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Heroes or Villains? Snipers and Moral Ambiguity

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I saw the movie American Sniper when it came out two weeks ago, I have not read the book, though I have read excerpts of it, and both seen and read many of Chris Kyle’s responses to questions in various interviews after he retired from the Navy.  I have seen the shit storm that has developed in response to the movie as well as supporters lift Kyle up to near sainthood, a true hero; while detractors present him as a war criminal, a sociopath and something as close to demonic as a human being can be.

I think that both are right and both are wrong, and that the uncomfortable truth about Kyle lies somewhere in between those extremes.

I find that curious because I do not remember any visceral reaction to the actions of the scripture quoting American sniper, Private Jackson in Saving Private Ryan or the Soviet or German snipers in Enemy at the Gates.

Because of that I think in large part this visceral reaction to either lift Kyle up or tear him down comes from the context of the Iraq War itself. It was horribly divisive, in large part because the invasion of Iraq launched by the Bush Administration was no doubt a major war crime by any standard of international law.

I have written about this before. If the leaders of the Bush Administration had been put on trial for their actions at Nuremberg as were the Nazis, Justice Robert Jackson would have had them all on the gallows. Jackson said during the trial:

“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.”

Most, including the former President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense, not to mention other key players and decision makers would have easily been convicted of all except the charge of genocide. The three major counts that they would have hanged for were:

Count One: Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War: This count addressed crimes committed before the war began, showing a plan by leaders to commit crimes during the war.

Count Two: Waging Aggressive War, or “Crimes Against Peace” which included “the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances.”

Count Three: War Crimes. This count encompassed the more traditional violations of the law of war already codified in the Geneva and Hague Conventions including treatment of prisoners of war, slave labor, and use of outlawed weapons.

The decision of the Bush Administration to invade Iraq was not only criminal, but the consequences of that decision and the later disastrous post-invasion policies of the administration ensured that the suffering of the Iraqis and the suffering of the American military personnel and their families who shouldered the burden on that war, while 99.3% of the nation sat it out, would continue, even today.

I served in Iraq, supporting small teams of advisors working with the Iraqi military and security services in Al Anbar Province. I know that I hoped, as did the Marines, Soldiers and our Iraqi friends wanted to see peace come to Iraq and see that country rise from the ashes. Instead we have seen our efforts blow away like the sands of the desert. T.E. Lawrence I think wrote words that are all to symbolic of what we tried to do:

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

So my Iraq war was different. I saw things in a different light from many because I worked with the Iraqis and got to know them, their hopes and their dreams. I also saw it differently because I could place it in a larger historical context. The Iraqis I knew, were not savages, they were human beings with the same kind of hopes and dreams for their families and country at any one of as has as Americans. That being said, none of us, American or Iraqi, felt any sympathy for the terrorists, foreign fighters, and Al Qaeda Iraq operatives who made a habit of killing and brutalizing Iraqi citizens, or those outside the country, who supported the terrorist efforts.

The part where ambiguity comes in is when we look at the men and women who serve in such wars, what they go through and the moral ambiguity that often comes with such service. It is an ambiguity which some need to justify by convincing themselves the all that they did was done in the name of a greater good, and against people who were less than human. That is something that those who serve as snipers in any army must convince themselves.

If you have ever read anything about snipers and how soldiers felt about them in various wars, I would encourage you to do so.

When I read that Michael Moore called Kyle, and all snipers cowards, I cringed. Not to say that Moore’s comments, which he attributed to how he lost a relative to a German sniper in the Second World War were completely unfair, they are actually similar to the views held by many against snipers. British historian and writer Max Hastings sums that up in his book Armageddon which is about the final months of World War Two in Europe:

“Almost every soldier on both sides shared a hatred of snipers, which frequently caused them to be shot out of hand if captured. There was no logic or provision of the Geneva Convention to justify such action. Sniping merely represented the highest refinement of the infantry soldier’s art. Its exercise required courage and skill. Yet, sniping made the random business of killing, in which they were all engaged. become somehow personal and thus unacceptable to ordinary footsoldiers.”

Snipers have a unique place in war and especially in the types of infantry intensive urban operations which Kyle was involved. Their trade is not in contravention of the Geneva Convention or any international military criminal code. So long as they are engaged in combat and are in the uniform of their country, and not engaging in acts that are forbidden by those codes their actions are legal. So to call Kyle a “war criminal” as some have is to misunderstand the law.

To call Kyle and other snipers “cowards” is also to misunderstand the nature of war, especially as it applies to snipers. Snipers have a lonely existence, they can be celebrated but some, but the nature of their war is different. The character Private Jackson in Saving Private Ryan perhaps summed it up what it takes to be a sniper, when he said: “Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.” The nature of the sniper’s war dictates that they believe something like this that enables them to survive.

Unlike those who can drop bombs, pilot drones, shoot artillery from afar or even engage in infantry combat with large numbers of others, the sniper has a lonely, yet intimate war.

Snipers usually serve alone, they set up, they wait, they seldom have back up. They are as much the hunted as they are the hunter. They know if captured that their enemy will have no mercy upon them. Unlike others, they have an intimacy with those that they kill, they see them, and in the kinds of wars where the “enemy” is not a uniformed soldier, but an insurgent blending in among civilians, they task of the sniper is incomprehensible. To do that job, combat tour after combat tour, has to do something to the human soul. Those that survive and come home have to try to justify their actions, as Kyle did, asserting that he knew that all of the people he killed were “bad guys.” It is probably the only way that one can keep his sanity when he returns to a world that doesn’t understand what he did.

But the justifications are as corrosive to the soul as anything else. They force people like Kyle, to push under the things that they saw or did which were wrong with a certitude that causes them to make assertions and claims that are either patently false, exaggerated, or which paint them in an even worse light than the truth would. Such would be the case in Kyle’s book where he claims killing thirty Americans in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. If he did that he was a criminal, but he is dead, and we will probably never know the truth.

A veteran of the U.S. Marine campaigns against the Japanese in the Pacific, Eugene Sledge wrote in his book With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa: 

“To the non-combatants and those on the periphery of action, the war meant only boredom or occasional excitement, but to those who entered the meat grinder itself the war was a netherworld of horror from which escape seemed less and less likely as casualties mounted and the fighting dragged on and on. Time had no meaning, life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu had eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all.”

That kind of war my friends has a corrosive and toxic effect on the human soul. Sledge noted: “I am the harvest of man’s stupidity. I am the fruit of the holocaust. I prayed like you to survive, but look at me now. It is over for us who are dead, but you must struggle, and will carry the memories all your life. People back home will wonder why you can’t forget.”

War changes those who serve in it, the kind of change is in large part due to the kind of wars that we serve in and what we do in it. When I watched the movie with my former assistant and body guard during our tour in Iraq, Nelson Lebron I was bombarded with memories, of both my time there and my return home, and the hell I have put my wife Judy through at times as I have struggled with PTSD, what I saw in Iraq and my reaction to coming home to a country that knew not war. I didn’t sleep for several days afterward and the shit storm surrounding the movie has brought a lot of anxiety to me, I guess because it seems that few people really understand what war does to people.

I think for me, the part of the movie that had the most effect was the homecoming, and it reminded me of a movie that came out in 1978 about the home front in the Vietnam War, Coming Home staring Jon Voigt, Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern. Both movies dealt with the pain of families affected by war.

I’m certainly not going to sit in judgment of Chris Kyle or his critics, he is dead and unable to defend or even take bak anything that he might have written or said, likewise his critics, in many cases do not know what war can do to a person. I don’t know how much of Chris Kyle’s story is true, or how much is some sort of fiction, or even if what he wrote was filtered through what he saw and did in Iraq. Killing that many people, seeing their faces and to watch the life flowing out of them has to mess up a mind. Though I have been to combat, I have not walked in the shoes of Chris Kyle or any sniper. I have never had to kill anyone, even in self defense.

I would hope that people see the movie. Not so much because I believe in its historical truth, it seems to me to be a composite representation of Kyle, Navy SEALs, Marines and Iraqis that has as much Hollywood myth as it does truth.

But rather I believe people should see it to see how war tears the souls out of people. I would rather have my fellow citizens look at the ugliness of war, and to hold politicians accountable for any decision to go to war. I would rather see my countrymen look upon the pain that war causes, even long after those who fought come home.

Two time Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler wrote:

What is the cost of war? what is the bill? Major General Smedley Butler wrote: “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

The effects of war are terrible and had George Bush not made the decision to go to Iraq, Chris Kyle might still be alive, like so many others.

I don’t know if this makes any sense to you but I had to try to put some words and thoughts around what I have been feeling for the past couple of weeks.

Have a great evening,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under film, History, Military, movies, News and current events, PTSD

9-11-2014 War Without End…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, national security, News and current events

The Inconvenient Truth About Iraq and Benghazi

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“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based. And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!” Captain Jean Luc Picard to Wesley Crusher Star Trek the Next Generation “The First Duty” 

I was talking with a conservative friend the other day and he ended up bring up the subject of Benghazi and the tragic loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and 3 other State Department personnel at the consulate last September 11th. He was talking about the scandal of this and the political impact that he hoped it would have on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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I was actually shocked that he said this so for once I decided to actually say something and mention the 4486 official US military deaths in Iraq. My friend who I really do like and respect commented that they were “the result of what happened in war.”

It stunned me when he said that because he is a military brat, but then I realized that he had bought the lie about Iraq and was so solidly partisan that he could not see the moral, ethical and even legal discrepancy in what he was saying. For me the question was far less about whatever impact it might have on Hillary’s campaign should she decide to run but about the truth.

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When I confronted him about it I was stunned by how easily he dismissed all of the dead and wounded and other casualties of Iraq but was so insistent on some kind of conspiracy to cover up Benghazi. But this is how so many people think today thanks to the constant bombardment of ignorance on Fox News and other partisan outlets. It is not about the truth, it is about the nastiest kind of politics.

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I too am upset about Benghazi, but likewise I am upset about the 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers killed at Beirut in October 1983 when the Reagan Administration ignored warnings about putting US troops into Lebanon while taking sizes in that county’s civil war. I am upset about the nearly 3000 killed on 9-11-2001. I am upset about dozens of other terrorist attacks that occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations in which DOD, the State Department and other agencies made mistakes that cost lives.

Some attacks could have been prevented and others probably not. However they were terrorist attacks committed by our enemies, not an illegal undeclared war of preemptive choice conducted by a United States administration against the will and recommendations of many of our closest allies. That is the inconvenient truth.

What has happened over the past decade is that many on the political right cannot admit that they were wrong about Iraq. This despite the fact that President Bush, Karl Rove and almost every senior member of the the Bush administration have admitted that the reasons that they took us into war with Iraq were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear program was a shambles and Iraq was not working with Al Qaida, which like most secular military dictatorships in the Middle East loathed. That is the inconvenient truth.

The fact that so many people on the political right go into a nearly toxic lather about four people lost in Benghazi while shucking off the deaths of nearly 5000 Americans who died in a war that was not only a mistake but violated the very laws that we helped establish at Nuremberg infuriates me. This is no longer about national security to them, it is about politics. This is not about ethics for those that led us into Iraq have none. It is not about justice for if there was justice those who made the decision to attack Iraq would be tried for war crimes.

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I served in Iraq and was fortunate that I served with our advisors and the Iraqis in Al Anbar during the time of the Anbar Awakening. I saw a different war than many people observed and for that I am glad because it busted my illusions about what we did in Iraq forever. I needed that. I may have come back thoroughly goofed up with PTSD and at times I am sure certifiably crazy, but I needed it to see the truth.

The fact is that unlike Benghazi the war in Iraq has crippled this country. Nearly 5000 dead, 30,000 wounded and trillions of dollars of national treasure dumped into the abyss. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or driven into exile, many who greeted us as liberators.  Of course that was before the Bush Administration put the kleptocrats of the Chalabi group rape and pillage the country.

Likewise it was after the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, a man who had never in his career served in the Middle East threw out ever carefully orchestrated plan of DOD and CENTCOM for a peaceful transition in the country thus bringing misery to Iraq and triggering the anti US-Coalition insurgency and Iraqi Civil War. The great military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz said: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” The fact is that the Bush Administration was not only not clear, but they were inept and lawless in invading Iraq.

Additionally the invasion cost the United States the goodwill and trust of many allies and friends. No one will ever see us in the same light again. Instead of being a liberating power and “light to the nations” we are seen in much of the world as a rogue, lawless and imperialist state. Otto Von Bismarck put it so well when he said “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

I don’t know about you but I am sure that is not the vision of our founders. I was told on my first day in the Army back in 1981 that “there are attaboys and aww shits and it takes 2000 attaboys to make up for one aww shit.” The Bush Administration’s lawless invasion of Iraq and incredibly inept occupation was a disaster for the United States, Iraq and most of the region, except maybe for Al Qaida and Iran. By the way let us not forget the crippling effects of the Iraq invasion on the campaign in Afghanistan which allowed both the Taliban and Al Qaida time to regroup, consolidate and regain the advantage in that God forsaken land.To the 4486 we can add a couple of thousand more deaths in Afghanistan thanks to the decision to invade Iraq. That is the inconvenient truth.

For people to ignore a war that defies American and International Law as well as common sense which cost us and the world so much while making cheap political points by exploiting the deaths of four men is a disgrace. Had the men who started the invasion of Iraq been tried for by Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg they would have been convicted as war criminals and sent to the gallows. That is the inconvenient truth.

Justice Jackson said at those trials:

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

My closing thought is that those that want to make political hay out of Benghazi need to take a serious look at Iraq. What’s fair is fair. 4486 dead and over 30,000 wounded not counting another 100,000 or so with PTSD or TBI versus 4 dead and no wounded. I don’t make light of any of the deaths of Americans serving this country at any time or in any place.  I would not dishonor their memory by playing politics with their deaths. But the truth is indeed terribly inconvenient and those who do this must be called out regardless of their political orientation.

If there were mistakes or cover ups by Obama administration officials regarding Benghazi, so be it let them be investigated fairly an impartially not with an eye to political advantage and those that partake of this cup must be willing to drink of the cup of crimes committed by the Bush Administration in Iraq. The same is true when Democrats do the same to Republicans.

Truth matters too much to be sacrificed on the altar of politics even while those doing it ignore far greater crimes of far more epic dimensions committed by members of their political party.

Truth is terribly inconvenient and even when painful should never be sacrificed on the altar of political advantage by partisans of any party.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security

Thoughts on Smoke, Suicides, Gracie Jane, the Media Legal System and I guess I’m not Patriotic

Gracie Jane…the Boston Legal Nancy Grace

Today was one of those weird days. I got up relatively early for a day off only to have my morning interrupted by a page from the Emergency Room to deal with a suicide. I showered and drove in to work knowing what the outcome was going to be even though our staff was trying heroically to save the patient.  On the way in I was reminded of Iraq once again as I drove through the dense smoke which has enshrouded our region from one of several wild fires.

Last night I had been out watching the Independence Day fireworks with Judy and our little dog Molly on the beach about a quarter of a mile from the Island Hermitage and I did pretty wel`l, though Molly did better. While I was occasionally flashing back to watching artillery and illumination rounds and hearing that infernal 122 rocket flying over me in Baghdad as well as being nervous in the large crowds that surrounded me I didn’t melt down despite some very close blasts from individuals firing some pretty large firework charges above our heads. Maybe it was the unflappable attitude of Molly. Molly isn’t afraid of anything and maybe her looking up and occasionally barking at the infernal things both comforted and amused me. However I digress….

I got to the ER sustained by a large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and found that our staff could not save the life of the individual. I have dealt with far too many suicides in the military where it seems to be epidemic now days as well as in my time as an ER and Trauma department Chaplain in major civilian medical centers. There are people that condemn those that commit suicide to hell and call it an “unpardonable sin.” I can’t do that. Suicide is a tragedy no matter when it happens and it is happening far too often among the ranks of our Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard forces and to those retired or discharged from the military.  I spent some time and with our staff as well as some of his senior enlisted leaders who were obviously affected by this and quietly said a prayer of commendation at the bedside.  This is a tragedy one that will unfortunately keep occurring even as Congress contemplates cuts to the force that include the Mental Health Professionals and Chaplains that are the last line of defense for these young men and women.  But then what value are the lives of the men and women that fight our wars compared to not raising the taxes for the incredible wealthy that profit off of our wars and the sacrifices of the troops.

When I got home Judy and I took a drive up to Beaufort North Carolina where we had lunch at Finz, a bar and grill. As always we sat in the bar and while eating lunch noticed a commotion. A waitress from the restaurant side rushed in and changed the channel from the peaceful natural disasters reported by the Weather Channel to Headline News where Gracie Jane (Nancy Grace, Gracie Jane is the caricature Nancy created by the writers of Boston Legal played with gusto by Jill Brennan) was having a conniption fit that Casey Anthony was found not guilty of killing her daughter in one of the most sensational trials since the O. J. Simpson trial.

Now I didn’t watch the trial my faith in the Media Legal system having been crushed with the failure of the O. J. jury to find him guilty and order him crushed to death with heavy stones. But evidently some jury in Florida where convicting someone of murder and having them put to death is a spectator sport failed to convict, something about reasonable doubt. It sounds to me that in such and environment that the prosecutors must have pulled a Marcia Clarke and botched the prosecution.  They should have petitioned to have the trial moved to Texas where they could have gotten the conviction and the death penalty. Even President Bush who never pardoned anyone as Governor couldn’t save the lady convicted of drowning her kids when she said she had repented when a jury convicted her of capital murder.

However, my friends as terrible as the verdict sounds as it seems justice has been denied, someone probably killed that little girl and will get away with it, the reaction of Gracie Jane was priceless as she was nearly apoplectic even saying that Satan must be having a “party in Hell” and that proving “reasonable doubt” an unfair burden to prosecutors.   But that is the way the Media Legal system works, Greta, Geraldo, Court TV and Gracie Jane, they thrive on trying these cases in the media and while our justice system is certainly imperfect and sometimes even insane ever person is due their day in court and it is the responsibility of prosecutors to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. These prosecutors had no direct evidence of the lady killing her daughter.  They had lots of circumstantial evidence even some pretty damning stuff from what Gracie Jane tells me but they couldn’t get a conviction. When I took a class in Military Law we were advised that if we didn’t believe that we could make the charges stick at a General Courts Martial in from of a judge and jury that it was inadvisable to charge soldiers with a crime, even if we were trying the case as a “non-judicial” case under Article 15 of the UCMJ. As a company commander I never lost because I made sure that if I charged someone that the evidence would prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  These guys didn’t. They lost to better defense attorneys and someone got away with murder, manslaughter or child abuse. But the Media Legal system will never admit that they could be wrong in convicting people before a jury even gets the case. It’s a pity that Lincoln Meyer (a peeping Tom murderer played in a most creepy manner by David Dean Bottrell) couldn’t come up and clunk her on the head with a shovel like in Boston Legal).

Finally I ran afoul of a Tea Party partisan yesterday when I mentioned in his extended quote from the Declaration of Independence about removing despots and the right of people to revolt he cut off the quote where the Declaration says “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” For this I was called everything but a Democrat, you’d think that I had spurned God and man for mentioning this. Instead the man and one of his friends set out to mock me as some kind of Constitution stomping, CNN and MSNBC watching infidel for my cautious and even distrustful views views in regard to the Tea Party movement and some of its leaders.  Of course when picked their arguments apart I got called more names was told that they were “Constitutionalists” and kept trying to shut me up. I had too much fun finally getting one to end his insulting comments aimed at me with “God Bless the USA!” Unfortunately when the phase is used to end an argument, insult the honor, integrity and intellectual honesty and question the patriotism of a fellow American it resonates about as well with me as much as “Heil Hitler!” did to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Evidently even though I have served the country in the military in peace and war the past 30 years including in combat I am less of a patriot than him or anyone else in the Tea Party.  Despite my personal victory today I fear for the worst when this man and others like him come to power. Dissent will be crushed as they use laws that they currently decry to punish their opponents or critics. Those that joined the movement out of legitimate frustration at the mess that Republicans and Democrats alike as well as most powerful supporters have made of this country will be sorely disappointed when they find that they are considered expendable to those that they put their trust in to deliver the country.

I personally find the often violent language and imagery used so flippantly by many the leaders of the Tea Party to be frightening. The use of such terms as evil, satanic, communist, Marxist or Fascist to characterize those that disagree with you is dangerous for it dehumanizes the other and appeals to the basest forms of human behavior.  The fact that some senior state organizers have links intellectual and economic to white supremacist groups and anti-government “militia” groups makes me even more nervous as do the unstated motivations of some of the principal financial backers the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.  Contrary to what some believe this movement is not a movement of uneducated bumpkins to be trifled with. The Tea Party has money, media and power at its disposal it is not to be taken lightly even when its leaders make mistake after mistake concerning American history and the Constitution.

But it seems that none of them really studies history and that we have failed in teaching our people to learn from history, not the mythology that makes us feel good and warms our patriotic hearts. But according to the gentleman I must not have one of those. Oh well… God Bless the USA!

Well that’s all for tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ER's and Trauma, faith, leadership, Lies of World Net Daily, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Political Commentary, PTSD, purely humorous

Memorial Day 2011: Counting the Cost of War and Remembering its Brotherhood

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…” William Shakespeare “Henry V”

“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-” Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Monday is Memorial Day, the ninth that we have observed during our current series of wars which officially began on September 11th 2001.  One could argue that they had begun sooner with attacks on U.S. Forces and installations overseas and even the attempted truck bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.  But we really did not go to war until that fateful Tuesday in September 2001.  As we come to Memorial Day I am a bit melancholy as the war continues, force reductions loom, threats abound and I observe my first Memorial Day without my father, a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who served in Vietnam who died of complications of Alzheimer’s Disease in June 2010.

Iraq Military Training Team in West Al Anbar

We did go to war but it was not like wars past where we relied on a true national effort to win the wars. The wars have been fought by a force profession force of Active and Reserve Component Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coastguardsmen that hovers a bit above a half a percent of the total population. Of those eligible for service most do not meet the entrance requirements for military service meaning that the prosecution of the war has been the task of a miniscule portion of the population.  Shortly after the 9-11 attacks President George Bush urged Americans to do their civic duty “go shopping” to get the economy moving.  As a career military officer I was aghast at his words. While he praised the military at every turn and increased military budgets, much of which went to defense contactors the actual heavy lifting was and continues to be done by men and women who volunteer to keep going back.  While the military fights the war Wall Street does business in a manner that is good for it and the vast majority of Americans are totally immersed in self-entertainment, the latest video gaming system or imbibing on a constant diet of “reality TV.”  Others on both sides of the political spectrum elect to shred their political opponents to itty bitty sheds and maneuver to gain political advantage and power without really caring what is happing to the country despite their proclamations of doing what is right for America.  In regard to the troops most of the political classes only seem to care when it affects their state, district or party.

Advisors in Afghanistan 

This Thursday 9 more Americans were killed in Afghanistan, eight in an IED blast while on a mission to root the Taliban out of a suspected strongpoint and another in a helicopter crash.  In Afghanistan we have lost 1514 military personnel killed in action or died of wounds. Another 11191 have been wounded. Additionally or NATO Allies have lost 889 military personnel listed as killed or died of wounds. In Iraq 4454 U.S troops have been killed and another 32227 troops have been wounded.  Additionally 318 Coalition troops have been killed in Iraq.  None of these figures include the high number of personnel with PTSD, mild to moderate TBI or other psychological and spiritual wounds.  5968 Americans have been listed as killed or died of wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan while another 43,418 have been officially listed as wounded.

Memorial Day is a day to remember the fallen.  It is a day to reflect on the sacrifice of those that have died in the service of our country.  Originally established as Decoration Day and its roots stretch back to the Civil War.  Other nations have similar remembrances for their war dead.  Unfortunately because our military is such a small part of our population and now concentrated into a few major bases often out of sight and out of mind of most Americans the observance has become a kick off to the summer for most Americans who are blissfully unaware of the real costs of war.  In a way I can’t really fault them because when the war began with an attack on our shores our President did not call the nation to make sacrifices to win the war he told people to go shopping while “the few” would take the war to the enemy and avenge the devastation of September 11th 2001.  It turned the vast majority of the country into cheerleaders or bystanders.  History shows time after time that nations that wage war this way seldom achieve their goals.

As Clausewitz so aptly observed that war the nature or the “remarkable trinity of war” violent emotion, chance and rational policy which are balanced with the social trinity of the people, the commander and the army and the government (or in the case of non-nation state actors tribal, social or revolutionary leaders) necessitates that the people have to be part of the equation if one is to successfully conduct a war.  While it is possible to win short wars without much support of the people any long conflict necessitates that the people be engaged as much as the military and the government policy makers, especially in a democracy. Vietnam was a classic example of the social trinity gone bad. Policy makers failed to set goals for the prosecution of the war, military leaders attempted to fight the war with operational theories and forces that were not adapted to the type of war being fought and ignored the lessons of history regarding the type of war and eventually the people turned on the policy makers and the military as the war ground on with no apparent victory in sight.  The same can be seen in the current conflict in Afghanistan with the government pushing a policy that seems to have little strategic benefit or chance of success.  A military that can inflict punishing losses on the Taliban without destroying them or due to limited resources hold onto areas that they drove the enemy and a public that is divided between cheerleaders, critics and bystanders.  Few of the latter have any personal stake in the war other than bearing some of the financial cost and having to it occasionally referred to in the news cycle.  Our “trinity” is dysfunctional and will be our undoing despite the heroic efforts of those who give their “last full measure” on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya.

While we can discuss ways bring functionality back to our social trinity and the “remarkable trinity” or essence of war we must understand that our enemies, even non state actors often have a much more congruent view of war than we do and how to connect their strategic goals, military strategy and leverage the energy of the people against the United States and our Western allies.  They do not have our military power and wherever we meet them on the battlefield where we can employ our tactical superiority in weapons and training we have success but we have been unable to translate battlefield success into victory because we do not understand the nature of the conflict, the heart and will of our enemy and are dysfunctional in our own social, military, policy and political understanding of this war and how to win it.

What does this mean to those that have given their “last full measure” and those “happy few” that bear the burden of prosecuting the war? It means that their sacrifices may not be enough and will like the veterans of Vietnam come home without victory despite never losing a battle.  After Vietnam the force was cut back, military personnel who gave all they had on the battlefield were turned out of the service and even officers reverted to enlisted status to remain in the Army and Marine Corps.  Today even as the war rages cuts are being made to the force and those cuts will only get bigger as time goes on. Like Vietnam we already have a substantial number of veterans suffering from wounds physical, psychological and spiritual unable to get adequate care or assistance from an overburdened, underfunded, under staffed and often dysfunctional or even worse uncaring Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. Others that have served most of their careers at war and are approaching retirement are seeing the benefits that they earned with their flesh and blood and the long sacrifice of themselves and their families being termed “a rich entitlement program” targeted for reductions in pensions and medical care.  People that make these decisions if they served in the military at all often served only in peacetime or in times of short military conflicts and thus really do not understand the terrible cost and burdens placed on those that serve and continue to serve in this “war without end.”

Since Monday is Memorial Day and I simply ask that people take a few minutes and reflect on sacrifices of those that served in this war, wars past or those that continue to volunteer and serve in harm’s way far from home in a cause that the government does not understand and the public no longer supports.  Yes people treat military personnel better than in times past, there is little hostility to the military but at the same time has little social connection to or understanding of, thus we are a small brotherhood forged by a war that most of our fellow citizens can comprehend.

One of my Brothers: RP2 Nelson Lebron in Iraq

As for all who served we are part of a Band of Brothers.  As William Shakespeare so well wrote in Henry V:

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Kenneth Branagh Henry V: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yZNMWFqvM

At the same time I cannot count the number of men and women that have come to me and expressed their regret at never having served when they had the chance. By and large they are wonderful people that live with this regret. In a sense they know well the last part of the Henry V speech “And gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” For such men and women I can bear no hostility because the regrets that they live with are more than I would want to live with. When spending time with people living in regret I simply to do what they do in an honorable manner, take care of their families and support the troops in any way that they can.

One of my Band of Brothers MTT with 3rd Battalion 3rd Brigade 7th Iraqi Division

As for me I continue to serve affected by war in ways that I never imagined when I enlisted nearly 30 years ago. All those who have served, past present and future are my brothers and sisters and it matters not their social status, race, religion or politics as Shakespeare noted  “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition….”

Guy Sager wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier” about his return home from war, society and that brotherhood, something that many who have served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan can share:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.

I had looked everywhere for Hals, but hadn’t been able to find him. He filled my thoughts, and only my acquired ability to hide my feelings kept me from weeping. He was attached to me by all the terrible memories of the war, which still rang in my ears. He was my only friend in this hostile world, the man who had so often carried my load when my strength was failing, I would never be able to forget him, or the experiences we had shared, or our fellow soldiers, whose lives would always be linked to mine.”

Most of us that have served in combat zones have memories like that and like the people in the train most people don’t understand.  One thing that I do know is that I am part of a brotherhood that extends from time in memoriam to the consummation of time when war will be no more, death will be swallowed up in victory and every tear will be wiped from our eyes.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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