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People Cannot Live in Freedom Unless Free People are Prepared to Die for It: D-Day at 73

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find the days around Memorial Day and the anniversaries of the Battle of Midway and the D-Day landings to be a time when I become quite reflective about what it means to be a career American military officer, combat veteran, and the son of a Navy Chief who was also a combat veteran. I am also an uncle to a young man who likely will be enlisting in the Army in the coming weeks.

When he spoke on Omaha Beach during the ceremony marking the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings President Barak Obama said:

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.”

All of my adult life I have striven to uphold those values that those men were prepared to die for, and for almost 36 years of Army and Navy service that I have been prepared to do so at a moment’s notice.

Seventy-three years ago the liberation of France began on the beaches of Normandy.  Soldiers from 6 Allied Infantry and 3 Airborne Divisions supported by an Armada of over 5000 ships and landing craft and several thousand aircraft braved weather, heavy seas and in places fierce German resistance to gain the foothold on beaches named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno.  Over the next seven weeks the Allied soldiers advanced yard by yard through the hedgerows and villages of Normandy against ferocious German resistance before they were able to break out of the lodgment area and begin the drive across France. In his D-Day message to his troops General Dwight Eisenhower reminded them that their mission was the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.” There are still those in the world who subject their people to tyranny and attempt to destabilize and overthrow the governments of liberty loving peoples, likewise Eisenhower knew that security for ourselves meant close alliances with those who have our values and not isolating ourselves from the world.

The fighting was bloody, most American, British and Canadian infantry battalions and regiments suffered nearly 100% casualty rates in Normandy.  Replacements were fed in at a cyclic rate to make up the losses even as fresh divisions flowed ashore, but the losses were terrible.  By the time the landings took place, the British having been at war for nearly five years were bled out.  They had little left to replace their losses.  From Normandy on the British were losing combat power at a rate that they could not make up.

For the Americans there was another problem.  The US High command decided to limit the Army to 90 Divisions.  Many of these were committed to the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.   Likewise, American Infantry units were generally made up of the lowest caliber of recruits, led often by the poorest officers; the best went to either the Air Corps or technical branches of the Army.

Now this is not to criticize veterans, but it is a factor in the campaign.  Most US Infantry Divisions with the exceptions of those previously blooded in North Africa and Sicily often performed badly in action.  Some, after being manhandled by the Germans had their leadership replaced and became excellent combat units.  However, every new division that arrived in France after D-Day always got the worst of their initial engagement against German forces.

While performance suffered there was another problem for the Americans.  With the limitation in number of divisions, they stopped building infantry divisions, upon whom the bulk of the campaign depended. Thus they had little in the way of trained infantry replacements to make up heavy losses in Normandy.  By late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge the American infantry crisis was so bad that 30,000 Air Corps candidates were trained as infantry and soldiers support units such as Ant-Aircraft battalions were used to bolster infantry units.

Had the Germans been able to hold out and had they not been bled white by the Red Army on the Easter Front, had they not lost the nearly their entire Army Group Center in the Red Army offensive of 1944 it is conceivable that the British and American offensive in the West would have ground to a halt for lank of infantry in 1945.  In spite of this there was no lack of individual courage among the troops engaged; the courage and sacrifice of all who fought there should not be forgotten.

The human toll among the combatants both Allied and German, as well as the local populace was especially traumatic.  While the American, Canadian and British people are keen to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers we often forget the toll among the French civilian population of Normandy as well as the German soldiers, mostly conscripts, sacrificed by the Nazi regime.  Normandy suffered more than any part of France during the liberation.  In the months leading up to D-Day Allied Air Forces unleashed hell on Normandy to attempt to lessen potential German resistance.  The Allied Naval bombardment added to the carnage ashore and once the campaign began the combined fires of both Allied and German forces devastated the region.  Whole cites such as Caen were destroyed by Allied Air forces and an estimated 30,000 French civilians were killed during the Normandy campaign, 3000 on D-Day alone.  I think it can be said that the blood of the civilians of Normandy was shed for the freedom of all of France.

The campaign in Normandy was one of the most viciously contested in western military history.  German forces, especially Paratroops of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Fallschirmjager Divisions, German Army Panzer Divisions such as the 2nd, 21st, 116th and Panzer Lehr and those of the Waffen-SS, especially the 1st, 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions held the line against ever increasing Allied forces.  As they sacrificed themselves Hitler refused to commit more forces to Normandy and insisted that his Army contest every meter of ground.  He forbade his commanders to withdraw to more defensible positions along the Seine.

Hitler’s decisions actually shortened the campaign.  Whatever the crimes of the Hitler Regime and Nazism, which were among the most heinous in history, one can never question the valor, courage and sacrifice of ordinary German soldiers.  For those Americans who lump all Germans who fought in World War II with the evil of the Nazi regime, please do not forget this fact:  There are those today, even in this country that make the same charge against Americans who have fought in Iraq and those at home and abroad who have labeled the US as an aggressor nation. As President Trump continues to go his own way to make the United States a pariah nation we have to be very aware of the costs of it and also remember that the Americans who went ashore on D-Day did so to help defeat a pariah nation that had flaunted every standard of justice in attempting to make Germany Great Again. When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday and it is possible that our day may come sooner than we think. It is as Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal wrote:

“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.”

Normandy was a near run thing for the Allies.  First the weather almost delayed it by 2 to 4 weeks.  Had that happened the Germans might have been even better prepared to meet the invasion.  Likewise, the Red Army’s devastating offensive which annihilated Army Group Center in June kept the Germans from transferring additional forces from the Russian Front to Normandy.  On D-Day itself there were a number of times where Lady Luck, or maybe the Deity Herself, saved the Allies from disaster.

Any person who has seen Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day or Band of Brothers knows a little bit about how close Overlord came to failure.  Allied Airborne units were dispersed throughout the region after they drooped.  Many units were not fully operational for more than a day as they sought to organize themselves and gather their troops.  At Omaha Beach the Americans had not counted on the presence of the first rate German 352nd Infantry Division.  This division, despite being pounded by naval and air forces almost cause General Bradley to withdraw from Omaha.  At Utah the soldiers of the 4th Infantry division escaped a similar mauling by landing on the wrong beach.  Had they landed at the planned beaches they would have ran into the same kind of resistance from well dug in German forces.  At Gold Juno and Sword British forces benefited from confusion in the German command which kept the 21st Panzer Division from descending on the British forces and quite possibly splitting the British zones.

The Allies benefited from the absence of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B who because of the ad weather assumed no invasion was possible and traveled to German to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  Finally, and perhaps most important they benefited by Hitler’s refusal to immediately commit forces, including his Panzer reserve to defeat the invasion at the beachhead.

For those who fought in Normandy and those civilians who lived through it the memories are still vivid. Many suffer the effects of PTSD, grief and other wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual.  When one is exposed to the danger and destruction of war, the smell of death, the sight of burned out cities, vehicles and the suffering of the wounded and dying, it makes for a lifetime of often painful memories.

For some of the German, British and American veterans, the struggle in Normandy has given way to long lasting friendships.  Many of those who fought against the Allied onslaught became fast friends after the war. Those who fought against each other were soon allies as part of NATO and soldiers of nations which were once bitter enemies serve together in harm’s way in Afghanistan.  The generation that fought at Normandy is rapidly passing away, their numbers ever dwindling they remain a witness to courage, sacrifice and reconciliation.

In the end it is reconciliation and healing that matters. Some scars of war never pass away; some memories are far too painful to release.  Yet we who serve often strive to reconcile.  In 2002 while deployed at sea for Operation Enduring Freedom I was an advisor to a boarding team from my ship.  It was our job to make sure that impounded ships which were breaking the UN embargo on Iraq were not in danger of sinking, and that their crews had food, water and medical care.  Since many of these ships remained at anchor for 2-4 weeks in the heat of the Arabian Gulf, this was important.

The delays imposed by UN rules sometimes meant that the sailors of these ships grew resentful.  It was my job to spend time with the Masters of these ships to keep things calm and work out any issues that arose.  On one of these ships I met an Iraqi merchant skipper.  The man was well traveled, educated in the U.K. in the 1960s and in his career a frequent visitor to the US. In 1990 he was the senior captain of the Kuwaiti shipping line.  Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As a result of this when Kuwait was liberated he lost his job.  His nation was an international pariah.  Since his life was the sea he took up the only job possible to support his family, what he knew best, captaining ships.  He was most apologetic for the trouble that he and others like him caused us.  We shared much during those visits.   One of his daughters was in medical school and other children in university.  He longed for the day when Iraq would be free.  On our last talk before his ship was released he remarked to me “I hope one day we will meet again.  Maybe someday like the American, British and German soldiers after the war, we can meet in a pub, share a drink and be friends.” 

I too pray for that, especially after my tour in Al Anbar five years after I encountered that Iraqi Merchant Captain.  Maybe someday we will. I thought of him almost every day that I was in Iraq. I only hope that he and his family have survived the war, the continuing violence in Iraq and are doing well. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of this man or the Iraqis that I had the honor of serving alongside in Al Anbar in 2007 and 2008.

President Obama remarked in Normandy last week about the veterans of the 9-11 Generation of service members, of which I and so many others like me are part:

“And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of service members — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.”

The survivors of the D-Day landings and those on the other side of the hill are continuing to pass from the bonds of this earth and into eternity. We owe it to them and to the world to make what they sacrificed themselves to do into reality, battling tyranny and striving for peace and security.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Missiles and Messages: What is Trump trying to Convey?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

If nothing else the events of last week, in particular President Trump’s decision to launch missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to Syria’s renewed use of poison gas on its own population sent a message to different leaders around the world. What that message is and how effective that it is depends on who heard it and how they interpreted it.

The actual type of strike was nothing new and it certainly was justified in relation to war crimes of the Assad regime. President Clinton used similar strikes as punitive measures against Iraq in the 1990s, President Bush used them against various targets outside of Iraq, and opting for a full invasion of that country. While President Obama tended to be more hesitant about the missile strikes he often used Special Forces and drones in many countries pursuant to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force pertaining to the War on Terror, he did use missile and air strikes in conjunction with NATO to help Libyan rebels overthrow the Ghaddafi regime.

That being said what is the message that the President was attempting to send, and how does it fit into a larger foreign policy and national security strategy? That is where my concerns lie in regard to this strike. As for me I would have loved to see a Tomahawk fly up Bashir Assad’s ass and blow him to the Hell of his choice, if Ghaddafi and Saddam deserved death, then Assad deserves it many times more. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not President because I think that those 60 Tomahawks would have been much more wisely employed by taking out Assad’s Presidential Palace and maybe taking out him in the process, but there would have been a much bigger blowback to that than striking the airfield, but I digress…

Going back to what I was saying, how does this fit into a broader foreign policy and national security strategy?

The timing of the strike, minutes after the final dinner between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping certainly sent a message to China and North Korea who it might have been the real audience. If the strike forces China to take stronger action to assist the United States in reducing the building North Korean nuclear threat, then it will have served a worthwhile purpose. A Chinese newspaper reported that this was the intent of the strike just yesterday.

But the effect depends on the rationality of the targeted audience. The Chinese are a rational actor, but the North Koreans may not be, so we have to wait and see. In the meantime the Administration dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to Korea waters to coincide with a time of the year when the North Koreans typically become more active.

There is also the possibility that the message was also intended for Putin’s Russia, the Assad regime, and even Iran, but right now other than a few statements by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley there has not been any real follow up to the strike. Secretary of State Tillerson is going to Moscow this week so we may glean more from that meeting.

Of course there is the domestic political audience and based on how the Trump campaign and administration has dealt with truth there is the possibility that this is much more to do about Trump’s plunging poll ratings and as a distraction from the ballooning Russia-Trump election scandals.

Regardless of what message the missile strike was intended to convey, we still don’t know how it will play out and it could play out in any number of ways, good or bad, and it might even turn out to be an act of genius, I doubt the latter but it is a possibility.

That is why the Trump and his administration must determine what its policy will be, especially its diplomatic policy. The President must keep all options on the table, diplomatic, informational, military, and economic, but he must be very judicious in how he uses them. Believe me, I can disagree with and distrust the President all day long, but I don’t want him to screw this up. Too much is at stake.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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War is the Unfolding of Miscalculations… Assad, Trump, Putin, and Syria 2017

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The die has been cast. Last week the Trump administration signaled that the regime of Bashir Al Assad was not a priority for American policy in the Middle East. The comment was perplexing as the Assad regime has worked with the Iranians, and Hezbollah, both enemies of the United States to crush a revolt against his regime that began during the Arab Spring. Assad’s methods included the use of Sarin nerve agent and relentless attacks on civilians and were condemned by much of the world. In 2013 President Obama attempted to gain political support for military action against the Assad regime but was rebuffed by congressional Republicans as well as anti-war Democrats. The Syrian rebels were joined by radical Sunni Muslims of various Al Qaeda affiliates and later joined by the so called Islamic State. The Syrian army was on the point of collapse when the Russians intervened in 2015.

From 2013 on President Trump constantly said that military action in Syria was against U.S. national interests, something that continued until last week. Then Assad, apparently emboldened by the Trump Administration’s statement that changing his regime was not a priority for the U.S. launched a aerial attack using chemical weapons against civilians. The images which were shown throughout the 24 hour cable news cycle evidently made an impression on the President. Within hours of suggesting that military action was possible it began.

From Mar-a-Largo where the President is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, the President said:

“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched… It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

I agree that it is the vital interests of the United States to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons, but why this and why now especially since it did not seem to be a priority less than a week ago?

Right now we know precious little about the action, except that it was sudden and done without any congressional consultation, and little consultation with allies. Will Congress do its duty and demand details before allowing the administration to commit us to another war that in no way is covered by the 2001 authorization for use of force that has been used for all the actions involving the war on terrorism conducted by the Bush and the Obama Administrations, or will Congress roll over and do nothing, thus allowing the executive branch to take the nation to war with no oversight?

The genie of war is now out of the bottle. We do not know what will happen next, the potential branches and sequels to this action are many, and few of them promise anything in the way of peace in Syria. There is now danger that the U.S. will become entangled in a complex war that has no good outcome.

The question, what will happen next is unknown. Can President Trump work with Russia’s President Putin, Turkey’s President Erdrogan, as well as well as other regional leaders to bring something resembling peace to the region? I hope that can happen but I wouldn’t bet on it as history shows that all too often that these things take on a life of their own.  As Barbara Tuchman noted: “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

I have a couple of articles that I will post soon about the dangerous nature of what we are witnessing. But for tonight I will pause and try to get some sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dealing With the Reality of the Trump Presidency

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times in history when eras end and new ones begin. As a historian I think that we are on the verge of one of those moments in history and that is not necessarily a good thing. Barbara Tuchman wrote that as England declared war on Germany in 1914 of British Foreign Secretary Earl Edward Grey:

“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.”

I believe that could well be the case in our country and the world in the not too distant future, the symbolism of the lamps going out may be all too real.

At 12:01 today Donald Trump will take the Oath of Office and become the President of the United States. That is a fact. We can argue about his legitimacy. Like it or not he is the legal and thus the legitimate President. Of course that is one definition of legitimate. But there is another definition that can be argued to say that he is not, and this one is quite important to our form of government. That definition is “conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.” This is something that no-one can claim that Mr. Trump has done in his long business life or in his short political life. The latter is incredibly important, but it does not take away the legality of his election. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next five and a half hours he will be the President, and if something were to happen the resulting chaos who likely be worse than the transition of power to a man who appears to have been elected with the help of a hostile foreign power, and who lost the popular vote by one of the widest margins ever for someone who won the electoral vote. The truth be told I wish I had never seen this day come, but it has.

That my friends, like it or lump it is reality, and as the masthead of this site reads, I am a “progressive realist in Wonderland.” 

Now we can say “Never Trump” all we want, but he will still be President. We can put hashtags saying “not my President,” but he will still be President. That is cold hard reality. We can talk about resistance, but if we resist we need to be smart in how we do it and apply reason, logic, and hard work.

Does that mean that his policies should not be opposed on principle of they harm people? Never. There are many of his stated policies which if implemented will be harmful to the country. Likewise, some of the things that he has said regarding foreign policy not only will make us weaker but could end up in an even chaotic world and the real possibility of war with nations that could do us great harm, militarily and economically. Of course we could find out that once in office he becomes more pragmatic, realistic, and flexible. I kind of doubt it but it is a possibility.

A lot depends on what he says tomorrow, if he conducts himself with humility, dignity, and shows respect for all Americans, he could change the tenor of the debate in the country and instead of having to crush those who question his legitimacy, he could earn their respect, even if it is grudging. Again, while this is possible, I am not hopeful that it will happen, but I could be wrong. Even so, no-matter how he conducts himself today, he will still be President.

So what are the realistic options?

Protest is always an option, but those who do so must be very careful and not allow themselves to be provoked into any action that could cause President Trump to enact measures that are written in the Constitution, in established law, and in executive orders that deal with civil unrest. We have to remember that there are “agent provocateurs” who do things to cause individuals to do things that puts them on the wrong side of the law. One stupid or violent action against the President could bring the whole house down. If we protest it must be peaceful and those who do cannot allow themselves to respond to violence and intimidation in kind. That is what we learned from men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis. The path has to be non-violent.

What else can we do?

Get involved. Write your state and Federal representatives and senators on all important issues. Don’t just tweet to your friends.

Revitalize the political party system in the country by participating at all levels.

Run for office, especially at the local and state level. That is where real change happens, if your don’t win there it doesn’t matter if you win the Presidency once in a while. Many offices around the country are won by people who run unopposed; don’t let that happen.

Donate money to political groups, parties, and those who represent what you believe.

Speak up for those who have no voice and who are demonized by Trump’s most radical followers as well as those in the Republican Party who have demonized them far longer than Mr. Trump has been a member of that party.

Speak truth to power and do not spread rumors or innuendo. Get away from spreading political memes that even if they are factual are not conducive to reasoned debate.

Read long articles in newspapers, and journals. Things that require thought and reflection. When you share them do what I do. Ask people to read them and then ask them if the want to comment pro or con to do so themselves and not on your social media timeline or to discuss things in personal messages or even better in person. Avoid Twitter wars and Facebook rants, be careful of what you say in e-mails and comment sections of public forums.

Gather together in person and discuss issues, even with people with whom you disagree. Do it over a meal, a drink, but do it respectfully and build bridges that break down the walls of division. It’s hard to hate people that you break bread with.

Remember, there are people who initially support authoritarian leaders who sooner or later realize that they were deceived by false promises and come around. One of those was the German Pastor Martin Niemoller who initially supported Hitler, then when he realized that he had been lied to, spoke up, and resisted. In a concentration camp he wrote these words:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

Believe me, there will be a lot of people who voted for President Trump and his GOP allies who will be dealing with buyer’s remorse in the not too distant future. When that happens we need to be there for them.

Read. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Read real books on history, political science, law and the Constitution. Read how we got the Declaration of Independence and the story of how in the face of real rebellion and war, Abraham Lincoln began the quest for “a new birth of freedom.”

Read the biographies of statesmen and women, politicians, Presidents, and Prime Ministers, civil rights leaders, labor leaders, and even religious leaders. Read the classics, and even poetry. Learn about courage to face trying times and uncertain futures from those who went before us. Learn from their successes and also their failures. Most of them had feet of clay, but the good ones made a difference. We can too.

These are things that matter and in the long run can defeat the worst attempts of Trump, his cabinet officials, people he appoints as justices and judges, and GOP dominated legislatures.

Will you get instant gratification? No. This is hard work. It requires patience, humility, the ability to admit when we are wrong, and the courage to face reality. Part of that reality is that Donald Trump will be President at 12:01 today. I will not bury my head in the sand, and as painful and distasteful as it will probably be I will watch the inauguration today, if nothing else to show my respect to our outgoing President and his family, who I will miss as President.

I remember watching Barak Obama’s inauguration in 2009. When he took the Oath of Office, I was standing beside the bed of a critically ill African American woman in the ICU of the Medical center that I then worked. She was nearly 90 years old. Her late husband had been a military man back during Jim Crow and then the Civil Rights era, she remembered the hatred and discrimination that they both faced. I remember watching that moment with her, holding her hand, and listening to her joy in spite of her pain at seeing a moment that she never dreamed that she would live to see. It was a profound honor for me.

Truthfully, all of that being said, I am very afraid of what President Trump and his administration may do in a very short amount of time. It is much easier to destroy systems and crush dissent than to built bridges and renew the country. At the same time I will be a voice of reason and speak the truth the best I can given the limitations of my own office. I do want to be wrong, and I will pray for him and his family because if he screws up we are all screwed. That too is reality.

But that’s what we have to do. we cannot give up, but if we resist, we must do it smartly and effectively. Highly emotional outbursts that lead to less than wise actions will doom resistance. We must be to use the words of Jesus, “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Do as We Say to Trump, Not as We Did to Obama: Conservative Christian Sanctimony on Display

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is the end of the Holiday season, or should I better say in the post-war on Christmas world of Donald Trump, the Christmas season. I find that this season is perhaps the most sanctimonious time of the year: this is especially true for many politically driven conservative Christians who when not fighting the imaginary “war on Christmas,” attacking Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, condemning Gays to Hell, or urging that Muslims be banned from the country, all the while urging military action to destroy Muslims wherever they live around the world, insist that their opponents who criticize President Elect Trump to shut up.

What I am talking about is the plethora of self-proclaimed Christian preachers, pundits, politicians, and even regular people who are insisting that Donald Trump’s opponents stop criticizing him and instead support and pray for him. Now don’t get me wrong, I will pray for the soon to be President for the good of the country, and of course as a military officer I will do my duty as is stated in my oath of office. Really, I don’t want the man to screw up, if he screws up we’re all screwed. That being said I’m very concerned so many things that he has said and done in the past and that he appears not to have changed one iota since his election. I am worried, but I do hope and pray for the best.

But that being said let me get back the blatant sanctimonious hypocrisy of Christians who demand that their opponent’s, who criticize Trump abide by a code that they never did from day one of the Obama Presidency. In fact every one of these people were incredibly disrespectfully and intolerant of President Obama, and I dare say mostly because he is black. They declared him illegitimate on day one, and the day of his inauguration their Congressional leaders declared their intent to make his a failed presidency. The surge in blatantly racist remarks was unbelievable to me because I falsely believed that we had become a better country in terms of race relations. These attacks, comments, and libelous statements by these Christians have continued even until today. Now, these same people have the nerve to criticize people who criticize Trump for things that actually do matter to the country.

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Of all of Barak Obama’s opponents, politically consumed conservative Christians have been the most reprehensible in their conduct. Now they demand others do something that they never did, or intended to do. Many even urged others to pray imprecatory psalms calling on God to bring about President Obama and his family’s deaths. They say to stop criticizing, be respectful, pray for and support Donald Trump, while never for a moment doing the same to President Obama. That bothers me, because it’s the classic do as I say, not as I do attitude that is killing the Christian church in this country. I’m sorry folks, Donald Trump will not stop the fact that people are fleeing the church in record numbers and that the fastest growing religious identification is the “nones,” or those who want nothing of organized religion; in fact his presidency may increase that as conservative Christians try to use his administration to impose their beliefs on others.

So stop the hypocritical sanctimony. It’s still a free country, at least for a while.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Unfinished Work of Memorial Day

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where we remember those who died in the service of our country. It is not a day to thank the living veterans, that day is Veteran’s Day. Nor is it the day to thank those men and women who currently wear the uniform and fight the wars of our country. This weekend I am reposting a number of articles from past years to remind my regular readers and those new to my writings about how important this remembrance is, not just to me, but to all of us. I do not say that lightly. Memorial Day is the offspring of the families of the American Civil War dead, when people who lost loved ones in the cause of liberty and the defense of the Union honored their loved ones.

No matter what your political views, ideology, or religious beliefs, please take time to remember the high human cost of freedom this weekend, especially on Monday when we observe Memorial Day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

burford reynolds monuments

Abraham Lincoln said that “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced…” Likewise, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg said, “Heroism is latent in every human soul – However humble or unknown, they (the veterans) have renounced what are accounted pleasures and cheerfully undertaken all the self-denials – privations, toils, dangers, sufferings, sicknesses, mutilations, life-” 

Sometimes it is best to remember that people that lived long before us have profound things to say about subjects that we often address in rather cheap and banal ways. It is easy to do this; in fact many people, especially ideologues and pundits simply quote the great men and women of history simply to buttress what they want to say in much the same manner that preachers from all sides of the theological spectrum will comb the Bible or the Church Fathers to find support for often decidedly un-Christian ideas. Of course unscrupulous preachers of other religions do the same with their sacred texts so it tends be a universal problem.

Of course we should know better than to do this but all of us do it to one degree or another. Even worse are those that will misquote people either to bolster their arguments or to tear down the person that they quote. It should not be that way on Memorial Day. The sacrifices of those that gave “the last full measure” in defense of their homeland, principles and those that they loved are too great to trivialize by using the sacrifices of the fallen to promote themselves as they prepare to launch political campaigns as was recently done by a prominent politician at an annual event which honors veterans in Washington DC.

Gettysburg Address

I think that Abraham Lincoln eulogized the fallen better than almost anyone in the history of our nation when he traveled to Gettysburg and gave a refreshingly short speech for a politician. Lincoln considered the speech a failure but history shows it to be one of the most remarkable ever made by any American public figure.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Gettysburg_Unknowns.JPG

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes gave a speech in 1884 twenty years after his service in the 20th Massachusetts Regiment in the Civil War. A veteran of Antietam and other major engagements he made these remarks in a speech so powerful that it was a key factor in Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to nominate him for the Court.

“Every year–in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life–there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death. Year after year lovers wandering under the apple trees and through the clover and deep grass are surprised with sudden tears as they see black veiled figures stealing through the morning to a soldier’s grave. Year after year the comrades of the dead follow, with public honor, procession and commemorative flags and funeral march–honor and grief from us who stand almost alone, and have seen the best and noblest of our generation pass away…

But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death–of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

kennedy-john-f-flag

In his inaugural address President John F. Kennedy a combat veteran of the Solomons Campaign provided a message which though not directly related to Memorial Day certain echoed the themes of the sacrifices of our fallen but also call us to the highest ideals of our nation. As a Naval Officer in command of PT 109 his boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer after which his leadership and courage was a deciding factor in the survival of most of his crew. Kennedy was a child of privilege but he volunteered for the arduous duty of service on the tiny PT Boats. The speech is considered one of the premier speeches by an American President.

“In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,”² a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself….

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

fort hood memorial

In 1984 President Ronald Reagan visited Omaha Beach in Normandy, the site of the bloodiest of the D-Day landings on June 6th 1944. Reagan was a master of rhetoric and understood the importance of his visit to this hallowed site at the apex of the Cold War. At that time it was unimaginable to most people that the Soviet Union would be no more barely 5 years hence and Reagan used the speech to link the sacrifices of those who fought and died at Normandy to those that served in his day. While his focus was on the sacrifice of America and its British, Canadian and French allies that landed on the beaches of Normandy he recognized the sacrifices of the Soviet Union which lost 20 million soldiers and civilians in the war against the Nazis. Reagan said of those who went ashore in Normandy:

“The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you….The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”

President Barak Obama made these remarks a few years ago to conclude his speech following the solemn duty that all Presidents have in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Obama who is vilified by his most extreme opponents, as was Reagan for that matter ended his speech with these comments in which he eloquently expressed what the nation must do for its military, veterans and those killed in action or missing as well as the highest example of the brotherhood that those of us who have served in harm’s way feel for our fellow Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen:

“Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay. But we can honor their sacrifice, and we must. We must honor it in our own lives by holding their memories close to our hearts, and heeding the example they set. And we must honor it as a nation by keeping our sacred trust with all who wear America’s uniform, and the families who love them; by never giving up the search for those who’ve gone missing under our country’s flag or are held as prisoners of war; by serving our patriots as well as they serve us — from the moment they enter the military, to the moment they leave it, to the moment they are laid to rest.”

That is how we can honor the sacrifice of those we’ve lost. That is our obligation to America’s guardians — guardians like Travis Manion. The son of a Marine, Travis aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps and was accepted by the USS [sic] Naval Academy. His roommate at the Academy was Brendan Looney, a star athlete and born leader from a military family, just like Travis. The two quickly became best friends — like brothers, Brendan said.

After graduation, they deployed — Travis to Iraq, and Brendan to Korea. On April 29, 2007, while fighting to rescue his fellow Marines from danger, Travis was killed by a sniper. Brendan did what he had to do — he kept going. He poured himself into his SEAL training, and dedicated it to the friend that he missed. He married the woman he loved. And, his tour in Korea behind him, he deployed to Afghanistan. On September 21st of last year, Brendan gave his own life, along with eight others, in a helicopter crash.

Heartbroken, yet filled with pride, the Manions and the Looneys knew only one way to honor their sons’ friendship — they moved Travis from his cemetery in Pennsylvania and buried them side by side here at Arlington. “Warriors for freedom,” reads the epitaph written by Travis’s father, “brothers forever.”

The friendship between 1st Lieutenant Travis Manion and Lieutenant Brendan Looney reflects the meaning of Memorial Day. Brotherhood. Sacrifice. Love of country. And it is my fervent prayer that we may honor the memory of the fallen by living out those ideals every day of our lives, in the military and beyond. May God bless the souls of the venerable warriors we’ve lost, and the country for which they died.

Sometimes our fallen are eulogized by the less notable and sometimes oft vilified people. One of these men was Robert Ingersoll, a politician, orator and lecturer as well as an agnostic in a time when that was not a popular belief. Ingersoll was the son of a Congregationalist minister who often preached for revivalist Charles Finney. Ingersoll was also a veteran of the Civil War where he raised and commanded the 11th Illinois Cavalry Regiment which fought at Shiloh. remarked:

“These heroes are dead. They died for liberty – they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Place of Rest. Earth may run red with other wars – they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death. I have one sentiment for soldiers living and dead: cheers for the living; tears for the dead.”

As we look forward this Memorial Day let us remember those who have given the last full measure of duty for our nation, those who have served those that continue to serve and the friends and loved ones who cherish the lives and memories of each one. Let us remember as a nation, as fellow citizens and never let our own agendas, ambitions or even our baser instincts sully their memory. May we choose the higher calling of service to our country and each other as Americans, the ideals of which are woven in the lives and sacrifices of those that we honor today and as Lincoln said to finish “the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

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The Unfolding of Miscalculations: Syria 2015

russian jet in flames

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The tensions fuel by the incredibly complex and dangerous war in Syria just when up, as I like to say the “pucker factor” is very high, in fact it is getting close to stage ten. Barbara Tuchman wrote, “War is the unfolding of miscalculations” and it seems that right now there are whole a lot of miscalculations going on.

Yesterday a Russian Su-24 fighter plane was blasted out of the sky by a Turkish F-16. Reports conflict, Turkey say that the Russian aircraft had violated its airspace multiple times and had been given multiple warnings before the shoot down. The Russians claim that the aircraft was on the Syrian side of the border and that the attack was an unprovoked violation, and Russian President Putin called it a “stab in the back.” Russia is accusing Turkey of backing DAESH, while Russia’s forces, which are supposedly there to fight DAESH are spending more time attacking Syrian President Assad’s non-DAESH Syrian opposition, including Turkoman Syrians fighting the Assad regime in the area where the jet was shot down. Some think that it might be payback for the Russians bombing the faction supported by the Turks.

Admittedly, Turkey has a right to self-defense and the Russians are operating in Syria without any kind of international mandate. That being said, the Russians are there at the behest of the Assad government, which even if we don’t like it is still the legal government of Syria, a long term ally and client of Russia, going back to the old Soviet days.

However, the feud between Russia and Turkey goes back hundreds of years. They hate each other, and this hatred goes back to the days of the Tsars and the Ottomans. The hatred is generations old, and is cultural, religious and political. Maybe that is why we in the west do not understand it, but I digress… 

The fact is that the actions of both nations, as well as most other nations in the West including the United States have helped to stoke the fire of the Syrian war, which is threatening to escalate into a regional conflict. I am not going to go into all the details of what has brought us to this point, because they are too many to cover. Some of course are saying that it could lead to a World War, but I do think that cooler heads will prevail. Of course I could be wrong, as Tuchman wrote, “To admit error and cut losses is rare among individuals, unknown among states.”

It is now time for President Obama to step up to the plate, and not rattle sabers, but to help pull everyone back from the brink. He needs to work with Russia’s President Putin to deescalate the crisis. Since everyone involved has a stake in what happens it Syria it cannot be ignored. The nations involved need to sit down and come up with a way to defeat DAESH and bring peace to Syria and Iraq. Of course this is easier said than done, especially since bullets are flying, blood is flowing, and tensions rising. The fallibility of human beings has been demonstrated time and time again in this war, and as Tuchman wrote in The Guns of August, “Human beings, like plans, prove fallible in the presence of those ingredients that are missing in maneuvers – danger, death, and live ammunition.”

In 1962 President Kennedy faced the real possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy had just read Tuchman’s The Guns of August which had just been published. He was shocked by the words of German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg who when asked how World War One started replied “Ah, if only one knew.” Kennedy asked General Curtis LeMay what would happen if the Soviets did not back down, and the officer replied that he would order a nuclear strike. Kennedy could not go down that road, he referred to the book when he remarked, “If this planet is ever ravaged by nuclear war—if the survivors of that devastation can then endure the fire, poison, chaos and catastrophe—I do not want one of these survivors to ask another, “How did it all happen?” and to receive the incredible reply: “Ah, if only one knew.”

The downing of this Russian jet shows just how easily things can spin out of control. It is time for calmer heads to prevail and walk this back before things get really out of hand.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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