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Of Hubris, Hurricanes, Hydrogen Bombs, and Harder Alternatives

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I got five mile walk in with my dogs Minnie and Izzy along the Potomac River and has a good amount of time to enjoy them, to take in the woods and wildlife, and to do some thinking. As I walked in the quiet with my girls I thought about what I wrote yesterday about the blessings of solitude. Going out with them meant that I had time to think and ponder a number of crises that have the possibility of impacting all of our lives in major ways and the hubris, arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence of the so called leader of the free world. Max Hastings description of Kaiser Wilhelm II is frighteningly descriptive of President Trump: “a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.”

First, there was the catastrophe of Hurricane Harvey with the massive destruction to Houston and much of East Texas to which despite two visits to the region the President still seems emotionally untouched by. Then, after North Korea tested a missile that could hit the United States I conducted a test of its largest nuclear weapon to which after he made his obligatory angry tweets to North Korea, President Trump then both threatened and scolded South Korea.

Now there is the real possibility of another natural disaster as Hurricane Irma bears down of the Southeastern or Gulf Coast of the United States as a major, possibly category four or five storm capable of massive destruction and loss of life, and the realization that we have a President that only seems to see these crises in the light of self-promotion and how they make him appear, and the realization that most people do not prepare themselves for worst case scenarios.

This is nothing new, Barbara Tuchman wrote of an earlier generation “One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”

Likewise over the weekend I have been doing a lot of reading. I finished Max Hastings book about the opening months of the First First World War, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, Bradley Gottfried’s annotated atlas of the Battle of Antietam, The Maps of Antietam, which was helpful as I walked the battlefield on Thursday, Meg Groeling’s The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial,of the Civil War Dead, and Breaking Point of the French Army: the Nivelle Offensive of 1917 by David Murphy. All three books to some extent dealt with the hubris of leaders and the human cost of war. Likewise, my walk of the Antietam battlefield was a good way for me to put both hubris and the human cost of war into perspective.

While natural disasters cannot be avoided they can certainly be mitigated if leaders and people are willing to do the hard thing prepare for worst case scenarios. What happened with Hurricane Harvey is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to repair and even for the region to partially recover. Houston will rebuild, and recover but many of the poorer small towns down the Gulf Coast of Texas will not. As I write this the potential damage and loss of life to whatever section of the East Coast or the Gulf Coast that Irma hits will be substantial.

As for North Korea, it seems that the President is determined to provoke the already tense situation on the Korean Peninsula by not only threatening North Korea, but our ally South Korea as well. I don’t know about you but my training as a young officer on the Fulda Gap during the peak of the Cold War taught me to prepare for the worst and I don’t see the leaders of our country or for that matter most people planning, or even thinking about how bad this could get. My motto is that of Hannah Arendt “Prepare for the worst; expect the best; and take what comes,” to which I would add be flexible.

My hope is that Irma will turn away from land and head into the vast reaches of the North Atlantic, but with every new update I see the possibility that as with Harvey, millions of real people are going to have their lives upended. The same is true if the situation on the Korean Peninsula comes to war. It’s just the way I think, and I would rather be ready and have done my best to prepare for the worst case scenario hoping that it never comes to pass, than through a lack of planning, inaction, and careless words or gestures make things exponentially worse.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, national security, natural disasters, News and current events, Political Commentary

Presidential Twitter Storms and the Absence of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As residents of southeast Texas struggled against the unrelenting rain and floods of former Hurricane Harvey the President was on a Twitter spree recommending a book by Milwaukee Sheriff David Clark (his other favorite criminal Sheriff after Joe Arpaio) his determination to build a border wall, NAFTA, a visit to Missouri, the 2016 election, a slam against Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, and a few treats bragging about the great response to the hurricane.

It was a banal display of sordid narcissism by a man who shows not a bit of empathy for people, many of who voted for him. But then that should not surprise anyone because his tweets and his public statements have always had a mocking tone towards those most loyal to him.

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a psychologist to the major Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg noted that in his observation and discussions with them he had to deal with the nature of evil. He had to find the common thread among them that allowed them to take part in the most horrific crimes against humanity conducted by an allegedly civilians, western and Christian country. He noted that in his dealings with them they had one thing in common, they had no empathy for their victims. He said, “evil is the absence of empathy.” The common psychological term for a person who cannot empathize with other people is a sociopath. That is what are President is. It is a trait that he shares with the vilest criminals of the Twentieth Century. Yesterday was just another day in the life of our sociopath in chief.

I was have a beer with some friends this afternoon and a friend showed me some Facebook post of a mutual friend. They were posts and memes that belittled and mocked the people fighting the rain and floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. I could only shake my head when she asked me if he was a Trump supporter, because indeed he is, and he was belittling many people who like him voted for and continued unreservedly to support the President, at least until Harvey, we’ll see if they remain supporters. However, That being said, I do think that many of the President’s supporters are so far in the tank for he that he could shoot an kill one of their family members and they would continue to support him.

As I thought of these things last night I was reminded of the words of Hannah Arendt: “When evil is allowed to compete with good, evil has an emotional populist appeal that wins out unless good men and women stand as a vanguard against abuse.”

Now honestly I don’t think that the majority of Trump supporters are themselves evil or even bad people. But that being said I do believe that quite a few of the, perhaps a majority of them have surrendered to taking the path of least resistance and looking out for what they think are their interests first, even if the result of their decisions hurt people who are much like them.

As Arendt said, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

That is what we are watching happen before our very eyes. Some might claim ignorance, or claim that they are non-political and are in no position to judge the morality of this President and his administration, but that is the refuge of the coward. Karl Popper noted “Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind.”

The fact is that today, like in Germany between 1933 and 1945 no one can claim ignorance about the nature and character of our President, but if they don’t know it is simply cause they do not want to know, and for those in positions of authority who turn a blind eye, what Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and later armaments minister wrote “…being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences…”

It is lack of empathy, an active aversion to truth, shunning knowledge, and perhaps worse, a refusal to know when in a position to know which allow people to look the other way in the face of evil and injustice.

Until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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God Help Texas, the United States, and the President before It’s Too Late


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am very concerned for all the people that I know who live along the Gulf Coast of Texas as category IV Hurricane Harvey makes landfall. That storm is likely going to be one of the most devastating to Texas and the United States in many years. I’ve lived through more hurricanes than I can count going back to Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 where I was the director of a Red Cross emergency shelter in San Antonio for refugees from the same region being crushed by Harvey. Unlike Harvey, Gilbert moved fast and wasn’t a huge rainmaker, but Harvey will be a killer, and all the President can do is pardon a man who violated the civil rights of thousands of people and who only has told the people of Texas “good luck.” Now he did sign a disaster declaration for the state but if he continues on with threatening a government shutdown and debt default if Congress doesn’t pay for the wall that he promised that Mexico would pay for, and his proposed cutbacks to every Federal agency that would normally be there to help citizens in such an emergency what will that matter? 

This is truly a frightening time. We have a President who shows no regard for the law or the Constitution and who cannot even mention the military personnel and police officers that died over the weekend during a campaign rally? I mean really. And now he goes to Camp David as Texas stands on the brink of disaster. Will he not at least do a flyover abroad Air Force One as former President Bush did during Katrina? Can he not interrupt his Twitter storm against people he believes are his opponents not to show a modicum of respect for dead military personnel and police officers? 

Actually he cannot because he has no moral center. The President has demonstrated time and time again that he is a narcissist and sociopath who cannot feel empathy for anyone, even his supporters, many of whom will die this weekend in Texas as Harvey parks himself over them. If you have been blessed not to have had to go through a major hurricane or lose property and money due to one you are fortunate. No hurricane, but especially category III and IV hurricanes are not to be trifled with. 

But then he does have the time to sign a ban against patriotic Transgender Americans who meet every physical and mental requirement to serve in the military from doing so. The fact that his order will be shown to violate the 14th Amendment and will be held up in the courts does not seem to bother him. The fact that he who enjoyed multiple draft deferments during the Vietnam War, including a medical waiver for having heal spurs even as he played college baseball and was being scouted by major league teams would forbid qualified Transgender Americans from serving when none of his service chiefs ask him to do so is dumbfounding. 

This week the President has called journalists the enemy, refused to honor the lives of 20 American servicemen and police officers who died in the line of duty, but whompardoned a man convicted of defying the courts in order to violate the civil rights of the prisoners in his charge in direct contravention of Justice Department guidelines on pardons. Yes, other Presidents have pardoned undeserving individuals, but this sends a message to Federal prosecutors, the Congress, and Special Prosecute Robert Mueller that if any of them dare to indict or convict individuals connected with the ongoing Russia investigation that he will pardon them in defiance of the law. It is setting up the very really possibility of a constitutional crisis. 

The utter contempt for the law, the Constitution, and the basic decorum of his office, coupled with his lack of compassion and empathy for anyone, including his supporters, and his lack of any strategic thinking in terms of foreign affairs is frightening. Only a despot would behave as the President does. 

My comments today are in no way disrespectful of the President, but are based on my respect for the office that he occupies and the Constitution of the United States. I do not know why the President is behaving in the manner that he is, but I have to at least consider that for all of the personal criticism leveled against him and his actions that the demands of the office are harming his mental and psychological capacity to function. He seems to be cycling down before our very eyes and truthfully I am as much concerned for him as I am the country. But it doesn’t seem that those closest to him have the moral courage to demand that he seek help before he destroys himself and possibly the country. I mean what supporter, especially Christian clergy, could not be concerned for the physical and mental health that the man that they elected President? But it doesn’t seem that they care, so long as he helps give them what they want. 

On the other hand any decent person can both oppose a President’s actions and policies while still caring about him as a person. Human decency requires that those serving in the administration, members of the President’s political party in Congress, and ordinary citizens have the moral courage to care enough about Donald Trump the man to start asking those hard questions. These are not normal times and no one in full possession of their faculties behaves in the manner the President is behaving. 

In the meantime I will be praying for all the people I know in Texas, those who have died in the line of duty, and yes, even the President. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Pivotal Moment: The Nazi “Beer Hall Putsch” in Charlottesville 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In light of the last two days of Alt-Right, or as it is more truthfully called Nazi violence and chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, I am reminded of the words of General George Patton, “the Nazis are the enemy.” Over the last two days members of various New-Nazi, KKK, and other White Supremcist groups gathered in Charlottesville for what organizers called a “pro-white” rally. For the purposes of this article and for clarity’s sake, I’m just going to call all of them by the one ideology that they seem to agree on, Nazi. Some people might take umbrage to that characterization, but they can stick their umbrage up their asses. I’m not going to mince words, if people march with Nazis they are Nazis no matter what they call themselves, and any support given to them, even by omission, is giving aid and comfort to the enemies of America. 

On Friday night hundreds of Nazis marched through the campus of the University of Virginia carrying tiki-lamps as ersatz Nazi torches as they chanted “Blood and Soil,” “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!” “Jews will not replace us!” And “Russia is our friend.” They also surrounded an African American church were people were gathered on Friday night. Saturday morning several dozen so-called militia members dressed in military style garb, wearing protective vests, and helmets, carrying assault rifles and other long guns marched through town allegedly to keep things from getting violent. But it did get violent, the Nazis clashed with some left-wing opponents and also assaulted peaceful anti-Nazi protesters, including one terrorist, a 20 year old white man from Ohio who drove his car into a peaceful crowed, killing one person and injuring nineteen. I’ll call the that man and the other violent Nazis terrorists,because that’s what they are. Later a Virginia State Police helicopter that had been observing the march crashed, killing both troopers. 

In a tweet President Trump condemned the violence and hatred “from all sides” but couldn’t be bothered to specifically call out the Nazis. It was a display of moral moral equivalency that will only embolden the Nazis. Yet even so former KKK Grand Master and perennial GOP candidate for elected office in Louisiana, David Duke called out the President in his own tweet, acknowledging the role that the Nazis, which he called “white people”‘ had in getting Trump elected, and saying that the rally “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.” At the same time the Nazi Daily Stormer praised the words of the President and proclaimed the march “a victory of victories, this war has just begun… The Alt-Right has risen… There is no going back form this. This is our Beer Hall Putsch. this was the beginning of our revolution.” 

One of the Nazis at Charlottesville, “Michael Von Kotch, a Pennsylvania resident who called himself a Nazi, said the rally made him “proud to be white.” He said that he’s long held white supremacist views and that Trump’s election has “emboldened” him and the members of his own Nazi group. “We are assembled to defend our history, our heritage and to protect our race to the last man,” Von Kotch said, wearing a protective helmet and sporting a wooden shield and a broken pool cue. “We came here to stand up for the white race.” 

A few hours after his first tweet the President entered damage control mode and while he still could not call out the Nazis he tweeted “we must remember this truth: No matter what our color, creed, religion, or political party, we are ALL AMERICANS FIRST.” I agree with the President, but he didn’t condemn the damned Nazis, he went to a moral equivalence argument and blamed everyone and the Nazis loved it, as the Daily Stormer wrote afterward “he implied that there is hate… on both sides. So he implied the antifa (anti-fascists) are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.” 

After the march Richard Spencer and other organizers blamed opponents and the police for what happened and Spencer finished by threatening Charlottesville saying, “You think that we’re going to back down to this kind of behavior to you and your little provincial town? No,’’ he said. “We are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe.” 

But over a week after another terrorist attack occurred, the bombing of a Mosque in Minnesota, Trump has yet to respond even as his aide Sebastian Gorka, who has his own ties to Fascist groups in Hungary stated that the attack might have been set by leftists in order to blame the right. Trump’s supporter in the conspiracy theory media, Alex Jones said that the violence was designed to “bring in martial law and ban conservative gatherings.” 

At least former Arkansas Governor and Trump supporter Mike Huckabee had the decency to remember something from his seminary days tweeting “White supremacy” crap is the worst kind of racism- it’s EVIL and a perversion of God’s truth to ever think our Creator values some above others.” Likewise Senator Orrin Hatch tweeted: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideals to go unchallenged here at home.” 

Personally I cannot understand why the President finds it so difficult to just speak the truth and call these people what they are, but I suspect that I know why. For years he has tweeted and spoke so many words that are the polar opposite of what was his latest tweet quoted above is, that when I listened to his comments they seemed unnatural and forced. It looked like he was reading from a script written by General Kelly that he didn’t believe but was forced to say, and even then it was far too little. I will leave it at that for now. 

But here is the deal. This is not a subject that I enter into without a decent knowledge of American history and racism in America. My first book, “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology, and Poltics in the Civil War Era which hopefully will be published within the next year deals with the subject extensively. I know the history of American racism, the violence of the KKK, the White Leagues, the Red Shirts, and the White Liners, and their current descendants all too well to not call this out for what it is. 

What happened in Charlotte is going to keep happening until the President is willing to both condemn them and to take action against those who would use race supremacy to attempt to force the reinstatement of Jim Crow type laws on racism, and Know Nothing policies on immigration. The President will also have to do something about Gorka, Steven Bannon, and Stephen Miller, who all are key aides with long and strong ties to the Alt Right if he is to be taken seriously. Ulysses Grant was willing to make that hard call against White Supremacists despite bi-partisan opposition, but the President does not seem to be a Grant. 

This is a pivotal moment in our history. What we and our leaders do in response to the calls for an America based on the Blood and Soil doctrine of the new American Nazis matters to us all. Their aims are clear, and most have bet on the President to do their bidding. It will be a dark day if he does not stand against them. 

The Nazis by whatever name they call themselves are the enemy of every American who believes in that sacred proposition of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truth to be self-evident, all men are created equal…” This is something that one of the Alt-Right leaders who was at Charlottesville this weekend opposes. In a 2013 interview Spencer said “Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be… based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.” But that is nothing new in this country, George Fitzhugh, one of the Slave industry and later one of the Confederacy’s leading spokesman condemned the Declaration saying:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights…” 

As the President said today, this has been around a long time, maybe he and his supporters should actually read the history and re-embrace the Declaration and that sacred proposition that the Nazis so thoroughly despise. 

Again, this is a pivotal moment in the life of our Republic. 

I’ll leave you with that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short couple of thoughts today since I was hoping that yesterday would see a ratcheting down of the war rhetoric coming out of President Trump, some of his advisers, and the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea. But that has not been the case. On the American side the President upped the ante with his rhetoric even as some cabinet members seem to be trying to moderate those comments. Of course the North Koreans are upping the ante by threatening the American bases on Guam. 

With every new threat uttered by President Trump and the North Korean regime the stakes get higher and the chances of miscalculation that lead to war grow. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly, From Troy to Vietnam, “To those who think them selves strong, force always seems the easiest solution.” That sums up the behavior of President Trump and Kim Jong Un, although the Korean despot is the one who is putting the American President on the defensive, in a sense allowing President Trump to back himself into a corner where if he doesn’t resort to force he will lose face. Both sides are playing with fire while standing in gasoline. North Korea would certainly be defeated, but the cost will be dreadful, especially to South Korea, and probably Japan, and yes, even to the United States, and we cannot assume that other nations will not become involved in a war should it occur. 

Over a decade before the first atomic bomb was used, Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler wrote about the cost of war: “What is the cost of war? what is the bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations…” Those words have a greater significance in the nuclear age than when he wrote them. 

There have been many times in history where leaders of nations allowed their rhetoric to take them to war when other options we still viable, but not between nuclear armed powers. It is the incredible destructive power of nuclear weapons and the real possibility that their use would be not be limited to so-called surgical strikes. The destructive power of this technology and lack of impulse control of the American President and the North Korean dictator are a recipe for disaster. It is no wonder that over a half-century ago General of the Army Omar Bradley said: “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.” 

In writing about the 14th Century Tuchman wrote: “For belligerent purposes, the 14th century, like the 20th, commanded a technology more sophisticated than the mental and moral capacity that guided its use.” Things have changed very little in regard to the humanity involved and we can only hope that cooler heads prevail. 

Anyway, that is all for today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Great Illusions and the Threat of War 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been reflecting on the words and actions of President Trump, Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and their sycophants over the past day and a half. I wrote some of my thoughts down yesterday before continuing to read and reflect. While I was doing so the words of William Shirer wrote in his forward to his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, as well as some thought from Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. While they deal with different eras, they also deal with the one constant in history, that of fallible human beings. I think that they are quite appropriate to reflect upon today. Shirer wrote: 

“In our new age of terrifying, lethal gadgets, which supplanted so swiftly the old one, the first great aggressive war, if it should come, will be launched by suicidal little madmen pressing an electronic button. Such a war will not last long and none will ever follow it. There will be no conquerors and no conquests, but only the charred bones of the dead on an uninhabited planet.”

There are some people who think that globalization and the interdependence of the economies of the world on international commerce and trade will ensure that nuclear war never occurs. They believe that realists will ensure that it never happens. That is a nice thought. During the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union maintained a tenuous balance of terror that never resulted in a nuclear exchange, but they did come close, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But we no longer live in that world where the leaders two heavily armed yet rational powers did not succumb to the temptation of using them. 

In 1914 the realists of the world believed that if a war broke out among the great powers of Europe that it would of necessity be short. Inspired by the writings of Norman Angell whose book The Great Ilusion drove home the message that war as no longer profitable and therefore capitalists would resist appeals to war and nationalist fervor, Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no nation would be so foolish as to start one.” 

The book had a cult like following in Europe and when Europe went to war in August 1914 many people and governments believed that any war would have to be short, and as such none of them prepared for the long and catastrophic war that ensued. The Germans did not follow Angell, but Clausewitz who preached a dogma of short and decisive wars. Sadly, both authors were misunderstood by their most devoted disciples and as Tuchman wrote: “Clausewitz, a dead Prussian, and Norman Angell, a living if misunderstood professor, had combined to fasten the short-war concept upon the European mind. Quick, decisive victory was the German orthodoxy; the economic impossibility of a long war was everybody’s orthodoxy.” 

There are political, business, and military leaders around the world today who see the world much the same as the generation of leaders who took Europe to war in 1914. Now a chubby little madman in North Korea has his finger on the button and the American President seems to be goading him on and threatening preemptive war, and policy makers are scrambling. 

I don’t pretend to know what will happen in the coming days, weeks, or months, but I do know that this is a very dangerous time. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Unfolding of Miscalculations” With Fire and Fury…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

While I have been on leave I have been re-reading Barbara Tuchman’s classic work on the outbreak of the First World War, The Guns of August. I find a a fitting read for our time, not because there are exact parallels between that era and today, but because human beings are remarkably consistent in times of crisis. Tuchman wrote: “One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”

Yesterday after I got back to our friends house after taking Izzy on a four mile walk through Huntington’s Ritter Park I learned that President Trump had warned North Korea, following an announcement that it had now produced nuclear weapons small enough to be mounted on a missile, that if it did not stop threatening the United States that it would be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before…” 

Not long afterward the North Koreans announced that they were examine a plan to attack the American territory of Guam and the bases, which house some of the long ranger bombers used by the United States to buttress its defense of the Pacific it with ballistic missiles. 

The rhetoric and preparations on both sides are continuing to mount and there is a real possibility that either Trump or his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jung Un could miscalculate the will of the other and provoke a regional, and maybe World War. Threats of preemptive strikes, which the North Koreans habitually make, and President Trump alluded to yesterday can easily cause on side or the other to want to strike first and precipitate a war that no-one can really win. As Kathy Gilsinin wrote in The Atlantic in April: “When two leaders each habitually bluster and exaggerate, there’s a higher likelihood of making a catastrophic mistake based on a bad guess.” 

Most Americans are clueless as to what that would mean and I don’t think that the understand how many millions of people would die, and how much the country would be devastated by such a war, especially if it involved nuclear weapons. Secretary of Defense James Mattis understands. He told CBS’s John Dickerson, “A conflict in North Korea would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.” In June he told the House Appropriations Committee: “It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953… It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” but “we would win at great cost.” 

Of course people from across the political, and even the religious spectrum are weighing in on the situation, especially the President’s words to meet future North Korean threats with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Of course some of his supporters like Trump’s de-facto Reichsbischof, Pastor Robert Jeffress are all in favor of war. Jeffrey’s said when asked about Trump’s remarks “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.” It is always comforting to know that prominent Christians like Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals are the cheerleaders of any war party. 

Many others on both sides of the political divide including Senator John McCain, have pointed to the danger that the Presidents comments pose. McCain said:  “I don’t know what he’s saying and I’ve long ago given up trying to interpret what he says.” He added, “That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure how it helps.” He observed, “I take exception to the president’s words because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do.”

In an interview the discredited Trump advisor, Sebastian Gorka, who has ties to Hungarian Fascist organizations, did what all good servants of totalitarian leaders do, paint the opposition as unpatriotic and disloyal to the country:

“It saddens me,” Gorka said. “We need to come together. And anybody, whether they’re a member of Congress, whether they’re a journalist, if you think that your party politics, your ideology, trumps the national security of America, that’s an indictment of you, and you need to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what’s more important: my political party or America. There’s only one correct answer.”

Of course the opponents of what the President said were not arguing against our national security but for it. The President’s words were dangerous, not because he drew a line in the sand, but because of the parameters of his threat. Instead of being specific and saying if the North Koreans conducted another nuclear test, tested another long range missile, or made a specific kind of military action, he threatened fire and fury if North Korea issued a threat to the United States, which they did a few hours later against the American forces on Guam, a threat that was not met with fire and fury. 


By threatening fire and fury the President continues to remind people that he is prone to speaking loudly and making great exaggerations, but doing little of substance. Throughout his business career and public life often makes bad “gut” decisions because he prefers to go with his gut rather than hard data or facts. His four corporate bankruptcies demonstrate that all too well. Likewise, his habitual tendencies to lie and exaggerate have already proven detrimental to U.S. foreign policy because world leaders do not believe that he can be trusted. 

Deterrence only works if people believe that a leader or country will do what it says. That was a hallmark of the Cold War, despite their threats both the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union understood each other. That understanding was instrumental in defusing the threat of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and on a number of other occasions when computer or radar systems gave false alerts which could have resulted in missile launches and war had both sides not understood each other. 

The problem is that the Kim Jung Un and President Trump appear to be very similar in temperament. They bluster and exaggerate, they demand absolute loyalty, and they are paranoid and narcissistic. They are are not deep thinkers, their closest advisers tend to be sycophants who praise their greatness and refuse to give them bad news or present contrary views. History shows us that such tendencies does not bode well for peace. When I see them act out their drama I am reminded of Tuchman’s descriptions of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in the years leading up to World War I. Of Nicholas Tuchman wrote:

“The regime was ruled from the top by a sovereign who had but one idea of government—to preserve intact the absolute monarchy bequeathed to him by his father—and who, lacking the intellect, energy, or training for his job, fell back on personal favorites, whim, simple mulishness, and other devices of the empty-headed autocrat.”

Of Wilhelm she noted how he told 300 visitors at a State banquet in Berlin, that his uncle, English King Edward VII was: “He is Satan. You cannot imagine what a Satan he is!” As Tuchman wrote: “The Kaiser, possessor of the least inhibited tongue in Europe, had worked himself into a frenzy ending in another of those comments that had periodically over the past twenty years of his reign shattered the nerves of diplomats.” 

Character and temperament matter more than anything when nations teeter on the brink of war. Neither Trump, nor Kim Jung Un possess an ounce of character and their mercurial temperaments only add to the danger of war. On the American side we have to hope that some of the President’s more level headed advisers can reign him in, as far as the North Koreans, one doesn’t know what to hope for or expect. Tuchman wrote in her biography of General Joseph Stillwell that “History is the unfolding of miscalculations.” 

I only wonder what miscalculation will be next. 

Until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+


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