Tag Archives: harry callahan

A Man’s Got to Know His Strategic Limitations: President Trump and the Current Middle Eastern Crisis

        Turkish Protestors in Istanbul 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watch the crisis between the United States, or shall I better say President Trump and Iran unfold, and have talked with various friends about it in person and on social media I am reminded of a couple of different definitions of patriotism. Now since I have served the United States as a military enlisted man, and officer in both the Army and Navy in Peace and War, I think that I love my country and should be considered a patriot. I am not blind to our shortcomings, nor things that have been done in the name of the United States that go against the will of our Founders, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and the law embodied in our Constitution. Liberal or not, I am a realist. I don’t like to us to lose unnecessary wars.

Likewise, as my favorite theologian Harry Callahan said in Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  Our President, nor his Cult  do not understand reality. Despite the comparative easy Assassination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassim Suleimani, regardless of how bad of man he was, the President has opened a potentially apocalyptic Pandora’s Box which will bring about worse for the United United States, the region and the world.

None of our allies anywhere in the world, including the Israelis, who hate Iran, have officially offered us their support. The Iraqi Parliament has passed a resolution asking the government to order the United States military forces to leave the country. That may not happen, but it will place our very limited and scattered forces in Iraq at the mercy of Iraqi Militias supported by Iran, and quite possibly regular Iraqi and Iranian forces. It could be a death trap for the 5,500 or so American troops in Iraq, not to mention those in Kuwait, those based in Syria, Bahrain, and Qatar, or on ships in the Arabian/Persian Gulf.

American military power is not what it used to be and the President has not considered the second, third, fourth, fifth, or more effects of this strike. Our military readiness is not good, our ability to project power and sustain our forces is worse than it was in 2003, and now we have no allied support. Likewise there is no telling what the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, or other competitors/enemies will do.

The Iranians have announced that they will not abide by the nuclear accords reached with the West during the Obama Administration, which they abided by even after President Trump renounced that accord. Likewise they have promised vengeance against American military targets and a eulogist at Suleimani’s funeral put an 80 million dollar contract for anyone who kills President Trump.

I neither want a wider war or for that matter for the Iranians to succeed in assassinating President Trump. As much as I oppose the President’s policies and think of him as a dangerous man, his death would only serve to make things worse. He would be succeeded by Vice President Pence, and his cult would demand its own vengeance, regardless of the military, diplomatic, and economic cost.

The “Mistake” Letter

Today the situation continued to escalate as the Iraqi Parliament continued to press for the removal of American and foreign forces from Iraq, backed now by the Iraqi President. President Trump threatened to attack religious and cultural sites in Iran, in violation of treaties we have signed and if carried out would be war crimes. He was countermanded by Mark Esper, the Secretary of Defense.Trump continued to reiterate his threat about 52 targets in Iran based on the number of hostages taken by Iranians during the takeover of the American Embassy in 1979, to which the Iranian President reminded the United States of the 290 passengers lost when the USS Vincennes misidentified and shot down IR-655, an Iranian passenger plane on a scheduled flight in 1988. In response the the Iraqi Parliament vote Trump ordered the administration to draft  sanctions against Iraq. During the day a draft of a withdraw letter was mistakenly released by the commander of American Forces, which was almost immediately denied as a mistake by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense.

If you ask me, things seem to be spiraling out of control, and nobody seems to be at the helm of the ship of state. This is not a good position to be in.

But now the dice have been thrown, the wager has been made, and the outcome is at best an uncertain gamble. I fear for our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in Iraq and the Gulf. The Iranians can easily shut down the Straits of Hormuz, their Yemeni allies can threaten the Bab El Mendeb, the other major maritime choke point in the region. Likewise, in defiance of Trump the Iraqis could cut off supplies from the American troops scattered across the country if they do not withdraw or some kind of accord is reached for them to stay. Likewise, the Iranians, while not the military equal of the United States do have enough power to endanger every American facility in the Persian Gulf, kill tens of thousands of Americans, and seriously disrupt the world economy, yet leaving the Russians, and Chinese greatly strengthened.

I do not know what will happen over the next few days or weeks, but the President has backed us into a corner with little room for maneuver, diplomatically or militarily. Even long term allies like the Israelis, British, and Australians have not offered support. Neither have the Saudis, the mortal Sunni enemies of the Shia Iranians. Certain pundits have, but not their governments.

This is a watershed moment, things that Americans and the world trusted to remain as they were will no longer be the same, and we will not be the better for it. Things will not get better and they will very likely get worse and very possibly bring about the Armageddon that many of Trump’s followers, as well as certain groups of Sunni and Shia Muslims, and others fervently pray for.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

3 Comments

Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

My Life is Movie Quotes

hedley-lamarr

“My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.” Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) 

I have been rather serious the past few days on the blog but in real life I am usually less than serious. It is scary because whether I am at work, at home or out it seems like no matter what the topic, no matter what the situation be it serious, light hearted or mundane a movie or television quote somehow comes to mind. Truthfully sometimes I wonder about me.

However last night Judy found herself doing the same thing and of course giving me the credit, or the blame for her doing the same thing. I love it when a plan comes together.

0315214_41022_MC_Tx360

In one of my classes on National Security Policy we were talking about the limits of what you could do as a military or a nation and the quote from Magnum Force where Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry played by Clint Eastwood) told Lieutenant Briggs (Hal Holbrook) “A man’s got to know his limitations.” In another discussion I was thinking of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. But I digress…

Like I said I always seem to come up with movie or sometimes television quotes for the occasion. I think it is because I have one of those phonographic memories that keeps going around and around.

post-107343-0-06142500-1360386847

When someone is too negative I think of Donald Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes who said to his driver “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”

Of course my life is a sea of Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Pulp Fiction and other quotes. When I have no idea about something I think of Mongo (Alex Karras) who said “Mongo not know, Mongo only pawn in game of life” or when I’m a bit nervous I think of the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) “But I shoot with this hand.” 

I think that you might be getting the idea. I’m a bit warped, but I’m okay with it. For better or worse I cannot go through a day without a minimum of three or four movie or television quotes. They come from everywhere and nowhere and span the ages and genres.  Sometimes I wonder if I picked “the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.” 

images-12

So there it is. You want the truth? Then you need to ask this question posed by George Costanza (Jason Alexander) on Seinfeld“Do you ever get down on your knees and thank God you know me and have access to my dementia?” 

625696_10151179483627059_1009630985_n

Have a good night and great weekend “Set ludicrous speed” and “go do that Voodoo that you do so well!”

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under film, Just for fun, purely humorous

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+

2 Comments

Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, national security

Necessity and Reality…Lessons on Life

“One’s task is not to turn the world upside down, but to do what is necessary at the given place and with a due consideration of reality.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“A mans got to know his limitations” Harry Callahan

Tonight will be busy and fun for me as I get to go to our Medical Center Intern Class Dining Out.  The Dining out is a traditional Military occasion where the Officers of the Mess and their guests are together for a time of ceremony, camaraderie and good times.  Last year I attended this and if you want to know more you can go to the following article: The Dining Out

In light of that my post will be short. Coming back from surgery and being out of action for nearly a month I want to jump into everything.  However jumping into everything simply because I feel better and fitter than I have in probably two years does not mean that everything that I think that I can do be it vocational, spiritual or physical. Instead I am learning to work within my own limitations to be the best at what I do without over committing and end up having some kind of crash be it related to PTSD or physical issues.  It is something that I am learning to do and it is not always easy because I want to make a big impact.

However as both Bonhoeffer and Callahan (Clint Eastwood-Dirty Harry) remind us not everything is my job and that in order to be effective I and probably most of us need “to do what is necessary at the given place and with a due consideration of reality.” In other words be at the right place at the right time doing the mission that we are called to do with a sense of the reality of the situation, both our own as well as the situation in life that we find ourselves.

A lot of people now want to gain instant fame without the hard work that traditionally is required. Thus the massive number of “reality” shows where the only requirement is to act like an idiot and do things that you should be ashamed of doing, that profit nothing and while they give a person a brief amount of “fame” or notoriety which is seldom remembered by anyone unless it was incredibly stupid.

Workaholics like me want to do everything and fall into the temptation and trap of committing ourselves and sometimes our organizations to things that ultimately even if we can do them well are bad in the long term.  Such things can divert us from what we really need to be doing into ventures which may be exciting but divert us from what is truly necessary and possible.

This is frequently seen in the ranks of the over-achievers who want to “change the world.” This can take on all sorts of faces, political, educational, religious or scientific but the effect is often the same.  “World changers” sometimes become unrestrained zealots. In the quest to fulfill the agenda push so hard that they lose sight of the world around them and sometimes become willing like Chuck Colson when he worked for President Nixon “run over their own grandmother” to see the agenda fulfilled. This happens in business, politics, foreign affairs, science and even religion.  The desire to “change the world” often becomes a trap ready to ensnare even the most sincere person.  Trapped in the emotion of the “vision” those who lose sight of what is necessary and what is reality sometimes stop at nothing to see it fulfilled even if others are hurt in the process.

This is also seen in military history where the commander of an army or fleet makes a decision, usually rash and made in the passion of the moment to commit to something that while it looks to be beneficial leads to their defeat.  Military history is replete with examples.  Somehow the leader overestimates his own capabilities or underestimates those of his opponent with the end result of disaster.

Organizations including businesses and churches are frequently their own worst enemy when it comes to things like this.  Individuals who become obsessed can become like Don Quixote and run off  attacking windmills.  Christians often fall for this thinking that only they can win the salvation of the world or have a “new” message, teaching or “word” for the Church and world and end up broken, disillusioned and wondering if God let them down when they simply followed their own devices thinking that it was God.   Organizations can cause their own downfall as was seen in the banking crisis where business whose names were associated with thrift, trust and honesty destroyed themselves, injured their employees, stockholders and customers and cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars. Custer charged into the Little Big Horn and Hitler attacked the Soviet Union.  Great success stories huh? Anyway, that being said I must close for the night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under leadership, philosophy

Everybody has a Pitch Count…Good Managers Know When You’ve Reached It

Everybody has a pitch count, be they a baseball pitcher or a military, police or critical care health provider.  At some point one can push themselves so hard that they can injure themselves or if not that start making mental mistakes that cost games for a pitcher or lives to people in military, public safety or critical care medicine.  In baseball managers have to make sure that their pitchers don’t wear themselves down.  It is very easy for a pitcher, especially a hard thrower to wear out early from overuse causing injury.  At times hard throwers, or for that matter any pitcher can over pitch.  They can try to do too much.  At first this may not be noticeable, maybe they lose a little bit off of their fastball or their curve ball may not be as sharp.  The pitcher may shake it off and tell his coaches and trainers that nothing is wrong.  They do this for a couple of reasons.  First, they are competitors; they want to do the job that they have to do.  Second, they don’t want to admit that something is wrong with them be it a possible physical injury or maybe even a mental issue which is keeping them from getting good control of their pitches.  Of course the physical wear and tear on pitcher is brutal.  The physical punishment of throwing a baseball 80-100 mph on the arm, especially the elbow and shoulder is brutal.   The amount of torque applied to these joints is severe.  If a pitcher is using incorrect technique or has thrown too many pitches the effects can be devastating to his career.

While I am not a pitcher, when I played I was a utility infielder and catcher, I do think that everyone has something to learn about life and work from managers, pitchers and knowing when a pitcher is suffering from overuse injuries or has lost his physical or mental edge.  The manager has to know when the pitcher has reached his pitch count and when it is time to pull him even if the pitcher wants to stay in the game.  The same is true with anyone who serves in military, police or intensive medical professions such as EMS, Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care units. This became apparent to me over the past year and a quarter since I returned from Iraq.  I am now 49 years old. I stay in pretty good shape and physically can still outperform many younger people in such things as push-ups, sit-ups and running.  I pretty much know my physical limitations especially coming back from Iraq with some physical and emotional scars.  I work in ICUs and if my life as a chaplain was limited to simply doing that work on the floor I could do it forever.  I thrive in the environment and actually am more at ease on an ICU or in an ER than I am on general patient floors or doing administrative tasks.  However, those are also part of my life.  So I have to achieve a balance.  I am usually pretty good at knowing when it is time to tell my manager, in this case our director of pastoral care that I am not doing well.  Yet, sometimes even when I know I’m not doing well I won’t stop.  I will push myself to the point of physical and emotional collapse.  I hit this point last week following a month of family illness, end of life planning for my dad, a medical emergency with Judy and several very demanding weeks at work where I put in a huge amount of hours because the job had to get done.  I hate to leave something undone or have to leave something for someone else to do.  I don’t like to be taken out of a game.  My first Navy tour after 17 ½ years in the Army I was my Division Chaplain’s relief pitcher.  I ended up taking several battalions because their chaplains either got in trouble or were pulled for another assignment.  Likewise I was given the task of working with young guys who had run into some kind of trouble to see if they could be salvaged.

A good manager has to recognize when his pitcher is having problems before he gets in trouble.  Until the advent of relief pitchers that were primarily relief pitchers and not washed up former starters, they generally pitched deep into a game.  As such many racked up huge numbers of wins, strike outs and complete games.  In fact most of the top ten are guys that pitched when it was almost unheard of to bring in a reliever.  Thus there are men like Cy Young who won 511 games, Walter Johnson with 473 wins and Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Matthewson who won 373 each.  Young played 22 years and had a record of 511 wins and 316 losses.  He pitched 7356 innings. He played in 906 games, started 815 games and had 749 complete games.  No wonder the award for best pitcher is named after him.  Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson started 482 games and completed 255 of them. In 1969 he won 20 games, 13 of which were shut outs. Gibson once reportedly said:  “I used to get tired in the seventh inning too. And the manager would come to the mound and ask me if I wanted to come out. Then I would look over at the bullpen and see who was warming up. Then I would say, ‘No, I’m going to stay in.”

As baseball moved forward teams began to have more depth on their pitching staffs. Rotations were developed where pitchers pitched every 4th game, and frequently in our era every 5th game.  Additionally since the 1970s the specialist relief pitcher has become a key part of the game.  While there were relievers prior to that, the relief pitcher as a specialist did not really get off the ground until Rollie Fingers of the Oakland A’s won salary arbitration against A’s owner Charlie Finely. At that point pitchers who could come into a game on no notice in certain situations became more and more a trend.  Now it is standard for a team to have long, middle and short relief specialist as well as “Closers.”

In a sense while some people may not like it, it is not a bad thing for the game.  One only has to look at how many pitchers had abbreviated careers o of overuse injuries including Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean who are both in the Hall of Fame.  If you look you can find others. This was especially true before the advent of “Tommy John surgery” when pitchers with a torn rotator cuff faced the end of their careers. As such teams became much more aware of how many pitches a starting pitcher and even relievers should throw in a game.  The pitch count was developed.  For a healthy starting pitcher in the middle of a season this is usually around 100 pitches.  Relief pitcher counts will vary.  While pitch counts are not necessarily the Gospel, there is a point in every pitcher’s career where he hits his own pitch count limit, be it in a game or a career. As Whitey Ford said:  “Sooner or later the arm goes bad. It has to…Sooner or later you have to start pitching in pain.”

So you may be asking what does something arcane like the mechanics, kinetics and injuries have to do with life.  As you know the Deity Herself speaks to me through baseball.   This has application to those in high stress jobs where they are called on to put their lives on the line for others or deal with danger, death or tragedy in an environment where just one mistake can be fatal or where a word, gesture or throw away comment can harm someone else.  The managers, supervisors or commanders of people who do such work have to be cognizant of the effects of this on their people.

I am luck, the Deity Herself has surrounded me with a number of people who can look at me and tell me to sit down even when I want to continue to keep pushing.  Last Friday was one of those days.  It was the culminating point of a nearly a month of personal and professional stress, lack of sleep and the lingering effects of my PTSD and chronic pain which flare up when I have exceeded my personal pitch count.  My boss was away last week.  However we remained in communication.  I was scheduled for weekend duty, which for me I remain in house because I am not able for the most part to meet the response time for a emergency call.  When my boss came back he must have checked in with several folks who k now me to see how they thought I was doing.  Friday afternoon after I got home I got a call from the acting department head who told me to stay at home that my boss was going to pull my duty for me.  I really needed this.  However, I told him that I still could come in if needed and was told to stay home and take care of myself.

With a manager like that I will be able to keep playing my game longer.  I may have occasional rough outings but I will do fine.  The lesson is that everybody has their own personal “pitch count” even if they do not throw a baseball.  Like my favorite theologian Harry Callahan says: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, ER's and Trauma, healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD