Tag Archives: sequestration

The Continuing Racket of the War Profiteers

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

With all the domestic political news and the apocalyptic talk and actions surrounding John Roberts the Supreme Court and Obamacare it is hard to believe that we are at war for over 10 years and are at war or now preparing for war all over the Middle East. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, you name the place there is a real a present danger of US forces becoming involved in even more war. The Trinity of Evil, those Politicians, Pundits and Preachers and over 60% of Americans now are in favor of sending in ground troops to fight the Islamic State.

There are no statesmen left in Washington DC only shills of the Right and Left and their masters from Wall Street to K Street. The only people profiting from this are the war profiteers who even if the budget gets cut and they fail to deliver usable weapon systems on time or in budget will still get paid. The losers will be the military personnel who must fight the wars who will get tossed onto the street by those that claim that personnel costs are the problem. Of course those that make this point are almost always the same lobbyists that shill for the defense industries and the banks. But enough about them.

Right now tens of thousands of American military personnel and other Department of Defense, Federal law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, humanitarian workers as well as contractors in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands more (mostly contractors)  are helping to shore up the Iraqi government against the Islamic State or are fighting wars by other names in Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa.  Others are deployed to counter Iran or standing by to assist other allies should the conflict in Iraq and Syria spill over the boarders. Of course this does not take into account the instability in Egypt, Libya, Eastern and Central Africa that threatens even more war or the potential of turmoil in Europe, especially the Ukraine. Likewise a crisis with the Euro Crisis could bring about more financial disasters or even revolutions in countries that are our allies. By the way let’s not forget about the nutcase leaders of North Korea who could provoke war on that side of the world in a heartbeat.

But never mind this, let’s fight each other instead threaten insurrection when we don’t get our way. But wait, I digress…

Did you know that while Americans stand in harms way almost every real or potential enemy has been armed, subsidized or assisted by American corporations and paid for by American tax dollars.  We have armed much of the world with weapons that have already in Iraq and Afghanistan killed thousands of American military personnel. But those were small time weapons compared to what we have provided to Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and yes even Israel. F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighter planes, Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles, M-1 Tanks, M113 Fighting vehicles, Patriot Air Defense systems, you name the weapons system the war profiteers will sell it and US taxpayers will pay for it. These are weapons that very easily could be used with great effect to attack American interests should leaders in any of those countries decide to use them against us. I only include Israel because in 1967 its forces viciously attacked the USS Liberty which was operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as Israel launched its pre-emptive war against Egypt. Although all of these countries are “allies” we must remember that alliances are only as good as the interests and values that unite nations.

Our defense industries with the support of the government sell advanced weapons to nations that often are less than trustworthy allies, allies of convenience that have little love for the United States but welcome the weapons and training that we provide.  They often use them to suppress the aspirations of their own people and plant the cultivate the seeds of radicalism and revolution.  It is hard not to cringe when pro-democracy protestors are killed by totalitarian regimes whose police and military are armed to the teeth with American made weapons. When those totalitarian regimes fall as did that of the Shah of Iran in 1979 those weapons fall into the hands of people radicalized against us by our support of their former oppressors.

Certainly nobody seriously believes that the angry masses in the countries that we have armed to the teeth with the latest in American weaponry would not use that weaponry against us should they desire.  But wait…. our politicians, arms dealers, bankers and their political, religious and financial backers certainly wouldn’t put Americans in harms way? Perish the thought, but not so quickly. They have done so before and will do it again.

Smedley Butler is one of under two dozen American military personnel to win the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. He saw the dangers of Fascism as well as the danger of unlimited corporate and business power to profit by war. Butler was not only a  valiant Marine he was also a commander that in war and peace cared about those who served. He saw how American finance and banking interests helped drag us into the Fist World War, the promises broken by the government and the lives destroyed by war.

In his book War is a Racket Butler wrote eloquently about how the heads of corporations and their political supporters in both parties were the only benefactors of war. He wrote of the plight of the soldiers that served and returned wounded and often changed by war and he did not mince words in what he saw. He became an anti-war activist. He was a supporter of the Bonus Army, the veterans that “occupied” Washington DC during the last year of the Hoover Administration to get the bonuses promised for their service and were violently evicted by troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. If he was alive today I have no doubt that he would be an active supporter of the current “Occupy” movement and opponent of politicians, political activists, lobbyists and even preachers that advocate even more war.

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Butler’s War is a Racket as well as other published works are a worthwhile read and should make the most rabid fan of war think twice. Butler’s patriotism and devotion to the United States and the Constitution is unquestioned. His warnings are strong, he was a prophet in regard to the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex well before President Eisenhower coined the term as he left office. He detailed how corporations made obscene profits often by selling the US Military vast amounts of materials that it could not possibly use and which taxpayers bought while business leaders and bankers made their fortunes that they never had realized when the nation was at peace. He reminds us of the dangers that our founders recognized about entwining ourselves in other people’s wars. While his answers on how to end war are now utopian dreams because of advances in technology and the wars which now rage without end in sight they are nonetheless not a bad place to start a debate.

Butler writes movingly about the price paid by veterans years after the war, men broken in body, mind and spirit from their war service.

“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.” 

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One would think that things would be better now but our veterans’ health care system is a train wreck and there is an epidemic of suicide among active duty troops and veterans. In 2005 after years of hand wringing the Bush administration grudgingly increased the number of Soldiers and Marines even while cutting Navy personnel and ships to the  minimum that they could despite ever increasing operational tempos. The Navy was reduced by over 50,000 sailors during the Bush years and now when the Navy is needed more it has been reduced to the point that 8-10 month deployments with short turn arounds will be normal.

Now the Obama administration is cutting back partly due to the withdraw from Iraq but mostly because of the economic crisis. However the bulk of these cuts are falling on the military personnel and not the war profiteers. The Army will be cut by nearly 80,000 in the coming years the Marines by 20,000 and that may increase if the budget takes the sequestration hit without any reduction in operational tempo. These Soldiers and Marines will enter a bleak job market where many employers give little value to military experience or training, which has resulted in a vastly higher unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans than the general population.

It wasn’t much different in Butler’s day. He writes:

“Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. They were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think of nothing but killing and being killed.

The suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face”! This time they had to do their own readjusting, sans mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice, sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them anymore. So we scattered them about without any “three minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades.”

Butler recounted another visit to a different veterans’ hospital:

“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 thier 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….”

I could go on but I think that Butler says it quite well and with the passion of a Marine who was wounded on more than one occasion and won the Medal of Honor twice.

The only people that want war are those that profit from it and don’t have to pay the price paid by those that have to fight them and pay for them. When I see pictures of Mitt Romney protesting in support of the Vietnam war while getting deferment after deferment to avoid service it makes my head spin. My head spins even more when I hear him talking brazenly about committing US troops to even more war. For me the pictures of Romney’s pro-war protests as a college student avoiding war on educational and religious service deferments as millions of other Americans went to war are up there with the pictures of “Hanoi” Jane Fonda giving aid and comfort to those that were killing our troops.

Butler’s detractors and they are legion on the political right attempt to paint him as an isolationist or appeaser of Hitler. However they misunderstand him and his work. They don’t understand as Butler understood that there would not have been a Nazi Germany without Versailles and that was not possible without the American intervention on the side of Britain and France in 1917. That involvement was driven by the bankers and industrialists who had supplied raw materials, weapons and technical patents to the British and French, and had done so before with the Germans who believed that they would lose their investments if the Germans won the war. That would have happened in late 1917 or early 1918 had not the Americans declared war and entered the war on the side of the British and French.

Most of Butler’s current critics have never served a day in uniform much less a day in a combat zone. They make their livings and profits by the sacrifice of others and other than a few of his quotes have never read anything about him.

If you sense indignation in my voice it is real. I have lived the nightmare of PTSD for over 7 years. I see and work with the young men and women that have bravely endured the hardship of combat deployments and come home physically, mentally and spiritually wounded. To our credit we are trying to do better, but that doesn’t always happen. But for the war profiteers even that will be too much. If military spending is cut you can bet that they will not take the hit that military personnel, their families and our veterans will take. They and their political benefactors will not allow it.

I am a military man through and through. I have spent nearly my whole life associated with the military as a dependent of a Navy Chief who served in Vietnam and a career of over 30 years divided between the Army and Navy. Some of my friends dads did not return from Vietnam, other friends and those who I have served with have paid with their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan while others suffer the continuing wounds of war.

This is personal for me and it is also motivated by my faith as a Christian. Today when I see prominent and politically influential right wing Evangelical Christian leaders and pastors beat the drums of war I am reminded of how Butler chided the pro-war clergy propagandists of the Great War. He wrote: “So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill Germans. God is on our side…it is his will that the Germans be killed.” Only today, it is not a blood lust for German blood, it is a blood lust for Moslem blood and it gets louder ever day.

Such preaching is not much different from the right wing pro-war preachers who advocate killing Moslems simply because they are Moslems and that go out of their way to preach the value of “pre-emptive war” despite such wars being against the Christian understanding of the  “Just War” or international law against such war that we as Americans helped develop after World War Two at Nuremberg and to which we hold the leaders of what we call “rogue nations.”

I only wish that our leaders; political leaders of both parties, religious leaders, and even business leaders would see the folly of this course and their responsibility for the results.

Someone has to say it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: All quotations from “War is a Racket” by Smedley Butler copyright 1935 and 2003 by the Butler family. Amazon Kindle edition. 

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Thoughts after Springing Forward: A Symposia, Time with Family and Miscellaneous Thoughts

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Sprung forward

Last night most of us that observe Daylight Savings Time “sprang forward” losing an our of sleep but gaining added daylight with which to enjoy life. As usual I was “one of us” and though it was my last night home following a week at a Navy Medicine Chaplain Training Symposia, which happened to be where my wife is, I did get some sleep.

The week was interesting because for the past two and a half years I have been stationed in Camp LeJeune North Carolina while my wife has been in Virginia Beach Virginia. So the week was kind of like one of those weird make up baseball games where the visiting team, which I was got to be the home time, or more fitting the home team playing as the visiting team.

A Symposia

The training was well worth it and featured speakers from both the Pastoral Care and Psychological disciplines who spoke on how Chaplains work as part of the interdisciplinary team in health care, mental health and other aspects of caring for wounded warriors. One thing that was nice to see that the Navy Hospital that I serve at is on the cutting edge of much of what was discussed and that what the speakers discussed was not really news to me. Most of that is because I work with a wonderful team of Physicians, Chaplains, Mental Health Professionals and Pastoral Counselors who are not threatened by each other and who work together for the good of those that we serve. We are not perfect, we are all still learning; I guess that is why they call it “practicing” medicine but we are constantly moving forward. For me it was nice to see just how far along we are compared to other military, VA and civilian health care and mental health care services.

Family

The week also allowed me to spend time with Judy and both of our dogs. For those that have not experienced military life, it is not only deployments where you are apart but quite often due to health, family or professional concerns military personnel are forced to serve in locations away from their families, sometimes after deployments and injury that affect their family relationships.

Like many, if not most returning veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD or TBI injuries our relationship suffered and there were times that we wondered if our marriage would survive. I can say now that despite the fact that we are still apart that we are enjoying our life together again. Our times together, mostly limited to long weekend or unusual situations like the past week are becoming sweet again, times that we both look forward to whenever they are possible. It will be about two and a half weeks before we are together again when I take a bit of leave in conjunction with the Easter Holiday to celebrate my birthday with her.

While we were together we were able to spend a lot of time together and saw the new film The Great and Powerful Oz and take Judy to her first hockey game watching the Norfolk Admirals defeat the Hershey Bears by a score of 4-1 in an American Hockey League game at Norfolk’s Scope Arena. The sad thing was there were no fights in the hockey game and I missed the bench cleaning brawl between Canada and Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

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Miscellaneous Thoughts on Krazy Karzai, North Korea Nukes, Sequester, a Papal Conclave, NASCAR and the World Baseball Classic

Kim and Karzai

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I have been watching with mixed feelings as I have caught bits and pieces of the news. First in my mind has been the continued nutty rantings of Hamid Karzai, President and First Buffoon of Afghanistan. I wonder how long before someone in his own government does away with him.

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Then there was Kim Jun Number One and his new nuclear threats against the US and South Korea mixed in with a You-Tube video combining nuclear explosions going off to the tune of We are the World. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK8zQIsMmnk But who can blame him for wanting to destroy us after spend a weekend with Dennis Rodman?

Seaquest-ration 

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Amid this the continued Sequester nonsense continues to amaze me. First of all because I thought the series Seaquest DSV was positive stupid but especially when I realize that if it happens that I won’t be getting much time off. This is because my civilian Pastoral Counselors will not be able to keep their place in our on call chaplain duty rotation. The limitations on hours that they can work, overtime and comp time will keep them from doing this, not to  mention that we will have to do what we can to make up for the 32 hours per pay period that they cannot work. If it happens as planned it looks like I will have the after hours and weekend duty pager 15-16 days a month and still work 5 days a week. The same will be true for my other Navy Chaplain. Yes sequester will be a pain in the ass. I challenge anyone in the civilian world to work 50 plus hours a week and be on call 24 hours a day 15-16 days a month dealing with life and death issues on a base heavily impacted by the war with suicides, murders, drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. So if you are one of those “I hate the government types” please don’t tell me how overpaid I am, or for that matter anyone else dealing with this working for the Federal Government. If you think that then you can blow it out your ass. With all due respect.

Papal Conclave

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The Cardinals arrive

Of course I have written about the upcoming Conclave to elect the next Pope in Rome so I won’t say much more about it now except to say that if elected I will turn down the job, I have such a hard time keeping white uniforms clean. My money is on one the the old European guys dressed in red to be elected as the next Pope.

NASCAR

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Then there are sports. Living in North Carolina is starting to wear me down. I am getting interested in NASCAR and am now doing strange things like read about the technical specs of the cars and the types of tracks. I think that part of this is because I think that Danica Patrick is hot, something that I can’t say about any of the men racing the other cars.

Baseball

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I have also gotten a chance to follow more baseball this week with Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic going on. What is nice is finally to have baseball on TV again. Tonight I am watching Puerto Rico play the Dominican Republic following the victory of the United States over Canada in their elimination game. The really cool thing about the game I am watching now is to see how much energy the fans of the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans bring to the game. It makes it a joy to watch.

Site Notes 

I have done some updates to a number of the pages on this site and added pages titled Baseball and Life, Shipmates Veterans and Friends and TLC Book Tour Reviews as well as the addition of several new links. 

Coming this Week

This week, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise I expect to do some baseball writing, and write about the Conclave and the new Pope. whoever he may be. Tomorrow I will publish a book review for TLC Book Tours on Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani’s memoir Beyond the Possible about Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. Of course I will also write about other events as they break or others as I inspired.

Have a great week.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Sequester, Lent and Hope

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“As lousy as things are now, tomorrow they will be somebody’s good old days.” Gerald Barzan

Sequester is here and with it the era of mutual assured destruction by our political, economic and media elites continues in an unabated form.

At the same time sequester occurs during the season of Lent when Christians are called on to make voluntary sacrifices of things that are important to them in the forms of fasting and abstinence. Lent is a season of penitence which hopefully builds in the heart of the believer a new love for God and neighbor, a season that changes a person from a “me first” attitude to an attitude of thanksgiving, gratitude and service to those in distress. That being said, the season of Lent should be a season of hope.

However it is difficult at times to be hopeful when all around there is bad news. We seem to be living the ancient Chinese curse that says “May you live in interesting times.” The times are certainly interesting with lots going on of historic significance that may years from now be remembered as one of those tumultuous times where the world changed before our eyes.

History of course is replete with such times, the rise and fall of ancient empires, the age of exploration, the Reformation, the French and American Revolutions, the Napoleonic era, the American Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the First and Second World War with the Great Depression sandwich, the 1960’s, the post Cold War era and the post-911 era just for a start.

I could go back further in history for other epochal periods, but I think that the reason that today’s crisis seem so much more dire is that we are both the beneficiaries and the victims of the instantaneous communication revolution in which common people have real time access to events that are impacting their lives.  This causes many a great deal of anxiety both real and imagined, anxiety which usually finds expression in a desire for the good old days as well as seeks solace and security from those who feverishly exploit that anxiety.  It does not matter if the security comes from religion, political ideology and matters neither if it comes from the left or the right so long as the call resonates with them they will follow it. They will faithfully follow even as the purveyors of the message drive up their worry and anxiety that they no longer can actually enjoy life or be thankful because they are so consumed with how “lousy” things are or “evil” their opponents are.

Thus even during the season of Lent it is hard for many people to grasp the meaning of it when all around them appears to be falling apart and in chaos.

It is in times like these that one has to take a deep breath, look around at all that they have to be thankful for and just really examine of the nostalgia that they feel for “better times” is that or an escape from an unpleasant present and fear of the future if the other side wins.

The fact is that we have seen such times before and somehow made it through.  I hear from friends and relatives who lived through the Great Depression and World War II that those were good times in spite of everything happening, much of which is present today but somehow things are worse now.  Even I fall into the trap about somehow thinking that the times that I grew up in were somehow better than the present, this may be true for music but overall things were not that good for a lot of people but somehow we made it through them.  Lent is a time to step back from the brink, take stock and renew our life with God and our neighbor.

When I returned from Iraq back in February 2008 I soon discovered that the bombardment of bad news and über-partisan political battles took its toll on me.  I was neither as resilient as I thought that I was nor as consumed by the need to continue to ratchet up rhetoric on one side or the other as the more extreme elements on the right or left were doing.  PTSD or not I realized that the purveyors of the 24/7 bad news cycle were driving people with legitimate ideological differences to extremes that I had never seen, but which I recognized from history have a lot of precedent and can lead to making things even worse.  One only has to look at Weimar Germany to realize how things can go so very wrong when extremes on both sides of the ideological spectrums squeeze out those in the middle or chance at mutually beneficial solutions and that was in the days before type of information overload that is the bedrock of the political and ideological landscape of today.

I am not attacking those who get caught up in this but I do question the politicians, pundits, “news-networks” and talk show hosts who continue to ratchet up rhetoric to the point that many feel that the only alternative is some kind of “revolution.”  Again those that call for “radical change” or revolt against those who are in favor of that kind of change are both calling for revolution when revolutionary talk reaches a point where one side or the other does not see a way to resolve things in a civil manner then the those alternatives slip away and the only recourse is violence.

It is not the fault of one side or the other as those that stoke this talk are found on both sides of the American as well as other nations political and ideological spectrum testify to daily.  In the United States we also have a long history of apocalyptic thought which presents the lousy state of current events in any generation as something that will certainly bring the end of life as we know it or the return of the Lord, the Great Tribulation or whatever you chalk it up to. There are those on both the religious and secular side of the spectrum who have apocalyptic visions related to their world view.  For some reason we Americans do the apocalyptic quite well whether we believe in God or not.

The thing that has been most on my mind this Lent, as it has been the past several years has been the idea of being reconciled both to God and to one another.  Lent is a season of self examination, repentance and forgiveness.  The call to “be reconciled to one another” is a never ending command and applies across the variety and spectrum of life.

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Lent reminds us that that “we are dust and to dust we shall return” but that we are also all made in the image of the God who created us, redeems us and sanctifies us who calls us to himself and reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment and “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I am afraid that in times like these even the best intentioned of people can find themselves pulled into the orbit of those that in less stressful or trying times that they would never be involved with.

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility… As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus.”

I know for some that call themselves “Christians” this message is lost. However, I believe that it is not because they are consciously rejecting the message of the Gospel but because that have become so deeply involved in whatever cause they endorese that they have lost the ability at least temporarily to see the good that may rest in their opponents and their ideas.

As Bonhoeffer also wrote “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as ourselves.”  Now of course Bonhoeffer knew the evil that was the Nazis and eventually gave his life by supporting the German resistance to Hitler.  Loving our enemies does not absolve us from public responsibility but in ensuring that we do not ensnare ourselves in ideology that restricts our ability to love them as Christ has commanded.

I think in the past few years that I have gained a new perspective on life that has changed the way that I look at the world.  I know that things are not good right now and that there are a lot of things to be legitimately concerned. That said I know too that somehow our country as well as much of humanity have weathered worse and like Barzan said that for some these will be the good old days someday.

That thought helps me to live in the present knowing that the future is not yet written and known only to God who in his grace condescends to love us and desires that we better love him and one another and not be conformed to any ideology that would prevent that. Sequestration and political division aside I do pray that we will both see better days as well as be reconciled to God and to one another.

It is in times like this that I think of Bonhoeffer’s words:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

That is my Lenten prayer.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on the Coming of Sequestration

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The Empty House

Sequestration, the obscure but deadly poison pill agreed to by the President and Congress on August 1st 2011 in order to stave off the first ever default on our national debt. When the deal was reached I felt that it would be a tragedy for our county. I knew then in my heart based on the angry and often hateful tenor of the debate that I saw in Washington DC concerning the debt limit crisis that led to the act that it was something that would not be immediately repealed and do great damage to the country. I felt that it was much like the Missouri Compromise of which Thomas Jefferson said:

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” 

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Of course I hoped, perhaps beyond hope that much of the posturing and demonstrations during the debt stand off by both sides were election ploys. Though I did not believe that either side would compromise I hoped that cooler heads on both sides would prevail and seek a long term compromise deal. I hoped but I did not believe.  I wrote:

The battle lines are still drawn and the language except for the utilitarian language that compromise was necessary to stave off a default has not changed an iota.  The language of compromise does not sit well with the most vocal members of the Tea Party faction nor those on the hard Left.  Many Tea Party leaders and members continue to argue that their leadership to push the government into default to achieve their goals.

The default may not happen now but the crisis is not past.  No it will be with us for a long time with more division, more bitterness and more fuel being poured onto the flames of hatred that have consumed us.  Much like the various crises and compromises on the road to the Civil War nothing substantial has changed.

I can see it as if has already happened. The Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers will step up their rhetoric inciting their followers to adopt even more uncompromising positions.  The already fearful enmity will deepen and the center will disappear. Emotion in the form of hatred will drive the arguments that neither side will listen to even as the United States and the world economy worsens and the wars continue.  Young Americans will give their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan even as their political leaders on both sides of the aisle seek ways to reduce the force and even the pay and benefits that they have earned after 10 years of unending war that the rest of the nation while seemingly grateful does not understand nor share.” 

Unless something happens soon the terrible vision that I had will become a reality. Sequestration went into effect just before midnight. In the two preceding weeks Congress worked a total of three and a half days obviously intent on doing nothing. Despite the warnings of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, numerous military and business leaders including the US Chamber of Commerce and heads of social service and religious organizations as to the devastating consequences of sequestration nothing was done and now sequester is here.

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However the divide was too deep and the hatred too much. I still hope and pray for  resolution before the full effect is felt. I know many people that will feel the direct effects of this, especially in areas that are heavily military and which depend on the military for much of their economy. Virginia, Texas, Maryland and California will be particularly hard hit. Other states, especially poor southern states which are heavily dependent on Federal aid will also by punished with the irony that it is some of the political leaders that they elected that are pushing hardest for the cuts.  People who think that they will not be effected will be surprised when they find the Federal services that they assumed will always be there cut in front of their eyes.

Unfortunately this is just one part of the drama that will play out in the next few weeks. I know that many people believe that the President and Congress will reach a deal and I hope that they are right, because I do not want to be right on this.

God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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War is a Racket: Remembering Major General Smedley Butler USMC and Why He Matters

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

With all the domestic political news and the apocalyptic talk and actions surrounding John Roberts the Supreme Court and Obamacare it is hard to believe that we are at war for over 10 years and are at war or now preparing for war all over the Middle East. Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, you name the place there is a real a present danger of US forces becoming involved in even more war.

Maybe it is just me but it doesn’t seem that anybody in Washington has a damned bit of sense. I saw the “tweet” of a Michigan Republican party leader asking if “armed revolt was now justified” because of the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. That makes my blood boil, we are at war and this idiot wants to have a real live civil war and he is not alone. The process is to win elections if you want to change laws not to threaten civil war or revolution when the cause that you are against and take to the Supreme Court gets upheld for whatever reason. Anyone with a half a grain of sense knows that if you take something to the Supreme Court that you need to ask yourself the “Dirty Harry” question: “Do you feel lucky? Well do you punk?” When you go to the Supreme Court you put your case in front of nine Justices and not the electorate. That goes for Liberals as well as Conservatives.

The simple act of working together in the legislative process has been sabotaged by both parties over the years.  This finally hit the culminating point when GOP pushed through the self inflicted wound of the Budget Control Act of 2012. It is this act which now threatens the military which is at war with “sequestration.”  This threatens deep cuts in the military beyond those already anticipated and planned for by DOD. The Republicans are now trying to change it and the Administration is refusing to budge on the issue. Again this didn’t need to happen but brinksmanship is the order of the day.

There are no statesmen left in Washington DC only shills of the Right and Left and their masters from Wall Street to K Street. The only people profiting from this are the war profiteers who even if the budget gets cut and they fail to deliver usable weapon systems on time or in budget will still get paid. The losers will be the military personnel who must fight the wars who will get tossed onto the street by those that claim that personnel costs are the problem. Of course those that make this point are almost always the same lobbyists that shill for the defense industries and the banks. But enough about them.

Right now over 100,000 American military personnel and tens of thousands of other Department of Defense, Federal law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, humanitarian workers as well as contractors are fighting a war in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands more (mostly contractors)  are helping to shore up the Iraqi government or are fighting wars by other names in Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa or are deployed to counter Iran or standing by to assist Turkey if it comes into conflict with Syria. Of course this does not take into account the instability in Egypt, Libya, Eastern and Central Africa that threatens even more war or the potential of turmoil in Europe should the Euro Crisis bring about more financial disaster or even revolution in countries that are our allies. By the way let’s not forget about the nutcase leaders of North Korea who could provoke war on that side of the world in a heartbeat.

But never mind this, let’s fight each other instead threaten insurrection when we don’t get our way. But wait, I digress…

Did you know that while Americans stand in harms way almost every real or potential enemy has been armed, subsidized or assisted by American corporations and paid for by American tax dollars.  We have armed much of the world with weapons that have already in Iraq and Afghanistan killed thousands of American military personnel. But those were small time weapons compared to what we have provided to Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and yes even Israel. F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighter planes, Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles, M-1 Tanks, M113 Fighting vehicles, Patriot Air Defense systems, you name the weapons system the war profiteers will sell it and US taxpayers will pay for it. These are weapons that very easily could be used with great effect to attack American interests should leaders in any of those countries decide to use them against us. I only include Israel because in 1967 its forces viciously attacked the USS Liberty which was operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as Israel launched its pre-emptive war against Egypt. Although all of these countries are “allies” we must remember that alliances are only as good as the interests and values that unite nations.

Our defense industries with the support of the government sell advanced weapons to nations that often are less than trustworthy allies, allies of convenience that have little love for the United States but welcome the weapons and training that we provide.  They often use them to suppress the aspirations of their own people and plant the cultivate the seeds of radicalism and revolution.  It is hard not to cringe when pro-democracy protestors are killed by totalitarian regimes whose police and military are armed to the teeth with American made weapons. When those totalitarian regimes fall as did that of the Shah of Iran in 1979 those weapons fall into the hands of people radicalized against us by our support of their former oppressors.

Certainly nobody seriously believes that the angry masses in the countries that we have armed to the teeth with the latest in American weaponry would not use that weaponry against us should they desire.  But wait…. our politicians, arms dealers, bankers and their political, religious and financial backers certainly wouldn’t put Americans in harms way? Perish the thought, but not so quickly. They have done so before and will do it again.

Smedley Butler is one of under two dozen American military personnel to win the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. He saw the dangers of Fascism as well as the danger of unlimited corporate and business power to profit by war. Butler was not only a  valiant Marine he was also a commander that in war and peace cared about those who served. He saw how American finance and banking interests helped drag us into the Fist World War, the promises broken by the government and the lives destroyed by war.

In his book War is a Racket Butler wrote eloquently about how the heads of corporations and their political supporters in both parties were the only benefactors of war. He wrote of the plight of the soldiers that served and returned wounded and often changed by war and he did not mince words in what he saw. He became an anti-war activist. He was a supporter of the Bonus Army, the veterans that “occupied” Washington DC during the last year of the Hoover Administration to get the bonuses promised for their service and were violently evicted by troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. If he was alive today I have no doubt that he would be an active supporter of the current “Occupy” movement and opponent of politicians, political activists, lobbyists and even preachers that advocate even more war.

Butler’s War is a Racket as well as other published works are a worthwhile read and should make the most rabid fan of war think twice. Butler’s patriotism and devotion to the United States and the Constitution is unquestioned. His warnings are strong, he was a prophet in regard to the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex well before President Eisenhower coined the term as he left office. He detailed how corporations made obscene profits often by selling the US Military vast amounts of materials that it could not possibly use and which taxpayers bought while business leaders and bankers made their fortunes that they never had realized when the nation was at peace. He reminds us of the dangers that our founders recognized about entwining ourselves in other people’s wars. While his answers on how to end war are now utopian dreams because of advances in technology and the wars which now rage without end in sight they are nonetheless not a bad place to start a debate.

Butler writes movingly about the price paid by veterans years after the war, men broken in body, mind and spirit from their war service.

“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.” 

One would think that things would be better now but our veterans’ health care system is a train wreck and there is an epidemic of suicide among active duty troops and veterans. In 2005 after years of hand wringing the Bush administration grudgingly increased the number of Soldiers and Marines even while cutting Navy personnel and ships to the  minimum that they could despite ever increasing operational tempos. The Navy was reduced by over 50,000 sailors during the Bush years and now when the Navy is needed more it has been reduced to the point that 8-10 month deployments with short turn arounds will be normal.

Now the Obama administration is cutting back partly due to the withdraw from Iraq but mostly because of the economic crisis. However the bulk of these cuts are falling on the military personnel and not the war profiteers. The Army will be cut by nearly 80,000 in the coming years the Marines by 20,000 and that may increase if the budget takes the sequestration hit without any reduction in operational tempo. These Soldiers and Marines will enter a bleak job market where many employers give little value to military experience or training, which has resulted in a vastly higher unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans than the general population.

It wasn’t much different in Butler’s day. He writes:

“Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. They were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think of nothing but killing and being killed.

The suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face”! This time they had to do their own readjusting, sans mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice, sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them anymore. So we scattered them about without any “three minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades.”

Butler recounted another visit to a different veterans’ hospital:

“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 thier 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….”

I could go on but I think that Butler says it quite well and with the passion of a Marine who was wounded on more than one occasion and won the Medal of Honor twice.

The only people that want war are those that profit from it and don’t have to pay the price paid by those that have to fight them and pay for them. When I see pictures of Mitt Romney protesting in support of the Vietnam war while getting deferment after deferment to avoid service it makes my head spin. My head spins even more when I hear him talking brazenly about committing US troops to even more war. For me the pictures of Romney’s pro-war protests as a college student avoiding war on educational and religious service deferments as millions of other Americans went to war are up there with the pictures of “Hanoi” Jane Fonda giving aid and comfort to those that were killing our troops.

Butler’s detractors and they are legion on the political right attempt to paint him as an isolationist or appeaser of Hitler. However they misunderstand him and his work. They don’t understand as Butler understood that there would not have been a Nazi Germany without Versailles and that was not possible without the American intervention on the side of Britain and France in 1917. That involvement was driven by the bankers and industrialists who had supplied raw materials, weapons and technical patents to the British and French, and had done so before with the Germans who believed that they would lose their investments if the Germans won the war. That would have happened in late 1917 or early 1918 had not the Americans declared war and entered the war on the side of the British and French.

Most of Butler’s current critics have never served a day in uniform much less a day in a combat zone. They make their livings and profits by the sacrifice of others and other than a few of his quotes have never read anything about him.

If you sense indignation in my voice it is real. I have lived the nightmare of PTSD for over 4 years. I see and work with the young men and women that have bravely endured the hardship of combat deployments and come home physically, mentally and spiritually wounded. To our credit we are trying to do better but for the war profiteers that will be too much. If military spending is cut you can bet that they will not take the hit that military personnel, their families and our veterans will take. They and their political benefactors will not allow it.

I am a military man through and through. I have spent nearly my whole life associated with the military as a dependent of a Navy Chief who served in Vietnam and a career of over 30 years divided between the Army and Navy. Some of my friends dads did not return from Vietnam, other friends and those who I have served with have paid with their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan while others suffer the continuing wounds of war.

This is personal for me and it is also motivated by my faith as a Christian. Butler chided the pro-war clergy propagandists of the Great War. He wrote:

“So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill Germans. God is on our side…it is his will that the Germans be killed.”

Such preaching is not much different from the right wing pro-war preachers who advocate killing Moslems simply because they are Moslems and that go out of their way to preach the value of “pre-emptive war” despite such wars being against the Christian understanding of the  “Just War” or international law against such war that we as Americans helped develop after World War Two at Nuremberg and to which we hold the leaders of what we call “rogue nations.”

I only wish that our leaders; political leaders of both parties, religious leaders, and even business leaders would see the folly of this course and their responsibility for the results.

Someone has to say it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: All quotations from “War is a Racket” by Smedley Butler copyright 1935 and 2003 by the Butler family. Amazon Kindle edition. 

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