Tag Archives: operation iraqi freedom

“I Imagined it Would Be Different” Passing the Baton on my Last 9-11 on Active Duty and Reflecting on All We Have Lost

flight_175_photo

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

September 11th is a day that always makes me more introspective. It brings back so many memories, some that I wish I could forget; but I cannot get the images of that day out of my mind. The burning towers, the people jumping to their deaths to escape the flames, and the scenes of devastation. I knew one of the victims in the attack on the Pentagon, an Army Lieutenant Colonel, Karen Wagner who commanded a Medical training company at Fort Sam Houston where I was serving as the Brigade Adjutant in 1987 and 1988. She was a very nice person, very gracious and decent, admired by everyone who knew her; I was shocked to see her name on the casualty list after the attack.

The emotions that I feel on the anniversary of these terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of so many innocent people, and which devastated so many families, still haunts me, and my subsequent service, especially in Iraq has changed me. Years after he returned from his time in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence; the immortal Lawrence of Arabia wrote to a friend, “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” I often feel that way.

Eighteen years ago I was getting ready to go to the French Creek Gym at Camp Le Jeune North Carolina where I was serving as the Chaplain of Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division. I had returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea just two months before and was preparing to transfer to the USS Hue City, a guided missile cruiser stationed in Mayport, Florida.

At the time of the attack I had already been in the military for over 20 years and I had actually taken a reduction in rank to transfer from the Army, where I was a Major in the reserves, to the Navy to serve on active duty. In those previous 20 years I had served overseas during the Cold War along the Fulda Gap. I had been mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996, and I had just missed being mobilized for Operation Desert Storm as my unit was awaiting its mobilization orders when the war ended. I had done other missions as well as the deployment to the Far East that returned from in July 2001; but nothing prepared me for that day. Like other career military officers I expected that we would be at war again and thought it might be back in the Middle East, and probably a result of some fool’s miscalculations; but like the American officers who were serving at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, I never expected what happened that morning.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 had started like so many days in my career. Routine office work, a couple of counseling cases and what I thought would be a good PT session. I was about to close out my computer browser when I saw a little headline on Yahoo News that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I paid little attention and figured that a private plane, something like a Cessna piloted by an incompetent had inadvertently flown into the building.

9-11 jumpers

That delusion lasted about two minutes. I got in my car and the radio, tuned to an AM talk station had a host calling the play by play. He started screaming “oh my God another airliner flew into the other tower.” Seeking to see what was happening I went to the gym where there were many televisions. I got there and saw the towers burning, with stunned Marines and Sailors watching silently, some in tears. I went back out, drove to my office and got into uniform. After checking in with my colonel a made a quick trip to my house for my sea bags and some extra underwear, and personal hygiene items. When I got back the headquarters we went into a meeting, and the base went on lock down mode. The gates were closed and additional checkpoints, and roadblocks established on base. Marines in full battle-rattle patrolled the perimeter and along the waterfront. I did not leave the base until the night of the 15th when things began to settle down and we all went into contingency planning mode for any military response to the attacks.

My wife, who as waiting for a doctor’s appointment with a friend saw the attacks on live television and knew when the first plane struck she told her friend that it was terrorism. Her friend responded “that damned Saddam Hussein.” Like so many of us who initially thought this, my wife’s friend was wrong. my friend Fregattenkapitäne Micheal Hufnagel, then the  First Officer Of the German Guided Missile Destroyer Lutjens was among the first to express support for the United States. Steaming next to the USS Winston Churchill helped put up a banner that said We Stand By You. It was an iconic moment. Eight months later I met Michael and we became fast friends, to this day.

LutjensHonors

Those were tumultuous days, so much fear; so much paranoia; and so much bad information as to who committed the attacks and what was going to happen next.

hue city boarding party

 

Honestly, I didn’t expect the war to go on for more than a few months, but months became years, and years became decades. I guess I was a lot like the German military officers who in the wake of the dramatic success of the Wehrmacht in the west and the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa  the German victory was so certain that resistance was futile and the best course was to follow orders, believing that victory over the subhuman Taliban and Al Qaeda was just around the corner. In the beginning I was little different than your average Wehrmacht officer, but by the time I left Iraq I realized just how wrong I was in supporting that misbegotten invasion.

I was so spellbound by Operation Desert Storm and operations in the Balkans that I ignored history. I knew the results of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the British, Indian, and Macedonian adventures there, but we were the United States. We would win. Then the Bush Administration forgot Afghanistan and went into a war with Iraq, which was doomed from the start, and which met every standard of the war crimes that we tried the Nazis for at Nuremberg. As the American Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson noted before those trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

A few months later I deployed aboard Hue City to the Middle East where we supported the air operations in Afghanistan, anti-terrorist operations off the Horn of Africa and in Operation Southern Watch and the U.N. Oil Embargo against Iraq. I then did three years with Marine Security Forces, traveling around the world to support Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team companies. For three years I was on the road one to three weeks a month traveling to the Middle East, Europe, the Pacific and many parts of the United States. Then I was promoted and transferred to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group Two, from which I was deployed with my assistant to Iraq, where we served as members of the Iraq Assistance Group in all Al Anbar Province supporting small teams of Marine Corps, Army and Joint Force adviser teams to the Iraqi Army, Border troops, Port of Entry police, police and highway patrol.

with-mtt-3-7-ronin

 

When I returned from Iraq I was a changed man and while I am proud of my service I am haunted by my experiences. One cannot go to war, see its devastation, see the wounded and dead, as well as the innocents traumatized by it. One cannot get shot at, or be in enclosed rooms, meeting with people that might be friends, or might be enemies, and while everyone else is armed, you are not.

War changed me, and my homecoming was more difficult than I could have imagined. I never felt so cut off from my country, my society, my church, or even other chaplains. My experience is not uncommon among those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter those who have served in almost any modern war. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic All Quite 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.”

That being said I would not trade my experience for anything. The experience of PTSD and other war related afflictions has been a blessing as well as a curse. They have changed my world view and made me much more emphatic to the suffering and afflictions of others, as well when they are abused, mistreated, terrorized and discriminated against. These experiences along with my training as a historian, theologian, and hospital chaplain clinician before and after my tour have given me a lot bigger perspective than I had before.

But I have to live with all of the memories. Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

As hard as this has been these are good things, and as I go on I wonder what will happen next. I do not think that the wars and conflicts which have followed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks will be over for years, maybe even decades. I pray for peace, but too many people, some even in this country seem to live for the bloodlust of war. One can only hope and as my Iraqi friends say, Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

I wonder too, if the words of T.E. Lawrence reflecting on his service in the Arab Revolt are not as applicable to me and others who came back from Iraq, “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” I have lost too many friends in these wars, including men who could not readjust to home, many like me. I have seen the men and women, broken in body, mind and spirit and I wonder if any of it was worth it, and if in some of our response, especially the invasion of Iraq has not made a bad situation even worse, and turned the war into a generational conflict.

As for me, I am now an old guy by military standards. I recently celebrated 38 years of service and will, God willing, retire next year. Sadly, I know all too well that those who I have worked with, and those who are yet to enlist will be continuing to fight a war which seems to be without end long after I retire, despite the efforts of President Trump to make a deal with the Taliban.

Tomorrow there were and will be many ceremonies and services to remember the victims of the attacks. I think that is fitting, Lest We forget. However, I don’t think any should be used as platform to promote war without end. We will be conducting a 9-11 Remembrance Ceremony in the morning. I am having my brand new junior chaplain do invocation and benediction. I have helped him and given him guidance, but he has produced a good result that didn’t need much of my guidance to be something that honored the victims of 9-11, the U.S. military, and our allies since, as well as the innocent victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and so many other places this unending war has touched. It is time for me to step aside and let the young men and women who were children when this began to be up front. My goal now is to help the young folks get recognized for good work and train them to represent the best in the Chaplaincy and to be guardians of the First Amendment, not religious theocrats.

So please, have a good day and whatever you do do not forget those whose lives were forever changed by those dastardly attacks and all that has transpired in the years since. Honestly I did not think that we would still be at war today. It is hard for me to believe that we still are at war and that there is no end in sight.

As Erich Maria Remarque wrote “I imagined that it would be different…”

At the same time I do hope that things will get better and that some semblance of peace will return to the world.

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under afghanistan, counterinsurency in afghanistan, crime, ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing: Thoughts on Landing in Iraq 12 Years Later it is hard

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

it is hard to believe that about this time a dozen years ago that I was landing in Iraq, for a tour of duty with American advisers to Iraqi Army and security forces in Al Anbar Province. To quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was a tour of duty that would change me forever, I could have stayed there indefinitely, but my tour was limited to seven months. Nonetheless, I left a lot of me in Iraq, and brought a lot back.

It was an amazing tour of duty, full of danger every day, full of travel from the Syrian border to Fallujah and all places in between. I met many friends there, Americans and Iraqis alike. I returned with a severe case of PTSD as well as moral and spiritual injuries that have afflicted me since. I really understand T. E. Lawrence, better known by most as Lawrence Of Arabia who wrote:

“We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.”

You see I went to war as a volunteer. I was eager to go, and as I said I would have remained longer. When I left I felt like I was abandoning my Americans and Iraqis. When I left, the Navy Chaplain who followed the one I served under deferred on having my replacement and in a sense abandoning those Americans and Iraqis that I was the only Chaplain serving. My replacement was sent to an Army team in Mosul.

I left Iraq questioning everything that I had went there believing: about the justness of the war, about my country’s leadership, the political party I had been a part of for three decades, and my faith as a Christian.

I have written much about my experience in Iraq and how even today I have a deep regard for the Iraqi people and their hopes for a better future. However, I wonder if what Lawrence wrote will be true:

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

vault-von-saddam-statue-fall-itn-640x360

In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq and made short work of that country’s military. Many Iraqis of all creeds looked upon the US and coalition forces as liberators but within a few months the illusion was over. Within weeks of the overthrow of Saddam, the US military personnel and leaders who were working with Iraqi officials, both military and civilian to get the country back on its feet were replaced by the Bush administration.

rumsfeld-bremer-2

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

After Garner’s dismissal the CPA was led by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, a man who had no experience in the Arab world, much less in Iraq. Bremer and his staff, most of who had little experience or knowledge of the country created conditions that directly led the the Iraq insurgency, the sacrifice of thousands of American and allied lives and the loss of friendship of the Iraqi people. They also gave a a bloodless strategic victory to Iraq’s traditional enemy and oppressor Iran, which became a dominant regional power without having to worry about their traditional Arab nemesis.

It was as if Bremer, the leaders of the Bush administration and their neoconservative allies knew nothing of history. If they did they decided to ignore it. Whether it was ignorance of history, or a wanton disregard for it, and the country we invaded it was immoral, unethical and probably criminal.

baghdad1917-2

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

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

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

mosul-41

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

26iraq_image1-articleLarge

Unfortunately many of those that remained in power of the Shia sect refused to share power in meaningful ways with Iraq’s Sunni and Kurds leading to a political crisis. The US military mission ended in December 2011 and since then Iraq security forces and civil authorities, often divided by tribal or sectarian loyalties have struggled to maintain order. The result is that by 2013 that Iraq was again heading toward the abyss of civil war. Sunni protestors in Anbar and other provinces conducted frequent protests, sectarian violence spread, and an Al Qaeda affiliated group gained control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. It took years for the Iraqis aided by the Kurds, and a renewed U.S. military presence to restore a precarious stability in Iraq, something that it seems the Trump administration is trying to destroy in its economic and political war against Iran. To me that seems like the President is pissing on the graves of every American and Iraqi who died supporting that operation, and I hate him for that. I am still loyal to my oath and the Constitution but I loathe him and have no respect for a man who used every opportunity he could to not serve in Vietnam and consistently has disrespected Vietnam veterans and other military personnel. He loves military technology, but he shows no respect for the soldier.

Syria

To the west in Syria a brutal civil war has been going on for  years. Like Iraq it pits Sunni against Shia, as well as Kurd and foreign fighters from a score of nations, some fighting as part of a Free Syria movement, others as part of the Al Qaeda coalition and others beside Syria’s government.

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

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

lawrenceguerrillas1

His words have a sadly familiar tone. The US invasion of Iraq did have a different outcome than we imagined. The Arab Spring erupted and the consequences of it will be far reaching and effect much of the Middle East and the world. The internal conflicts in Iraq and Syria threaten every country that borders them, and the instability has the potential of bringing on an regional war.

295_26912097058_4309_n-4

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

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

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

That is the case in many Arab countries today. One can only hope that in those countries as well as in Afghanistan where our troops are embroiled in a war that cannot end well, that somehow peace will come. I do hope that we will do better than we have over the past dozen years of conflict, or than the British or French did almost 100 years ago, but under the present administration I doubt it.

I have recovered much since my tour, but there are days when I feel as Lawrence did not long before his death, when he wrote a friend:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

 

I fully understand, and in the final year of my active service, I must speak the truth, even when it is uncomfortable for me and others.

As for my Iraqi friends who still remain in danger, I say Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

1 Comment

Filed under ethics, faith, History, iraq, iraq,afghanistan, leadership, life, mental health, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Thoughts on 36 Years of Commissioned Service

Second Lieutenant Dundas, 1984, Neubrücke Germany

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty-six years ago, on the 19th Of June 1983, about 15 of my Army ROTC classmates and I were commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the Active Duty Army, the Army Reserve, or National Guard. Now, thirty-six years later I am the last one on active duty. A number still serve in DOD civilian status, others have retired from the military, and others transitioned to civilian life sometime during the intervening time.

My life since I was commissioned has being as a Medical Service Corps active duty platoon leader, motor maintenance officer, NBC Defense officer, Company Executive Officer and Commander, before becoming a Medical Personnel officer at a Medical Group and later the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. While there I helped write the Army’s personnel policies on personnel infected with HIV and AIDS, which helped change my views on those infected with this horrible disease, and my acceptance and support for LGBTQ people, not just in the military.

Back in 1983 I took an oath which I still abide by:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

When I left active duty to attend seminary in the fall of 1988 I entered the Texas Army National Guard, still,serving as a personnel officer, but with a branch transfer to the Armor Branch. Later the State Chaplain found that a seminary student was serving as an Armor officer and had me transferred to the Staff Specialist Branch, for Chaplain Candidates, for which there is no paper trail in existence even though I attended the Chaplain Officer Basic Course the following summer. Until I became a Chaplain in October 1992 I was officially listed as a Medical Service Corps or Armor officer.

I continued on as a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, then Virginia before being promoted to Major and transferred to the Army Reserve in West Virginia in December 1995. In June 1996 I was mobilized to support the Bosnia operation, OPERATION JOINT ENDEAVOR. I supported the operation from Germany, filling in for forward deployed Chaplains at the Würzburg Army Medical Center, the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defence Artillery, and as the base chaplain at Leighton Barracks in Kitzingen, before returning home to find that my contract position at a local hospital had been terminated when I was deployed and a man I had trained had been hired as a full time permanent employee.

Within two weeks of my release from my mobilized service I was activated to serve as the Garrison Chaplain for Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, about 18 miles east of Harrisburg. The Gap was on the Base Realignment and closure list for 1998 and I was the last Federal Chaplain before it was transferred to the Pennsylvania National Guard. When we shut it down my tour ended, but I had been able with the support of my Commanding Officer, the Active Duty Army, and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to keep the chapel program going. When done I went back to be the Group Chaplain for the 38th Ordnance Group, in Cross Lanes, West Virginia. However, without a civilian job to go home to it was difficult as we lived off of savings and drill pay.

Just before Christmas of 1998 I got a call from my former bishop in my former church that the Navy had hit a recruiting crisis for Chaplains and was willing to deal. Since I was a Major, a controlled grade, the the Army wouldn’t take me back into active duty. However, the Navy allowed me to resign my Army commission and enter the Navy the same day, with a reduction in rank. I was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain on 9 February 1999 and before the end of the month was on active duty.

After Chaplain School I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division where served with the Second Combat Engineer Battalion, the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 8th Marine Regiment, and finally Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. I was the Division Chaplain’s “relief pitcher.” When a Chaplain got in trouble and was removed, or when one was transferred unexpectedly, I got sent in. I was a Headquarters Battalion on September 11th 2001 following a deployment to the Western Pacific with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines. In December I was transferred to the USS Hue City and shortly thereafter deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Following that deployment, in which I served as an “advisor” on a boarding team and participated in 75 missions on interred tankers and merchant ships found in violation of U.N. Sanctions against Iraq.

When I transferred to Marine Security Forces in Norfolk in October 2003 my battalion commander put me on the road one to three weeks a month to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and various locations stateside in support of Marine Security Forces. During that tour I was Promotes to Lieutenant Commander, and then assigned to Navy EOD Group Two, from which I was deployed with my assistant to Iraq in July 2007 in support of American advisors to Iraqi Forces In Al Anbar Province. That was a life changing experience. Suffering from severe PTSD and mild TBI I returned to the States in a mess. My next assignment after EOD was at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. I found that I was working 60-80 hours a week, and occasionally more in our ICUs and as the one call Chaplain to try to make my PTSD better. It didn’t work. I fell apart. My PTSD as well as physical injuries took a toll on me. Though I was selected for Commander the day after I found out that my dad had died of Alzheimer’s disease, things were never the same. Despite that, during those tours I had completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, earned my qualification as a Fleet Marine Force Officer, and completed a Masters Degree in Military History.

I had decided to speak up about my struggles with PTSD, and questions with the church I was then ordained by, I found that I was pretty much abandoned by my old church and the Chaplain Corps. I was short toured at Portsmouth and sent on a geographic bachelor assignment as the department head of the Pastoral Care Department at Camp LeJeune, Naval Hospital where I spent three years. The economic cost was great and the emotional cost to Judy and me greater.

I a rare stroke of fortune my detailed got me assigned to my dream assignment as an instructor and chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College. If I couldn’t be operational and out with the troops at least I was instructing, teaching, researching, and back in academia. I spent 3 and 1/2 years there teaching Ethics and leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride.

After I left the Staff College I have struggled. I was assigned as the Command Chaplain and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Fort Story. I have found that despite the massive budget increases in DOD that the base, Medical, and support side of the house are being gutted. My billet used to be an O-6, or Navy Captain billet. There were more Chaplains, more enlisted support staff, and contract personnel, and that is not just on the religious ministries side of the house. We are short of critical staff and security measures across the board. After almost two decades of war the Navy is attempting to sharpen the point of the spear but the shaft is rotten and about to fall apart.

I have good people to work with, quality Chaplains and enlisted personnel and contractors who do a great job, but I expect unless something radically changes that my work, and the work of Chaplains decades before me will be for naught. Supposedly there are more deep cuts coming, despite the increases in the overall Defense Budget. My friends in Navy Medicine confirm that more deep cuts are probably coming to Navy Medicine.

As for me, I have been assured that by the time I retire next April that my knees will be fixed. So I will be able to retire, and once I figure out what my retirement pay + disability + VA benefits + post retirement earnings then Judy and I can plan on selling our current townhome and getting a ranch house that won’t fuck with our knees, and allow us to have an office for me, an art studio for her and a guest room.

Commander Dundas, Joint Forces Staff College, 2016

By this time next year, unless the President gets us in a war and triggers a stop loss I will be retired, and back in the civilian and academic world full time, and with that ranch house with enough room to be able to enjoy it, with our puppies. By the way if you want a nice, good sized townhouse with great neighbors in Virginia Beach, let me know.

By the way, it takes a lot of really good people to get someone like me through such a long and often difficult career. First among them is my wife Judy, who was and still is there every step of the way. Likewise all the men and women that I have served alongside, either as a subordinate, equal, or superior during my career.

To all of you who have walked this path with me on the blog the past decade, thank you.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, Military

“It Deviated Not From Human Norms:” The Nazi Crimes, Robert Jackson’s Closing at Nuremberg, Part Two

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The crimes of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime may seem like the happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we would all like to believe that. However, they are only as far away as the next time. That is why we must continue to show them in their awful reality. Yehuda Bauer, a historian of the Holocaust whose family escaped from Czechoslovakia the day it was annexed by the Third Reich wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

This is an eternal truth. The Red Chinese in Tibet, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Serbians massacring Bosnians under the noses of Dutch Peacekeepers in Srebrenica, the Tutsis of Rwanda butchered by their Hutu neighbors shortly after Easter, as well as the crimes of the Islamic State against Kurds, opposition Sunnis, Shia, Yazidis, and Christians in Iraq and Syria.

Besides genocide we can add the crime of aggressive war against weaker neighbors or nations committed Russia in Georgia and the Ukraine, and the United States against Iraq. Then there is the assault on minority groups within various nations, the rejection of refugees, and rise in anti-Semitism across Russia, Europe, and the United States have all produced myriads of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders.

The crimes committed by the Nazis against their own citizens and the nations that they victimized are not completely unique to them. While the Nazi Genocide committed against the Jews is unique, what motivated them is far more common than we would want to admit. The Holocaust and the Nazi war for Lebensraum is not an aberration from the norms of human nature, it is the norm. That is why continuing to expose those crimes, the men and women behind them, and those who stood by, doing nothing while their neighbors were being marched away, or stood by as other men marched men, women, and children to massive pits and shot them one by one, up close and personal, by the tens of thousands.

I would like with all my heart to consign the crimes of the Nazis to the depths of history, but I cannot. That is why I, a man born thirteen and a half years after the major Nuremberg War Crimes ended with ten of the defendants hanging from the gallows continues to write about it.

Over the past week I have been writing about the Nuremberg Trials and the American Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Last night I wrote about the introduction of his closing arguments before the Tribunal which followed his opening address by nine months. I now continue with Justice Jackson’s closing arguments against the Nazi war criminals sitting in the dock of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

So until tomorrow, I leave you with Jackson’s words.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

THE CRIMES OF THE NAZI REGIME

The strength of the case against these defendants under the conspiracy count, which it is the duty of the United States to argue, lies in its simplicity. It involves but three ultimate inquiries: First, have the acts defined by the Charter as crimes been committed; second, were they committed pursuant to a common plan or conspiracy; third, are these defendants among those who are criminally responsible? The charge requires examination of a criminal policy, not of a multitude of isolated, unplanned, or disputed crimes. The substantive crimes upon which we rely, either as goals of a common plan or as means for its accomplishment, are admitted. The pillars which uphold the conspiracy charge may be found in five groups of overt acts, whose character and magnitude are important considerations in appraising the proof of conspiracy.

1. THE SEIZURE OF POWER AND SUBJUGATION OF GERMANY TO A POLICE STATE The Nazi Party seized control of the German State in 1933. “Seizure of power” is a characterisation used by defendants and defence witnesses, and so apt that it has passed into both history and everyday speech. The Nazi junta in the early days lived in constant fear of overthrow. Goering, in 1934, pointed out that its enemies were legion, and said:

“Therefore, the concentration camps have been created, where we have first confined thousands of Communists and Social Democrat functionaries.”

In 1933 Goering forecast the whole programme of purposeful cruelty and oppression when he publicly announced:

“Whoever in the future raises a hand against a representative of the National Socialist movement or of the State must know that he will lose his life in a very short while.”

New political crimes were created to this end. It was made a treason, punishable with death, to organize or support a political party other than the Nazi Party. Circulating a false or exaggerated statement, or one which would harm the State or even the Party, was made a crime. Laws were enacted of such ambiguity that they could be used to punish almost any innocent act. It was, for example, made a crime to provoke “any act contrary to the public welfare”.

The doctrine of punishment by analogy was introduced to enable conviction for acts which no statute forbade. Minister of Justice Guertner explained that National Socialism considered every violation of the goals of life which the community set up for itself to be a wrong per se, and that the acts could be punished even though it was not contrary to existing “formal law”.

The Gestapo and the SD were instrumentalities of an espionage system which penetrated public and private life. Goering controlled a personal wiretapping unit. All privacy of communication was abolished. Party Blockleiter appointed over every 50 householders spied continuously on all within their ken.

Upon the strength of this spying individuals were dragged off to “protective custody” and to concentration camps without legal proceedings of any kind1and without statement of any reason therefore. The partisan political police were exempted from effective legal responsibility for their acts.

With all administrative offices in Nazi control and with the Reichstag reduced to impotence, the judiciary remained the last obstacle to this reign of terror. But its independence was soon overcome and it was reorganised to dispense a venal justice. Judges were ousted for political or racial reasons and were spied upon and put under pressure to join the Nazi Party. After the Supreme Court had acquitted three of the four men whom the Nazis accused of setting the Reichstag on fire, its jurisdiction over treason cases was transferred to a newly established “People’s Court” consisting of two judges and five Party officials. The German film of this “People’s Court” in operation, which the showed in this chamber, revealed its presiding judge pouring partisan abuse on speechless defendants. Special courts were created to try political crimes, only Party members were appointed judges, and “Judges’ letters” instructed the puppet judges as to the “general lines” they must follow.

The result was the removal of all peaceable means either to resist or to change the Government. Having sneaked through the portals of power, the Nazis slammed the gate in the face of all others who might also aspire to enter. Since the law was what the Nazis said it was, every form of opposition was rooted out and every dissenting voice throttled. Germany was in the clutch of a police State, which used the fear of the concentration camp as a means to enforce non-resistance. The Party was the State, the State was the Party, and terror by day and death by night were the policy of both.

2. THE PREPARATION AND WAGING OF WARS OF AGGRESSION From the moment the Nazis seized power, they set about with feverish but stealthy efforts, in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, to arm for war. In 1933 they found no air force. By 1939 they had 21 squadrons, consisting of 240 echelons or about 2,400 first-line planes, together with trainers and transports.

In 1933 they found an army of 3 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions. By 1939 they had raised and equipped an army of 51 divisions, 4 of which were fully motorized and 4 of which were panzer divisions. In 1933 they found a navy of one cruiser and six light cruisers. By 1939 they had built a navy of 4 battleships, 1 aircraft carrier, 6 cruisers, 22 destroyers, and 54 submarines. They had also built up in that period an armament industry as efficient as that of any country in the world.

These new weapons were put to use, commencing in September, 1939, in a series of undeclared wars against nations with which Germany had arbitration and non-aggression treaties, and in violation of repeated assurances.

On 1st September, 1939, this rearmed Germany attacked Poland. The following April witnessed the invasion and occupation of Denmark and Norway, and May saw the overrunning of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Another spring saw Yugoslavia and Greece under attack, and in June, 1941, came the invasion of Soviet Russia. Then Japan, which Germany had embraced as a partner, struck without warning at Pearl Harbour in December, 1941, and four days later Germany declared war on the United States.

We need not trouble ourselves about the many abstract difficulties that can be conjured up about what constitutes aggression in doubtful cases. I shall show you, in discussing the conspiracy, that by any test ever put forward by any responsible authority, by all the canons of plain common sense, these were unlawful wars of aggression in breach of treaties and in violation of assurances.

3. WARFARE IN DISREGARD OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

It is unnecessary to labour this point on the facts. Goering asserts that the Rules of Land Warfare were obsolete, that no nation could fight a total war within their limits. He testified that the Nazis would have denounced the Conventions to which Germany was a party, but that General Jodl wanted captured German soldiers to continue to benefit from. their observance by the Allies.

It was, however, against the Soviet people and Soviet prisoners that Teutonic fury knew no bounds, in spite of a warning by Admiral Canaris that the treatment was in violation of International Law. We need not, therefore, for the purposes of the conspiracy count, recite the revolting details of starving, beating, murdering, freezing, and mass extermination admittedly used against the Eastern soldiery. Also, we may take as established or admitted that the lawless conduct such as shooting British and American airmen, mistreatment of Western prisoners of war, forcing French prisoners of war into German war work, and other deliberate violations of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, did occur, and in obedience to highest levels of authority.

4. ENSLAVEMENT AND PLUNDER OF POPULATIONS IN OCCUPIED COUNTRIES

The defendant Sauckel, Plenipotentiary General for the Utilization of Labour, is authority for the statement that “out of five million foreign workers who arrived in Germany, not even 200,000 came voluntarily”. It was officially reported to defendant Rosenberg that in his territory “recruiting methods were used which probably have their origin in the blackest period of the slave trade”. Sauckel himself reported that male and female agents went hunting for men, got them drunk, and “shanghaied” them to Germany. These captives were shipped in trains without heat, food, or sanitary facilities. The dead were thrown out at stations, and the newborn were thrown out the windows of moving trains.

Sauckel ordered that “all the men must be fed, sheltered and treated in such a way as to exploit them to the highest possible extent at the lowest conceivable degree of expenditure”. About two million of these were employed directly in the manufacture of armaments and munitions. The director of the Krupp locomotive factory in Essen complained to the company that Russian forced labourers were so underfed that they were too weakened to do their work, and the Krupp doctor confirmed their pitiable condition. Soviet workers were put in camps under Gestapo guards, who were allowed to punish disobedience by confinement in a concentration camp or by hanging on the spot.

Populations of occupied countries were otherwise exploited and oppressed unmercifully. Terrorism was the order of the day. Civilians were arrested without charges, committed without counsel, executed without hearing. Villages were destroyed, the male inhabitants shot or sent to concentration camps, the women sent to forced labour, and the children scattered abroad. The extent of the slaughter in Poland alone was indicated by Frank, who reported:

” If I wanted to have a poster put up for every seven Poles who were shot, the forests of Poland would not suffice for producing the paper for such posters.”

Those who will enslave men cannot be expected to refrain from plundering them. Boastful reports show how thoroughly and scientifically the resources of occupied lands were sucked into the German war economy, inflicting shortage, hunger, and inflation upon the inhabitants. Besides this grand plan to aid the German war effort there were the sordid activities of the Rosenberg “Einsatzstab”, which pillaged art treasures for Goering and his fellow-bandits. It is hard to say whether the spectacle of Germany’s No. 2 leader urging his people to give up every comfort and strain every sinew on essential war work while he rushed around confiscating art by the trainload should be cast as tragedy or comedy. In either case it was a crime.

International Law at all times before and during this war spoke with precision and authority respecting the protection due to civilians of an occupied country, and the slave trade and plunder of occupied countries was at all times flagrantly unlawful.

5. PERSECUTION AND EXTERMINATION OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS

The Nazi movement will be of evil memory in history because of its persecution of the Jews, the most far-flung and terrible racial persecution of all time. Although the Nazi Party neither invented nor monopolised anti-Semitism, its leaders from the very beginning embraced it, incited it, and exploited it. They used it as “the psychological spark that ignites the mob”. After seizure of power, it became an official State policy. The persecution began in a series of discriminatory laws eliminating the Jews from the civil service, the professions, and economic life. As it became more intense it included segregation of Jews in ghettoes, and exile. Riots were organized by Party leaders to loot Jewish business places and to burn synagogues. Jewish property was confiscated and a collective fine of a billion marks was imposed upon German Jewry. The programme progressed in fury and irresponsibility to the “final solution”. This consisted of sending all Jews who were fit to work to concentration camps as slave labourers, and all who were not fit, which included children under 12 and people over 50, as well as any others judged unfit by an SS doctor, to concentration camps for extermination.

Adolf Eichmann, the sinister figure who had charge of the extermination programme, has estimated that the anti-Jewish activities resulted in the killing of six million Jews. Of these, four million were killed in extermination institutions, and two million were killed by Einsatzgruppen, mobile units of the Security Police and SD which pursued Jews in the ghettoes and in their homes and slaughtered them in gas wagons, by mass shooting in anti-tank ditches and by every device which Nazi ingenuity could conceive.

So thorough and uncompromising was this programme that the Jews of Europe as a race no longer exist, thus fulfilling the diabolic “prophecy” of Adolf Hitler at the beginning of the war. Of course, any such programme must reckon with the opposition of the Christian Church. This was recognized from the very beginning. Defendant Bormann wrote all Gauleiter in 1941 that “National Socialism and Christian concepts are irreconcilable”, and that the people must be separated from the Churches, and the influence of the Churches totally removed. Defendant Rosenberg even wrote dreary treatises advocating a new and weird. Nazi religion.

The Gestapo appointed “Church specialists” who were instructed that the ultimate aim was “destruction of the confessional Churches”. The record is full of specific instances of the persecution of clergymen, the confiscation of Church property, interference with religious publications, disruption, of religious education, and suppression of religious organizations.

The chief instrument for persecution and extermination was the concentration camp, sired by the defendant Goering and nurtured under the overall authority of defendants Frick and Kaltenbrunner.

The horrors of these iniquitous places have been vividly disclosed by documents and testified to by witnesses. The Tribunal must be satiated with ghastly verbal and pictorial portrayals. From your records it is clear that the concentration camps were the first and worst weapon of Nazi oppression used by the National Socialist State, and that they were the primary means utilised for the persecution of the Christian Church and the extermination of the Jewish race. This has been admitted to you by some of the defendants from the witness stand. In the words of defendant Frank:

“A thousand years will pass and this guilt of Germany will still not be erased.”

These, then, were the five great substantive crimes of the Nazi regime. Their commission, which cannot be denied, stands admitted. The defendant Keitel, who is in a position to know the facts, has given the Tribunal what seems to be a fair summation of the case on the facts:

“The defendant has declared that ‘he admits the contents of the general Indictment to be proved from the objective and factual point of view’ (that is to say, not every individual case) ‘and this in consideration of the law of procedure governing the trial. It would be senseless, despite the possibility of refuting several documents or individual facts, to attempt to shake the Indictment as a whole.'” I pass now to the inquiry as to whether these groups of criminal acts were integrated in a common plan or conspiracy.

THE COMMON PLAN OR CONSPIRACY

The prosecution submits that these five categories of premeditated crimes were not separate and independent phenomena but that all were committed pursuant to a common plan or conspiracy.

The defence admits that these classes of crimes were committed, but denies that they are connected one with another as parts of a single programme. The central crime in this pattern of crimes, the king-pin which holds them all together, is the plot for aggressive wars. The chief reason for international cognizance of these crimes lies in this fact. Have we established the plan or conspiracy to make aggressive war?

Certain admitted or clearly proven facts help to answer that question. First is the fact that such war of aggression did take place. Second, it is admitted that from the moment the Nazis came to power, every one of them and every one of the defendants worked like beavers to prepare for some war. The question therefore comes to this: Were they preparing for the war which did occur, or were they preparing for some war which never happened?

It is probably true that in their early days none of them had in mind what month of what year war would begin, the exact dispute which would precipitate it, or whether its first impact would be Austria, Czechoslovakia, or Poland. But I submit that the defendants either knew or were chargeable with knowledge that the war for which they were making ready would be a war of German aggression. This is partly because there was no real expectation that any power or combination of powers would attack Germany. But it is chiefly because the inherent nature of the German plans was such that they were certain sooner or later to meet resistance and that they could then be accomplished only by aggression.

The plans of Adolf Hitler for aggression were just as secret as Mein Kampf, of which over six million copies were published in Germany. He not only openly advocated overthrowing the Treaty of Versailles, but made demands which went far beyond a mere rectification of its alleged injustices. He avowed an intention to attack neighbouring States and seize their lands, which he said would have to be won with “the power of a triumphant sword”. Here, for every German to hearken to, were the “ancestral voices prophesying war”.

Goering has testified in this courtroom that at his first meeting with Hitler, long before the seizure of power:

“I noted that Hitler had a definite view of the impotency of protest and, as a second point, that he was of the opinion that Germany should be freed of the Peace of Versailles. ‘We did not say we shall have to have a war and defeat our enemies’; this was the aim and the methods had to be adapted to the political situation.”

When asked if this goal were to be accomplished by war if necessary, Goering did not deny that eventuality but evaded a direct answer by saying, “We did not debate about that at all at that time.” He went on to say that the aim to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles was open and notorious and that, I quote again, “Every German in my opinion was for its modification, and there was no doubt that this was a strong inducement for joining the party.”

Thus, there can be no possible excuse for any person who aided Hitler to get absolute power over the German people, or who took a part in his regime, to fail to know the nature of the demands he would make on Germany’s neighbours.

Until tomorrow…

Leave a comment

Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

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+

Leave a comment

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

There Lies a Gulf Between that Time and Today: Remembering 9-11-2001

flight_175_photo

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

September 11th is a day that always makes me more introspective. It brings back so many memories, some that I wish I could forget; but I cannot get the images of that day out of my mind. The burning towers, the people jumping to their deaths to escape the flames, and the scenes of devastation. I knew one of the victims in the attack on the Pentagon, an Army Lieutenant Colonel, Karen Wagner who commanded a Medical training company at Fort Sam Houston where I was serving as the Brigade Adjutant in 1987 and 1988. She was a very nice person, very gracious and decent, admired by everyone who knew her; I was shocked to see her name on the casualty list after the attack.

The emotions that I feel on the anniversary of these terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of so many innocent people, and which devastated so many families, still haunts me, and my subsequent service, especially in Iraq has changed me. Years after he returned from his time in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence; the immortal Lawrence of Arabia wrote to a friend, “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” I often feel that way.

Fifteen years ago I was getting ready to go to the French Creek Gym at Camp Le Jeune North Carolina where I was serving as the Chaplain of Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division. I had returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea just two months before and was preparing to transfer to the USS Hue City, a guided missile cruiser stationed in Mayport, Florida.

At the time of the attack I had already been in the military for over 20 years and I had actually taken a reduction in rank to transfer from the Army, where I was a Major in the reserves, to the Navy to serve on active duty. In those previous 20 years I had served overseas during the Cold War along the Fulda Gap. I had been mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996, and I had just missed being mobilized for Operation Desert Storm as my unit was awaiting its mobilization orders when the war ended. I had done other missions as well as the deployment to the Far East that returned from in July 2001; but nothing prepared me for that day. Like other career military officers I expected that we would be at war again and thought it might be back in the Middle East, and probably a result of some fool’s miscalculations; but like the American officers who were serving at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, I never expected what happened that morning.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 had started like so many days in my career. Routine office work, a couple of counseling cases and what I thought would be a good PT session. I was about to close out my computer browser when I saw a little headline on Yahoo News that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I paid little attention and figured that a private plane, something like a Cessna piloted by an incompetent had inadvertently flown into the building.

9-11 jumpers

That delusion lasted about two minutes. I got in my car and the radio, tuned to an AM talk station had a host calling the play by play. He started screaming “oh my God another airliner flew into the other tower.” Seeking to see what was happening I went to the gym where there were many televisions. I got there and saw the towers burning, with stunned Marines and Sailors watching silently, some in tears. I went back out, drove to my office and got into uniform. After checking in with my colonel a made a quick trip to my house for my sea bags and some extra underwear, and personal hygiene items. When I got back the headquarters we went into a meeting, and the base went on lock down mode. The gates were closed and additional checkpoints, and roadblocks established on base. Marines in full battle-rattle patrolled the perimeter and along the waterfront. I did not leave the base until the night of the 15th when things began to settle down and we all went into contingency planning mode for any military response to the attacks.

My wife, who as waiting for a doctor’s appointment with a friend saw the attacks on live television and knew when the first plane struck she told her friend that it was terrorism. Her friend responded “that damned Saddam Hussein.” Like so many of us who initially thought this, my wife’s friend was wrong.

LutjensHonors

Those were tumultuous days, so much fear; so much paranoia; and so much bad information as to who committed the attacks and what was going to happen next.

hue city boarding party

 

A few months later I deployed aboard Hue City to the Middle East where we supported the air operations in Afghanistan, anti-terrorist operations off the Horn of Africa and in Operation Southern Watch and the U.N. Oil Embargo against Iraq. I then did three years with Marine Security Forces, traveling around the world to support Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team companies. For three years I was on the road one to three weeks a month traveling to the Middle East, Europe, the Pacific and many parts of the United States. Then I was promoted and transferred to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group Two, from which I was deployed with my assistant to Iraq, where we served as members of the Iraq Assistance Group in all Al Anbar Province supporting small teams of Marine Corps, Army and Joint Force adviser teams to the Iraqi Army, Border troops, Port of Entry police, police and highway patrol.

with-mtt-3-7-ronin

 

When I returned from Iraq I was a changed man and while I am proud of my service I am haunted by my experiences. One cannot go to war, see its devastation, see the wounded and dead, as well as the innocents traumatized by it. One cannot get shot at, or be in enclosed rooms, meeting with people that might be friends, or might be enemies, and while everyone else is armed, you are not.

War changed me, and my homecoming was more difficult than I could have imagined. I never felt so cut off from my country, my society, my church, or even other chaplains. My experience is not uncommon among those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter those who have served in almost any modern war. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic All Quite 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.”

That being said I would not trade my experience for anything. The experience of PTSD and other war related afflictions has been a blessing as well as a curse. They have changed my world view and made me much more emphatic to the suffering and afflictions of others, as well when they are abused, mistreated, terrorized and discriminated against. These experiences along with my training as a historian, theologian, and hospital chaplain clinician before and after my tour have given me a lot bigger perspective than I had before.

But I have to live with all of the memories. Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

As hard as this has been these are good things, and as I go on I wonder what will happen next. I do not think that the wars and conflicts which have followed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks will be over for years, maybe even decades. I pray for peace, but too many people, some even in this country seem to live for the bloodlust of war. One can only hope and as my Iraqi friends say, Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

I wonder too, if the words of T.E. Lawrence reflecting on his service in the Arab Revolt are not as applicable to me and others who came back from Iraq, “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” I have lost too many friends in these wars, including men who could not readjust to home, many like me. I have seen the men and women, broken in body, mind and spirit and I wonder if any of it was worth it, and if in some of our response, especially the invasion of Iraq has not made a bad situation even worse, and turned the war into a generational conflict.

As for me, I am now an old guy by military standards. I recently celebrated 35 years of service. Sadly, I know all too well that those who I have worked with, and those who are yet to enlist will be continuing to fight a war which seems to be without end long after I retire in about four years.

Yesterday and today there were and will be many ceremonies and services to remember the victims of the attacks. I think that is fitting. President Obama has declared this a of prayer and remembrance which is also good. I will not attend the ceremonies because I still get too emotional, but I will be there in spirit, even though much of me is still in Iraq.

I will quietly reflect as I conduct my chapel services today, and as I get ready for our incoming class at the Staff College. I will also try to get a good run in and then spend some time with Judy, and then have a few beers with some friends at Gordon Biersch.

So please, have a good day and whatever you do do not forget those whose lives were forever changed by those dastardly attacks and all that has transpired in the years since. I do hope that things will get better and that some semblance of peace will return to the world.

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, PTSD, remembering friends, terrorism, War on Terrorism

They Thanked Us Kindly: Reflections on Veteran’s Day 2015

481801_10151367001287059_1003164983_n1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As a career military officer and veteran of the Iraq campaign as well as Operation Enduring Freedom I get very reflective around Veteran’s Day. For me it is a melancholy time. I remember those who have gone to war, those who did not come home, and those who came home, especially those who came home wounded in body, mind, or spirit; those who were forever changed by their experience of war.

One of my heroes is T.E. Lawrence, the immortal Lawrence of Arabia. After World War One ended and the politicians, diplomats, and business leaders betrayed those who served, as well as the people of many nations with a terrible peace, Lawrence wrote, “We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.”

One hundred and one years ago, in November 1914, millions of soldiers were fighting in horrible conditions throughout Europe. From the English Channel to Serbia, Poland and Galicia; French, British, German, Austro-Hungarian, Serbian and Russian troops engaged each other in bloody and often pointless battles. Often commanded by old men who did not understand how the character of war had changed, millions were killed, wounded, maimed or died of disease.

After four years, with the Empires that were at the heart of the war’s outbreak collapsing one after the other there was an armistice. On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month the shooting stopped and the front lines quieted. By then over 20 million people, soldiers and civilians alike had died. Millions more had been wounded, captured, seen their homes and lands devastated or been driven from there ancestral homelands, never to return.

The human cost of that war was horrific. Over 65 million soldiers were called up on all sides of the conflict, of which nearly 37.5 million became casualties, some 57.5% of all soldiers involved. Some countries saw the flower of their manhood, a generation decimated. Russia sustained over 9 million casualties of the 12 million men they committed to the war, a casualty rate of over 76%. The other Allied powers suffered as well.  France lost 6.4 million of 8.5 million, or 73%, Great Britain 3.1 million of nearly 9 million, 35%; Italy 2.2 million of 5.6 million, 39%. Their opponents, Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire suffered greatly. Germany sustained 7.1 million casualties of 11 million men called up, or nearly 65%, Austria 7 million of 7.8 million, 90% and the Ottoman Empire 975,000 of 2.8 million or 34% of the soldiers that they sent to war.

It was supposed to be the War to end all War…but it wasn’t, it was the mother of countless wars.

It has been a century since that bleak November of 1914, and ninety-six years since the time where for a brief moment, people around the world, but especially in Europe dared to hope for a lasting and just peace. But that would not be the case…

The victors imposed humiliating peace terms on the vanquished, be it the Germans on the Russians, or the Allies on Germany and her partners. The victors divided up nations, drew up borders without regard to historic, ethnic, tribal or religious sensibilities. But then, it was about the victors imposing themselves and their quest for domination, expanding colonial empires and controlling natural resources rather than seeking a just and lasting peace. The current war against the Islamic State is one of the wars spawned by the Sykes-Picot agreement which divided the Middle East between the French and the British at the end of the war. It was a war that keeps on giving.

Of course we have known the disastrous results of their hubris, a hubris still carried on by those who love and profit by war…war without end which continues seemingly with no end in sight.

I am a veteran of Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as the Bosnia mission and the Cold War. My dad was a Vietnam veteran who enlisted during the Korean War. I serve because it is the right thing to do, not because I find war romantic or desirable. It is as General William Tecumseh Sherman said “Hell.” If called to go back to Iraq, where I left so much of my soul, I would go in a heartbeat.

This week as we do every year we will pay our homage to honor our veterans, especially in the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France. But sometimes it seems so hollow, for in all of our countries those that serve are a tiny minority of those eligible to serve, who are much of the time ignored or even scorned by those that feel that providing for them after they have served is too much of a burden on the wealthy who make their profits on the backs of these soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.

I have walked about since returning from Iraq often in a fog, trying to comprehend how a country can be at war for so long, and there is such a gap between the few who serve and the vast majority for whom war is an abstract concept happening to someone else, in places far away, and whose experience of war is its glorification in video games. Personally I find that obscene, and feel that I live in a foreign world. Erich Maria Remarque wrote in All Quiet on the Western Front: 

“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.”

Similarly Guy Sajer wrote in his classic 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.”

Major General Gouverneur Warren wrote to his wife two years after the American Civil War:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

Sometimes I find it obscene that retailers and other corporations have turned this solemnity into another opportunity to profit. But then why should I expect different? Such profiteers have been around from the beginning of time, but then maybe I still am foolish enough to hope for something different. Please don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the fact that some businesses attempt in at least some small way to thank veterans. I also know there are many businesses and business owners who do more than offer up tokens once a year, by putting their money where their mouth is to support returning veterans with decent jobs and career opportunities; but for too many others the day is just another day to increase profits while appearing to “support the troops.”

As Marine Corps legend and two-time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler Wrote:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill? “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….”

But the marketers of war do not mind, almost Orwellian language is used to lessen its barbarity. Dave Grossman wrote in his book On Killing:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.”

There is even a cottage industry of war buffs, some of who are veterans seeking some kind of camaraderie after their service, but most of whom have little or know skin in the real game, and at no inconvenience to themselves. As far as the veterans I understand, but as for the others I can fully understand the words of Guy Sajer, who wrote:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”

It was to be the War to end all war” but I would venture that it was the war that birthed countless wars, worse tyrannies and genocides; That war, which we mark the end of today, is in a very real and tragic sense, the mother of the wars that have followed. Today, war threatens in so many places; the Middle East, Ukraine, Asia, and Africa. Terrorism has apparently returned with a vengeance. War without end, amen.

As so to my friends, my comrades and all that served I honor you, especially those that I served alongside. We are a band of brothers; no matter what the war profiteers do, no matter how minuscule our number as compared to those who do not know what we do, and those who never will.  We share a timeless bond and no one can take that away.

I close with the words of a German General from the television mini-series Band of Brothers which kind of sums up how I feel today. The American troops who have fought so long and hard are watching the general address his troops after their surrender. An American soldier of German-Jewish descent translates for his comrades the words spoken by the German commander, and it as if the German is speaking for each of them as well.

Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.

In hopes of peace,

Padre Steve+

5 Comments

Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Political Commentary, shipmates and veterans, Tour in Iraq, War on Terrorism