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The Morning After 9-11-2001: 18 Years Later, a Retrospective Meditation

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

I am thinking about the morning after the attacks of 9-11-2001 and how much my perspective has changed since those attacks. On Wednesday 9-12-2001 I was sleeping in my office on a cot and sleeping bag at Camp LeJeune, NC. In fact every Marine and Sailor assigned at Camp LeJeune was doing the same thing unless they were on leave out of the area and couldn’t get back.

The base was closed to visitors, internal road blocks on the base were set up, roving patrols and outposts covered any conceivable entrance to the base, by land or water. Combat air patrols out of MCAS Cherry Point flew overhead while Navy Guided Missile Cruisers and Destroyers patrolled off the coast. The base was locked down for four days. We had little information of what was happening, except what we could get on television. Our own intelligence didn’t have much more, but we all knew that we were going to war.

Within the month we knew that it would be in Afghanistan. Army Special Forces, Rangers, Units of the 82nd Airborne as well as Navy SEALS, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, and CIA operators working with the Afghan warlords of the Northern Alliance quickly drove the Taliban from power and Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda operatives into hiding at Tora Bora.

But the roots of this tragedy were decades in the making. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Afghanistan was one of the most progressive nations in the Islamic World. It was a haven and destination for the hippies in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, in a Cold War maneuver, the Soviets helped the Afghan Communist Party gain power in a coup against the monarchy.  The reaction of the Taliban and other religious conservatives ignited a civil war in which the Soviets sent in hundreds of thousands of combat troops to prop up the Communist government, while the United States supported the Taliban, whose leaders were supported and personally met with President Ronald Reagan, and equated to our Founding Father’s.

But the 9-11 attacks had nothing to do with Afghanistan, other than the fact that the Taliban had granted Bin Laden and Al Qaeda sanctuary there under Islamic tradition. Bin Laden and his minions attacked the United States because we had stationed troops and aircraft in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam for a decade after deploying them in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Religious Saudis, especially the militant fundamentalists like Bin Laden didn’t see our personnel as defenders of Saudi Arabia, but infidels who were crusaders and invaders that had no business there. Sometimes in terms of religion, history means more than contemporary politics or international relations.

Likewise, the gross  error of the Bush Administration to lump traditional enemies, the Iraqis and Iranians who’s disputes go back a millennium as partners in an Axis Of Evil sounded good on American television but were diametrically opposed to the Sunni- Shia Islamic divide, in fact Iraq had nothing to do with the attack and the Iranians were willing to work with us against Al Qaeda, which they considered a mortal Sunni enemy. But then again, to most Americans there is little difference between an Iraqi, Saudi, Iranian, Yemeni, Jordanian, Syrian, or Lebanese, even if they are not of the Islamic faith. The fact is that most Americans regardless of the political ideology are completely ignorant about history and religious history matters not. It is what it is and in the words Kurt Vonnegut “So it goes.” 

Our wars or retribution in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syrian, Somalia, and other countries have cost more than double the amount of lives lost on 9-11-2001. That does not includes the tens of thousands wounded Americans. This does not count the thousands dead and wounded of NATO and coalition partners, including the Afghans and Iraqis who supported us, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of the wars that we have pursued for the past 18 years.

I was astounded that President Trump had initially agreed to meeting with the Taliban in order, for all practical reasons, surrender to them last weekend, the weekend before the anniversary of the attacks of 9-11-2001. The deal would have ensured a withdrawal of American troops, no sanctions on Al Qaeda, and no protections for the Afghan people who supported us over the last 18 years. I am tired of this war, but to abandon people who supported us just to gain peace wreaks of how we abandoned the South Vietnamese.

Back then we were not afraid to take in the South Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees, but under Trump we would leave the people we fought for and who fought with us to death. The Trump administration does not care about them because they are dark skinned and Muslim. It would be a stab in the heart of our national ideals, and for that I am glad that those talk fell through, not that I support the loss of another life, of any nationality or religion in this war. I have lost too many friends, beginning with Army LTC Karen Wagner who died at the Pentagon on 9-11, to others who died in combat in Iraq, and Afghanistan to accept such an action that is only designed to get the President the Nobel Peace Prize. I couldn’t give a damn about the President’s narcissism and need for approval, and his need to get a Nobel Peace Prize because Barack Obama already has one.

As for me, I did a lot of thinking about what happened 18 years ago, the people, the victims, and those that continue to suffer because of those attacks and the subsequent wars which have followed.

On Wednesday September 12th I woke up to a new world, and over the process of years my life was changed. We had a 9-11 Memorial on my base today. It was touching because it was about the events and the people. My new young chaplain did well in his part, the baton has been passed to a new generation. I just hope for their sake that war will not be the norm in the future. I hope that our leaders and other world leaders will seek peace rather than war. Otherwise we are doomed.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Acts of War: Terror in Brussels

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday another act of terrorism and war was conducted by the self-described Islamic State. Islamic State suicide bomber terrorists set off three bombs in the Belgium. They attacked the international airport in Brussels as well as the Maalbeek metro station. It is still early and casualty figures are still going up, but at least 34 people have been killed and over 200 wounded. Frech President Hollande called it an “act of war.” He is absolutely correct. As I looked at the images of this latest attack, especially the victims, I was moved to tears, and I know that it will happen again and again 

  The Belgian Flag at Half-Mast at NATO in Norfolk Virginia



The Islamic State has issued a statement claiming responsibility in which they claim the attack was in response to Belgium “participating in the international collation against the Islamic State.” My friends if you haven’t been following the activities of the terrorist thugs of ISIL, or the name that they really hate, DAESH, in the Middle East. Africa, and Europe you need to. They are also operating here in the United States but so far have not succeeded in launching any significant terror operations on American soil, and there are reasons for this. The biggest reason is that the vast majority of American Muslims are relatively well integrated into this country, most see themselves as Americans. Admittedly there are some that do not and they are the most at risk to fall for the hatred promoted by DAESH. In Europe it is different, large numbers of Muslims, crowded into ethnic-religious enclaves are not integrated into society. They are outsiders, and are a breeding ground for terrorism. This has not been helped by the Syrian refugee crisis that DAESH has helped make worse, in which God knows how many DAESH operatives crossed into Europe among their victims, legitimate refugees. Sadly, the real refugees never get a break, whether they are victims of DARSH, Bashir Assad, or Al Qaeda’s Nursa Front in Syria. 

Having lived with terrorism as a daily part of my life in Europe in the 1980s when the Red Army Faction was bombing and killing in Germany, I am all too aware of what will come next. There will be more attacks in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and they will happen in the United States. The remorseless savages, and I do say savages, for these people who burn captives alive in cages, who behead hostages on video, who kidnap, rape and brutalize women, who commit acts of mass murder of innocent civilians in airports, train stations, cafes, schools, theaters, and shopping centers are savages, they are men and women who have given up any semblance of humanity, and they must be stopped. This is war, and this war will last generations.

Reza Aslan, the noted Islamic scholar understands the type of individuals fighting for DAESH batter than most people. His words are on target, and the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the bombing of an airliner in the Sinai last year, not to mention the hundreds of lesser publicized attacks on innocents in Africa, Asia and the Middle East last year, and Brussels today, his words need to be heard. He told CNN last year, “Number one, you do have to respond militarily to ISIS soldiers and fighters. These guys are fighting a war of the imagination, a war that they think is happening between the forces of good and evil. There is no negotiation. There’s no diplomacy. There’s nothing to talk about with these guys. They have to be destroyed.”

Yes, we must do all in our power to spare innocent people suffering, yes we must also do our level best to ensure civil liberties in our own countries, we cannot label ever person of Arabic origin, or Muslims of any ethnic origin as the enemy. That plays into the hands of DAESH, they want that. But, that being said, Reza Aslan is absolutely correct, the fighters and terrorists of DAESH must be hunted down and destroyed and international law and conventions which were written long before anything like DAESH was imagined, must be revised. The DAESH terrorists are not your father’s “freedom fighters” nor are they patriotic insurgents trying to free their country from foreign occupiers, they come straight from Hell, and they need to be sent back. Don’t forget what Osama Bin Laden said in his 1998 Fatwah against the enemies of his version of Islam, “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it…” DAESH is now motivating their people to kill with much more impunity than Bin Laden ever did.

This is war, and as William Tecumseh Sherman said, “War is Hell.”

That being said there is a warning that we must heed. With the war against DAESH now entering an even more troubling and dangerous phase we should remind ourselves of the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events…. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.”

Ironically, after all I have said and witnessed I end today’s post in my usual manner, because honestly, I only want people to be able to live in peace.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Lamps are Going Out: Paris & the End of the Illusion of Peace

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is barely a day and a half after the massacre committed by Islamic terrorists in Paris, and the shock is still being felt around the world. In watching the images and listening to the words of various leaders I feel that something has changed; that the illusion of peace that we have lived under, has been shattered.

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In two weeks the self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed credit for the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, an attack in Beirut Lebanon, and, on Friday night the horrific series of attacks in Paris. The combined death toll for the three attacks is close to 400, almost all of who were innocent civilians doing nothing more than going about their daily lives. Hundreds more were wounded in Beirut and Paris. ISIL has promised to conduct more attacks on all nations that oppose them in Syria and Iraq. The attacks have awakened people to the fact that ISIL is not just a threat to the Middle East, but around the world.

Some are now calling this war, and in fact it is, a war that most of us have ignored though it has been going on for over two decades. But in just two weeks, the hybrid terrorist state known as ISIL has changed the course of that war. The war as we know it began in the years after the First Gulf War as young Saudis returning from Afghanistan, led by Osama Bin Laden took up arms against the “infidel” Americans based in Saudi Arabia. In the 1990s the terrorism was confined to Al Qaeda attacks throughout the Middle East, and included attacks on American military personnel, installations, and ships. Then on September 11th 2001 Al Qaeda changed the narrative by attacking the United States, killing nearly 3000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard four airliners. The United States responded by going after Al Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan.

Had the American response been contained to that action, the war might have taken a different course, and we might not be here today. But within months of 9-11 the Bush Administration began planning to attack Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and propagandizing the American people to support it, with or without allied or United Nations sanction. The operation to topple Saddam opened Pandora’s box, and who knows when we will ever live in peace again. Twelve years after President Bush announced the end operations in Iraq aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln with a banner that boldly proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished” behind him, the war that he unleashed in Iraq has spread in ways that even the most pessimistic critics of Bush did not predict.

With the war now entering an even more troubling and dangerous phase we should remind ourselves of the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events…. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.”

As I observe events on I am reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s description of Sir Edward Gray on the eve of the First World War, “Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.”

Sadly, I do believe that the last lamps of peace are going out around the world in the fight against the Islamic State. I have no idea when, how, or even if this conflict will end.

Praying for peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism

9-11-2014 War Without End…

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“We have not reached the limit of our military commitments…” T.E. Lawrence (Mesopotamia 22 August 1920 in the Sunday Times)

Thirteen years after the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in which nearly 3000 Americans were killed and the American response against Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan a month later we enter a new phase of war against old and familiar as well as new and frighteningly brutal enemies.

Of course the war was extended to Iraq by the Bush Administration, pursuing the goal of toppling Saddam Hussein and his non-existent weapons of mass destruction. That extension of the war, which so reminds me of what T.E. Lawrence wrote about the British adventure in Mesopotamia in 1920 has led to the creation of a much more ruthless and capable enemy than Al Qaeda ever was and strengthened our old adversary Iran in ways that it could not have done itself. Lawrence wrote of the British effort:

“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.”

Like the Bush administration the British reasons for going into Mesopotamia were cloaked in the words of liberation and protection, only from the Turks, not Saddam. Lawrence noted in words that are hauntingly familiar to those that paid attention to the American war in Iraq:

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

Perhaps the most poignant and relevant note on the ill thought out Bush decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was by Thucydides who wrote:

“Think, too, of the great part that is played by the unpredictable in war: think of it now, before you are actually committed to war. The longer a war lasts, the more things tend to depend on accidents. Neither you nor we can see into them: we have to abide their outcome in the dark. And when people are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way round. Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think.”

Last night President Obama announced his intention to fight the brutal and extreme fighters of the Islamic State, or ISIL by building a broad coalition spearheaded by American airpower and intelligence agencies. Of course the President’s announcement was met with cries of not being enough by some on the political right, and with equal vehemence by opponents on the political left who feel that he has displayed cowardice in the face of “9/11 fear mongering” and the implementation of a policy of “perpetual war.” Of course the answer is more complex than anyone wants to admit, the critics on both sides are right in some things and wrong in some things, and the fact is there are no good answers.

Sadly because of what we and the British and others have done in Iraq and Syria the President is left with few options, mainly those that are bad, and those that are worse. So now, as the President, with a fair amount of judiciousness and caution commits the country to continue and maybe even expand the war that began thirteen years ago, it is time to remember those burning towers, the flailing bodies of our fellow Americans and others falling to their deaths to escape the surety of death in those flames and those who have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan; not just Americans, but coalition partners and the people of those lands who had no say in what Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda did or what Saddam did or didn’t do; and who went from the oppression of Saddam or the Taliban, to unending civil, tribal and religious wars, in which they were caught in the middle, the Iraqis in a war that was devised by President Bush and his advisors.

There are always results and today we are dealing with the results of at least a century of incredibly short sighted decisions of Western as well as Arab leaders which have blighted the Middle East and caused immense suffering to the peoples of the region. Now because of those decisions there exists a terrorist organization which is rapidly becoming a state in the areas of Iraq and Syria that it occupies. Islamic scholar Reza Aslan described the Islamic State on CNN Monday:

“Number one, you do have to respond militarily to ISIS soldiers and fighters. These guys are fighting a war of the imagination, a war that they think is happening between the forces of good and evil. There is no negotiation. There’s no diplomacy. There’s nothing to talk about with these guys. They have to be destroyed.”

Sadly, Aslan is right in his analysis of the Islamic State. Because of that fact, on this thirteenth anniversary of the 9-11-2001 attacks we and the already suffering people of the region will see war continue without end. One wonders how many generations it will last and what the cost on lives and treasure will be.

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Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s Called Sedition and Treason: “Prophet” Rick Joyner Calls prays for Military Coup to Oust President Obama

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Sedition: To write, print, utter or publish, or cause it to be done, or assist in it, any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or the President, with intent to defame, or bring either into contempt or disrepute, or to excite against either the hatred of the people of the United States, or to stir up sedition, or to excite unlawful combinations against the government, or to resist it, or to aid or encourage hostile designs of foreign nations. Sedition Act of 1798

I am always amazed when certain political preachers make their pronouncements about how they think that God is speaking to them about political issues. However yesterday, when my troubles seemed so far away the radical Christian Dominionist and self proclaimed “Prophet and Apostle” Rick Joyner stunned me. Joyner is one of the leaders of what he and others like C. Peter Wagner call the New Apostolic Reformation which inculcates people to believe that they and they alone are hearing from the Lord and that the task of the church is to rule the earth and if need be judge and destroy those that do not agree with this particular form of Christianity.

Now as most people who really know me know it takes a lot to stun me, even from the right wing political preachers that crowd the airways and cyber space of the United States and the world. I am not a fan of these very non-pastoral and often quite un-Christian political animals who claim to be speaking for God.

Now I am all in favor of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, even for men like the prophet Rick. In fact when I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States it included defending the rights of irresponsible, hateful and idiotic men like Joyner and others like him no matter what their political or religious persuasion.

But there is a line where what someone says is irresponsible, hateful and idiotic, which mind you are perfectly legal and Constitutional; after all there is nothing prohibiting people from being hate driven fear mongering idiots. That being said there is a time when speech borders or crosses the line into what Federal law, common law and the laws of most western civilized countries which have a Judeo-Christian heritage call “treason” or “sedition.”

I think that yesterday the prophet Rick looked to me like he crossed that line. He said yesterday on his broadcast that in terms of the President Obama that our “only hope is a military takeover, martial law.” Not only that but he continued: “And that the most crucial element of that is who to the martial [sic] is going to be,” he said. “I believe there are noble leaders in our military that love the republic and love everything we stand for. And they could seize the government.”

Now obviously Joyner neither understands the Constitution of the United States, nor knows history our military. The fact is that most of us who have been around any time at all in the military know the history of just how bad military coups are for Republics or Democracies. The fact is that they seldom end well and usually bring about worse conditions than if sensible people took charge and let the political system work as it was designed. The fact that our often badly divided founders understood that there would be times that one faction, party or another would not be happy with the way an election turned out.

I would have linked the video of this absolutely insane, treasonous and seditious video Joyner’s Morningstar ministries have now pulled it. I guess that some clearer headed people, likely his corporate lawyers realized that this was over the line.

I wonder what Joyner and his supporters would say if a religious leader of another faith other than their own uttered such foolishness. I suspect that if there was a Conservative Republican in the White House that they would be calling for the prosecution, conviction, imprisonment or maybe even the execution of such a person who suggested the overthrow of the civil government. But then for such people the irony of this is too rich for them to comprehend.

The sad thing is that this is now par for the course for people like Joyner whose hubris, narcissism and Gnostic understanding of the Christian faith justifies their radicalism and arrogance. I took some time to read Joyner’s comments about this controversy in his “Morningstar Prophetic Bulletin” and it looks to me like he is willing to go even farther in the coming days. Speaking to his disciples he wrote:

“I am very glad for this controversy, even the outrage I have created in some by the Prophetic Perspectives program. To quote King David, “I will yet be more vile” (see II Samuel 6:22 KJV). I don’t enjoy controversy, but I do appreciate it for what it can accomplish. It is not likely that anyone will be able to speak the truth in these times without it. I intend to use the controversy started by that program to delve into more depth on these issues. Therefore, future Prophetic Perspectives programs will likely be even more controversial….”

Sad to say it looks to me like Joyner is looking to collect some cash for his ministry by getting them fired up. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I heard Joyner speak and had some of his books. He is very good at deceiving people and ensuring his material well being by doing this kind of thing. He has been doing it for years. In fact he has been castigated by conservative and Fundamentalist Bible Christians for his incredibly shoddy and self serving “revelations.” Hank Handergraaf’s Christian Research Institute even noted that “Joyner leaves us no middle way. Either we treat him as God’s chosen super-prophet for the end-times, or we treat him as a man in the grip of evil deceit and seek to expose him as such.”

While I am not in agreement with Handergraaf on many things I can agree with him on this. Joyner and others like him in the Christian Dominionist movement are not only narcissistic, arrogant and full of hubris but are dangerous not only to those that follow them but to others. Especially those that they decide based on their personal “word from the Lord” are against Jesus.

Honestly this is little different from the way that people like Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban interpret Islam.

Yes if you ask me what Joyner is saying is seditious and borders on treason. However because people are afraid of the religious right in this country no charges will ever be filed. Joyner will get away with this and rake in more cash from those that he leads into disaster, people who swallow his heresy and radicalism hook line and sinker because it fits their world view.

The late associate Justice of the Supreme Court and Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials wrote: “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

Joyner and those like him fit Justice Jackson’s description.

God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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30 Years of Marriage: Marriage the Definitive Icebreaker in an Ever Changing World

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star. When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…

Cut! Wrong galaxy…

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The year was 1983 and a newly commissioned Army Second Lieutenant was marrying the love of his life in an old Presbyterian Church in Stockton California. The wedding was done on a shoestring but was quite nice, you would never have known that on that warm but not too hot day in Stockton California, only 89 degrees at game time with almost no humidity. Since the groom’s 1975 Chevy Monza didn’t have air conditioning that was a good thing.

Other things were going on in the world that day and that year.

Yasir Arafat was expelled from Syria after his accusations that President Hafez al-Assad was behind the anti-Arafat rebellion among Palestine Liberation Organization troops in Lebanon.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana had just had their first son, William.

Evita closed on Broadway after 1568 performances.

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Flashdance…What A Feeling by Irene Cara was the Billboard top single.

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Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video became the biggest video hit of all time and he would die on our 26th wedding anniversary in 2009.

In sports an Indian team led by the legendary Kapil Dev overcame the mighty, two-time champion West Indies at Lord’s to win the Prudential World Cup.

The Orioles lost to the Tigers 9-3, the Giants lost to the Padres 3-2 and the A’s lost to the Rangers 8-3. The O’s would go on to win the World Series.

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Superman III was the top box office draw but would be de-throned by Star Wars VI, Return of the Jedi on the 26th. The top ten box office hits for 1983 were: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places, WarGames, Octopussy, Sudden Impact, Staying Alive, Mr. Mom and Risky Business.

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M*A*S*H had ended its epic run as one of the favorite television shows in the United States.

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The Car and Driver Magazine Top Ten Best list included the 1983 Pontiac 6000STE, 1983 Porsche 944, 1983 Toyota Celica Supra, 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI, 1983 AMC/Renault Alliance, 1983 Chevrolet Caprice Classic, 1983 Ford Mustang GT 5.0, 1983 Honda Accord, 1983 Mazda RX-7 and the 1983 Mercedes-Benz 380SEL. Pontiac and AMC are no more and we now own a 2013 Mustang.

Ronald Reagan was President and Yuri Andropov the Soviet Premier as the Cold War began to reach its crescendo even as both countries were enmeshed in wars or attempts to subvert each other’s allies, the US in Nicaragua and the Soviets in Afghanistan even as Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars program.

The Polish Pope, John Paul II was making waves in Poland as the Solidarity movement continued to confound local Communist authorities and the Soviet Union, helping to set the stage for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in then a repressive and racist apartheid South Africa.

Iran and Iraq were locked in a bloody struggle, Israel had invaded Lebanon and become  involved in a quagmire and Saddam Hussein was considered to be our friend. Osama Bin Laden was supported by the United States in Afghanistan.

The Space Shuttle Challenger returned to earth after a historic mission with Sally Ride the first woman to go into space.

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It is hard to believe that all of that was going on. In fact since there was no internet yet and even cable news was still in its infancy most of us lived in a world that was not so complicated. In light of the current concerns regarding privacy which make Orwell’s 1984 seem all too real, that novel was merely interesting.

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Who would have thought then that the world would be where we are today. Likewise who would believe that Judy and I are still married after all these years? Sure I think that most people enter into marriage with the intent of it lasting the rest of their lives but tragically so many don’t. In light of all the failed marriages out there I almost wonder if 30 is the new 50 as far as anniversaries are concerned. I guess that we are rather fortunate. We have done the whole sickness and in health, for richer or poorer deal a number of times already, seen our shares of joys and heartaches and since I have been in some type of military service our whole marriage endured many separations.  So far we still love each other.

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One of my favorite movies about marriage is the classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. There is a great sequence in the film which sometimes I wonder might just be true:

Gareth: I’ve got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.

Charles: Uh-huh.

Gareth: Totally. I mean they can’t think of a single thing to say to each other. That’s it: panic! Then suddenly it-it occurs to the chap that there is a way out of the deadlock.

Charles: Which is?

Gareth: He’ll ask her to marry him.

Charles: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Gareth: Suddenly they’ve got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

Charles: Basically you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.

Gareth: The definitive icebreaker.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s 2013 Down and Dirty Primer on the Muddle East

Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib

“When you are up to your arse in alligators it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp.” Old British Colonial Saying

Note: This is an update to my 2011 Primer on the Muddle East

During the dark days of World War Two when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was making fools of a series of British commanders in North Africa people including senior British military and government leaders sometimes referred to the theater of operations as “the Muddle East.” Some things never seem to change. The Muddle East today is quite frankly speaking in a real muddled state if there ever was one with world leaders and regional leaders muddling about as if they were the New York Mets.

A large part of the muddle goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War when the victorious Allied Powers redrew the map of the Middle East and made alliances with various local tribal sheiks who many times were crowned king over other tribes who didn’t necessarily want them as king. This along with heavy handed European military actions such as the British using poison gas dropped from aircraft in Iraq and a real lack of effort to better the lives of the newly “liberated” peoples of the region was just the start. Add to the cesspool a bunch of oil presided over by major oil companies, the anti-colonial movements that flourished in the years after World War Two when the French, British and Italians had to divest themselves of their Middle Eastern holdings. The French had to fight a real war in Algeria but finally withdrew leaving Algeria’s new rulers to goof up the country and oppress their people for decades to come.  In the coming years many of these newly independent nations found that life still sucked so in a number of countries military officers overthrew the despised monarchs promising reforms but oppressing their people while blaming all their problems on the Israelis.  They got their asses kicked by the Israelis in a series of wars which did a number of things that made the Middle East Muddle even worse.

First it ensured that Palestinian Arabs ended up under Israeli rule and were used with great aplomb by the Middle Eastern despots to prop up support for their regimes while doing nothing to help the Palestinians other than to put them in camps in Lebanon.  Even when the Egyptians made a peace deal with Israel most of the Arab World ostracized them.  Then in 1979 the Shah of Iran was sent packing by a bunch of Mullahs and in 1981 Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran in one of the bloodier wars of the late 20th Century which finally ended in 1988. Of course the United States was pissed at the Mullahs so Saddam became our favorite Arab despot for a while.  Add to the mix the Soviet Union and the United States arming their favorite Arab dictators who were given carte blanche to continue oppressing their people so long as it didn’t interfere with their support of either party or the oil supply. Finally the Soviets went Tango Uniform in 1989 not long after being forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S. supplied, Pakistani supported and Saudi Arabian fundamentalist financed Mujahideen.

With the Soviets “Tango Uniform” and the Warsaw Pact nations trying to get into NATO the United States was now the uncontested Numero Uno country in the world Saddam presumed upon his late supporters and invaded Kuwait, albeit after thinking that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said that we wouldn’t mind.

Well he was wrong we did mind and got a lot of countries from NATO and including a bunch of Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia to get on board on a mission to get Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. It was a kick ass mission and since the United Nations didn’t authorize removing Saddam and because President George H.W. Bush was smart enough to not to drive on Baghdad to kick him out preferring the despot we knew to a quagmire Saddam was left in power.

So we stationed ground and air forces around the Gulf to keep Saddam and Iran in check and even put them in Saudi Arabia which a large number of radicals such as Osama Bin Laden equated to letting the Devil play in Allah’s Holy Sandbox.  So Osama went and set up a base with the Medieval bunch of Pashtun known as the Taliban in Afghanistan stirred up a bunch of shit killing Americans and blowing up stuff including the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks complex in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and then 2001 another attack on the World Trade Center which took down the towers with hijacked aircraft and also struck the Pentagon triggered an American response against Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts.  The United States then invaded in Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in taking out Saddam but also succeeded in alienating a good many Iraqis who greeted us with open arms because we goofed up the occupation and pissed a lot of them off by dissolving the Army, Police and Civil Service and letting thugs and opportunists take over. Unfortunately since we didn’t go in with enough troops to secure all the Iraqi bases, their weapons depots and actually take control of surrendering Iraqi units these newly unemployed and dishonored people launched an insurgency bolstered by Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters even as Sunni and Shi’a Moslems began to settle scores with each other. Insurgency and civil war, two great tastes that go great together, but what the heck right?

Of course it took years to get control of the situation on the ground and thankfully the United States forces in Iraq were helped when the Sunni Moslems in Al Anbar Province realized that these foreign fighters were a worse enemy than the United States and switched sides. This turned the tables in Iraq and the insurgency was brought under control and an elected government managed to start to get their stuff together and allow us to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Of course the focus on Iraq gave the Taliban a chance to regroup as the Afghani Government proved itself corrupt, incompetent and not to give a shit about the Afghani people. So the Taliban who had been hated made a comeback and made our lives much harder so that now almost 10 years into the fight we are having a really hard time.  Well enough about us there was plenty more going on in the Muddle East besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Let’s see….there was the law of unintended consequences in that by taking Saddam Down and weakening Iraq we took away Iran’s natural enemy and the key to the balance of power in the region. Iran was strengthened and began a nuclear program that everyone with half a brain knows in intended for military use and expanded its influence in Lebanon where the Iranian backed Hezbollah took power.  Now Hezbollah which actually has an experienced military force and probably owns 40,000 or so rockets and missiles a good number of which can hit deep in Israel seems to be ready for war especially because they fought the Israelis to a stalemate in 2008, the first time an Arab military ever did that. Not only did they take on the Israelis but they are also helping Syrian dictator Bashir Assad turn the tide against the polyglot Syrian rebel forces which are being assisted by Sunni foreign fighters from all over the Middle East and the ever present Al Qaida presence.

Then was the effect that the wars in those countries made things harder for us in many other friendly Arab nations.  Of course there is the problem of a nuclear armed Pakistan which is about as stable as a Japanese nuclear reactor after getting hit by a tsunami and plays both sides of the street in the war on terror.  The Palestinians and Israelis continued their love affair and since Fatah which ran Palestinian Authority was so corrupt and gooned up a more militant group, Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Hamas is a pretty bloodthirsty lot too but not the same level of threat as Hezbollah to the Israelis.  Of course the Israelis have done little to help the situation by their often heavy handed treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The witches’ cauldron of the Muddle East is getting even more muddled on a daily basis as young Arabs throughout the Muddle East are rising up against their despotic rulers and it doesn’t seem that any are safe, those allied with the United States and the West as well as those that have been a thorn in the side of the United States and the West. It just seems that despots and tyrants are no longer in vogue. The uprisings began in Iran after a disputed election where reformers were cheated of power and the revolt crushed by the Revolutionary Guard and other thugs of the Iranian regime. However with the election of “moderate” whatever that means cleric Hasan Rowhani as President hopes are that Iran, despite the machinations of many other clerics and the Revolutionary Guard might be brought to the negotiating table. That being said Iran is reportedly sending about 4000 troops to go help Assad in Syria so go figure.

Elsewhere in the Middle East things continue to boil. In December 2010 the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their President for Life Ben Ali in a peaceful uprising followed shortly after by the Egyptians who tossed out long term President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. In Tunisia a “moderate Islamist” regime has been attempting to maintain control of radicals and keep some semblance of balance in that country while in Egypt the Islamic Brotherhood was able to get majorities elected in the Parliament and elect Mohammed Morsi as President. Needless to say both countries are still in turmoil.

In Iraq the Sunni Shi’a divide is as wide as ever and that country is threatening to become engulfed in yet another civil war as sectarian violence increases and the Kurds make more moves toward independence.

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Turkey, the heart of the old Ottoman Empire is now beginning to erupt as secularist elements in the society are protesting the policies of Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leading to repeated clashes over the past two weeks between protestors and police.

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Afghanistan though technically not part of the Middle East continues to be a problem for US and NATO consuming intelligence, economic diplomatic and military resources that could be put to play with better effect elsewhere.  What T.E. Lawrence said of the British occupation of a restive Mesopotamia  in 1920:

“We realise the burden the army in Mesopotamia is to the Imperial Exchequer, but we do not see as clearly the burden it is to Mesopotamia. It has to be fed, and all its animals have to be fed. The fighting forces are now eighty-three thousand strong, but the ration strength is three hundred thousand. There are three labourers to every soldier, to supply and serve him.” ‘France, Britain, and the Arabs’ by Col. T. E. Lawrence The Observer, 8 August 1920

In Libya the Arab Spring claimed the long time pain in the ass Moammar Gaddafi. That conflict center of the action in 2011 until Gaddafi was overthrown and murdered. Since then Libya has remained in turmoil despite elections, militias run amok and the US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in an attack on the US Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi on September 11th 2012.

Yemen and Bahrain, Algeria, and Jordan have or are experiencing demonstrations which look to be revolts in the making and even Saudi Arabia is trying to head off a potential popular uprising.

However the real problem now, the problem that threatens to send the region into a regional war is the revolt in Syria which began with peaceful protests by reformers against the Assad regime. However the hard line response of that regime to the protests spawned a civil war which now threatens to overflow the borders of Syria. France, Britain and the US have stated that they believe that there is evidence that the Syria government has used chemical weapons, in particular Sarin nerve agents against the rebels. The conflict has claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000 people with hundreds of thousands more now living as refugees.

The conflict in Syria epitomizes one of the greatest challenges in the Middle East that many in the West are just beginning to recognize, the Sunni Shi’a divide. That divide is becoming more serious with every passing day as Iran continues to lead and assist Shi’a elements in predominantly Sunni Arab countries, as well as in Iraq where the Arab Shi’a are in the majority. The conflict in Syria is predominantly Sunni versus Shi’a though in that patchwork nation of Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite Shi’a tribe of the Assad clan, various Christian and Druse groups. Lebanon which borders Syria is as divided as its larger neighbor and Hezbollah holds tremendous power in that country.

Yes my friends this is a mess and almost everybody that is anybody in the military and economic power houses of the world doesn’t have their handprints all over at least some part of this mess. All of these own some of the blame for what is going on, both the rulers of the nations in the region as well as world powers who all try to influence the nations and peoples for their own diplomatic, intelligence, military or economic gain. Almost no one is unsoiled by their involvement in the Muddle East over the past 90 years or so and so in a way all of great world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

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The region is more volatile than at any time in recent history and events there could easily ignite a regional war with worldwide implications.  That is why the region has been called the Muddle East for decades.  We all hope and pray for the best and that somehow all of this that the promise of a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” will become a reality, but there are better than even odds that things get way worse before they get better. There are just too many wild cards in this deck and the swamp is full of hungry alligators.

With the announcement this week that the US would provide military aid and training to the Syrian rebels and that US forces will remain in Jordan even as US and NATO Patriot missile batteries stand ready in Turkey there is a really good chance that the conflict in Syria will not stay in Syria.

Of course there is always the wild card if what Israel may do in what it perceives to be its security interests against outward foes such as Iran and Syria but also inside its borders and occupied territories, especially if it is attacked or provoked by Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.

May God help us all and bring about peaceful change, or as my Iraqi friends simply say “Inshallah, God willing.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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