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Stalingrad and Responsibility: God is Not Always With Us

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tomorrow I will be taking part in a commemoration of the seventy-sixth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It will be a special occasion and I will write about it tomorrow evening.

However tonight I took the time to watch the German film Stalingrad. Released in 1993 it is the story of four soldiers of a platoon of soldiers of the 336th Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers were the equivalent of American Combat Engineers. It is a sobering film to watch. In a way it is much like the film Platoon. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made the battle and the human suffering come alive with realism. There is no happy ending and there are few if any heroes. The men see, protest, are punished, and then are ordered to participate in war crimes.

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the turning points of the Second World War, over a million Russian, German, Romanian, and Italian Soldiers died in the battle. Of the 260,000 soldiers of the German Sixth Army which led the attack in Stalingrad and then were surrounded by the Soviet counter-offensive, very few survived. Some escaped because they were evacuated by transport planes, but most perished. Of the approximately 91,000 German soldiers that surrendered only about 6,000 returned home.

I’ll write about that battle again on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believe in God and the Soviets do not, and he calls attentional their belt buckles which are embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us. I am a Chaplain and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film.

The second one is also difficult. I have been in the military for about thirty-six and a half years. Truthfully I am a dinosaur. I am the third most senior and the oldest sailor on my base. I have served during the Cold War as a company commander, was mobilized as a chaplain to support the Bosnia operation in 1996, I have served in the Korean DMZ, at sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch, and with American advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police, and Border troops in Al Anbar Province. I have seen too much of war but even though I could retire from the military today I still believe that I am called to serve and care for the men and women who will go into harm’s way.

That being said those who have read my writings on this site for years know just how anti-war I have become and why this dialogue hits so hard. Some of the members of the platoon are accused of cowardice and sent to a penal company in order to redeem themselves. The commander of the unit, a Captain who hold the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is confronted by one of the men.

Otto: You know we don’t stand a chance. Why not surrender?

Capt. Hermann Musk: You know what would happen if we do.

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

Capt. Hermann Musk: Otto, I’m not a Nazi.

Otto: No, you’re worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

That is something that bothers me today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003I had misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there. I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for someone else in 2006 but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war even as he holds the professional military in contempt seems to be angling for war in both the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. I have no doubt that War is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it, but I have to remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die. The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all to many nationalists have done in the past. I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that manner when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th 2001. Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war.

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders. Honestly, I dread what may befall us.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, film, Loose thoughts and musings, world war two in europe

Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best: Raising the Flag December 3rd 1775

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There is a precept that I live by: “Prepare for the worst; expect the best; and take what comes.” That was once said by Hannah Arendt, but I take it as my own. I am not a fatalist, nor do I believe that God has predetermined what is going to happen in the future, except that he promises to “make all things new.”

December 3rd is a date that not to many people today remember for anything significant. But one event that happened on December 3rd 1775 is important to those who who follow American and Naval History. It was the day that Lieutenant John Paul Jones hoisted the Grand Union Flag, the precursor to the Stars and Stripes aboard the USS Alfred, the flagship of the new United States Navy. Some 242 years later the Stars and Stripes is still hoisted above United States Navy Ships. What happened on this date so long ago affected the course of history since then. Following his victory at Yorktown which was made possible by the timely intervention of the French Fleet, George Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette:

“It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”

On October 13th 1775 the Continental Congress passed legislation to establish a Navy for a country that did not yet exist.  It was the first was the first in a long line of legislative actions taken by it and subsequent Congresses that helped define the future of American sea power.

The legislation was the beginning of a proud service that the intrepid founders of our nation could have ever imagined.  Less than two months after it was signed on December 3rd 1775 Lieutenant John Paul Jones raised the Grand Union Flag over the new fleet flagship the Alfred. The fleet set sail and raided the British colony at Nassau in the Bahamas capturing valuable cannon and other military stores.  It was the first amphibious operation ever conducted by the Navy and Marines.

Jones received the first recognition of the American flag shortly after France recognized the new United States.  In command of the Sloop of War USS Ranger his ship received a nine-gun salute from the French flagship at Quiberon Bay.

Jones would go on to to greater glory when he in command of the Bonhomme Richard defeated the HMS Serapis at the Battle of Flamborough Head. During the battle when all seemed lost and the colors had been shot away he replied to a British question if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight!”

When the war ended very few of these ships remained most having been destroyed or captured during the war. But these few ships and the brave Sailors and Marines who manned them blazed a trail which generations of future sailors would build on.  The Navy has served the nation and the world as a “Global Force For Good” for more than 242 years.

That being said these are troubled times for the Navy. Sixteen years of war coupled with a major reduction in number of ships, mostly due to a decision to decommission more than 30 ships before they were due for replacement and the decision to shed 30,000 sailors to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the loss of up to 30,000 sailors a month in non-Navy billets to support those wars has taken a toll on readiness and morale, not to mention ethical behavior. The results have been seen in the numerous accidents and incidents that have involved loss of life and major damage to ships over the past few years, as well as numerous scandals involving senior officer and enlisted leadership.

Please do not get me wrong, the Navy has many superb sailors, officers and leaders; I serve with some of them, but the rot has set in and it is becoming more and more obvious. I see it daily in what I read and with whom I talk. I was fortunate to serve aboard a ship with high standards and high morale after September 11th 2001. My commanding officer back then, Captain Rick Hoffman, now retired is frequently consulted when incidents involving ship handling and leadership come to the fore.

Despite the rhetoric of the President there has been no significant help regarding funding for operations, maintenance, and personnel, nor any let up in mission requirements. I hate to be the one who says it, but no organization can keep doing more with less for more than a decade without problems. The fact that the world situation requires more of a naval presence now than it did before 2001 does not seem to matter to Republican Congressmen who forced Sequester on the services in 2011 yet are willing to bust the budget by trillions of dollars to pay for tax cuts for the absolute wealthiest persons and corporations.

If worse comes to worse on the Korean Peninsula and if at the same time Iran or any other country decide to challenge the United States, things will go from bad to worse. We will lose ships and sailors for the first time since the Second World War and it will not be pretty. Sadly, I think that the President will blame the Navy (and the rest of the military) when the policies that he and his party have pursued lead to disaster.

These are dark times and I am a realist. I don’t live in the cloud cuckoo land of Trump supporters who think that things are going to turn out well. When I see the President and his top advisers and spokespeople continue to talk about the increasing chance of war on the Korean Peninsula I believe them. When I hear the President basically giving a blank check to the Saudis and the Israelis to do as they wish in the Middle East while basically appeasing the Russians and Chinese, I get worried. I lose sleep, and at the same time I prepare myself and those who I serve with to be prepared for the worst.

So with that in mind I wish you a good week.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, leadership, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, US Navy

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Harder Alternative

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks I have been pondering something that to most people that I know is a major war on the Korea Peninsula that will spread throughout that region and may not leave the continental United States untouched, as well as the strong possibility of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would naturally end up involving the United States as an ally of the Saudis. If both of these conflicts began around the same time they could become the progenitors of a world war, the likes of which has not been seen or experienced since the Second World War.

As I look around it seems that most people regardless of their political beliefs, be they liberal or conservative, or the radicals who seem to have pushed aside the traditional mainstream conservatives and liberals; do not seem to think that anything really bad is going to happen. In the Middle East the Sunni-Shia Muslim Civil War is about to explode while in the long developing North Korea standoff we have a North Korean dictator who is not going to back down from his quest for fully operational ICBMs facing off against an American President who seems to be chomping at the bit to get his chance to eliminate the North Korean threat.

In each theater the actors seem to be pushing the operational and strategic envelope leaving little chance for diplomatic maneuver and increased chances of a miscalculation that could result in wars that are just not conceivable to must people following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the end of the Cold War.

As a historian and a career military officer I not only can imagine it but can see it coming and what frustrates the hell out of me is that so few people I know can se it and even fewer are prepared for the harder alternative of what has to be done when things go to shit. The fact is that most people, military and civilians alike live in a Cloud-Cuckoo-Land where wars remain small, manageable, and involve relatively few casualties. The wars of the past two decades have blinded us to the fact that the coming wars will be unlike our generation has seen and will be as disruptive to the global system as was the First World War. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Because I can see the disaster unfolding I am doing my best to prepare myself and the men and women who I supervise or work with, physically, mentally, professionally, and spiritually for what is coming but I feel like I voice in the wilderness. I would hope to be proven wrong by events, but I don’t see that happening as governments on all sides are moving closer to war. As the pressure continues to build and preparations, exercises, and shows of force become a substitute for diplomacy and the careful use of all elements of national power to contain these crises we should not be surprised when we wake up and find that the unthinkable is now reality.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary