Tag Archives: geneva convention

Injustice in Syria and the Impotence of the World

syria-unleashes-massive-gas-chemical-attack-on-damascus

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  Ellie Wiesel 

I do not think that any surgical strike against Syrian military forces and chemical weapons facilities by a handful of US Navy ships and submarines will stop the unrelenting bloodbath that is the Syrian Civil War. It would be nice if it would but realistically it will not.

What is going on in that country fits every definition of war crimes and crimes against humanity as defined by Nuremberg, the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the Geneva protocols of 1925 which Syria is a signatory to specifically state that “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world.” This message was strengthened in the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992, a document that 98% of the nations of the world are signatories to, although Syria  is not one of them.

There are strong moral and legal arguments to be made for intervention in Syria. Unfortunately morality and legal arguments against crimes against humanity seem to have very little weight in the world. But then they never have. It is only when nations decide that the threat extends beyond the deaths of unfortunate people that they really could not care less who lived or died, but directly threaten the economic and security interests of the great powers then the vast majority of people and nations would rather not get involved.

This is especially true after the American led coalition invaded Iraq on the basis of the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The intelligence about the threat has been widely discredited, Iraq remains devastated, Iran empowered and the United States military hamstrung by 12 years of war. The Iraq War and its aftermath, the casualties, the costs and the loss of credibility of the United States as a result of it haunt the actions of the Obama Administration and will haunt future presidencies. As Harry Callahan noted “there are always results.” 

As Barbara Tuchman so well put it: “An event of great agony is bearable only in the belief that it will bring about a better world. When it does not, as in the aftermath of another vast calamity in 1914-18, disillusion is deep and moves on to self-doubt and self-disgust.” 

That was the result of the Iraq war. Though the vast majority of Americans had no direct link to the war that was fought by a small minority of military personnel the effects linger. Our politicians, pundits and preachers talk about us being “war weary” but that really can only be applied to the tiny number of men and women who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan and in numerous other places that no one knows or cares about. I think that people are less war weary than they are apathetic to anything that they do not believe directly effects them.

Bertold Brecht wrote:

“The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread. 

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”

When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.”

That being said the consequences of a military action that not only does not destroy the Assad regime’s military capacity to kill innocents could make matters even worse than they are now, a thought that is hard to imagine. Likewise the possibilities of the action going awry  and the situation escalating and even expanding outside the borders of Syria bringing are quite high.

The arguments against intervention as far as military consequences and the low probabilities of success of surgical strikes is a strong argument for non-intervention. Realistically unless there is the participation of major military forces from many nations back by the UN, the Arab League and NATO with boots on the ground to find, secure and destroy the chemical weapons a military strike may achieve a modicum of success but most likely fail in its ultimate goal. The result would be that the situation would continue to escalate and a broader intervention ensue.

I am not happy with the way this has played out. The moral thing would have been for the UN Security Council take strong action against the Syrian regime and the world join in. However that will not happen, too many nations see this as an opportunity to advance their own agendas in the region using both the Syrian government and the rebel forces, some of which are allied with the Al Qaida organization. Some of the Syrian Rebels are as bad as Assad when it comes to indiscriminate killing of innocents and the commission of war crimes.

This week there will be votes in the Senate and House of Representatives regarding a Senate resolution for limited military action against the Assad regime requested by the Obama White House. The political posturing of many opponents as well as supporters of intervention has been nothing but shameful. In many cases it is not about actual foreign policy but on politics dictated by gerrymandered districts and the politics of mutual assured destruction. There is a good chance that the resolutions will not pass and one or both houses of Congress. However there is a strong chance that even without Congressional approval that the Obama administration will most likely attempt to do the morally right thing with inadequate means.

I am torn on this. I do think that as Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that we are at a “Munich moment.” The consequences of inaction and limited action alike are potentially disastrous. The hope of many for the Arab Spring has turned into a nightmare. The question is how bad the nightmare will get.

Honestly I cannot say what is I think should be done. I can make the case for intervention based on moral, legal and ethical grounds and I can make the case against based on realpolitik.

All that being said, for the sake of humanity echo the words of Ellie Wiesel“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, national security

Fighting a World Wide Insurgency Part Two: The changing nature of War and the Justified Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki

This is a belated follow up to my article Fighting a World Wide Insurgency: The Problem Fighting Revolutionary Terrorists and Insurgents- Part One . It deals with the killing of American born Al Qaeda cleric and propagandists Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan by U.S. Forces in Yemen.  There is controversy in the American media, body politic and among U.S. based civil rights groups such as the ACLU.  My premise is that the killing of Awlaki and Khan was justified because of their actions and because the nature of warfare itself has changed radically since the current “Law of War” contained in the Geneva and Hague conventions the U.N. Charter and other international law standards were laid down.  The were all written with the nation state in mind, not apocalyptic terrorists that recognize no borders do not differentiate between civilians and military targets and have not regard for citizenship either their own or that of others.  Alan Dershowitz the noted jurist, legal scholar and civil libertarian wrote “The great American justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr once remarked that “it is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”

Awlaki and Khan were not mere criminals they were enemy combatants and the fact that they were not on a recognizable battlefield when targeted is irrelevant.  They played games with their citizenship, never officially renouncing it even as they did everything that they could from a propaganda point of view to wage war against their country and incite others including members of the U.S. Military to kill Americans. Yes, they were combatants waging war and not “victims” of an “assassination” ordered by the President.  They knew they were at war and said so quite openly.  The provided aid and encouragement to those that killed American soldiers at FortHoodand attempted to bring down a Delta Air Lines jet on Christmas Day 2009.  Derschowitz commented on the kind of strike used to kill Awlaki and contrasted it with terrorism saying “A targeted assassination is exactly the opposite of terrorism. Terrorism is untargeted assassination — you just throw a bomb in a cafeteria and you get everybody. Targeted assassination is designed to be very precise and very specific.”

Awlaki, Khan and their fellow Al Qaeda travelers fight a different kind of war than we in the West are comfortable waging. They fight a war where they make no distinction between soldiers and civilians and do not recognize the borders of sovereign nations.  Al Qaeda has defined the battlefield and it is not confined to Iraq or Afghanistan.  Using secure bases of operations in nations that are officially our “allies,” they have been able to place themselves safely out of harm’s way until the past year while planning, training and propagandizing new recruits into their terrorist cause.

Awlaki stated his opinion succinctly about the kind of war he was waging in an interview in early 2010:

“Yes. With regard to the issue of ‘civilians,’ this term has become prevalent these days, but I prefer to use the terms employed by our jurisprudents. They classify people as either combatants or non-combatants. A combatant is someone who bears arms – even if this is a woman. Non-combatants are people who do not take part in the war. The American people in its entirety takes part in the war, because they elected this administration, and they finance this war. In the recent elections, and in the previous ones, the American people had other options, and could have elected people who did not want war. Nevertheless, these candidates got nothing but a handful of votes. We should examine this issue from the perspective of Islamic law, and this settles the issue – is it permitted or forbidden? If the heroic mujahid brother Umar Farouk could have targeted hundreds of soldiers, that would have been wonderful. But we are talking about the realities of war.” Anwar a-Awlaki comments in interview supporting attempted downing of Delta Air Lines flight on Christmas Day 2009 http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4202.htm

The United States killed two men who though technically a “citizens” were declared enemies of theUnited States. By his own words and actions Awlaki declared war against the land of his birth and the land that blessed him with an education that he used for years to encourage other Muslims, especially American Muslims to kill Americans wherever they are found.

The method of his killing appears to be by a targeted drone strike on his hide out in Yemen.  His killing has been condemned and it’s legality questioned by a good number of people including Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul.  On the surface I can see their concerns.  Any reader of this site knows that I am on the whole with very few exceptions very much a civil libertarian and some will call me a hypocrite but I am okay with that.  The fact is that I do not want our government to be engaged in activities that violate the constitutional rights of Americans anywhere in the world.  Nor do I want to see Awlaki’s killing used as precedent in killing American citizens not engaged in acts of war against the United States. Critics have contended that Awlaki had not broken the law and that his killing in a country that we are not at war with made the act an illegal assassination under the 5th Amendment while ignoring his goal of mobilizing Muslims worldwide, but especially American Muslims to kill Americans at home and abroad. However even criminal courts in the United States recognize that a person that encourages murder can be charged as an accomplice or even co-conspirator as Awlaki was to the mass murderer of Fort Hood Major Nidal Hussein.

However those that decry Awlaki’s killing ignore his words that “we have to establish an important principle: Jihad is global. It is not a local phenomenon. Jihad is not stopped by borders or barriers; they cannot stand in the way of Jihad. Jihad does not recognize the colonial borders that were made in the countries in the past that were drawn by a ruler on the map; Jihad doesn’t recognize those superficial borders.” (Chapter 3: Constants on the Path of Jihad)  The critics of Awlaki’s killing as well as that of Osama Bin Laden and other men that describe themselves as combatants in a war against the United States all encourage the killing of every American because “all Americans are guilty.”   Awlaki’s fellow “American” terrorist companion Samir Khan who was killed with him in the attack wrote “I am a traitor to America because my religion requires me to be. We pledge to wage jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our Lord as bearers of Islam.”

Dershowitz noted that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of suicide terrorists with no fear of death and no home address have rendered useless the deterrent threat of massive retaliation. This threat has been the staple of military policy since the days of the Bible. Because suicide terrorists cannot be deterred, they must be pre-empted and prevented from carrying out their threats against civilians before they occur. This change in tactics requires significant changes in the laws of war – laws that have long been premised on the deterrent model.”

Yes by law Awlaki was still an American citizen at the time of his death. Despite his many calls for the destruction of this country and the killing of its citizens he never went to an Embassy or Consulate to officially renounce his citizenship and thus was still a citizen.  The fact that Awlaki was a leader and propagandist for Al Qaeda on the order of what Josef Goebbels was to the Nazis is lost in the debate.  The uncomfortable truth is that an “American” citizen Awlaki had for all recognizable purposes renounced his citizenship, and under most historical and legal precedents in the United Statesand Europe Awlaki forfeited his rights as such.

This country has revoked the citizenship of citizens for taking up arms against this country to include all officers who left the U.S. military and former government officials that took up prominent positions in the Confederate armed services and government.  They lost their citizenship rights and all had to reaffirm their allegiance to the Union to receive pardons.  Some did not and some such as the commandant of the Andersonville prisoner of war camp were executed for their crimes against other U.S. citizens.

The fact that he hid among his family’s tribal homeland inYemenis also held out as a reason that Awliki’s killing was illegal.  However Awlaki did not recognize the borders that some say should offer him protection and in my view it is unreasonable for theUnited Statesto be bound by conditions that our adversaries do not acknowledge.

The fact is that Al Qaeda and other terror groups have redefined warfare and that many of our long held notions about the nature of war are obsolete.  Al Qaeda and other militant groups understand the concept of revolutionary warfare in ways that are distinctly uncomfortable for us in the West. We talk about counterinsurgency in Afghanistanand Iraq without realizing that the actual insurgency is worldwide and not bound by our constraints.  One of the key components of revolutionary warfare is propaganda which is exactly what Awlaki and Khan were doing.  They betrayed their country, inspired who knows how many radicals to kill Americans around the world including the infamous Major Nidal Hasan who Awlaki described as a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people…My support to the operation was because the operation brother Nidal carried out was a courageous one.”

Roger Trinquier a French officer who served in both Indo-China and Algeria recognized this method of operation in his book Modern Warfare: http://www.cgsc.edu/carl/resources/csi/trinquier/trinquier.asp:

“Warfare is now an interlocking system of actions political, economic, psychological; military that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime.  To achieve this end, the aggressor tries to exploit the internal tensions of the country attacked ideological, social, religious, economic, any conflict liable to have a profound influence on the population to be conquered.”

Unfortunately many in political and media elite as well as some civil libertarians like the ACLU are still acting if it was 1944 and there are clear lines that divide nations as well as military personal from civilians.  But for the terrorist this is not the case, Trinquier states the matter very well:

“But the case of the terrorist is quite otherwise. Not only does he carry on warfare without uniform, but he attacks, far from a field of battle, only unarmed civilians who are incapable of defending themselves and who are normally protected under the rules of warfare. Surrounded by a vast organization, which prepares his task and assists him in its execution, which assures his withdrawal and his protection, he runs practically no risks-neither that of retaliation by his victims nor that of having to appear before a court of justice. When it has been decided to kill someone sometime somewhere, with the sole purpose of terrorizing the populace and strewing a certain number of bodies along the streets of a city or on country roads, it is quite easy under existing laws to escape the police.”

Likewise the critics seem to assume that the people plotting and waging war against the United Statesand the West are poor conscripts that do not have a choice in what they are doing but they are not. Most of the leaders including Awlaki, Khan and Osama Bin Laden were the educated children of privilege as is Adam Yahiye Gadahn an American convert to Islam who like Awlaki and Khan has devoted himself to jihad against his native land. Gadahn who has been indicted on the charge of treason makes no bones about his hatred for the United Statesin a 2004 video saying “Fighting and defeating America is our first priority….” In 2009 he praised Nidal Hassan as “a pioneer, a trailblazer and a role-model who has opened a door, lit a path and shown the way forward for every Muslim who finds himself among the unbelievers.”

Yes this is an ugly conflict and it is far different than any war we have every faced. It will mean having to come to terms with methods and tactics that are effective in carrying the war to the enemy, even enemies that we have allowed to retain their citizenship even as they wage war against us.  Critics that think this war will be won or lost on the battlefields of Iraqor Afghanistanand those who condemn the killing of Awalki and Khan misunderstand the shape of warfare in the 21st century.

Trinquier and others understood this and we have to adapt if we are to defeat this world wide insurgency.  On so vast a field of action, traditional armed forces no longer enjoy their accustomed decisive role. Victory no longer depends on one battle over a given terrain. Military operations, as combat actions carried out against opposing armed forces, are of only limited importance and are never the total conflict.”

Awlaki and Khan understood what they were doing and were prepared to die to achieve their goals which they did.  I suppose that we could have risked the lives of more American troops on the ground to track them down and attempt to capture or kill them deep inside hostile territory as we did with Bin Laden.  However, such operations are so risky that they cannot be allowed to become commonplace.

Likewise even as we step up the use of drones and special operations forces and scale back in the manpower intensive theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan we must embrace the role of the media propagandizing the truth. We must define the message and not allow future Awlaki’s and Khan’s to set the narrative of the war. We must use all available media and communications technology to our advantage and not surrender that realm of operations to whomever Al Qaeda appoints to replace Alwaki and Kahn in their propaganda minister role.

It is clear that  Geneva and Hague conventions, the U.N. Charter and aspects of the U.S. Code including citizenship provisions need to be revised in light of the changing nature of war.  If they are not we will always be constrained by those rules even as terrorists use those protections as part of their overall strategy.  To counter such actions we cannot be bound by common law written at the time of Henry IV or laws that never envisioned the kind of war being waged by our enemies.  Dershowitz wrote:

“Laws must change with the times. They must adapt to new challenges. That has been the genius of the common law. Ironically, it is generally the left that seeks change in the laws, while the right is satisfied with Henry IV. Today it is many on the left who resist any changes in the law of war or human rights. They deny the reality that the war against terrorism is any way different from conventional wars of the past, or that the old laws must be adapted to the new threats. The result is often an unreasonable debate of extremes: the hard left insists that the old laws should not be tampered with in the least; the hard right insists that the old laws are entirely inapplicable to the new threats, and that democratic governments should be entirely free to do whatever it takes to combat terrorism, without regard to anachronistic laws. Both extremes are dangerous. What is needed is a new set of laws, based on the principles of the old laws of war and human rights – the protection of civilians – but adapted to the new threats against civilian victims of terrorism.” Article in “The Independent” 3 May 2006

From a more military standpoint Trinquier noted:

“In seeking a solution, it is essential to realize that in modern warfare we are not up against just a few armed bands spread across a given territory, but rather against an armed clandestine organization whose essential role is to impose its will upon the population. Victory will be obtained only through the complete destruction of that organization.

That complete destruction of such an organization begins with its leaders including its propagandists, even those that are American citizens.  Some will disagree with me on this but this war has been going on over 10 years and will not end when we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. The killing of Osama Bin Laden and the intelligence garnered in the raid on his Pakistani compound was a watershed moment and has shifted momentum to the United States and its allies.  Al Qaeda’s senior leaders are being killed in ever increasing numbers with substantially fewer civilian casualties.  But we can lose it all if we fail recognize that the very nature of war has changed and that if we remain tied to law and policy written when the world in no way resembled what it is today.

Padre Steve+

P.S.  For those wondering what a Priest knows about this I hold a Masters degree in Military History and a graduate of the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College. I have also studied revolutionary war and insurgency extensively since 2001.  I served with our advisers to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border and Port of Entry Police in 2007-2008. 

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Filed under laws and legislation, middle east, Military, national security

Changes of Plans: It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts

Dinner as a Guest of Brigadier General Sabah of 7th Iraqi Division

Today I was planning on traveling about an hour from here up to Kinston to see the Kinston Indians play the Winston-Salem Dash. That did not happen as I was called out of the “bullpen” so to speak to see a lady in our ICU.  I got the word as I was celebrating Mass and when I was done went to the hospital to make the visit which was delightful. The lady was one of those indefatigable people that despite a serious medical condition exuded grace, confidence and life and who up to the day she came to us was taking care of people worse off than her, taking them to the store, the doctor, preparing meals and making quilts for young mothers. The visit lasted about an hour with her doing most of the talking as if I was a neighbor who had dropped by for a chat.  We prayed and she shared a couple of poems that were actually touching.  I do pray that the specialist that we send her to will be able to correct the problems that brought her to us as we need as many people like her as we can get.

So anyway with my well laid plans disrupted I have been doing some thinking and if you know me that can be a dangerous thing because I never know exactly what the muse will inspire.  It began early even before I got out of bed when I saw a Facebook chat message from an Army Chaplain of my denomination serving with an infantry unit in Afghanistan.  He asked if I had read a story in the Christian Science Monitor about an Army National Guard Chaplain who had been convicted of fraudulently awards for valor including the Bronze Star with the “V” device for valor, the Purple Heart and the Ranger Tab denoting his completion of the arduous Ranger School.  He added those awards to his recorded after Operation Desert Storm where he served as a clerk and saw no action and he carried the charade on into the time where he was commissioned as a Chaplain.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2011/0403/Did-a-chaplain-s-fake-Purple-Heart-erase-good-deeds

He was tripped up after he returned from a tour in Afghanistan and was tried and convicted under the provisions of the Stolen Valor Act.  If he wasn’t a Chaplain it would have been bad enough.  However as a Chaplain his falsification discredited all the good work that he did in Afghanistan. What really did him in with his former soldiers was lying about his experiences to them point of wearing fraudulent awards for valor. His deception has caused many of the soldiers that he counseled to be angry and wonder if he was lying about other things.  When a Chaplain loses his or her credibility for an integrity issue it undermines their ministry, damages relationships with the people that they serve as well as their colleagues.  Their actions if married also negatively impact their families who suffer for their actions. The man in question received an Other Than Honorable Discharge which means that he receives none of the benefits that he would have received as a veteran including retirement. He is now getting help but the damage is done.

He certainly is not the first Chaplain to fall and won’t be the last.  I have spent a decent amount of my career being a “relief pitcher” for line officers and chaplains who have been relieved of their duties and been assigned to try to help rehabilitate others who have merely messed up without committing any crimes.  I have been fortunate in my long career to have men that have looked after me and protected me when I screwed up, sometimes with great aplomb.  My screw ups always seemed to be to being cocky and sometimes arrogant thinking that I was the greatest thing since micro-brewed beer.

When I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army back in 1983 I knew that I was quite possibly the smartest new Lieutenant in the Army.  I graduated from my Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course fairly high in my class without really trying too hard, had a pretty easy time at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course.   However, real life has a tendency to take the smartest of the book smart people and kick their ass.  Sometimes it takes a while but young guys in the military who think they know more than old dudes who have served on all kinds of places and been to combat tend to blow themselves up and hopefully there will be someone to save their sorry ass.

When I got to Germany I can say that there were a number of occasions where as a young officer I had my ass handed to me, even when I was right.  I’m not going to go into ugly details but it suffices to say that a good number of those times I got what I deserved because I was arrogant and not nearly as smart as I thought I was.  I was like a rookie pitcher thinking that my stuff was unhittable and finding out that guys who had played in the show for a long time had seen it all before.  It was in Germany that I found that while I had good stuff that I wasn’t savvy enough to know when to change my stuff up or when to take the hint not to keep pushing my luck.  I was kind of like the young pitcher Ebby Clavin “Nuke” LaLoosh in Bull Durham in wanting to do what I wanted to do and it got me in trouble.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie has this dialogue.

Crash calls for a curve ball, Ebby shakes off the pitch twice]
Crash Davis: [stands up] Hey! HEY!
[walks to meet Ebby at the mound]
Crash Davis: Why are you shaking me off?
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh:
[Gets in Crash’s face] I want to give him the heat and announce my presence with authority!
Crash Davis: Announce your f***ing presence with authority? This guy is a first ball, fast ball hitter!
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Well he hasn’t seen my heat!
Crash Davis:
[pauses] Allright meat, show him your heat.
[Walks back towards the box]
Crash Davis: [to the batter] Fast ball. [Ebby throws a fastball which is hit out of the park and Crash comes to the mound]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: You told him didn’t you?
Crash Davis: Yup.

That was me as a young officer.  You would think that I would have learned, but after I became an Army Chaplain I did the same damned thing.  Now admittedly it was not in the units that I served in, but my hotheadedness still got me in trouble especially when I decided to challenge older Chaplains who had been around a long longer than me and who were a lot more savvy than me.  I had no idea how cunning and brutal some chaplains could be despite having good warning from my XO and Brigade commander at the Academy of Health Sciences, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Wigger before I left active duty for seminary.  Colonel Wigger pulled me aside one day shortly before I left active duty and said “Steve, I know that you think that the Medical Service Corps can be political and vicious, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.”   He was right and I would have been wise to listen to him.  There are some Chaplains that have no problem taking down or destroying a young chaplain sometimes for good reasons but sometimes for less than noble reasons. Anyone that has served as an Active Duty Chaplain probably knows about or has experienced such an encounter up close and personal.  I got whacked pretty hard a number of times as a young Army Chaplain, but was fortunate that people who knew me and saw potential in me gave me some top cover and protection.  Not everyone gets this.  Chaplain Rich Whaley did this for me at the Chaplain school on a number of occasions even the time that I got thrown out of the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course. That was not one of my finer moments; I left the school like former Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox would when he got tossed from games.

While Rich was not quite like Crash Davis he knew how to handle me when I got stupid. There is another scene in Bull Durham where Ebby ignored Crash and paid the price.  

[Mechanized bull noises in background after ball hits the Bull over the Right Field wall]
Crash Davis: Well, he really hit the shit outta that one, didn’t he?
[laughs]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: [softly, infuriated] I held it like an egg.
Crash Davis: Yeah, and he scrambled the son of a bitch. Look at that, he hit the f***ing bull! Guy gets a free steak!
[laughs]
Crash Davis: You having fun yet?
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh
: Oh, yeah. Havin’ a blast.
Crash Davis: Good.
[pause]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: God, that sucker teed off on that like he knew I was gonna throw a fastball!
Crash Davis: He did know.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How?
Crash Davis: I told him.

Thankfully by the time I had spent 17 ½ years in the Army I had pretty much learned my lessons.  By the time I got to the Navy I had pretty much discovered when and under what circumstances that I could push things without crossing the line.  I had learned the hard way in the Army.  I finally learned that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.  In fact when I went to the Navy I came in at a lower rank that my Army rank and took no constructive credit to try to get promoted sooner.  A lot of people have asked me why I did this but I went in with no time in grade to make sure that I got the experience that I needed on the Navy and Marine side. By doing this I took the time to learn the nuances that make the work of a chaplain different in the Sea Services than in the Army.  While there are similarities that are common to all Chaplains even the similarities are often different depending on the service and even the type of unit you serve in or platform that you serve aboard.  These different similarities can kill you if you think that you’re smarter than everyone else.

Christmas at COP South

I’m now coming up to 26 years of commissioned service and soon to 28 total years of service.  I’m now a lot more like Crash Davis than Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh.  Now I try to make sure the young chaplains and other Sailors, Marines or Soldiers don’t get themselves in unnecessary trouble by assuming that they know more than they do.  I know from bitter experience the price that any service member and especially Chaplains can pay for screwing up. I had some OERs in the Army that were less than stellar when seniors tried to torpedo me.  Thankfully like baseball statistics they don’t follow you when you get traded to or sign with a team in another league mid season. They are there for posterity but you get a clean start in the new service.  I am blessed because my Navy and Marine Corps stats are far better than my Army stats.

The Chaplain in question now suffers the ignominy of being put out of the service for his actions.  From the article it seemed that he had a need to appear more than he was failing to realize that there is honor in simply serving be it as a clerk or a Chaplain.  Military awards tell a story about a person, those that earn them for valor or for wounds suffered should have earned them. I see many young men and women that wear Purple Hearts and awards for valor in combat. While I have many awards and service medals, even for service in a combat zone I cannot dishonor the brave men and women that have paid with their lives by wearing something that I didn’t earn and find it hard to fathom others doing this.

Receiving the Defense Meritorious Service Medal on my way out of Iraq from Colonel David Abramowitz Chief of Staff Iraq Assistance Group on 31 January 2008. RP2 Nelson Lebron my assistant is to the right

There are other ways that chaplains can get in trouble and I have seen them all I think. Moral issues, alcohol and drug abuse, adultery, misappropriating or even stealing government funds and doing things in combat zones that cross the line such as actually engaging the enemy.  There was a Chaplain back during Operation Iraqi Freedom that displayed photos of him in combat carrying an M-16 and I have heard of others in previous wars that have crossed that line. That last offense violates the U.S. interpretation of the Geneva and Hague Conventions and the consequences are greater than the individual chaplain as a Chaplain that does such surrenders his status as a non-combatant and exposes himself to potential war crimes charges. Likewise in the current war with much media coverage and an enemy that would exploit such actions to incite further violence and embarrass the United States it would be criminal for a Chaplain to take part as a combatant. It would harm the war effort, make him a potential target and endanger all other chaplains in the combat zone.

Chaplains are already a high priority target for Al Qaeda as our capture would be of great propaganda value. I had a number of Iraqi officers express their admiration for my service and care for American and Iraqi soldiers and the fact that they recognized that I was in constant danger and was unarmed.  I felt that it was high praise. Chaplains don’t need to be anything except what they are, servants of God and servants of the men and women that they serve. Being recognized with awards and promotion is cool but at the same time if that becomes the focus then we have somehow forgotten why we are in uniform and probably shouldn’t be.

Anyway, my mission now is to help the young guys and gals along and hopefully keep them from stepping on the land mines that I stepped on in my career.  I also know and am very aware that even as smart as I think that I am that I don’t know nearly as much as I did when I entered the military.  It’s like Earl Weaver said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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