Tag Archives: civil liberties

When the Unthinkable Arrives


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that is terrifying to be a historian who has specialized in the study of tyrannical regimes. This is the case with me. Even since my undergraduate study working under Dr. Helmut Huessler at California State University Northridge I have studied the transition of society from democracy to dictatorship. While my studies then and ever since focused on the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the fact is that what happened in Germany was not unique, it is a part of the human condition and the people of any country can find themselves under the foot of a dictatorship if the conditions are right. I believe that conditions in the United States have never been more ripe for dictatorship than they are today. 

As chaos continues to engulf the House of Trump, as investigations regarding Trump’s relations with Russia gain steam, and as his poll numbers crash, I become more concerned that the unthinkable will happen and we will suddenly be in a major war or hit by a major terror attack. I believe that if or when one or the other happen that the Trump regime will use it to suspend civil rights and liberties and maybe even suspend Congress and the courts in the name of security. Sadly, I think that in such a case that very few people would resist. Of course the 35-40% of people that would support him as he said, even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue would be at the forefront, but many other people would follow all because they are afraid and desire security more than freedom. 

Now this is not all Trump’s doing as for the last three decades many of those that now support him, especially the leaders of the Religious Right, Fox News, and radio and internet demagogues have prepared the ground for his rise. 

Dr. Timothy Snyder, the historian from Yale has warned us in his book On Tyranny. He noted:

“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.”

Human beings are the one constant in history, and human nature is very consistent when it comes to how we respond when under attack. One only has to think of the fear that followed the 9-11 attacks and the willingness of people to give the government vast new powers, including an authorization for the use of military for against Al Qaida which has not been updated or supplemented since 2001, despite the fact that many of the places our military are operating in today have nothing to do with Al Qaida. 

I believe that the chances of such a think happening have gone up exponentially since the President and the Executive branch have not filled many critical ambassadorships, as well as thousands of key billets in the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. Likewise, despite all it’s bluster about strengthening the military nothing significant has occurred and will not occur because it cannot. This is because of the the policy of sequestration enacted by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Likewise, with its callous treatment of our allies and lack of concern about Russian interference in American elections, and in Europe the administration has weakened us at home and abroad. 

This is a very dangerous time and every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that our Republic as we knew it dies. I do not know if this will be the result of a war with North Korea or Iran, or possibly a major terror attack, but as things spiral out of control I cannot shake the feeling that we are going to have our Reichstag Fire moment, and that we will not rise to the challenge. Instead I think that most Americans will give up freedom in the name of security simply because that is human nature and has been demonstrated throughout history on every continent. James Madison noted: 

“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

Now is a time that we must all be awake and aware of what is going on in our country and the world. The storm clouds are building and we most be cognizant of the times or be engulfed and overwhelmed when the unthinkable arrives. That may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is necessary. 

I would like to believe that I will be proven wrong and honestly I want to be proven wrong because I do not want our nation to have to endure war, terrorism, and a tyrannical despotism. 

So, until tomorrow I wish you a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Road Built by Hate and Paved with Indifference

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again just a short thought for today but one that I hope will resonate with my readers. Historian Ian Kershaw wrote: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.”

The longer that I live the more that I understand how this happens. Today, as there were in 1930s and 1940s Nazi Germany, there are all too many hate-filled ideologues who desire to destroy or subjugate entire races and ethnic groups, or members of different religions or political ideologies. In the United States they have free reign to do speak and write freely about their goals and for many years we have regarded most of them as fringe characters who had no chance of ever enacting anything that they proposed. Many of these were and continue to be the most vocal supporters of President Trump, and see in him a man who will help them accomplish their desires as no President has done before. One of them, Steve Bannon serves as his chief policy adviser and strategist, and there are no shortage of civil rights opponents and proponents of a police state in his cabinet, including his Attorney General.

The sad thing is despite the myriad of actions taken by the Trump administration, its abuses of power, its probable connections to a hostile power, its attempts to shut down law enforcement probes of the Russia connections, its unabashed attempts to silence the press and all other opponents, and its nearly uncountable number of lies and distortions that it makes on a daily basis; that the vast majority of Congressional Republicans nor his followers seem to care. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of opposition, but among his followers and the great number of people in the middle who prefer not to get involved there is little real opposition; moral, religious, ethical, or political to anything that he says or does, mostly because they do not understand how it effects them or their liberties, nor how toxic it is to the nation. It seems to me that they are not only apathetic to the abuses of power, but have no empathy towards the people that they are directed against.

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For the Trump supporters this is not a problem. He represents a chance for them to recover their greatness, just as Hitler did for many of his followers in the 1930s, including those who joined the Party late. One of the greatest film monologues that illustrated this phenomenon is that of Burt Lancaster in his portrayal of a Nazi judge who is on trial in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. His comments remind me so much of what I see among many Trump supporters today:

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

While we have not reached the point that the Third Reich did between 1933 and 1938, it would not take much for us to get there. We misjudge ourselves if we belief that such things cannot happen here, as Timothy Snyder wrote: “The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American theologian noted: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

We should heed their warnings before we cross that precipice and head into the abyss.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, History, holocaust, News and current events, Political Commentary

“Liberty for the few – Slavery in Every form for the Mass” Civil Liberties in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short thought for today. I am writing something that will help describe my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era for potential publishers or buyers and in doing so I am having to write a synopsis of the book, which to really make interesting I have to go back and re-look at the draft text.

As I did this a quote from George Fitzhugh slaveholder and leading pro-slavery apologist in the 1840s and 1850s jumped out at me because of how similar it is to what I see being advocated by various people and agencies within the Trump administration, as well as the words and legislative actions of GOP lawmakers at the state and Federal level; of course all backed up by the 24/7 right wing propaganda industry. Despite their protestations over the years of supporting the Constitution they actually find it an encumbrance to exerting full executive, legislative, and judicial tyranny. Their views are very close to Fitzhugh who wrote:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.”

My friends, that is the message of President Trump and the Republican Party today. They are evidenced in almost every statement and tweet made by the President and were on full display as he discussed the Civil War. Equal rights and liberties for all are a existential threat to the champions of oligarchy and thus they must be suppressed even if it means destroying the foundations of liberty, and that begins by destroying our history.

Fitzhugh wrote:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.”

Sadly, there are all too many Trump supporters, especially Evangelical Christians who only care about their rights. They will have no hesitancy in ensuring that the rights of others are suppressed even as the oligarchy they support eliminates their rights under the Constitution as well. They are fools, and men like Fitzhugh realized this, as he wrote: “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.”

Such is not liberty, it is an Orwellian bastardization and twisting of the word and its meaning. Abraham Lincoln stated the matter well when he said “We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” 

This is not about traditional differences between republican and Democrat or liberal and conservative, it is about the very foundations of liberty without which we will slide into authoritarianism, dictatorship and tyranny. So anyway, have a great day and until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Aftermath of the Next Attack

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For the past week I have been writing about the attack by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or DAESH on Paris and topics related to the war against DAESH, as well as civil liberties. DAESH has promised that they will attack again, and I have no doubt that they will succeed in conducting a high profile attack, or series of attacks in the United States that cause massive numbers of casualties.

I have mentioned in older articles that when that happens that the reaction of politicians, pundits, preachers and the public will be draconian. We have not yet had an attack and already the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump is suggesting enrolling Moslems in a database, closing Mosques, and making them wear badges that identify them as Moslems. The mayor of Roanoke Virginia suggested Mislems be rounded up and incarcerated in internment camps. Can anyone spell Third Reich? 

But when an attack occurs civil liberties, and not just for Moslems will disappear faster than I can drink a liter of beer. If you think that the Patriot Act was over the top, the next legislation will be the Patriot Act on steroids, and it will not just happen in the United States, but Europe as well. Government leaders and officials will use their new powers to trample all dissent, in the name of patriotism. Henry Steele Commager said Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.” This, my friends is the reality that we live in and the danger that we face.

It will be open season on anyone who even looks slightly Middle Eastern. People who are Middle Eastern, or those mistaken for them will be assaulted on the streets; Mosques, schools, and Arab-American businesses will be attacked. Arab Americans, be they Moslem or Christian whose families have lived in this country for a hundred years or more, people who have assimilated and are as American as anyone else will be treated as suspected criminals and terrorists. 

These kind of things have happened recently, and there are enough minimally trained, xenophobic half-wits running around with assault rifles to do a lot of killing. The sad thing is that most of these idiot hate-filled xenophobia can’t tell the difference between an Arab of any kind from a Sikh, an Indian, or even a Mexican. But when something happens there will be an American version of Kristallnacht and the xenophobia will have the support of many of these politicians, pundits and preachers.

The innocent will be swept up with the guilty. There are already politicians suggesting that all Moslems be sent to camps, so just imagine what will happen after the next attack. I do not think that I am overstating the fever and the fear that is sweeping the United States and Europe right now.

The ironic thing is that this is exactly what DAESH wants to happen and it plays right into their hands. God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism

Liberty Lies in Our Hearts: Kim Davis & Civil Rights

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just a short post today, and I do mean that. Yesterday, I promised a short article and a Facebook friend, a lawyer said, “That was short?” I replied that it was like an “Alan Shore closing.” For those who have not seen Boston Leal and watched James Spader play that character you really need to do so; but I digress…

In Boston Legal Alan Shore once quoted Learned Hand, a Federal Judge and judicial philosopher. He said, “Liberty lies in our hearts, and once it dies there, no constitution can save it.”

In light of my last few articles where I waded into the morass of the case of Kim Davis, the Recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky, who was stupid enough to trust her money grubbing, politically motivated lawyers from Liberty Counsel and is now sitting in jail on contempt of court charges; I need to clarify a couple of things.

First, I feel bad that Mrs. Davis is being used as a pawn and sitting in jail while her lawyers collect all kinds of donations to support their next cause; and that as soon as they can they will jettison her. That is a fact, because these supposedly Christian legal groups are known for this. They take a case, promise the moon, usually lose and they abandon the person they represent after they have milked the case for every penny they can get. Sadly, other than their fifteen minutes of fame most of the clients get nothing for their efforts. Mrs. Davis is paying the price for that. She is going to be in jail at least a week while her lawyers try to appeal something that there is no precedent to appeal and which has not hope of succeeding. During the time they will make still more money. The truth is to get out of jail Mrs. Davis can find a way to do her job without violating her conscience, or she can resign and allow another to do it. However, when you, like Mrs. Davis, occupy an elected office that pays $80,000 a year in a county where the per capita income is well under $20,000; an office that your mother held for 37 years prior to you taking it less than a year ago; that can be tough.

Second, I cherish the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and my philosophy of life, professional and private is guided by the premise found in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men….”

That my friends is the essence of civil rights, and for that matter the foundation to protect religious rights of all people as well. Those rights are for all, not just Christians; and it is incumbent on elected and appointed officials of the government to follow the law in order to secure those rights for their fellow citizens. If they cannot they should not hold office. People can believe whatever they want. They can believe in any God, they can believe in any secular philosophy, they can hold any political ideology, they can believe that those who do not believe like them are going to hell or whatever; but when they swear to uphold the laws of the land in a public office where they are required to secure the freedom of others by serving them in accordance with the law; they have to either find a way to reconcile their personal beliefs or resign their office.

In fact I have for over 32 years as a commissioned officer in the United States military have had to do that. If by some chance this lands me in someone’s hell, or if indeed God is that petty, vindictive and capricious as to send me to hell for following the law of the land; then I will deal with that during my eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire. But I will not allow fear of what might happen to me in eternity to interfere with safeguarding the rights of the people in my care. My God is certainly big enough, loving enough, and gracious enough to deal with that; otherwise there would not be explicit commands in the Bible to obey the government.

A final thought and clarification on the rules for commenting on this site:

I welcome comments, especially from people who do not agree with me. I get many comments on my articles from different people and welcome comments, especially from people who do not agree with me. As long as they stay on point and are civil I enjoy them.

I have one man who frequently disagrees with me on my views of the Civil War, Reconstruction and Civil Rights. He is an honest man and pretty intelligent. He keeps his comments in line with the subject of the articles in question. He does not venture into tangents that have little to do with the articles in question. Likewise, even when he strongly disagrees he is polite and respectful. We do not agree on much, but I think that we could be friends and I welcome those kinds of comments.

Then I have other commentators. Sadly, most of these people are conservative Christians. These people seldom deal with the article itself, but decide use this site as their forum to promote or defend their denomination or their theology; most of the time in the most crude, ignorant and condescending manner possible.

As of today, I will not allow the comments of people who do not stay on point with the article, attempt to hijack this site as their forum; or who treat me with contempt. As of today I will simply disapprove those comments. If a person wants to comment they can deal with the article, if not I welcome them to start their own blog where they can spew their ignorance at will. But I will not give such people a forum ever again. I don’t have time and as much as I love bacon and pulled pork barbeque, I refuse to cast my pearls before swine.

So I am off to the Chicago and Earth Wind and Fire concert tonight. Was that short enough?

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

War is Cruelty

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Destroyed Tombstone at the British Cemetery: Habbinyah Iraq  

I am a career military officer, an Iraq veteran and an anti-war liberal, but I am also a realist in terms of the world. I have no illusions about the world. I do not believe that the United States always acts with honor and I know in my heart of hearts that much of the chaos that we are seeing in the world, particularly the Middle East comes from years of American intrigue and intervention. But I also know that once you have let the genie of war and chaos out of the bottle that it seldom returns to it without creating more chaos, death and destruction. Since I am a realist, I understand that whether I want it or not, and regardless of who is President that this war will remain part of our lives, maybe for a generation or more. Thus we have to understand that this war is not a movie, it is not a video game, and it has the potential to change all of our lives, and not for the better.

I fully agree with two time Medal of Honor Winner and Marine Corps Major General, Smedley Butler who wrote in his book War is a Racket:

“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 I am taking some time to write about the nature of war. It is something that the vast majority of Americans have only vicariously experienced in news accounts, movies, television shows and video games which desensitize people to the horror of war as they kill virtual enemies in often the most violent ways. Abraham Lincoln noted “There’s no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending.”

This is amazing since we have been at war for over thirteen years now. This war has been extended indefinitely by the actions of the Islamic State and the announced intentions of President Obama to fight. Sadly, it will become much worse than people want to believe regardless of whether it is a long or a short war and believe me it will not be a short war. The Islamic State seems to up the ante every day with new atrocities against the peoples of the areas that they control, desecration of religious shrines and the destruction of irreparable historical sites and artifacts.

Americans have grown up for the past twenty years with hi-tech wars that with a few exceptions of terrorism inflicted on American civilians have been waged by a comparatively small professional military; a military that at any given time over the last 20 years has comprised less than one percent of the American population. As such war is a spectator sport for most Americans, we watch it on television, or on You Tube videos on the internet, but it is a distant thing, happening to others that doesn’t touch us too deeply because most of us think that we have no skin in the game. In fact people that bet on baseball have more skin in the game than most Americans do in the current war, but that will probably change.

Since I have written much about that military at its sacrifices in the war that began on September 11th 2001 I am not going to belabor that today. Instead I am going to go back to the nature of war, even wars that may be fought in self-defense and with just cause. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who wrote:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…

Chris Hedges wrote: “Violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause,” and as Clausewitz noted of war’s nature, that it is: “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…”

We try to use language to soften war; to make it more palatable, but to do so is an Orwellian charade that is deceptive and destructive to the soul. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.”

Likewise Thucydides wrote:

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any….”

Such language gives those who have never been to war but cannot live without it to bring it on, but as Sherman noted: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

President Obama in his address to the nation, and the world on the eve of September 11th talked of a war against the Islamic State, using far more diplomatic, restrained and less warlike language than did Vice President Biden who said:

“As a nation we are united and when people harm Americans we don’t retreat, we don’t forget. We take care of those who are grieving and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.”

I commend the President for his humanity and desire to fight the Islamic State with a matter of restraint. That restraint will last so long as the Islamic State is unable or unwilling to strike at American civilians in the American homeland, or in a country that is not in the war zone, or an American ship or military installation at home or abroad. But once that happens, and it will the pretense of restraint will drop and what the Vice President said will become our goal, even if we do not officially say it. But once those restraints are passed, the war will get really messy. Michael Walzer wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

“We don’t call war hell because it is fought without restraint. It is more nearly right to say that, when certain restraints are passed, the hellishness of war drives us to break with every remaining restraint in order to win. Here is the ultimate tyranny: those who resist aggression are forced to imitate, and perhaps even to exceed, the brutality of the aggressor.”

The problem with this war is that it has lasted so long already, and such long wars are detrimental to the nations and peoples that fight them, as Sun Tzu wrote: “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare,” as such the longer we drag this war against the Islamic State and other similar groups out, the longer the war continues, the crueler it will become and the more damage it will do to our civil liberties, our economy and even more importantly to the spirit of our nation. One can only look at the Patriot Act and related measures undertaken in the name of national security after 9-11-2001 and recall the words of President John F Kennedy who said in respect to the epidemic of loyalty oaths and restrictions on civil liberties enacted in the 1950s:

“We have also seen a sharpening and refinement of abusive power. The legislative investigation, designed and often exercised for the achievement of high ends, has too frequently been used by the Nation and the States as a means for effecting the disgrace and degradation of private persons. Unscrupulous demagogues have used the power to investigate as tyrants of an earlier day used the bill of attainder.

The architects of fear have converted a wholesome law against conspiracy into an instrument for making association a crime. Pretending to fear government they have asked government to outlaw private protest. They glorify “togetherness” when it is theirs, and call it conspiracy when it is that of others.”

Thus the place that we now find ourselves is not good. On one hand by using restraint the war goes on and on, war without end, and if we embrace Sherman’s realism and admit that “War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over” is that we will imitate or exceed the brutality of the Islamic State. Either way, we lose something of ourselves.

My hope is that somehow, when this is war is done, maybe in our time or in another generation or two, that we will be able to establish peace by making our enemies our friends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events

Hell is Where they will Reside: The Expanding War Against ISIL

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“This war differs from other wars, in this particular: We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” William Tecumseh Sherman

Note: Please know, I have been to war, I have seen its devastation and heartache and I came back changed from the experience. I hate it. I served in Iraq with the Iraqis in support of our advisors to them. For me the war is personal, I left a huge part of my soul in that unfortunate nation. 

 

That being said, despite being a progressive who hates war, I am also a realist. I am not one that finds any romance or glory in war, but I know that sometimes it becomes unavoidable. In the past few months I have written about the nature of war, the kind of war we are now engaged in with ISIL and some of the ethical and moral compromises that could easily be made in such a war.

Likewise I realize that we as Americans must take responsibility for the mess that the Bush administrated created in Iraq. We cannot hope to have any peace with justice, nor succeed in the current war against the Islamic State, unless we are honest about the lies that were told to get us into Iraq, and the horrible policy decisions after we succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein that brought about the collapse of order, the insurgency and the Iraqi Civil War that brought Al Qaeda into Iraq, a country that they had not previously been welcome. 

Thus what I write here is a continuation of those thoughts and I encourage you to look at those articles which can be found at the following links on this page: 

Iraq, ISIS and Al Qaeda: Sowing the Wind…

Iraq 2014: A Disaster Long in the Making

9-11-2014 War Without End…

The Islamic State and the New, Old Nature of War

War is Cruelty, and You Cannot Refine it… The War Against ISIL

Prepare for a Long and Brutal Ideological War Against the Islamic State

Can you Live With It? The Moral Costs of the War Against the Islamic State

Iraq and the Middle East 2013: Lessons from T. E. Lawrence

ISIL: A Generational Problem in Which the Enemy Gets a Vote

Inshallah Iraq (إن شاء الله) Maybe Someday things will be Better

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The American war against the Islamic State is entering a more sustained mode. Air strikes are occurring daily, thousands of advisors have arrived, backed by Army aviation assets to protect American interests at Baghdad International Airport and the U.S. Embassy complex, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has again alluded to the possibly of American ground troops engaging ISIL at the side of Iraqi troops.

Whether most of want to admit it or not, and the latter is more descriptive of the vast bulk of Americans, we are at war.  It is a war which we have been fighting  for over thirteen years now. President Obama had hoped that our involvement in Iraq was at and end that that the Iraqis could handle their own affairs. But the hope was misplaced, and now this war has been extended indefinitely by the actions of the Islamic State and the announced intentions of President Obama to fight it. It will become much worse than people want to believe that it will, regardless of whether it is a long or a short war, and even a “short” war will likely extend into the next Presidential administration.

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Americans have grown up for the past twenty years with hi-tech wars that with a few exceptions of terrorism inflicted on American civilians have been waged by a comparatively small professional military; a military that at any given time over the last 20 years has comprised less than one percent of the American population. As such war is a spectator sport for most Americans, we watch it on television, or on You Tube videos on the internet, but it is a distant thing, happening to others that doesn’t touch us too deeply because most of us think that we have no skin in the game. In fact people that bet on baseball have more skin in the game than most Americans do in the current war, but that will probably change.

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Since I have written much about that military at its sacrifices in the war that began on September 11th 2001 I am not going to belabor that today. Instead I am going to go back to the nature of war, even wars that may be fought in self-defense and with just cause. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who wrote:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…”

Chris Hedges wrote: “Violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause,” and as Clausewitz noted of war’s nature, that it is: “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…”

We try to use language to soften war; to make it more palatable, but to do so is an Orwellian charade that is deceptive and destructive to the soul. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.”

Likewise Thucydides wrote:

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any….”

Such language gives those who have never been to war but cannot live without it to bring it on, but as Sherman noted: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

President Obama in his address to the nation, and the world on the eve of September 11th talked of a war against the Islamic State, using far more diplomatic, restrained and less warlike language than did Vice President Biden who said:

“As a nation we are united and when people harm Americans we don’t retreat, we don’t forget. We take care of those who are grieving and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.”

I commend the President for his humanity and desire to fight the Islamic State with a matter of restraint, and though our efforts have been limited to air strikes and reengaging with the Iraqi military to retrain it for the fight, it does appear that at least in Iraq the policy is showing signs of working. ISIL troops are having a hard time moving about the battlefield and their more conventional units are taking a beating from the air, while Iraqi and Kurdish forces are slowly beginning to have more success, the Iraqi military having just relieved the beleaguered garrison of the massive Baiji oil refinery complex.

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This in a sense is part of ISIL’s conundrum, they desire to conquer territory and subjugate people. To do that they need to be able to use conventional military tactics and equipment, not simply using terrorist strikes and the element of surprise to overwhelm unsuspecting or demoralized Iraqi security forces. It is possible that they are now overextend and have reached what Clausewitz termed their “culminating point.” We will have to see if that is the case, and only time will tell.

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U.S. Air Strike on ISIL Position 

However, American restraint, particularly with a hawkish, newly elected Republican Congress, of whom many new members are highly militant Christians who will have no compunction in killing Moslems, be they good Moslems or terrorist thugs like ISIL or Al Qaeda; will last as long as the Islamic State is unable or unwilling to strike at American civilians in the American homeland, American interests in a country that is not in the war zone, or an American ship or military installation at home or abroad.

But once that happens, and it will eventually happen, the recent attacks in Canada serving as a foretaste of what will happen here, the pretense of restraint will drop, and what Vice Biden President said will become our goal, even if we do not officially say it. But once those restraints are passed, the war will get really messy. Ethicist and philosopher Michael Walzer wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

“We don’t call war hell because it is fought without restraint. It is more nearly right to say that, when certain restraints are passed, the hellishness of war drives us to break with every remaining restraint in order to win. Here is the ultimate tyranny: those who resist aggression are forced to imitate, and perhaps even to exceed, the brutality of the aggressor.”

The problem with this war is that it has lasted so long already, if we consider American involvement in Iraq as going back to 2003. Long wars such as these are detrimental to the nations and peoples that fight them, as Sun Tzu wrote: “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.”

As such the longer we drag this war against the Islamic State and other similar groups out, the longer the war continues, the crueler it will become, the more damage it will do to our civil liberties, our economy, and even more importantly to the spirit of our nation. One can only look at the Patriot Act and related measures undertaken in the name of national security after 9-11-2001 and recall the words of President John F. Kennedy who said in respect to the epidemic of loyalty oaths and restrictions on civil liberties enacted in the 1950s:

“We have also seen a sharpening and refinement of abusive power. The legislative investigation, designed and often exercised for the achievement of high ends, has too frequently been used by the Nation and the States as a means for effecting the disgrace and degradation of private persons. Unscrupulous demagogues have used the power to investigate as tyrants of an earlier day used the bill of attainder.

The architects of fear have converted a wholesome law against conspiracy into an instrument for making association a crime. Pretending to fear government they have asked government to outlaw private protest. They glorify “togetherness” when it is theirs, and call it conspiracy when it is that of others.”

Thus the place that we now find ourselves is not good. On one hand by using restraint the war goes on and on, war without end, but if we embrace Sherman’s realism and admit that “War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over” is that we will imitate or exceed the brutality of the Islamic State. Either way, we lose something of ourselves. But as Abraham Lincoln said “There’s no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending.”

The young Union hero of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, Colonel Strong Vincent wrote his wife about how he believed the Union had to defeat the Confederacy. His words were much like Sherman’s and in dealing with ISIL I would hope that the American, Iraqi and coalition forces will take them to heart in combating ISIL: Vincent wrote:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest…” 

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Lawrence with Bedouin after capturing Aqaba 

That is an uncomfortable thought and philosophy, it goes against the grain, it seems terribly brutal; but it is the only philosophy of war that the leaders and jihadists of the Islamic State understand. We may not yet understand it, but I think that in time we and the Iraqis will. However, the lead cannot be taken by us or even if we are “successful” in defeating ISIL, another group will be back and doing the same things; just as ISIL filled the vacuum left by the collapse of Al Qaeda Iraq in 2008.

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Iraqi Soldiers after retaking Baiji

That is a danger that T.E. Lawrence advised his fellow British officers serving with the Bedouin during the Arab Revolt in 1917 and 1918. It is advice that we need to remember as we assist the Iraqis and Kurds in their fight. That is why this must be an Iraqi and Kurdish fight. When and if the Iraqis and Kurds embrace this philosophy of total war against ISIL, if they are willing to fight ISIL vindictively and desolate every ISIL stronghold, will they bring peace to their country. We can aid them in thee fight, but we cannot win this for them. Lawrence wrote:

“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”

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The Author with Bedouin on Syrian Border December 2007

My hope is that somehow, when this is war is done that there will be peace and reconciliation. I would like to see this in my lifetime, but it may take another generation or two that we will finally be able to establish peace by making those who are our enemies our friends. I hope for such a day, because I know that Chris Hedges is all too correct about the corrupting and devastating effect of violence on all that rely on it to achieve their goals and Sun Tzu’s wisdom in noting that prolonged warfare benefits anyone. As Major General 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.”

If you ask me I do not think that we or the people of Iraq can keep adding to that bill.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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