Tag Archives: robert e lee quotes

An Unnecessary Condition of Affairs

“The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” Robert E. Lee

I am always attracted to military leaders with a tragic and honorable history, men who maintain honor and humanity even when the nations that they serve was on the wrong side of history.  There have been such men in almost every war and I admire them even in defeat more than I do those that win victories at all costs and in the process lose their souls. This puts me in a select minority and minorities are not always appreciated we tend to make people uncomfortable just by existing. Since I have been threatened by threatened by Neo-Nazis, called weak, a heretic, apostate and sometimes worse by fellow Christians even being tossed from my former church for now being “too liberal” I am now officially used to this even when it comes from friends Romans and countrymen and the occasional nutty European, Asian or Islamist from abroad.

Today we stand at a political divide not seen since the days leading up to the American Civil War but it didn’t have to come to this had our political and corporate leadership been responsible and acted with wisdom the past 40 years or so. Robert E Lee a man unquestioned integrity was torn by his desire to see the Union preserved and his allegiance to it and his loyalty to his own family and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Lee is a tragic figure a true man of courage, faith and decency, a man of moderation who maintained a profound respect and love for the United States even while leading the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.  He had his flaws as well but on the whole he was one of the truly great men in American history. When the war was lost he was an advocate of reconciliation between the deeply divided North and the conquered South.

In an age of bitterness brought about by defeat and the repression of the draconian measures of Reconstruction Lee was a man that understood that as Americans it was necessary to put aside bitterness.  After the defeat he was accosted by a woman professing her hatred of the North. His reply to her would be a good start for all of those today who hate their fellow Americans be they Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Tea Partiers on the basis of political ideology and the raw quest for power.  Lee said to this woman “Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.”

Unfortunately among certain parts of the electorate the Government of the United States is detested and some even call for revolution if not at the ballot box if need be by violence.  The rhetoric is certainly pointing that direction as conservatives and liberals alike turn up the heat on this witches cauldron that our country has become. Compromise is considered anathema by both sides especially by the Tea Party movement and the fact is that we are at war with ourselves the national fabric is broken even worse than or economic state or moral state.  We may not be shooting at each other yet but unless we see some kind of national decision by all Americans to stop the political fratricide and work together to solve the problems that have been festering for decades it may come to down to bullets and the tragedy will be worse than that of the Civil War because despite the tragedy of it some good did come, the end of slavery and an understanding of being Americans rather than simply New Yorkers or Virginians. Lee writing about the war said “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

This political fratricide is in large part due to the manner in which our politicians, political parties and even religious institutions are the servants of multinational corporations and financial groups. When everything comes down to it all of these institutions are deeply subservient to the whims of special interests especially multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It is no wonder that leaders as diverse as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Napoleon Bonaparte recognized the threat that they pose to nations and in the case of the United States to democracy itself. Jefferson wrote “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Roosevelt noted quite rightly, much to the chagrin of his fellow Republicans “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of today.” While Napoleon cut to the heart of the matter when he wrote “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”

Yet in the midst of our political fratricide there seems to be one special interest group above all which always seems to win even when the people of the country suffer. That group is the multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It doesn’t matter what party is in power they somehow come out with a big fat profit margin and get treatment that regular people could never hope to get. Now since the Supreme Court has ruled that big corporations (and labor too) now have no limits on what they can contribute to political campaigns you can bet your ass that politicians of all ilk’s will be suckling lucrative money milk from the tits of these corporations which will dispense billions of dollars to political campaigns in the coming year and a half leading up to the 2012 election.  We expect this of Republicans and Democrat but rest assured my friends that even Tea Party candidates will line up for their turn in order suckle at this tit to keep their newly acquired offices or gain more in the coming election. Such is the nature of politics in our fair country.

Meanwhile both parties dither about a budget that if they had been doing their jobs would have been completed months ago had Nancy Pelosi bothered to submit a budget for 2011 while Speaker of the House.  Now about three months into the new Congress both parties are posturing on the next year’s budget all the while the government lurches toward a shutdown of unpredictable consequences.

Yes we have to deal with the mess that these same people of both parties aided and abetted by their special interest group supporters have made over years to get us in this mess. Administration after administration and Congress after Congress have kicked this can down the road and now they have kicked it and the country into the ditch. Now something has to be done and Democrats seem loathe to step up to the plate and take political risks  while Republicans, particularly the Tea Party leadership are acting like the Jacobins during the French Revolution even threatening even their own party leadership if they don’t get everything that they want. All seem to ignore the fact that the vast majority of the country just wants both sides to figure the damned thing out and fix the problem for real even if it means personal sacrifice rather than seeing these people pursue the policy of mutually assured destruction.

Why does this seem so personal to me? Let me tell you. When I came back from Iraq after seeing the results of unbridled hatred in that country and having travelled in the Balkans after the Yugoslav Civil War I became frightened when I saw politicians of both parties speaking with the same invective as I saw in those countries. Nothing like seeing the effects of a real live shooting civil war to give one pause when political enemies threaten to cross that same line in this country.  Don’t dismiss this out of hand. For years certain pundits, politicians and preachers on both sides of the political chasm have been dehumanizing their opponents and once people are no longer seen as human it is very easy to resort to violence against them. Just take a look at the ordinary Germans who took part in the extermination of the Jews under the Hitler regime.

Am I forgetting something here? Yes I almost forgot, in 2008 we saw the housing crisis in which the very institutions caused the crisis were bailed out by both President Bush and President Obama with Congress willing and lovingly joining in to approve billions and billions of dollars for them. This included huge amounts of money which went to foreign financial institutions. Meanwhile regular people had their home value and credit slashed even as unemployment skyrocketed and in the following years we have seen the same banks seizing the foreclosed homes in record numbers while millions of others now owe far more on their loans than their homes are worth. It’s a great deal for the banks. Approve loans for people who will have a hard time repaying them, crash the economy have the government bail you out and then take the homes and sell them while still collecting the cash from the unfortunate former owners. Well to quote a great line from the Roman Empire segment of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy History of the World Part One

Leader of Senate: All fellow members of the Roman senate hear me. Shall we continue to build palace after palace for the rich? Or shall we aspire to a more noble purpose and build decent housing for the poor? How does the senate vote?
Entire Senate: F*** THE POOR!

It’s funny how a comedy from the late 1970s offers such remarkable political and social insights for us today. But then Teddy Roosevelt said of the Roman Republic as a warning to us back in 1903 “The death-knell of the republic had rung as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.”

Well if these present rulers don’t get their act together parts of the government will shut down and your military which is currently involved in four wars, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the nearly forgotten War on Terrorism in lots of places that the media doesn’t mention will not get paid. Ain’t that a hoot?  But mind you as military personnel try to salvage the wars that our politicians have plunged us into we still serve even if we won’t get paid.  Yet when push comes to shove we are cast aside by the political ruling class for their short term political gain.  I remember a quote of Robert E Lee which speaks volumes on this subject. Lee was besieged at Petersburg, his haggard and outnumbered Army deprived of food, ammunition and replacements was dying in the cold mud of the trenches when he went to seek help from the Confederate Congress. After his visit he remarked “I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.”

Seems that nothing really changes, does it? This unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides. When will we ever learn?

God help us all,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary

Veterans Day 2010: Counting the Cost of War

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.” General Robert E. Lee

Veterans Day had become a rather somber occasion for me over the past decade and since returning from Iraq in 2008 has taken on added personal significance.  I have noticed that I have become much more reflective about the sacrifices made by our military and the terrible coasts of war on our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and their families in this age of the all volunteer military.  The military which has about 2,225,000 members including the Reserves and National Guard is just 0.7% of the total population, the lowest percentage of military personnel compared to total population during any war in our history.  As a result this force has borne the brunt of a war that no politicians or bureaucrats figured would last half as long as it has.  As a result the “few” have been asked to do more for longer than and military that this nation has ever fielded during a war.

Thus for me Veterans Day has become a rather somber and reflective occasion as I ponder all the sacrifices made by our military and their families. In Afghanistan the U.S. Military has lost 1378 killed and our allies another 825.  In Iraq 4427 U.S. Military personnel have died along with 318 allied soldiers, not including the Iraqi military losses.  For each of the killed there are about 8 more wounded a total of over 38,000 wounded.  Of course the wounded numbers do not include 170,000+ cases of hearing damage; 130,000+ cases of mild traumatic brain injuries; and 200,000+ cases of serious mental health problems, over 30,000 serious disease cases, including a disfiguring, parasitic disease called Leishmaniasis, which results from bites of sand flies; thousands of cases of respiratory disease linked to exposure to toxic burn pit smoke and hundreds of suicides.  Then there are the injuries related to road and aviation accidents not in direct combat.  In my recent assignments in Iraq and Naval Medical facilities I have seen the human cost of the war.  I have friends who suffer as the result of Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD and Pulmonary diseases as well as those that have been wounded as the result enemy action.  I have a dear friend with a rare and irreversible pulmonary condition from two tours in Iraq. He is 41 his lungs are those of a 70 year old man.  My best friend, a senior Naval Officer is still suffering from the effects of TBI and PTSD incurred while serving with the Marines in Al Anbar Province.

My Dad Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas aboard USS Hancock CVA-19 off Vietnam circa 1971-72

A year ago on Veterans Day I was at with my parents in Stockton California to visit my mom and my dad who was then in a nursing facility due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.  It was a terrible visit conflict with my mother due to witches’ brew of my PTSD and grief for my dad and my mother’s struggles with my dad’s condition and her own physical condition.  I visited my dad every day when in two and unfortunately he did not know who I was, Alzheimer’s had robbed him of everything that made him my dad.  He died on June 23rd of this year a day after I found out that I had been selected for promotion to Commander.  My dad was a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who served in Vietnam on a beach detachment manning an emergency airfield in the besieged city of An Loc in 1972.  He never talked about that tour or what happened there except to tell me that he saw the Communists executing civilians in the city from his observation point.  He came home a changed man.  Thankfully he is now out of his suffering and our family is beginning to find its way back from the abyss of his illness.

I have served for over 29 years in the Army and the Navy and have witnessed many things and been blessed to have my life enriched by many veterans.  Unfortunately many of these brave men have since passed away, some having lived many years and others that have died far too young as a result of service connected injuries.

With advisors to the 3rd Bn, 3rd Brigade 7th Iraq Division COP South 2008

In my current work I see many young men that wear the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat. I see those that need assistance to walk, amputees, men with obvious scars from burns and others suffering blindness from their injuries. Our hospital’s Medical Board sees 40-60 Marines and Sailors a day, quite a few of whom that will be medically retired due to their injuries.  There are also those that have died by their own hand suffering from psychological and spiritual injuries too deep to fathom, we had one of our own Corpsman suicide last week.

The cost of war is terrible, as General William Tecumseh Sherman so eloquently put it: “War is Hell.”

Despite this our brave men and women that serve in all branches of the military as well as those that have gone before us in the 235 year history of our military have shouldered the load, for most of that history depending on volunteers who often served in obscurity often derided by their fellow Americans who believed that the military was a place to go if you could not be successful in the civilian world. The pay was low, the duty arduous and benefits few. In the Civil War, the World Wars and up until 1974 the professionals were augmented by draftees who outnumbered the professionals by a huge margin.  Since 1974 the force has been an all volunteer force.

Health and Comfort Board Team USS Hue City, Northern Arabian Gulf May 2002

Regardless of whether our Veterans were draftees or volunteers they have served this country well and on the whole to use the current Navy description are “A Global Force for Good.” The countries liberated from oppressors and helped in humanitarian operations by American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen are many and varied.  They have represented the spectrum of our society and represent the best the country has to offer.  Unfortunately they have not always been honored by some of their our countrymen and women and sometimes the children and grandchildren of the peoples that they liberated from Nazi, Fascist or Communist oppressors who often use the wrongdoing of a few military personnel or the decisions or actions of American politicians or businessmen to label American military personnel as criminals.

Unfortunately since the military is such a small part of our population and concentrated in a few large bases it is invisible to most Americans as they live their daily lives. Often in isolated from the bulk of America such as Killeen Texas home of the U.S. III Corps and Jacksonville North Carolina the home of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and Second Marine Division are quintessential military towns but neither are near major population centers and thus the sacrifice of these Soldiers, Marines and Sailors goes unnoticed by most of the nation.  In a sense the human cost of the war falls inordinately upon these military communities where there are few strangers.

In spite of this the current men and women of the American Military train, deploy, fight and return every day as they have since the 9-11-2001 attacks, many if not most have made multiple combat tours.  I have been pleased to see more support of the military in the media, especially sports media and leagues.  Many businesses are taking time to offer things of value to servicemen and women and those businesses should be commended and patronized.  I was touched by many stories that I saw about our veterans on ESPN over the past few days.  http://www.espnmediazone3.com/us/2010/11/espn%E2%80%99s-weeklong-salute-to-veterans-day/

Many of our Reserve component personnel give up civilian employment and chances for promotion to serve in the military, particularly when they are mobilized for service. When they return home most return to towns and cities that have little of the support afforded to active duty members when they return.  I pray that our political leaders in the future will exercise discernment and wisdom before committing us to another war. Otto Von Bismarck said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” Unfortunately the current members of the House, Senate and Executive branch have little connection to the military as very few have served and I wonder if any really comprehend this maxim.  In the 111th Congress 120 members had some form of military service.  The number of veterans in the 111th Congress reflects the trend of a steady decline in the number of Members who have served in the military. For example, there were 298 veterans (240 Representatives, 58 Senators) in the 96th Congress (1979-1981); and 398 veterans (329Representatives, 69 Senators) in the 91st Congress (1969-1971).  Those who have served a full military career are far fewer; the number of congressmen with military careers will remain relatively constant for the 112th Congress. In the Senate there will be one (as compared with two in 2006 and one in 2008) and in the House there will be eight (as compared with four in 2006 and six in 2008).  Some of these Congressional Veterans have been vilified by some broadcasters and pundits of the extreme right wing media most of whom who have never served in the military.  On the positive side nine members of the new Congress will have served in the current wars which hopefully will help promote the sacrifice of our current Veterans and help with programs that will help returning Veterans.

I have seen the cost of war up close and personal in Iraq and back here in the States. I suffer some the afflictions described as a result of my service and see the young men and women many of whom were not yet born when I enlisted in the Army, or when I was commissioned as an Army Officer, when I was a Company Commander or when I was a senior Captain in the Army. These young men and women are heroes.

Please take a moment to thank a Veteran.  If you have time volunteers are always welcome at organizations such as the USO and American Red Cross working with our troops, join or support organizations which promote the causes of Veterans including the Iraq Afghanistan Veteran’s Association www.iava.org the Veterans of Foreign Wars http://www.vfw.org/, American Legion http://www.legion.org/ , Marine Corps League http://www.mcleague.org/, the Fleet Reserve Association http://www.fra.org/, the Association of the U.S. Army http://www.ausa.org and the Disabled American Veterans http://www.dav.org/. There are also many charitable organizations that provide assistance to Veterans and their families’ one of the best being the Fisher House Foundation http://www.fisherhouse.org/ which provides comfortable and free lodging to the families of wounded, injured or sick military personnel on bases adjacent to military hospitals. I found these ten ways that you can help on Yahoo.com:

1. At 11 a.m., observe a moment of silence for those who’ve fought and died while in service to the country

2. Display an American flag

3. Attend a Veterans Day parade

4. Thank a vet for his/her service

5. Send a letter to troops through the U.S. Department of Defense Website

6. Work in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen

7. Visit a veteran’s grave or pick up trash at a veterans cemetery

8. Visit with the family of a veteran who’s serving overseas

9. Visit with a wounded vet at a local VA facility

10. Donate to the USO, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars USA or other organizations that honor and assist vets

Keep us all in your prayers and please when Veterans Day is past do not forget those of us that serve and our families, especially those men and women serving in harm’s way.  To my friends and comrades I echo the words of the German commander to his troops in captivity at the end of the Band of Brother’s mini-series:

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, shipmates and veterans