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Trump and His Supporters Real Threats of Revolution and Violence

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. It pulls and whirls the individual away from his own self, makes him oblivious of his weal and future, frees him of jealousies and self-seeking. He becomes an anonymous particle quivering with a craving to fuse and coalesce with his like into one flaming mass.” 

I have been seeing questions asked about why so many of Donald Trump’s supporters are doubling down on their support of him as he melts down and declares war on his own the Republican Party. I think that too many people simply ascribe this to frustration with the status quo but I think that there is more to it than that. Quite frankly Trump has appealed to the basest instincts of many of his supporters: he appeals to their fear, their racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Gay feelings, their feelings of powerlessness against real and imagined elites, and the fantasy world of conspiracy theories that have been promoted by right wing talkers, preachers, and media outlets for over two decades. He promises to make them important again, to make their twisted version of the Christian faith the law of the land, to bring retribution to their “enemies” to deport those not like them, and to ban others from coming into the country. He appeals to their desire for an authoritarian leader who will solve their problems without the niceties of acting in accordance with the Constitution or law.

Donald Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, Ill., argues with protesters outside the UIC Pavilion after the cancelled rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

His message is quite simply, to use these factors to stoke anger, hatred and rage against real and imagined devils. Hoffer noted: “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.” For many Trump supporters that “devil” is Hillary Clinton, Trump actually called her that during debate on Sunday night and claimed that she had a “very dark heart.” For some of his other followers it is Barak Obama, and to a growing number of his followers, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders who have denounced Trump or who have failed to endorse him. Hoffer wrote:

“It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler—the foremost authority on devils—that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category.” When Hitler picked the Jew as his devil, he peopled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. “Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States.”

In place of any detailed policy, instead of a message of hope to Trump threatens and cajoles and his supporters, of whom he said during the Iowa Caucus campaign “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Richard Evans in his book The Coming of the Third Reich discussed one of Hitler’s first speeches after coming to power.

“As so often in his career, Hitler, beginning slowly and quietly so as to secure the rapt attention of his enormous audience, went over the history of the Nazi Party and the alleged crimes of the Weimar Republic since 1919—the inflation, the impoverishment of the peasantry, the rise of unemployment, the ruin of the nation. What would his government do to change this parlous situation? His answer avoided any specific commitments at all. He said grandly that he was not going to make any ‘cheap promises’. Instead, he declared that his programme was to rebuild the German nation without foreign aid, ‘according to eternal laws valid for all time’, on the basis of the people and the soil, not according to ideas of class. Once more, he held up the intoxicating vision of a Germany united in a new society that would overcome the divisions of class and creed that had racked it over the past fourteen years. The workers, he declared, would be freed from the alien ideology of Marxism and led back to the national community of the entire German race. This was a ‘programme of national resurrection in all areas of life.’” 

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One thing you can say about Trump is that he understands his hard core supporters. Time and time again he has said and done things that would have left a normal candidate in a normal campaign sitting out the election at home, but instead his hardcore supporters, the people who now proudly call themselves “the Deplorables” respond to his threats to jail Hillary Clinton, to abandon and overthrow the GOP leadership, and his other invectives with an eagerness not seen in an electorate since Adolf Hitler’s mesmerized supporters screamed “Sieg Heil!” at Nazi Party rallies. The cult like devotion of his base is unlike anything ever seen in American politics. After two of his supporters beat a homeless man with a metal pole and urinated on him following a speech in which Trump called Mexicans “Rapists and drug dealers” Trump responded: “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country, they want this country to be great again.”  

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When his supporters roughed up opponents at Trump rallies he said: “Knock the crap out of them, would you?” and “In the good ol’ days, they’d have knocked him out of his seat so fast,” and offered to pay their legal fees. He encourages supporters to shout down the media at his events, calls out people who might be different than his supporters as he did when he asked non-Christians to identify themselves at a rally and asked his supporters if they should be allowed to stay in the room. This week he suggested that his followers go to heavily minority and Democratic precincts to “monitor” the vote. In open carry states that could well lead to his armed supporters loitering near polling places intimidating voters just as Hitler’s Brownshirts policed polling places in the elections leading to Hitler’s accession to power and the few votes held until he abolished opposition parties. Below is an image of armed S.A. Brownshirts outside a polling station on March 5th 1933, the final election for the Reichstag. 


  

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This monster is something that will not go away even if Trump loses. Some of his supporters call for violent revolution if Clinton wins, but they wouldn’t be the first. Trump himself used twitter to call for revolution when President Obama defeated Mitt Romney on November 7th 2012. These calls for revolution and the blessing of extrajudicial violence against political enemies and minority groups have to be taken for real, especially with the rise of heavily armed so-called militia groups, as well as neo-Nazi, KKK, and other White Nationalist groups which live in a cloud-cuckoo land of conspiracy laden paranoia, and dualism.

This my friends is not normal or rational behavior for any Presidential candidate or campaign. I don’t think that I’m overly dramatic at this point. We have not seen the worst of this campaign.

Have a good night. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

D-Day at 70 Years and Forever: Courage, Sacrifice and Reconciliation…

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“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.” President Barack Obama at the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings, June 6th 2014

Seventy 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 lodgement area and begin the drive across France.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday. 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 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 Master’s 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.” 

dinner-w-bg-sabah1Me with Iraqi General Sabah in his Quarters in Ramadi 2007

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.”

God bless all those who fought at Normandy and give your peace to all who have served since then. Be with our troops as they serve in Afghanistan. Heal the wounds of war and bring your peace to the nations. Amen

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, News and current events, world war two in europe

Security and Freedom the Precarious Balance: Looking at the NSA Leaks and Terrorist Threats in Light of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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Odo: Am I the only one who’s worried that there are still Changelings here on Earth?

Joseph Sisko: Worried? I’m scared to death. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let them change the way I live my life.

Captain Sisko: If the Changelings want to destroy what we’ve built here, they’re going to have to do it themselves. We will not do it for them.

The current leaks of FISA documents regarding NSA data phone and internet collection programs including the PRISM program by ex Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden have provoked a long needed debate. That debate is less about Snowden then it is about the broader issues that have been shunted to the side in the wake of the 9-11-2001 attacks and the passage of the Patriot Act.

Of course much of the debate right now is about Snowden himself, his actions, his loyalties, his motives and institutional questions regarding how he was given such broad access to Top Secret documents not directly related to his job. As important as the later is, the more critical issue is how we as a republic governed in a democratic manner balance legitimate security needs and individual liberty.

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I wrestle with these issues all the time as a Priest, historian, theologian, ethicist and Naval Officer. I am a civil libertarian who also happens to know a thing or two about National Security policy. The fact is that as much some pundits and politicians are ready to jump off the edge entirely on one side of the divide or the other, their previous political differences notwithstanding we see men and women lining up to praise or condemn Edward Snowden with little regard to the deeper issues involved.

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The real question is how we balance the legitimate need for security with freedom and regard for Constitutional liberties. The fact is there are terrorists in our midst. The Tsaraev brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing are a case in point. There are others who I am sure are interested in or capable of much more devastating attacks. Somehow we have to attempt to protect our people and way of life without destroying the Constitution and our liberties in the process.

In the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost four Changelings from the Dominion reach Earth and in a series of relatively minor terrorist attacks create a chaotic situation. In response Starfleet officers take drastic action to convince the Federation President and Council to declare what amounts to Martial Law and the suspension of civil liberties on Earth.

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One of the Changelings takes the form of Chief O’Brien and contacts Captain Sisko, who due to his experience in the Dominion War and with Shape Shifters was recalled to Earth to assist Starfleet Command. The Changeling engages Sisko in a conversation near Starfleet Headquarters.

Changeling: Let me ask you a question. How many Changelings do you think are here on Earth right at this moment?

Captain Sisko: I’m not going to play any guessing games with you.

Changeling: Ah. What if I were to tell you that there are only four on this entire planet? Huh? Not counting Constable Odo, of course. Think of it – just four of us. And look at the havoc we’ve wrought.

The thing it it doesn’t take many terrorists to disrupt a society but at the same time the society’s response can dictate how deep the impact of the terrorists are on it. Terrorists create suspicion and tend to make people distrust others, in fact anyone that might be different than them. The response to terrorist attacks or threats is frequently disproportionately felt by regular citizens, anyone who has flown on a commercial airline in the United States since 9-11, the passage of the Patriot Act and formation of the TSA can testify.

While security at airports may be an inconvenience the fact is that the Patriot Act also gives Law Enforcement, Intelligence and Military agencies tremendous powers to collect human and electronic data on almost any citizen. Likewise the act increased the powers of these agencies under existing counter-intelligence laws. Some say that they have actually gutted the protections 4th Amendment and that may actually be a valid point.

The conversation between Sisko and the Changeling ends when the O’Brien Changeling comments “We do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.”

I think that really is what we have to watch out for in this War on Terrorism. It is far too easy to in our quest for security to destroy the very foundations of our governmental system. The sad thing is that history shows us how this can happen, wars without end and suspicions of enemies within and without have destroyed civilizations and transformed republics like Athens and Rome into tyrannies.

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Fear is an amazing thing. It triggers responses that are almost predictable. In the Homefront episode were civilian family members of Starfleet personnel are forced to give blood samples to prove that they are not Changelings masquerading as them Captain Sisko’s elderly father Joseph objects and eventually is able to avoid being tested, over the objections of his son who in in charge of the program.

Joseph Sisko: Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, what the hell has gotten into your head? You actually thought I was one of them, didn’t you?

Captain Sisko: I don’t know. I wasn’t sure.

Joseph Sisko: This business has got you so twisted around, you… you can’t think straight. You’re seeing shapeshifters everywhere! Maybe you ought to think about something for a minute. If I was a smart shapeshifter, a really good one, the first thing I would do would be to grab some poor soul off the street, absorb every ounce of his blood and let it out on cue whenever someone like you tried to test me. Don’t you see? There isn’t a test that’s been created a smart man can’t find his way around.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of what happens with Edward Snowden that we really need to look at and have a real discussion of what in the name of security we are willing to give up and what we are not. Technology has increased in ways that most people never imagined that it would be able to do, and that we could not imagine non-state terrorist enemies using against us.

Those are hard questions and they require a serious discussion. If we don’t have that discussion we will be the ones that destroy our way of life and republic and not any terrorist.

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As the Paradise Lost episode comes to its climax Captain Sisko confronts the Starfleet Admiral who has implemented the martial law degree on earth.

Admiral Leyton: You’ve always had a strong sense of duty.

Captain Sisko: My duty is to protect the Federation.

Admiral Leyton: That’s what we’re trying to do.

Captain Sisko: What you’re trying to do is to seize control of Earth and place it under military rule.

Admiral Leyton: If that’s what it takes to stop the Dominion.

Captain Sisko: So you’re willing to destroy Paradise in order to save it?

I think that Sisko’s final question is something that we need to ask those that would use the law, even bad laws to gain security but which ultimately could destroy us.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, star trek

Red Lines… Syria and Sarin and United States Military Intervention: A Warning from History

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Updated August 23rd 2013: Since this article was written back in April of this year the situation in Syria, not to mention the rest of the region has continued to get worse. This past week there appear to be credible new reports of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against their own people. It appears that the US and other powers are cautiously moving military forces into the region closer to Syria and that Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Israel could be drawing closer to involvement in the war. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians of all ethnic groups and faiths are fleeing the country, primarily to Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. Lebanon is beginning to collapse and Israel launched air strikes into Lebanon after being hit by rockets fired by the Assad regime’s ally Hezbollah. This is all taking place as Egypt is perched at the abyss of civil war, and much of North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is in the throws of war, civil war or the collapse of any governmental order.

Needless to say it is not a good situation and the United States as well as many other governments and international bodies are trying to find a way through the eye of the needle to keep the multitude of problems from coalescing into a truly disastrous regional conflict which could effect the political, economic and military security of countries in the region and yes, like us on the far side of the globe. 

Carl von Clausewitz wrote: “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.” 

Personally I don’t think that there is anyone who has a clear understanding of what they think their country should do or accomplish in Syria of the Middle East. 

That being said here is what I wrote in April.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

For the past number of weeks various news agencies and governments have reported the use of Sarin nerve gas by the Bashir Assad led Syrian government against rebels in that country’s civil war. The use of such weapons would be in defiance of international law and the law of war. The confirmed use of such weapons has been defined as a “red line” by the Obama administration. Israel, NATO and Turkey have all warned of the danger of the use of such weapons. Sarin has been banned and almost all nations have signed the 1993 treaty, but Syria is not one of them and reportedly has one of the largest stockpiles of Sarin in the world.

Today US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated:

“the U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”

Last week both Britain and France wrote the Secretary General of the United Nations that they had evidence that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against their own people. The Russians, a long term traditional ally of Syria have accused the West of attempting to “politicize” efforts to determine whether chemical weapons have been used and compared such efforts to the pre-Iraq War hunt for alleged Iraqi WMDs.

It is a dangerous time. The United States and NATO have deployed a number of Patriot Missile batteries to Turkey, which is harboring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and a small number of US troops are in Jordan assisting with refugees and working with the Jordanians on other security matters. Lebanon is becoming involved in the conflict due to the activities of Hezbollah and Israel has stepped up its security along its border with both Syria and Lebanon. In Syria the civil war has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives with hundreds of thousands more displaced or living as refugees in other countries.

It is a human rights disaster and in a perfect world the international community would come together to right the situation. That will likely not happen. Instead I expect that hawks in the United States Congress and press and potentially Israel and its Washington lobby will force President Obama to intervene in the Syrian Civil War, perhaps unilaterally or as part of a relatively small coalition. Both Senators John McCain and Diane Feinstein made statements today on the need for intervention.

The fact is that as terrible as the situation is that an even worse situation will most likely develop should such a limited intervention take place to secure the chemical and possible biological weapons stored by the Syrian regime. Before Iraq I would have probably been on the bandwagon urging intervention, but I did learn something from Iraq. The fact is that though our intelligence agencies may believe that Sarin has been used in small quantities we need to be absolutely sure before any intervention is made. Some in the Defense Department are concerned because of what happened regarding supposedly good and solid intelligence. As such the Miguel Rodriquez of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs noted:

“Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin. This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. …

“Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experiences, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient — only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making …”

I know what Sarin and other nerve gasses can do. I trained extensively as an Army Medical Service Corps Officer in NBC (Nuclear Chemical and Biological) weapon defense. The Soviets called Sarin GB and it was something that we trained to defend against during the Cold War. Back then we trained extensively to defend ourselves against chemical weapons, we practically lived in our MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) suits and protective masks. We trained to decontaminate personnel and equipment, we trained on knowing how such weapons were used, fallout patterns and half-life of the agents. We trained with atropine injectors in case we were contaminated and we learned that the triage of wounded was different when they were contaminated with chemical agents.

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However, since 9-11 and our counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan the general preparedness of most units in this type of warfare has been neglected because those wars did not require them.  With the exception of highly specialized units organized with the mission of Chemical, Biological and Nuclear weapon defense and response in the Continental United States few units are trained to the level that we were in the Cold War and even then most of us expected that if such weapons were used in the quantities amassed by the Soviets that most of us would die.

That being said we had damned well be absolutely sure that we know a lot more than we know now before committing a single American Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman to the mission of securing these weapons. Securing them in the existing environment in Syria would take tens of thousands of troops and based on the geography of Syria, the potential for Iranian intervention and the use of these WMDs against our troops by Syria should we intervene.

The question that I would ask anyone advocating military intervention now is “what is the cost in lives and treasure you are willing to make to do it? and what is your endgame?” The fact is that in two “low intensity” counterinsurgency campaigns we have lost over 6500 US troops killed and over 50,000 wounded not counting the hundreds of thousands afflicted with Traumatic Brain Injury and and PTSD. How many more would be sacrificed in a campaign in Syria and what will be the long term cost to them, their families, the military, national security and the economy?

The easy answer for the Hawks in Congress, the Beltway pundits and lobbyists is to send in the military. I think that it is a reflexive response now, send in the troops, damn the costs. That is easy for them to say because “the troops” are less than 1% of the US population. They can win elections without our vote. Sending in the troops looks strong and patriotic and people applaud when they see us on television doing a great job. But it is unrealistic. The military has been worn down by nearly 12 years of war. Equipment is wearing out, troops are tired, suicide rates skyrocketing, medical costs increasing. Add to this the fact that operational units are being squeezed by the budget fiasco forced by Congress in 2011 known as the sequester. But few will say this and that is as close to criminal negligence as one can get on the part of those advocating intervention in Syria.

I am offended by the knee jerk reactions of Congressmen and Senators as well as their enablers in the media and the beltway who seem to be advocating US involvement in yet another civil war in a Middle Eastern country. What is the legal basis for such an invasion or intervention? What is the human cost and what is the economic cost and who pays the bill?

Smedley Butler, Marine Corps Major General and two time Medal of Honor winner said it well when writing about the costs of war in his book War is a Racket following World War One, which by the way was the last time that US troops faced Chemical weapons:

“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill.

If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit  any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.”

In another part of his book Butler wrote:

“In the government hospital at Marion, Indiana 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around the outside of the buildings and on the porches. These have already been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically they are in good shape but mentally they are gone.” 

There are thousands and thousands of these cases and more and more are coming in all the time…

That’s a part of the bill. So much for the dead-they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded- they are paying now with their share of the war profits. But others paid with the heartbreaks when they tore themselves away for their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam- on which a profit had been made….”

Before any military actions are taken against Syria someone had better ask the hard questions that were so buried and ignored in the build up to the Iraq War. What is the cost? What is the legal basis? What is the endgame? If those questions cannot be answered in a satisfactory manner then not no American military forces be committed and not a dime spent.

Yes the situation in Syria is a tragedy, but intervention would likely make it even more so. As terrible as this conflict is, it is a Syrian affair. Yes we will have to deal with whatever comes out of it, but is American military intervention to secure the Syrian Chemical weapons the wise course of action, especially in light of how much that we do not know?

How many more coffins containing the bodies of US military personnel need to be shipped back from yet another war? Oh wait, I’ll bet you didn’t know that the bodies of soldiers killed by chemical agents are contaminated and most would not come home because of that risk. Somehow I don’t think that a military cemetery in Syria would be as well maintained as those in France, Belgium and Luxembourg where so many Americans lay in final repose following the First and Second World War. I know this because I have seen the British military cemetery in Habbaniyah Iraq.

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Yes this is a big deal for all of us. It is much too important to be made without a full accounting before a single American Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman is committed to action.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Bombing in Boston: Terror Returns to the United States

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The 117th Boston Marathon was drawing to an end as Boston celebrated Patriot Day. The winners had finished their races about two before and those men and women still on the course were those doing this for the simple fact of conquering a marathon, a famous marathon at that. At about 2:45 PM a large explosion went off near the finish line followed shortly by a second. Initial reports claimed dozens injured, some seriously and several deaths.

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When I first heard about the attacks I was waiting to board a flight from Chicago to Norfolk. My mind flashed back to 9-11-2011 and for a few minutes I wondered if something might also be going on with attacks on aircraft. I was glad to arrive home safely and as I heard the updated reports about the attack and was stunned. As I saw the video of the attacks I felt emotions that I had not felt since 9-11-2001. As I saw those images for the first time when we stopped for dinner felt tears come to my eyes.

We now know that 3 people were killed and around at least 113 wounded in today’s attack. It is the biggest terrorist attack in the United States since 9-11. Certainly it is not the most deadly in recent years, the mass murders at Virginia Tech, Aurora Colorado and Newtown Massachusetts took more lives but were not the result of a terrorist attack and each of those attacks were committed by lone gunmen with reported psychiatric problems.

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In the initial reports there was no indication of what had caused the explosions but all eyes focused on terrorism. Police are now reporting that small Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were used in the attack. Other reports state that police may have defused a number of other devices. Those reports are still unconfirmed.

No group has yet claimed responsibility but there are some reports that a “person of interest” has been taken into custody. Of course speculation runs rampant as to who or what group might have orchestrated this attack. My guest is some Islamic extremist group but I could also see a domestic terrorist group, possibly of the neo-Nazi type being behind the attack because of how international the event is in regard to the actual racers. Of course some conspiracy theory types, notably Alex Jones of the Prison Planet website believes it is an event orchestrated by the government. I think that Jones’ theory is the least credible. I believe that if the attackers are of an Islamic group that they will make a public announcement sooner rather than later, a domestic terror group will more than likely try to remain under the radar.

The possibility of a terrorist group attacking a sporting venue has long been on my mind. I have wondered why international or domestic terrorist groups have not attacked such venues simply because they are relatively soft targets where large numbers of people congregate. Attacks on aircraft, transportation and government buildings have been done but I think that many people almost assume that possibility now. What most people do not anticipate are attacks on sporting, entertainment, retail businesses like malls, educational facilities or even places of worship.

Ever since the 9-11-2001 attacks I have feared that terrorists, foreign and domestic would adjust their tactics to hit a major sporting event, but I did not believe that it would be a marathon, I expected a college or high school football game in the heartland of the country, far away from where most people expect terrorists to strike. A place that would show how vulnerable such events are and bring terror to people that have only known it through what they have seen on the news.

Such attacks if they do become the new normal for terrorist tactics could strike unimaginable fear across the country because these places a supposed to be safe. They are places where we can reasonably expect to take our families for enjoyment and recreation. One only has to remember the Washington DC Beltway sniper rampage in 2002 to see the kind of fear that such attacks provoked and how disruptive they were. Those attacks took place over a period of 23 days and sent an entire region into a state of shock and terror. In the 1980s while stationed in Germany we lived with the constant threat of terrorism conducted by the Baader-Meinhoff Gang/ Red Army Faction and State sponsored Islamic terrorists from Libya. On more than one occasion we just missed being at the sites of bombings at the Frankfurt PX and Airport in 1985.

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Red Army Faction Bombings in Germany

As we learn more about who or what group conducted this attack, the types of explosive devices used and the motivation and rational given for the attack we will be able to respond. Terrorists make their living by terrorizing people, breaking routine and destroying the feeling of security of those that they target. Even small attacks can disrupt open societies. Such attacks do not have to use explosives. Since weapons, including weapons that are military grade assault weapons are readily available a group willing do die for their cause could launch commando type attacks on public places where police and security officers, or even armed citizens would be badly outgunned until SWAT type units arrived. The attacks of Pakistani Taliban militants on an Indian Hotel in Mumbai a few years ago are indicative of the carnage that such attacks can inflict before the attackers are killed or captured.

It is quite possible that this could be the new normal for how terrorists attack the United States. If so we will have to learn how to best provide security without becoming a police state. I would hope that it is not, but I would not be surprised if it is. If it is the beginning of a new wave of terror we have to be ready.

I do hope that this is an isolated incident and that the perpetrators are found and swiftly brought to justice. Likewise I pray for the victims of this attack and their families and friends, people whose lives will not be the same after today. That being said it is very possible that these attacks are the opening salvo in a terror campaign that we have not experience before in the United States, but which has been common in Europe and the Middle East over the past 40 years.

Sometimes an event like this reminds me of just how isolated we are to this kind of terror. In Iraq today several dozen people were killed and close to 150 others wounded in terrorist attacks. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the Irish Republican Army terrorized Britain, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the Red Brigades and Baader Meinhoff Gang did the same in German. I remember the terror of the Baader Meinhoff Gang when I was stationed in Germany including just missing being at the site of a terrorist bombing. In the Moslem world there are varying reactions. The leader of a Jordanian terror group expressed no remorse while there’s prayed that the culprit would not be a Moslem.

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Pray and prepare because we do not know what will come next. President Obama has promised that the guilty will face justice. That being said, I do believe that the perpetrators will be found and brought to justice. Even so I wonder if there are others that will continue this kind of terror attack now that they know that it can be done.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Aftermath: Sandy Spreads Destruction along East Coast

Destruction in Atlantic City NJ

Sandy is still bringing destruction to much of the Northeast and the damage to areas affected is still being assessed. As of this evening close to 8 million Americans are without power, many more now homeless and much property and infrastructure is destroyed. At least 50 people are known dead in the United States. Over 16,000 airline flights have been cancelled leaving people stranded not just in New York and the Northeast but around the world. Estimates of the damage are just beginning but the costs to Americans could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Tens of millions of lives have been affected by the storm. The fact that some of the most high density populations and vulnerable populations in the country and the seat of corporate America  will make Sandy one of the most destructive and expensive storms ever to hit the United States.

Massive flooding, devastation, power outages and millions of people cut off from transportation and communications. Subways, airports, ports and tunnels are flooded, water and sewage systems are heavily damaged and millions of people are at risk and winter is coming.  The area hit is the most populous in the country and what happens there affects all of us.

Less affected states are sending help to New York and New Jersey which have been the hardest hit areas.

La Guardia Airport

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has impressed me. His words to those that want to make this a political carnival were something that I admire. I don’t always agree with Governor Christie but the man is real. Christie has been one of the most aggressive Romney surrogates in the past few weeks and was the keynote speaker at the RNC. However, unlike some he is not simply a political hack. He actually seems to care about the people of his state and recognizes the necessity of Federal Government assistance. Likewise he seems to be able to separate political expediency for real life real time honesty. When interviewed by Fox and Friends host Steve Doocey this morning Christie was in rare form.

It started when Steve Doocy said, “Over the last couple of months, you have appeared throughout the country, Governor, on behalf of Mitt Romney… (W)e hear that perhaps Mr. Romney may do some storm-related events. Is there any possibility that Gov. Romney may go to New Jersey to tour some of the damage with you?”

Christie answered: “ have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics and I could care less about any of that stuff. I have a job to do. I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power. I’ve got devastation on the shore. I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don’t know me.”

First responders have done heroic things and the overwhelmed cities and states have requested Federal assistance, assistance that some on the political right say is either unnecessary, not the responsibility of the Federal Government or “better done by the private sector” are loathe to support, unless the disaster occurs in their neighborhood.  President Obama commented Monday when asked about how Sandy might impact the election:  “The election will take care of itself next week.  Right now, our number-one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search-and-rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get the food, the water, the shelter that they need in case of emergency, and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.”

Obama will meet with Governor Christie in Newark Wednesday. The two leaders will see the destruction and work together to help the people that need help. That is what America is about.

This is massive damage and will be take a long term effort to recover. This is an American disaster, it affects us all in some way. The most affected are those directly impacted by the storm but if we do not act together it is a storm that could cripple the nation as much of our economy and commerce is centered in the epicenter of where Sandy hit so hard. It requires that Americans band together to help other Americans. It requires that we as a people finally stop the political fratricide and actually become Americans again.

Pray and help as you can. One can donate to the American Red Cross through this link:

http://www.redcross.org/support

The Salvation Army Disaster relief link for Hurricane Sandy donations is here: http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf

There are other groups that provide help and support as well, but those are two that I have donated to in the past and will do so again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Barry Goldwater was Right: Religious Leaders Endanger American Democracy

“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” — Justice Robert H Jackson, American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 US 382, 438; 70 SCt. 674, 704 (1950)

There is just over a month remaining before the 2012 Presidential Election. The campaign on both sides has been marked by distortions and lies as are most campaigns, but the most troubling aspect to me is the behavior of many professed Christians that are leaders of the religious right who seem to be more interested in their own interests than the interests of other Americans. All pretense has been thrown away this is not about Jesus, nor is it about the American principle of religious freedom, it is about conservative Christians of various denominations seeking to dominate through political means people that they have failed to convert with their message.

Unfortunately the political climate of the country is now dominated by the most extreme factions. Politicians and politically minded preachers, especially those of the religious right are using their “faith” to fuel animus against President Obama and before his nomination Mitt Romney to further their political aims.

I am a Christian and a Priest in a small Old Catholic denomination. I am a graduate of a premier Evangelical Protestant Seminary where I came to appreciate and revere religious liberty. What I am going to write today may offend some but it has to be said. I believe that the cause of religious liberty, and for that matter the liberty of the Christian Church to be faithful to its call and unencumbered by unseemly political alliances is in danger due to the actions of people that in many cases honestly believe that they are defending religious liberty. Justice Robert Jackson prosecuted the major Nazi War criminals at Nuremberg and was able to view the results of what happened when churches that entered into such alliances.

Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham and others too numerous to mention have said that President Obama was a Moslem without saying it flat out. Until he became the nominee many of these same leaders attacked Mitt Romney is not a Christian and a “member of a religious cult.”

Likewise people like Rick Santorum and some political preachers have compared the President to Adolf Hitler. When Santorum was asked about this by reporters during the primaries said that he “didn’t mean anything by his comments.” Give me a break. If you compare any American politician to Hitler it is not something that “you don’t mean.” It is an attempt to compare your opponent with one of the most evil men that ever lived.

Back in my days as a confirmed member of the religious right Barry Goldwater would occasionally get under my skin by criticizing leaders of the Religious Right. At the time I loved the “Voter’s Guides” published by the Christian Coalition and God forbid that anyone criticize the work of God being done by Christian political leaders.

But it was Barry Goldwater the man who inspired Ronald Reagan to run for President and who was the conservative bulwark for many years in Washington DC who warned what would happen when the Religious Right took over the Republican Party. Goldwater said of the types of religious people that currently dominate the conservative movement:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Billy Graham, a saint if there ever was one and a man who used his faith to build bridges even while being unabashedly evangelical warned back in 1981 about the current crop of religious conservatives and stand in sharp contrast to the words and actions of Franklin:

“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” Parade Magazine February 1, 1981, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

What we are seeing today is the expressed manifestation of religious bigotry operating under the guise of defending religious freedom. It is being shown in its ugliness by the brazen If there is any way to lose religious freedom it is to follow this attempt to marry the Christian faith with the American government is not only short sighted but does great damage to the faith and our American liberties.

Rick Santorum, James Dobson, James Robison, Rick Scarborough, Gary Bauer, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Franklin Graham and a host of influential of Evangelical leaders, politicians and even Roman Catholic Bishops have said what they believe religious liberty means to them and it has little in common with the understanding of our founders. The Catholic Bishop of Springfield Illinois has even said in the official diocesan newspaper that the Catholic Church deems sinful “makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.” This has nothing to do with limited government nor religious liberty. It is the imperial religion of Constantine, dressed up a bit to keep up with the times.  It is simply an attempt by these leaders to use the apparatus of the government to support themselves.

I am so glad that I attended a Southern Baptist Seminary before the fundamentalist takeover and came to value religious freedom. The freedom that early Baptists in Virginia fought to have included in the Bill of Rights, a belief that was against the domination of the government by any religious body, even other Christians.

George Truett, the great Southern Baptist Pastor who served as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in his book Baptists and Religious Liberty in 1920 about the decidedly negative effect of when the Church became the State religion:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The late Senator Mark Hatfield a strongly committed Evangelical Christian before it became popular in Washington made this comment concerning those that are now driving this spurious and poisonous debate:

“As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.”  quoted in the pamphlet “Christian Reconstruction: God’s Glorious Millennium?” by Paul Thibodeau

The current campaign is the imposition of Christian Dominionism onto the rest of the country. It may reference the Gospel and even certain Christian moral understandings even as it mocks other just as “Biblical” Christian teachings.

Back in 1981 Barry Goldwater said on the Senate Floor “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.”

Like it or not Goldwater was right about this crowd. They will drive their churches and their political party into the abyss. We are watching it happen before our very eyes. God help us all as Americans of all faiths because this is not the what men like Jefferson, Madison, Adams, or Washington desired. It is the re-emergence of the state religions of old Europe that they so strongly opposed, and which so many had fled.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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