Tag Archives: fidel castro

When Despots Gain Power


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have returned home from my vacation in time to spend some time relaxing over the Labor Day weekend while hopefully dodging the worst of what will be Tropical Storm Hermine. I am going to be writing a number of articles as well as pictures from our time in Huntington, West Virginia this weekend, articles that will deal with history, art and culture, as well as social and political commentary. 

Yesterday I posted a short article about how despots come to power referencing the words of British military historian B.H. Liddell-Hart in his book Why Don’t We Learn from History?  Since I gave a brief introduction to that work yesterday I will not repeat the introduction. Instead I will go to the second part of how he described despots, or what we commonly call dictators today. 

Yesterday I briefly discussed Liddell-Hart’s understanding of the important differences between democracy and dictatorship and why despite all the inefficiency of the former that it is infinitely preferable to the latter or for that matter any other form of government. 

Since I left off and let you my friends and readers meditate on how despots come to power, I will now finish with what Liddell-Hart said about what happens after a despot takes power. He is right of course. Since the French Revolution we can look to Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, three generations of North Korean Kims, Mussolini, Ceausescu, Pol Pot, the Castros, Pinocet, Mugabe, not to mention the multitude of other despots of the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, but I digress. 

Liddell-Hart wrote:

We learn from history that time does little to alter the psychology of dictatorship. The effect of power on the mind of the man who possesses it, especially when he has gained it by successful aggression, tends to be remarkably similar in every age and in every country.

Yesterday I asked you my readers to compare what Liddell-Hart said about how despots come to power and think about how what he said is evidenced in the campaign of Donald Trump. So that being said, Liddell-Hart noted that once a despot achieves power that their reign is marked by the following types of events:

On gaining power: 

They soon begin to rid themselves of their chief helpers, “discovering” that those who brought about the new order have suddenly become traitors to it. 

They suppress criticism on one pretext or another and punish anyone who mentions facts which, however true, are unfavourable to their policy. They enlist religion on their side, if possible, or, if its leaders are not compliant, foster a new kind of religion subservient to their ends. 

They spend public money lavishly on material works of a striking kind, in compensation for the freedom of spirit and thought of which they have robbed the public. 

They manipulate the currency to make the economic position of the state appear better than it is in reality. 

They ultimately make war on some other state as a means of diverting attention from internal conditions and allowing discontent to explode outward. 

They use the rallying cry of patriotism as a means of riveting the chains of their personal authority more firmly on the people. 

They expand the superstructure of the state while undermining its foundations by breeding sycophants at the expense of self-respecting collaborators, by appealing to the popular taste for the grandiose and sensational instead of true values, and by fostering a romantic instead of a realistic view, thus ensuring the ultimate collapse, under their successors if not themselves, of what they have created. 

This political confidence trick, itself a familiar string of tricks, has been repeated all down the ages. Yet it rarely fails to take in a fresh generation.

Now pause for a moment. Donald Trump has not been elected to anything, but compare his business career and current political campaign rhetoric to Liddell-Hart’s words about despots in power. And since I am tired I will leave you to contemplate Liddell-Hart’s words from a half-century ago and imagine a Trump presidency. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Barak Obama and the Beginning of the End of the Castro Regime

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In 1961 the Kennedy administration imposed a diplomatic and economic embargo on the nascent Castro regime in Cuba. At the time with the Cold War going full steam ahead the decision seemed logical and appropriate. Never mid the fact that decades of American policy which favored the Bautista dictatorship, the economic interests of American corporations and did nothing to help Cuba’s poor had helped bring about Castro’s rule. Likewise never mind the fact that Americans using Cuban mercenaries only pushed Castro further into Soviet orbit with the Bay of Pigs invasion.

But following the Cuba missile crisis the embargo and diplomatic isolation remained in place. However, in 1972 President Richard Nixon brokered a deal of detente with the Soviet Union, a superpower that was an existential threat to the United States, as well as Mao Tse Tung’s Communist China, a power that we had fought to a standstill in Korea, and which had just a few years before embarked on its “cultural revolution” one of the bloodiest and ruthless events of the twentieth century.

Nixon was a diplomatic genius who was not so wedded to his own extremely anti-Communist ideology not to recognize when a moment to change history was in the offing. Otto Von Bismarck noted that “The statesman’s task is to hear God’s footsteps marching through history and then to try to catch onto his coattails as He marches past.”

Bismarck was right and both Nixon and Obama heard the footsteps of God in terms of diplomacy and foreign relations. Sadly very few ideologues, like Senator Marco Rubio ever get this nuance and would rather maintain a failed policy that neither benefits the United States or the Cuban people, but which is one of the few things that have kept the Castro brothers in business long after most Communist regimes ended up on the ash-heap of history.

The amazing thing is that the polices of Richard Nixon regarding the Soviet Union and China had dramatic and positive effects that his successors, be they Republican or Democrat really did not grasp. Instead, when the Iron curtain came down we in the west did all that we could to humiliate the former USSR and brought about the bellicose dictator by another name Vladimir Putin. Likewise we failed to understand the pragmatic and nationalistic nature of the Chinese Communist regime that was brought about by Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping. In both cases our failure to grasp the reality of our former opponents created new adversaries.

But such was not the case with Cuba. Cuba was different, especially after the Cold War ended. Despite our differences Cuba and the United States should have been able to overcome the effects of Castro’s seizure of power and brokered an understanding. Yes Castro was and is a Communist, but that, even during the Cold War did not prevent effective diplomacy with other Communist states such as Tito’s Yugoslavia, a country that had there been a conflict between the Soviet Union and NATO that might have well sided with the west. But with Cuba there was no nuance. Castro was the enemy.

The irony was that in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s it was Cuban soldiers that protected U.S. based oil company refineries, installations and American personnel in Angola against CIA sponsored insurgents.

The American economic embargo has been a failure for decades. This was even more the case after after the fall of the Soviet Union when our allies in South and Central America and Europe realized that Cuba was no longer a threat and refused to support our embargo, rendering it impotent, except in the domestic politics of South Florida. Only fools believe that continuing it will change Cuba. The economic and diplomatic isolation has been going on for 53 years, 23 of them after the fall of the Iron curtain, and it has failed. Fools like Marco Rubio who even before President Obama made his announcement was at a microphone condemning the decision. But then Marco Rubio is both an ideologue who basks in his status of being a victim of the dying Castro regime.

The arguments of Rubio and the other partisan flacks in the American domestic political scene for maintaining the economic embargo and diplomatic isolation are not only short sighted and play to their own local political constituency, but they work against the United States in trying to achieve a responsible and workable solution to the impasse that has poisoned Cuban-American relations for six decades.

The fact is, despite the protestation of Rubio and others we deal with a lot more unsavory characters than the Castros. Yes, they are thugs. Yes they run a police state with few freedoms and where religious liberty is not protected, but they didn’t support Al Qaida like some of our closest allies in the Middle East did, they never near sank a U.S. Navy ship like Israel did in the six day war, and they didn’t kill or wound tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel like the Chinese did when they intervened in the Korea War. From a terrorist or real military threat to U.S. National Security interests the Cubans are minor leaguers and their leaders know that.

President Obama has brought about a political and diplomatic coup in Cuban-America relations, and for now on there will be no going back. Maybe now the United States and Cuba will be able to fulfill our common destinies to work together for the betterment of our hemisphere and world.

Of course for taking this long overdue action, something that either President Bush or President Clinton should have done years ago is now being called a traitor and worse by his domestic political opponents. However, like Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis realized, the time has come for change in our relationship.

This is a historic day and a decision that was long overdue. It is a watershed, and even if the Congress refuses to lift the economic aspects, things in Cuba will change. Freedom will come and soon Cubans and Americans will finally have the chance to build a constructive and positive relationship that helps both peoples.

I have stood at the Northeast Gate of Guantanamo Bay, I have looked over the fence line at Cuba, and I pray that one day I will see the rest of that country.

This is a good night… And as a side note it will be great for baseball. Just imagine the course of history had Fidel Castro been drafted by the Yankees in the early 1950s. Hell he might be the President of the America League by now and he might not have agreed with the designated hitter rule.

But that being sad, Barak Obama should be getting the accolades given to  Nixon, and later Ronald Reagan when he dealt with Gorbachev in 1986 and 1987. This is a watershed and it will change Cuban-American relations for the better, and help the Cuban people. This is a win for the good guys, and even more importantly it will be a win for baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Home Opener and thoughts on Rick, Ozzie and George

“Baseball is a harbor, a seclusion from failure that really matters, a playful utopia in which virtuosity can be savored to the third decimal place of a batting average.”  ~Mark Kramer

Last night I went to see the home opener of the Norfolk Tides as has been my tradition since 2004.  It was a beautiful night for a ball game and my friend Dennis was gracious to invite me to sit with him in his season ticket section. It was a nice night and good company with a fellow veteran. There is camaraderie among veterans and others who have served in harm’s way, a camaraderie that recognizes reality in a way that most of the rest of society does not. I think that it a testament to the different worlds that the military and those that serve with us in harm’s way and the rest of society live in.

There is something about the ball park that does me good and helps bring a certain peace to my soul.  It has been this way more than ever since I returned from Iraq. While I can relax wonderfully with a ball game on television or radio there is nothing like being less than 50 feet from the playing field and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the ballpark.  I know others that find the same peace in  this setting a sense of safety and normalcy that we don’t find many other places.

The ball park is still one of the few places that I don’t find crowds of people intimidating or that send me into a state of hyper-vigilance, that is reserved for malls, Wal-Mart and other big retail venues as well as big churches.  I guess that is part of what makes going to the ball park so refreshing, I feel safe there.  But like all things ball games must end and we have to re-enter the “real” world.

But venturing back to the real world today I caught some news on the radio as I switched between ESPN regular news outlets while driving back to North Carolina.

First up was the news of Rick Santorum, the un-Mormon Anti-Mitt from the Republican Presidential primary campaign.  His campaign had struggled during the past few weeks following his Southern sweep.  At the beginning of the primary season he was probably considered the most likely to be one of the first out. But his worked hard and was tenacious taking the fight to Romney. Had other conservatives like Newt Gingrich left the race Santorum might have won more primaries and really made Romney’s life a living hell. However Santorum did not have the campaign organization or financial wherewithal to withstand Romney’s negative campaign ad carpet bombing blitz.  He also probably lost some support by getting too deep into the contraception debate and away from the compelling blue collar story of his family.  I found it interesting that he did not utter Romney’s name during his speech and wonder what this says about the depth of support that his more Evangelical Christian Social Conservative supporters will give Romney in the fall. My guess is that they are not thrilled with Romney and will likely do little or nothing to help him so Santorum or another like him can take the nomination in 2016 and not have to face an incumbent President.

Then there was Ozzie Guillen being suspended for his really stupid comment that “he loved Fidel Castro.” Not a good thing when you are the Manager of the Miami Marlins and call Little Havana your home.  It was as stupid as if you were the non-Jewish manager of a major Soccer team in Tel Aviv Israel and said the you just loved Hitler. Not smart. Now Ozzie who is known for his colorful off the cuff comments is having to try to make right with a Cuban community which is central to the life of South Florida many of whom are a generation or less removed from Castro’s persecution of political or other opponents. I know a lot of Cubans who have fled or been driven out of their homeland. I have been to the Northeast Gate at Guantanamo Bay which is kind of like the old Berlin Wall.  Now I like Ozzie and I think that he had the self awareness to realize that he screwed up royally and that his contrition is probably genuine. That being said he is going to have some rough times in Miami and in the end he better turn out a winner and find a way to become linked to an anti-Castro plot while he is doing so.

Finally the lawyers that were representing, advising or just helping George Zimmerman the man who killed a teenager named Trayvon Martin a month and a half ago quit. They held a nationally televised news conference to say that they have lost contact with Zimmerman, alluded that Zimmerman is no longer in Florida and that Zimmerman had done a number of things including talking to the Special Prosecutor office and Fox News host Sean Hannity about the case without counsel. This brought them to drop him as a client. Meanwhile the Special Prosecutor announced that she is going make a statement with more information regarding the case within the next 72 hours. My guess is that this will not be good news for Zimmerman. The only thing I can say about this is that Zimmerman must be stupid to disregard to counsel of his legal advisors. Who knows, maybe Zimmerman is on his way to Cuba?

Anyway, tonight is baseball on the MLB Channel and on my laptop with Molly my faithful dog at my side here at the Island Hermitage.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Commie Trifecta

Once upon a time there was something called the Cold War.  It was rather frosty, even in the sub-tropical paradise of Cuba.  During the Cold War the Soviet Union aka Russia led what was called the Warsaw Pact in a global conflict of world domination against the United States and it’s Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as NATO.  Both sides had minor surrogates around the world.

During the Cold War there were several places where the United States had forces face to face with the Soviet Union and its Allies. The most prominent of these were Berlin where the Berlin Wall surrounded West Berlin keeping its prosperous citizens from the great deals to be found on the East German economy and the East Germans out of the decadent West.

The Wall Comes Down

In the far east the United States and its South Korean ally faced the DRNK or the Democratic Republic of Nutso Korea headed by a man named Kim who would pass the leadership of the DRNK to his son who also is named Kim.  I think that the second Kim was named after Kim Novak but this is just a rumor started by the CIA to attempt to undermine the DRNK.  The demarcation line was that of the Armistice line of the Korean War located  in the general vicinity of the 38th parallel.  This remains one of the most heavily fortified locations in the world.

The final point of direct contact was in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay where failed baseball prospect Fidel Castro took his revenge on Major League Baseball by taking over Cuba, allying himself with the Soviet Union.  He almost helped start a thermonuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  After this Castro isolated Cuba from the Major Leagues and prevented them from having access to his star baseball players, except for defectors.

Padre Steve at the Brandenburg Gate on the East Side of the Berlin Wall

To have served in the US Military at all three flash points was nearly impossible akin winning Major League Baseball’s hitting “triple crown.”  By this I don’t just mean the American or National League crown but the entire league.  The last player to do this was Mickey Mantle in 1956 who hit .356 with 52 home runs and 130 in a mere 154 games.  I refer to the feat of serving at all three locations as accomplishing the Commie Trifecta.

PT on the Korean DMZ

To do this now is an accomplishment because you had to be serving in the military in Germany before the Soviet Union went Tango Uniform and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  Thus it is an accomplishment that few can attain unless they enter an alternate time line were the the Soviet Union survives.

On the North Korean Side of the Armistice Line

However Padre Steve has accomplished this feat.  Back in November 1986 he and the Abbess made the trip from West Germany along the Helmstedt corridor to West Berlin and then through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin.  12 years passed and Padre Steve was now in the Navy serving with the the 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in Korea from February through April of 2001.  Part of this involved camping out at Warrior Base a mere 800 meters from the South side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.  Serenaded by nightly musical serenades and inspiring messages approved by the boy named Kim we trained and also got a tour of the Armistice village of Panmunjom where in the conference room guarded by really tall and scary looking South Korean Soldiers one can actually cross over the to North Korean side of the room.  I would also do PT along the DMZ carefully avoiding anywhere marked “mines.”

Overlooking Commie Cuba from Leeward

The third portion of the Commie Trifecta was in November 2003 while assigned to the Marine Security Forces who manned the Colonel Nathan R Jessup Memorial Fence Line which separates the Guantanamo Naval Station from Communist Cuba.

This makes Padre Steve a relic albeit one who has been around long enough to get to do the Commie Trifecta. That friends is is way cool.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Interns and Residents Graduate while New Ones Arrive; Save #500 for Mariano Rivera and I Know Why the North Koreans are So Belligerent…They Don’t Have Baseball!

Well. I got back to work today and I’m glad to be back.  The trip to DC was really nice.  Having duty the first day back well, what can I say?  Tonight has been very busy but not too sporty yet, although I am wondering as the night has a weird feel, which a resident that I have worked with a lot feels too.  Hopefully we are just paranoid.  I wrote this at my dinner break and thankfully I picked relatively uncomplicated things to write about tonight, I had it done by the time the cardiac response pager went off following some meetings and early rounds and patient visits.  It’s about 2300 and I am just now sitting down to finish this prologue.

Today we graduated our Intern Class.  I have gotten to know a good number of these young physicians during the past year during their ICU rotation as well as when I have been on call throughout the house.  It was a privilege to be at the graduation at the invitation of the class leadership as I had been with them on their Dining Out back in April.  To have one more time with them before they go on to residency, the Fleet Marine Force or Sea Billets as General Medical Officers or Surgeons, as well as those selected to become Flight Surgeons or Diving Medical Officers assigned to Special Operations, Diving or EOD units was really nice.  Having spent a lot of time with many on the ICU I see the toll that the internship places on them and their families.  These young physicians have done well and will serve our Sailors and Marines, as well as Soldiers and Airmen and their families well.  Some will remain to complete residencies of various types and lengths, while those who do not initially get a residency will likely be on the front line of caring for our servicemen and women in harm’s way or on medical and humanitarian missions.  Some will end up with the Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan and others serve as the “Doctor” for a ship or Marine battalion often far from any immediate back up or specialty care.  I wish all of them the best.  We have also had residents leave us for new horizons.  Some will be going on to advanced fellowships while others will serve as staff physicians or surgeons throughout the world.   It has been great working with many of them in their final residency year.

While these young physicians are leaving us, we have some who will remain on as residents here or fellowships.  It will be good to continue to work with and get to know them over the coming years.  Now the fun part, we have a butt load of brand new Interns who are reporting to us as well as some Residents from other institutions or coming back from their tours in the Fleet.  I remember my time at civilian teaching hospitals where I served as a chaplain or did my residency.  Pastoral Care Residencies typically start in September or October which takes them out of the cycle that most residents or interns have in the medical community.  I hope that we will eventually have our program lined up so our new residents report the same time the physician internships and residencies begin and for our residents to have more interaction with them.  I think the latter will happen sooner than the first mentioned with things that we are in the process of instituting.  I really believe that the cross pollination of physician and pastoral care residencies will benefit both specialties as they meet at the intersections of healing, life and death, faith and spirituality.  Tonight when I have been greeting every new physician I see and introducing myself to them.  They come from quite a few interesting places and I hope to get to know them all pretty well.

Last night was a great event.  Yankees ace reliever and “closer deluxe” Mariano Rivera notched his 500th save.  He became the second pitcher to achieve this number as he shut down the New York Mets at Citi Park.  To some this may not seem too much of an accomplishment.  After all, the relief pitcher as a specialty and development of pitchers to serve in different relief roles is a relatively new part of baseball, really only going back to the 1970s.  Of course there were relieves before, but they had a limited role as starters often would pitch complete games.  Satchel Paige was an exception when he came to the Majors from the Negro Leagues spending most of his time in a relief role, and there are a few others but the reliever was in many cases a former starter who didn’t have the juice to pitch complete games later in their careers.  Rivera is a special breed even as a reliever.  He is a closer.  This means that when he comes in he is either trying to save the victory or stave off defeat.  He has to come in at a moment’s notice in any park, weather or situation often to deal with the heart of an opponent’s batting order.  He has the 500 saves and a career 2.29 ERA.  In the World Series he has 9 saves and a 1.16 ERA.  It gets better.  In the League Championship Series that he has pitched in he has 10 saves and a 0.97 ERA and in Division Series he has 15 saves and a 0.38 ERA.  Since the playoffs tend to have the better and more competitive teams in them so these are amazing statistics.  In the playoff he has 8 wins and only one loss.  At age 39 he shows no sign of letting up.

What makes a guy like Mariano so special is first that he is nearly unhittable and his very presence on the mound gives confidence to the Yankees and sends a message to their opponents.  He will if he has any say in the matter save or win that game even if he comes in early with the bases loaded and no outs in the 8th inning.  Rivera is like a really hot ER or ICU team that has to save a life when the situation is at the worst or if not that bad where it could get sporty.  I have always admired relievers who do the job well having had to go into a number of jobs where my predecessor both as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army or Navy Chaplain was fired.  That is no fun when you have to go pick up the pieces.  Relievers make their living doing this and Rivera has to be the best reliever who has ever lived.  To top it off he is regarded as a nice guy, a leader and one of baseball’s good guys.  And last but not least Mariano was not a “bonus baby.”  He came up as an undrafted free agent.  Some Trevor Hoffman fans may argue this point but the high intensity playoff game record speaks for itself.  Nobody does it better.  Someday Jonathan Papelbon may do so for the Red Sox, but he has many years to go before he hits 500 saves.  He has the advantage of starting his Major League career as a closer and already has as of the end of 2008 114 saves and a 1.84 ERA.  He is the real deal and hopefully will remain healthy.

Finally a closing thought for the night.  I have wondered for some time just why the North Koreans can be so bellicose and ill tempered.  They are threatening to incinerate us and upset that we have moved missile interceptors to Hawaii, like hello, Hawaii is 4000 miles away from North Korea.  Needless to say the whole bunch of nations in the neighborhood is not real happy with the Dictator named Kim. The Japanese are upping their readiness, the South Koreans sending folks to the border and talking of pre-emption and even the Chicoms and Russians are not real happy.  Some sources are even saying the Nutty North Koreans may launch and ICBM in our general direction around the 4th of July.  That would not be cool.

So like I said, I was wondering about what makes the North Koreans so ill tempered.  It finally came to me last week at Harbor Park when watching the Tides play the Pawtucket Red Sox.  There were scouts from the Korean Professional Baseball league in the stands as well as Japanese scouts and American scouts.  Then it hit me.  Baseball is big in South Korea and they are getting pretty darned good in international competition.  They are so good in fact that they have won the Olympic Gold Medal and finished second in the World Baseball Classic.  In contrast the North Koreans don’t have baseball.  If they had baseball they would be able to work off all that unhealthy stress and hatred, the Yin and Yang would come back into balance.  What if Kim Jung Il had played little league and high school ball?  Who knows he might be a manager in the Korean Leagues taking out all that anger on the umpires when they make a bad call or executing his closers when they fail.  The South Koreans have been blessed by the Deity Herself with Baseball and I do believe that this has to be the difference.  Even Communist Cuba is nowhere near as nutty as North Korea and this too I attribute to Baseball and Fidel having played ball himself.   Maybe we should instead of negotiators send Baseball players, scouts and instructors to North Korea?  It just might work. Look what McDonald’s and Coke did to the former Soviet Union….

Peace, Steve+

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