Tag Archives: isis

The Banality of Evil: Terrorism in Manchester


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day and another heinous terrorist attack on people attending a concern in Manchester, England. Over twenty were killed and many more wounded in the attack which also left the terrorist dead. Among the victims were young children, innocent by any standard.

Terrorists of all kinds share a common hatred for human beings who are not like them, people for whom they blame their condition on. It has been so since people discovered that terror, committed in the name of a religion or ideology either by state or non-state actors works. Monday’s attack by a twenty-two year old Salman Abedi who according to neighbors dressed “in traditional Islamic dress.” The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but at present little is known about Abedi other that he was born and raised in Britain and might be of Lydian descent. His actual connections to ISIS are unknown. It appears that he deployed an Improvised Explosive Device that was loaded with explosives as well as nails, metal scraps, and screws which made it a perfect anti-personnel weapon which he set off at a time guaranteed to cause maximum casualties. His act, as are all terrorist attacks aimed at innocent non-combatants can only be described as evil. The fact that it appears to be done in the name of his Islamic God does make it any less so. It was an act of evil. But the problem is that his act will inspire other Islamists to conduct similar attacks and provide grist to those who want to blame all Muslims for the attack, provoking violence against innocent Muslims who detest and oppose the kind of attack made by Abedi. Th Islamic State claim of responsibility included the statement that the attack “was in revenge for Allah’s religion, in an endeavor to terrorize the [infidels], and in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.” In the United States fundamentalist Christian extremist Theodore Shoebat said “he feels no sympathy for these people. The people who died, the people who were injured… I really don’t care. The types of people who go to these concerts are the same people responsible for the degeneracy that you see in society…” In other words the murder of children is just as fine to self-proclaimed Christian Shoebat as it is to ISIS. Both would have fit in well with the Nazi troops who killed Jews by the millions and killed innocent children up close and personal. They are all evil and they all think that they are the righteous. 

However, it doesn’t have to be this way as historian Laurence Rees notes, we do not need to succumb to the bloodlust of revenge and retaliation. We can seek justice without victimizing other innocent people. We do not have to give in to what Hannah Arendt referred to as the banality of evil.” We have the choice as individuals as how to behave towards our fellow human beings. Rees noted: “…human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” The fact is that we cannot allow the situation to determine what is right and wrong in how we respond to terror and in doing so condemn the innocent along with the guilty. 

Anyone knows me knows that all terrorism is evil regardless of its motivation. Over the years I have spoken out against all types of terrorism and that I have no sympathy or desire no mercy be shown to those who commit or sponsor it, but at the same time I do not believe that we should allow fear and hatred to cause us to seek retribution or revenge upon innocent people simply because they share a common racial, religious, or national origin of the guilty. To do so makes us no different than those who kill children at a concert simply because they live in a country opposed to ISIS, or because they or their ancestors belong to a country, religion, or race that we despise or believe are less than human. 

When will we ever learn?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under News and current events, Religion, terrorism

The Islamic State and the New, Old Nature of War

bilad ash shaam

I am a realist when it comes to human nature and the reality of the evil that human beings can do. I have been to war, and personally I can think of nothing worse than more war. For me war is part of the reality that I live with, and which I am reminded of every time I try to sleep. That being said, a new war is gaining in intensity and threatening to blow away what is left of the old world order.

For most modern Americans and others living in the West, war is an often abstract concept regulated to small bodies of professionals fighting actions far away, of which we only catch occasional glimpses of on television or the internet. For most Americans and others in the West, modern war has become a spectator sport, and one far less interesting to most than either American or European football matches.

We in the West have been protected from the savage nature of war for the better part of six decades, with the sole possible exception being Vietnam, when the press had nearly unfettered access to the battlefields and the troops fighting the war. That war was a staple of the six o’clock news on a daily basis for a decade, bringing the war home in almost real time, and that coverage as well as the large numbers of Americans killed and wounded coming home from the war triggered a public backlash against it that helped bring the American involvement to an end.

The government and the military changed the way that war has been covered since, now reporters are vetted and closely supervised, even when they are imbedded with the troops. When the war in Iraq began to go bad, even the return of those killed in action was largely off limits. During the Iraq War many news programs took on the character of cheerleaders as Saddam was toppled. The media only slowly adjusted to the reverses brought about by the failed strategy of the Bush administration in Iraq as the falsehoods that brought about the invasion were revealed and the Iraq Civil War and insurgency spread like wildfire.

As such most people, including political, business, media elites, and even military theorists fail to understand the essential and unchanging, character, nature and complexity of war. As British theorist Colon S. Gray so bluntly points out: “Some confused theorists would have us believe that war can change its nature. Let us stamp on such nonsense immediately. War is organized violence threatened or waged for political purposes.” 1 If we fail to understand that we cannot understand the ongoing wars, to include that being waged by the Islamic State, or Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

This war that the Islamic State is waging is bigger than most of us understand or want to believe. It is not simply about toppling the Assad regime, nor even taking Baghdad, or even about gaining control of the oil of the Middle East, though each is a goal for the Islamic State.

The larger and much more ambitious goal of the ISIS leadership; that of toppling the Saudi monarchy, which ISIS feels is corrupt and heretical, and the occupation of Mecca, Medina and ultimately Jerusalem, the three most holy sites in Islam. The Puritanical and violent Wahhabi Islam practiced by ISIS rightly understands as so many other Wahhabi fundamentalists have throughout the years; that the possession of these sites, especially Mecca and Medina, give them both legitimacy and standing as the preeminent Islamic government in the World.

The House of Saud allied itself with the founder of Wahhabi Islam in the 1700s, but it was not until the 1920s when the British Indian Office backed the Saudi against the other tribes of the Arabian Peninsula that Wahhabi Islam had a stable base to reach out and touch the rest of the world. As the Saudis became more affluent and connected to the world through oil and the global economy some leading Saudis have tried to moderate their Wahhabi beliefs, modernize the Kingdom, even allowing women a few rights, and to accommodate more progressive beliefs. In the 1970s this brought about the assassination of King Faisal in March 1975 and the seizure of the holy sites of Mecca by extremists in November of 1979. That, coupled with their military alliance with the United States after the Gulf War brought about more opposition from the more radical Wahhabi including Osama Bin Laden whose Al Qaeda network spawned ISIS.

ISIS has found its greatest success in exploiting failures of many of the despotic and totalitarian leaders of Arab states, divisions in Islam, foreign influences and the seemingly hopeless plight of Arabs to overcome poverty and oppression in those countries to advance their cause and promote their ideology. Their brand of Islam which teaches that almost anything is an idol enables them to destroy historical sites, cemeteries, houses of worship and archeological treasures belonging to Christians, Jews, Buddhists and even to other Moslems.

Terrorism and terrorist groups have not generally been non-state actors in the world wide political drama, however, that being said, even non-state actors have strategic, ideological and political goals to which their violence is directed. The unique nature of ISIS is that what most of us assumed to be yet another non-state terrorist group is becoming an embryonic state with its own economic assets, media arm coupled with defined military and political-religious goals, both against other Moslems and the West. Is is morphing before our very eyes from a non-state entity to a hybrid entity with character traits of a non-state and a state actor, especially as it takes control of more and more territory in the Tigris-Euphrates basin of Syria and Iraq.

The message of ISIS to all, including other Moslems, is to convert to their understanding of Islam or die. It is the same kind of message that other religious extremists at the helm of governments have used for millennia, sadly including many Christians.

The fact that the Islamic State is aspiring to become not just a non-state actor, but to place itself as a dominant power on the world stage makes it different. It has the capability of operating in the open where it physically controls cities or regions, as well as in the shadows in countries viewed by them as the enemy. It will most likely adapt its tactics as the situation dictates. Against weaker, or politically unstable neighbors, it will use more conventional means and asymmetrical warfare. However, against enemies who have the power to strike them from afar such as the United States, they will use the asymmetrical means of various types of terrorism; traditional bombings, kidnappings, hijackings and assassinations, the use of any kind of WMD that they can obtain and even cyber-terrorism to attack financial institutions or critical infrastructure.

The war that the Islamic State is preparing for is a throwback to the heady days of Moslem conquest from the 7th to the 15th Centuries. But unlike those days where early Moslems were interested in such things as classical Greek learning, the preservation of historic sites or advances scientific or mathematical learning, the Islamic State is bent on destroying all vestiges of other peoples, groups or religions. Because their absolutist and apocalyptic beliefs allow no compromise, they can and will ruthlessly pursue their religious, ideological and political goals using terror as a tool.

We in the West have not faced something like this in a very long time. War is not just a military and political endeavor, “it is social and cultural… and must reflect the characteristics f the communities that wage it.” 2 The leaders of the Islamic State understand this fact all too well, that is a major reason why they are attracting new Jihadists around the world. However, we in the United States in Europe are on the whole, so detached from such matters that we do not understand the savage nature of war, or the motivations groups like the Islamic State. To us they are barbarous and a throwback to times where our ancestors waged wars of religion and ideology to conquer, convert and enslave unbelievers.

There are many politicians that seem to believe that the Islamic State can be crushed quickly by US and allied forces. However, history shows that such religious-political-ideological movements do not die easily, even when mercilessly attacked by superior military forces.

Those that think a series of surgical strikes by aircraft, cruise missiles or drones; or attacks by Special Forces will eliminate ISIS as a threat do not understand the nature of that beast. We have become enamored of the technology that we use to make war, and we often forget the preeminence of the human dimension. Technology changes rapidly, the nature of the people that employ it seldom changes.

The West must, for human rights and freedom and not for imperialist, economic or even the mission of spreading democracy, we must be prepared for a long and difficult war that will be waged in the most brutal of manners by all sides. We must realize that there will be a terrible cost such a war, economic and human to be sure, people will die and economies will suffer, but worse there will be a cost to our individual and corporate psyche.  This war will eventually have a profound effect on all  us.

We must realize as Helmuth Von Molkte told Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1906 that the next war “will be a national war which will not be settled by a decisive battle but by a long wearisome struggle with a country that will not be overcome until its whole national force is broken, and a war which will utterly exhaust our own people, even if we are victorious.” Von Molkte’s tragic mistake was that he did nothing to “follow through the logic of his prophecy” 3 and allowed his country to enter a war that it was not prepared to wage, and which caused its collapse.

Ultimately, despite our protestations this war, which has already started will become a war without mercy to use the words of John Dower. The West will be slow to move, and half measures will provoke more attacks and a further spread of the Islamic State. Alliances will have to be made with nations that we may despise, but who are also threatened by the Islamic State. Such is nothing new, the United States and Great Britain allied themselves with the Soviet Union to defeat Hitler.

However, when ISIS successfully attacks a major European or American city causing great loss of life, which they very probably will do, the gloves will finally come off. Then the only words to describe how the West will wage the war will be those of William Tecumseh Sherman who said: “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out….” 4 The Islamic State is sowing the wind, and they will reap the whirlwind.

We must look to history, our own as well as Islamic and Arab to understand the new era we are entering, for in truth, despite all the technological advances and changes in strategy and tactics, the fact is that as Colin Gray writes “what changes about war and warfare, although it can be very obvious and can even seem dramatic, is actually overmatched by the eternal features of war’s nature.” 5

T.E. Lawrence wrote a memorandum to the British Foreign Office warning of what we are seeing today: “A Wahabi-like Moslem edition of Bolshevism is possible, and would harm us almost as much in Mesopotamia as in Persia…” T.E. Lawrence, Memorandum to Foreign Office 15 September 1919

Well, that vision is upon us, and with that I will close for today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, history, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, national security, News and current events, philosophy

Wars Without Mercy: The New Old Way of War

MacArthur Shigemitsu

Today is significant for it marks the end of the World War Two in the Pacific. Sixty-nine years ago a delegation from the Imperial Japanese government signed surrender documents with the Americans and their Allies aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The surrender marked the end of one of the most brutal wars ever fought, a war between two sides where in many cases no quarter was given. Violations of the Geneva and Hague conventions ran rampant on both sides as the respective governments and the media of each nation dehumanized and demonized their opponents, making it that much easier to excuse wanton barbarism and cruelty. 

Today another American reporter, Steven Sotloff, was beheaded by the ISIS/ISIL Islamic Caliphate, and as it does so often it released the video of the execution. The Caliphate, which developed out of Al Qaeda fighting the United States in Iraq has become a formidable fighting organization, with deep financial resource is gaining radicalized adherents around the world, and its brutality toward all enemies, even other Moslems is unmatched. The propaganda of the Caliphate against its enemies is similar to what was used by both sides in the Second World War and with each massacre of civilians, each execution of innocent reporters, humanitarian workers and others they ensure that they will reap the whirlwind.

What ISIS forgets is that beneath the civilized veneer of the West, that part of us that likes to abide by treaties and focus on human rights, is that when enraged Americans, Britons, Australians, Germans, Russians and even the French can be just as brutal and also fight wars without mercy. Our histories are full of such examples. The problem is that since we haven’t had to fight such a total war since the Second World War, the leaders of groups such as ISIS assume we are weak and decadent, easy targets. They forget the manner in which all sides, even the Allies waged the Second World War, especially in the Pacific, where the war was fought without mercy. 

isis-terrorists

By waging war in the manner it is doing, ISIS will ensure that its leaders and members will receive no mercy. The post 9-11 response of the United States to Al Qaeda will look like a game compared to what is coming. And unfortunately, we will all lose a bit of our humanity, maybe even a lot of it the longer this war goes on. As far as propaganda, many U.S. politicians , corporate interests and our corporate media are great at promoting war and demonizing opponents. This will be brutal my friends and I for one wish it had never come about. I want peace, I went to Iraq believing that the Iraqis I served alongside and those who had me in their homes would eventually know peace. I grieve for them, as I grieve for all that will suffer in this new war without mercy. 

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I have reposted a book review of John Dower’s book “War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1986. I highly recommend the book to anyone who thinks that the conflict with ISIS will be anything but uncivilized and barbarous. It has all the elements to make it so: race, religion, ideology and power, it will mark a return to barbarism that many of us thought would never happen again. 

Here is that review.

The study of war cannot simply be confined to the study of battles, weapons and leaders. While all of these are important one must as Clausewitz understood examine the human element of policy, ideology and the motivations of nations as they wage war. Clausewitz understood that war could not be reduced to formulas and templates but involved what he called the “remarkable trinity” which he described in on war as (1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war’s element of subordination to rational policy. Clausewitz connects this with the people being connected to the primordial forces of war, the military with the non-rational elements of friction, chance and probability and the government.

The Clausewitzian understanding of war is rooted in the Enlightenment and classic German Liberalism, born out of his experience in the Napoleonic Wars, which forever changed the face of warfare. From the defeat of Prussia and its liberation from Napoleonic rule under Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Clausewitz developed the understanding that war was more than simply tactics and weapons. Thus when we examine war today we deprive ourselves of properly understanding the dynamic of war if we fail to appreciate the human factor which is frequently not rational. Such is especially the case when one fights an enemy who wages war on religious, racial or ideological grounds as is the case in the current war against Al Qaida and other extremist Moslem groups. Such groups would like to turn this war into such a conflict as do certain figures in the American political milieu who repeatedly label all of Islam as the enemy. In such a climate it is imperative to look at history to show us the results of such primal passions.

It is in such conflict as we are engaged in today it is good to look at previous wars from the human experiential component and not simply military operations. If one wants to look at how inflamed passion driven by racial prejudice and hatred took war to a level of barbarity and totality that defy our comprehension we only need to look back to the Pacific war between Japan and the United States. In another post I dealt with the how racial ideology influenced Nazi Germany’s conduct of the war against Poland and the Soviet Union. https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/the-ideological-war-how-hitlers-racial-theories-influenced-german-operations-in-poland-and-russia/

To do this I will look at John Dower’s “War Without Mercy.” In this book Dower examines World War Two in the Pacific from the cultural and ideological viewpoints of the opposing sides. He looks at the war as a race war, which he says “remains one of the great neglected subjects of World War Two.”[i] Dower examines race hated and its influence on both the Japanese and the Allies, particularly in the way that each side viewed one another and conducted the war. He examines the nature of racial prejudice and hate in each society, including its religious, psychological, ideological, scientific and mythological components. He also examines the use of media and propaganda, and how racial attitudes not only influenced national and individual attitudes, but also the military and intelligence operations of both sides. This book is not about military campaigns, thus it is much more like “In the Name of War” by Jill Lepore[ii] than any history of the Pacific war.

Dower uses sources such as songs, movies, cartoons and various writings of the times to demonstrate the totality of the war. Dower admits many of these are difficult to handle and “not respectable sources in some academic sources.”[iii] Despite this he puts together a work that is sometimes chilling, especially when one looks at the current war that our country is engaged in. He also endeavors to explain how after a war where “extraordinarily fierce and Manichean”[iv] race hate predominated, it could “have dissipated so easily”[v] after the war was over.

Dower divides his work into three major sections. The first which examines how the aspect of race effected the fighting of the war, the second, the war through Western eyes and the third the war through Japanese eyes. The first section begins with how racial attitudes in Western and Japanese societies helped fuel the war and compares similar attitudes and concepts in Western and Japanese thought, including how “prejudice and racial stereotypes frequently distorted both Japanese and Allied evaluations of the enemy’s intentions and capabilities.”[vi] He looks at the language of the conflict; at how war words and race words came together “in a manner which did not reflect the savagery of the war, but truly contributed to it….”[vii] the result being “an obsession with extermination on both sides.”[viii] He comes back to this theme throughout the book comparing the two sides and occasionally contrasting these attitudes with corresponding attitudes of the Allies to their German and Italian foes in Europe.[ix]

In the first chapter Dower examines the role played by the propaganda used by both sides. In particular he expalins how the “Know Your Enemy: Japan” movies commissioned by the War Department and directed by Frank Capra, and the Japanese works “Read this and the War is Won” and “The Way of the Subject” helped shape the view of each side. Propaganda developed the idea of the war in terms of good versus evil and the mortal threat posed to their respective cultures by the enemy.

From this he looks at the visceral emotions that the war engendered and how those emotions spilled over into the conduct of the war especially in regard to its ferocity and the war crimes that were spawned by the unbridled hatred of both sides. He notes the targeted terror bombings of civilians by both sides and how those actions were portrayed as “barbaric” by the other side when they were the victim.[x] He notes the viciousness of the war and how for the Americans the war brought forth “emotions forgotten since our most savage Indian wars.”[xi] He contrasts this with European war in particular how the Japanese and their actions were portrayed in Western media, and how similar actions by the Germans, such as the Holocaust, were ignored by Western media until the war was over.[xii] He traces some of this to the understanding of the psychological effects of the defeats and humiliations of the Allies at the hands of the Japanese, and the corresponding brutality toward Allied prisoners by the Japanese as compared to that of the Germans.[xiii] He uses this section to also examine the prevailing attitudes of the Japanese toward the Allies as being weak and “psychologically incapable of recovery” from blows such as the Pearl Harbor attack, and the Allied view of the Japanese as “treacherous.”[xiv]

Dower’s second major section describes the attitudes and actions of the Americans and British toward their Japanese enemy. He looks at the view that the Japanese were less than human and often portrayed as apes or other primates such as monkeys. To do this he examines cartoons and illustrations in popular magazines and military publications, and includes those cartoons in the book. The sheer vulgarity of these cartoons is easily contrasted with those promoted and published by Nazis such as Julius Streicher in Der Stürmer, something often overlooked or ignored in other histories.[xv] The early Western views of Japan as sub-human continued throughout the war, while at the same time, especially after the rapid series of Allied defeats and Japanese victories they were viewed as almost “super-human.” Paradoxically some allied leaders turned the Japanese from “the one time “little man” into a Goliath.”[xvi] They were now “tough, disciplined and well equipped.”[xvii] Ambassador Joseph Grew, reported on his return from Japan, that the Japanese were; “”sturdy,” “Spartan,” “clever and dangerous,” and that “his will to conquer was “utterly ruthless, utterly cruel and utterly blind to the values that make up our civilization….””[xviii] The juxtaposition of such conflicting attitudes is curious, although understandable, especially in light of other Western wars against Asians or Arabs.[xix]

Dower then examines how some Americans and British explained the Japanese “National Character,” their approach to war, and actions during the war from Freudian psychiatry as well as Anthropology and other social and behavioral sciences. Beginning with the widespread Allied understanding that the Japanese were “dressed-up primitives-or “savages” in modern garb…”[xx] he notes that these interpretations of the Japanese national character stemmed from “child-rearing practices and early childhood experiences,”[xxi] including toilet training and Freudian interpretations that saw an arrested psychic development at the “infantile (anal or genital) stage of development.”[xxii] Dower deduces that it was not hard to see how “Japanese overseas aggression became explicable in terms of penis envy or a castration complex….”[xxiii] The views were widespread and emphasized that the “Japanese were collectively unstable.”[xxiv] Dower notes that the “very notion of “national character”-was the application to whole nations and cultures of an analytical language that had been developed through personal case studies…”[xxv] which he is rightly critical in suggesting that this premise “was itself questionable.”[xxvi] In addition to this was the understanding of Margaret Mead and others of the Japanese as “adolescents” and “bullies,”[xxvii] and notes that from “the diagnosis of the Japanese as problem children and juvenile delinquents, it was but a small step to see them as emotionally maladjusted adolescents and, finally as a deranged race in general.”[xxviii] Dower cites numerous other “experts” of the time and their interpretations of the Japanese national character, but the overwhelming message is that the application of these theories, regardless of their validity had a major impact on the Allied war against Japan.

He follows this chapter with one with much importance in explaining the similarities in how Americans and Westerners in general viewed the Japanese in relationship to other races that they had dealt with including Blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, and American Indians. Common themes include the views of each as primitives, children and madmen and the view of the Japanese as part of the “Yellow Peril.” Of particular note is his analysis of the work of Homer Lea’s 1909 book The Valor of Ignorance and the vision of Japanese supermen which enjoyed a revival after Pearl Harbor.[xxix] Dower examines depictions of Asians in general in the Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan series of films and other racial aspects hearkening back to the “specter of Genghis Khan and the prospect that the white races “may be liquidated.”[xxx] He notes how Japanese propagandists attempted to use Allied prejudice to influence the Chinese and other Asians against the Allies[xxxi] and American blacks against whites,[xxxii] while attempting to maintain their own racial superiority which is the subject of the next section.

The chapters dealing with the Japanese view of themselves and their opponents tie together neatly. These deal with the Japanese view of themselves as the leading race in Asia and the world. Dower talks about symbols and the understanding of racial purity that motivated the Japanese from the 1800s to the rejection of Japan’s request for a declaration of “racial equity” at the League of Nations.[xxxiii] He notes the “propagation of an elaborate mythohistory in Japan and the time spent “wrestling with the question of what it really meant to be “Japanese” and how the “Yamato race” was unique among races….”[xxxiv] He notes the relationship of Shinto with whiteness and purity and connotations of how the Japanese indulged in “Caucasianization” of themselves vis-à-vis other Asians during World War Two,”[xxxv] and their emphasis on a Japanese racial worldview.[xxxvi] He also tackles the way in which the Japanese wrestled with evolution and its relationship to other racial theories contrasting books such as A History of Changing Theories about the Japanese Race and Evolution of Life with Cardinal Principles of the National Polity published by the Thought Bureau of the Ministry of Education in1937. These declared that the Japanese were “intrinsically different from the so-called citizens of Occidental countries.”[xxxvii] He also deals with the Kyoto school and the Taiwa concept.[xxxviii] In Chapter Nine Dower looks at how the Japanese viewed themselves and outsiders, in particular the characterization of Westerners as nanbanjin or barbarians and how this eventually train of thought carried through the war led to the “Anglo-American foe emerged full blown as the demonic other.”[xxxix] Dowers final chapter deals with how quickly the race hatred dissipated and genuine goodwill that developed between the Japanese and Americans after the war.[xl]

This book holds a unique place in the literature of the Pacific war. It is not a comfortable book, it is challenging. No other deals with these matters in any systemic way. If there is a weakness in Dower is that he does not, like Lepore in “In the Name of War” deal with the attitudes of soldiers and those who actually fought the war. His examples are good and go a long way in explaining the savagery with which the war was conducted, but could have been enhanced with reflections and accounts of those who fought the war and survived as well as the writings of those who did not, and the way those attitudes were reflected in different services, times and theaters during the war, including adjustments that commanders made during the war.[xli] His description of how Japanese “reluctance to surrender had meshed horrifically with Allied disinterest …in contemplating anything short of Japan’s “thoroughgoing defeat.”[xlii]

The lessons of the book are also contemporary in light of the cultural and religious differences between the West and its Moslem opponents in the current war. Possibly even more so than the war between the United States and Japan which was fought by nation states that still were signatories to international conventions, not nation states against terrorists unbound by any Western code or law or indigenous forces engaged in revolutionary war against the west such as the Taliban.[xliii] The temptation is for both sides to demonize one’s opponent while exalting one’s own way of life through official propaganda and popular media, with a result of increased viciousness and inhumanity in pursuit of ultimate victory. In today’s world with the exponential rise in the radicalization of whole people groups and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, it is possibility that the war could develop into one that is a racial as well as religious and ideological war that would make the War in the Pacific look like a schoolyard brawl.

As William Tecumseh Sherman said: “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it…”

Bibliography

Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995

Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, A Division of Random House, New York, NY 1986.

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996

Lepore, Jill The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998

Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000.

[i] Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, A Division of Random House, New York, NY 1986. p.4
[ii] Lepore, Jill The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998. Lepore’s book deals with King Phillip’s War and how that war shaped the future of American war and how it shaped the views of Indians and the English Colonists and their later American descendants both in the language used to describe it, the histories written of it and the viciousness of the war.

[iii] Ibid. p.x

[iv] Ibid. p.ix

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Ibid. p.11

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid. Also see Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995 Alexander notes an incident that shows a practical application of the Japanese views and the ruthlessness inflicted on their enemies, in this case prisoners in response to an American bombing raid. In 1942 the commander of the Japanese Garrison of Makin Island ordered 22 prisoners beheaded after one cheered following a bombing raid. (p.32)

[ix] An interesting point which Dower does not mention but is interesting for this study is how the Germans referred to the British and Americans as “Die gegener” (opponents) and the Soviets as “Die Feinde” (the enemy), the implication being that one die gegener was a common foe, much like an opposing team in a sport, and the other a mortal enemy, the implication of Feinde being evil, or demonic.

[x] In particular he makes note of the Japanese actions during the “Rape of Nanking,” and the 1945 sack of Manila, as well as the fire bombing of Japanese cities by the US Army Air Corps in 1945.

[xi] Ibid. Dower. p.33

[xii] Ibid. p.35

[xiii] Ibid. This is important in the fact that the Allies tended not to make much of German brutality to the Jews, Russians and other Eastern Europeans.

[xiv] Ibid. p.36.

[xv] Dower does not make this implicit comparison, but having seen both and studied the Nazi propaganda directed toward the Jews, Russians and other Slavic peoples considered to be Untermenschen (sub-humans) by the Nazis the similarities are striking.

[xvi] Ibid. pp.112-113.

[xvii] Ibid. p.113

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] In the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Israeli soldiers who previously showed no respect to any Arab fighter described their Hezbollah opponents as “soldiers and warriors.” Similar attitudes were voiced by American soldiers in Vietnam when they fought NVA regulars.

[xx] Ibid. p.123

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid. p.124

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid. p.129

[xxviii] Ibid. p.143

[xxix] Ibid. P.157. Lea is interesting because he predicts a decline in the stature of the British Empire and softness of both the Americans and British as peoples. Also see John Costello in The Pacific War 1941-1945 Quill Books, New York, NY 1982 pp.31-32 notes Lea’s concerns and how they drove the American Pacific strategy until the outbreak of World War Two.

[xxx] Ibid. p.161

[xxxi] Ibid. p.169

[xxxii] Ibid. pp.174-180. This is an interesting section. One of the most interesting topics being the reaction of the NAACP’s Walter White’s book A Rising Wind published which “suggested a sense of kinship with other colored-and also oppressed-peoples of the world….he senses that the struggle of the Negro in the United States is part and parcel of the struggle against imperialism and exploitation in India, China, Burma….” (p.177-178)

[xxxiii] Ibid. p.204

[xxxiv] Ibid. p.205

[xxxv] Ibid. p.209 This is interesting when one compares the Japanese emphasis on “Pan-Asianism” and the inherent contradiction between the two.

[xxxvi] Ibid. p.211 Dower notes that the article Establishing a Japanese Racial Worldview in the monthly Bungei Shunju “clarified the Japanese character, whose basic traits were brightness, strength and uprightness. These qualities made the Japanese “the most superior race in the world.”

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.221

[xxxviii] Ibid. p.227 This was the theory of Zen Buddhism’s Suzuki Daisetsu (D.T. Suzuki) in his teaching of the struggle for the Great Harmony “Taiwa” which attempted to identify “an intuitive sense of harmony and oneness that he declared to be characteristic of Oriental thought.”

[xxxix] Ibid. p.247. Descriptions of the Allies as Barbarians, Gangsters and Demons permeated Japanese propaganda.

[xl] Ibid. Dower makes a number of observations relating to how the Japanese were able to use their own self concept to adapt to their defeat. He also notes that the Japanese were able to transfer their self concept to a peaceful orientation.

[xli] See Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996 p.35. Leckie quotes General Ushijima “You cannot regard the enemy as on par with you,” he told his men. “You must realize that material power usually overcomes spiritual power in the present war. The enemy is clearly our superior in machines. Do not depend on your spirits overcoming this enemy. Devise combat method [sic] based on mathematical precision-then think about displaying your spiritual power.” Leckie comments: “Ushijima’s order was perhaps the most honest issued by a Japanese commander during the war. It was Bushido revised, turned upside down and inside out-but the revision had been made too late.”

[xlii] Ibid. Dower. p.37

[xliii] See Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000. p.95. Tregaskis notes when commenting on Japanese POWs on Guadalcanal “We stared at them and they stared back at us. There was no doubt what we or they would have liked to do at that moment-if we had not remembered our code of civilization or if they had not been unarmed.”

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Iraq, ISIS and Al Qaeda: Sowing the Wind…

In recent days I have been reading the statements, speeches and documents of senior members of the Bush administration justifying the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Until it invaded Kuwait in August 1990, that regime was considered an ally against the Iranian Mullahs. But that changed when he invaded Kuwait, following an American diplomatic miscalculation which he interpreted as our acquiescence to his plans.

Of course like Paul Harvey used to say, we know “the rest of the story.” The administration of George H.W. Bush assembled a coalition and obtained the support of the United Nations Security Council to drive Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait. Interestingly enough the coalition included Sunni and Arab, Shia regimes including that of Syria. Twelve years later following the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the son-of-Bush, George W. Bush and his administration desperately tried to link the most disparate group of nations to the actions of Al Qaeda; Iran, a mortal enemy of the Sunni Al Qaeda extremists, North Korea, a rogue nation in its own right, but with no proven contacts with the terrorist group, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a rather unique regime which managed under a secular mantle to unify a disparate country well enough that hundreds of thousands of Shia Arabs gave their lives in nearly decade long war with Shia Iran.

The imbecilic decision to attack Iraq, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and the knowledge that the previous Bush administration rejected the idea of overthrowing Saddam and occupying the county was disastrous. Likewise the decision to lump the Shia regime of Iran, which realized the militant Al Qaeda threat and was working through back channels to cooperate with the United States against it, was stupid. The decisions destroyed the balance of power in the region and eliminated the one relatively, though admittedly despotic secular state that opposed both Al Qaeda and Iran ran contrary to an sane understanding of geopolitics and national security.

After eight years of struggle the United States withdrew its military forces pursuant to an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration with the Shia dominated government of Iraq. The rest is history. That government under Prime Minister Maliki did all that it could to keep itself in power while marginalizing the largely secular Sunnis who rose to drive out Al Qaeda in the Anbar Awakening helped bring about the resurgence of the Al Qaeda terrorist extremism, in its new and more lethal form of the Islamic State.

Too late the Iraqi government, Iran, the United States, Europe, the United Nations, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have woken up to the threat. ISIS now controls large chunks of strategic territory in Iraq and Syria, it is dismantling Al Qaeda and supplanting it as the terrorist organization of choice for young Jihadists around the world. The brutality and single minded devotion of of ISIS to radical Salafi and Wahhabi Islam makes Al Qaeda and the Taliban look like the Boy Scouts. It is well funded through black market oil and through rich benefactors in the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia and its recruiting efforts are bringing in volunteers around the world.

Now the world is faced with a beast that need not have been created. But, the hubris of the Bush administration to destroy the long standing balance of power in the region, eliminate Saddam and alienate Iran, just when we needed both; as well as the short sighted religious devotion of Sunni- Wahhabi and Salafist fundamentalists who funded Sunni militants and terrorists with petrodollars for two decades has opened the door to Pandora’s box. The beheading of American Photo-Journalist James Foley, the killing and persecution of Christian and Yadizi minorities who have lived in Iraq for millennia and the slaughter of Shia Moslems by the ISIS Caliphate demonstrate the level to which ISIS will go to achieve their ends.

There will be no quick end to this war. It will be a war of unimaginable duration, brutality and excess because it will be a war of radically opposed ideology infused with fanatical religion and even racism? The West, too long in denial of the importance of ideology in war, despite having fought ideological, religions or racial wars will be slow to appreciate this fact. However, when it does after yet another massive terrorist strike, the media will whip Americans and Europeans into a frenzy and the gloves will come off and the battle will be joined. The war will take years, maybe decades and the effects will be felt around the world. The brutality will drive moderates to the extremes and it will become a clash of civilizations, probably only rivaled in brutality and destruction by the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Of course none of this is what I want, and I do hope that I am wrong, but I sense that it will play out this way. The details are yet to be decided, but this ideological war, the offspring of the American hubris of the second Bush administration, European greed and the shortsightedness of wealthy Sunni Arabs in promoting a dangerous brand of Islam have brought us to this point. All of us have sowed the wind and now, we will reap the whirlwind.

In such a conflict I wonder about the words Joshua Chamberlain spoke at Gettysburg almost a century and a half ago: “…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?”

Peace Padre Steve+

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Miscellaneous Thoughts on a Friday

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Friends, I am tired. It has been a busy week and I am going to try to rest some over the weekend as well as spend some quality time with my wife Judy.

Part of the issue with my tiredness is that I haven’t been the same since my experience over the last month or so dealing with the military mental health system. I won’t bore you with details since I have already written a lot on it, including the fact that I got some resolution, but frankly I didn’t realize just how fragile that I was still was. I had no idea that trying to get help would be so emotionally punishing. Truthfully, I have not had a good night sleep since the initial conflict with the physician and the system. The nightmares, terrors and restlessness are all back. Hopefully in a few weeks or months things will settle out again.

On the positive side I was provided new hearing aids which are quite remarkable in their capabilities and are already helping me to understand speech better. For those that don’t know I hear noise just great. I have almost no loss of that ability. However, since Iraq I suffer unending tinnitus and my speech discrimination, a neurological function is in the third percentile, meaning that 97% of people understand speech better than me. So I am grateful for the hearing aids, as Judy, who was becoming ever more frustrated with me not understanding her or others. The ironic thing is that she has been severely hard of hearing her whole life and has a 77% hearing loss, but she usually understands speech better than me. a funny thing did happen yesterday. I was asked by a Charismatic Christian about praying from my hearing. While I appreciate that and I am touched by such sincere desires to help, it would be a shame if the government wasted over 5,000 on the hearing aids that are working so well.

Likewise, it looks like I have been invited to speak at the Military Officers Association of America conference in Washington DC in September on the topic of being a care giver to those suffering from PTSD while suffering from it myself. That should be interesting. In a way it is something that I hope to do on a regular basis once I retire from the military.

I have been writing a lot about Gettysburg and each thing that I write helps bring me a better understanding of the battle, but also the people, as well as the culture and philosophic ideas that had such an influence on those times. So you can expect that as I write new material and revise old material that I will share them with you here.

Finally as to current events. I am troubled by the events in Ferguson Missouri, especially many of the surprisingly racist reactions by “white America.” Since I wrote about that recently as well, I won’t go back into it.

The situation in Iraq with the rise of ISIS and its “Caliphate” has me greatly concerned. This is not a normal terrorist organization, it is Al Qaeda on steroids. The Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hegel, sounded a clear warning in the wake of the public execution of  American photo journalist James Foley and threats to bring their war to the United States and the west. I do not think that Secretary Hegel, a very circumspect man would make such an announcement if there was no real threat. The problem is that back in 2003 the Bush Administration sewed the wind in Iraq and left a very fragile and unstable state, whose leaders failed their people, and now we are reaping the whirlwind. We want peace, I know I think I speak for everyone, but the rise of ISIS with its apocalyptic vision, vast financial resources, international reach and success on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq is drawing radicalized Moslems to it’s black banner around the world. Because of this I expect that we are in for a long hard fight, and that our new opponent will cause us grave damage.

That being said, I fear for civil liberties in the wake of any attack, and I especially fear that, if something bad happens in the United States, that we will react not just against the culprits; but innocent, loyal and patriotic Americans of Moslem or Arab descent or because they look like the bad guys, or because they share the Islamic religion. Since I know a good number of such people I worry. We can be quite a xenophobic people when aroused, and our quite often “yellow journalism” and jingoistic politicians and preachers stir the cauldron of hatred to the point of paranoid insanity. Our history is colored by such xenophobia.

Finally, the news that the Russians may be attacking in the Ukraine is seriously bad news, which we all, Americans and Europeans need to wake up to.

So I close this Friday sharing my sense of foreboding even while I hope and pray for peace and justice.

Peace and have a wonderful weekend.

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Inshallah Iraq (إن شاء الله) Maybe Someday things will be Better

Whenever I read about Iraq I am reminded of how much of my life has been intertwined with that country and people. As I have said on more than one occasion I left my heart in Al Anbar. Back in 2007 and 2008 things were different there. Sunni’s and Shia were at least in the Iraqi military working with Sunni tribesman cooperated with American forces to destroy or drive out the forces of Al Qaida Iraq.

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Now the group that formed out of AQI, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIL has driven Iraqi government forces from the area. Because of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s determination to exclude and marginalize he Sunnis of Al Anbar who were so important in stabilizing that region after the departure of U.S. Forces that Maliki pushed for those tribes are not resisting ISIL/ISIS or in some cases allying themselves with that group, if only to drive out Maliki, who they, as well as many Shia Iraqis despise.

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When I was there I traveled the whole province from Fallujah to the border of Syria and Jordan. With our advisors I was treated with great respect and hospitality by officers of the Iraqi Army, Border forces and civilians of all Iraqi religious sects. General Sabah of the 7th Division who hosted me to dinner and met with me a number of times, General Ali of the Habbinyah base who as we shared Chai tea showed me his well worn Arabic-English Bible which he said he loved because it contained things not in the Koran. He told me that he hoped in 5-10 years that I would be able to come to Iraq as his guest. There was the Iraqi operations officer of 2nd Brigade of 7th Division who told me after dinner that he “wished that the Iraqi Army had Christian priests” because they would take care of the soldiers and families no matter what their religion, and the Army company commander at COP South who told me that Iraqis would gladly defend Iraq against the hated Persians if Iran ever attacked. Then there was the first class of female Iraqi Police recruits, who were putting their lives and their family’s safety in danger by volunteering to serve in Ramadi, I was able to spend time with that group of brave women. Of course there were the common soldiers who when they saw me blessing American HUMMVs with Holy Water before a convoy asked me to do the same for them. Then there were the Bedouin who invited us into their tents and homes and treated us to Chia, coffee, dates and other food.

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I did see the Sunni Shia division when a Shia staff officer, the Logistics chief of the 2nd Border Brigade at Al Waleed, and a crony of Maliki was accused of selling coalition fuel to insurgents in Al Anbar. I was with our senior advisor and the new Iraqi brigade commander, a Sunni who had served in the old army who had been sent to rid the brigade of those like the logistics officer fired the man. The meeting was one of the most tense I have ever been in, it was like a meeting with a crime family, where weapons were locked and loaded and fingers on the trigger because even the Iraqi commander did not know who was friend or foe. The disgraced logistics officer on finding out I was a Priest tried to curry my favor during the meeting, quite strange and very scary. I still have nightmares and flashbacks about that meeting.

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You see for me the current conflict is quite personal, I have known too many good and decent Iraqis who in many respects are not that much different than your average American. However they have had to bear the domination of the Persian, the Turk, the British and the Americans. Have a king appointed for them by a foreign power, borders drawn to fit British and French interests, been ruled by the dictator Saddam Hussein who most admit now was better than Maliki because he was an equal opportunity oppressor determined to maintain a unified Iraqi state. They have also endured over thirty years of war or wartime conditions, including a civil war and now a war that has a good chance of destroying any hope of an unified Iraqi state. For them violence, disruption and for many being refugees or exiles has become a way of life.

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The Iraqis that I know were some of the most kind and hospitable people that I have ever met in my travels around the world. I grieve for what is happening to them and their once proud country. The towns, cities and bases that I served at have almost all been taken over by ISIL/ISIS and their allies. Fallujah, Ta’quadum, Habbinyah, Ramadi, Hit, Haditha, Al Rutba, Rawah, Al Qaim, Al Waleed, Al Turbial and so many others. Syrian and Iranian warplanes are attacking Iraqi towns and cities, including places I have spent time.

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When I left Iraq in 2008 I had hopes that the country might survive, as did many of the Iraqis that I met. I hoped one day to go back and travel to the places that I served, and maybe had the opportunity to see the gracious people that I love again. Maybe in 15 or 20 years there might, God willing be an opportunity. I hope and pray that those I know who were so good to me are safe. Until then I can only pray and hope that for them things will one day be better.

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When I think of the Iraq war and its costs I am reminded of the words of Major General Smedley Butler in his book War is a Racket: “What is the cost of war?…this bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

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For the Iraqis and us the cost will be with us for at least a generation. But I do always hope and pray that things will be better.

Inshallah (إن شاء الله)

Padre Steve+

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The Results of Ignoring History: The Implosion of Iraq

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Better Times: With the Bedouin in December 2007

Inshallah, (إن شاء اللهGod willing… or so say my Iraqi friends.

It is now 2014, over eleven years since the Bush administration launched its ill advised, preemptive and probably war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. That war, illegal under any definition of international law which violated most of the components of traditional Just War Theory and condemned by Pope John Paul II was a disaster for the United States and the unfortunate people of Iraq that we are only now beginning to the full negative implications.

For me the past week has been gut-wrenchingly painful as I watched the forces of ISIL/ISIS rampage through Iraq and the demoralized Iraqi military, no longer trusting Prime Minister Maliki throwing down their weapons and running away. I left Iraq over six years years ago. When I left Iraq, I was in Baghdad at the Headquarters of the Iraq Assistance Group, on my way out of country, being awarded a Defense Meritorious Service Medal for my work with our advisors and the Iraqis in Al Anbar. That night was a melancholy night. I was wearing my last serviceable uniform, which I had preserved for the trip home by wearing flight suits and baseball caps with no badges of rank, throughout most of the deployment. Like Lawrence’s donning of the Bedouin robes, my uniform choice, done purely by necessity made me stand out conspicuously among other Americans in country.

I was heading home but didn’t really want to leave, but in the process I left a big part of me in that long suffering country.  I have written much about my experience there and how even today I have a deep regard for the Iraqi people and their hopes for a better future. However, I sense that what Lawrence wrote will be true:

“We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” 

In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq and made short work of that country’s military. That military, defeated in 1991 and crippled by years of sanctions and bombings was no threat to its neighbors and couldn’t even defend itself against the U.S. and coalition forces.

When we entered the country, many Iraqis of all creeds looked upon the US and coalition forces as liberators, but within a few months the illusion was over. Within weeks of the overthrow of Saddam, the US military personnel and leaders who were working with Iraqi officials, both military and civilian to get the country back on its feet were replaced by the Bush administration.

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British Troops enter Baghdad 1919

In their place a new entity, the Coalition Provisional Authority was created and staffed. The first administrator of the entity was retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner. He had much experience in Iraq but was sacked quickly by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for not conducting an immediate purge of members of the Baathist Party from key positions in the civil service or security forces, or implementing the agenda of the administration, an agenda that only saw Iraq as a stepping stone for future operations against Iran.

After Garner’s dismissal the CPA was led by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, a man who had no experience in the Arab world, much less in Iraq. Bremer and his staff, most of who had little experience or knowledge of the country created conditions that directly led the the Iraq insurgency, the sacrifice of thousands of American and allied lives and the loss of friendship of the Iraqi people. They also gave a a bloodless strategic victory to Iraq’s traditional enemy and oppressor Iran, which became a dominant regional power without having to worry about their traditional Arab nemesis. It is deeply ironic that because of the terrible policy missteps of the Bush administration that the current crisis is forcing Iran and the United States to consider cooperation with one another to prevent the implosion of Iraq.

 

T.E. Lawrence wrote of the British incursion into Turkish Mesopotamia in 1915, managed by the British Indian Office:

“By brute force it marched then into Basra. The enemy troops in Irak were nearly all Arabs in the unenviable predicament of having to fight on behalf of their secular oppressors against a people long envisaged as liberators, but who obstinately refused to play the part.”

The actions of the CPA destroyed the plans pragmatists in the Pentagon and State Department to incorporate the existing civil service, police and military forces in the newly free Iraq.  Instead Bremer dissolved the Iraqi military, police and civil service within days of his arrival. Since the military invasion had been accomplished with minimal forces most Iraqi weapon sites, arsenals and bases were looted once their Iraqi guardians were banished and left their posts. The embryonic insurgency was thus provided by Bremer a full arsenal of weapons to use against American forces; many of whom were now mobilized Reservists and National Guardsmen that were neither trained or equipped to fight an insurgency or in urban areas.

It was as if Bremer, the leaders of the Bush administration and their neoconservative allies knew nothing of history. If they did they decided to ignore its lessons, believing that they were smarter than other occupiers. It was an act of unmitigated hubris and arrogance brought about by those who believed that they were above history. Whether it was ignorance of history, or a wanton disregard for it, it and the country we invaded it was immoral, unethical and probably criminal.

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The reaction of the Iraqi Arabs to US occupation should have been anticipated. Lawrence wrote in 1920 a letter that could have easily been written in 2004:

“It is not astonishing that their patience has broken down after two years. The Government we have set up is English in fashion, and is conducted in the English language. So it has 450 British executive officers running it, and not a single responsible Mesopotamian. In Turkish days 70 per cent of the executive civil service was local. Our 80,000 troops there are occupied in police duties, not in guarding the frontiers. They are holding down the people.”

The actions of Bremer’s incompetent leadership team led to a tragic insurgency that need not have taken place. The now unnumbered US forces had to fight an insurgency while attempting to re-create an army, security forces and civil service from the wreckage created by Bremer’s mistakes; as well as its own often heavy handed tactics in the months following the invasion.

 

Nearly 4500 US troops would die and over 30,000 more wounded in the campaign. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or died of disease during the war.  Lawrence wrote about the British administration of Iraq words that could well have been written about Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority:

“Meanwhile, our unfortunate troops, Indian and British, under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Bagdad.”

It took dramatic efforts in blood and treasure to restore the some modicum of security in Iraq, something that was only accomplished when the Sunni tribes of Anbar Province turned against the Al Qaeda backed foreign fighters. The surge under the command of General David Petreus achieved the desired result. It gave the Iraqis a chance to stabilize their government and increase their own security forces, however it can hardly be called a triumph.

Unfortunately many of those that remained in power of the Shia sect refused to share power in meaningful ways with Iraq’s Sunni and Kurds leading to a political crisis. The US military mission ended in December 2011 and since then Iraq security forces and civil authorities, often divided by tribal or sectarian loyalties have struggled to maintain order. The result is that by 2013 that Iraq was again heading toward the abyss of civil war. Most of this has to be laid at the feet of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki who has done everything that he can to break promises made to Sunnis and Kurds, and dishonor the Sunnis who fought to save his government in 2007-2008. Sunni protestors in Anbar and other provinces conducted frequent protests which were met by brute force. Sectarian violence spread, and ISIL/ISIS a move violent and vicious offshoot of Al Qaida gained control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. In the north, Mosul and Tikrit have fallen and there are reports that some ISIL/ISIS fighters entered Baghdad this evening. Casualties in Iraq are continuing to mount and a humanitarian crisis is developing as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis flee the violence, feeling threatened by both the fighters and the Maliki government.

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To the west in Syria a brutal civil war has been going on for three years. Like Iraq it pits Sunni against Shia, as well as Kurd and foreign fighters from a score of nations, some fighting as part of a Free Syria movement, others as part of the Al Qaeda coalition and others beside Syria’s government. Now many of the Iraqi elements of ISIS/ISIL have breached the border with Syria and are attempting to redraw the political map of the Middle East, ravaging the vestiges of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

In 1920 Lawrence wrote of the British intervention and occupation of Iraq:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

His words have a sadly familiar tone. The US invasion of Iraq did have a different outcome than we imagined, one that is far worse than we bargained for and potentially cataclysmic in its impact.

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That being said, many if not most Arabs in all of these lands simply desire to live in peace and enjoy some amount of freedom for themselves and future for their children. The Iraqis are on the whole decent and honorable people. One has to remember that the freedom for which many are striving, and dying to attain is for them, not for the United States or any other power.

Lawrence’s words and wisdom concerning the Arabs who rebelled against the Turkish Ottoman Empire are as true today as when he wrote them after the war:

“The Arabs rebelled against the Turks during the war not because the Turk Government was notably bad, but because they wanted independence. They did not risk their lives in battle to change masters, to become British subjects or French citizens, but to win a show of their own.”

That is the case in Iraq and many other Arab countries today. One can only hope that for Iraq, Syria and those countries as that somehow peace will come. I do hope that we will do better in helping them achieve that than we have over the past dozen years of conflict, or than the British or French did almost 100 years ago.

But all of that being said, this situation is going to take at least a generation to settle. There are no easy answers and certainly sending troops in to restore the situation when Maliki and his regime make no attempt to reconcile with their Sunni and Kurdish countrymen, is not the answer. In fact if there is any answer that maintains Iraq as a unified state it has to be brought about by the Iraqis, particularly Maliki, who has shown no inclination to do this since the United States military left in 2011.

It is also very possible that what is happening, as bloody, horrible and painful as it is may be, is what is needed to correct the blunder of Sykes-Picot. Perhaps it should be left to the Arabs to redraw the natural boundaries of their regions, tribes and religions and let the chips fall where they may. In Iraq, the Sunni Sheikhs once the Shi’ite influence is diminished and they have regained some autonomy will drive out and destroy ISIL/ISIS as they did to AQI in 2007-2008.  The ISIL/ISIS fighters will not be welcome once they have achieved their goals.

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Lawrence wrote in 1920:

What is required is a tearing up of what we have done, and beginning again on advisory lines. It is no good patching with the present system….We are big enough to admit a fault, and turn a new page: and we ought to do it with a hoot of joy, because it will save us a million pounds a week.

We should listen to him.

As my Iraqi friends say Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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