Tag Archives: hurricane Harvey

Thoughts on the Sum Total of Life Amid Hurricanes and the Anniversary of 9-11-2001

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is hard too believe that in just a couple of weeks that the United States has been impacted by two category four hurricanes, Harvey in southeast Texas and Irma in Florida and Georgia. Of course the remnants of both storms will also end up dumping a lot of rain on much of the American South and in some places causing flooding. The cost of both storms will be in the billions and it will take months to years for the towns, counties, cities, most affected by these killer storms, and most importantly, the people who call those places home to recover.

While these things have been going on it is hard to imagine that the Korean Peninsula sits on the razor’s edge of a potential war, possibly a nuclear, the likes that has not been seen since the Second World War, or imagined since the tense days of the Cold War. Likewise, the fact that today is the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But I have been thinking about both even as we deal with Harvey and Irma.

I have served on the Korean DMZ, I was there just seven months before the attacks of September 11th 2001, but that was during the reign of Kim Jung Un’s father, Kim Jung Il. In retrospect the elder Kim, while a maniacal despot who starved millions of his own people, didn’t seem to have the same need to prove his manhood by testing missiles and nuclear devices as Chubby Son Number One does. In my view both are bad, but Kim Jung Un seems to be serious bent on provoking our own American wannabe despot into shooting first, but I digress…

But today I will be taking part at a remembrance at our base commemorating the attacks and resembling the victims of the 9-11 attacks. I remember the day well and I will never forget the nondescript memo on the Yahoo News homepage that morning as I logged off my computer to go to the gym at Camp Lejeune that stated “plane crashes into World Trade Center.” I saw that and thought that some dumb ass in a private plane had goofed up or had a medical emergency. Then I heard a radio talk show host screaming “oh my God, an airliner just crashed into the other tower.” I rushed to the gym to see what was on their televisions and saw Marines and Sailors standing and watching the burning towers. I went back to my office, showered, got my uniform on and went to my battalion headquarters. After twenty years in the military my war had begun, and it hasn’t ended yet. In fact I doubt that it will end before I retire, and I think that there is a strong chance that Korean, and maybe the Persian Gulf will blow up before my time of service ends.

Last night I watch Bridge on the River Kwai. In it, Sir Alec Guinness, playing Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, the commander of a battalion surrendered at Singapore, in a reflective moment looking at the bridge that his soldiers built, tells his Japanese, captor, Colonel Saito, played by Sessue Hayakawa:

I’ve been thinking. Tomorrow it will be 28 years to the day that I’ve been in the service. 28 years in peace and war. I don’t suppose I’ve been at home more than 10 months in all that time. Still, it’s been a good life. I loved India. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything. Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men’s careers. I don’t know whether that kind of thinking’s very healthy, but I must admit I’ve had some thoughts on those lines from time to time. But tonight… tonight!

Regardless of what happens over the remaining part of my now 36 year long military career, the fact is I am nearer to the end than the beginning of it, and I over the past few years I have asked myself the same questions that Nicholson poses to Saito.

So here I am, after 36 years my career is stalled and I believe that I am serving in my last billet before I retire. There are certainly others who have gone father than me, but I think I’ve had great career, and truthfully I am happy and regardless of what the last few years of my career bring, I hope that those who have served alongside of me in peace and war will be able to say that I made a difference. I don’t think that is for me to decide what the sum total of my life will represent, that is for others, their memory of me, and history.

But even so, as I finish this article and schedule it to post, my thoughts and prayers are with the people in Florida and elsewhere, especially my friends whose pieces are being disrupted by Irma, and those who are trying to recover their lives in Texas.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, Military, News and current events, War on Terrorism

Of Hubris, Hurricanes, Hydrogen Bombs, and Harder Alternatives

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I got five mile walk in with my dogs Minnie and Izzy along the Potomac River and has a good amount of time to enjoy them, to take in the woods and wildlife, and to do some thinking. As I walked in the quiet with my girls I thought about what I wrote yesterday about the blessings of solitude. Going out with them meant that I had time to think and ponder a number of crises that have the possibility of impacting all of our lives in major ways and the hubris, arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence of the so called leader of the free world. Max Hastings description of Kaiser Wilhelm II is frighteningly descriptive of President Trump: “a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.”

First, there was the catastrophe of Hurricane Harvey with the massive destruction to Houston and much of East Texas to which despite two visits to the region the President still seems emotionally untouched by. Then, after North Korea tested a missile that could hit the United States I conducted a test of its largest nuclear weapon to which after he made his obligatory angry tweets to North Korea, President Trump then both threatened and scolded South Korea.

Now there is the real possibility of another natural disaster as Hurricane Irma bears down of the Southeastern or Gulf Coast of the United States as a major, possibly category four or five storm capable of massive destruction and loss of life, and the realization that we have a President that only seems to see these crises in the light of self-promotion and how they make him appear, and the realization that most people do not prepare themselves for worst case scenarios.

This is nothing new, Barbara Tuchman wrote of an earlier generation “One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”

Likewise over the weekend I have been doing a lot of reading. I finished Max Hastings book about the opening months of the First First World War, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, Bradley Gottfried’s annotated atlas of the Battle of Antietam, The Maps of Antietam, which was helpful as I walked the battlefield on Thursday, Meg Groeling’s The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial,of the Civil War Dead, and Breaking Point of the French Army: the Nivelle Offensive of 1917 by David Murphy. All three books to some extent dealt with the hubris of leaders and the human cost of war. Likewise, my walk of the Antietam battlefield was a good way for me to put both hubris and the human cost of war into perspective.

While natural disasters cannot be avoided they can certainly be mitigated if leaders and people are willing to do the hard thing prepare for worst case scenarios. What happened with Hurricane Harvey is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to repair and even for the region to partially recover. Houston will rebuild, and recover but many of the poorer small towns down the Gulf Coast of Texas will not. As I write this the potential damage and loss of life to whatever section of the East Coast or the Gulf Coast that Irma hits will be substantial.

As for North Korea, it seems that the President is determined to provoke the already tense situation on the Korean Peninsula by not only threatening North Korea, but our ally South Korea as well. I don’t know about you but my training as a young officer on the Fulda Gap during the peak of the Cold War taught me to prepare for the worst and I don’t see the leaders of our country or for that matter most people planning, or even thinking about how bad this could get. My motto is that of Hannah Arendt “Prepare for the worst; expect the best; and take what comes,” to which I would add be flexible.

My hope is that Irma will turn away from land and head into the vast reaches of the North Atlantic, but with every new update I see the possibility that as with Harvey, millions of real people are going to have their lives upended. The same is true if the situation on the Korean Peninsula comes to war. It’s just the way I think, and I would rather be ready and have done my best to prepare for the worst case scenario hoping that it never comes to pass, than through a lack of planning, inaction, and careless words or gestures make things exponentially worse.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, national security, natural disasters, News and current events, Political Commentary

God Help Texas, the United States, and the President before It’s Too Late


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am very concerned for all the people that I know who live along the Gulf Coast of Texas as category IV Hurricane Harvey makes landfall. That storm is likely going to be one of the most devastating to Texas and the United States in many years. I’ve lived through more hurricanes than I can count going back to Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 where I was the director of a Red Cross emergency shelter in San Antonio for refugees from the same region being crushed by Harvey. Unlike Harvey, Gilbert moved fast and wasn’t a huge rainmaker, but Harvey will be a killer, and all the President can do is pardon a man who violated the civil rights of thousands of people and who only has told the people of Texas “good luck.” Now he did sign a disaster declaration for the state but if he continues on with threatening a government shutdown and debt default if Congress doesn’t pay for the wall that he promised that Mexico would pay for, and his proposed cutbacks to every Federal agency that would normally be there to help citizens in such an emergency what will that matter? 

This is truly a frightening time. We have a President who shows no regard for the law or the Constitution and who cannot even mention the military personnel and police officers that died over the weekend during a campaign rally? I mean really. And now he goes to Camp David as Texas stands on the brink of disaster. Will he not at least do a flyover abroad Air Force One as former President Bush did during Katrina? Can he not interrupt his Twitter storm against people he believes are his opponents not to show a modicum of respect for dead military personnel and police officers? 

Actually he cannot because he has no moral center. The President has demonstrated time and time again that he is a narcissist and sociopath who cannot feel empathy for anyone, even his supporters, many of whom will die this weekend in Texas as Harvey parks himself over them. If you have been blessed not to have had to go through a major hurricane or lose property and money due to one you are fortunate. No hurricane, but especially category III and IV hurricanes are not to be trifled with. 

But then he does have the time to sign a ban against patriotic Transgender Americans who meet every physical and mental requirement to serve in the military from doing so. The fact that his order will be shown to violate the 14th Amendment and will be held up in the courts does not seem to bother him. The fact that he who enjoyed multiple draft deferments during the Vietnam War, including a medical waiver for having heal spurs even as he played college baseball and was being scouted by major league teams would forbid qualified Transgender Americans from serving when none of his service chiefs ask him to do so is dumbfounding. 

This week the President has called journalists the enemy, refused to honor the lives of 20 American servicemen and police officers who died in the line of duty, but whompardoned a man convicted of defying the courts in order to violate the civil rights of the prisoners in his charge in direct contravention of Justice Department guidelines on pardons. Yes, other Presidents have pardoned undeserving individuals, but this sends a message to Federal prosecutors, the Congress, and Special Prosecute Robert Mueller that if any of them dare to indict or convict individuals connected with the ongoing Russia investigation that he will pardon them in defiance of the law. It is setting up the very really possibility of a constitutional crisis. 

The utter contempt for the law, the Constitution, and the basic decorum of his office, coupled with his lack of compassion and empathy for anyone, including his supporters, and his lack of any strategic thinking in terms of foreign affairs is frightening. Only a despot would behave as the President does. 

My comments today are in no way disrespectful of the President, but are based on my respect for the office that he occupies and the Constitution of the United States. I do not know why the President is behaving in the manner that he is, but I have to at least consider that for all of the personal criticism leveled against him and his actions that the demands of the office are harming his mental and psychological capacity to function. He seems to be cycling down before our very eyes and truthfully I am as much concerned for him as I am the country. But it doesn’t seem that those closest to him have the moral courage to demand that he seek help before he destroys himself and possibly the country. I mean what supporter, especially Christian clergy, could not be concerned for the physical and mental health that the man that they elected President? But it doesn’t seem that they care, so long as he helps give them what they want. 

On the other hand any decent person can both oppose a President’s actions and policies while still caring about him as a person. Human decency requires that those serving in the administration, members of the President’s political party in Congress, and ordinary citizens have the moral courage to care enough about Donald Trump the man to start asking those hard questions. These are not normal times and no one in full possession of their faculties behaves in the manner the President is behaving. 

In the meantime I will be praying for all the people I know in Texas, those who have died in the line of duty, and yes, even the President. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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