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“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes…” Reflections on the Invasion of Iraq in Light of Nuremberg

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing to write about the invasion of Iraq in 2003, an invasion that by any standard of measure fit the definition of War Crimes as defined by the American who headed the prosecution of the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg. Justice Robert Jackson stated in his opening:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

In March 2003 I like many of us on active duty at the time saw the nation embark on a crusade to overthrow an admittedly thuggish criminal head of state, Saddam Hussein. The images of the hijacked airliners crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still relatively fresh in our minds. The “evidence” that most of us had “seen,” the same that most Americans and people around the world were shown led many of us to believe that Saddam was involved in those attacks in some manner and that he posed a threat to us.

Now it wasn’t that we didn’t have doubts about it or even the wisdom of invading Iraq. It didn’t matter that there was also credible evidence that maybe what we were being told was not correct, and it didn’t matter that some of our closest allies voted against a mandate to invade Iraq in the United Nations Security Council. We were emotionally charged by the events of 9-11 and “we knew” that Saddam was a “bad guy.” We also believed that we could not be defeated. We had defeated the Iraqis in 1991 and we were stronger and they weaker than that time.

We really didn’t know much about Iraq, its history, people, culture and certainly we paid little attention to the history of countries that had invaded and occupied Iraq in the past. T.E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia wrote in August of 1920 about his own country’s misbegotten invasion and occupation of Iraq, or as it was known then Mesopotamia.

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

The sad thing is that the same could have been written of the United States occupation by 2004.

But even more troubling than the words of Lawrence are the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Somehow as a historian who has spent a great deal of time studying the Nazi period and its aftermath I cannot help but look back in retrospect and wonder what Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and the other Nuremberg prosecutors would have done had they had some of our leaders in the dock instead of the Nazis.

In his opening statement before the tribunal Jackson spoke words about the the Nazi plan for war that could apply equally to that to the United States in 2002 and 2003:

“This war did not just happen-it was planned and prepared for over a long period of time and with no small skill and cunning.”

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The indictments against the Nazis at Nuremberg are chilling if we were to be held to the same standard that we held the Nazis leaders at Nuremberg. True, we did not have massive death camps or exterminate millions of defenseless people, nor did we run slave labor factories, but we did like they launched a war of aggression under false pretense against a country that had not attacked us.

At Nuremberg we charged twenty top Nazi political officials, as well as police and high ranking military officers with war crimes. The indictments included:

Count One: Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War: This count addressed crimes committed before the war began, showing a plan by leaders to commit crimes during the war.

Count Two: Waging Aggressive War, or “Crimes Against Peace” which included “the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances.”

Count Three: War Crimes. This count encompassed the more traditional violations of the law of war already codified in the Geneva and Hague Conventions including treatment of prisoners of war, slave labor, and use of outlawed weapons.

Count Four: Crimes Against Humanity, which covered the actions in concentration camps and other death rampages.

While count four, Crimes Against Humanity would be difficult if not impossible to bring to trial because there was nothing in the US and Coalition war in Iraq that remotely compares to that of what the Nazis were tried, some US and British leaders could probably have been successful prosecuted by Jackson and the other prosecutors under counts one through three.

The fact is that none of the reasons given for the war by the Bush Administration were demonstrated to be true. Senior US and British officials knowing this could be tried and very probably convicted on counts one and two. We also know that some military and intelligence personnel have been convicted of crimes that would fall under count three.

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Saddam Hussein was a war criminal. He was also a brutal dictator who terrorized and murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people. But we went to war over his alleged ties to Al Qaeda and WMDs and he had not attacked us. Looking back at history and using the criteria that we established at Nuremberg I have no doubt that had Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld been in the dock that Justice Jackson would have destroyed them and the court would have convicted them.

So 15 years later we need to ask hard questions. The war cost nearly 5000 US military personnel dead, 32,000 wounded, over 100,000 afflicted with PTSD, and other spiritual and psychological injuries; an estimated 22 veterans committing suicide every day.  Somewhere between 1 and 2 trillion dollars were spent, helping to bankrupt the nation. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded and displaced from their homes; their country was destroyed and they have not recovered. Yet somehow those that decided to take us to war roam free. They write books defending their actions and appear on “news” programs hosted by their media allies who 15 years ago helped manipulate the American public, still traumatized by the events of 9-11-2001 to support the war.

Despite all of this and the passage of 15 years with which to reflect a new poll revealed that some 43% of Americans still believe that the war was worth it.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=No06Lwk_TAg

Saddam and many of his henchmen are dead or rotting in Iraqi prisons for their crimes against the Iraqi people. However good this may be one has to ask if how it happened was legal or justified under US or International Law, if it was worth the cost in blood, treasure or international credibility. Likewise why have none of the men and women who plotted, planned and launched the war been held the standard that we as a nation helped establish and have used against Nazi leaders and others?

If we cannot ask that and wrestle with this then we as a nation become no better than the Germans who sought to minimize their responsibility for the actions of their leaders.  If we downplay, minimize, or deny our responsibility regarding Iraq we will most certainly enable future leaders to feel that they can do the same with impunity. That is a terrible precedent and one that may very well lead us into disaster.

Today we have a President who may very well act on his worst instincts and thrust the nation into even worse wars.  To ensure that war occurs Trump fired General H.R. McMaster yesterday as his National Security Advisor and replaced him with John Bolton. Bolton is one of the most responsible and unapologetic of the Iraq War planners and he has made multiple attacks on the International Criminal Court, a court established in light of Nuremberg. He should be rotting as a war criminal rather than be appointed as National Security Advisor. This is truly a lawless and reprehensible regime that will destroy the United States and bring disaster upon the world.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, iraq, middle east, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Heroes or Villains? Snipers and Moral Ambiguity

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I saw the movie American Sniper when it came out two weeks ago, I have not read the book, though I have read excerpts of it, and both seen and read many of Chris Kyle’s responses to questions in various interviews after he retired from the Navy.  I have seen the shit storm that has developed in response to the movie as well as supporters lift Kyle up to near sainthood, a true hero; while detractors present him as a war criminal, a sociopath and something as close to demonic as a human being can be.

I think that both are right and both are wrong, and that the uncomfortable truth about Kyle lies somewhere in between those extremes.

I find that curious because I do not remember any visceral reaction to the actions of the scripture quoting American sniper, Private Jackson in Saving Private Ryan or the Soviet or German snipers in Enemy at the Gates.

Because of that I think in large part this visceral reaction to either lift Kyle up or tear him down comes from the context of the Iraq War itself. It was horribly divisive, in large part because the invasion of Iraq launched by the Bush Administration was no doubt a major war crime by any standard of international law.

I have written about this before. If the leaders of the Bush Administration had been put on trial for their actions at Nuremberg as were the Nazis, Justice Robert Jackson would have had them all on the gallows. Jackson said during the trial:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Most, including the former President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense, not to mention other key players and decision makers would have easily been convicted of all except the charge of genocide. The three major counts that they would have hanged for were:

Count One: Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War: This count addressed crimes committed before the war began, showing a plan by leaders to commit crimes during the war.

Count Two: Waging Aggressive War, or “Crimes Against Peace” which included “the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances.”

Count Three: War Crimes. This count encompassed the more traditional violations of the law of war already codified in the Geneva and Hague Conventions including treatment of prisoners of war, slave labor, and use of outlawed weapons.

The decision of the Bush Administration to invade Iraq was not only criminal, but the consequences of that decision and the later disastrous post-invasion policies of the administration ensured that the suffering of the Iraqis and the suffering of the American military personnel and their families who shouldered the burden on that war, while 99.3% of the nation sat it out, would continue, even today.

I served in Iraq, supporting small teams of advisors working with the Iraqi military and security services in Al Anbar Province. I know that I hoped, as did the Marines, Soldiers and our Iraqi friends wanted to see peace come to Iraq and see that country rise from the ashes. Instead we have seen our efforts blow away like the sands of the desert. T.E. Lawrence I think wrote words that are all to symbolic of what we tried to do:

“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.”

So my Iraq war was different. I saw things in a different light from many because I worked with the Iraqis and got to know them, their hopes and their dreams. I also saw it differently because I could place it in a larger historical context. The Iraqis I knew, were not savages, they were human beings with the same kind of hopes and dreams for their families and country at any one of as has as Americans. That being said, none of us, American or Iraqi, felt any sympathy for the terrorists, foreign fighters, and Al Qaeda Iraq operatives who made a habit of killing and brutalizing Iraqi citizens, or those outside the country, who supported the terrorist efforts.

The part where ambiguity comes in is when we look at the men and women who serve in such wars, what they go through and the moral ambiguity that often comes with such service. It is an ambiguity which some need to justify by convincing themselves the all that they did was done in the name of a greater good, and against people who were less than human. That is something that those who serve as snipers in any army must convince themselves.

If you have ever read anything about snipers and how soldiers felt about them in various wars, I would encourage you to do so.

When I read that Michael Moore called Kyle, and all snipers cowards, I cringed. Not to say that Moore’s comments, which he attributed to how he lost a relative to a German sniper in the Second World War were completely unfair, they are actually similar to the views held by many against snipers. British historian and writer Max Hastings sums that up in his book Armageddon which is about the final months of World War Two in Europe:

“Almost every soldier on both sides shared a hatred of snipers, which frequently caused them to be shot out of hand if captured. There was no logic or provision of the Geneva Convention to justify such action. Sniping merely represented the highest refinement of the infantry soldier’s art. Its exercise required courage and skill. Yet, sniping made the random business of killing, in which they were all engaged. become somehow personal and thus unacceptable to ordinary footsoldiers.”

Snipers have a unique place in war and especially in the types of infantry intensive urban operations which Kyle was involved. Their trade is not in contravention of the Geneva Convention or any international military criminal code. So long as they are engaged in combat and are in the uniform of their country, and not engaging in acts that are forbidden by those codes their actions are legal. So to call Kyle a “war criminal” as some have is to misunderstand the law.

To call Kyle and other snipers “cowards” is also to misunderstand the nature of war, especially as it applies to snipers. Snipers have a lonely existence, they can be celebrated but some, but the nature of their war is different. The character Private Jackson in Saving Private Ryan perhaps summed it up what it takes to be a sniper, when he said: “Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.” The nature of the sniper’s war dictates that they believe something like this that enables them to survive.

Unlike those who can drop bombs, pilot drones, shoot artillery from afar or even engage in infantry combat with large numbers of others, the sniper has a lonely, yet intimate war.

Snipers usually serve alone, they set up, they wait, they seldom have back up. They are as much the hunted as they are the hunter. They know if captured that their enemy will have no mercy upon them. Unlike others, they have an intimacy with those that they kill, they see them, and in the kinds of wars where the “enemy” is not a uniformed soldier, but an insurgent blending in among civilians, they task of the sniper is incomprehensible. To do that job, combat tour after combat tour, has to do something to the human soul. Those that survive and come home have to try to justify their actions, as Kyle did, asserting that he knew that all of the people he killed were “bad guys.” It is probably the only way that one can keep his sanity when he returns to a world that doesn’t understand what he did.

But the justifications are as corrosive to the soul as anything else. They force people like Kyle, to push under the things that they saw or did which were wrong with a certitude that causes them to make assertions and claims that are either patently false, exaggerated, or which paint them in an even worse light than the truth would. Such would be the case in Kyle’s book where he claims killing thirty Americans in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. If he did that he was a criminal, but he is dead, and we will probably never know the truth.

A veteran of the U.S. Marine campaigns against the Japanese in the Pacific, Eugene Sledge wrote in his book With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa: 

“To the non-combatants and those on the periphery of action, the war meant only boredom or occasional excitement, but to those who entered the meat grinder itself the war was a netherworld of horror from which escape seemed less and less likely as casualties mounted and the fighting dragged on and on. Time had no meaning, life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu had eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all.”

That kind of war my friends has a corrosive and toxic effect on the human soul. Sledge noted: “I am the harvest of man’s stupidity. I am the fruit of the holocaust. I prayed like you to survive, but look at me now. It is over for us who are dead, but you must struggle, and will carry the memories all your life. People back home will wonder why you can’t forget.”

War changes those who serve in it, the kind of change is in large part due to the kind of wars that we serve in and what we do in it. When I watched the movie with my former assistant and body guard during our tour in Iraq, Nelson Lebron I was bombarded with memories, of both my time there and my return home, and the hell I have put my wife Judy through at times as I have struggled with PTSD, what I saw in Iraq and my reaction to coming home to a country that knew not war. I didn’t sleep for several days afterward and the shit storm surrounding the movie has brought a lot of anxiety to me, I guess because it seems that few people really understand what war does to people.

I think for me, the part of the movie that had the most effect was the homecoming, and it reminded me of a movie that came out in 1978 about the home front in the Vietnam War, Coming Home staring Jon Voigt, Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern. Both movies dealt with the pain of families affected by war.

I’m certainly not going to sit in judgment of Chris Kyle or his critics, he is dead and unable to defend or even take bak anything that he might have written or said, likewise his critics, in many cases do not know what war can do to a person. I don’t know how much of Chris Kyle’s story is true, or how much is some sort of fiction, or even if what he wrote was filtered through what he saw and did in Iraq. Killing that many people, seeing their faces and to watch the life flowing out of them has to mess up a mind. Though I have been to combat, I have not walked in the shoes of Chris Kyle or any sniper. I have never had to kill anyone, even in self defense.

I would hope that people see the movie. Not so much because I believe in its historical truth, it seems to me to be a composite representation of Kyle, Navy SEALs, Marines and Iraqis that has as much Hollywood myth as it does truth.

But rather I believe people should see it to see how war tears the souls out of people. I would rather have my fellow citizens look at the ugliness of war, and to hold politicians accountable for any decision to go to war. I would rather see my countrymen look upon the pain that war causes, even long after those who fought come home.

Two time Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler wrote:

What is the cost of war? what is the bill? Major General Smedley Butler wrote: “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….”

The effects of war are terrible and had George Bush not made the decision to go to Iraq, Chris Kyle might still be alive, like so many others.

I don’t know if this makes any sense to you but I had to try to put some words and thoughts around what I have been feeling for the past couple of weeks.

Have a great evening,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under film, History, Military, movies, News and current events, PTSD

Dick Cheney: Justice, Truth and the Value of a Single Human Being

Dick Cheney

Yesterday while he was in the process of throwing his boss, former President Bush and former head of the National Security Council and Secretary of State Condi Rice under the bus regarding the issue of torture and war crimes, former Vice President Cheney defended the death of an innocent man and the imprisonment of hundreds of others deemed to be innocent.

The words were damning and absolutely frightening for anyone that believes in the rule of law and human rights.

Cheney told Chuck Todd when questioned about the fact that over 25% of those held during the Bush Administration were innocent and should not have been detained or imprisoned on Meet the Press:

“I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.”

The sad thing is, that Cheney in his office of Vice President of the United States had such a low regard for the rule of law and human rights that over a decade after his policies were proved to be wrong, illegal and immoral under any standards of human rights and international law that he not only continues to defend them, but is willing to throw his superior, the President, and other cabinet officials under the bus to justify his position.

As I read his remarks I was reminded of the testimony of Herman Goering and other Nazis at Nuremberg. Likewise I was reminded of the film classic Judgement at Nuremberg where Spencer Tracy plays judge Dan Haywood who is the head of he tribunal that ties Nazi judges in the fictionalized version of the Nuremberg Judges Trials…

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In the fictionalized version of the Nazi Judge’s trail at Nuremberg, in the film Judgement at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy, playing judge Dan Heywood noted:

“But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

Dick Cheney exemplifies exactly what judge Haywood testified to in the film. Sadly, unlike the primary defendant in that film, Ernst Janning who was played by Burt Lancaster, Cheney has no redeeming features or ethical tragedy. Cheney is simply an unrepentant war criminal who is not only unapologetic for his own actions but perfectly willing to condemn those that he served under or alongside as war criminals while attempting to maintain the fiction of his innocence. The man has no honor, and for people who consider themselves to be “principled conservatives” or even worse “conservative Christians” to defend Cheney’s defense of war crimes to the death, is simply apprehensible.

There are times when one can look at a war criminal and feel a certain measure of tragedy. However, Dick Cheney is neither a dumb man, nor a victim. As vice President to a President with no foreign policy experience or skills, a man who was out of his league intellectually to serve as President, Cheney not only gave bad advice, he was willing to for practical purposes indict George Bush in the commission of the very war crimes that he was the ideological wellspring.

Sadly, Dick Cheney is nothing more than a sociopath and war criminal who should, provided that the executive branch has any balls should be remanded to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for prosecution of war crimes. But then, President Obama, like others before hi will not, much to his own dishonor will not do this.

If if the same crimes that we tried and executed Nazi and Japanese War Criminals for committing is not enough to send Dick Cheney to the gallows, I do not know what is. But then, even the International Criminal Court, unlike Texas and Florida, has renounced the death penalty.

So what do we as Americans stand for?

Do we adapt to and defend our the very methods of our enemies?

Do we simply forget the standards that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers sent Nazi and Japanese war criminals to the gallows?

Do we excuse the actions of those in supreme positions of power that should have known better?

I think not… unless we decide that expediency trumps the Constitution, unless we decide that war crimes are only such if they don’t apply to us…unless we decide as a people that we as a nation are above the very laws that we enacted to prevent the repetition of the crimes of the Nazis…

ROBERT H. JACKSON

Justice Robert Jackson noted in the Major War Crimes trails at Nuremberg:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Sadly, Dick Cheney,Fox News and all of the defenders of torture and other war crimes do not seem to get that, and in doing so they lower us to the level of all the Nazis that we tried and convicted of war crimes.

But human nature does not change…and it should it be, if we fail to correct it and turn over those suspected of war crimes to the appropriate authorities, than we should share in the collective and divine judgement upon them.

If that is an uncomfortable proposition, than I guess I have done my job tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, national security, News and current events, War on Terrorism

Nothing is as Clear and Certain as it Appears to Be: The Ukraine Crisis

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“in the midst of war and crisis nothing is as clear or as certain as it appears in hindsight” Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August

There is nothing more uncertain than how leaders and people will react in crisis. We would like to think that we can be certain in our predilections, but we cannot because the reality is that human nature is always at play, and human beings have a penchant for doing things that are not expected.

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It did not take long after the showcase of the Sochi Olympic Games for Vladimir Putin to move against the Ukraine and for all practical purposes annex the Crimea. But now after a few weeks it seems that the West is beginning to galvanize in its opposition to the Russian action. Germany is leading the charge from the side of the European Union, with Chancellor Merkel taking the lead. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been taking a hard diplomatic line while military forces gather.

It appears that targeted economic sanctions are in the offing while the European Union prepares to help supply the Ukraine’s energy needs.

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The Russians have blockaded the small Ukrainian Navy in its Crimean ports, it has an estimated 30,000 soldiers in the Crimea and other forces are conducting “exercises” near the Ukrainian border. The Provisional Government of the Ukraine has called up its reserve forces, the United States is deploying naval and air force units to the Black Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean as well as Poland and the Baltic States.

But at the same time this is not the Cold War where two ideological blocks wrestled for domination. Instead the motivations, geopolitical and economic factors that connect the West and Russia make this much more complicated. Money is a big factor and it is of interest to note that a good amount of the resupply of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan is conducted over what is called the Northern Route, which goes through Russia and the Ukraine.

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The situation in the Crimea and the Ukraine is potentially volatile. Any situation that costs the lives of Ukrainians of either Ukrainian or Russian background could spiral out of control. Passions on both sides are running high. We in the West also need to remember that many Russians and men like Putin still feel the humiliation of the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and end of the Soviet Union. Many Russians who even now are not fans of the Soviet system long for the days of empire and Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.

In 1914 France was motivated by the humiliation that she suffered in 1871 at the hands of Prussia and the loss of Alsace Lorraine. The Russians have a similar attachment to areas where sizable ethnic Russian populations live, including the Eastern Ukraine and the Baltic. One has to remember the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “A generation that has taken a beating is always followed by a generation that deals one.”

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When looking at why this is happening we have to remember history.  Likewise we have to also remember the historic Russian paranoia when it comes to the influence of Europe and the West on areas that they believe are still part of Greater Russia. Their memory is long and past wounds are still fresh. Thus the blundering of the EU during the Fall of 2013 in its dealings with Ukraine, dealings which looked to the Russians like an attempt to draw Ukraine further away from them helped cause this situation. Likewise the Eastward expansion of NATO in the 1990s and early 2000s following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact is considered both an insult and threat. The same is true of the presence of the American Anti-Ballistic Missile system in Poland, which is considered by many Russians to be directed at them, not Iran.

The situation is complex and influenced by many factors, and unlike some American politicians and pundits say, it has nothing to do with Benghazi or even what they claim is the “weakness” of President Obama. The roots of this crisis are long standing and diverse and have almost everything to do Russia’s relationship with Europe and very little to do with the United States. Thus for American politicians and pundits to demonstrate their woeful ignorance of history by blaming this all on President Obama is so self serving and transparent that it is embarrassing. But then American politics is almost always a demonstration of ignorance and arrogance.

The problem for the United States is that we have little credibility when it comes criticizing nations like Russia when they do the same as we do. Our actions to invade Iraq in 2003, actions which under the criteria that we laid down at Nuremberg violated international law make it hard for any American leader to criticize another power. This is true even when Putin’s actions, also illegal under international law are no worse and certainly by the historic ties of Crimea to Russia are more justifiable than what we did in Iraq.

Thus the outright hypocrisy of the architects of that invasion like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld shamelessly attack President Obama for his “weak” response to Putin’s actions are in large part to blame for them. They squandered our international standing and credibility, broke the military and bankrupted the country. They then lay the blame on Obama. By the decisions that they made and the subsequent consequences they tied Obama’s hands.

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Sometimes these crisis blow over. Sometimes they stabilize but cause problems that continue for some time after the initial crisis. But there are some times that they take on a life of their own and that the people who think they are directing events end up being caught up in them, often with tragic results. While I do not think this will end in war, the possibility of such cannot be dismissed.

Tuchman in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam wrote:

“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Reflections on the Invasion of Iraq: 10 Years Later in Light of Nuremberg

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“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

In March 2003 I like many of us on active duty at the time saw the nation embark on a crusade to overthrow an admittedly thuggish criminal head of state, Saddam Hussein. The images of the hijacked airliners crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still relatively fresh in our minds. The “evidence” that most of us had “seen,” the same that most Americans and people around the world were shown led many of us to believe that Saddam was involved in those attacks in some manner and that he posed a threat to us.

Now it wasn’t that we didn’t have doubts about it or even the wisdom of invading Iraq. It didn’t matter that there was also credible evidence that maybe what we were being told was not correct, and it didn’t matter that some of our closest allies voted against a mandate to invade Iraq in the United Nations Security Council. We were emotionally charged by the events of 9-11 and “we knew” that Saddam was a “bad guy.” We also believed that we could not be defeated. We had defeated the Iraqis in 1991 and we were stronger and they weaker than that time.

We really didn’t know much about Iraq, its history, people, culture and certainly we paid little attention to the history of countries that had invaded and occupied Iraq in the past. T.E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia wrote in August of 1920 about his own country’s misbegotten invasion and occupation of Iraq, or as it was known then Mesopotamia.

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

The sad thing is that the same could have been written of the United States occupation by 2004.

But even more troubling than the words of Lawrence are the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Somehow as a historian who has spent a great deal of time studying the Nazi period and its aftermath I cannot help but look back in retrospect and wonder what Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and the other Nuremberg prosecutors would have done had they had some of our leaders in the dock instead of the Nazis.

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The indictments against the Nazis at Nuremberg are chilling if we were to be held to the same standard that we held the Nazis leaders at Nuremberg. True, we did not have massive death camps or exterminate millions of defenseless people, nor did we run slave labor factories, but we did like they launched a war of aggression under false pretense against a country that had not attacked us.

At Nuremberg we charged twenty top Nazi political officials, as well as police and high ranking military officers with war crimes. The indictments included:

Count One: Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War: This count addressed crimes committed before the war began, showing a plan by leaders to commit crimes during the war.

Count Two: Waging Aggressive War, or “Crimes Against Peace” which included “the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances.”

Count Three: War Crimes. This count encompassed the more traditional violations of the law of war already codified in the Geneva and Hague Conventions including treatment of prisoners of war, slave labor, and use of outlawed weapons.

Count Four: Crimes Against Humanity, which covered the actions in concentration camps and other death rampages.

While count four, Crimes Against Humanity would be difficult if not impossible to bring to trial because there was nothing in the US and Coalition war in Iraq that remotely compares to that of what the Nazis were tried, some US and British leaders could probably have been successful prosecuted by Jackson and the other prosecutors under counts one through three.

The fact is that none of the reasons given for the war by the Bush Administration were demonstrated to be true. Senior US and British officials knowing this could be tried and very probably convicted on counts one and two. We also know that some military and intelligence personnel have been convicted of crimes that would fall under count three.

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Saddam Hussein was a war criminal. He was also a brutal dictator who terrorized and murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people. But we went to war over his alleged ties to Al Qaeda and WMDs and he had not attacked us. Looking back at history and using the criteria that we established at Nuremberg I have no doubt that had Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld been in the dock that Justice Jackson would have destroyed them and the court would have convicted them.

So 10 years, nearly 5000 US military personnel dead, 32,000 wounded, over 100,000 afflicted with PTSD, and other spiritual and psychological injuries, with an estimated 22 veterans committing suicide every day; somewhere between 1 and 2 trillion dollars spent, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, wounded and displaced from their homes and a country destroyed and still in turmoil. And somehow those that decided to take us to war roam free. They write books defending their actions and appear on “news” programs hosted by their media allies who 10 years ago helped manipulate the American public, still traumatized by the events of 9-11-2001 to support the war.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=No06Lwk_TAg

Saddam and many of his henchmen are dead or rotting in Iraqi prisons for their crimes against the Iraqi people. However good this may be one has to ask if how it happened was legal or justified under US or International Law, if it was worth the cost in blood, treasure or international credibility. Likewise why have none of the men and women who plotted, planned and launched the war been held the standard that we as a nation helped establish and have used against Nazi leaders and others?

If we cannot ask that and wrestle with this then we as a nation become no better than the Germans who sought minimize their responsibility for the actions of their leaders, and in doing so enable future leaders to feel that they can do the same with impunity. That is a terrible precedent.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Thoughts on the Academy Awards

oscars

For the first time in years I can actually say that I saw a good number of the films nominated for Oscars. Even more surprising I actually enjoyed the Academy Award presentation show for the first time in I don’t know how long. I think a lot had to do with the fact that I had seen a lot of really good films this year and secondly I enjoyed Seth MacFarlane’s presentation.

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I was reading today that quite a few people didn’t like it. They sneered through their facelifts and Botox filled lips that MacFarlane’s humor was juvenile, crude and all sorts of other. Oh well, I guess that’s where my mind operates, but then I don’t think I have anything in common with the film critics and entertainment commentators that didn’t like it. If I recall correctly they didn’t like Mel Brooks either. Some people don’t know how to laugh, especially at themselves.  Actually though I didn’t think that he deserved to win, that Ted the bear deserved a nomination for best actor. But that’s just me.

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What was really cool that Judy, watching over 200 miles away from me enjoyed it too. I guess that this proves that we were made for one another. I loved Captain Kirk coming to the rescue and the Jaws theme playing every time an award recipient went overtime, the only thing that could have made it better was to have a Great Land Shark eat the first offender.

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As or the actual movies that I saw and the Oscars awarded, the show was pretty good. Now of the big films nominated I saw Lincoln, Argo, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained. I did not see the Life of Pi because I gave up Pi and its carbs in order to be able to drink beer. That is kind of a yin and yang kind of thing, I like Pi but it’s a trade off. I also didn’t see Les Miserables because frankly watching a depressing story without any gratuitous sex or unnecessary violence put to song does nothing for me. I didn’t see Silver Linings Playbook but since I deal with crazy all the time and have the Mad Cow myself, I figured I pretty much knew the story. I also didn’t see the foreign film about the old foreign people because that has no market in Eastern North Carolina. I am not against foreign films, especially if they deal with U-Boats like Das Boot or Gay French Couples such as La Cage Aux Folles.

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Now of the films that I saw, they were all great, even Ted, which sadly didn’t get a nomination. The scenes of Congress in Lincoln were so realistic that I wondered where Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Harry Reed were, and if they had a role as advisors to Spielberg. I thought that Daniel Day Lewis deserved the Best Actor Oscar for Lincoln, and why not, his Lincoln did better in theaters than the real Lincoln.

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Likewise I loved Argo, anything that pisses the Ayatollah’s in Iran off get’s my vote for best picture. Skyfall was not only the best Bond in like Diamonds are Forever, but the villain was the creepiest ever, almost as good as Dick Cheney. Oh, damn, he wasn’t in a Bond film, my bad I meant Christopher Walken. 01_silva-4_3_rx512_c680x510

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Zero Dark Thirty was great and though it didn’t win a big award it scores because it tells the story of killing Bin Laden and has been unofficially banned in Pakistan.

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Django Unchained was one of my favorites this year and I thought that the writing and acting was brilliant. I was glad that Christoph Waltz won the Best Supporting Actor, though I still think that Harvey Korman was cheated back in 1974 when he didn’t get a nomination for Blazing Saddles. Waltz is a brilliant actor, one of the best around and the role was amazing. Ang Lee getting the Best Director was a tough choice, Ben Affleck should have been nominated but wasn’t and Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino  could have easily won.

At least the losers were gracious unlike this character.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfD2JFfwxLY

As or the show, again, I thought that Seth MacFarlane did a great job in offending almost everyone equally. But that hasn’t been allowed since Mel Brooks did it back in the 1970s. I saw that MacFarlane was in a no-win situation and in order to win he elected to emulate Captain Kirk with the Kobyashi Maru scenario. He was charged with trying to attract younger viewers to a show that has been the realm of rich ossified geriatrics who wish they had the talent of the people that they were heckling. Sorry, trying to please some people is like trying to please the two old guys in the Muppets, or failing that the commentators and pundits that always look like they are constipated on cable news.

So anyway, enough for tonight.

Peace

 

Padre Steve+

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Adjusting Strategy to Reality

Taliban Fighters

“The core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country…” US Strategy in Afghanistan for 2011

“The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy.  But what constitutes defeat?  The conquest of his whole territory is not always necessary, and total occupation of his territory may not be enough.” Carl Von Clausewitz

Strategic goals cannot remain fixed on geographic objectives which have lost their strategic importance because it is no longer the enemy’s center of gravity. On September 11th 2011 the Taliban ruled Afghanistan which harbored Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist organization became the central front in the new “War on Terrorism.”  For about a year Afghanistan remained the central focus of United States efforts against Al Qaeda until President Bush and his administration changed the primary effort to the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The effect of switching the American strategic focus from Afghanistan where we were making headway despite the limited resources provided to Iraq was a mistake of epic proportions that only became evident when Iraq did not go the way that the Bush administration led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer the head of the Coalition Provision Authority planned.  Instead of a quick withdraw a series of mistakes and miscalculations turned the majority of the Iraqi people who had welcomed US Forces with open arms against us and an insurgency which claimed over 4000 American military personnel deaths and over 30,000 wounded became our primary focus.  We are still trying to figure out how to end our involvement in that country hoping that Iraq will not sink into another civil war.

Contrary to expectations Iraq became a front which consumed U.S. Forces and limited strategic flexibility in other regions of the world including Afghanistan.  In that country the indigenous Taliban which had been driven from power in 2001 began a gradual and deliberate return to political and military viability which was finally noticed by the United States in 2008 and 2009.  The Taliban were supported by the Pakistani Taliban, elements of the Bin Laden organization and in many cases duplicitous elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence services which were using the situation to support their own strategic goals of gaining influence in Afghanistan while strengthening their position against their perceived mortal enemy India.  Throughout the war the Pakistanis acted in their own interest while placating American demands to do more against the Taliban and Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan proper.

The Obama administration attempted to regain the initiative with a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops which raised the overall commitment of the United States to a force of over 100,000 troops assisted by NATO Allies and the corrupt, ill-trained and often Taliban Afghan Army and Police.  The surge was controversial and marked with controversy was the US Commander General Stanley McCrystal was relieved of command after an article in the Rolling Stone magazine which made it appear that he held the Obama administration in contempt. Since McCrystal recently returned to the Administration in a civilian capacity one wonders if the administration discovered that the article was meant to discredit McCrystal. McCrystal was relieved by his superior CENTCOM Commander General David Petreaus who had helped devise the strategy which in conjunction with the Anbar Awakening turned the tide against Al Qaeda and indigenous Iraqi insurgents in 2007-2008.  It achieved some success but even the United States recognizes that whatever success has been wrought is fragile and could easily be erased.

Unfortunately while the United States and its Allies continue to reinforce the campaign in Afghanistan their efforts are often undercut by the corrupt and duplicitous regime of Mohammed Karzai as well as our supposed Pakistani allies.  The Karzai regime hunkered down in Kabul has little influence outside the Presidential Palace except in its dealing in the Opium trade which helps finance the Taliban. The Pakistanis have over the 10 year duration of the war failed to maintain the security on their side of the border and often have clandestinely supported the Taliban and according to some may have given sanctuary to Al Qaeda.  The most recent setback came today when the Pakistani Chief of the General Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief of Intelligence Ahmed Shuja Pasha issued a demand for the US to stop Predator Drone strikes in the border regions, cut Special Forces and CIA Staff and give the Pakistani Intelligence Service, the ISI visibility on CIA operations.  This has been long in the works but came to a head with the arrest of a CIA contractor under the suspicion of murdering two Pakistanis.  The incident created quite a rift in US and Pakistani relations in part brought about by internal Pakistani politics.  Of course the ISI has long been a source of aid to the Taliban so the United States has good reason not to trust the ISI with information that could endanger American lives.

Protests in Bahrain: The Arabian Peninsula as the new Center of Gravity

The fact is without full Pakistani cooperation and substantial Afghani political reform to end corruption and provide real security to Afghani people there is no way to set conditions for a US withdraw that would leave Afghanistan a less dangerous place for its own people and for US and Western security interests. After all no one wants another 9-11 attack.  The US plans to begin withdrawing forces this year but the mission has been extended to at least 2014 at a cost of 119.4 billion dollars per year at the estimated 2011 rate and has increased exponentially since the US involvement began in 2001. The cost of the Afghanistan war in human, material and economic terms has imperiled other strategic priorities and limits the flexibility of the United States in other more vital regions.

Afghanistan is now an expensive sideshow in a larger war where the strategic center of gravity has shifted decisively to the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean where Al Qaeda seeks to use democratic revolts against autocratic despots to further its own ends. The key countries are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict boiling over.  While all of these crises grow on what seem to be a daily basis the United States and its Allies are mired in Afghanistan reinforcing failure.  Our troops on the ground have not lost a battle but like our brothers in Vietnam could “lose” the war.

This is the point where political and military leaders have to count the cost of the operation and weigh them against our actual strategic interests. The fact is if we withdrew the bulk of our ground combat forces and shifted to a lower footprint special operations and CIA campaign with a goal of ensuring that Al Qaeda cannot operate in Afghanistan with impunity as they did before 9-11 that we would likely be no worse off than we are now and have a greater amount of strategic flexibility to deal with other crises, political, military and humanitarian around the world.

The real crux of the issue is that Afghanistan is much like Stalingrad to the Germans in 1942. It has become a psychological more than a military campaign. We have invested so much in it that we do not believe that we can withdraw even though a scaled back presence would do much to improve our overall strategic situation.  Hitler denuded more important areas to attempt to capture Stalingrad and lost everything. Yes Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as its base to attack us in 2001 but they have moved on and Al Qaeda in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula is a far greater strategic danger simply because of the oil supplies and strategic waterways in the area.

We simply need to look at all components of national strategy and decide where to concentrate.  Sometimes a strategic withdraw is necessary and actually vital to recover the initiative and set the stage for long term success. In Afghanistan this is not an admission of defeat but rather an acknowledgement that the central focus of the war and our strategic interests are elsewhere.  Our enemies would love to have us continue the campaign in Afghanistan in its current form, they know that our commitment drains our military, imperils our overall strategy and bleeds us dry economically all the while providing propaganda grist for them in their war against us.

However despite the cost the political situation in the United States keeps President Obama invested in Afghanistan. If he withdraws his opponents will say that he lost the war. Unfortunately the war in Afghanistan was ceded to the Taliban in 2003 when we decided that Iraq was more important. Now we reap the terrible consequences of that decision.  Now we have to decide how to make something positive out of this unenviable strategic position. But as Napoleon Bonaparte said “In order to govern, the question is not to follow out a more or less valid theory but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable must be accepted and turned to advantage.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Another Sign of the Apocalypse: No Number One Seeds Left in the NCAA Tournament

Signs of the Apocalypse?

Well my friends there are wars, rumors of wars, natural and unnatural disasters Iranian Ayatollahs proclaiming that the Mahdi is coming so Iran can beat the snot out of all the infidels and all the number one seeds eliminated before the Final Four. What a deal, the only things lacking for the great apocalyptic battle are the Cubs winning the World Series and a conspiracy theory website that purports that President Obama is actually a Vulcan with clipped ears, thus no birth certificate.  Wow, I had just typed that when an advertisement for a nutty televangelist and his ditzy wife was aired while I was watching House hinting that Obama might be a Moslem, so be sure to watch them on Sunday.

Yes my friends it looks like the Four Horsemen, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Oprah and Gilbert Gottfried, are mounting their steeds and preparing Trigger, Champion, Secretariat and Mr. Ed for the last rodeo. Things are getting serious all over the place. When showed Padre Steve that this was the case was not the wars or the natural disasters. No friends it was VCU killing off Kansas to ensure that no number one seeded team got in the Final Four this year.  Of course Butler had killed off Pitt, Kentucky had killed off Ohio State and Arizona had killed off Duke. Since my bracket had gone to hell by the round of 32 and my last finalist North Carolina went Tango Uniform in the Elite 8 I couldn’t care less who actually won I just wanted no number ones in the Final Four, no number twos if possible and chaos to reign.

I got my wish when VCU took down Kansas yesterday and even though I had put North Carolina through to the Final Four I wanted Kentucky to win simply because they were a lower seed than the Tar Heels. When you come to think about the fact that no number one or two seeded teams are in the Final Four really is amazing.  In fact it is the first time ever that no number one or number two seeds have made the Final Four. In 2006 and 1980 no number one teams made it but this is the first time ever that this has happened and this year the aggregate seeding of the Final Four Teams is lower than any Final Four ever.  Three number three seeds have won the National Championship Florida (2006), Indiana (1981), Michigan (1989) and Syracuse (2003). Only one number four seed has won the National Title Arizona in 1997.  Villanova is the only number eight seed to take the National Championship and that was in 1985. No number eleven seeds have ever reached the title game although George Mason (2006) and LSU (1986) did reach the Final Four.

Now just because this is the lowest seeding of Final Four teams does not mean that these are bad teams. Let’s face it UCONN is a major player as is Kentucky and Butler is no stranger to the Sweet 16 and Final Four getting into the title game last year. VCU is the real surprise because they were the last team chosen and had to win an extra game to get in the 64 team field.

This is also no real changing of the guard in College Basketball. With the exception of Richmond and VCU the teams in the Elite Eight were all big programs or in the case of Butler a team that was in the Final Four last year and is a quality program.  While more VCUs and Butler’s may go deep in the tournament expect that the big programs will still be in the Final Four more often than not. I may want the little guys to be there all the time but that probably won’t happen but that doesn’t mean that I can’t cheer them on every year, heck I picked ODU to be in the Final Four but Butler took them out in the first round.

So the Four Horsemen have lined up, the world is all goofy but at least this Final Four field is no threat to the end of the world as we know it.  So my picks for the National Championship, VCU against Kentucky and God only knows who wins that. As my Iraqi friends say, Inshallah.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Padre Steve’s Decade in Review: Up Down Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again

Happy New Year!

Well, we have killed off the first decade of the new millennium and I hate to say it but I miss the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.  Somehow despite the threat of double secret nuclear annihilation, disco, and bad hair those decades seemed somehow more civil, more hopeful and dare I say just a bit nicer than the current decade has been.  However this decade is what it is, or maybe was what it was.  I think that most of us could say like the Barry Manilow  song that “I’ve been up down tryin’ to get that feeling again” but like Blobdie sang “Dreaming is Free.”

Personally Padre Steve had recently embarked on another phase of military service having left the Army Reserve in February 1999 to enter the Navy. Since that time my career has been pretty good and I’m glad that I made the switch.  I have had the chance to serve with some great folks and see a lot more of the world and do a lot of cool things, including going to war. This time in 1999 I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  The big thing going on back then was the world being up in arms about the threat of something called Y2K.  Y2K was supposed to end life as we knew it as anything using computer technology was going to quit working, airplanes would fall from the sky, power plants would shut down and personal computers would stop working in the middle of trying to get a dial-up connection to AOL or Compuserve. We YTK fizzed and those that had made doomsday preparations felt pretty silly as they looked over their shoulders for Black Helicopters and hundreds of thousands of UN troops hiding out in our National Parks building detainment camps for real Americans.

Who the Hell Was this Guy Voting For?

As YTK fizzled the 2000 Presidential campaign got spun up.  Padre Steve missed a lot of it because he spent about 10 weeks in the dessert at 29 Palms with two different Marine battalions during two Combined Arms Exercises, or CAX.  He then left in December for a deployment to the Far East. Just before the election the destroyer USS Cole was attacked and heavily damaged by terrorists in an explosive laden boat while refueling in Yemen.  2000 ended without a decision in the election and the campaign culminated in January 2001 with a razor thin Electoral College victory for George W. Bush full of controversy over disputed ballots in Florida with an Army Corps of lawyers getting involved and taking the whole thing up the Supreme Court.  This process dragged on for what seemed like forever until I was in Okinawa with my battalion.  A new term was coined “the hanging chad.” Once the election nightmare was over things did not get better.  In 2000 lost some notable folks, former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach and Pro-Football Hall of Famer Tom Landry called his last play, Sir Alec Guinness crossed over the River Kwai and Montreal Canadiens Hockey legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard broke away and got his final hat trick.

9-11 Twin Towers Under Attack

As 2001 began it did seem that things were starting to settle down despite lingering hatred on both sides of the political aisle about the election.  But then there were the attacks of September 11th 2001 where terrorists flew hijacked airliners into both of the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. This caused a number of congressmen and senators to break forth in song outside the Capital and for a brief time it seemed that the whole country had united in common cause.  Soon US Special Forces, Rangers and Marines were fighting in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the terror attacks and the head of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.  US forces overran Afghanistan quickly with the help of Afghan tribes known as the Northern Alliance and it looked like despite not finding Bin Laden that the US goals were being accomplished even as the President was telling Americans to “go shopping” to many in the military giving the impression that while the military was at war that the nation was not.  In December 2001 Padre Steve was transferred from the Marines to the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Hue City, CG-66. The ship would complete a couple of underway periods and exercises before departing for the Middle East in early February.  This was Padre Steve’s first tour in a war zone and the ship conducted operations off the Horn of Africa, in the Northern Arabian Gulf as part of the UN Oil Embargo on Iraq intercepting smugglers, during which time Padre Steve was with a boarding team that made 75 boarding missions of Iraqi and other smugglers.

Iconic Picture of Padre Steve on a Boarding Mission

From there Hue City operated with the USS John F Kennedy conducting operations in the Gulf of Oman where our air controllers helped direct strikes against Al Qaida and the Taliban and during which time the ship was detached to keep watch on the Indians and Pakistanis who were on the brink of having a nuclear war.  Acting great and Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon, former Beatle George Harrison and NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt all made their final lap around the planet. In Baseball the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series in 7 games.

2004 The Red Sox Break the Curse

2002 also saw John Allen Mohammed, the Beltway Sniper bring terror to Washington DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland, the Congress passed a joint resolution to allow President Bush to use US Military Forces as he deemed fit in Iraq and the Iraq War Resolution.  Shortly thereafter the Department of Homeland Security was established.  The San Francisco Giants lost the World Series to the Anaheim Angels after leading in the 7th inning of game six much to the consternation of Padre Steve and the other Giants faithful.  Calls for the public water boarding of Giants Manager and former “Evil Dodger” Dusty Baker to find why he took out Russ Ortiz went unheeded. Dave Thomas the founder of Wendy’s flipped his last burger, country music legend Waylon Jennings sang his last song and Baseball immortal Ted Williams all died in 2002 with Williams and his family trying to make him a real immortal by having his remains cryogenically frozen.

The Challenger Disintigrates

For Padre Steve 2003 was relatively uneventful, the Hue City was in the yards when Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched and was just getting ready for a deployment when he was reassigned to the Marine Security Force Battalion.  In short order he was travelling around the globe and before the end of the year had visited his Marines in Bahrain, Rota Spain and Guantanamo Bay Cuba and he and the Abbess celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. The Iraq War and overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the big story of 2003 however there was other news. The Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry killing the 7 astronauts on board, California recalled Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series. We lost some legends in 2003 comedian Bob Hope died at the age of 100 and is now doing his Christmas show for the Archangel Michael and the Armies of Heaven; US Senator Strom Thurman filibustered his last bill at the age of 100, Fred Rogers left the neighborhood and Joseph Coors brewed his last batch of really bad beer.

George Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln

2004 saw yet another nasty Presidential election riddled with controversy as George W. Bush defeated Senator John Kerry to win re-election.  In Iraq Saddam Hussein was finally caught hiding in a hole in the ground by US Special Forces, the war in Iraq went south as the insurgency of former Ba’athists, disaffected Sunnis aided by Al Qaida and other foreign fighters and terrorists took up President Bush on his challenge to “bring it on.”  Facebook was founded in Cambridge Massachusetts, simultaneous suicide bombs devastated trains in Madrid in what became known as Spain’s 9-11, Lance Armstrong won his 6th consecutive Tour de France, Chechen terrorists seized a school in Beslan Russia and over 300 are killed and 700 wounded by the terrorists as the school was stormed by Russian security forces and the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series to break the curse of the Bambino after coming back to defeat the Yankees in the ALCS after being down three games to none.  Death took no holidays in 2004 as Bob Keeshan better known as Captain Kangaroo was piped over the side, Rick James dated his last Super Freaky Girl without taking her home to mother and former President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer’s Disease after seeing his successors destroy his coalition and “big tent” and hopeful vision of conservatism.   Padre Steve continued to travel around the world with his Marines going to Japan, France, and Spain, Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay as well as a number of trips within the United States.  In France he taught seminars at the Belleau Wood battlefield site and in Normandy.

Hurricane Katrina as a Category 5 Storm

The war in Iraq continued to heat up in 2005 with the insurgency spreading throughout the country with the focal point being Sunni stronghold Al Anbar Province.  Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf coast devastating New Orleans and southern Mississippi killing over 1800 and forcing millions from their homes. The ineffective and inept government response beginning with the “fly by visit” of President Bush helped the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate in 2006.  Terrorism was alive and well as a terrorist attack on London’s Underground and a bus killed 56 and injured over 700.  As for Padre Steve well he was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander, completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and continued to travel around the world with his Marines going to Japan, France, Spain, Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay as well as a number of trips within the United States.  The highlight of this was being able to have the Abbess accompany him to Guantanamo Bay for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. The Chicago White Sox defeated the Houston Astros in the World Series. In Washington DC baseball stars were hauled before a Congressional committee to testify on steroids in baseball or interrogated about their possible use of steroids. This wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer money as loser Congressmen who tolerate all sorts of illegal and immoral actions of their own sought to embarrass and destroy the careers and reputations of ballplayers in a grand act of inquisitional hypocrisy. Death came knocking for comedian Richard Pryor, Johnny Carson gave his last monologue, Pope John Paul II met Saint Peter and James Doohan, Mr. Scott from Star Trek was beamed up for the last time.

Israeli Merkeva Tank Destroyed by Hezbollah

In 2006 Padre Steve was promoted the Lieutenant Commander and was transferred to EOD Group Two after completing another year of travel with the Marine Security Forces.  Within months there was talk of a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan for him and his trusty assistant and body guard Nelson Lebron. He also began a Masters Degree program in Military History at American Military University.  In the rest of the world the Republicans lost their majorities in Congress, the war in Iraq continued to grow in intensity and Israel went to war with Hezbollah forces on their northern border.  The attack was ill conceived and was a military failure revealing weaknesses in the Israeli ground forces training and tactical abilities forcing investigations of the military and the resignation of the head of the military.  Pope Benedict XVI the successor to Pope John Paul II published his first encyclical.  In the World Series Tony LaRussa’s St Louis Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers and Barry Bonds though tainted by controversy continued his march to the Baseball Home Run title.  Death paid a visit to former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, sportscaster Curt Gowdy called his last game and Don Knotts, Televisions Barney Fife gave up his bullet for the last time.

Barry Bonds the All Time Home Run Leader

The war in Iraq reached a climax in 2007 as President Bush heeded the advice of General David Petreus and initiated a “surge” of forces to help wage an actual counterinsurgency campaign.  Combined with the Al Anbar Awakening where the Sunni turned on the insurgents and allied themselves with the Americans the course of the war changed as insurgents lost support and the US and better trained and equipped Iraqi forces launched successful offensives to drive the insurgents out of key areas.  Padre Steve deployed to Iraq and served in Al Anbar Province working with US Marine and Army advisers to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border forces travelling thousands of miles in the province to go where few others went.

Padre Steve in Iraq with Bedouin on Syrian Border

Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record while track star Marion Jones surrendered 5 Olympic Gold Medals after admitting to blood doping and the Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to claim their second World Series title of the decade.  Meanwhile death came to Jerry Falwell who preached his last sermon; Tammy Faye (Baker) Messner applied her last coat of Bondo, Ike Tuner played his last guitar riff while Pavarotti exited the stage with Marcel Marceau who went rather silently I am told.

Barak Obama the 44th President

In 2008 Padre Steve returned from Iraq with a pretty good case of PTSD, chronic pain and anxiety coupled with depression and a crisis in faith.  He finished his tour at EOD and was assigned to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. He and the Abbess celebrated thier 25th wedding anniversary.  The war in Iraq was now moving in a successful direction with the Iraqis taking more control of their security and the various religious, political and ethnic factions beginning to talk and work with one another rather than shoot at each other.  However the war in Afghanistan took a nasty turn as the Taliban came back with a vengeance and the Afghan government was revealed as weak, ineffective and corrupt.  The 2008 Presidential election was waged with bitterness and the Democrats sent Senator Barak Obama, who had defeated Senator Hillary Clinton up against Senator John McCain.  Obama won the election becoming the first African American man to become president while strengthening their majorities in Congress. The world entered a major economic crisis in 2008 and the United States suffered massive losses in financial markets, housing and rising unemployment.  Bank bailouts were the order of the day as President Bush left office and Obama took over.  A massive earthquake in Sichuan China killed over 80,000 people while American swimmer Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals to set an Olympic record.  The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series defeating the surprising Tampa Bay Rays.  Death as always came along taking actors Heath Ledger and Charlton “Moses” Heston, comedian George Carlin and former Senator Jesse Helms.

Sarah Palin the New Leader of the GOP?

2009 came in with the inauguration of Barak Obama as President something that Padre Steve witnessed with a elderly African American women in her ICU room while holding her hand as she cried not believing that she would see an event of this kind in her lifetime.  The war in Iraq began to wind down as the US began to increase it’s withdraw of ground forces and turn over more security to the Iraqis.  In Afghanistan the war reached a crisis point as the military and political situation deteriorated within the country and support for the war dwindled in the US and Europe. Amid this President Obama agreed to a “surge” for Afghanistan.  The worldwide economic continued but by the end of the year some economic indicators were pointing upward again even as the US unemployment rate continued to rise. A bitter fight was waged over health care reform and economic policies while President Obama’s support and approval ratings crashed as people on both the left and right of the political spectrum criticized his leadership and policies.  Republican Vice-Presidential nominee and former Vice President Dick Cheney took the Republican lead in attacking the President while conservative talk radio delivered a daily barrage of criticism.  Some of Obama’s own actions did not help his cause especially in the manner in which he was viewed to respond to terrorist attacks including an attempted Christmas Eve bombing of a US airliner.  Tensions continued to grow between the West and Iran regarding that nation’s nuclear program even as widespread demonstrations wracked that country after an election which appeared to be rigged by the Iranian government. An outbreak of H1N1 Influence reached pandemic proportions across the globe but did not reach the lethality that it had the potential to do.  The Vatican announced a historic plan to allow conservative and traditionalist Anglicans come into the Catholic Church and retain their Anglican traditions and some measure of autonomy.

The Yankees Return

In baseball a revitalized New York Yankees team dominated the American league and went on to dominate their playoff and World Series opponents defeating the Phillies in 6 games. In football a good number of teams in both the NFL and NCAA were a parody of the sport and coaching scandals plagued the sport while at the box office Star Trek came back with a vengeance and a twist. Padre Steve continued his hospital work, battled PTSD, depression, his father’s Alzheimer’s disease and his own spiritual crisis but completed the academic requirements for his Masters Degree in Military History and by the end of the year began to experience some measure of healing.  He launched this site in February of 2009 and as of this post will have made 328 posts on the site.  He also bought his first ever season tickets for a baseball team and now claims Section 102, Row B seats 1 & 2 as his pew at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  Death prowled the earth looking for recruits finding legendary news anchorman Walter Cronkite who signed off of the last time, Pop Superstar Michael Jackson who “moon walked” the stairway to heaven or wherever, Senator Edward Kennedy who finalized his last legislation with his maker and Patrick Swayze who reprised his role in “Ghost.”

So it has been quite a decade personally for your friend Padre Steve as well as an eventual decade for the United States and the World.  The decade has been “interesting” and as the ancient Chinese curse says “may you live in interesting times.”  I hope that the next year and decade are a lot less interesting, that wars will cease and that people all over the world will join together like the old 1960’s Coca Cola commercial.

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing?

Peace and Blessings in the New Year,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings

Going to War: Life at TQ, Chuck Norris Visits and Mass Casualties

While we prepared for our first mission we adjusted to what life was like on a large airbase and logistics hub. Ta Qaddum is one of the larger Iraq Air Force bases from Saddam’s time but has a history going back to the old Royal Air Force base at Habbinyah which is just down the hill.  In 1941 the Iraqi Army laid siege to the British forces in Habbinyah from the escarpment that overlooks the town from what is now the northern edge of TQ.  One only has to imagine the feelings of the Iraqi soldiers short on supply and exposed to air attack on the escarpment while waiting for German intervention only to be driven off by the British when their relief force arrived from Jordan.

iraqi bomber at tqWrecked Iraqi Bomber at TQ

The Iraqi legacy on the base looms in some of the infrastructure as well as the hulks of Soviet made Iraqi Air Force bomber and fighter aircraft near the edge of the airfield.  When I was there in 2007-2008 the base was under the command of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group or 2nd MLG.  The MLG is a command and control headquarters for logistics support units of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.  It is tailored to support the Ground Combat Element, the 2nd Marine Division and the Air Combat Element, the 2nd Marine Air Wing and attached units.  Its function is similar to an Army Corps Support Command or whatever the Army calls them now.  TQ was also the home of several helicopter squadrons Marine and Army as well as a local defense force at the time made up of the 1st Battalion 11th Marines from Camp Pendleton. 1/11 was an artillery battalion but was being primarily used as a security and convoy protection force.  Other units including Navy Seabees and Army logistics units operated from TQ.  A Marine Infantry Battalion was stationed in Habbinyah while elements of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) were operating in the area as part of the surge.

The base is about mid-range on the amenity scale for troop comfort. At the time we were there the only non-DFAC/ Chow Hall was the Green Beans Coffee trailer as opposed to places like Al Asad and Camp Victory which had a multiplicity of fast food places for the troops.  The Marines are tougher on communication security than the Army and many websites which troops could use on other bases were unavailable unless one went to the Iraqi internet café or the MWR computer and phone center.  The Iraqi run shop had the fastest internet on the base but you had to contend with huge amounts of second hand smoke and pay a nominal charge to use it.  The MWR facility often had broken machines, had a waiting list to use them and the connections were very poor with pages slower to load that the old dial up days.  On the plus side TQ did have a relatively decent Marine Corps exchange, not as big as Al Asad or Camp Victory, but one of the larger exchanges in Iraq and second only to Al Asad in the West.  Most places including Ramadi had pretty small and not well stocked exchanges.  TQ had nice fitness center facilities which I used a lot being coached by Nelson.

060Chaplains and RPs with Chuck Norris

The base MWR worked with the USO and other agencies to bring sports stars or celebrities to the base.  Just before we left on our first mission Chuck Norris came through.  Chuck was made an “Honorary Marine” a few years back and has made it his task to try to meet every Marine deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, shaking the hand of each one he met.  The chapel was the host facility for the visit which last about 2 hours in which Chuck pressed the flesh and had his picture taken with probably close to 5000 Marines and other personnel, maybe more.  The Chaplains were drafted to be the photographers and I lost count of how many different types of digital cameras that I took pictures with.  Chuck enjoyed the heck out of Nelson and was impressed with his fighting resume.  I think that Nelson got more face time with Chuck than anyone on the base and he deserved it.  Chuck was accompanied by Chaplain Langston and RP1 Roland our friend from Fallujah.  After they were done he had to get on the waiting helo and fly out to his next stop.

058Chuck and Nelson

The chow halls, of which there were two, were large and usually had a pretty good menu.  I especially came to like the Indian nights where Indian specialties were served.  Since many of the cooks employed by Gulf Catering who had the contract were Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or from Ceylon so it generally was pretty good unless they had to scrounge for suitable ingredients.  I like the curry chicken, but occasionally it was made with chicken nuggets when the real chicken was in short supply.  It almost reminded me of the Spam Lamb in the TV series M*A*S*H or the great quote out of the movie Meatballs: “Attention. Here’s an update on tonight’s dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal. The winner of tonight’s mystery meat contest is Jeffrey Corbin who guessed “some kind of beef.”   I think that there were a number of times when I really wondered what the meat was.  They usually had a pretty good salad bar unless resupply convoys were interrupted and fresh vegetables had run out.  There were a number of times where the pickins were slim and Nelson and I had to get creative.  Breakfast was usually good with a good choice of food choices, some even healthy.  The workers were great, always friendly despite working 12 hour days 6 days a week for $300 a month.  Many had signed up through agencies which cost them $4000 so the first year that many worked was for nothing.  It was in my opinion a case of a KBR/ Halliburton subcontractor using them in effect as indentured servants and pretty well damned close to slaves, all legal by the US Government.  I thought that it was pretty immoral and certainly a case of a company contracted by the government reducing labor costs on the back of some of the poorest people in the world. Back at the end of the Cold War the military downsized and eliminated most of the Army and Marine mess specialists which paved the way for the contracting industry, led by the former Secretary of Defense and his Halliburton team to begin their massive contracting operations with the Bosnia deployments back in 1995.  They were limited to their own compound far away from anything and were always the last to eat.  They were polite and really tried to accommodate sometimes rude and condescending Americans, the local management did the best they could to give them good accommodations but were limited by their parent company.  Many of the workers were Roman Catholic or Anglican Christians  and Fr Jose had a great ministry that he took on to support them by going to their camp a couple of times a week to celebrate Mass.  His masses were packed and what a source of life and the love of God he was to so many people at TQ, Americans and non-Americans alike.

988Fr Jose on the bank of the Euphrates at Habbinyah

About a week after we got to TQ Marines from the battalion in Habbinyah were hit in an IED complex ambush while on patrol.  A couple of vehicles were hit, Jose was across the base celebrating Mass and Pat was in Fallujah.  A chaplain was needed in the Shock Surgical Trauma Unit or SSTP.  Wounded were being brought in, the platoon had been hit hard, 14 wounded and a couple killed.  I figured that since I was a pretty experienced trauma and critical care chaplain who had dealt with over 500 deaths, many traumatic with bullet wounds, burns and the host of other types of trauma, and tended to probably twice that many who did not die that I could handle this.  When I got to the SSTP I was greeted by a couple of nurses and docs and briefed as to what was going on.  Within a few minutes the casualties were beginning to roll in as the UH-60 Dust-off MEDIVAC helicopters landed and teams went out to meet them.  Some were ambulatory, or walking wounded bandaged with lacerations and burns on their faces and upper bodies, other were brought in on stretchers and ushered into the treatment beds in the area outside the OR.  It was like a scene out of M*A*S*H as the well honed surgical teams, surgeons, anesthetists, nurses and corpsmen went to work.  I now work with a number of these fine people. I was able to make my way about to the wounded Marines, praying with some, holding hands as and with a couple performing the sacrament of healing, or the anointing of the sick.  As I listen to Marines, prayed with them or anointed them there was a tremendous sense that this was different than what I did at Parkland or Cabell-Huntington.  These young men wore the same uniform that I wore, served the same country that I served and travelled the same roads that I would soon be on.  As each was assessed and moved off to surgery, prepared for further evacuation or treated and sent to a ward I noticed the little things about each of them.  The wounds, the torn uniforms, the burns and even the tattoos, these were our guys, they weren’t gang bangers or criminals but young Americans fighting a brutal war against a enemy that had terrorized Iraqis and found devastating ways to kill Americans.  Some of the Marines asked if they would be okay, others asked about friends and in those moments I learned what it was to care and be with men traumatized by the violence and brutality of war against an enemy that would not fight by our rules, much as the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong refused to fight our war.  The enemy was clever and determined and his weapons were deadly.

Stars and Stripes sstpTQ Surgical During Mass Casualty Event (Stars and Stripes Photo)

The teams did their work quickly and soon the event in the ER was done as the Marines were moved off to OR, the ward or further evacuation. I spent some time talking with unit Corpsmen and less wounded Marines and learned about the attack. They were in a convoy heading back to Habbinyah when the there was an enemy contact ahead of them.  As they moved forward to engage a primary and secondary IED hit the convoy heavily damaging two trucks with an ensuing firefight.  The Marines fought off their attackers, the wounded were treated and security set up as Dust-off came in to evacuate the wounded.  I thought back to my days as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army and remembered my friends who had elected to apply for flight school to become Dust-off pilots.  I remembered learning to call in MEDIVAC missions and some of the Army MSC aviators that I knew; some had flown in Vietnam, being a Dustoff pilot can be a sporty occupation.  They fly an unarmed bird into hot landing zones and get badly wounded troops to medical facilities in 100 degree plus weather without killing them enroute, those guys are good. As the crowd dissipated I spend so time with some of the staff.  Eventually with night having fallen I began the walk back to my office in the Chapel.  I looked up at the night sky, in the darkness a another UH-60 sat down to pick up others being evacuated on to Baghdad or Balad.  I looked up at the sky and saw more stars than I had seen at any time since I was at sea on the USS HUE CITY.  It was amazing; it looked like you could almost walk across them from horizon to horizon. When I got to my office I checked on my our mission status, I had submitted our first Air Support Request earlier in the day, of course it had not moved yet, but at least it gave me something to do.  I checked my unclassified e-mail and knew that there was nothing that I could share with anyone so I looked at baseball scores, checked a couple of news sites and headed off to my “can.”

medivacPackaging a Casualty for Further Evacuation on the TQ Surgical Pad

That night I did not sleep well, the images of the wounded Marines were burned into my mind; I could see their faces, their wounds and their tattoos.  I prayed the office of Compline from the Book of Common Prayer using Psalm 91 and the prayer “Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.” I took some comfort in this, walked out again into the night to see illumination rounds in the vicinity of Habbinyah and the distant sound of automatic weapons fire.   For once my insomnia was not related to jet lag or exhausting night flights, it was instead a realization that what happened to these Marines could well happen to me as I we launched later in the week.

The next morning another eight or ten Marines from the same company came in, this time I went to the SSTP with Jose and we did a tag team match, we tried to determine religious affiliation of the wounded Marines with him taking the Roman Catholics to provide sacramental needs and me taking the rest.  Once again the images were vivid; these Marines were on a mission to recover the damaged vehicles and were hit by IEDs on their way back to base.  This time one Marine was killed.  I walked to the graves registration and mortuary affairs team with the battalion surgeon and a corpsman who were to identify the body.  I listened to their frustration and heartache as they described what they had been through the past two days.  The company had taken over 20 casualties including 3 dead.  A high percentage of casualties for a unit that probably numbered about 120 men.  Once again I walked back, this time in the hot mid-morning sun with Jose to the Chapel.  We talked for a while about the past two days, he knew the battalion that had been hit well as he supported them as well.  The surgeon was one of his parishioners.  After we went our separate ways I did my morning prayer and settled in to study more about where we were going.  Nelson and I got PT later in the evening and I spent a restless night in my “can” playing computer Maj-Jong and Chess on my laptop deep into the morning.  Once again I spent time walking in the dark looking at the vast sea of stars above me.

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, Tour in Iraq