Tag Archives: isil

Genocide in the Name of God: a Universal Truth About True Believers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-nine years ago the members of Heinrich Himmler’s Einsatzgruppen were following the German Army into Poland. These forces were intended to do one thing, to eliminate any Poles capable of resisting the Reich and to round up and kill Jews. The sad thing is that while the Genocide committed by the Nazis is in a league of its own, the propensity for others to write about, urge, and promote genocidal practices is not unique.

One of the most troubling aspects of genocide is the degree to which people will go to rationalize and justify it, especially if it is supposedly commanded by their “God.” This includes people who exalt their human leader’s pronouncements to that of a god.

Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Thus, today’s article is difficult to write. I realize that some people will be offended because to those that cannot see the nuance that any criticism of their beliefs is akin to an attack on God. That is not my intent at all, there are too many people of faith in all religions who work against the extremists who claim to speak evil in the name of their God. Likewise I am not  attempting by any stretch of the imagination to broad brush or demonize people of faith. That being said, there are people of every faith and ideology who are capable of planning and committing genocide.

Yes there are extremists, but there are also many ordinary people who obey without questioning, and if ordered by a high enough authority will commit unspeakable acts. As Primo Levi noted, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.”

But my purpose today, in fact the sole intent of this article is to point out some of the questions and issues that people of faith need to ask when they faced with the killing of innocents or defenseless people in the name of God, or of a political leader. The fact that the Trump administration has already began rounding up people including American citizens and separating them from their families in what amount to concentration camps. (And yes, I do know the difference between a concentration camp like Dachau and a death camp like Treblinka, or Auschwitz so don’t even go there Mr. Trump Cultist.) But the fact is that once you go down the path that the Trump administration has elected to trod there is not much more to overcome before the killing begins.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Thus, one only has to look at history and the words or actions of people who live among us to realize that the seeds of genocide are always being sown by those who find others less than human. The men and women who sow the seeds of future genocide can do so in the name of their God, their religion, their religious or secular political ideological, or their views on the superiority of their race. The Nazis provide us a road map of the twisted logic used by the perpetrators of such actions, but they are not alone in history, and people like them exist today, some peddling their hatred in the name of God and religion, but not always.

When one reads the speeches, the after action reports, and the post-war testimony of those who orchestrated and conducted the worst terror of the Nazi regime against the Jews and others that they considered to be less than human, or in the case of the handicapped and the mentally ill, “life unworthy of life” they are stunning, and troubling.

During his Posen speech of October 1943 SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler was quite clear about the aims of the Nazis, and their goals regarding the Jews and other Untermenschen (Sub humans) including infants and children. Himmler said:

“We came to the question: what to do with the women and children? I decided to find a clear solution here as well. I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men – that is, to kill them or have them killed – and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up. The difficult decision had to be taken to make this people disappear from the earth…”

One would think that killing babies, any babies, but in the particular case Jewish babies to prevent them from growing up to avenge the deaths of their parents would be repulsive, especially to Jews. For most Jews it is, but like every religion Judaism has its share of extremists. One of them is the controversial Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the dean of the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva near Nablus in Israel. In a chapter in his book Torat ha-Melekh [The King’s Teaching] entitled “Deliberate harm to innocents,” which provides numerous justifications to kill gentiles, even babies, Shapira wrote:

“In any situation in which a non-Jew’s presence endangers Jewish lives, the non-Jew may be killed even if he is a righteous Gentile and not at all guilty for the situation that has been created… Hindrances—babies are found many times in this situation. They block the way to rescue by their presence and do so completely by force. Nevertheless, they may be killed because their presence aids murder. There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”

The Rabbi’s followers have engaged in frequent violence against Palestinians and Jews who do not hold his radical views. In 2006 he was detained for questioning after writing an article in which he said that all Palestinian males from age 13 and up should be killed or expelled from the West Bank. The rabbi condemns any moderation by the Israeli Defense Forces, and he criticizes Israel’s legal system and judiciary when its rulings conflict with his uncompromising views. To be sure his book was condemned by other Rabbis, especially of the Reformed School, but some Orthodox Rabbis supported it.

Those views are not unlike the stated views of the leaders of the so-called Islamic State when it comes to the killing of non-believers. In that organization’s 2013 Declaration of War those leaders stated:

“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling. Both of them are disbelievers. Both of them are considered to be waging war [the civilian by belonging to a state waging war against the Muslims]. Both of their blood and wealth is legal for you to destroy, for blood does not become illegal or legal to spill by the clothes being worn.”

Many Imam’s and Mufti’s around the world and in the Middle East have issued Fatwah’s against the Islamic State and condemned its teachings. But many of these clerics, who often represent their tribal or government leaders, are considered to be disbelievers and “defenders of Israel” by the Islamic State. As such, many Moslem clerics, and large numbers the vast oppressed masses of impoverished, and often disenfranchised Arab Moslems are attracted to that ideology, especially that directed against the Jews, who are seen as the ultimate enemy.

There are Christians too that find theological justification for killing children, and their reasons are chillingly like those of Himmler: The author of an article on the blog Rational Christianity wrote:

“Why were the children killed, if they weren’t guilty? Apparently, they were considered as morally neutral, since they weren’t yet old enough to be held accountable or to have done much right or wrong. While not as corrupt as their parents, they were part of the society that was judged, and shared its earthly (though not its eternal) fate.”

Another author, a man named Wayne Jackson of Apologetics Press writes of the children of the Canaanites, “Would it not have been infinitely worse, in view of eternity, had these children grown to maturity and adopted the same pagan practices as their parents?”

William Lane Craig, a frequent apologist wrote in the Reasonable faith website a comment that sounds like it could have come from the lips of Himmler in dealing with the effect of the mass murders of Jews and others on the troops of the Einsatzgruppen. Craig wrote:

“So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalising effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.”

However, Craig has no qualms about what the Israelites did, simply because the genocide was commanded by God.

If one substitutes “Hitler” for “God” one sees a similar rationalization used members of the Einsatzgruppen. Colonel Walter Blume, a Police Colonel at Vitebsk who tried to “care” for his troops during a mass execution of Jews. He wrote:

“If I am now asked about my inner attitude which I then held, I can only say that it was absolutely split. On the one hand there was the strict order of my superior… and as a soldier I had to obey. On the other hand I considered the execution of this order cruel and humanly impossible. My very presence at this execution convinced me of this in a final manner. I still know that I wanted to make the situation easier for my men who were certainly moved by the same feelings. When ten men were shot there was always a pause until the next had been brought in. During these pauses I let my men sit down and rest and I joined them. I still know what I said exactly the following words to them at this time: “As much as it is no job for German men and soldiers to shoot defenseless people but the Fuhrer has ordered these shootings because he is convinced that these men would otherwise shoot at us as partisans or would shoot our comrades and our women and children were to be protected if we undertake these executions. This we would have to remember when we carry out this order.” Furthermore, I tried talking about neutral subjects to make the difficult spiritual situation easier and to overcome it.”

That is the troubling issue for me. Genocide is genocide and evil, no matter who commands it. We can try to wiggle around and avoid the subject by saying that whatever God we have is above normal law, or that our secular leader’s commands are above the law, but we cannot escape the fact that genocide is immoral and an immutable evil; even if we do it in the name of our God.

I think that is the problem that I have with people who follow their leaders down the path to genocide, even those who they believe are speaking for God. Likewise, I am very much concerned when people seem to care more about the emotional and spiritual effects of mass murders on the perpetrators than on the victims.

But then, the victims are dead and have no one left to speak for them.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

“I Have the Most Loyal People” Trump and Those Who Believe Anything

trump-cpac-1519415653-article-header

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late and great American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

Hatred is an amazing emotion to which demagogues seem most adept at tapping into and harnessing.  Such leaders and propagandists channel the anger and hatred of their followers by identifying enemies and then with every statement, speech, or tweet reinforcing those beliefs, even if their claims are devoid of logic or substance.

Over the past week the language of NRA leaders Wayne Lapierre and Dana Loesch does much to incite anger and potential violence against their mostly imagined political and ideological enemies. The unmitigated volcanic reaction of Lapierre and Loesch, as well as others who share their views about socialists attempting to destroy the Second Amendment in order to overthrow the Constitution and destroy “freedom” were turned with a vengeance against anyone proposing any kind of restriction on weapons which are based on well proven military rifles of the M-16 family. In response, President Trump reaffirmed his support and admiration for Lapierre and the NRA agenda.

The invective of the NRA was profoundly disturbing especially when Right Wing bloggers, meme generators, “news” sites, and politicians attacked the students that spoke out after the Parkland attacks, calling them “crisis actors” and labeling the massacre as a “false flag” attack engineered by the “deep state” in order to take do away with the Second Amendment and take people’s guns away. This is nothing new, the NRA and its allies have done so after every mass killing. The young people who spoke out and continue to do so, as well as their families, and law enforcement are the “the devil.” 

Truth does not matter to the people who need scapegoats, or who need a “devil” in order to have meaning for themselves and the movements that they find their salvation in.  Hoffer was quite correct in his words that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” The really successful leaders of such movements in history understood this, as do Lapierre and President Trump. The President does this by labeling his opponents “enemies” as he does with the free press, and his political opponents outside and inside the Republican Party, but he is not the first to do so.

For Hitler it was the Jews and other untermenschen. For American Southerners of the Lost Cause following the Civil War and Reconstruction it was the Blacks and their white supporters. For the “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 1850s it was immigrants, especially Irish and Germans who were Roman Catholic. For the leaders of the Islamic State and others like them, it is Jews, Shi’ite Moslems, less than “faithful” Sunnis, Christians and well for that matter anyone who does not line up one hundred percent with them on every issue. For Stalin it was anyone who opposed his Sovietization of life and society. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg and they are not limited to the past, they are happening today in Poland, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, and gaining traction in other western European countries; including Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and yes, the United States where President Trump is leading the parade, or possibly is being led by the people at Fox News.

President Trump has managed to demonize and dehumanize more people and groups than I had thought possible for an American political leader of any party or persuasion. I honestly believe that we have reached a tipping point where any severe crisis, one Reichstag Fire moment, one major terrorist attack, or war from pogroms, ethnic or religious cleansing, mass imprisonments, or even genocide. The words and actions of many of his followers and allies, including Lapierre, Loesch, and so many others reinforces that belief on a daily basis. They are taking advantage of political and social tumult to increase the fear and anxiety of all of us, their supporters and opponents alike.

 

I think a lot of this situation is because humanity is not nearly as advanced as most of us would like to presume. In times of crisis human beings are particularly susceptible to believing the unbelievable. The perpetual unsettledness that people like Trump, Lapierre, Loesch, Sean Hannity, and the people at Fox and Friends thrive on concocting helps prepare people for believing the unbelievable and for later doing what would have been unimaginable to them at one time. Hannah Arendt noted in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” 

No wonder then candidate Trump observed:

“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.” 

He understands his followers and since his election they have proven to be quite loyal even when his policies and programs work to their detriment.

Those that follow my writings on this site know how much I love the various Star Trek television series and movies. There is an episode (The Siege of AR-558) of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where the Ferengi bartender Quark, makes a truly astute observation about humanity during a battle for survival at an isolated outpost:

“Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.”

Quark’s words remind me of those of Dr. Timothy Snyder who noted:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

I don’t think that we are too far from some tipping point where the Trinity of Evil, the politicians, pundits and preachers, especially of the political right and the media whores at Fox News who are more concerned about market share than truth, decide that their “devils” must be exterminated. Of course when they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose for their actions. The President’s CPAC speech, which I just re-read was full of such references.

Sadly in past few years, and especially since President Trump took office, many of those ruthless and often racist ideologies have seen a resurgence in many parts of the world, including in Europe and the United States. While these movements have existed  underground for years they have seen a dramatic resurgence following the election of President Trump, for whom many of their leaders credit with their rise; regardless of whether the President actually holds those views or not. The scary thing is that such groups count him as being an inspiration to them.

That being said the President routinely talks about crushing, eliminating, or destroying his political opponents as well as the racial, ethnic, and religious groups that he uses as straw men and declares to be enemies; enemies who must be sought out.

In a Star Trek the Next Generation episode, one called The Drumhead Captain Picard has to warn his security officer, Lt Worf about the dangers of rampant paranoia. Worf starts: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”

Picard pauses and then notes:

“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”

To claim Picard’s words for myself I have to admit that I don’t like what we have become either, and that thought frightens me; especially when the the followers of the President behave exactly how he said that they would.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under ethics, faith, film, Gettysburg, History, LGBT issues, Political Commentary

War is the Unfolding of Miscalculations… Assad, Trump, Putin, and Syria 2017

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The die has been cast. Last week the Trump administration signaled that the regime of Bashir Al Assad was not a priority for American policy in the Middle East. The comment was perplexing as the Assad regime has worked with the Iranians, and Hezbollah, both enemies of the United States to crush a revolt against his regime that began during the Arab Spring. Assad’s methods included the use of Sarin nerve agent and relentless attacks on civilians and were condemned by much of the world. In 2013 President Obama attempted to gain political support for military action against the Assad regime but was rebuffed by congressional Republicans as well as anti-war Democrats. The Syrian rebels were joined by radical Sunni Muslims of various Al Qaeda affiliates and later joined by the so called Islamic State. The Syrian army was on the point of collapse when the Russians intervened in 2015.

From 2013 on President Trump constantly said that military action in Syria was against U.S. national interests, something that continued until last week. Then Assad, apparently emboldened by the Trump Administration’s statement that changing his regime was not a priority for the U.S. launched a aerial attack using chemical weapons against civilians. The images which were shown throughout the 24 hour cable news cycle evidently made an impression on the President. Within hours of suggesting that military action was possible it began.

From Mar-a-Largo where the President is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, the President said:

“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched… It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

I agree that it is the vital interests of the United States to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons, but why this and why now especially since it did not seem to be a priority less than a week ago?

Right now we know precious little about the action, except that it was sudden and done without any congressional consultation, and little consultation with allies. Will Congress do its duty and demand details before allowing the administration to commit us to another war that in no way is covered by the 2001 authorization for use of force that has been used for all the actions involving the war on terrorism conducted by the Bush and the Obama Administrations, or will Congress roll over and do nothing, thus allowing the executive branch to take the nation to war with no oversight?

The genie of war is now out of the bottle. We do not know what will happen next, the potential branches and sequels to this action are many, and few of them promise anything in the way of peace in Syria. There is now danger that the U.S. will become entangled in a complex war that has no good outcome.

The question, what will happen next is unknown. Can President Trump work with Russia’s President Putin, Turkey’s President Erdrogan, as well as well as other regional leaders to bring something resembling peace to the region? I hope that can happen but I wouldn’t bet on it as history shows that all too often that these things take on a life of their own.  As Barbara Tuchman noted: “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

I have a couple of articles that I will post soon about the dangerous nature of what we are witnessing. But for tonight I will pause and try to get some sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

5 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, US Navy

Remembering the Eve of 9-11-2001 and War Without End

twin-towers-june01

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been quite busy but despite that I have not been able to take my mind off of the events of September 11th 2001. As I was walking my dogs around the lake near our house tonight I was struck by the calm, except when they went chasing the ducks, the geese, and a lone Crane. Papillons with a Napoleon complex are fare too funny not to enjoy, but I digress…

I cannot get that day out of my mind, it changed millions of lives including my own.

On the night of September 10th 2001 my mind was as far from war and terror as it could be. I was much more interested in the MLB Pennant Race than I was anything going on in the world, after all the only issues we faced were occasional, if deadly terrorist attacks on foreign installations and deployed ships like the USS Cole. But as to the security of the Continental United States, or as it has been referred to since 9-11 as “the Homeland” I wasn’t concerned. Somehow, despite my knowledge, understanding and study of terrorist groups I just never thought anyone could pull off an attack of this magnitude. The next morning I discovered just how wrong I was as the first reports came in while I was on my way to a late PT session at Camp LeJeune North Carolina where I was serving with the Second Marine Division.

That day changed all of our lives and ushered in years of war which has cost the United States military almost 60,000 casualties including nearly 7,000 dead or died of wounds including a number of friends and others who I served alongside at various points in my career. Of course that does not count non-DOD agency casualties, or those of the contractors who have been a big part of the war effort. Nor does it count hundreds of thousands of other lives in the Middle East that were a result of our response to 9-11, and the unending attacks by terrorists who trace their inspiration to the attacks of September 11th 2001 in so many places; France, Germany, Britain, Spain, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Australia, Belgium, Africa, Asia, and so many other places that I have a hard time naming them all.

Whether we wanted it to or not the war which began on 9-11, which was so stupidly expanded into Iraq by the Bush Administration, opening the door to Al Qaeda Iraq and now the Islamic State, and which greatly strengthened Iran by eliminating their worst enemy, Saddam Hussein have made our task most difficult.

Fifteen years after 9-11-2001 we are not only still at war, but it is becoming a war without end. Fifteen years ago I figured that after a few months Al Qaeda would be no more, and the war that they had unleashed upon us would be over. however I was wrong. I do not know what September 11th 2016 will bring, but there is one thing that I know it will not bring… peace.

Have a good night, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History

A Pause to Think


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a few words this morning. The past day or two have been emotionally draining, mostly due to the negativity and attacks of some friends on social media due to my strong condemnation of the massacre in Orlando and the silence of so many Christians and conservatives about it. The lack of empathy for the victims was astounding as a number of people jumped the shark so to speak and went all out not just to disagree with me, but to condemn me. 

I handled them all well. I refused to degrade myself by sinking to their level and refused to let their venom ruin my day. It was just sad to see otherwise good people be so deluded by their hatred of Gays, Liberals, and Muslims that they couldn’t understand what I was saying. This included conservatives and liberals alike. I am just amazed at the lack of empathy or critical thinking that is the norm in the United States, and while I would like to say that it is just on one side, it spans the spectrum. 

I am a very pragmatic and realistic Liberal. As I said last week there are times that I feel like B.H. Liddell-Hart’s description of Willam Tecumseh Sherman in 1861, “a realist in wonderland.”  

Tomorrow I will be posting what some of my liberal and progressive friends will consider to be a very politically incorrect article about how to fight the Islamic State. In fact it will be similar to what I have written about that subject over the past few years. That being said it will certainly piss off some allegedly conservative people who think that a bomb a day keeps the terrorist away. 

I have grown a rather thick skin over the past few years. I can nuance this, and I can let the personal attacks runoff my back, but I will not stop speaking up for realism, nor will I condemn whole races and religions for the acts of a few. In fact I am so tired of the idiocy of those that condemn all Muslims for the actions of some that I want to throw up. The same is true for those that simply say to “bomb them into the stone ages” or “carpet bomb” them; such people know nothing of war, nor the mindset of those that we fight. 

Likewise, I am equally disgusted by supposed Liberals and progressives who make excuses for cold blooded terrorists and instead blame the United States and Western Europe for things that are often the making and toxic concoctions of well off fundamentalist Muslims who control incredibly oil rich nations, or nations which have nuclear weapons. 

That being said, I will not let those few, or those that support or condone their actions off the hook. The current wars, which came about after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 have been going on for almost 15 years. Since I anticipate that they will still be going on when I retire from the military in 2020 that means that many of the young men and women entering the military when I retire would not have been born when those attacks happened. For me that is unacceptable. Maybe I have become more like William Tecumseh Sherman than I thought that I ever would. He wisely said, that “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”  And then this, “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen. I say let us given them all they want.” My God, how many more young people will have to continue a war that began before they were born if we do not commit ourselves to winning it now? 

This war has to be fought and those committed to terrorism destroyed root and branch. Their families and supporters will have to feel the terror that their terrorist husbands, fathers, and sons have brought upon this world.  Yes, as Sherman said, war is cruelty, but the time for half measures is at an end, otherwise it will be war without end and I can imagine nothing worse for the world than that;  especially for the people, (mostly Muslims) that are already suffering under the yoke of the Islamic State or other Muslim radical and terrorist groups or nations. 

Call me what you want. I can handle it. I am not a warmonger as anyone who knows me or who has read my writings knows. I hate it as only one who has seen it first hand as well as who has studied it can. As Colonel Strong Vincent, who died leading his brigade at the age of 26 on the slopes of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg said, “We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step. We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest…” 

Simply bombing people or calling in drones, and relying on less than one percent of the population to fight our wars for us will never convince those who celebrate the killing of innocents like what happened in Orlando last week that we are in earnest. This has to be a fight that every American that no matter what his or her race, religion, political association or ideology may be needs to have a hand in the fight. We all need to have skin in the game. Those who have killed so many innocents in Orlando, San Bernardino, New York and Washington, Paris and Brussels, London and Madrid, and so many other places need to feel the hard and cruel hand of war, or well will never see the end of it. 

That may not sound pleasant, but it is reality, and I dare ask anyone that disagrees with me to show me from history that I am not correct in saying this. 

Like I said, I will write more about these things tomorrow, and maybe Thursday as well. But until then, have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

8 Comments

Filed under History, middle east, Military, News and current events, terrorism

The Straw that Stirs the Drink: The Implications of Resurgent Religion for Strategists and Policy Makers

isis-terrorists

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am being published in the most recent issue of Campaigning: The Journal of the Joint Forces Staff College. The article will be available along with the rest of the journal at the website of the college, but I am posting it here. It is an interesting topic since religion is raising its head in numerous conflicts around the world, and is a very real part of the contemporary American political climate. Note, the pictures are not included in the Campaigning issue.

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

One can never separate war and the means by which it is fought from its political ends. There are, however, many societies whose language and religious ideology shape the leader’s political ends. To borrow the immortal words of legendary baseball slugger Reggie Jackson, religion is often “the straw that stirs the drink.” The fact that religious ideologies influence societies and international relations is not new, but after almost three centuries of decline the twenty-first century promises to begin a new age of religious influence. Samuel Huntington notes, “Western secular models of the state are being challenged and replaced”[1] in many nations as religious influence grows. The indicators of this shift, religious, cultural, and racial, are glaringly obvious in the Middle East but clearly present in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Balkans, India, Latin America, and the United States, and threaten to subvert Western secular models of the state.

According to Clausewitz, war is an extension or continuation of politics. Clausewitz, a product of classic German Liberalism, understood the term politics in light of the German concept Weltanschauung, which translates as “World View.” The term is not limited to a particular doctrine or the ideology of party politics, but it encompasses the worldview of a people or culture and includes religion. Religious leaders, as well as media outlets and politicians, use a world view to influence their populatio. In fact, the world view is often crucial in the decision by a people to go to war, their rationale for going to war, whom they war against, the means for conducting war, and the end state they envision from warring.

image.adapt.960.high

Because Weltanschauung includes all elements of culture, to include race, religion, and economy, as well as sociological and historical factors; religious leaders, as well as media outlets and politicians, use it to manipulate their people. Radical proponents of religious fundamentalism around the world, who reject the pluralities of modernism and science, skillfully “use each new method of communication” [2] to spread their message of fear in a dualistic manner  to influence those most vulnerable to the threat of change.

Modern Americans and Western European policy makers tend to look at the world, and issues of politics and policy in isolation from each other, and especially in isolation from religion. Such an atomistic method ensures that many policy makers cannot see the forest for the trees. This is particularly true when religion is a motivating factor and an ideological component of conflict. Religiously based ideology is a powerful and “often intractable force that can be quite unresponsive to all the instrumentalities of state power, let alone the instrumentalities of foreign policy,” [3] and has been so from the advent of civilization to the present day. Samuel Huntington observed, “To a very large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s great religions; and people who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other….” [4]

Even among religions that claim to worship the same god beliefs may differ, and that fact underscores Colin Gray’s all important, “contexts of war.” Gray makes the case for seven essential contexts policy makers and military leaders must understand regarding war that “can have strong negative consequences,” [5] if ignored or misunderstood.

Each of the contexts is associated with the manner of social development, and define the essential characteristics of a particular armed conflict. In many areas of the world religion functions as the “central political pillar maintaining the power of [the] ruler—a major pole in determining people’s loyalty—and as a key ingredient in determining a nation’s stability or instability.” [6] Religion and religious values remain instrumental to the ethics and the social norms of a society and dictate how it deals with other nations and peoples, as well as how it conducts war.

Over the course of the last three centuries the emphasis on rational and empirical thought predisposed western strategists and policy makers to exclude religion as a component of analysis. Furthermore, the scientific methodology used by many analysts dictates that they asses individual components of issues in isolation from each other, and often without connection to their opponent’s world view. Experts dissect economic factors, military capabilities, existing political systems, diplomatic considerations, and the ways societies gather information and exhaustively examine and evaluate each individual component. But the problem comes when policymakers fail to understand how world view, ideological factors, history, and religious belief impact how a given opponent will conduct war.

ISIS-MAP

In part, policy makers tend to interpret information through their own worldview. As Gray notes, “Policy and strategy will be influenced by the cultural preferences bequeathed by a community’s unique interpretation of its history as well as by its geopolitical-geostrategic context.” [7] As such, both military and civilian policy makers fail to address the criticality of religion to developing effective strategy. Barbara Tuchman wrote, “When information is relayed to policy-makers, they respond in terms of what is already inside their heads and consequently make policy less to fit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in their minds since childhood.” [8] A world view imposes cultural prejudices and blinders on western policy makers and strategists, that predispose them to look for shortcuts, or the most convenient explanations selected from the information they can see. Edward Luttwak wrote:

Enlightenment prejudice has remained amply manifest in the contemporary professional analysis of foreign affairs. Policymakers, diplomats, journalists, and scholars who are ready to overinterpret economic causality, who are apt to dissect social differentiations most finely, and who will minutely categorize political affiliations are still in the habit of disregarding the role of religion, religious institutions, and religious motivations in explaining politics and conflict, and even in reporting their concrete modalities. Equally the role of religious leaders, religious institutions, and religiously motivated lay figures in conflict resolution has also been disregarded – or treated as a marginal phenomenon hardly worth noting. [9]

Unbeknownst to policy makers, their prejudices, the world view blinders they wear, inhibit them from seeing how interconnected the most primal elements of the human experience are to others’ worldviews, even their own. As such, both military and civilian policy makers fail to address the criticality of religion to developing effective strategy.

Many people believed that modern ideas, “such as science, technology, secularism, and humanism would overcome the religious concept of the universe that dominated premodern society.” [10] Contemporary Western strategists and policy makers came to adulthood in a culture that supplanted the importance of religious ideas and need. A global, four-decade resurgence of religious ideals makes adaptation for strategists and planners difficult because of the dramatic shift in essential, unquestioned views. [11] Others’ worldviews, including religious beliefs, often influence the application of economic, political, diplomatic, military power, and the use and dissemination of information. That fact remains true despite the religion or sect involved, and especially in a decidedly secular, or at least outwardly non-religious, nation. Perhaps, by ignorance or a refusal to admit the importance of religious motivations in conflict, strategists and planners fail to realize the western culture arose from primal religious beliefs that informed politics, philosophy, ethics, law, economics, art, racial constructs, and science for nearly 1500 years. Perhaps, that refusal fueled a justified appall or embarrassment of the religious justifications their forbearers used to incite war that subjugated or exterminated peoples.

The United States Military made a belated attempt to address ideology, culture, and religion in terms of counter-insurgency doctrine when it published the U.S. Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Manual. The discussion of these issues is limited to two pages that specifically deal with various extreme Moslem groups that use religion as a pillar of their ideology, strategy, and operations. But the analysis in the counterinsurgency manual is limited because its focus is very general and at a tactical level. While the manual encourages leaders to attempt to understand the cultural differences it contains little to help leaders understand the importance of religion and ideology at the strategic and operational levels.

Commendably, the manual discusses how terrorist and insurgent groups use ideology, which is frequently based on religion to create a narrative. The narrative often involves a significant amount of myth presented as history, such as how Al Qaida and ISIL use the Caliphate as a religious and political ideal that for many Moslems, “produces a positive image of the golden age of Islamic civilization.” [12]

A purely intellectual understanding of how Al Qaida and ISIL use symbolism and imagery limits how strategists and planners can develop methods to counter it. Rather, strategists and planners would benefit from a historical introspection that leads to a personal reflection, aimed at understanding how the theological tools of the Christian religion subjugated peoples and the ramifications today. Protestant Christianity, particularly the Puritan concept of “a city set on a hill” undergirded the American belief in the nation’s Manifest Destiny, which in large part led to the extermination of the Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the romanticism of the ante-bellum American South, the belief that African Americans were sub-human, and that God ordained slavery. The concept persisted after the Civil War in the myth of the Lost Cause, and was exported abroad as the United States belatedly entered the race for overseas colonies.

Manife4

The concept of Manifest Destiny is still an essential element of the idea of American Exceptionalism, which often justifies much of American foreign policy. Former President George W. Bush alluded to this idea in his 2003 State of the Union Address where he said, “that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” [13] Throughout the Bush presidency, the President’s idea that God undergirded the policy of the United States led to a mismatch of policy ends and the means to accomplish them. Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and historian Michael Oren wrote:

Not inadvertently did Bush describe the struggle against Islamic terror as a ‘crusade to rid the world of evildoers.’ Along with this religious zeal, however, the president espoused the secular fervor of the neoconservatives…who preached the Middle East’s redemption through democracy. The merging of the sacred and the civic missions in Bush’s mind placed him firmly in the Wilsonian tradition. But the same faith that deflected Wilson from entering hostilities in the Middle East spurred Bush in favor of war. [14]

Only when policy makers and strategists understand that the use of religious ideology to conquer, subjugate, and terrorize in the name of God is universal, does it become easier to defeat those who employ it.

American Presidents often invoke the name of God to justify the compulsion to conquer, such as McKinley did when he decided to annex the Philippines in 1899 following the defeat of the Spanish. The war against the Filipinos used some of the most bloodthirsty tactics employed to fight the Filipino insurgents, who only wanted independence, and stained our own national honor. Mark Twain wrote: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . . .” [15]

A doubtlessly sincere McKinley sought counsel from God about whether he should annex the Philippines or not. Barbara Tuchman wrote: “He went down on his knees, according to his own account, and ‘prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance’. He was accordingly guided to conclude “that there was nothing left to do for us but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos. And uplift and civilize and Christianize them, by God’s grace to do the very best we could by them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ died.” [16]

The counterinsurgency manual does mention how “Ideology provides a prism, including a vocabulary and analytical categories, through which followers perceive their situation.” [17] But again, it does this at a micro-level and the lessons are not applied at the higher levels of strategic thinking and policy. This is often due to the fact that American and other western strategists and policy makers view religion “as a set of theological issues rather than as a profoundly political influence in public life.”[18] Even after nearly a decade and a half of unremitting war against enemies for whom religion is at the center of their politics, policy makers still misread or neglect the importance of religion and religiously based ideology in the political motivations of their opponents. In many cases, the religion of a people is a stronger part of their identity than that of the state. Nations created during the post-colonial era “continue to see religion, clan, ethnicity, and other such factors as the markers of community identity” [19] Despite the advances in communications and technology and the globalization of so many western concepts, the political and religious leaders of Islamic nations view modern western political and social concepts as unwanted intrusions on their ancient cultures, and more importantly, insults to their religion.

kim davis pastor

But, lest American policy makers and strategists see this rise as something completely foreign, a similar phenomenon is occurring in the United States. Despite the fact that a growing number of Americans espouse no-religious preference and, according to multiple studies conducted over a period of two decades, are leaving organized Christianity, adherents of two highly motivated and militant branches of Christianity have grown in strength and political power over the last forty years. The group known as Christian Dominionism advocates Christian domination of all parts of society and culture, and Pre-Millennial Dispensationalists believe in the imminent return of Christ to earth, including the belief that most of the earth’s population will be killed during the Apocalypse. A Pew Research Center survey found that by the year 2050, that 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth. [20] Leaders, politicians (including major conservative presidential hopefuls), pundits, and preachers often weigh in on public policy, to include military strategy, and claim that God’s law supersedes that of the state. They simultaneously reject secularism while legislating against those they deem enemies, and advocate for a “holy war” against Islam without distinction to Islam’s own divisions and distinctive denominational differences.

may appear irrational American strategists and policy makers, but it is completely rational to those who subscribe to it. The study of history, particularly how the deep roots of religion and faith shape cultural worldviews, as well as the actions of various peoples and nations, helps the policy maker and strategist adapt policy, strategy, and ultimately operational and tactical methods to the context of the conflict at hand. To do this effectively it is important that American strategists not be afraid to examine our own past to see how our ancestors used religion for good as well as for evil. However, the often dark mirror of history can be disconcerting to peer into. People tend to be uncomfortable when the face that they see in the mirror is all too similar to their current enemies, to the point that one might turn away in fear of what they see. The inability to look into the dark mirror of our own history is especially perilous when enemies are perfectly willing to wage war without end unto the destruction of the world in the name of their God, because when you belatedly look back in the mirror, failure will be staring you right in the face.

Notes

[1] Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? America’s Great Debate The Free Press, Simon and Schuster Europe, London 2004 p.360

[2] Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason Revised and Updated Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York 2008 p.18

[3] Luttwak, Edward. The Missing Dimension  in Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1994 p.13  

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.42

[5] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.5

[6] Rubin, Barry Religion in International Affairs in Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1994 pp.20-21

[7] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.25

[8] Tuchman, Barbara W. Practicing History Alfred A. Knopf, New Your 1981 p.289

[9] Ibid Luttwak The Missing Dimension pp.9-10

[10] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.21

[11] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.21

[12] ___________ U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24 MCWP 3-33.5 15 December 2006 with and forward by General David A Petraeus and General James Amos, Konecky and Konecky, Old Saybrook CT 2007 p.26

[13] Bush, George W. State of the Union Address Washington D.C. January 28th 2003 retrieved from Presidential Rhetoric.com http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/speeches/01.28.03.html 10 June 2015

[14] Oren, Michael Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2007 p.584

[15] Twain, Mark To the Person Sitting in Darkness February 1901 Retrieved from The World of 1898: The Spanish American War The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html 12 December 2014

[16] Ibid. Tuchman Practicing History p.289

[17] Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

[18] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs in Religion p.20

[19] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.22

[20] Pew Research Center, U.S. Politics and Policy, http://www.people-press.org/2010/06/22/public-sees-a-future-full-of-promise-and-peril/

8 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, national security, News and current events, Religion

Living with Terrorism

This photo provided by Georgian Public Broadcaster and photographed by Ketevan Kardava, shows the scene in Brussels Airport in Brussels, Belgium, after explosions were heard Tuesday, March 22, 2016. A developing situation left a number dead in explosions that ripped through the departure hall at Brussels airport Tuesday, police said. All flights were canceled, arriving planes were being diverted and Belgium's terror alert level was raised to maximum, officials said. (Ketevan Kardava/ Georgian Public Broadcaster via AP)

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am an old hand when it comes to living with terrorism. When we were stationed in Germany in the 1980s it was at the height of the second generation of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang/ Red Army Faction reign of terror. There were frequent bombings and murders committed by these East German supported terrorists throughout Germany, and we narrowly avoided being victims of two of them; one at the Frankfurt Airport, and one at the Frankfurt Military Exchange. Every day we had to look under our car for car bombs as that was a favorite method of killing. Likewise when we drove onto base, not only did we have multiple forms of identification verified, but our vehicles were checked for bombs underneath, as well as in the trunks and engine compartments, which had to be opened and inspected. Despite that on one occasion a bomb was found in the Mess Hall and defused, across town at another base a young enlisted man was kidnapped and murdered by a female terrorist posing as a date. When we were shopping one day at a German retail store we saw, and reported to the Polizei a group of people that we recognized too late from the wanted posters. We made our report and were interrogated for over two hours. I was actually glad for that, because what we said was taken seriously.

RAF bombing

Baader-Meinhoff/ Red Brigade Bombing in Germany

But sadly that was just the beginning of my experience with terrorism, both international and domestic. Terrorists may have different causes and motivations, but the one thing they desire to do is to is to terrorize and kill, that their victims often have nothing to do with their grievances, real or imagined, and are innocent of any crime against them does not matter; nor does it seem to matter to their western apologists who excuse the terrorists by blaming the societies and governments of the victims instead of placing the blame on the hate filled ideology of the terrorist.

The sad thing is the ideology of DAESH has been around for a long time, but that it would not made much progress had not President Bush destroyed Iraq and given them a place to flourish. Fareed Zakaria hit the nail on the head when he noted: “I should have paid greater attention to my mentor in graduate school, Samuel Huntington, who once explained that Americans never recognize that, in the developing world, the key is not the kind of government — communist, capitalist, democratic, dictatorial — but the degree of government. That absence of government is what we are watching these days, from Libya to Iraq to Syria.” It is the absence of the restraining force of government that has allowed DAESH to thrive, and which will allow it to continue.

I have travelled all over the world and I have been to war. I have seen horrible things and even when I admit the many things that this country has done that are wrong, and even criminal, I cannot allow that to color my view that the terrorists; be they the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the Red Brigades, or today the hate filled religious terrorists of DAESH deserve the slightest bit of sympathy, and just because our government and other governments, as well as the media sometimes label people as terrorists who are not, does not mean that the actual terrorists, like the ones who attacked Brussels yesterday are not terrorists. They are terrorist and that word has a definitive meaning for them, there is no moral equivalence of sleight of hand here. They terrorize and kill innocents in the lands that they occupy, and are taking their fight all over the world.

So do I live with it? I decide to live regardless of the threat, and refused to be terrorized and I will speak out, even if I offend people. I think that Salman Rushdie, a man who has known the price of having a bounty on his head by religious fanatics for decades, said it right: “How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”

I will travel to Germany again this year. I will go to the airport, I will travel on the subways, and go through train stations; and I will not be afraid. Likewise, despite the fact that I know such attacks are bound to happen here, maybe even at the base I am stationed, I will not be afraid.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under History, national security, News and current events, Religion, terrorism