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“Therefore Never Send to Know for Whom the bell Tolls, it Tolls for Thee” The Victims, Costs, and Threat of COVID-19


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On December 31st the Chinese Government reported the first death from nouveau Coronavirus 19, or COVID 19. By the end of January there were over 12,000 cases and 259 deaths. The first infected American arrived from China in the middle of January. At first, the American Government led by the Trump Administration paid little attention to it or downplayed its significance. It did that until the bottom began falling out of the stock markets, bond markets, and the oil market, the latter was not due to Coronavirus but the productions and price oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The Trump Administration finally labeled the situation a health emergency at the end of January, but did nothing to prepare.  Belatedly, it began to organize a response led by Vice President Pence at the end of February, but even still the President in his speeches and tweets continued to downplay the situation as members of his political, religious, and media cult amplified his message, until a week ago.

The day I wrote my first article about Coronavirus, March 8th there had been almost 110,000 cases and nearly 3800 deaths. That was an increase of 98,000 cases and over 3500 deaths in just 38 days.

Around midnight last night, there were nearly 198,500 cases and just shy of 8,000 deaths, 7,987 to be exact. So in ten days there were around 100,000 new cases, and close to 4200 new deaths. As of this evening there are a total of 218,721 cases, of which 125,392 are currently active. 93,329 are closed, meaning either recovery or death. Of the closed cases, 8,983 or 10% have died. This means there were over 20,000 new cases and almost 1,000 deaths since last night. Italy was hit hardest in the past day, over 4,200 new cases and 475 deaths.  In other European countries the numbers are spiking, and are about a week or two behind Italy in the progression of the disease.

Since last night the United States, in which testing capabilities are being expanded, there are now a total of 9,301 cases, with 2,890 of them being reported in the last day, and a total of 152 deaths, 43 since yesterday. Our numbers are about two or three weeks behind Italy, and despite the measures to quarantine, shut down, or shelter-in-place enacted by state and local governments there is no uniformity to those actions in light of the limited guidance or funding provided by Federal agencies.

In the United States, we were not prepared despite the warnings of experts that such a deadly pandemic would happen. The country was underprepared and unready for such a condition of affairs. Despite the recent flurry of action by Trump and his administration dithered and denied any real emergency or crisis for over two months, not taking precautions, not ramping up production of test kits, N-95 masks, surgical masks, other personal protective gear for first responders, hospital personnel, or nursing home workers, nor did it anticipate the need for anti-viral disinfectants, cleaners, or urge Americans to begin wearing surgical masks in order to mitigate the possible transmission of the virus.  Nor did it take of whole of government approach to the developing crisis until last week. Even with that move there is much confusion and bureaucratic infighting.

Frankly, most departments are still trying to make sense of what they need to do. Today the Navy was ordered to prepare the Hospital Ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy for deployment. Both are converted supertankers built in 1974 and 1975 before being purchased and converted and equipped as 1000 bed hospital ships in 1987. They are approaching 50 years old. They are equipped with operating rooms ICU beds, and medical and surgical wards, Radiology suites, and a full range of labs, but it takes a lot to staff them and make them ready to deploy. In addition to normal pre-deployment activities everyone deploying on them will need to be test for Coronavirus before they set foot on the ship to ensure that they do not become “plague ships.”  Comfort will deploy to New York, and Mercy to a yet to be determined West Coast metropolis. It will take at least a week, and probably more to make them ready to deploy. The crews of the ships are Merchant Marine Officers, deck, and engineering personnel, but the physicians, nurses, other providers, and technicians will leave their duty stations in Naval Hospitals and Clinics which are already at critical manning levels. They have to be augmented by activated Naval Reserve Medical personnel, Uniformed Public Health Service Officers, civilians employees of Navy Medicine and medical personnel from Humanitarian Service Organizations. There also has to be a Navy Security detachment, communications section, and an aviation detachment with its helicopters, as well as Chaplains and Mental Health Providers. These ships seldom deploy at the same time so the demands on Navy Medicine will be quite severe in Navy Medical Centers, Hospitals, and clinics.

Likewise, the administration ordered the activation of a number of mobile field hospitals. There are a number of types and sizes of such self-contained units which can be deployed by air sea, or ground. But like the Navy’s Hospital ships they draw almost all of their medical personnel from active duty hospitals, and mobilized reservists. Likewise,  the reserve and National Guard field hospitals depend on the very civilian health professions working in hospitals and private practices already dealing with the pandemic.

While China has flattened its infection and death curves due to its draconian police power to enforce the will of the government over the past few weeks, COVID-19 has spread across the globe. This includes all  50 U.S. States, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The numbers are expanding exponentially in Europe and the United States, and today, two members of the House of Representatives announced that they had tested positive for the virus. With every passing day that curve will spike in the United States and Europe, and evidence in other countries suggest that a second wave of the virus is spreading in countries that did pretty well in the first wave.

On Friday, the President attempted to contain the damage with a press conference where he again minimized the threat, denied personal responsibility for anything, and then spoke to supporting financial markets, which briefly caused a rally on Wall Street, which collapsed as he and the administration began to acknowledge the truth of the matter and he turned the answering of medical, logistic, and disaster response to experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, and even Vice President Pence seemed to eclipse Trump as more presidential. Over the weekend the President looked like a man who knew that he was in way over his head, even when he blustered and tweeted. Despite the actions being planned to mitigate the economic, public health, and personal costs of the virus, the damage was done. On Monday the stock markets took their heaviest losses ever, gained a little bit back Tuesday, and crashed again today.

Scrambling to find a way out of the situation the Administration and Congress, thanks largely to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have been attempting to work out a stimulus bill which hopefully, would directly benefit all Americans, not just the banks, oil companies, and financial industries. Congress passed a measure to provide paid sick leave for all, and the Treasury Department is arguing for direct monetary payments to Americans who are now being hit with the full reality of an uncontrolled pandemic, massive business closures, job losses, and quarantine in some cities and states. The details of that are still to be worked out, but even that may not be enough to save some people from financial disaster.

Today the President used his authority to use the 70yearold Defense Production Act to force companies to make more respiratory ventilators, testing kits, and personal protective gear for medical personnel. But none of these measures can make up for the lack of ICU beds, General Medical beds, that are a feature of our mostly for profit medical industry. Hospitals have lost their ability to surge because maintaining an unused surge capacity is too expensive, until you really need it. Now, thirty years after the end of the Cold War, even the military medical system too has little surge capacity because like its civilian counterparts it has adopted the business models of civilian medical corporations.  Fewer staff, fewer beds, and less surge capacity.

The economy is taking massive hits, large numbers of the people who can least afford it are being laid off with little chance of going back to work anytime soon.

This is especially true of the airline, cruise, hotel, entertainment, hotel, and restaurant industries. In the restaurant industry nearly 15 million jobs are at stake, by the time it abates, there could be 50 million job losses in the hotel, restaurant, and entertainment sectors as local, state and the Federal government begin shutdowns of these businesses. Sadly most of the workers are living paycheck to paycheck, work for minimum wage and tips. Many are single parents, students, and people who chose the jobs because they liked dealing with people, or who were working to support themselves to get a better paying and more stable career. We know a lot of them. Good people, hard working people who constantly get screwed regardless of whether they work for large or middle sized companies who do not value them as people, or local restaurants which do not have large financial reserves, but it will expand as commercial food suppliers lose their corporate restaurant, entertainment, hotel and resort customers who will have no need of their supplies until the situation gets better.

Hopefully the measures being worked out will not only include direct payments to Americans, support for the restaurant, hotel, entertainment, and travel industries which employ far more people than the oil companies, and financial industries, as well as a provision for paid sick leave which is standard in most countries of the world.

But my friends, every one of these victims of Coronavirus and government incompetence is a real person. Many will recover from the virus but will suffer long term effects. Many will die, leaving behind friends, families, and holes in the community. Others, not infected by the virus will lose their jobs, businesses, or people that they love and care about. These people are not just numbers no matter what country or industry they live or work in. They are real live, men and women, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.

Behind every number there is a name, and a life connected to others. John Donne put it so well in his No Man is an Island:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

For me and Judy, these are not numbers or statistics, they are friends, neighbors, and even family.

I am old enough to have worked as a hospital chaplain during two pandemics, and seen people die. I helped write the Army personnel policies for HIV infected personnel and worked with many so they could remain in the service back in 1987 and 1988. I worked in a homeless shelter for abysmal wages caring for those with less working for a board of 30 very well off members who didn’t value me as a person. I have been a company commander in the Army at the young age of 25 with just two years of active duty service before I took command. I have also done two combat tours, seen things most Americans have never seen, been shot at by rockets, machine guns, and small arms, all while unarmed. During this current pandemic I am essential personnel. A chaplain cannot telework. Ministry involves real contact with real people, in the flesh. This involves risks, I am almost 60, but I will take them but attempt to mitigate them in order to care for those who be they military.

The sad thing is that I will have friends and family members who will despite the overwhelming evidence downplay the situation, ignore it, or claim it to be “fake news.” Unfortunately, many will become victims of it or be the typhoid Mary’s of our day, spreading the virus without even knowing they have it.

Ignorance and negligence carry a heavy human price. As stupid and senseless as it may be to some, I have to speak out. As Sophie Scholl, who died as a peaceful resistance leader at the hands of the Nazis when she was just twenty-two years old wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Nothing is safe now. The fantasy world that we lived in since the fall of the Berlin Wall is over. Pandemics and economic crashes are real, as is the potential for military conflict over areas of vast natural resources, and regions where ancient racial and religious scores are still aching to be settled.

Those are unpleasant facts, and until a vaccine is available that can treat the disease, we have to flatten the rate of infection, and the best way to do that is to  practice appropriate levels of  social distancing. The includes attempting to maintain a six foot separation, no hand shaking, and not going to work if you are sick. Actions taken by various, state, county, and local governments, include closing schools and universities and moving to online education, canceling large festivals, shows, and sporting events, and the voluntary shutting down of professional sports leagues, and prestigious tournaments. In response to these measures many restaurants, hotels, and entertainment centers have had to shut down, or limit services.

We were in a locally owned restaurant with a bar tonight when police entered the establishment to make sure that it was observing the state set number of no more than ten patrons inside. The manager on duty was warned and the three or four excess patrons, most who had been there a long time paid up and left. Once the people left the restaurant, the manager locked the door to ensure that no excess people would enter without a corresponding number leaving. The penalty after the warning would have been a $5,000 fine. The place will either set strict limits and hire security to enforce it, or shift to take out.

As we drove around our Town Center, all the major restaurants were closed. They cannot remain open except for take outs or delivery. Many other restaurants that depend on the volume of customers to make a profit are closed. In our area alone thousands of restaurant employees have been laid off. Likewise, movie theaters, museums, zoos, and concert venues shut down. Outside of our area both GM and Ford have shut down their American assembly plants, laying off thousands of workers, airlines have cut back the number of flights and at least one has shut down all of its overseas services. On Sunday I drove by a local mega church which had empty parking lots because they were being responsible and cancelled their services. That was a strange sight.

With people losing their jobs at such a rapid rate there is a likelihood that the rising real estate market could also suffer price devaluation, and while HUD has banned evictions or foreclosures until the end of April, the market could crash as it did in 2008.

As the disease begins to impact the military, infect service members, their families, and our Civilian Workers, it will degrade readiness. Important exercise with allies have already been cancelled, and soon deployments could be impacted, even if military action is required. Transfers are all now on hold, temporarily duty for schools, command visits, inspections, and other operations are now suspended unless they have a direct impact on combat operations. The movement of trainees to their new duty stations or technical schools is now suspended. New recruits cannot go into training and within weeks the effects will be felt throughout the military.

The President called this a wartime situation. If it really is he should declare a Stop Loss to keep as many military personnel ready in case of conflict. Worldwide economic crises often trigger insanely violent nationalistic movements, and subsequent wars. The possibility of that becomes greater as countries become unstable, and local conflicts could quickly become regional conflicts involving open, and undeclared enemies of the United States attacking our friends, allies, and vital interests in the world, which include natural resources not available in the United States, and yes, those include materials used in products that we all depend on.

I started this last night but was too tired to finish it. Hopefully this will help my readers better understand the very real impact that this virus will have on our society. It knows no class, profession, religion, ethnic, political, or racial division. A lot of people will be infected, and many will die. By the time it passes it will probably impact every one of us, if not directly, but because of it sickening and killing relatives and friends, or impacting our personal lives in terms of employment, earnings, and maybe even how we live.

I do a lot of listening, and I hear a lot of conspiracy theories spouted by people who know nothing of this virus, nothing of the powers of local, state and the Federal government in time of national emergency that it is useless to try to convince them that they are wrong.  Most of the time I I listen but don’t comment because I realize that it won’t do any good.

But I am done for tonight. I could write a lot more, and probably will do weekly updates on this crisis.

So until tomorrow, be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, Foreign Policy, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, natural disasters, Navy Ships, Political Commentary, state government agencies, us army, US Navy

For Whom the Bell Tolls: It Tolls for the Dead we Honor this Weekend

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The Poet John Donne wrote:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

Today my base remembered the 94 men and women who deployed from here after September 11th 2001 who did not return. My role was purely advisory this year, unlike past years where I have been deeply involved in the service. The chaplain I assigned to coordinate this ceremony in conjunction with our base command triad, our Public Affairs Officer, and the tenant units did a remarkable job. Chaplain Charlie Mallie did a hell of a job herding cats and pulling off a flawless ceremony. I know, because nearly every day for the last two weeks I went to his office and let him vent. Honestly, I think he did better than I did the last two years.

Our ceremony involved tolling the bell for each of the 94 men and women as their names were read and their pictures shown. I knew, served, or trained with a decent number of these men and women. As I remembered them, I remembered other comrades who have sacrificed their lives in this forever war, and those who died of wounds or ended their lives after returning from war. Those names and faces are forever with me. They are my brothers and sisters.

It is hard to believe that I had been in the military 20 years when it began. I have a nephew who is within a few weeks of graduating from Marine Corps boot camp who was less than a year old when it began. He’s a hard charger, I got a letter from him today, he is so motivated to excel, he wants to be the best. He’ll be a great Marine and I am proud of him. I can see the growth in him since he first reported. I only pray that any future Commander in Chief will be worthy of him, obviously the current one won’t, and I pray that Trump will not send us into even worse wars, wars that my nephew might might have to fight, and could conceivably be kept on active duty to support. I don’t have to walk well to make notifications to families.

As for Trump and his acolytes I only can echo the words of Ernest Hemingway wrote in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls:

There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.

As for me, I found out officially that I won’t retire until next year in order to get my medical issues resolved. I am glad for that. I do want to finish up strong, but I digress…

Memorial Day is not about those who currently serve, or those who have left the service and still live. It is about those who for whom today the bell tolled, 94 from our base and about 7,000 others, not counting those who died after they left the service, of which there are far too many.

It is also for all of those who died in all the wars since the American Revolution. This is about them. Thank them, not me, and certain do not thank President Trump if he chooses to pardon convicted and accused war criminals this weekend, something that will forever stain the reputation of the American military, and will lead to worse, but again I digress, I cannot imagine a U.S. President pardoning convicted war criminals, but President Trump is special.

When I went do do my aquatic physical therapy this week, I parked in the hospital’s main parking garage and walked through the old cemetery on the hospital grounds. It is the resting place of American Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, some Confederates, Russians, Germans, British, and sailors from other countries, quite a few unknown. It is humbling to walk through such a place. It is hollowed ground, and it is a place to remember and put things in perspective.

For most people this Memorial Day will be a weekend of ball games and barbecues, parties and platitudes, but honestly, it is for them for whom the bell tolls and Taps blows. But remember for whom the bell tolls this weekend, I know that it tolls for all those who died, it tolls for the known and the unknown.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, life, Military, Political Commentary, remembering friends, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, war crimes, War on Terrorism

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, leadership, life, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

The Day After Veteran’s Day

american cemetery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is the day after Veteran’s Day and I still am in a reflective mood about it. Of course if there were no war, if war had become a thing of the past, a sad chapter in the course of human history, the day would be less personal. It would simply be a day where people looked back in time possibly honoring ancestors, but not to their left or right, remembering their family members, friends, and neighbors who fight the wars that most people avoid. Herman Wouk, in his classic novel War and Remembrance wrote:

“In the glare, the great and terrible light of this happening, God seems to signal that the story of the rest of us need not end, and that the new light can prove a troubled dawn. 

For the rest of us, perhaps. Not for the dead, not for the more than fifty million real dead in the world’s worst catastrophe: victors and vanquished, combatants and civilians, people of so many nations, men, women, and children, all cut down. For them there can be no new earthly dawn. Yet thought their bones like in the darkness of the grave, they will not have died in vain, if their remembrance can lead us from the long, long time of war to the time for peace.”

The First World War was supposed to be the war to end all war, instead became war to end all peace. That war ended at the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, and the eleventh day of 1918. However, the subsequent turmoil after that first “Armistice Day” which ended the fighting of the First World War, has birthed war without end. The Treaty of Versailles and the Sykes-Picot agreement ensured that war would be part of the last century and will be a part of life for the foreseeable future. Agatha Christie, the great English author who served as a volunteer nurse in the First World War, wrote, “One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.”

General Robert E. Lee wrote his wife Mary Custis Lee in 1864 as the bloodshed of the Civil War came to a climax, “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

As I noted, Veteran’s Day 2015 is over but I have not stopped reflecting on war and its cost. Having served in combat myself, and having stood over the wounded in field hospitals in Iraq and having seen the devastation of war up close and personal I have a hard time reducing war to the technology, the tactics and trivia that seem to satisfy the consumers of war porn. Call me whatever you want but I cannot get around the human cost of war. William Tecumseh Sherman reflected, “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” 

One of my favorite historians of the Second World War, Cornelius Ryan who wrote the magnificent accounts of D-Day, The Longest Day, Operation Market Garden, A Bridge Too Far, and the Battle of Berlin, The Last Battle said about his accounts: “What I write about is not war but the courage of man.” I think that writing about courage is appropriate and I do a lot of that. But I think in addition to courage that we also must write about the frailty and fallibility of human beings, especially the leaders who plan and conduct war, as well as the ordinary men and women who serve during war.

When I teach or write about military history I find it important to make sure that the people who made that history are not forgotten.  After all, as the British military theorist Colin Gray says, “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, especially in the matter of war. He is right of course; people are the one constant in war. Weapons and tactics may change, but people do not.

Likewise we cannot forget that war, even wars for the most excruciatingly correct and even righteous reasons are always tragic. The cost of war, even so called “good wars” is devastating. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” To the war porn addicts the words of Sherman or Hemingway surely are offensive, but they provide a necessary warning to the politicians, pundits and preachers who cannot get enough war to satiate their bloodlust and need for power. Sadly, most of the men and women who revel in war without end have neither served in combat or have any skin in the game regarding the wars that they support and those which they work so hard to bring about. Maybe if they did then they would not be so quick to send young men and women to war.

Those who follow me on this site know that I write about war a lot, some might say too much, but I cannot help that. My life has been forever changed by war.  If you look back through my archives you can see how my writing has evolved when it comes to dealing with war and part of that is because I do not want the sacrifices of the men and women who fought those wars to be forgotten or cheapened by a society which from the very beginning of our history has done so. Lieutenant General Hal Moore who co-authored the book “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young” wrote: “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publicly questioned.” By continuing to write and teach I hope to ensure that this does not happen. Maybe I am “pissing into the wind,” but I cannot stand by silently and pretend that war can be glamorized and glorified for the benefit people who never serve.

I am a combat veteran, I have seen the devastation of war, I have lost friends in war, men and women who did not come home. I have seen other friends struggle in the aftermath of war, and I have seen some lose that struggle. Because I am a military historian as well as a priest, I feel a sacred duty to ensure that people know the real cost of war.

I do this in my official capacity teaching ethics and leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride for the Staff College where I have the honor to serve as faculty. This itself is interesting as I am spending the final few years of a three and a half decade military career teaching the men and women who in not too long of time will be our nation’s senior military leaders. That is a responsibility that I take most seriously. Thus I always, whether it is in teaching the ethics of war, or about the Battle of Gettysburg I attempt to impress this on my students. I preach from day one to every class that their decisions in the planning process, their recommendations to senior political and military leaders, and their decisions on the battlefield impact real people, their soldiers, the people in the lands that they fight and on the home front.

I have been writing a text for the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which I believe, will eventually become at least two and maybe more books. I tie a lot of biographic material in with the text, again in order to make what could be a dry and mechanical affair more real to my students and readers. That is one of the reasons that I find going to Gettysburg and walking that hallowed ground so important.

I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layered and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about far more fascinating. By not denying their humanity, by understanding and appreciating their flaws, even the flaws in their character, I gain a more holistic perspective and develop a greater appreciation and empathy for them and a deeper understanding of my own flaws. As T.E. Lawrence wrote, “Immorality, I know. Immortality, I cannot judge.” 

The complex and contradictory nature of humanity leads to a lot of confusion for people who see the world through the black and white lens of cosmic dualism where there is only good and evil and “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.”  Human nature shows us that things are much more complex, nuanced and blurry, there are far more than fifty shades of gray when it comes to humanity and the participation of men and women in war.

Because of this otherwise good and honorable people can find themselves for any number of reasons, fighting for an evil cause, while people who are more evil than good can end up fighting for a good cause. Now if you are one of those people who are trapped by an absolute ideological or religious certitude that cannot allow for such contradictions, that statement may confuse or even offend you. For that I do not apologize and I hope that you are offended enough to face the truth, for that is the human condition, and that my friends is what history, and especially that dealing with the most destructive and consequential issues involving humanity must deal with.

So I will continue to write about war and try in the process to humanize it for my readers and to tell the stories of the tragedy that is war in such a way that even those who have not been to war, can imagine it and in doing so make wise decisions if they are to send other people’s children to fight their wars. The subject is far too important to be left to the purveyors of war porn who seek to satiate the bloodlust of others. Thus I write to ensure people remember, so that those who do not know war will never have to experience it.

As for the form of my writing, I am becoming much more deliberate in trying to craft the story. Barbara Tuchman wrote something that I am now beginning to appreciate as I write my own book on Gettysburg and the Civil War, and other works that I plan on writing, “I have always felt like an artist when I work on a book. I see no reason why the word should always be confined to writers of fiction and poetry.” 

Anyway, that is all for today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Writing About War

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“What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.” Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife 1864

Memorial Day weekend is over but I have not stopped reflecting on war and its cost. Having served in combat myself, and having stood over the wounded in field hospitals in Iraq and having seen the devastation of war up close and personal I have a hard time reducing war to the technology, the tactics and trivia that seem to satisfy the consumers of war porn. Call me whatever you want but I cannot get around the human cost of war. William Tecumseh Sherman reflected that “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” 

One of my favorite historians of the Second World War, Cornelius Ryan who wrote the magnificent accounts of D-Day, The Longest Day, Operation Market Garden, A Bridge Too Far, and the Battle of Berlin, The Last Battle said about his accounts: “What I write about is not war but the courage of man.” I think that writing about courage is appropriate and I do a lot of that. But I think in addition to courage that we also must write about the frailty and fallibility of human beings, especially the leaders who plan and conduct war.

When I teach or write about military history I find it important to make sure that the people who made that history are not forgotten.  After all, as the British military theorist Colin Gray says “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, especially in the matter of war. He is right of course, people are the one constant in war. Weapons and tactics may change, but people do not. 

Likewise we cannot forget that war, even wars for the most excruciatingly correct and even righteous reasons are always tragic. The cost of war, even so called “good wars” is devastating. Ernest Hemingway wrote “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” To the war porn addicts the words of Sherman or Hemingway surely are offensive, but they provide a necessary warning to the politicians, pundits and preachers who cannot get enough war to satiate their bloodlust and need for power. Sadly, most of the men and women who revel in war without end have neither served in combat or have any skin in the game regarding the wars that they support and those which they work so hard to bring about. Maybe if they did then they would not be so quick to send young men and women to war.

Those who follow me on this site know that I write about war a lot, some might say too much, but I cannot help that. My life has been forever changed by war.  If you look back through my archives you can see how my writing has evolved when it comes to dealing with war and part of that is because I do not want the sacrifices of the men and women who fought those wars to be forgotten or cheapened by a society which from the very beginning of our history has done so. Lieutenant General Hal Moore who co-authored the book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young wrote: “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publicly questioned.” By continuing to write and teach I hope to ensure that this does not happen. Maybe I am pissing into the wind so to speak, but I cannot stand by silently.

I am a combat veteran, I have seen the devastation of war, I have lost friends in war, men and women who did not come home. I have seen other friends struggle in the aftermath of war, and I have seen some lose that struggle. Because I am a military historian as well as a priest and I have a sacred duty to ensure that people know the real cost of war.

I do this in my official capacity teaching ethics and leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride for the Staff College where I have the honor to serve as faculty.This itself is interesting as I am spending the final few years of a three and a half decade military career teaching the men and women who in not too long of time will be our nation’s senior military leaders. That is a responsibility that I take most seriously. Thus I always, whether it is in teaching the ethics of war, or about the Battle of Gettysburg I attempt to impress this on my students. I preach from day one to every class that their decisions in the planning process, their recommendations to senior political and military leaders, and their decisions on the battlefield impact real people, their soldiers, the people in the lands that they fight and on the home front. 

I have been writing a text for the Gettysburg Staff Ride which I believe will eventually become at least two and maybe more books. I tie a lot of biographic material in with the text, again in order to make what could be a dry and mechanical affair more real to my students and readers. That is one of the reasons that I find going to Gettysburg and walking that hallowed ground so important.

I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layered and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about far more more fascinating. By not denying their humanity, by understanding and appreciating their flaws, even the flaws in their character, I gain a more holistic perspective and develop a greater appreciation and empathy for them and a deeper understanding of my own flaws. As T.E. Lawrence wrote “Immorality, I know. Immortality, I cannot judge.” 

The complex and contradictory nature of humanity leads to a lot of confusion for people who see the world through the black and white lens of cosmic dualism where there is only good and evil and “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.”  Human nature shows us that things are much more complex, nuanced and blurry, there are far more than fifty shades of gray when it comes to humanity and the participation of men and women in war.

Because of this otherwise good and honorable people can find themselves for any number of reasons, fighting for an evil cause, while people who are more evil than good can end up fighting for a good cause. Now if you are one of those people who are trapped by an absolute ideological or religious certitude which cannot allow for such contradictions, that statement may confuse or even offend you. For that I do not apologize and I hope that you are offended enough to face the truth, for that is the human condition, and that my friends is what history, and especially that dealing with the most destructive and consequential issues involving humanity must deal with.

Over the weekend I did a series on this site about the tragedy of the British Battlecruiser HMS Hood and the German Battleship Bismarck which transpired over the course of a week in May 1941. In that week the two largest and most powerful warships of their day were sunk taking over 3600 of the roughly 3750 sailors aboard to a watery grave in the North Atlantic. While doing this I had the opportunity to go aboard the USS Wisconsin here in Norfolk, a ship that is roughly the same size of those two doomed warships. As I walked the passageways surrounded by massive armor plating It helped me, a sailor who has served aboard a modern Guided Missile Cruiser and other warships to appreciate the life and death of the sailors on those ships. I thought of the Hood’s who with the exception of three sailors being annihilated as the massive ship exploded, and then I thought about the crew of the Bismarck who had nearly half a day to contemplate their end before the British shells turned their ship into a funeral pyre.

So I will continue to write about war and try in the process to humanize it for my readers and to tell the stories of the tragedy that is war in such a way that even those who have not been to war, can imagine it and in doing so make wise decisions if they are to send other people’s children to fight their wars. The subject is far too important to be left to the purveyors of war porn who seek to satiate the bloodlust of others.

As for the form of my writing, I am becoming much more deliberate in trying to craft the story. Barbara Tuchman wrote something that I am now beginning to appreciate as I write my own book on Gettysburg and the Civil War: “I have always felt like an artist when I work on a book. I see no reason why the word should always be confined to writers of fiction and poetry.”

Anyway, that is all for tonight. Over the coming week I should be putting out my next chapter revision to my Gettysburg text and some other articles.

I wish you all the best.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, philosophy

The Home Opener: Images of Opening Night at Harbor Park

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“A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.” — Yogi Berra

It is the day that I have waited for since the last September, baseball returned in the form of Opening Day at Norfolk’s Harbor Park. Major League Opening Day is always great, especially if you live near enough to a Major League club to attend. For many of us we have to wait for Opening Day at one of the Minor League ballparks. In Norfolk our Norfolk Tides are the AAA level affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

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This evening the Tides hosted the Charlotte Knights, the AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The Tides fell to the Knights by a score of 3-0. Of course wanted the Tides to win but more important for me was the fact that I was back in my refuge with the people that I have gotten to know each season for the last ten years.

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For me there is something amazing about a ball game. In a way Norfolk’s Harbor Park for me is like Hemingway’s A Clean Well-Lighted Place. I fully understand the feelings of the older waiter in that short but poignant story of life, meaning and a place of refuge. As Sharon Olds wrote: “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

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So today with contractors still banging around the house I give you these images from my place of refuge.

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Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, norfolk tides