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The NFL and the Problem of Patriotism versus Nationalism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I thought that the controversy over the peaceful demonstrations of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial prejudice and violence committed against African Americans and other people was beginning to die down. That was before today when Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Indianapolis allegedly to watch a football came and see former Indianapolis Colt’s quarterback Peyton Manning be honored by the team. Instead, taking his orders from President Trump, the Vice President traveled to the game and walked out when members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the National Anthem. Thereafter the Vice President and the President went to Twitter to castigate the players and using taxpayer money, in this case over $200,000 to make their point, condemning the protesting players as being disrespectful to the flag and to the military. As labor leader Eugene Debs noted in 1918: ““In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.”

The act was an act of craven political nationalism disguised as patriotism, and there is a difference between the two. George Orwell noted this when he wrote “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.” Sadly I fear that the vast majority of Americans do not know the difference.

For those who don’t know I’m a veteran. In fact I’m a combat veteran. Not only that I am basically a dinosaur in today’s military as I’ve been serving continuously in some component of the military since I enlisted in August 1981. My oath is to the Constitution and that document enshrines the right of free speech and political protest, even of people that I may disagree with, and to see the President and Vice President flagrantly demonizing people for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and exercising those Constitutionally protected rights by kneeling during the national anthem not only offends, but angers me. Likewise the fact that the President found every way he could to avoid military service and openly mocked combat wounded veterans as losers during the Presidential campaign demonstrates the President’s hackneyed understanding of what he calls patriotism. 

My dad also served a full career in the U.S. Navy including a combat tour in Vietnam where he was assigned to an emergency airstrip in the city of An Loc, surrounded by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong for 80 days.

I also had relatives fight in both World Wars and one of my great uncles, a brother of my dad’s mother was killed in action serving as an infantryman during World War Two. Over the last sixteen years of war I have had a good number of friends and comrades die or suffer so much from the psychological and spiritual wounds of war that they later ended their lives.

As such, I have the highest regard for the armed forces of the United States and those who have served in them whether they be volunteers or if they were drafted. At the same time I don’t think that simply being a veteran makes one any more patriotic than someone who hasn’t served in uniform and I find it disgraceful that the military and those that serve are all too often reduced to stereotyped symbols that are used for partisan political causes which are not at all related to patriotism, but instead the most base and banal forms of nationalism, often paid for at sporting events by the Department of Defense.

Please understand that patriotism and nationalism are two different things. One can be a patriot and not a nationalist. That difference was first shown by the members of Congress and other elder statesmen of the country who between 1846 and 1848 opposed President James K. Polk’s unjust and shameful war against Mexico who included John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and a freshman Congressman named Abraham Lincoln. All were called traitors by Polk and his supporters. Military men serving in Mexico found the war criminal and the actions of state volunteers abominable. Ulysses S. Grant, then a young Lieutenant wrote that the Mexican war was “as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

Patriots want the country and our leaders to live up to our highest ideals. Patriots actually believe the words of the Declaration of Independence which state “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” A patriot believes and works for what the founders wrote in the First Amendment to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech, religion, association, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances, and yes, that includes kneeling during the National Anthem.

Likewise a patriot is committed to building upon those foundations as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While those who served in the military and those who have died to protect this county and honored the Constitution are worthy of respect, there have been far to many other patriots who have sacrificed themselves for the ideals of the country and have been treated as criminals for doing so. Those who fought against slavery and who defied the law to fight against it and to protect African Americans from slave owners who were backed by the government were patriots. Women who fought for the right to vote were patriots. Workers who fought for fair wages and safe working conditions. Men and women who protested and opposed unjust wars against Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the Spanish American War, the Vietnam War and the U.S invasion of Iraq were all patriots. Likewise the men and women who have stood up for the civil rights of all citizens often in the face of violent opposition from police were patriots too. 

This list could go in and on listing the patriotic endeavors of Americans of all races, all genders, and all religions to promote the liberty of all, whether they had ever served in the military. Frederick Douglass wrote: “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason… Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

However, nationalism is not the same as patriotism even though a fervent nationalists will without hesitation co-opt the symbols of the nation for purposes that were feared by our founders. Historian Timothy Snyder makes a good comparison of patriotism and nationalism:

“A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.”

One can have honest disagreement as to what they think of the actions of the protesting players, but to deride them as being unpatriotic even as they use the flag as a campaign fundraising tools as the President did in an ad last week and the Vice President’s cynical move Sunday were shameful. Their nationalism reminds me of what Mark Twain called “Monarchical Patriotism” which he noted was different than republican patriotism. Twain wrote:

“There are two kinds of patriotism — monarchical patriotism and republican patriotism. In the one case the government and the king may rightfully furnish you their notions of patriotism; in the other, neither the government nor the entire nation is privileged to dictate to any individual what the form of his patriotism shall be. The gospel of the monarchical patriotism is: “The King can do no wrong.” We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: “Our country, right or wrong!” We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had:– the individual’s right to oppose both flag and country when he (just he, by himself) believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.”

We as a people have become so hopelessly confused as to the meaning of patriotism that we as Twain noted, are throwing away the most valuable assets we have, the right of the individual to oppose both flag and country when they believe them to be wrong. We have allowed the President and those like him to turn the protests regarding injustices that bring shame to our republic to be attacks on the flag and the military, and that is grotesque. We are throwing away our birthright as Americans to protest wrong in our land and are embracing the creed of tyrants. If we continue down this path we will lose our republic. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Terrible Danger of Unreason and Demagoguery

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As the inauguration of Donald Trump as President draws near it is important to remember the words of the late Adlai Stevenson who once wrote:

“Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought. Thinking implies disagreement; and disagreement implies nonconformity; and nonconformity implies heresy; and heresy implies disloyalty. So, obviously, thinking must be stopped. But shouting is not a substitute for thinking and reason is not the subversion but the salvation of freedom.”

I have traveled to a lot of places, in this country and around the world where reason has been a scarce commodity and to me that has always been a frightening specter; a world where reason is all too often sacrificed on the altar of political, ideological or religious expediency. Over the past year, and more frighteningly over the past few weeks what was once a specter is beginning to look like reality.

But reason does matter, and those who ignore it do so at their own peril as Christopher Hitchens once said “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” History shows us in times like this, where reason is tossed as primordial urges rise, that people all too often fall back on old hatreds and myth rather than seeking answers; instead of trying to figure out what is really important; instead of studying the details of the great questions; that frustrated people become intellectually lazy and gravitate towards angry demagogues who play to their often legitimate anger and frustration. As such we have entered an era where Facebook and Twitter memes with little truth but much emotion form the basic thoughts of many people.

But populist demagogues with authoritarian leanings like the President Elect do not need to appeal to reason. Instead they appeal to something more primal; they appeal to fear, anger, and the need of desperate people to find someone to blame.

Appealing to fear and loathing is so much easier than using reason. To call an opponent a Communist or Nazi, Fascist or imperialist, unbeliever, heretic or even a racist; and then connect them to the evil we want to demonize them is far easier than it is to actually engage them in a truthful debate and to see things in their historical context.

Too often we allow people of little learning but whose great charm and salesmanship ability, to sell us myth in place of fact and this happens across the political, social, economic and theological spectrum. That is a tragedy for all of us no matter what our political, ideological, or religious views.

Such salesmanship may comfort the true believer in whatever cause may be, and it may even make them feel superior to those that disagree with them. But it blinds them to reality and ensures that they never become aware of their own envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. The untruths they believe serve as protection against any thought, fact, presumption or doctrine that contradicts them.  John F Kennedy said, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Thus we are inundated with fake news, fake history, outright lies and propaganda that go unchallenged by people who should know better.

In times like ours, it is most important to take the time to learn from history, not just generalities that mix fact and myth but the little details that make up history and for that matter the sciences, philosophy, sociology, political thought and theology.  As a society we have ceased to do this and until we take the time to return to such study, dialogue and put aside our blinders we will be doomed to remain as we are no matter what political party is in power or ideology dominates the airwaves and cyber space.

Reason, it is important, and the dangers that we face as a nation, society, and world demand that we return to it, no-matter what our occupation or station in life. If we do not stand for truth and the freedom of thought maintained in reason and objectivity we will see freedom die. George Orwell wrote something that we should not forget: “Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Freedom is Never more than a Generation from Extinction: The Fragility of Democracy in Authoritarian Times

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have had a wonderful Christmas holiday with my wife Judy, our dogs, and friends. I have spent little time on social media and I am being very judicious in what I post, share, or tweet. Social media is a good thing, but over the past year I have found that it can also be a very dangerous and hateful place, full of the fallacies of ignorant ideologues. I have gotten to the point where I do not even look at any news sites after nine or ten at night. Instead I have been doing a lot of reading because I believe that true knowledge has nothing to do with dealing with an informational overload of hundreds of stories of often dubious veracity every day, as well as the propaganda that is knowingly published as if it were either real news or truth.

Sadly the purveyors of such material, including confidants of the President-Elect, and the hacks of the Right Wing like Rush Limbaugh, and rabid conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones are now ceaselessly working to destroy any confidence in reputable and conscientious journalists. They are using a tactic that was at the forefront of Nazi propaganda efforts: destroying the confidence of people in their nation’s institutions, which they wish to either destroy or use for their own purposes, and demonize the free press, which the Nazis called the Lugenpresse or the Lying Press, a term which has been frequently invoked by Trump supporters at his rallies before and after the election. During the campaign the President-Elect himself has all too often invoked the same specter to demonize the press as a whole or individual journalists without using the actual term.

Over the past month and a half I have read Timothy Snyder’s book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Richard Evans’ Third Reich at War, William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and I am currently reading Shirer’s Berlin Diary, and George Orwell’s 1984. Shirer’s Rise and Fall is a book that I read decades ago. All are helpful in understanding how despots and authoritarians come to power and how they destroy the institutions of democracy, including the press and free speech.

As such I am limiting my media intake to media that I trust, and that excludes every American cable news network. Before I post, tweet, or share any article I read it and check it out, and even then I don’t share everything. I am using what I am going to term media triage and just because I happen to agree with something doesn’t mean that I have to share it.

Today I read an interview with Gary Kasparov, the Russian Chess champion and champion of liberal democracy who now lives in the United States, in exile after having fled Vladimir Putin’s Russia where he was jailed for his beliefs several times.  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/12/garry_kasparov_on_why_vladimir_putin_hates_chess.html

Kasparov was asked by the interviewer:

As a Russian pro-democracy leader: You live in exile now in the United States, you were thrown in jail more than once. What’s your advice to us, as pro-democracy Americans faced with real threats to civil liberties and democratic rights in this country?

The great chess master replied:

“First of all, people here should understand that nothing is for granted. There were many warnings in the past, you know, but every time, Americans and Europeans—they believe that it’s like bad weather. It comes and goes. But the danger is real. I always want to quote Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Now, probably, it’s not even one generation. Things can happen very quickly, because there’s so much power that comes in the hands of people who have very little affection for the values that make up the core of liberal democracy and the free world.” 

We live in a day where the virtues of the Enlightenment are not only taken for granted but despised by authoritarians and ordinary people alike. There are many reasons for this, some quite valid and others spurious, but they have taken their toll around the world, and we fail to understand just how fragile democracy, classic liberal values, and freedom itself for granted. British historian Niall Ferguson wrote:“So much of liberalism in its classical sense is taken for granted in the west today and even disrespected. We take freedom for granted, and because of this we don’t understand how incredibly vulnerable it is.”  

I am still hoping, maybe in vain, that our democratic institutions will survive. Kasparov remains hopeful and noted in the interview: “But I still think that America has a huge potential to recover from this crisis, and let’s not forget that a majority of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump.” I think we do as well, but do fear that events may prove Kasparov and my hope wrong. Majorities often don’t matter to authoritarians, a trait which the President-Elect has reveled in throughout his campaign and in his post-campaign events, but I take what he says and does seriously, as we all should.

That’s all for tonight, as I have plenty more to write on this and related topics, so have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The First Duty: Speaking Truth in “Post-Truth” Trump Era

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For me the past month has been one of constant amazement. I am not speeaking about politics, but what matters more than any political ideology, the very idea of truth. Because of this I write using history and as best as I can objective and indisputable fact as my guide.

Most of my readers know that in addition to being a Priest and Navy Chaplain that I am a historian and teach both ethics and about Gettysburg as a faculty member at a Staff College. Many of the men and women that I teach will lead our military as commanders, planners and staff officers. I will transfer in the spring but even so, as a chaplain, officer, and educator I cannot be silent.

Thus it is my first duty, whether it is in teaching, writing or in ministry is to the truth, politicans and pundits be damned to hell. I believe the words spoken by Captain Jean Luc Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek the Next Generation: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…”

I am not a Starfleet Officer, but a Navy officer and I have always believed that the truth matters, but sadly, I, like so many of us have turned the other way and not spoken out too many times in my life. That changed during my combat tor in Iraq, and now the older I get the more I realize that I cannot be silent about subjects that at one time I turned a blind eye to because they were uncomfortable, unpopular or might hurt my career either in the church or in the military, so when I see people in power and who are close to power saying that truth and objective fact no longer matters I become fearful, because I know that the path that denying facts and truth leads.

Throughout the campaign Trump and his campaign surrogates not only twisted truth, but lied so many times that fact checkers could hardly keep up with their untruths. After the election, Trump surroget Scottie Nell Hughes told Diane Rehm of NRP: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she continued,“Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.”

Her words, as well as those of former Trump campaign director and CNN talking head, Corey Lewindowski, and Newt Gingrinch have maintained that truth does not matter, only what people believe does. The fact that so many of Trump’s supporters don’t seem to care about facts, bodes ill for our country.

As such I have continued to write about subjects that many people are controversial and as such many people are uncomfortable with those topics. Whether the issue is civil rights, racism, Gay rights and marriage equality, voting rights, religious freedom and religious intolerance, and even xenophobia, or the connection of symbols such as the Confederate Battle Flag to a heritage that goes to a hatred that extends far beyond the battlefields of the Civil War; I am speaking out.

I am fully aware of that many of these subjects are controversial and are now targeted by Trump’s supporters, Congressional Repiublicans, and GOP legislators in every state. I have been asked in comments on this site and on my various social media accounts, particularly Facebook, why I keep bringing up the uncomfortable past. But I have to, I have a duty to the truth, and as Oscar Wilde noted “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

The late Howard Zinn, a brilliant historian whose work at one time I discounted, said: “But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is… to tell the truth.” Who would think that telling the truth could or would be a revolutionary act? However, when one lives in a society where the truth is bent, run over and shredded by politicians, preachers and pundits, what I call the Trinity of Evil; when state school boards whitewash history and force their religious views on children in public schools; where corporations and advertisers use the most crass means to deceive customers; and where established science is not met with denial under the guise of “skepticism;” telling the truth is a revolutionary affair.

In 1943, George Orwell, wrote about the Spanish Civil War how the German and Italian propaganda about it had been accepted without question by most people in westren democracies. His words echo my feelings about the incoming administration:

“This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written? If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence. But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written? What kind of records will Franco have left behind him? Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable — even so, how is a true history of the war to be written? For, as I have pointed out already, the Government, also dealt extensively in lies. From the anti-Fascist angle one could write a broadly truthful history of the war, but it would be a partisan history, unreliable on every minor point. Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth. 

In spite of everything going on I will continue to speak the truth, which will likely will be called radical, revolutionary, and unpatriotic. That has happened over the past few years and I expect that it will happen on a more frequent basis, but I do not want the lie to become truth.

The honest truth is that I never expected to be a revolutionary in terms of defending civil rights. Truthfully, believing what authority figures, be they political, or religious say is much easier than asking the hard questions. Barbara Tuchman once wrote: “The reality of a question is inevitably more complicated than we would like to suppose.” I guess that is why so many people would rather be content with obvious lies than to ask the really hard questions; be they about history, religion, and science or for that matter anything. One of the must uncomfortable things to admit is that truth is always evolving as we learn more, it is dynamic, not static and to attempt to force people to live by the “truth” of our ancestors is disingenuous, dishonest and denies the reality of the universe that we live. Thomas Jefferson recognized this and wrote:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

So why I continue to write? I will write so that we never forget or push aside the great evils that human beings are capable of committing: The Holocaust, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of Native Americans by the millions in the name of God and Manifest Destiny, the enslavement, exploitation, and sometimes the extermination of whole peoples by colonialism; the witch trials, the religious wars of the Reformation, the Inquisition, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Stalin’s purges, the Tuskegee experiments, the Japanese barbarity in the Rape of Nanking and other places in Asia, the Srebrenica genocide and the Rwandan genocide, the inhumanity of the so-called Islamic State, just to name a few; and add to that whatever happens in the next few years that will be aided and abbetted by men and women who overthrow democracy by the democratic process, using people’s fear to establish authoritatian or totalitarian states.

All too often the perpetrators of those events and their descendants as all too willing to last the past lie dormant and allow present wrongs to persist and look the other way.

But at what cost do we do so? Do we sacrifice justice on the altar of prosperity and peace; do we sacrifice uncomfortable truth in order to remain undisturbed and comforted by myth? Do we condemn our descendants to live under the myths of our ancestors? Would we sacrifice the truth and justice in order to ensure obedience? Howard Zinn correctly observed, “Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.”

President John F. Kennedy spoke these words at Yale in 1962: “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Personally I would rather ask the questions and confront the past so we might have a better future, because though I am a realist, I also believe in my heart that humanity is capable of overcoming hatred, prejudice and ignorance. The problem is that times get difficult those attitudes can overcome our better nature. As Spencer Tracy’s character in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg said:

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

That my friends, is why I write: for justice, truth, and the value of a single human life, even if that means being considered unpatriotic.

Peace

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New Year 2015: It’s Not 1984 so Long as Our Thoughts are Free

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Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984 yet again, only now it is thirty-one years later and Orwell’s 1984 almost seems quaint by comparison.

Okay, I know it’s now New Year’s Eve for 2015, but who really cares? so but bear with me.

I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until the past few years. The NSA revelations of 2013, though shocking to many shouldn’t have been so shocking because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to does similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live. Hell, I’ll a technophile I admit it, I love technology and I use it.

While technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use passwords and pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985. But that was different…

Today with the advent of technology, even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  The ability of other groups to use chemical weapons, to shoot down large commercial airliners with surface to air missiles and to hack the information systems of banks, businesses and governments threatens the stability of nations. The ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial and personal data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target and several other major retailers show just how vulnerable we are. Just imagine instead of money they decided to hack power systems, the electronic distribution grid or water works?

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half-witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories as they give credibility to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as our thoughts still remain free.

So Happy New Year my friends!

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Happy New Year: Welcome to 1984, 30 Years Late; But Our Thoughts are Free

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Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984.

Okay, I know it’s 2014 but bear with me, I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until 2013. The NSA revelations though shocking to many shouldn’t have been because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to do similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live.

Technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use Passwords and Pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious Cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985.

But with the advent of technology even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  Likewise the ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target’s retail system demonstrates our vulnerability.

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories while giving credence to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as your thoughts remain free.

Happy New Year!

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, News and current events, philosophy

The Future Comes One Day at a Time: Padre Steve’s New Year Eve 2013

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“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”  Abraham Lincoln

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uo0JAUWijM 

Abba Happy New Year

Well finally we come to the end of the year 2013.  That being said we can say that it was definitely a year. It was a year filled with days which were filled with hours which were filled with minutes, seconds and nanoseconds.  It was a year of triumph and tragedy that filled the hearts of many with fear and unease.  At the same time it is now in the past. It cannot be relieved or changed but we can take the time to learn from it and hopefully build a better future.

2013 like all of the past will be remembered and written about by historians, theologians journalists and philosophers and most will place their own interpretation on it and then go on to surmise the future.  I do not presume to be that smart until someone starts paying me to make such learned prognostications.  However the future is unknown and even Jesus warned us “that we do not know what tomorrow brings.”

I am a historian. For me history is not just something dead in the past but a living reality that influences us in everything we do. As such I thing we need to learn lessons from history and apply that knowledge to what we do now. We do not live in a vacuum, if we did we would be very dusty and always spinning around, but I digress.

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Uncertain Times 

I think that we have to learn from the past in order to be ready for the future. But the future is unknown and often uncharted.  Thus we should as George Patton said  “Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” That really is the reason I study history, not so we have a laundry list of facts events and dates that I can use to prove my point but rather to see how people and nations dealt with things that they either could not or did not foresee. Human nature doesn’t change and while circumstances and technology may change the way people deal with unforeseeable events can help us navigate future difficulties. It is not a guarantee but it is a help.

Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban wrote today that “None of us are born into the world we live in.”  That is so true because we are all born at a moment in time and the world is always changing and changing is ways that will always surprise us. Maybe not some of the events themselves, but the players that make things happen, the places that they happen and the speed of which they happen.  Time stands still for no person.

Though the future is yet to be written though people of faith place the future in the hands of God we cannot erase the past and go back to some point in time where our interpretation of history says that things were better. Such thinking is pure fantasy and is  quite delusional.

Golda Meir said “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.” Unfortunately most politicians and pundits do not understand this as George Orwell so poignantly noted “All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.”

I think that is a large part of why we are in the political mess we have been in for so long in this country and probably why my spiritual search will never really end.

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Rat from Pearls Before Swine and I have a lot in Common 

For me 2013 was a year of growth and learning.  After 5 years of doing hospital work I am back in academia teaching ethics, military history and a class on working with IGOs, NGOs and the private sector in humanitarian operations or in combat zones. The new assignment will be quite rewarding and I expect to start work on a Ph.D. this year so that when I retire from the military I will be better positioned to teach and do other things in these academic areas.

In 2013 I made plenty of mistakes and really haven’t deviated too much off of the Mendoza Line.  But hopefully have learned from those mistakes. I thought about making specific resolutions for 2014 but decided against it, I don’t want to have to give myself “resolution absolution.”  I figure that there is no way that I could make it through New Year’s Day if without totally screwing them up so why bother.

However that being said I do resolve this year is to go out every day, do my best and try not to screw things up too badly.  It is the same attitude that I have playing baseball or softball, so why not apply it to the rest of my life?

English poet Thomas Hood penned this:

And ye, who have met with Adversity’s blast,
And been bow’d to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass’d
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury –
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen. Thomas Hood

All this being said I think that the wisest thing ever said about the future was by Yogi Berra who wisely remarked “The future ain’t what it used to be.” But then was it ever what it used to be?

Tonight I will usher in the New Eve with Judy and our Papillon Dachshund mix Molly and Papillon Minnie after going out to dinner and for a few beers with friends at Gordon Biersch.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Blessings my friends, Happy end of the Old Year and all the best for the New Year!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Just for fun, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy