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You Can’t go Back: The Aftermath of 9-11-2001

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I wrote a reflection yesterday on some of my reflections on the 9-11-2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, today a continuation of those thoughts.

I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was getting out of my office at Camp LeJeune after an early morning counseling case and some administrative duties I was getting ready to head to the French Creek gym.  I was about to close out my browser when I saw a little note on the Yahoo.com homepage: “Airplane crashes into World Trade Center.” It was about 0900 that tragic morning.  I thought to myself, “Some dumb ass just crashed his Cessna into the building.

The day was clear and absolutely gorgeous, a slight north wind and low humidity, a well-deserved break from what had been a hot and humid summer.  Not that I had seen much of the Carolina summer having returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea in late July. When I got to my car the local talk radio station was broadcasting a second or third tier national talk radio host and he was screaming “oh my God another plane just flew into the towers!”

I drove over to the gym where I joined a large crowd of Marines and Sailors transfixed as we watched the towers burn.  I went back to my office showered and went over to my battalion headquarters and was there when the South Tower went down at 0959.

Since then a lot has changed.  I have made two deployments and traveled to the Middle East many more times.  I came back from my deployment to Iraq with a serious case of PTSD and a health distrust of the media, politicians, preachers and especially the talk radio hosts that I used to listen to as often as I could.  I remember being in Iraq in between missions to the far reaches of Al Anbar Province and watching the news on the televisions at the dining facility and wondering just what war that they were covering.

Before Iraq I could be considered a pretty solid “conservative” but eight years after going to war I am decidedly liberal.  However, despite many allegedly conservative  talk pundits, politicians  and right wing preachers say just because a person is “liberal” does not mean that they are unpatriotic or do not care about our country or freedom.  After serving in Iraq and seeing how certain people have equated patriotism with adherence to their political agenda I wholeheartedly believe that a person’s patriotism has nothing to do with their politics or their religious beliefs.

Before Iraq I was jaded by what happened to my dad’s generation after Vietnam when liberals called returning Veterans “baby killers” or “Nazis.”  In fact I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” in 1972 and in 1981 had some ass at UCLA call me a “ROTC Nazi.”  As a result I had little love for the Left.  After September 11th I followed the “conservative” talk radio crowd and Fox News more than I had ever before.  The emotions that they stirred up were primal.  But experience and reflection caused me to get beyond the pain of my past and the emotion of the present.  Just as I detest those that characterized my dad’s service or my service as being criminal I also detest those that say one cannot be critical of those that advocate for war regardless of the human and economic cost or actual strategic benefit.

I rejoiced when our SEALS killed Osama Bin Laden and every Al Qaeda leader that we have ushered into the arms of Allah.  They have caused unmitigated suffering around the world, not just to us but to their own Islamic neighbors and deserve no pity and since they refuse to give quarter should be shown none. I feel the same way about ISIS and ISIL who are killing the Iraqis that I served alongside and their families, and if that sounds harsh I can’t help it. The attacks of 9-11 and the wars that have followed are all too personal.

At the same time I question the strategic purpose and value of the campaign in we conducted in Iraq which seems to me has opened the gates of hell. I still think that the words that T.E. Lawrence wrote in 1920 about the British in Iraq are as applicable today as when he penned them; only the empires are different:

“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.”

The British who Lawrence wrote about, gave their people reasons for going into Mesopotamia which were similar to those of the Bush administration over 80 years later. They cloaked their intentions in the words of liberation and protection, the British from the Turks, and the Americans from Saddam. Lawrence noted in words that are hauntingly familiar to those that paid attention to the American war in Iraq:

“Yet our published policy has not changed, and does not need changing. It is that there has been a deplorable contrast between our profession and our practice. We said we went to Mesopotamia to defeat Turkey. We said we stayed to deliver the Arabs from the oppression of the Turkish Government, and to make available for the world its resources of corn and oil. We spent nearly a million men and nearly a thousand million of money to these ends. This year we are spending ninety-two thousand men and fifty millions of money on the same objects.”

At the fourteen year mark I grieve for those that have lost their lives as well as loved ones in the attacks or in the wars that have followed.  On September 11th 2001 2977 people were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or on United Flight 93 which went down in Pennsylvania.  One of those killed at the Pentagon was Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner who I had served with at the Academy of Health Sciences Brigade in 1987-1988.

Since then 4492 American military personnel have given their lives in Iraq and 2363 in Afghanistan.  NATO or coalition allies, excluding the Iraqi and Afghani military or police forces have lost another 1270 military personnel. Another 45,170 Americans have been wounded.  I know a decent number of those wounded and some of those that have died.  The losses are intensely personal and to think that we have lost well over twice the number killed on September 11th 2001 in two wars; many of whom were children aged 8-12 years old on that tragic September day. Of course the numbers do not count those that died by their own hand after they returned from the war, a number that grows daily. I have known too many of them as well, heroes who could not make the adjustment coming home. Likewise I cannot forget the devastation that I saw in Iraq, the deaths of so many, some estimates of over a million civilian casualties, not county what has happening during the current ISIS/ISIL era.

I have been changed by that tragic event. I still shudder when I see the video of United Air Lines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower or see the videos of the towers crashing down.  They are hard to watch and while I will observe the anniversary with prayers and a lot of reflection as I do not know how much of the continuous media coverage of the anniversary that I will be able to watch.

The events of that tragic day changed me, and changed countless numbers of other Americans as well as others around the world.  While we yearn to return to the day’s before9-11-2001 that is impossible, there is too much water and too much blood that has passed under the bridge.   I know I can’t go back, but I wish that I could, so as I have for the last fourteen years I will continue to learn to live with it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Joy and Sorrow in Boston: The Boston Marathon Bombers are Killed or Captured

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“joy and sorrow are inseparable. . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” Kahlil Gibran 

I was listening to the radio tonight on my way home from dinner when news broke that Boston Police, the Massachusetts State Police and the FBI had cornered and eventually captured the second suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing. The capture came after a city wide lock down in which the FBI, the Mayor and Governors shut down public transportation systems and asked people to “shelter in place” or remain in their homes.

That order came after the suspects had killed a MIT Police Officer and commandeered a SUV after the FBI had released photos of them and asked for assistance in identifying and finding them. Within minutes the phone lines and websites were flooded with tips and reports. They were found and the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a gunfight with police. The younger brother Dzhokhar escaped though wounded and found refuge in a boat parked in a driveway on Franklin Street in Watertown.  At about 5PM the owner of the boat, leaving his house when given the all clear saw blood leading to the boat and discovered the wounded suspect in the boat and immediately called police.

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After it was confirmed by NBC’s Pete Williams and other news services people poured onto the streets of Watertown and Boston. People were cheering and waving American flags some chanting USA, USA USA! There was a collective sigh of relief and shout of victory when law enforcement officials captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

It was amazing thing to see it, in fact I went back to my local watering hole to celebrate with whoever still might be around. It was a cathartic moment. I think the last time I saw this kind of reaction was when Osama Bin Laden was killed by SEAL Team Six.

However despite the joy it I saw the following tweet on Twitter from the Boston Police Department.

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It was a moment that struck me. For when I saw that tweet it became apparent to me that what I was witnessing was real joy, but it was joy because the two brothers had inflicted great pain and suffering on hundreds of people. They killed four, wounded nearly 180 more and terrorizing a city. My thought, which I posted on my Facebook page was “Remember…the reason we are cheering now is because so many wept…” I saw the paradox inherent in this expression of joy. It was a kind of deliverance from evil, people rejoiced for good reason but their rejoicing was the product of the suffering of the people that they knew who had been affected by the evil perpetrated by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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I felt the same joy because though I did not know any of the men, women or children killed by them the victims were my fellow citizens and others who were guests in my country. I don’t know about you but when someone be they a citizen or non-citizen attacks my country and kills and injures my fellow citizens and those that are our guests it angers me. I felt that anger in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and in 2001 when Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I felt in on Monday when I heard about the Boston Marathon Bombing while waiting for my flight home at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. For the days between that afternoon and this evening I felt the collective anxiety of so many others as we all wondered who had conducted this attack and what might happen next.

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True joy is almost always the sister of unwanted pain and sorrow. This week so many Americans experienced both sorrow and joy. It was a surreal week. Now the story isn’t over. Dzhokhar is badly wounded and has to recover from those wounds before he stands trial in a Federal Court and before we find out more of the reasons for this attack and the relationship, if any of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Chechnyan or Islamic  terrorist groups.

That being said, today is a day to celebrate even as we recognize how so many others suffer. It is a paradox.

Until tomorrow

Peace,

 

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Year in Review and Predictions for 2012: The Best Jibber-Jabber on the Web

Once again it is that time of the year when I look back at the events of the last 12 months and say “that was some year.” And what a year it was.  So many things happened at home and around the world that it makes one’s head do the Linda Blair 360.  Yes the year was crammed full of events too numerous to mention and full of the jibber-jabber of “expert” analysis of news commentators, pundits, politicians and preachers.

Every major news agency and many writers publish what they believe to be the major stories of the year about this time and sometimes prognosticate about the coming year. Mostly these articles are so much jibber jabber and I don’t claim this to be inclusive of everything that happened but these are what I think are some of the highlights of the events that occurred in 2011.  Call it my end of year jibber-jabber.

The Environment: Yes there is an environment and whether one wants to assign credit or blame to God, the Devil, Mother Nature or the theory that “shit happens” it has been a year full of natural disasters.  We begin with the 9.1 earthquake and Tsunami in Japan which triggered a nuclear disaster when the Fukishima nuclear plant melted down. There was Hurricane Irene which though only a category one storm was so big and slow moving that it that caused massive damage to the East Coast, especially North Carolina. I got to experience Irene.  Even more frightening was the massive F5 Tornado that pretty much wiped the city of Joplin Missouri off the map. There was a series of wildfires in Texas that burned nearly 4 million acres of land and one fire around Bastrop Texas that destroyed over 1600 homes.  Over in Asia there was flooding that put Bangkok underwater for an extended period of time.

Prediction for 2012: Cable News networks will continue to rake in the bucks covering human misery in all parts of the nation and the world as natural disasters occur.  I predict that there will be major earthquakes, fires, famine and flood, hurricanes  and that many will be really bad.  Sure that’s rather generic but I can be surge that I am not wrong in making this prediction.

World Events: Overseas there was the Arab Spring revolts that brought about the fall of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and quite probably Yemen. Syria appears to be on the brink of civil war and Bahrain with the help of Saudi Arabia put down its own Arab Spring revolt.  Jordan and other Arab states are quite nervous and the situation in Egypt which began with so much hope has deteriorated as the military faces off against demonstrators as Islamic parties make headway in elections.

Who would have thought that in 2011 that Moammar Ghadaffi would be overthrow and killed by his own people, that Osama Bin Laden would meet his end at the hands of US Navy SEALS and that Kim Jong Il, the nutty leader of North Korea would die.  The European Union looks like its days could well be numbered as the contagion of economic crisis which began in Greece has spread to much of the EU.  The United States withdrew its forces from Iraq just in time for the Iraqis to start to undo everything that their soldiers and ours had fought to achieve since 2005, Iran continues to build nukes and attempt to provoke the United States, Western Europe and Israel while the Israelis prepare to whack Iran. The war in Afghanistan grinds on and Pakistan is more of a pain in the ass than it ever has been.

Padre Steve’s Prediction: You thought things were bad in 2011… they will really be sporty in 2012.

United States Domestic Politics: The United States has had its own political and economic problems as the government seems pretty much to have become a parody of itself.  The President has had an approval rating below 50% for almost the whole year and the Congress God bless them has an approval rating of just 11% a new record which will undoubtedly be broken in 2012.  President Obama is unchallenged in the Democratic primaries and the Republican candidates seem to be doing all that they can to ensure that whoever wins the nomination will lose the general election next year as each takes his or her turn to give their followers hope and then implode.  I mean really, despite all of our economic problems the United States would, if our politicians could get their collective shit together have a bright future compared to the EU and the “new” economies in China, India and Brazil which despite all their success are dependent on us to buy their stuff.

Meanwhile the Tea Party movement has become the kingmaker in conservative politics and the Occupy Wall Street movement gathered steam before going into winter hibernation.

Padre Steve’s Predictions: Expect that both the Tea Party and OWS movements despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum to continue to influence both major political parties. In 2012 the Congress will sink to even lower lows and for President, Congress and Presidential candidates to do even more stupid things to get just enough of the vote to be elected in November. You thought that 2011 was bad…well it was just the warm up for 2012.

Sports: The sporting world produced its share of excitement and agony as great team and individual accomplishments were overshadowed by scandals. Baseball had a most amazing end to its season in which the St Louis Cardinals defied all odds in winning the World Series after being written off as dead in late August. The Red Sox went from the sure thing to win the World Series to greatest regular season collapse ever seen which resulted in manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein leaving the team.  A potential scandal has come up with the alleged positive test for some kind of performance enhancing drug by National League MVP Ryan Braun. The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for Bankruptcy amid the McCourt family feud and Albert Pujols collected his halo as well as about 260 million dollars for the next 10 years from the Angels.

The NFL endured a strike and player lockout by the owners which threatened the beginning of the season but the NFL’s stupidity was totally blown away by the actions of NBA players and owners in their strike and lockout. There were scandals in college sports outside the SEC the most notable being the sexual abuse scandal that shook the nation at Penn State University which brought about the inglorious end to the career of the legendary coach Joe Paterno. The BCS Bowl system appears to have gone from controversial to nearly pathetic in the selection of teams for the BCS bowls.

Padre Steve’s Prediction: The Chicago Cubs will not win the World Series and thereby prove that those that believe that the world will end in 2012 wrong. So as bad as everything seems it could be worse.

So with all that said there was so much more that I could mention but I have to stop somewhere.  I won’t go into the lives and scandals of celebrities because frankly though sometimes titillating they really don’t matter a hill of beans, unless it is your hill and they are your beans.  Likewise the year isn’t over yet and who knows maybe something will happen that will cause me to have to revise this article.

Until then and until tomorrow…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The War that No One wants to Fight: Pakistan 2011

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This weekend there was an altercation on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which somewhere between 24 and 28 Pakistani soldiers were killed during a NATO airstrike.  Afghan military and regional government officials are saying that Afghan soldiers called in for air support after they were attacked from the Pakistani side of the border.  The Pakistanis are calling the the strike an “unproved attack.” NATO and Afghan officials note that the border is not very distinguishable and that Taliban forces often will shoot from positions near Pakistani outposts.  Unfortunately in Pakistan the only truth that matters is that NATO killed its soldiers and the fact that their country and some agencies specifically the intelligence service actively support the Taliban is irrelevant.  The truth is that the only reason that the Pakistani government and military has halfway cooperated with NATO is because of the vast amount of military and economic aid it receives from the United States.  The thin veneer of cooperation was broken this weekend and there may be little that anyone can do to reestablish any kind of real trust or cooperation despite the fact that the cooperation of the Pakistanis is a “necessary evil” as long as the US an NATO have over 100.000 troops deployed in “penny packets” around the vast  rugged expanse of Afghanistan.

The fact is that depending on whose statistics you look at some 40-50% of NATO’s supplies are transported overland from the Pakistani port of Karachi to Afghanistan. The bulk of these goods are things like fuel and heavy equipment without which the ability of NATO forces in Afghanistan cannot conduct effective operations.  The Pakistanis have already demanded that the US pull its CIA drone units from a key Pakistani air base and the Pakistanis are still smarting over the killing of Osama Bin Laden on their soil. The simple truth is that unless the Pakistani military can calm their country our supply lines will be cut off. Unfortunately this same military and government has used any excuse or provocation to stir up their population against the United States and NATO in order to preserve their hold on power.  Now it appears that the situation has reached a point that they will not be able to control the passions that they have stirred whenever the need suits them.

If the Pakistani military and government have put themselves and us in a bind. If they  appear to be “soft” on NATO in the eyes of their people they risk a popular revolt and more terrorism at home. If they harden their opposition to NATO and the US or use the latest incident to whip up more anti-NATO support they could find themselves in a war with the United States and NATO.  Any misstep could be disastrous to all concerned.

Unlike the Iranians the Pakistanis actually have deployable nuclear weapons in addition to a large conventional military force.  If they were to decide to stop US and NATO resupply convoys for more than a few days our operations in Afghanistan would be affected and if the impasse were to become long term it could cripple US and NATO operations in that country.

The sad truth is that the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are terribly exposed to dangers that neither they or their commanders control. It is what happens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that matters what happens between the United States-Israel and Iran can have a dramatic and even calamitous effect on our deployed forces.

The fact is that it is hard to replace 40-50% of your bulk supplies when they have to come by sea and the only port is in a hostile or at best semi-hostile country.  If the Pakistanis were to force the issue the mission in Afghanistan would be untenable.  A smaller force tailored to anti-terrorism operations could be sustained by air and via overland routes which pass through former Soviet republics but a heavy force of over 100,000 troops scattered across thousands of square miles of mountainous terrain cannot be sustained unless the supply lines for bulk fuel, water, food and heavy equipment are secure.

Logistics is not sexy but no modern military can do without it. You do not operate heavy mechanized forces in hostile territory without reliable supply lines. Simply ask the Germans in Stalingrad or the French at Dien Bien Phu how well they did when supplies were cut off.

It just doesn’t seem to me that most people especially politicians see the danger that US and NATO troops face in Afghanistan from forces that they cannot control in surrounding countries.  This is a dangerous situation and even if the current impasse is resolved the long-term outlook is bleak as long as the Pakistani regime plays both sides of the fence.

If the supply lines were severed for any length of time the mission in Afghanistan would have to be reevaluated and the possibility of military action to reopen them considered. At that point all bets are off and God help us.  It would not be good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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