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A Son of Erin

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Like any American whose family on both the paternal and maternal sides has been in this country since well before the American Revolution, I am kind of a genetic mutt. However, it seems that most of my DNA is Irish, the rest being from Scotland, England, Wales, and the Iberian Peninsula, so basically, I’m Celtic. Most of my Irish seems to come from my mom’s side of the family with Travis’s who came from the Old Country and eventually settled in Illinois. My favorite uncle when I was a kid was my uncle Ted. He was as Irish as they come, and according to my mom uncle Ted help begin my great love of beer when I was just a babe.

I have come rather belatedly to the conclusion that I am a son of Erin. In addition to my love of a good beer, when I look at my temperament I see the Irish come through in my readiness to fight, my love of laughter, and my occasional melancholy. I love Irish songs like The Minstrel Boy and Garryowen as well as songs that were made famous by Irish soldiers like It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

 

On my dad’s side I descend from Scottish nobility, not that it matters in this country. But when I was younger I found it a source of pride, especially the military tradition that came with it, and for that matter I still am, but I have become more cognizant of my Irish heritage. This is a heritage that I plan on doing research on in the near future.

As much as the Irish are a part of the rich tapestry that make up America, and the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day has become a fest that most Americans revel in, the Irish were not welcomed with open arms. They were poor, Roman Catholic immigrants, fleeing persecution and famine in the Old Country. The tradition Irish song, The Wearing of the Green includes this verse:

I’ve heard a whisper of a country
That lies beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal
In the light of freedom’s day.

When they arrived in the United States the found themselves at the bottom of the white man’s world, despised and often violently persecuted by Americans of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic “Know Nothing” movement. They were accused of being agents of the Pope, and wanting to overthrow Protestant America. As such they had to work hard, and they also stayed together in predominant Irish neighborhoods, and in time they became a political constituency that even non-Irish politicians could not ignore. In a time when other groups of immigrants are discriminated against and demonized, often for their religious beliefs I think that we cannot forget the Irish immigrants, and those who are of Irish descent, those whose ancestors were persecuted in the Old Country as well in this country need to think twice before doing the same to people who are fleeing political and religious persecution as well as war and famine. My Irish heritage has made me feel a closer bond with immigrants than almost anything.

As a historian I want to do that because I wonder if any of my Irish-American ancestors fought with any of the Civil War Irish regiments. I have always been particularly fond of the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac and many times I fly the flag of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, also known as the 1st Regiment of the Irish Brigade alongside my 34 Star Circle Union Flag outside my house, especially this time of year. The motto of the regiment,  Faugh A Ballagh  (pronounced “Fah-g Ahn BAY-Lick”) means “Clear the way!”

Approximately 150,000 Irish immigrants fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, many hoping that their display of loyalty would put a stop to anti-Irish discrimination, but despite their gallantry and sacrifice on the battlefield it did not. With casualties mounting and the institution of the draft which hit poor people and immigrants the hardest, many Irish staged draft riots in 1863. Eventually the Irish would be accepted, but what happened to them has happened to almost every other group ethnic and religious immigrants who have come to America to be free.

Whenever I go to Gettysburg I stop at the Irish Brigade memorial near the edge of the bloody Wheat Field and speak of its service during the war and the absolution granted to it by its chaplain, Father Corby before it went into battle that hot summer afternoon of July 2nd 1863. Likewise I tell the story of the young Colonel Paddy O’Rorke, the first Irish Catholic to graduate from West Point who died leading his regiment at Little Round Top, not far from where his kinsmen were fighting at the Wheat Field.

So I wish you a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day even as I reflect more on my Irish heritage and raise a pint or two; after all a bird never flew on one wing. Sláinte.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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St Patrick’s Sunday Night Musing: So Many Topics So Little Time

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Well, here we are the end of St Patrick’s Day and I have to say that I have basically took the weekend off. I slept more than I was awake and did as little as possible. I read a book, a baseball novel called Chin Music by Lee Edelstein which I will review tomorrow Monday night for TLC Book Tours. I also spent a good amount of time with my dog Molly, giving her walks and enjoying her joyfulness.

I did go over to the Emerald Isle St Patrick’s Festival, braving the crowds, which some say might have been 20,000 or more to take my place at Rucker John’s. What amazed me was the manner of how many people celebrate St Patrick’s Day. I am not a tea-totaler by any means and do enjoy my time at the bar with friends. By I go for the fellowship, the friendship and the relationships. I enjoy good beer, wine or the occasional whiskey, brandy or Jaegermeister, but cannot understand why people would come out with the sole purpose of getting drunk and acting like fools. There were very few of us that were regulars there last night as the festivities commenced and I was embarrassed to watch Marines from our local bases act completely foolish, being vulgar, rude and causing the management of have to cut them off.

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Last week was difficult, very busy and dealing with the effects of yet another suicide of a young sailor. I will be working in the early part of the week to conduct the memorial service for the young man, a veteran of Afghanistan whose demons were evidently more than he could bear, and to care for his shipmates. That suicide angered me. Not that I am angry with that young man and his choice to kill himself, but it angered me that so many young men and women, active duty, reserve, national guard as well as retirees and veterans who have left the service die every day.

The fact is that I don’t think that we as individuals, the military, the veterans administration or society are doing enough. I am tired of it and have resolved to do whatever I can to do what I can do to as an individual, a Chaplain and military officer to stem this tide. I may be pissing into the wind, but having been to the brink and stared into the abyss of hopelessness after I returned from Iraq I cannot just stand by and lament the situation anymore.

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I have also been thinking about Iraq and all of the lives lost or destroyed, American, Iraqi and others, the treasure spent and the promises broken. As a veteran of that war I hope and pray that all the lives lost and treasure wasted will not be a complete waste. I pray that some good will still come from our misbegotten invasion of Iraq. Iraq remains a part of my thoughts and my dreams, and rarely a night goes by that my mid does not go back to Iraq, the men that I served with and the Iraqis that I got to know.

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In the midst of Iraq I was reminded that yesterday was the anniversary of the My Lai Massacre and my distant connection to it. Of course that massacre was one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the US Army. I remember when the news broke about it and then remember what my first class advisor in Army ROTC at UCLA had to say about it. He was there after the massacre, his unit providing protection for those investigating it. His words about it and how bad it was remained with me.

In 1997 I was serving as the Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania when I was requested to conduct the funeral for Colonel Oran Henderson, the man who commanded the brigade to which the men that conducted the massacre belonged. Henderson was tried and acquitted of a cover up at the longest running court-martial in US history. However, his career, which before My Lai appeared that he was destined to be a general. That destiny died at My Lai.

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The tragic thing is, a that Henderson, who was a hero in many ways, a man who in World War II, Korea and Vietnam was wounded and conducted himself honor, failed in this crisis. At the time a thorough  investigation conducted by him that sought justice rather than a whitewash may have helped the county and changed his legacy. When I think of him I know that what we do matters, especially as military officers. Ethics is and has to be a central part of our life and faith. When we forget that, when we allow the utilitarian necessities of careerism and defend the institution even when it is wrong we like Henderson fail. That may be one of the lessons that we did not learn in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan which will continue to haunt us. I’ll probably write something about My Lai and its relation to current conflicts and the necessity of military professionals to always seek the higher level of ethics in how they approach war.

Like I said, there is so much to write about and to discuss. I want to write some on the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament, a bit about baseball as well as some of the things happening in regard to North Korea, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan and the first days of the new Papacy of Pope Francis, which may turn out to be as surprising papacy as we have seen in decades, at least since Pope John XXIII.

Well, that is enough for tonight. Tomorrow I will post the review of Chin Music and we’ll see what the rest of the week portends.

Peace and blessings

Padre Steve+

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“Et Tu Brute” Beware of the Ides of March

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Et tu Mitch? I mean Brute

Well it is March 15th, the Ides of March according to the Ancient Romans. It was a day sacred to them as the big uber-feast day of the Roman God Jupiter, where the Ides sheep was sacrificed to make all things right in the universe, or something like that.

It was also a day where Julius Caesar, long before he had an Orange drink named after him was warned about by a seer. Never ignore a seer or the machinations of political opponents is what I say, but that’s just me.

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However old Julius Caesar never quite got this, after all he had been named Dictator in Perpetuato, which is kind of like for all time by the Roman Senate. He also forgot that no matter what that definition of “for all time” actually means, that for Senators it generally equates to “until the next election cycle.” Since an election was coming up the Senators realized that “for all time” was rapidly running out and decided to act.

So on March 15th of 44 BC Julius Caesar ignored the warnings of a seer and went to see a gladiator match in the well of the Roman Senate. Eight Senators, sometimes referred in Roman history as the Group of Eight concocted a bi-partisan plan to rid themselves of Caesar. It was a very “pointed” plan if you get my drift by which they would stab Julius to death when he came to see them and the gladiator match that they were hosting. When Caesar passed the seer on the way to the Senate he basically dissed him saying something like “dude it’s the Ides of March baby and I’m still standing” and thumbed his nose giving a Bronx jeer. The seer’s response was not recorded but if one can assume, and I will, he probably said something like” up yours buddy, rot in hell” and gave him the evil eye.

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William Shakespeare: Trust him because he’s English

Needless to say Julius Caesar ended up getting the Senator’s point, or actually 23 points based on the number of stab wounds on his cold dead body. Caesar’s last words are disputed, but William Shakespeare, who must be believed because he was English and not Italian and who lived over 1500 years after the events has to have the most accurate account. Shakespeare, who depended on Wikipedia for his knowledge of the time declared that Caesar said to Brutus, a Senator Et tu Brute?” which means something like “Dude how could you?” when he saw Brutus sticking his K-Bar into him. Shakespeare however does not record what he said to Mitch McConnell.

Of course historians will debate this, but if you can’t believe an Englishman why would you believe and Italian when it comes to knowing how do get rid of a head of state? The English, despite the quaint accent have proven themselves to be experts at this.

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Likewise, there is something else to be said about the Ides of March and the assassination of Julius Caesar. That is this. The assassination was a community thing. There wasn’t a lone assassin with a curious name like Lee Harvey, James Earl or John Wilkes, no this was a real live Italian style mob it, sans automatic weapons. Imagine if they had guns, Julius Caesar would have ended up like Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. The fact is that we are lacking in community now days and if there is anything about the Ides of March that we need to remember is that community matters. Lone gunmen, they are kind of boring, but mobs of enraged people or Senatorial conspirators, that is hard to do now days.

So now with less than an hour left on the Ides of March, I have made sure that I have not let the Senate or anyone else name me a dictator for life and have avoided sharp pointy objects and Senators of any kind. So far I am doing well. I haven’t seen a seer and have settled in for the evening on the eve of the eve of St Patrick’s Day.

So until tomorrow, Happy Ides of March!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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