I will not see her again I have been trying to keep my anxiety under control and not to panic. Awake I do pretty well with this, but when I try to sleep, all my Iraq stuff, plus all the very real and bad experiences that I had with the military mental health system last year flood my psyche. The night terrors are back, the terrible dreams and fears. It is not fun waking up in the middle of the night in a state of terror. Last year, after dealing with a number of providers and administrators I was nearly suicidal. It took the intervention of a former commanding officer who had been recently selected for promotion to Admiral in the Medical Corps to get me listened to and to get me the help that I sought.

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But I know that I am not alone, I will get the professional help that I still need and I do have some friends I can talk to about these issues. Likewise I know many combat who veterans deal with similar issues related to their service, as well what happened to them when they returned home from Iraq or Afghanistan. The return from war is often worse than actually being over there, few people really understand, unless they too have been there.

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.”

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I am a realist about this. I know that there is no magic wand which will make it all go away and I don’t expect any therapist, or even God to cure me. I can understand why Alexander Dumas in the Count of Monte Cristo wrote, “Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is true and I know to some people that may sound like I have given up, especially because it runs counter to the snake oil salesmen who write self-help books which promise to heal you in whatever number of steps or exercises; especially the ones written by preachers. But that is not the case, despite everything I still have a love of life and lust for learning. Except that now I just have moved to a new level of understanding concerning my own dark places, and that pain that manifests at night as I try to sleep. Since nothing will take it away I need to live with it and realize that it won’t always be the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. That my friends is the essence of hope. 

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One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

I think that is why I can continue and at the same time seek to be available to those who suffer similar afflictions, and thankfully, I do still have those opportunities and as the late Henri Nouwen wrote, “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

Anyway, have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

December 6th 2014: Remembering the Illusion of Peace

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“A nation brought up on peace was going to war and didn’t know how.” Walter Lord 

December 6th 2014. For most Americans and Western Europeans this is time of peace. Well, at least the illusion of peace.

Tens of thousands of American, NATO and European Union troops operating in a number of mandates are in harm’s way. In some places like Afghanistan they are at war, in others attempting to keep the peace. Around the world regional conflicts, civil wars, insurgencies  and revolutions threaten not only regional peace but the world peace and economy.

Traditional national rivalries and ethnic and religious tensions especially in Asia and the broader Middle East have great potential to escalate into wars that should they actually break will involve the US, NATO and the EU, if not militarily economically and diplomatically.

Even the outright Russian aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine and the shoot down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17, or the stunning advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has not awoken the vast majority of Americans or Europeans to the dangers lurking in this world.

Like our ancestors on December 6th 1941 we live in a dream world an illusory world of peace. as W.H. Auden said in his poem September 1st 1939:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies…

On December 6th 1941 the world was already at war and the United States was edging into the war. The blood of Americans has already been shed but for the vast majority of Americans the events in Europe and Asia were far away and not our problem. Though President Roosevelt had began the expansion of the military there were those in Congress seeking to demobilize troops and who fought all attempts at to intervene.

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Most people went about their business that last furtive day of peace. People went about doing their Christmas shopping, going to movies like The Maltese Falcon staring Humphrey Bogart or the new short Tom and Jerry cartoon, The Night Before Christmas.

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Others went to football games. UCLA and USC had played their annual rivalry game to a 7-7 tie, Texas crushed Oregon in Austin by a score of 71-7 while Texas A&M defeated Washington State in the Evergreen Bowl in Tacoma by a score of 7-0.

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But war was raging….

In Europe a Soviet counter-offensive was hammering a freezing and exhausted German Wehrmacht at the gates of Moscow. U-Boats were taking a distressing toll of ships bound for Britain including neutral US merchant ships and warships as well as the destroyer USS Reuben James. Volunteer American airmen were already in action against Japan, these men whose air group was known as the  Flying Tigers stood with the Nationalist Chinese against the Japanese invaders.

Flying_Tigers_personnel

War was everywhere but Americans lived in the dream world of the illusion of peace.

When the messages came out of Pearl Harbor the next morning it was already early afternoon on the East Coast. The Japanese Ambassador had been delayed in delivering the declaration of war, people across the country going about their Sunday business, going to church, relaxing or listening to the radio. Thus when war came, despite all the precursors and warnings war came. When it happened it took the nation by surprise. Walter Lord wrote in his classic account of the Pearl Harbor attack Day of Infamy: “A nation brought up on peace was going to war and didn’t know how.”

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By the end of the day over 2400 Americans were dead and over 1200 more wounded. The battleships of the Pacific Fleet were shattered. 4 sunk, one grounded and 3 more damaged. 10 other ships were sunk or damaged in the attack. 188 aircraft were destroyed and 159 damaged.

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The next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the nation to action requesting that Congress declare war on Japan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufoUtoQLGQY

Mr. Vice President, and Mr. Speaker, and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American Island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

But always will our whole Nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces- with the unbounding determination of our people- we will gain the inevitable triumph- so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

Today there are men and women from the United States and our NATO, European Union and who stand in harm’s way and some of them are dying.  Eleanor Roosevelt reflected:

“Lest I keep my complacent way I must remember somewhere out there a person died for me today. As long as there must be war, I ask and I must answer was I worth dying for?”

Wars, revolutions and other tensions in other parts of the world threaten on every side, but most Americans and Europeans live in the illusion of peace.

A very few professionals are given the task of preparing for and fighting wars that are fomented by often brought about by the willful malfeasance or stunningly ignorant policies of the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, the Trinity of Evil.  As such many have no idea of the human, material and spiritual cost of war and when it comes again in all of its awful splendor few will be prepared.

We do not know what tomorrow will bring and unfortunately for the vast bulk of Americans and Western Europeans the comments of W.H. Auden are as applicable today as they were when he penned them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Depression Kills: RIP Robin Williams

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Robin Williams during his 2007 USO Tour to Iraq and Afghanistan 

Tonight I found out about the unexpected death of the great Robin Williams. It was shocking and upsetting to hear that it was believed that Williams had recently suffered from severe depression and that he was believed to had committed suicide.

I guess I can say that I almost met Williams when I was in Iraq, in between missions at Ta’Qaddum airbase west of Fallujah in 2007. Williams was with a number of celebrities and the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen touring Iraq and Afghanistan. I had just come in from a mission and could not see his show, but the following morning I walked by Williams as he was walking back from the dinning facility. I recognized him, but I am loathe to interrupt a person’s time alone. I simp gave him a “good morning” which he returned and both of us went on our ways. I could have stooped him and detained him, but in good conscience could not do it. My friend Fr Jose Bautista, a Navy Chaplain had Williams and Lance Armstrong sign a baseball cap for me. I treasure it.

Robin Williams was brilliant, talented and brought much you to many people. Unfortunately. like so many brilliant and caring people he was afflicted with his own personal “demons.” He struggled with depression ands substance abuse.

I understand. Since returning from Iraq in 2008 I have dealt with the effects of PTSD, including depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, insomnia, nightmares and night terrors. I know why people commit suicide, and at times considered it myself. Most recently less than two weeks ago when dealing with the inhuman machine that is the Navy mental health system, something that is common to the rest of the military and VA systems.

The fact is that depression is a killer and it disproportionally afflicts the most talented, brilliant, artistic and insightful people.  Van Gogh, Hemingway, Williams and so many others, including men and women that distinguished themselves in combat, some of whom I knew, have taken their lives.

The death of Robin Williams has shaken me. I pray for his wife and children and all those who loved him, or who were touched by him.

Please, if you are suffering from anything that makes you think that suicide is the only option, please seek help. If you have no one else, contact me. I may not be able to do much but I will listen. You are not alone.

Rest in Peace Robin Williams. You brought much joy to my life and to so many others.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Song of Souls Changed by War: The Minstrel Boy

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Absolution of the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg by Father Corby

Friends of Padre Steve’s World. All the things going on in the world, wars, disasters, plane crashes have all have had me a bit melancholy of late. I wonder about all the tragedy, what is going on in Iraq, where so much of my heart is still invested, the situation in Ukraine and the ongoing, seemingly never ending conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, and in the midst of it I am reminded that even today thousands of Americans are still in Afghanistan, pretty much forgotten by most Americans.

So today I have re-done a very old article about a song that means much to me; the Irish song The Minstrel Boy. 

The Minstrel Boy (Thomas Moore)

The minstrel boy to the war is gone, In the ranks of death ye will find him; His father’s sword he hath girded on, And his wild harp slung behind him; “Land of Song!” said the warrior bard, “Tho’ all the world betray thee, One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard, One faithful harp shall praise thee!”

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain Could not bring his proud soul under; The harp he lov’d ne’er spoke again, For he tore its chords asunder; And said “No chains shall sully thee, Thou soul of love and bravery! Thy songs were made for the pure and free They shall never sound in slavery!”

The Minstrel Boy will return we pray When we hear the news we all will cheer it, The minstrel boy will return one day, Torn perhaps in body, not in spirit. Then may he play on his harp in peace, In a world such as heaven intended, For all the bitterness of man must cease, And ev’ry battle must be ended.

(Last verse anonymous Civil War)

In February of 2008 I was in the process of returning home from Iraq spending my last couple of days in country before flying out to Kuwait and then the United States. I was already in a rather melancholy state knowing that the Chaplain incoming higher headquarters had turned off my relief for Al Anbar Province after I had paved the way for him with all of the teams of advisors that I had worked with during my time serving them. My relief a personal friend was diverted to the Army advisors with a different Iraqi Division in the north of the country. I felt that the incoming senior chaplain had betrayed and abandoned the men that I worked so hard to care for. Later I heard that he had disregarded my heavily detailed after action reports and told at least one senior chaplain that he “had heard that I was out there but didn’t know if I had done anything.”

It was at that point that I realized that you could do your job and sacrifice yourself to complete a mission only to have someone with their own agenda do what they could to discredit you.  Where the senior Chaplain that I worked for did all that he could to support my team’s mission and see that we were properly recognized at Multi-National Corps Iraq in Baghdad his successor dismissed our work. It was the first time in my Navy career that I had experienced that.  I think it was the fact that I worked for a non-traditional billet working for an Army led joint command outside the normal Navy-Marine Corps chain was a big part of this. Inter-service rivalries and the distain of those bound by conventional thinking are not new and those that have done such non-conventional work have frequently been treated in a similar manner.

Looking back there are some songs which are particularly meaningful to me after my time in Iraq that send a chill up my spine when I hear them. One of these is the patriotic Irish song The Minstrel Boy written by Thomas Moore while a student in honor of friends killed in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.  The song was very popular among soldiers of Irish descent in the American Civil War as well as soldiers fighting in Irish Regiments in World War One and World War Two.

The song is powerful when you hear it for it speaks of the reality of war, war that changes those, even those that return home are not unchanged by it.  It speaks of the sacrifices required by those that go to war and even the effects on the community, the loss of young people.  The final verse added by an anonymous author during the American Civil War in a sense is a prayer, a prayer of return as well as reconciliation. It has been recorded a number of times including an instrumental during the film Blackhawk Down. Another rendition is in the television mini-series Rough Riders about the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry at the Battle of San Juan Hill.

My life has been changed and faith challenged. When I went to Iraq I still maintained a sense of idealism.   After Iraq and having to deal with PTSD and a psychological, spiritual and physical breakdown as well as a profound sense of abandonment by some senior chaplains, my former church and even God I am a different person. My faith which had been shattered to the point of being a practical agnostic for nearly two years has returned. I don’t regret that and do believe that it is a good thing. If we are not changed by what God allows or by what life brings I don’t think that we grow. As a Priest I wonder if I could work in the environment that I work without having gone through what I did.

minstrel boy TNG

I see many of the “minstrel boys” and girls of our era and having also been to war and come back changed the last lines of the final verse is a prayer that I echo. One of the versions that I particularly like is the one sung in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode “The Wounded.” While it is only the first verse it deals with the lives of two officers whose lives are forever changed by war. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJudJ9S579A

This is dedicated to all those who have served, those still serving in harm’s way and all who have gone through the pain of war, until war shall be no more.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on the Bowe Bergdahl Controversy

bergdahl-300x270Sgt Bowe Bergdahl as a Private First Class

The case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl troubles me on a number of levels. Over the past few weeks, I like the majority of Americans have been subjected to the incessant media blitz regarding Bergdahl. As someone who has served in combat in very isolated areas of Iraq I have conflicting opinions. One is about his actions that led to him being held captive by the Taliban. The fact is that no matter what the reason he left his base he put himself and his comrades in danger. The second is that we don’t know all the facts and his return is being used by the very people who pressed hardest for it as a political issue. Finally, I am concerned for the safety of Bergdahl and his family which in the course of the mostly right wing media blitz attacks probably are in some kind of danger, especially due to the vehemence that the campaign has been waged.

While I am glad that have him back and that he is safe I am of two minds on what needs to happen.

First Bergdahl needs all the medical and psychological care he can get and once he is deemed fit to question about the incident and his captivity then that needs to happen.

Second a new 15-6 investigation needs to be started by the Army. Should that investigation provide evidence that Bergdahl deserted or collaborated with the enemy or committed treason, Court Martial proceedings should be initiated, beginning with the Article 32 hearing, the equivalent of a Grand Jury determine there is sufficient merit to bring him to trial than a trial should take place and if convicted Bergdahl should be sentenced accordingly. If there is a conviction then if need be the judge and jury should take into account whatever happened to Bergdahl at the hands of the Taliban during sentencing.

Since I have given many sentences during Article 15 hearings as a company commander, assisted in the investigation of criminal cases as a personnel officer, sent soldiers to General Court Martial proceedings and testified for both the prosecution and defense in different court-martial and administrative hearings I do have some sense of justice. I am not blind.

All of that being said, my career military opinion being taken into consideration, the fact is, no matter what has been presented in the media, we don’t know the whole story. Please know I am not defending Bergdahl here, but there is something called due process, which he is not getting in the media, especially the politically motivated vultures at Foc News.

This is unfortunate and is a terrible example of “yellow journalism.” Marcus Luttrell, the “Lone Survivor” of the SEALS says that Bergdahl no matter what the outcome is “branded for life.” Luttrell is no “bleeding heart.” He knows life and death and combat, and he lost friends fighting the Taliban.

The initial 15-6 investigation was never completed because the investigating officer did not have access to Bergdahl. As far of the men from his unit who blame Bergdahl for every death that their unit experienced after his disappearance, that is understandable. It is a reasonable reaction of men who feel that they and their comrades may have been betrayed. It is something that has occurred throughout military history as soldiers seek to find an answer to battlefield misfortune and the loss of friends. One only has to look at the “Lost Cause” in the historical myth of the American South and the Civil War to see that even normal, rational and decent people can assign blame to others for defeat or the loss of friends.

This issue is important for we do know that the unit took casualties after Bergdahl disappeared, but it doesn’t look like any died actually looking for him, in fact some were killed inside their combat outposts. It does not appear that there is a direct connection between Bergdahl’s disappearance and the loss of six other American soldiers. The province where this happned was one of the most hotly contested areas of Afghanistan, when the Taliban, including the Haqqani network poured fighters into the area even before Bergdahl and his unit arrived at their combat outpost. However, that being said, if I lost friends after a soldier disappeared I might want to find a causal link between the situations.

Unfortunately, for years Congress, especially the Republicans castigating Obama now hammered him to do “all he could to secure the release of Bergdahl.” I guarantee that if President Bush, or a President McCain or Romney secured the release with the same process there would be no backlash right now. Any of them would be hailed as heroes who secured the life of an American soldier by the partisans attack President Obama.

As far the “released” Taliban, they in custody in Qatar and you can bet that the CIA is monitoring every breath they take. They were not set free, they are in Qatari custody and the government of Qatar does not want to screw this up. They want to increase their international status and influence outside of the oil markets. However, despite claims the claims of some that these five men are “the worst of the worst” the fact is they only killed Americans after we invaded their country and toppled the government and military that they were a part. Yes, they were bad guys, even potential war criminals when it came to killing Shi’ite Afghans, but they were not Al Qaeda, and President Bush released over 500 like them before he left office.The proper course wold have been to send those of killing their own people to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and treat those accused of purely military crimes against Americans as Prisoners of War, especially those who were acting in  official capacities in the military of Afghanistan.

Retired Marine Corps General Mattis, and former Commander of the US Central Command said that the exchange of those Taliban for Bergdahl was actually beneficial to the United States forces in Afghanistan. Mattis told the Military Times http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20140609/NEWS/306090040/Mattis-Bergdahl-release-makes-Taliban-vulnerable  that: “We no longer have that concern that they have this pawn they can then play against us,…. So there‘s also a military vulnerability that the Haqqanis now face, that Taliban now faces because they no longer hold one of our U.S. soldiers in captivity. So, there’s also a freedom to operate against them that perhaps we didn’t fully enjoy so long as they held Bowe as a prisoner.” 

Mattis is absolutely right. We no longer have to worry about the Taliban using him for propaganda purposes, or staging a public execution of him to try to embarrass us. Likewise we no longer have to endanger others trying to find him and this gives us room to more forcefully response against them as we depart the country.

As far as Bergdahl’s situation, the Army needs to conduct a new investigation, if it appears that he did desert or collaborate with the enemy he should be put on trial and if found guilty be appropriately punished.

But from my perspective there are a lot of other big questions, including what was going on in his unit in the weeks before he disappeared, which from a leadership perspective are really troubling to me as a military professional. His unit was troubled, it had a bad reputation and some of what are alleged against its members is that some members might have engaged in war crimes against Afghan civilians. I suspect that some of Bergdahl’s accusers could be covering up their own incompetence and possible crimes and using him as a scapegoat, and even if Bergdahl is guilty of what they accuse him of that behavior is inexcusable.

To add to his accusers conundrum is that all of those that have come forward to condemn Bergdahl have done so on behest of Republican political operatives, including former Bush administration staffers. Ironically, one of Bergdahl’s most forceful accusers was discharged from the army with an “Other Than Honorable” discharge. That says something about his potential creditability.

The late Michael Hastings wrote in a 2010 report in the Rolling Stone about that unit. Hastings’ article is insightful because it shows the extent of the problems going one and provides reasons why Bergdahl might have left his post. That article is linked here: http://www.rollingstone.com/…/americas-last-prisoner-of…  Now I do not believe that anything excuses desertion in war, but what if there were other extenuating factors? If his accusers are to be believed, as some say that Bergdahl to be showing indications of mental instability or possible indications that he was about to defect they should have either taken action to get him treatment or to ensure that he could not do so. They did not do this. To me their allegations are factors that good leaders would have noticed and taken precautions to prevent. Believe me, had any competent leader been in charge of that platoon this wouldn’t have happened.

Again none of what I say here excuses desertion or collaboration with the enemy. If Bergdahl did either and is convicted them he should spend as much time in prison as convicted criminal and retired Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North did for his actions of lying to Congress and being involved in a weapons exchange with the government of Iran for the release of American hostages in Lebanon. North wrote of President Reagan’s knowledge of that crime saying: “Ronald Reagan knew of and approved a great deal of what went on with both the Iranian initiative and private efforts on behalf of the contras and he received regular, detailed briefings on both…I have no doubt that he was told about the use of residuals for the Contras, and that he approved it. Enthusiastically.”

Since North has been one of Bergdahl and President Obama’s most viscous attackers, that would be just. But wait… North didn’t spend a day in jail because his conviction was overturned with the help of those “Anti-American Commies” from the ACLU. Mind you this was not because he wasn’t guilty, but because jury members might have been influenced by North’s televised but immunized and highly incriminating testimony before Congress. Another person raising hell is Senator John McCain, who along with the other US POWs in Vietnam was exchanged for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese POWs at the end of that war. Likewise, after his release McCain was accused of aiding the enemy, including some of the same people that now attack Bergdahl.  That too is ironic.

I love the irony and I am disgusted by the actions of those that seek to destroy Bergdahl before the facts are fully known and before he has a chance to defend himself. But then maybe due process of law is only applicable if you are a “conservative” accused of treason and aiding and supporting avowed enemies.

But all this being said, there is much more to know. So before we go destroying the life of an American soldier who was held for 5 years by the Taliban, as well as his family, let us get the facts right and not use them as a political bludgeon against the President for purely political reasons. Please don’t tell me that Obama broke the law because he didn’t give warning to Congress regarding the release into the custody of Qatar of the Taliban prisoners who were exchanged for Bergdahl, that was done in 2012.

All of this troubles me, and it should trouble any person that cares about due process of law and the rights of the accused in court. What has been happening in the media, particularly on Fox News in relation to Bergdahl is nothing short of scandalous and politics at its very worst. The precedent being set is terrible and those “conservatives” that attack Bergdahl and Obama should realize that what they do sets precedent and probably will be used against them and their heroes in the future.

I want justice, including for the men who might have died because Bergdahl went missing. If he actually deserted, committed treason and collaborated with the enemy he needs to be punished. But that has to happen through the process of law and not through character assassination and political posturing in the media.

The proper course right now is to get the facts straight, ensure that Bergdahl gets whatever assistance that he needs to recover, stop the political posturing and seek true justice. If we cannot do that we have disgraced ourselves as a people and as a nation far more than a guilty Bowe Bergdahl ever could.

Of course what I say will make very few happy, but it is a proper response because it weighs the best knowledge of the facts, with the actions of Bergdahl and responsibility for the lives lost. It is something that I believe is important, the qualities of truth, justice and mercy. Unfortunately, that message will probably go unheeded.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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