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Joy and Sorrow in Boston: The Boston Marathon Bombers are Killed or Captured

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“joy and sorrow are inseparable. . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” Kahlil Gibran 

I was listening to the radio tonight on my way home from dinner when news broke that Boston Police, the Massachusetts State Police and the FBI had cornered and eventually captured the second suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing. The capture came after a city wide lock down in which the FBI, the Mayor and Governors shut down public transportation systems and asked people to “shelter in place” or remain in their homes.

That order came after the suspects had killed a MIT Police Officer and commandeered a SUV after the FBI had released photos of them and asked for assistance in identifying and finding them. Within minutes the phone lines and websites were flooded with tips and reports. They were found and the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a gunfight with police. The younger brother Dzhokhar escaped though wounded and found refuge in a boat parked in a driveway on Franklin Street in Watertown.  At about 5PM the owner of the boat, leaving his house when given the all clear saw blood leading to the boat and discovered the wounded suspect in the boat and immediately called police.

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After it was confirmed by NBC’s Pete Williams and other news services people poured onto the streets of Watertown and Boston. People were cheering and waving American flags some chanting USA, USA USA! There was a collective sigh of relief and shout of victory when law enforcement officials captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

It was amazing thing to see it, in fact I went back to my local watering hole to celebrate with whoever still might be around. It was a cathartic moment. I think the last time I saw this kind of reaction was when Osama Bin Laden was killed by SEAL Team Six.

However despite the joy it I saw the following tweet on Twitter from the Boston Police Department.

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It was a moment that struck me. For when I saw that tweet it became apparent to me that what I was witnessing was real joy, but it was joy because the two brothers had inflicted great pain and suffering on hundreds of people. They killed four, wounded nearly 180 more and terrorizing a city. My thought, which I posted on my Facebook page was “Remember…the reason we are cheering now is because so many wept…” I saw the paradox inherent in this expression of joy. It was a kind of deliverance from evil, people rejoiced for good reason but their rejoicing was the product of the suffering of the people that they knew who had been affected by the evil perpetrated by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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I felt the same joy because though I did not know any of the men, women or children killed by them the victims were my fellow citizens and others who were guests in my country. I don’t know about you but when someone be they a citizen or non-citizen attacks my country and kills and injures my fellow citizens and those that are our guests it angers me. I felt that anger in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and in 2001 when Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I felt in on Monday when I heard about the Boston Marathon Bombing while waiting for my flight home at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. For the days between that afternoon and this evening I felt the collective anxiety of so many others as we all wondered who had conducted this attack and what might happen next.

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True joy is almost always the sister of unwanted pain and sorrow. This week so many Americans experienced both sorrow and joy. It was a surreal week. Now the story isn’t over. Dzhokhar is badly wounded and has to recover from those wounds before he stands trial in a Federal Court and before we find out more of the reasons for this attack and the relationship, if any of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Chechnyan or Islamic  terrorist groups.

That being said, today is a day to celebrate even as we recognize how so many others suffer. It is a paradox.

Until tomorrow

Peace,

 

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the Killing of Osama Bin Laden While Realistically Looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan

A year ago US Navy SEALs from SEAL Team Six and other Special Operations Forces made a daring night raid into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden.  Bin Laden had orchestrated the Al Qaeda attacks on September 11th 2001 which killed over 3000 Americans, the near sinking of the US Navy Destroyer USS Cole, the Luxor Massacre of 1997 and the bombings of the US Embassies in Dar es Salaam Tanzania and Nairobi Kenya in 1998 and numerous other terror attacks throughout the Middle East. Bin Laden was the sworn enemy of the United States. The killing of Bin Laden was a victory, perhaps the biggest victory that we have achieved in over 10 years of war. In fact Bin Laden was the reason we went to war, the reason that we became embroiled in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden had been the “guest” of the Afghan Taliban government and used Afghanistan as his base of operations to train his fighters and plan his operations. After September 11th the United States attacked Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban and put Bin Laden on the run. Pakistan which had supported the Taliban government following the fall of the former Soviet supported Republic of Afghanistan and subsequent civil war which brought the Taliban to power. Pakistan’s President Musharraf quickly allied his country with the United States.  However over the course of the 10 year war in Afghanistan the government and certain elements of its security and intelligence services gave tacit support to the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda. The most damning was the fact that Bin Laden had resided in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad with a significant amount of his family for five years.

President Obama gave the order for the SEAL team to kill Bin Laden over the objections of his Vice President and Secretary of Defense. It was a ballsy move. If it had gone wrong which it easily could have many US troops could have been killed, captured and placed on display by the Pakistani government.  The credit to the planning and execution of the operation has to go to the SEALs and Special Operations Command, but credit for the order to do it needs to be given to the President.  If President Bush had succeeded in killing Bin Laden I would feel the same way.

The fact is that President Obama has been successfully waging war against Al Qaeda, not only killing Bin Laden but other top leaders. Even Bin Laden before his death was concerned about the toll being taken on his organization by the reinvigorated US campaign.  The Pakistanis enraged by the United States taking the war against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies inside Afghanistan, something that it should have been doing but had not despite Jihadist terrorist attacks on it cut the supply lines to US and NATO forces running through it months ago and have not reopened them. Some ally.

But that is not surprising. As far back as November 1979, before the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan the US Embassy was ransacked and burned by Pakistani mobs, an attack which killed a US Marine. The Pakistanis only began to reluctantly cooperate with the United States in supporting some of the Afghan Pashtun Mujahideen fighters.  After the Soviets left Afghanistan it continued to support its Pashtuns against Uzbek and Tajik Afghans, support which eventually allowed the Taliban to take over the country. Despite US protests in the 1990s the Pakistanis did little to nothing to hinder Bin Laden, Al Qaeda or the Taliban regime. While it quickly and officially “supported” the US under former President Musharraf factions within its ISI intelligence service are believed to have continued to support Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and encouraged attacks on US, Afghan and  NATO troops.

Pakistan itself teeters on the edge of collapse. Its economy is in shambles, it cannot control its borders, its intelligence service is often at odds with the government while extremist groups gain more power every day. It is a rapidly failing state with nuclear weapons. Every day it grows more antagonistic towards the United States which under the Obama Administration had been persistent in using arial drones to attack suspected terrorists in Pakistan. The relationship between the United States and Pakistan is as bad or worse as it was in 1979.

In the mean time our former nemesis the Russian Federation, the former Soviet Union has been stalwart in allowing our troops and supplies to flow through their country and the neighboring Central Asian Republics into Afghanistan. The Russians having experienced the agony of Afghanistan and the reality of Jihadist terrorism emanating from it as well as Chechnya do not want the US and NATO mission to stabilize Afghanistan to fail.  Currently without the support of the Russians we would be unable to supply our troops in Afghanistan.

Today President Obama travelled to Afghanistan and announced the signing of a long term security and cooperation agreement with the Afghan government. The agreement will take effect after the current plan to withdraw most US and NATO troops by 2014. We have no idea how well this will turn out and despite all the good intentions on our part I doubt that the agreement stands the test of time because of the nature of Afghanistan and its competing ethnic, religious, political and tribal divisions. It is my belief that we will be lucky to get out as well as the Soviets did in 1989 because I do not see a truly united Afghanistan coming out of this and it is more than likely that Pakistan will descend into chaos making our presence in Afghanistan even more problematic.

The mission started to get Bin Laden after 9-11. In the process it became something different as we attempted to transform Afghanistan. A year ago we finally succeeded in killing Bin Laden and have significantly degraded Al Qaeda.  That is why we went to war.  That is probably the best it will get.

At some point President Obama or his successor will likely have to decide to withdraw completely from Afghanistan and like former Soviet Premier Gorbachev admit that “We are not going to save the regime. We’ve already transformed it.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Lost Art

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best.” Otto von Bismarck

I did my yearly duty of enduring the State of the Union Address.  I have done this every year when not deployed, at sea or in the field since I was in college. I have learned over the years that regardless of who the President is or what party they belong does not make the watching of this speech any less of an ordeal.

Some Presidents were marvelous orators and others not.  Typically the rebuttal to any President’s State of the Union is always a critique of whatever the President said and why the opposition and its ideas or policies are better.  Thus when Presidents like Ronald Reagan, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and even President Obama use   lofty language and rhetoric it is hard for the opposition to sound like anything other than less than exciting.  Now this says nothing about the substance of the ideas or even the truth of what is being spoken by either side especially in an election year. Bismarck so adroitly put it “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.” 

Call me a cynic but I guess I am now old enough to have see that the speeches really don’t matter that much unless the leaders of both parties are willing to work together for the good of the country.  There are policies and positions in both parties that I agree with and those that I disagree with. I don’t think either party has a lock on truth nor have the answers to all of the challenges that we face totally contained in their ideology or party platform.

The speech by President Obama was an excellent speech and the response by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was not bad. Again I am not going into specific details of what either said but rather the tone of both. There were differences and Daniels was pugnacious but not disrespectful and Daniels even found places of agreement with the President. Unfortunately that is rare among the rest of his party.

Maybe I have been in the military too long but some of the things done by leaders, elected leaders and pundits of both parties over the past 10 years since George W Bush was elected turn my stomach. I want the country to do well and for whoever the President is at the time to meet with success.  I may not support all of their agenda but they have the job of President and I don’t.  I believe in the teamwork embodied by the military and particularly that of SEAL Team 6 and the supporting units who killed Osama Bin Laden that the President emphasized so well.

When Nancy Pelosi said of President Bush “Why should we put a plan out? Our plan is to stop him. He must be stopped” I was appalled. When Mitch McConnell said that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” I was equally appalled. That is no way to help the country.

Otto Von Bismarck was was quite the pragmatist. He understood that there is an art to politics. Ronald Reagan understood the same and was able to work with the opposition as much as he could get of his agenda passed and make deals including raising taxes to get it done. Unfortunately the Unholy Trinity of Politicians Pundits and Preachers on both sides of the political chasm have somehow come to the conclusion that it is a winner take it all game.  I’m glad that President Obama and Governor Daniels despite their differences did not use tonight to demonize their opponents. Maybe that is a start.

Of course this is an election year and the country is bitterly divided. We have practically been at war with each other for at least that long, probably longer. I just hope that somehow we as a people can rally around the country and whatever our politics not forget that we are all Americans and are in this boat together.  As Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address at the close of the Civil War:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

Peace

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A Grievous Loss: CH-47 with 31 Americans believed Shot Down during Combat Operation in Afghanistan

CH-47 Making a Rooftop Pickup in Afghanistan

Yesterday a U.S. Army CH-47F helicopter from the elite 160th Aviation Regiment was shot down during a combat operation in Afghanistan’s Tangi Valley in the troubled Wardak Province killing 31 American Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen and 8 Afghan soldiers.U.S. officials have not confirmed the circumstances of how the aircraft was lost but a senior official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was apparently shot down said that 22 SEALS from SEAL Team 6 based inVirginia BeachVirginia, 3 Air Force Air Controllers, a dog handler and his dog and the air crew.

The Taliban have claimed the shoot down occurred when NATO forces were engaged in a heavy raid against their forces which were gathering in the Sayd Abad district and the head of the Afghan Police in the Province claimed that there was a two hour battle in the town of Jaw-e-mekh Zareen.  The Taliban official claimed that the aircraft was downed by a rocket propelled grenade as it was taking off from the roof of a building.  The Taliban official Zabihullah Mujahid said that 8 Taliban fighters were killed in the fight.

This morning I received a call from the chaplain that is my assistant at our hospital. She has the duty this weekend because I have had such a difficult time getting around when called in late on Wednesday night for the death of a newborn baby.  Since she was the duty she received the page that she was needed to accompany a Casualty Assistance Call Officer (CACO) to notify the family of one of these SEALS who lived in the local area.  We will be providing more assistance over the course of the coming weeks.  When she told me about the call I knew that it was in response to the SEALS lost in the crash because Sailors assigned to Marine units who become casualties are taken care of by their Marine Corps commands and the Navy Chaplains assigned to them. I thank God that I have been blessed having such an outstanding young Chaplain assigned to me.

This is a terrible loss of brave men and tragedy for their loved ones and shipmates.  That kind of loss tears a gaping hole in a small community.  Just on the practical side one does not produce the kind of skilled Special Operators assigned to SEAL Team Six, or DEVGRU overnight, these are the best of the best. They do not grow on trees.

The SEAL community will recover as they have done before but this loss hurts.  It hurts because even more because as a nation we don’t understand the war or how such sacrifices actually contribute to our national security.  We don’t even seem to know how we define “winning” or even if we can define what a “win” would look like if we can achieve it now.  I know combat hardened Marines who now fight for their fellow Marines and their brotherhood of war.   The same is true of Soldiers and Sailors that I know.  I would go to Afghanistan tomorrow if called in order to serve my fellow Sailors, Marines and Soldiers because for me after 10 years the war is personal.

I find it troubling that there are those that continue to act like cheerleaders and act as if the limited numbers of troops available can do a counterinsurgency mission that by doctrine requires far more troops, resources and time to do right and a national will to win.  The reality is we do not have the forces, the resources or the national will to “win” and we know from history that even winning militarily cannot be sustained unless Afghanistan itself changes and that history shows at best unlikely.

I am reminded of the words of General John Buford in opening part of the movie Gettysburg when I hear those that do the cheerleading from their comfortable political offices and think tank chairs when tragedies like this occur.

“They’ll be on his back in Washington. Wire hot with messages ‘Attack! Attack!” So he will set up a ring around these hills. And when Lee’s army is nicely entrenched behind fat rocks on the high ground, Meade will finally attack, if he can coordinate the army. Straight up the hillside, out in the open, in that gorgeous field of fire. We will charge valiantly… and be butchered valiantly! And afterwards men in tall hats and gold watch fobs will thump their chest and say what a brave charge it was…”

The cheerleaders may not wear tall hats anymore or have gold watch fobs. Instead they wear Armani suits and Rolexes. They always praise the bravery of the military from their luxurious perches as they gaze into the cameras of the parasitic media which only sees the story.  We will see hundreds of members of the Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers thump their chest and praise the bravery of the SEALS and the Soldiers and Airmen that died alongside them in that ill fated Chinook on that tragic night over the next week, but this will fade quickly as these people go about the business of maintaining their power and position no matter what happens on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

I have spent the day pondering the sacrifice of these men and praying for their loved ones and shipmates.  Since I have flown many night missions in Chinooks in Iraq including one that took fire I can readily imagine the last moments of these men.

I pray for the souls of these men and that somehow in tragedy that their loved ones and shipmates will find some measure of peace as they mourn the sacrifice of these heroes. I pray that we as their neighbors will do all that we can to help them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on the Well Deserved Death of Osama Bin Laden and some Christian’s Crocodile Tears for his Soul

Note: This is one of my Denny Crane moments indulge me

Osama Bin Laden got his just deserts yesterday at the hands of the Navy SEALS of Seal Team Six known simply as DEVGRU to those that have served in the SEAL and EOD community.  A head shot and a chest shot and Osama was off to meet his 72 Virginians via Davy Jones Locker.  Rumor has it that a pack of sharks trolling behind the USS Carl Vinson for lunch noted his enshrouded body sinking into the depths and passed on it leaving it to sink to the depths to be devoured by bottom feeding creatures.  When they were asked why they didn’t chow down on the murderous yahoo from Yemen one was quoted as saying “He gave our profession a bad name.”

All kidding aside I am glad he is gone and if I could have been in Washington DC, at Ground Zero or at the Phillies Mets game http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/Video-Phillies-fans-chant-8216-U-S-A-8217-?urn=mlb-wp5081  I would have partied all night long and I cannot imagine any American or for that matter any decent human being not celebrating this.  The good guys got a win for once and we should celebrate we deserve it. We haven’t had much to celebrate since September 11th 2001 and this is as good of occasion as any.

Now I know that I’m going to get some crap from some readers that this is not a Christian attitude and I will admit that they are probably right.  I know this to be a fact because I saw absolutely idiot comments from some of my Christian friends on a social ministry sight almost shedding crocodile tears about Bin Laden’s death saying that God doesn’t take any joy in the death of the unrighteous but if you are a good Old Testament type Calvinist, which by the way I am not by any means, you can interpret parts of the Old Testament as God having one big party as he has his people whack and shwack their enemies ethnically cleansing whole cities so they might have a place to live. Heck the Psalmist even rejoiced in bashing babies heads against big rocks.  Not a very pro-life sounding message there but it is the Old Testament and happens to be in vogue among some parts of Evangelicalism.  Thus to hear some of the same people who love to use these “imprecatory prayers” against fellow Americans on the opposite side of the political aisle cry these faux tears over the soul of Bin Laden it makes me sick.

The man was a brutal killer and thug who killed thousands of our own people and thousands of others, many which were his fellow Moslems.  Some of these folks such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and even the recently deceased David Wilkerson and others even told us back after 9-11 that it was “God’s judgment on this county.”  I remember the aftermath of the September 11th 2011 attacks and seeing the internet for the first time in days after being locked down aboard Camp LeJeune NC. I was aghast to see some of these men and others that this was God’s judgment on America.  Of course when many of their own congregations and donors objected most retreated from their positions with immense “mea culpa” moments.

Back in the 1960s it was the liberals that said we were the bad guys for Vietnam and punished those that served in that war.  Now days it is a bit different especially because we have a Democrat in the White House, a black one without a good American name like Bob we have conservative Christians acting like the liberals of the 1960s crying over the death Che Guevara and extolling the Chinese “Cultural Revolution.” For some reasons and I can’t imagine why there seems to be such a loathing of their own country by such people. Sure we are not perfect and we have messed up a lot. If you read this site I am not uncritical of various actions of different Presidents, Congress or any part of our government and some of our actions around the world.  We’re not a perfect nation but but we still are one of the best shows in town. But I’ll tell you what I love this country and continue to serve her and defend the rights of all Americans to hold views about the country that I personally distain. But that is why I love the Good Old USA because we don’t have to agree to be Americans; well at least that’s what I think.  But sometimes when I see comments like this crying for Bin Laden’s soul and condemning the country I wonder what the hell is going on. I see them criticize the very country that gives them the right to criticize their government with impunity, even using the “judgment of God card” as they wish.  In fact that is why the Pilgrims and other English Separatists came here so they could criticize the crown without being harassed and ensured that those that disagreed with them couldn’t do so safely without having to go establish the Rhode Island Colony like Roger Williams did.  But I digress….

When I see such comments mourning Bin Laden or assuming that God’s judgment is on America I feel my inner Colonel Nathan R. Jessup rising up especially when I see so few of them flocking to the colors and run to the recruiting stations saying “here I am send me Sir!” You see it is so easy to theologize and criticize but so much harder to put your life on the line. However if you secretly loathe the country it is easy to condemn those charged with protecting it from the Commander in Chief down, especially when you claim God as your authority.  I love this quote from the great film A Few Good Men coming from Colonel Jessup played most delightfully by Jack Nicholson and I think it suits my mood right about now:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.” 

Now our forces from the Commander in Chief down did their jobs and did them well in providing Bin Laden an exit from his internet less misery in Pakistan.  I for one celebrate this event. If this makes me somehow less spiritual or Christian so be it. I am an American and Osama Bin Laden was our enemy personified. So go ahead and weep for Bin Laden if you wish my fellow Christians. Pray for his soul but let the rest of us enjoy a moment of victory in this painful and long war in which so many Americans and others have died because of the actions of Osama Bin Laden and his minions.  Don’t piss on their memory by feeling bad that Bin Laden didn’t get a chance to meet Jesus in this world.

Yes I’m a bit snarky today but I haven’t forgotten September 11th and I am glad that so many Americans are overjoyed by this. For once we got one in the win column.  We’re entitled to celebrate because we get to go back on the field tomorrow and hopefully whack some more of Bin Laden’s slugs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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