Tag Archives: medal of honor winners

The Harlem Hellfighters and Chicago “Black Devils”: Battling Racism and Germans on the Western Front in 1918

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The theme of Black History Month this year is African Americans in Times of War to coincide with the centennial of the end of the First World War.

In 1918 African Americans who in spite of the prejudice, intolerance and persecution they endured at home as a result of Jim Crow, still loved their country. They were men who labored under the most difficult circumstance to show all Americans and the world that they were worthy of being soldiers and citizens of the United States of America. Their stories cannot be allowed to be forgotten, nor can we allow Jim Crow and the intolerance of other movements which demean and persecute those who love this country because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality.

The African America men who volunteered included raw recruits as well as veteran soldiers who had already served full careers on the Great Plains. They were the Buffalo Soldiers, and when the United States entered the First World War, they were not wanted. Instead, the veterans  were left on the frontier and a new generation of African American draftees and volunteers became the nucleus of two new infantry divisions, the 92nd and 93rd.

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However in the beginning they too were kept out of action. These men were initially regulated to doing labor service behind the lines and in the United States. But finally, the protests of organizations such as the NAACP and men like W.E.B.DuBois and Phillip Randolph forced the War Department to reconsider the second class status of these men and form them into combat units.

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Despite this the leadership of the AEF, or the American Expeditionary Force of General John Pershing refused to allow these divisions to serve under American command. Somehow the concept of such men serving alongside White Americans in the “War to end All War” was offensive to the high command.

Instead these divisions were broken up and the regiments sent to serve out of American areas on the Western Front. The regiments of the 93rd Division were attached to French divisions. The 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” were first assigned to the French 16th Division and then to the 161st Division. The Hellfighters stayed in line and under fire for 191 days, longer than any other American regiment, they also suffered the highest casualties of any American regiment, nearly 1,500 during a time when only 900 replacements were received. 170 soldiers of the regiment were awarded the Croix de Guerre for the valor they displayed in combat.

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The first of the Hellfighters so honored was then Private, later Sergeant Henry Johnson who was nicknamed Black Death for his prowess as a fighter. With Private Needham Roberts, Johnson fought off a platoon sized German patrol. They both were wounded and when they ran out of ammunition Roberts fought with the butt of his rifle and Johnson a Bolo knife. When Roberts was knocked unconscious Johnson fought alone and saved his comrade from capture. Some estimate that Johnson killed 4 and wounded up to 30 Germans in the fight. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barak Obama on June 2nd 2015, because he had no living relatives it was accepted by Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson.

The 370th “Black Devils” from Chicago were detailed to the French 26th Division and the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments were assigned to the French 157th (Colonial) Division, which was also known as the Red Hand Division.

These units performed with distinction. The 371st was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur and Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 1st Battalion 371st was the only African American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the First World War. The 372nd was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur for its service with the 157th Division.

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The 157th (Colonial) Division had suffered badly during the war and been decimated in the unrelenting assaults in the trench warfare of the Western Front. It was reconstituted in 1918 with one French Regiment and two American regiments, the Negro 371st and 372nd Infantry. On July 4th 1918 the commanding General of the French 157th Division, General Mariano Goybet issued the following statement:

“It is striking demonstration of the long standing and blood-cemented friendship which binds together our two great nations. The sons of the soldiers of Lafayette greet the sons of the soldiers of George Washington who have come over to fight as in 1776, in a new and greater way of independence. The same success which followed the glorious fights for the cause of liberty is sure to crown our common effort now and bring about the final victory of right and justice over barbarity and oppression.”

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While many white American soldiers depreciated their French hosts and attempted to sow the seeds of their own racial prejudice against the black soldiers among the French, Southerners in particular warned the French of  the “black rapist beasts.” However the French experience of American blacks was far different than the often scornful treatment that they received from white American soldiers.

“Soldiers from the four regiments that served directly with the French Army attested to the willingness of the French to let men fight and to honor them for their achievements. Social interactions with French civilians- and white southern soldiers’ reactions to them- also highlighted crucial differences between the two societies. Unlike white soldiers, African Americans did not complain about high prices in French stores. Instead they focused on the fact that “they were welcomed” by every shopkeeper that they encountered.”

Official and unofficial efforts by those in the Army command and individual soldiers to stigmatize them and to try to force the French into applying Jim Crow to laws and attitudes backfired. Villages now expressed a preference for black over white American troops. “Take back these soldiers and send us some real Americans, black Americans,” wrote one village mayor after a group of rowdy white Americans disrupted the town.”

Stowers

The citation for Corporal Stowers award of the Medal of Honor reads as follows:

Corporal Stowers, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism on September 28, 1918 while serving as a squad leader in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93d Division. His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and when within about 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties. Corporal Stowers’ conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and supreme devotion to his men were well above and beyond the call of duty, follow the finest traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.

Corporal Stowers is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The award of the Medal of Honor was not made until 1991 when President George H. W. Bush presented it to Stowers’ two surviving sisters.

The contrast between the American treatment of its own soldiers and that of the French in the First World War is striking. The fact that it took President Harry S. Truman to integrate the U.S. Military in 1948 is also striking. African Americans had served in the Civil War, on the Great Plains, in Cuba and in both the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation in the Second World War and were treated as less than fully human by many Americans.

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Men of the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments of the French 157th Division Awarded the Croix d’Guerre

Even after President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, African Americans, as well as other racial minorities, women and gays have faced very real discrimination. The military continues to make great strides, and while overt racist acts and other types of discrimination are outlawed, racism still remains a part of American life.

Today things have changed, and that in large part is due to the unselfish sacrifice in the face of hatred and discrimination of the men of the USCT and the State Black Regiments like the 54th Massachusetts and the Louisiana Home Guards who blazed a way to freedom for so many. Those who followed them as Buffalo Soldiers and volunteers during the World Wars continued to be trail blazers in the struggle for equal rights. A white soldier who served with the 49thMassachusetts wrote “all honor to our negro soldiers. They deserve citizenship. They will secure it! There would be much suffering in what he termed “the transition state” but a “nation is not born without pangs.”

Unfortunately racial prejudice is still exists in the United States. In spite of all the advances that we have made racism still casts an ugly cloud over our country. Despite the sacrifices of the Buffalo Soldiers, the leaders of the Civil Rights movement and others there are some people who like the leaders of the AEF in 1917 and 1918 cannot stomach having blacks as equals or God forbid in actual leadership roles in this country.

A good friend of mine who is a retired military officer, a white man, an evangelical Christian raised in Georgia who graduated from an elite military school in the South, who is a proponent of racial equality has told me that the problem that many white people in the South have with President Obama is that “he doesn’t know his place.” Yes racism is still real and rears its ugly head all too often.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war one

The Continuing Racket of the War Profiteers

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What is the cost of war? what is the bill? Major General Smedley Butler wrote: “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….”

With all the domestic political news and the apocalyptic talk and actions surrounding John Roberts the Supreme Court and Obamacare it is hard to believe that we are at war for over 10 years and are at war or now preparing for war all over the Middle East. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, you name the place there is a real a present danger of US forces becoming involved in even more war. The Trinity of Evil, those Politicians, Pundits and Preachers and over 60% of Americans now are in favor of sending in ground troops to fight the Islamic State.

There are no statesmen left in Washington DC only shills of the Right and Left and their masters from Wall Street to K Street. The only people profiting from this are the war profiteers who even if the budget gets cut and they fail to deliver usable weapon systems on time or in budget will still get paid. The losers will be the military personnel who must fight the wars who will get tossed onto the street by those that claim that personnel costs are the problem. Of course those that make this point are almost always the same lobbyists that shill for the defense industries and the banks. But enough about them.

Right now tens of thousands of American military personnel and other Department of Defense, Federal law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, humanitarian workers as well as contractors in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands more (mostly contractors)  are helping to shore up the Iraqi government against the Islamic State or are fighting wars by other names in Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa.  Others are deployed to counter Iran or standing by to assist other allies should the conflict in Iraq and Syria spill over the boarders. Of course this does not take into account the instability in Egypt, Libya, Eastern and Central Africa that threatens even more war or the potential of turmoil in Europe, especially the Ukraine. Likewise a crisis with the Euro Crisis could bring about more financial disasters or even revolutions in countries that are our allies. By the way let’s not forget about the nutcase leaders of North Korea who could provoke war on that side of the world in a heartbeat.

But never mind this, let’s fight each other instead threaten insurrection when we don’t get our way. But wait, I digress…

Did you know that while Americans stand in harms way almost every real or potential enemy has been armed, subsidized or assisted by American corporations and paid for by American tax dollars.  We have armed much of the world with weapons that have already in Iraq and Afghanistan killed thousands of American military personnel. But those were small time weapons compared to what we have provided to Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and yes even Israel. F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighter planes, Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles, M-1 Tanks, M113 Fighting vehicles, Patriot Air Defense systems, you name the weapons system the war profiteers will sell it and US taxpayers will pay for it. These are weapons that very easily could be used with great effect to attack American interests should leaders in any of those countries decide to use them against us. I only include Israel because in 1967 its forces viciously attacked the USS Liberty which was operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as Israel launched its pre-emptive war against Egypt. Although all of these countries are “allies” we must remember that alliances are only as good as the interests and values that unite nations.

Our defense industries with the support of the government sell advanced weapons to nations that often are less than trustworthy allies, allies of convenience that have little love for the United States but welcome the weapons and training that we provide.  They often use them to suppress the aspirations of their own people and plant the cultivate the seeds of radicalism and revolution.  It is hard not to cringe when pro-democracy protestors are killed by totalitarian regimes whose police and military are armed to the teeth with American made weapons. When those totalitarian regimes fall as did that of the Shah of Iran in 1979 those weapons fall into the hands of people radicalized against us by our support of their former oppressors.

Certainly nobody seriously believes that the angry masses in the countries that we have armed to the teeth with the latest in American weaponry would not use that weaponry against us should they desire.  But wait…. our politicians, arms dealers, bankers and their political, religious and financial backers certainly wouldn’t put Americans in harms way? Perish the thought, but not so quickly. They have done so before and will do it again.

Smedley Butler is one of under two dozen American military personnel to win the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. He saw the dangers of Fascism as well as the danger of unlimited corporate and business power to profit by war. Butler was not only a  valiant Marine he was also a commander that in war and peace cared about those who served. He saw how American finance and banking interests helped drag us into the Fist World War, the promises broken by the government and the lives destroyed by war.

In his book War is a Racket Butler wrote eloquently about how the heads of corporations and their political supporters in both parties were the only benefactors of war. He wrote of the plight of the soldiers that served and returned wounded and often changed by war and he did not mince words in what he saw. He became an anti-war activist. He was a supporter of the Bonus Army, the veterans that “occupied” Washington DC during the last year of the Hoover Administration to get the bonuses promised for their service and were violently evicted by troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. If he was alive today I have no doubt that he would be an active supporter of the current “Occupy” movement and opponent of politicians, political activists, lobbyists and even preachers that advocate even more war.

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Butler’s War is a Racket as well as other published works are a worthwhile read and should make the most rabid fan of war think twice. Butler’s patriotism and devotion to the United States and the Constitution is unquestioned. His warnings are strong, he was a prophet in regard to the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex well before President Eisenhower coined the term as he left office. He detailed how corporations made obscene profits often by selling the US Military vast amounts of materials that it could not possibly use and which taxpayers bought while business leaders and bankers made their fortunes that they never had realized when the nation was at peace. He reminds us of the dangers that our founders recognized about entwining ourselves in other people’s wars. While his answers on how to end war are now utopian dreams because of advances in technology and the wars which now rage without end in sight they are nonetheless not a bad place to start a debate.

Butler writes movingly about the price paid by veterans years after the war, men broken in body, mind and spirit from their war service.

“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill.

If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit  any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.” 

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One would think that things would be better now but our veterans’ health care system is a train wreck and there is an epidemic of suicide among active duty troops and veterans. In 2005 after years of hand wringing the Bush administration grudgingly increased the number of Soldiers and Marines even while cutting Navy personnel and ships to the  minimum that they could despite ever increasing operational tempos. The Navy was reduced by over 50,000 sailors during the Bush years and now when the Navy is needed more it has been reduced to the point that 8-10 month deployments with short turn arounds will be normal.

Now the Obama administration is cutting back partly due to the withdraw from Iraq but mostly because of the economic crisis. However the bulk of these cuts are falling on the military personnel and not the war profiteers. The Army will be cut by nearly 80,000 in the coming years the Marines by 20,000 and that may increase if the budget takes the sequestration hit without any reduction in operational tempo. These Soldiers and Marines will enter a bleak job market where many employers give little value to military experience or training, which has resulted in a vastly higher unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans than the general population.

It wasn’t much different in Butler’s day. He writes:

“Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. They were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think of nothing but killing and being killed.

The suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face”! This time they had to do their own readjusting, sans mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice, sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them anymore. So we scattered them about without any “three minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades.”

Butler recounted another visit to a different veterans’ hospital:

“In the government hospital at Marion, Indiana 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around the outside of the buildings and on the porches. These have already been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically they are in good shape but mentally they are gone.” 

There are thousands and thousands of these cases and more and more are coming in all the time…

That’s a part of the bill. So much for the dead-they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded- they are paying now with thier share of the war profits. But others paid with the heartbreaks when they tore themselves away for their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam- on which a profit had been made….”

I could go on but I think that Butler says it quite well and with the passion of a Marine who was wounded on more than one occasion and won the Medal of Honor twice.

The only people that want war are those that profit from it and don’t have to pay the price paid by those that have to fight them and pay for them. When I see pictures of Mitt Romney protesting in support of the Vietnam war while getting deferment after deferment to avoid service it makes my head spin. My head spins even more when I hear him talking brazenly about committing US troops to even more war. For me the pictures of Romney’s pro-war protests as a college student avoiding war on educational and religious service deferments as millions of other Americans went to war are up there with the pictures of “Hanoi” Jane Fonda giving aid and comfort to those that were killing our troops.

Butler’s detractors and they are legion on the political right attempt to paint him as an isolationist or appeaser of Hitler. However they misunderstand him and his work. They don’t understand as Butler understood that there would not have been a Nazi Germany without Versailles and that was not possible without the American intervention on the side of Britain and France in 1917. That involvement was driven by the bankers and industrialists who had supplied raw materials, weapons and technical patents to the British and French, and had done so before with the Germans who believed that they would lose their investments if the Germans won the war. That would have happened in late 1917 or early 1918 had not the Americans declared war and entered the war on the side of the British and French.

Most of Butler’s current critics have never served a day in uniform much less a day in a combat zone. They make their livings and profits by the sacrifice of others and other than a few of his quotes have never read anything about him.

If you sense indignation in my voice it is real. I have lived the nightmare of PTSD for over 7 years. I see and work with the young men and women that have bravely endured the hardship of combat deployments and come home physically, mentally and spiritually wounded. To our credit we are trying to do better, but that doesn’t always happen. But for the war profiteers even that will be too much. If military spending is cut you can bet that they will not take the hit that military personnel, their families and our veterans will take. They and their political benefactors will not allow it.

I am a military man through and through. I have spent nearly my whole life associated with the military as a dependent of a Navy Chief who served in Vietnam and a career of over 30 years divided between the Army and Navy. Some of my friends dads did not return from Vietnam, other friends and those who I have served with have paid with their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan while others suffer the continuing wounds of war.

This is personal for me and it is also motivated by my faith as a Christian. Today when I see prominent and politically influential right wing Evangelical Christian leaders and pastors beat the drums of war I am reminded of how Butler chided the pro-war clergy propagandists of the Great War. He wrote: “So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill Germans. God is on our side…it is his will that the Germans be killed.” Only today, it is not a blood lust for German blood, it is a blood lust for Moslem blood and it gets louder ever day.

Such preaching is not much different from the right wing pro-war preachers who advocate killing Moslems simply because they are Moslems and that go out of their way to preach the value of “pre-emptive war” despite such wars being against the Christian understanding of the  “Just War” or international law against such war that we as Americans helped develop after World War Two at Nuremberg and to which we hold the leaders of what we call “rogue nations.”

I only wish that our leaders; political leaders of both parties, religious leaders, and even business leaders would see the folly of this course and their responsibility for the results.

Someone has to say it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: All quotations from “War is a Racket” by Smedley Butler copyright 1935 and 2003 by the Butler family. Amazon Kindle edition. 

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Filed under ethics, History, middle east, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

Fighting Prejudice on the Western Front 1918

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They were Americans who in spite of prejudice and in spite of intolerance and persecution loved their country. They were men who labored under the most difficult circumstance to show all Americans and the world that they were worthy of being soldiers and citizens of the United States of America.

They were all volunteers and many of them were veteran soldiers had already served full careers on the Great Plains. They were the Buffalo Soldiers, and when the United States entered the First World War, they were not wanted. Instead, the veterans  were left on the frontier and a new generation of African American draftees and volunteers became the nucleus of two new infantry divisions, the 92nd and 93rd.

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However in the beginning they too were kept out of action. These men were initially regulated to doing labor service behind the lines and in the United States. But finally, the protests of organizations such as the NAACP and men like W.E.B.DuBois and Phillip Randolph forced the War Department to reconsider the second class status of these men and form them into combat units.

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Despite this the leadership of the AEF, or the American Expeditionary Force of General John Pershing refused to allow these divisions to serve under American command. Somehow the concept of such men serving alongside White Americans in the “War to end All War” was offensive to the high command.

Instead these divisions were broken up and the regiments sent to serve out of American areas on the Western Front. The regiments of the 93rd Division were attached to French divisions. The 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” were first assigned to the French 16th Division and then to the 161st Division.

The 370th “Black Devils” were detailed to the French 26th Division and the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments were assigned to the French 157th (Colonial) Division, which was also known as the Red Hand Division.

These units performed with distinction. The 371st was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur and Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 1st Battalion 371st was the only African American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the First World War. The 372nd was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur for its service with the 157th Division.

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The 157th (Colonial) Division had suffered badly during the war and been decimated in the unrelenting assaults in the trench warfare of the Western Front. It was reconstituted in 1918 with one French Regiment and two American regiments, the Negro 371st and 372nd Infantry. On July 4th 1918 the commanding General of the French 157th Division, General Mariano Goybet issued the following statement:

“It is striking demonstration of the long standing and blood-cemented friendship which binds together our two great nations. The sons of the soldiers of Lafayette greet the sons of the soldiers of George Washington who have come over to fight as in 1776, in a new and greater way of independence. The same success which followed the glorious fights for the cause of liberty is sure to crown our common effort now and bring about the final victory of right and justice over barbarity and oppression.”

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While many white American soldiers depreciated their French hosts and attempted to sow the seeds of their own racial prejudice against the black soldiers among the French, Southerners in particular warned the French of  the “black rapist beasts.” However the French experience of American blacks was far different than the often scornful treatment that they received from white American soldiers.

“Soldiers from the four regiments that served directly with the French Army attested to the willingness of the French to let men fight and to honor them for their achievements. Social interactions with French civilians- and white southern soldiers’ reactions to them- also highlighted crucial differences between the two societies. Unlike white soldiers, African Americans did not complain about high prices in French stores. Instead they focused on the fact that “they were welcomed” by every shopkeeper that they encountered.”

Official and unofficial efforts by those in the Army command and individual soldiers to stigmatize them and to try to force the French into applying Jim Crow to laws and attitudes backfired. Villages now expressed a preference for black over white American troops. “Take back these soldiers and send us some real Americans, black Americans,” wrote one village mayor after a group of rowdy white Americans disrupted the town.”

Stowers

The citation for Corporal Stowers award of the Medal of Honor reads as follows:

Corporal Stowers, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism on September 28, 1918 while serving as a squad leader in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93d Division. His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and when within about 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties. Corporal Stowers’ conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and supreme devotion to his men were well above and beyond the call of duty, follow the finest traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.

Corporal Stowers is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The award of the Medal of Honor was not made until 1991 when President George H. W. Bush presented it to Stowers’ two surviving sisters.

The contrast between the American treatment of its own soldiers and that of the French in the First World War is striking. The fact that it took President Harry S. Truman to integrate the U.S. Military in 1948 is also striking. African Americans had served in the Civil War, on the Great Plains, in Cuba and in both the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation in the Second World War and were treated as less than fully human by many Americans.

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Men of the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments of the French 157th Division Awarded the Croix d’Guerre

Even after President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, African Americans, as well as other racial minorities, women and gays have faced very real discrimination. The military continues to make great strides, and while overt racist acts and other types of discrimination are outlawed, racism still remains a part of American life.

Today things have changed, and that in large part is due to the unselfish sacrifice in the face of hatred and discrimination of the men of the USCT and the State Black Regiments like the 54th Massachusetts and the Louisiana Home Guards who blazed a way to freedom for so many. Those who followed them as Buffalo Soldiers and volunteers during the World Wars continued to be trail blazers in the struggle for equal rights. A white soldier who served with the 49th Massachusetts wrote “all honor to our negro soldiers. They deserve citizenship. They will secure it! There would be much suffering in what he termed “the transition state” but a “nation is not born without pangs.”

Unfortunately racial prejudice is still exists in the United States. In spite of all the advances that we have made racism still casts an ugly cloud over our country. Despite the sacrifices of the Buffalo Soldiers, the leaders of the Civil Rights movement and others there are some people who like the leaders of the AEF in 1917 and 1918 cannot stomach having blacks as equals or God forbid in actual leadership roles in this country.

A good friend of mine who is a retired military officer, a white man, an evangelical Christian raised in Georgia who graduated from an elite military school in the South, who is a proponent of racial equality has told me that the problem that many white people in the South have with President Obama is that “he doesn’t know his place.” Yes racism is still real and rears its ugly head all too often.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, leadership, Military, Political Commentary

“A Foreign World”: The High Cost of Coming Home from War

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For me it began in February 2008 when on the way back from Iraq the military charter aircraft bringing us home stopped in Ramstein Germany. After a few hour layover we re-boarded the aircraft but we were no longer alone, the rest of the aircraft had been filled with the families of soldiers and airmen stationed in Germany. Just days before most of us had been in Iraq or Afghanistan. The cries of children and the intrusion of these people, not bad people by any means on our return flight was shocking, it was like returning to a world that I no longer knew.

I think that coming home from war, especially for those damaged in some way, in mind, body or spirit is harder than being at war. In that thought I am not alone. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic novel All Quiet on the Western Front wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.” Erich Maria Remarque in All Quiet on the Western Front

Likewise, Guy Sager a French-German from the Alsace and veteran of the Grossdeutschland Division on the Eastern Front in World War II noted at the end of his book The Forgotten Soldier: 

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.” Guy Sager in The Forgotten Soldier

I have been reminded of this several times in the past week. It began walking through a crowded Navy commissary on Saturday, in the few minutes in the store my anxiety level went up significantly. On Tuesday I learned of the death of Captain Tom Sitsch my last Commodore at EOD Group Two, who died by his own hand. His life had come apart. After a number of deployments to Iraq as the Commander EOD Mobile Unit 3 and of Task Force Troy he was afflicted with PTSD. Between June of 2008 and the end of 2009 he went from commanding an EOD Group to being forced to retire.  Today I had a long talk with a fairly young friend agonizing over continued medical treatments for terminal conditions he contracted in two tours in Iraq where he was awarded the Bronze Star twice.

I have a terrible insomnia, nightmares and night terrors due to PTSD. My memories of Iraq are still strong, and this week these conditions have been much worse. Sager wrote:

“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”

Nearly 20 years after returning from war, a survivor of the 1st Battalion 308th Infantry, the “Lost Battalion” of World War One, summed up the experience of so many men who come back from war:

“We just do not have the control we should have. I went through without a visible wound, but have spent many months in hospitals and dollars for medical treatment as a result of those terrible experiences.”

Bradley-12-2

Two time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler toured Veterans hospitals following his retirement from the Marine Corps. He observed the soldiers who had been locked away. In his book War is a Racket:

“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill. If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit  any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.”

Similarly Remarque wrote in All Quiet on the Western Front:

“A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round. And this is only one hospital, a single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.”

Lt.ColonelCharlesWhiteWhittlesey

Sometimes even those who have been awarded our Nation’s highest award for valor succumb to the demons of war that they cannot shake, and never completely adjust to life at “home” which is no longer home. For them it is a different, a foreign world to use the words of Sager and Remarque. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey won the Congressional Medal Medal of Honor as Commander of 1st Battalion 308th Infantry, the “Lost Battalion” in France. After the war he was different. He gave up his civilian law practice and served as head of the Red Cross in New York. In that role, and as the Colonel for his reserve unit, he spent his time visiting the wounded who were still suffering in hospitals. He also made the effort to attend the funerals of veterans who had died. The continued reminders of the war that he could not come home from left him a different man. He committed suicide on November 21st 1921not long after serving as a pallbearer for the Unknown Soldier when that man was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

In the eulogy Judge Charles L. Hibbard noted:

“He is sitting on the piazza of a cottage by the sea on a glorious late September day but a few weeks ago. . . He is looking straight out to sea, with naught but sea between him and that land where lie so many of his boys. The beating surf is but an echo, the warm, bright sunshine, the blue sky, the dancing waves, all combine to charm. But a single look at his face and one knows he is unconscious of this glory of Nature. Somewhere far down in the depths of his being or in imagination far off across the waters he lives again the days that are past. That unconscious look has all the marks of deep sorrow, brooding tragedy, unbearable memories. Weeks pass. The mainspring of life is wound tighter and tighter and then comes the burial of the Unknown Soldier. This draws the last measure of reserve and with it the realization that life had little now to offer. This quiet, reserved personality drew away as it were from its habitation of flesh, thought out the future, measured the coming years and came to a mature decision. You say, ‘He had so much to live for – family, friends, and all that makes life sweet.’ No, my friends, life’s span for him was measured those days in that distant forest. He had plumbed the depth of tragic suffering; he had heard the world’s applause; he had seen and touched the great realities of life; and what remained was of little consequence. He craved rest, peace and sweet forgetfulness. He thought it out quietly, serenely, confidently, minutely. He came to a decision not lightly or unadvisedly, and in the end did what he thought was best, and in the comfort of that thought we too must rest. ‘Wounded in action,’ aye, sorely wounded in heart and soul and now most truly ‘missing in action.’”

Psychologist and professor Dr Ari Solomon analyzed the case of Colonel Whittlesey and noted:

“If I could interview Whittlesey as a psychologist today, I’d especially have in mind … the sharp discrepancy between the public role he was playing and his hidden agony, his constant re-exposure to reminders of the battle, his possible lack of intimate relations, and his felt need to hide his pain even from family and dearest friends.”

I wish I had the answer. I have some ideas that date back to antiquity in the ways that tribes, clans and city states brought their warriors home. The warriors were recognized, there were public rituals, sometimes religious but other times not. But the difference is that the warriors were welcomed home by a community and re-integrated into it. They were allowed to share their stories, many of which were preserved through oral traditions so long that they eventually were written down, even in a mythologized state.

But we do not do that. Our society is disconnected, distant and often cold. Likewise it is polarized in ways that it has not been since the years before our terrible Civil War. Our warriors return from war, often alone, coming home to families, friends and communities that they no longer know. They are misunderstood because their experience is not shared by the population at large. The picture painted of them in the media, even when it is sympathetic is often a caricature.  Their camaraderie with the friends that they served alongside is broken by distance and the frenetic pace of our society. Remarque wrote “We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.”

If we wonder about the suicide epidemic among veterans we have to ask hard questions. Questions like why do so many combat veterans have substance abuse problems and why is it that approximately one in ten prisoners serving time are veterans? It cannot be simply that they are all bad eggs. Many were and are smart, talented, compassionate and brave, tested and tried in ways that our civilian society has no understanding for or clue about. In fact to get in the military most had to be a cut above their peers. We have to ask if we are bringing our veterans home from war in a way that works. Maybe even more importantly we have to ask ourselves if as a culture if we have forgotten how to care about each other. How do we care for the men and women who bear the burden of war, even while the vast majority of the population basks in the freedom and security provided by the soldier without the ability to empathize because they have never shared that experience.

For every Tom Sitsch, Charles Whittlesey or people like my friend, there are countless others suffering in silence as a result of war. We really have to ask hard questions and then decide to do something as individuals, communities and government to do something about it. If we don’t a generation will suffer in silence.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Buffalo Soldiers and Racial Prejudice on the Western Front 1918

They were volunteers and many of their veteran soldiers had served full careers on the Great Plains. They were the Buffalo Soldiers. In the First World War they were left on the frontier and a new generation of draftees and volunteers became the nucleus of two infantry Divisions, the 92nd and 93rd. However in the beginning they were regulated to labor service units until the protests of organizations such as the NAACP and men like W.E.B.DuBois and Phillip Randolph forced the War Department to reconsider the second class status of these men and form them into combat units.

Despite this the leadership of the AEF, or the American Expeditionary Force refused to allow these divisions to serve under American command. Instead they were broken up and the regiments of the 93rd Division were attached to French divisions. The 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” were assigned to the French 16th Division and then to the 161st Division. The 370th “Black Devils” to the French 26th Division and the 371st and 372nd to the French 157th (Colonial) Division also known as the Red Hand Division. The 371st was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur and Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 1st Battalion 371st was the only African American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the First World War. The 372nd was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur for its service with the 157th Division.

The 157th Division had suffered badly during the war and been decimated in the unrelenting assaults in the trench warfare of the Western Front. It was reconstituted in 1918 with one French Regiment and two American regiments, the Negro 371st and 372nd Infantry. On July 4th 1918 the commanding General of the French 157th Division, General Mariano Goybet issued the following statement:

“It is striking demonstration of the long standing and blood-cemented friendship which binds together our two great nations. The sons of the soldiers of Lafayette greet the sons of the soldiers of George Washington who have come over to fight as in 1776, in a new and greater way of independence. The same success which followed the glorious fights for the cause of liberty is sure to crown our common effort now and bring about the final victory of right and justice over barbarity and oppression.”

The citation for Corporal Stowers reads as follows:

Corporal Stowers, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism on September 28, 1918 while serving as a squad leader in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93d Division. His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and when within about 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties. Corporal Stowers’ conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and supreme devotion to his men were well above and beyond the call of duty, follow the finest traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.

Corporal Stowers is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The award of the Medal of Honor was not made until 1991 when President George H. W. Bush presented it to Stowers’ two surviving sisters.

The contrast between the American treatment of its own soldiers and that of the French in the First World War is striking. The fact that it took President Harry S. Truman to integrate the U.S. Military in 1948 is also striking. African Americans had served in the Civil War, on the Great Plains, in Cuba and in both the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation in the Second World War and were treated as less than fully human by many Americans.

Men of the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments of the French 157th Division Awarded the Croix d’Guerre

Unfortunately racial prejudice is still rampant in the United States. In spite of all the advances that we have made racism still casts an ugly cloud over our country. Despite the sacrifices of the Buffalo Soldiers, the leaders of the Civil Rights movement and others there are some people who like the leaders of the AEF in 1917 and 1918 cannot stomach having blacks as equals or God forbid in actual leadership roles in this country.  A good friend of mine who is a retired military officer, a white man, an evangelical Christian raised in Georgia who graduated from an elite military school in the South, who is a proponent of racial equality has told me that the problem that many white people in the South have with President Obama is that “he doesn’t know his place.” Yes racism is still real and rears its ugly head all too often.

Today is the anniversary of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where American troops helped break the back of the German Army in World War One. As we remember the brave men who went “over the top” and suffered over 117,000 casualties in that battle let us not forget the intrepid Buffalo Soldiers who blazed a way to an equality that some would still seek to deny those of color.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gettysburg Day Two: The Engineer and the Professors on the Hill, Major General Gouverneur Warren and Colonels Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain

The Confederate Onslaught

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” ― Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

The Federal Army at Gettysburg had a wide variety of officers. Many senior officers were graduates of West Point but in the expansion of the Army and the call of up militia from the various states other officers were appointed. Many had no prior military service and at times that lack of experience was tragic. However some of the time those volunteers were the men who by their service helped save the Union.

On July 2nd 1863 the situation at Gettysburg was precarious. Robert E Lee had ordered an attack to seize a hill at the far end of the Federal line, Little Round Top and turn the Union flank. General Meade had ordered III Corps under Major General Dan Sickles to extend it’s line to defend the southern section of his line on Cemetery Ridge. Unfortunately Sickles moved his Corps several hundred yards west forming a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard leaving the southern flank undefended.

Major General Gouverneur Warren

When Meade saw the developing situation he sent his Chief Engineer, Major General Gouverneur Warren to take charge of the situation. When Warren arrived he found the hill undefended and he dispatched staff officers to get assistance from any units in the area. Major General George Sykes of V Corps responded sending a messenger to the commander of his 1st Division. The messenger encountered the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade Colonel Strong Vincent who immediately took the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission.

Warren at Little Round Top

Vincent placed and his regiments arrived in a nick of time. He deployed his regiments, along the spur running to the south if the top of the hill. The 16th Michigan on the right with the 44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania at his center and the 20th Maine under the Command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain on the extreme left of the line. His order to Chamberlain was ordered to “hold at all costs.” Chamberlain led his regiment skillfully and when nearly out of ammunition led a charge down the slope of Little Round Top which ended the Confederate chances of gaining the hill and turning the flank of Meade’s Army.

Warren was a West Point graduate and had been a topographical engineer for most of his pre-war career and saw combat against the Sioux at the Battle of Ash Grove in 1855. When the war began Warren was a mathematics instructor at West Point. He helped raise a militia regiment in New York and was appointed to Lieutenant Colonel. As a regimental commander and later brigade commander he saw much combat and was wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill during the Seven Days.  When the Army was reorganized in February 1863 he was named Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac by Major General Joseph Hooker. When Major General Meade relieved Hooker on June 28th he retained Warren.

The 26 year old Colonel Strong Vincent

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. He was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the Erie Regiment and married his wife Elizabeth the same day.  He wrote her before his death “If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.”  He was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 83rd Pennsylvania September 14th 1861and assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg in December 1862 and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade when its commander was killed at Chancellorsville in May 1863.

Major General Joshua Chamberlain

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary, fluent in 9 languages other than English. He was Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin before seeking an appointment in a Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his family. He was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked to be appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel which he was in August 1862. He fought at Fredericksburg and was named commander of the regiment when Colonel Ames, his commander was promoted following Chancellorsville.

“Don’t Give and Inch!”

The battle of Little Round Top is one of the most famous of all Civil War battles and Chamberlain along with Vincent are immortalized in the film Gettysburg which is based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels. Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill standing on a large boulder with a riding crop ordering the men of the 16th Michigan who were beginning to waiver “don’t give an inch.” Two months later his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him

Warren would become a distinguished Corps commander until he ran afoul of the fiery General Phillip Sheridan in 1865. Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. The relief was brutal and ruined his career.  Warren resigned his commission as a Major General after the war and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineering  duty being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879. He sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but he died before the results were published. Embittered he directed that he be buried in civilian clothes and without military honors.

Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor at Little Round Top in 1893. He was gravely wounded during the siege of Petersburg in June of 1864 while commanding a brigade and promoted to Brigadier General. He returned to duty later in the year as commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division V Corps and was again wounded at Petersburg in a skirmish at Quaker Road and was promoted to Brevet Major General by Abraham Lincoln. Chamberlain received the surrender of Lee’s decimated Army if Northern Virginia. He would go on to serve as a four term Governor of Maine and remained active with the Grand Army of the Republic veteran’s organization, remained active as an educator and President of Bowdoin College and founded the Maine Institute for the Blind which is now known as the Iris Foundation. He died of his wartime wounds on February 24th 1914.

These three men acted with great courage and alacrity on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863. Warren for his immediate action to call for assistance when he discovered that the hill was undefended and the line exposed, Vincent for his swift taking of responsibility and getting his brigade up the hill before the Confederates could gain the summit and Chamberlain for his dogged refusal to yield against repeated assaults. Only one of the three, Warren was a professional soldier but as a topographic engineer he was an outsider and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan who destroyed his career. The youthful Vincent died of his wounds days after the battle. He was recommended for promotion to Brigadier General by Meade but the promotion was never confirmed by the Senate and Chamberlain is still one of the revered commanders of the Civil War.

It is easy for those enamored with military history to forget the stories behind the men that fought the battles of war. It is easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives.  I think that this does a great disservice to the men themselves. I say this because everyone who serves in the military has their reasons, some more noble than others and likewise everyone who dons the uniform in time of war gives up something of themselves and sometimes even heroes are destroyed by the institutions that they serve.

Chamberlain wrote: “It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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War is a Racket: Remembering Major General Smedley Butler USMC and Why He Matters

What is the cost of war? what is the bill? Major General Smedley Butler wrote: “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….”

With all the domestic political news and the apocalyptic talk and actions surrounding John Roberts the Supreme Court and Obamacare it is hard to believe that we are at war for over 10 years and are at war or now preparing for war all over the Middle East. Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, you name the place there is a real a present danger of US forces becoming involved in even more war.

Maybe it is just me but it doesn’t seem that anybody in Washington has a damned bit of sense. I saw the “tweet” of a Michigan Republican party leader asking if “armed revolt was now justified” because of the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. That makes my blood boil, we are at war and this idiot wants to have a real live civil war and he is not alone. The process is to win elections if you want to change laws not to threaten civil war or revolution when the cause that you are against and take to the Supreme Court gets upheld for whatever reason. Anyone with a half a grain of sense knows that if you take something to the Supreme Court that you need to ask yourself the “Dirty Harry” question: “Do you feel lucky? Well do you punk?” When you go to the Supreme Court you put your case in front of nine Justices and not the electorate. That goes for Liberals as well as Conservatives.

The simple act of working together in the legislative process has been sabotaged by both parties over the years.  This finally hit the culminating point when GOP pushed through the self inflicted wound of the Budget Control Act of 2012. It is this act which now threatens the military which is at war with “sequestration.”  This threatens deep cuts in the military beyond those already anticipated and planned for by DOD. The Republicans are now trying to change it and the Administration is refusing to budge on the issue. Again this didn’t need to happen but brinksmanship is the order of the day.

There are no statesmen left in Washington DC only shills of the Right and Left and their masters from Wall Street to K Street. The only people profiting from this are the war profiteers who even if the budget gets cut and they fail to deliver usable weapon systems on time or in budget will still get paid. The losers will be the military personnel who must fight the wars who will get tossed onto the street by those that claim that personnel costs are the problem. Of course those that make this point are almost always the same lobbyists that shill for the defense industries and the banks. But enough about them.

Right now over 100,000 American military personnel and tens of thousands of other Department of Defense, Federal law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, humanitarian workers as well as contractors are fighting a war in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands more (mostly contractors)  are helping to shore up the Iraqi government or are fighting wars by other names in Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa or are deployed to counter Iran or standing by to assist Turkey if it comes into conflict with Syria. Of course this does not take into account the instability in Egypt, Libya, Eastern and Central Africa that threatens even more war or the potential of turmoil in Europe should the Euro Crisis bring about more financial disaster or even revolution in countries that are our allies. By the way let’s not forget about the nutcase leaders of North Korea who could provoke war on that side of the world in a heartbeat.

But never mind this, let’s fight each other instead threaten insurrection when we don’t get our way. But wait, I digress…

Did you know that while Americans stand in harms way almost every real or potential enemy has been armed, subsidized or assisted by American corporations and paid for by American tax dollars.  We have armed much of the world with weapons that have already in Iraq and Afghanistan killed thousands of American military personnel. But those were small time weapons compared to what we have provided to Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and yes even Israel. F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighter planes, Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles, M-1 Tanks, M113 Fighting vehicles, Patriot Air Defense systems, you name the weapons system the war profiteers will sell it and US taxpayers will pay for it. These are weapons that very easily could be used with great effect to attack American interests should leaders in any of those countries decide to use them against us. I only include Israel because in 1967 its forces viciously attacked the USS Liberty which was operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as Israel launched its pre-emptive war against Egypt. Although all of these countries are “allies” we must remember that alliances are only as good as the interests and values that unite nations.

Our defense industries with the support of the government sell advanced weapons to nations that often are less than trustworthy allies, allies of convenience that have little love for the United States but welcome the weapons and training that we provide.  They often use them to suppress the aspirations of their own people and plant the cultivate the seeds of radicalism and revolution.  It is hard not to cringe when pro-democracy protestors are killed by totalitarian regimes whose police and military are armed to the teeth with American made weapons. When those totalitarian regimes fall as did that of the Shah of Iran in 1979 those weapons fall into the hands of people radicalized against us by our support of their former oppressors.

Certainly nobody seriously believes that the angry masses in the countries that we have armed to the teeth with the latest in American weaponry would not use that weaponry against us should they desire.  But wait…. our politicians, arms dealers, bankers and their political, religious and financial backers certainly wouldn’t put Americans in harms way? Perish the thought, but not so quickly. They have done so before and will do it again.

Smedley Butler is one of under two dozen American military personnel to win the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. He saw the dangers of Fascism as well as the danger of unlimited corporate and business power to profit by war. Butler was not only a  valiant Marine he was also a commander that in war and peace cared about those who served. He saw how American finance and banking interests helped drag us into the Fist World War, the promises broken by the government and the lives destroyed by war.

In his book War is a Racket Butler wrote eloquently about how the heads of corporations and their political supporters in both parties were the only benefactors of war. He wrote of the plight of the soldiers that served and returned wounded and often changed by war and he did not mince words in what he saw. He became an anti-war activist. He was a supporter of the Bonus Army, the veterans that “occupied” Washington DC during the last year of the Hoover Administration to get the bonuses promised for their service and were violently evicted by troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. If he was alive today I have no doubt that he would be an active supporter of the current “Occupy” movement and opponent of politicians, political activists, lobbyists and even preachers that advocate even more war.

Butler’s War is a Racket as well as other published works are a worthwhile read and should make the most rabid fan of war think twice. Butler’s patriotism and devotion to the United States and the Constitution is unquestioned. His warnings are strong, he was a prophet in regard to the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex well before President Eisenhower coined the term as he left office. He detailed how corporations made obscene profits often by selling the US Military vast amounts of materials that it could not possibly use and which taxpayers bought while business leaders and bankers made their fortunes that they never had realized when the nation was at peace. He reminds us of the dangers that our founders recognized about entwining ourselves in other people’s wars. While his answers on how to end war are now utopian dreams because of advances in technology and the wars which now rage without end in sight they are nonetheless not a bad place to start a debate.

Butler writes movingly about the price paid by veterans years after the war, men broken in body, mind and spirit from their war service.

“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill.

If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit  any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.” 

One would think that things would be better now but our veterans’ health care system is a train wreck and there is an epidemic of suicide among active duty troops and veterans. In 2005 after years of hand wringing the Bush administration grudgingly increased the number of Soldiers and Marines even while cutting Navy personnel and ships to the  minimum that they could despite ever increasing operational tempos. The Navy was reduced by over 50,000 sailors during the Bush years and now when the Navy is needed more it has been reduced to the point that 8-10 month deployments with short turn arounds will be normal.

Now the Obama administration is cutting back partly due to the withdraw from Iraq but mostly because of the economic crisis. However the bulk of these cuts are falling on the military personnel and not the war profiteers. The Army will be cut by nearly 80,000 in the coming years the Marines by 20,000 and that may increase if the budget takes the sequestration hit without any reduction in operational tempo. These Soldiers and Marines will enter a bleak job market where many employers give little value to military experience or training, which has resulted in a vastly higher unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans than the general population.

It wasn’t much different in Butler’s day. He writes:

“Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. They were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think of nothing but killing and being killed.

The suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face”! This time they had to do their own readjusting, sans mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice, sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them anymore. So we scattered them about without any “three minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades.”

Butler recounted another visit to a different veterans’ hospital:

“In the government hospital at Marion, Indiana 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around the outside of the buildings and on the porches. These have already been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically they are in good shape but mentally they are gone.” 

There are thousands and thousands of these cases and more and more are coming in all the time…

That’s a part of the bill. So much for the dead-they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded- they are paying now with thier share of the war profits. But others paid with the heartbreaks when they tore themselves away for their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam- on which a profit had been made….”

I could go on but I think that Butler says it quite well and with the passion of a Marine who was wounded on more than one occasion and won the Medal of Honor twice.

The only people that want war are those that profit from it and don’t have to pay the price paid by those that have to fight them and pay for them. When I see pictures of Mitt Romney protesting in support of the Vietnam war while getting deferment after deferment to avoid service it makes my head spin. My head spins even more when I hear him talking brazenly about committing US troops to even more war. For me the pictures of Romney’s pro-war protests as a college student avoiding war on educational and religious service deferments as millions of other Americans went to war are up there with the pictures of “Hanoi” Jane Fonda giving aid and comfort to those that were killing our troops.

Butler’s detractors and they are legion on the political right attempt to paint him as an isolationist or appeaser of Hitler. However they misunderstand him and his work. They don’t understand as Butler understood that there would not have been a Nazi Germany without Versailles and that was not possible without the American intervention on the side of Britain and France in 1917. That involvement was driven by the bankers and industrialists who had supplied raw materials, weapons and technical patents to the British and French, and had done so before with the Germans who believed that they would lose their investments if the Germans won the war. That would have happened in late 1917 or early 1918 had not the Americans declared war and entered the war on the side of the British and French.

Most of Butler’s current critics have never served a day in uniform much less a day in a combat zone. They make their livings and profits by the sacrifice of others and other than a few of his quotes have never read anything about him.

If you sense indignation in my voice it is real. I have lived the nightmare of PTSD for over 4 years. I see and work with the young men and women that have bravely endured the hardship of combat deployments and come home physically, mentally and spiritually wounded. To our credit we are trying to do better but for the war profiteers that will be too much. If military spending is cut you can bet that they will not take the hit that military personnel, their families and our veterans will take. They and their political benefactors will not allow it.

I am a military man through and through. I have spent nearly my whole life associated with the military as a dependent of a Navy Chief who served in Vietnam and a career of over 30 years divided between the Army and Navy. Some of my friends dads did not return from Vietnam, other friends and those who I have served with have paid with their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan while others suffer the continuing wounds of war.

This is personal for me and it is also motivated by my faith as a Christian. Butler chided the pro-war clergy propagandists of the Great War. He wrote:

“So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill Germans. God is on our side…it is his will that the Germans be killed.”

Such preaching is not much different from the right wing pro-war preachers who advocate killing Moslems simply because they are Moslems and that go out of their way to preach the value of “pre-emptive war” despite such wars being against the Christian understanding of the  “Just War” or international law against such war that we as Americans helped develop after World War Two at Nuremberg and to which we hold the leaders of what we call “rogue nations.”

I only wish that our leaders; political leaders of both parties, religious leaders, and even business leaders would see the folly of this course and their responsibility for the results.

Someone has to say it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: All quotations from “War is a Racket” by Smedley Butler copyright 1935 and 2003 by the Butler family. Amazon Kindle edition. 

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