Tag Archives: sun tzu

Political Folly and the Lust for Power

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Note: this was inadvertently posted in incomplete for late last night as I closed up my iPad thinking I would complete it today. This is the completed article.

I have been to war. I have been shot at and had rockets pass over my head. I have seen the wounded, and I have seen the devastation caused by war. Likewise I have also trained and prepared for worse worse than I served in. Back in the 1980s the unit that I commanded, the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) had the mission of helping to support the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment on the Fulda Gap. They and we were expected to take 75-90% casualties if the Soviets came over the border. I have to tell you that you haven’t really had to contemplate the reality of war if your neighborhood is not in the fallout pattern of nuclear weapons or the contamination zone of chemical or biological weapons. Mine was, thus ever since I was a young Army Lieutenant I have had a tremendous appreciation for what could happen if all hell broke loose and a worse case war scenario developed. For me it is not that hard to imagine worst case scenarios.

Sadly, that does not seem to be the case with President Trump. He seems hell bent at forcing the military to provide him with expressly demands faster military options for whatever he is planning; he mocks his Secretary of State’s efforts to use diplomacy to defuse the growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula, a crisis that he has made worse by taunting the North Korean leader; he is about to end an agreement with Iran which with the cooperation of our allies has been relatively successful in spite of Iran’s other provocative actions in the Arabian Gulf, in Syria, and in Yemen.

Despite the President’s rhetoric there has been no significant strengthening of the military since he took office. In fact the President’s policies are further stretching a force that spent the better part of a decade and a half wearing itself out in counterinsurgency campaigns that knew no end and cannot be won without the host nations being stable and secure enough to address the underlying causes of the insurgency. Now those forces are being tasked to go back and get ready for potential high intensity conflicts in Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Middle East.

The military is not the solution for every situation. This is something that those of us with significant military experience in peace and war, and who have studied the fundamentals of strategy and strategic thinking using history, economics, political science, geography, science and technology, diplomacy, and information know this. Sun Tzu wrote: “He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.” It is in choosing which elements of national power to gain advantage without war where true success lies, as Sun Tzu noted “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

There are a host of elements of national power, and for the President to be enamored with just one, the most costly and the destructive is foolish. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all the passions.” Because it can only be satisfied by power over others, government is its favorite field of exercise. Business offers a kind of power, but only to the very successful at the top, and without the dominion and titles and red carpets and motorcycle escorts of public office.”

One can see how the lust for power infected President Trump and how business was not enough to satisfy that need, and how even the domestic power of being President is not enough. To me it appears that the President like so many before him sees glory in war conquest and does not consider the cost. When he told reporters that they “could be watching the calm before the storm” and when asked what he meant said “you’ll find out,” not just once but a number of times going into the next day it was unnecessary and unnerving.

Honestly it seems to me that the President through his words and actions is sowing the wind and that in time we will reap the whirlwind unless sane and wise counsel prevails. I do see that senior military leaders are stating their differences with the President on policy matters and one hopes that they if no one else will be able to restrain the President who cannot stomach criticism, attacks his opponents and seems to desire affirmation and not information.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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War is Cruelty

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Destroyed Tombstone at the British Cemetery: Habbinyah Iraq  

I am a career military officer, an Iraq veteran and an anti-war liberal, but I am also a realist in terms of the world. I have no illusions about the world. I do not believe that the United States always acts with honor and I know in my heart of hearts that much of the chaos that we are seeing in the world, particularly the Middle East comes from years of American intrigue and intervention. But I also know that once you have let the genie of war and chaos out of the bottle that it seldom returns to it without creating more chaos, death and destruction. Since I am a realist, I understand that whether I want it or not, and regardless of who is President that this war will remain part of our lives, maybe for a generation or more. Thus we have to understand that this war is not a movie, it is not a video game, and it has the potential to change all of our lives, and not for the better.

I fully agree with two time Medal of Honor Winner and Marine Corps Major General, Smedley Butler who wrote in his book War is a Racket:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill?…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….”

Today I am taking some time to write about the nature of war. It is something that the vast majority of Americans have only vicariously experienced in news accounts, movies, television shows and video games which desensitize people to the horror of war as they kill virtual enemies in often the most violent ways. Abraham Lincoln noted “There’s no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending.”

This is amazing since we have been at war for over thirteen years now. This war has been extended indefinitely by the actions of the Islamic State and the announced intentions of President Obama to fight. Sadly, it will become much worse than people want to believe regardless of whether it is a long or a short war and believe me it will not be a short war. The Islamic State seems to up the ante every day with new atrocities against the peoples of the areas that they control, desecration of religious shrines and the destruction of irreparable historical sites and artifacts.

Americans have grown up for the past twenty years with hi-tech wars that with a few exceptions of terrorism inflicted on American civilians have been waged by a comparatively small professional military; a military that at any given time over the last 20 years has comprised less than one percent of the American population. As such war is a spectator sport for most Americans, we watch it on television, or on You Tube videos on the internet, but it is a distant thing, happening to others that doesn’t touch us too deeply because most of us think that we have no skin in the game. In fact people that bet on baseball have more skin in the game than most Americans do in the current war, but that will probably change.

Since I have written much about that military at its sacrifices in the war that began on September 11th 2001 I am not going to belabor that today. Instead I am going to go back to the nature of war, even wars that may be fought in self-defense and with just cause. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who wrote:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…

Chris Hedges wrote: “Violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause,” and as Clausewitz noted of war’s nature, that it is: “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…”

We try to use language to soften war; to make it more palatable, but to do so is an Orwellian charade that is deceptive and destructive to the soul. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.”

Likewise Thucydides wrote:

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any….”

Such language gives those who have never been to war but cannot live without it to bring it on, but as Sherman noted: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

President Obama in his address to the nation, and the world on the eve of September 11th talked of a war against the Islamic State, using far more diplomatic, restrained and less warlike language than did Vice President Biden who said:

“As a nation we are united and when people harm Americans we don’t retreat, we don’t forget. We take care of those who are grieving and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.”

I commend the President for his humanity and desire to fight the Islamic State with a matter of restraint. That restraint will last so long as the Islamic State is unable or unwilling to strike at American civilians in the American homeland, or in a country that is not in the war zone, or an American ship or military installation at home or abroad. But once that happens, and it will the pretense of restraint will drop and what the Vice President said will become our goal, even if we do not officially say it. But once those restraints are passed, the war will get really messy. Michael Walzer wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

“We don’t call war hell because it is fought without restraint. It is more nearly right to say that, when certain restraints are passed, the hellishness of war drives us to break with every remaining restraint in order to win. Here is the ultimate tyranny: those who resist aggression are forced to imitate, and perhaps even to exceed, the brutality of the aggressor.”

The problem with this war is that it has lasted so long already, and such long wars are detrimental to the nations and peoples that fight them, as Sun Tzu wrote: “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare,” as such the longer we drag this war against the Islamic State and other similar groups out, the longer the war continues, the crueler it will become and the more damage it will do to our civil liberties, our economy and even more importantly to the spirit of our nation. One can only look at the Patriot Act and related measures undertaken in the name of national security after 9-11-2001 and recall the words of President John F Kennedy who said in respect to the epidemic of loyalty oaths and restrictions on civil liberties enacted in the 1950s:

“We have also seen a sharpening and refinement of abusive power. The legislative investigation, designed and often exercised for the achievement of high ends, has too frequently been used by the Nation and the States as a means for effecting the disgrace and degradation of private persons. Unscrupulous demagogues have used the power to investigate as tyrants of an earlier day used the bill of attainder.

The architects of fear have converted a wholesome law against conspiracy into an instrument for making association a crime. Pretending to fear government they have asked government to outlaw private protest. They glorify “togetherness” when it is theirs, and call it conspiracy when it is that of others.”

Thus the place that we now find ourselves is not good. On one hand by using restraint the war goes on and on, war without end, and if we embrace Sherman’s realism and admit that “War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over” is that we will imitate or exceed the brutality of the Islamic State. Either way, we lose something of ourselves.

My hope is that somehow, when this is war is done, maybe in our time or in another generation or two, that we will be able to establish peace by making our enemies our friends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events

Hell is Where they will Reside: The Expanding War Against ISIL

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“This war differs from other wars, in this particular: We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” William Tecumseh Sherman

Note: Please know, I have been to war, I have seen its devastation and heartache and I came back changed from the experience. I hate it. I served in Iraq with the Iraqis in support of our advisors to them. For me the war is personal, I left a huge part of my soul in that unfortunate nation. 

 

That being said, despite being a progressive who hates war, I am also a realist. I am not one that finds any romance or glory in war, but I know that sometimes it becomes unavoidable. In the past few months I have written about the nature of war, the kind of war we are now engaged in with ISIL and some of the ethical and moral compromises that could easily be made in such a war.

Likewise I realize that we as Americans must take responsibility for the mess that the Bush administrated created in Iraq. We cannot hope to have any peace with justice, nor succeed in the current war against the Islamic State, unless we are honest about the lies that were told to get us into Iraq, and the horrible policy decisions after we succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein that brought about the collapse of order, the insurgency and the Iraqi Civil War that brought Al Qaeda into Iraq, a country that they had not previously been welcome. 

Thus what I write here is a continuation of those thoughts and I encourage you to look at those articles which can be found at the following links on this page: 

Iraq, ISIS and Al Qaeda: Sowing the Wind…

Iraq 2014: A Disaster Long in the Making

9-11-2014 War Without End…

The Islamic State and the New, Old Nature of War

War is Cruelty, and You Cannot Refine it… The War Against ISIL

Prepare for a Long and Brutal Ideological War Against the Islamic State

Can you Live With It? The Moral Costs of the War Against the Islamic State

Iraq and the Middle East 2013: Lessons from T. E. Lawrence

ISIL: A Generational Problem in Which the Enemy Gets a Vote

Inshallah Iraq (إن شاء الله) Maybe Someday things will be Better

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The American war against the Islamic State is entering a more sustained mode. Air strikes are occurring daily, thousands of advisors have arrived, backed by Army aviation assets to protect American interests at Baghdad International Airport and the U.S. Embassy complex, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has again alluded to the possibly of American ground troops engaging ISIL at the side of Iraqi troops.

Whether most of want to admit it or not, and the latter is more descriptive of the vast bulk of Americans, we are at war.  It is a war which we have been fighting  for over thirteen years now. President Obama had hoped that our involvement in Iraq was at and end that that the Iraqis could handle their own affairs. But the hope was misplaced, and now this war has been extended indefinitely by the actions of the Islamic State and the announced intentions of President Obama to fight it. It will become much worse than people want to believe that it will, regardless of whether it is a long or a short war, and even a “short” war will likely extend into the next Presidential administration.

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Americans have grown up for the past twenty years with hi-tech wars that with a few exceptions of terrorism inflicted on American civilians have been waged by a comparatively small professional military; a military that at any given time over the last 20 years has comprised less than one percent of the American population. As such war is a spectator sport for most Americans, we watch it on television, or on You Tube videos on the internet, but it is a distant thing, happening to others that doesn’t touch us too deeply because most of us think that we have no skin in the game. In fact people that bet on baseball have more skin in the game than most Americans do in the current war, but that will probably change.

ISIS-MAP

Since I have written much about that military at its sacrifices in the war that began on September 11th 2001 I am not going to belabor that today. Instead I am going to go back to the nature of war, even wars that may be fought in self-defense and with just cause. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who wrote:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…”

Chris Hedges wrote: “Violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause,” and as Clausewitz noted of war’s nature, that it is: “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…”

We try to use language to soften war; to make it more palatable, but to do so is an Orwellian charade that is deceptive and destructive to the soul. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.”

Likewise Thucydides wrote:

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any….”

Such language gives those who have never been to war but cannot live without it to bring it on, but as Sherman noted: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

President Obama in his address to the nation, and the world on the eve of September 11th talked of a war against the Islamic State, using far more diplomatic, restrained and less warlike language than did Vice President Biden who said:

“As a nation we are united and when people harm Americans we don’t retreat, we don’t forget. We take care of those who are grieving and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.”

I commend the President for his humanity and desire to fight the Islamic State with a matter of restraint, and though our efforts have been limited to air strikes and reengaging with the Iraqi military to retrain it for the fight, it does appear that at least in Iraq the policy is showing signs of working. ISIL troops are having a hard time moving about the battlefield and their more conventional units are taking a beating from the air, while Iraqi and Kurdish forces are slowly beginning to have more success, the Iraqi military having just relieved the beleaguered garrison of the massive Baiji oil refinery complex.

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This in a sense is part of ISIL’s conundrum, they desire to conquer territory and subjugate people. To do that they need to be able to use conventional military tactics and equipment, not simply using terrorist strikes and the element of surprise to overwhelm unsuspecting or demoralized Iraqi security forces. It is possible that they are now overextend and have reached what Clausewitz termed their “culminating point.” We will have to see if that is the case, and only time will tell.

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U.S. Air Strike on ISIL Position 

However, American restraint, particularly with a hawkish, newly elected Republican Congress, of whom many new members are highly militant Christians who will have no compunction in killing Moslems, be they good Moslems or terrorist thugs like ISIL or Al Qaeda; will last as long as the Islamic State is unable or unwilling to strike at American civilians in the American homeland, American interests in a country that is not in the war zone, or an American ship or military installation at home or abroad.

But once that happens, and it will eventually happen, the recent attacks in Canada serving as a foretaste of what will happen here, the pretense of restraint will drop, and what Vice Biden President said will become our goal, even if we do not officially say it. But once those restraints are passed, the war will get really messy. Ethicist and philosopher Michael Walzer wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

“We don’t call war hell because it is fought without restraint. It is more nearly right to say that, when certain restraints are passed, the hellishness of war drives us to break with every remaining restraint in order to win. Here is the ultimate tyranny: those who resist aggression are forced to imitate, and perhaps even to exceed, the brutality of the aggressor.”

The problem with this war is that it has lasted so long already, if we consider American involvement in Iraq as going back to 2003. Long wars such as these are detrimental to the nations and peoples that fight them, as Sun Tzu wrote: “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.”

As such the longer we drag this war against the Islamic State and other similar groups out, the longer the war continues, the crueler it will become, the more damage it will do to our civil liberties, our economy, and even more importantly to the spirit of our nation. One can only look at the Patriot Act and related measures undertaken in the name of national security after 9-11-2001 and recall the words of President John F. Kennedy who said in respect to the epidemic of loyalty oaths and restrictions on civil liberties enacted in the 1950s:

“We have also seen a sharpening and refinement of abusive power. The legislative investigation, designed and often exercised for the achievement of high ends, has too frequently been used by the Nation and the States as a means for effecting the disgrace and degradation of private persons. Unscrupulous demagogues have used the power to investigate as tyrants of an earlier day used the bill of attainder.

The architects of fear have converted a wholesome law against conspiracy into an instrument for making association a crime. Pretending to fear government they have asked government to outlaw private protest. They glorify “togetherness” when it is theirs, and call it conspiracy when it is that of others.”

Thus the place that we now find ourselves is not good. On one hand by using restraint the war goes on and on, war without end, but if we embrace Sherman’s realism and admit that “War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over” is that we will imitate or exceed the brutality of the Islamic State. Either way, we lose something of ourselves. But as Abraham Lincoln said “There’s no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending.”

The young Union hero of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, Colonel Strong Vincent wrote his wife about how he believed the Union had to defeat the Confederacy. His words were much like Sherman’s and in dealing with ISIL I would hope that the American, Iraqi and coalition forces will take them to heart in combating ISIL: Vincent wrote:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest…” 

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Lawrence with Bedouin after capturing Aqaba 

That is an uncomfortable thought and philosophy, it goes against the grain, it seems terribly brutal; but it is the only philosophy of war that the leaders and jihadists of the Islamic State understand. We may not yet understand it, but I think that in time we and the Iraqis will. However, the lead cannot be taken by us or even if we are “successful” in defeating ISIL, another group will be back and doing the same things; just as ISIL filled the vacuum left by the collapse of Al Qaeda Iraq in 2008.

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Iraqi Soldiers after retaking Baiji

That is a danger that T.E. Lawrence advised his fellow British officers serving with the Bedouin during the Arab Revolt in 1917 and 1918. It is advice that we need to remember as we assist the Iraqis and Kurds in their fight. That is why this must be an Iraqi and Kurdish fight. When and if the Iraqis and Kurds embrace this philosophy of total war against ISIL, if they are willing to fight ISIL vindictively and desolate every ISIL stronghold, will they bring peace to their country. We can aid them in thee fight, but we cannot win this for them. Lawrence wrote:

“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”

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The Author with Bedouin on Syrian Border December 2007

My hope is that somehow, when this is war is done that there will be peace and reconciliation. I would like to see this in my lifetime, but it may take another generation or two that we will finally be able to establish peace by making those who are our enemies our friends. I hope for such a day, because I know that Chris Hedges is all too correct about the corrupting and devastating effect of violence on all that rely on it to achieve their goals and Sun Tzu’s wisdom in noting that prolonged warfare benefits anyone. As Major General Smedley Butler wrote:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill? 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.”

If you ask me I do not think that we or the people of Iraq can keep adding to that bill.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, News and current events

When Will We Ever Learn? Looking at 12 Years of Unending War

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War is the province of chance. in no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. it increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.- Karl von Clausewitz

We are coming up on the beginning of the 13th year of our current wars. Wars that when they began were believed to be easy and uncomplicated and since they were being waged against enemies that were “backward” and not hi-tech. Thus we were promised that they would be short in duration, low in cost and casualties. We elected the war option as the quick and easy way to win, neglecting the words of the venerable Chinese strategist Sun Tzu who said “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

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In 2001 and early 2002 the Bush Administration pursued the Al Qaeda terrorists to Afghanistan, toppling the unpopular Taliban regime but failing to kill or capture Bin Laden. But by 2002 those in that Administration sought to widen the scope of the war. An “Axis of Evil” comprised of Iraq, Iran and North Korea was identified, even though none of those nations had links to Al Qaeda, and two of which, Iran and Iraq were hostile to Al Qaeda, each for their own reasons, Saddam Hussein because he only embraced Islam when it suited his strategic purposes and Iran because the Shia there were and are mortal enemies with the ultra-Fundamentalist Sunni Wahhabi Islam of Al Qaeda.

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The undeclared war against Al Qaeda became the Global War on Terrorism. It was an amorphous term that allowed the government to play fast and loose with facts even as it by fully “legal” means restricted the rights and invaded the privacy of American citizens through the Patriot Act and expansion of the FISA laws and a massive expansion of electronic surveillance against our enemies, against our allies, even long tern NATO allies and our own citizens.

All of these ideas seemed like good ideas at the time. The United States had been hit by the most well planned, executed and devastating terrorist attack ever conducted and it had been done by those who many believed incapable of doing it. We forgot however the words of Clausewitz that war is the provence of chance.

But then our leaders, regardless of political party over the past 50 years since our entry into Vietnam have been pretty inept at understanding history and understanding the consequences of their actions. The Greek historian Thucydides understood this, he saw what happened to Athens when it allowed itself to become enmeshed in the Peloponnesian War, a war that it entered as the premier economic and military power of its time and ended in disaster. He wrote:

“Think, too, of the great part that is played by the unpredictable in war: think of it now, before you are actually committed to war. The longer a war lasts, the more things tend to depend on accidents. Neither you nor we can see into them: we have to abide their outcome in the dark. And when people are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way round. Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think.” 

It seems strange now after so long of war that our openness, freedoms and liberties were not destroyed by the actions of Al Qaeda but by our own government in the Patriot Act a title so Orwellian that it defies logic. The sad fact is that the Patriot Act was only the beginning and the actions and legislative accomplishments those that seek to broaden the war and broaden the powers of the government to restrict freedom, speech and privacy of otherwise law abiding citizens has only increased.

As I listen to the words of some legislators, or both parties I might add I am frightened because for many it seems that the only answer they have to national security issues is the hammer of military force, force that over the years of this war has been eroded and which due to their legislative negligence in the Sequester will only further erode. They seem to forget, or maybe they never learned what is taught to military officers at Command and Staff College that national power is based on the DIME, the diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic power of a nation and not on military power alone.

Our legislators, the talking heads of the media and their political allies of various “think tanks” act as though their decisions have no consequences. Thucydides noted the same in his time:

“Some legislators only wish to vengeance against a particular enemy. Others only look out for themselves. They devote very little time on the consideration of any public issue. They think that no harm will come from their neglect. They act as if it is always the business of somebody else to look after this or that. When this selfish notion is entertained by all, the commonwealth slowly begins to decay.”

Those who think this way frequently praise those that they send to fight their wars. They pound their chests in praise of “the brave soldiers” but as far as the soldier is concerned they care not, thus when through their own political negligence hard budgetary choices need to be made neither the troops or the actual security of the nation matters, only the profits of their financial contributors, those who profit from war and suffering matter.

Two time Medal of Honor winner and Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler wrote in 1932: “What is the cost of war? what is the bill? 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….”

Unfortunately despite the hopes of some in the Obama administration and in the country this undeclared “war on terrorism” will not end. It has taken on a life of its own and neither political party will end it. It like Athen’s misadventure in the Peloponnesian War, and so many other nations that ventured into “unending” wars that span generations will be our undoing if we are not take action now to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from it while still keeping our people safe. Somehow I think that our former freedoms, our liberties, transparency and openness are not weaknesses but strengths which at one time were embraced by us and many around the world who loved them and hoped to bring them to fruition in their own countries.

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I think bout it now. Many of the 18 year old men and women enlisting in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy today knowing that they could end up at war were only 5-7 years old on September 11th 2001. That a war should last this long is not only unwise and destructive to liberty but criminal in the fact that we should have known better. Thomas Jefferson wrote to President James Monroe advising him to stay clear of European conflicts saying: “They are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of the labor, property, and lives of their people.” James Madison wrote to Jefferson in 1798 “The loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or imagined, from abroad.” 

These are dangerous times, the fact is that more war is beckoning and there are those anxious for their own reasons, power, profit or even religion seek to continue and expand the. They care not a whit about those that fight them, those that die in them nor the ultimate costs in blood, treasure and freedom and home. The ends justify their means. Hannah Arendt said: “Although tyranny…may successfully rule over foreign peoples, it can stay in power only if it destroys first of all the national institutions of its own people.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Relearning Ministry Again For the First Time

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“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Henri Nouwen 

It was over 20 years ago that I graduated from seminary. I was a very good student and took every opportunity to learn, even when what I learned challenged my assumptions. Thus in a Southern Baptist seminary I basically came out as an Anglo-Catholic or progressive Vatican II type Catholic. But even so I was was still quite limited in my understanding of ministry.

My time in a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency a year after I graduated from seminary was filled with more discovery, much of it very painful as I confronted many of my own demons, But even what I learned there was just a chip off the top of the iceberg. While it was valuable it was something that took many more years to begin to fully grasp.

In each of these places and times of learning I discovered much, but like any novice my actual understanding of what I learned with limited by my own strengths as an analytical thinker and intuitive personality type. I was quite convinced of my competencies, skills and abilities, particularly in history and theology. I could wear people out picking apart arguments that I thought were flawed. Likewise on the occasions people came to me for advice I often would fall back on my strengths in analyzing their situation and giving them an answer. I was so obnoxious about it Judy would sometimes call me “the Great White One Who Knows it All.”

At various points in my life, seminary, preparation for the ordination to the Priesthood, during Clinical Pastoral Education and in the various military Chaplain school course that I have attended had to write and sometimes present a philosophy or theology of ministry. As I think about them most did talk about being present, but much more focus was on  programs and methods of teaching or even counseling from a cognitive behavioral theory method, but little to do with just being present and listening, presence was more about showing my face and being known that it was actually being with people. The changes in my “philosophy or theology of ministry” were honed in the crucibles of critical care ministry in hospital Trauma Departments and ICUs, and at war, deployed on ship or in Iraq. In those places I learned that between life and death that sometimes what matters most is just being there and not avoiding the pain by giving advice, offering a prayer, no matter how sincere and getting out of Dodge before the hard questions got asked.

I have found that young ministers or those new to ministry regardless of their age are often quite zealous and even when quite sincere often run roughshod over others. I think that is not so much a human failing but rather a result of our theological and ministerial training process. We focus on everything but being with real people, and among the professions we often are those among the least likely to truly listen to people before we diagnose a situation and give an answer. If we come from or are influenced by a tradition where what we believe that we are accurately discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying, or that we have the authoritative interpretation of Holy Scripture or that our theological premise is more correct than the others out there.

Please know this is not an attack on any particular denomination or theological school of thought. It just happens to be very common across the board in the way we do ministry as American Christians regardless of our denominational affiliation or whether we are liberal or conservative. It was bad enough when we all pretty much attended seminary in residence with other people and had to physically interact with other students or professors, some of whom challenged our views.

I believe that in the present reality of theological education in America, where online seminary programs are flourishing that an overall lack of contact and isolation is making the overall quality of ministry worse.  Simply put this is because we spend our time in a theological cocoon of our own making, deviod of relationships with people who really know us.  The result is that we become less attentive to others and more convinced of our own correctness and often suffer from a dangerous amount of narciscistic behaviors which are quite often displayed for the world to see.

 I wonder at times if the Jesuit formation process than anything that we do here.  While the 12 years long process done by the Jesuits is difficult and maybe even unworkable for some, I wonder if it is actually a better model for ministry.  I also wonder wonder if possibly we can learn from Buddhism. From what I see there appear many practices in it that are not antithetical to the Christian faith and may actually help us to be better spiritual directors, guides and care givers. I read a book by Wolfhart Pannenberg years ago about commonalities and where Christians and Buddhists could learn from each other. I still have it and when I return home I will have to take the time to re-read it. Part of my curiousity lies in the fact that I am also a military historian and theoritician and much as I see much complementary thought in the military theories of Sun Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz, one who was Eastern in thought and the other a product of Classic Western Liberal thought and philosphy. Both understood the human dimension of life, war and statesmanship and as such their military theories are timeless. Could it be that Christians could learn from Buddhists. I know that some do and I wonder if because our God is bigger than our conception that his grace allows people outside the Christian tradition to understand his will better than us sometimes. I think of the encounters of Jesus with Roman officials who he complimented saying “I have not seen such faith in all of Israel.”

I know this because I lived my ministerial life in this manner for many years. In a sense I remained a novice so long as I thought that I knew everything. The late and great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 

For me it took falling apart and feeling abandoned by peers, colleagues, the church institution and even God that took me to a new place ministry. Of course that came through the pain of loss, madness and abandonment that basically left me questioning everything, even the existence of God, I was for all practical purposes an agnostic. Coming back from war changed and suffering from PTSD and its effects makes more of an impact on faith than you can imagine. Since I have written about this part of my experience many times before so I won’t go into detail here.

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Needless to say five years ago I began a journey that challenged my beliefs and changed me quite a bit as a Priest and Navy Chaplain. I won’t bore you with those changes either because I have written about them at length.

What I have learned and over the past five years is that Henri Nouwen who I quoted at the beginning of this article was correct. We as ministers frequently fail in this, instead we feel the need to say something, when often saying little or nothing but simply being with people and fully engaged in hearing them and whether through their words, expressions, tears or silence stay with them. Our words, suggestions and advice, even when theologically correct and in accordance with good counseling theory often are not heard by the suffering person because we are not listening and instead offering a diagnosis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated this Christian conundrum well:

“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”

I cannot tell you how many times that I have met people who have been hurt by well meaning ministers who simply cannot shut up and need to give advice. Let’s face it, the temptation is by virtue of our calling, our ordination or commissioning that we believe that words are essential. St. Francis of Assisi said “preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” Actions do speak louder than words and one of those actions is listening and maintaining a holy silence as we allow the Spirit of God to work in a life even as we remain present. Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.” 

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For me though I have continued to evolve in ministry I do often feel like a novice. I have to fight the temptation to simply diagnose and give advice every day. That being said I am much more comfortable with listening and being present even more than I was a year ago. A lot of this credit goes to my Command Master Chief Ed Moreno, who I spend many hours a week with. He is a very spiritual person, a good listener and patient man who in a sense is a companion and fellow traveller on this spiritual journey.

For me it is almost as if I am relearning everything about ministry for the first time.

Well, that is enough for tonight. It is time that I shut up.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Fallacy of “Complete” Victory and the Seeds of Perpetual War and the Way to Peace

“We learn from history that complete victory has never been completed by the result that the victors always anticipate—a good and lasting peace. For victory has always sown the seeds of a fresh war, because victory breeds among the vanquished a desire for vindication and vengeance and because victory raises fresh rivals.” B H Liddell Hart

The current conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has brought into light the fallacy of the belief that military victories alone can bring peace. One would think that leaders would know this and understand the basic truth of this key aspect of the human condition but it seems that we are doomed in every generation for leaders to ignore this basic fact of human life and civilization.

While one can easily criticize the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs for their unremitting hostility and desire for revenge they are not unique. Europe bears the scars of over 1500 years of Christendom’s own tribal and religious hatreds, many which still simmer underneath the surface of “free and democratic society.” Asia is rife with ethnic hatred and desire for revenge for actions committed by people long dead. Africa, the same except for the most part those in the “First World” be they Americans, Europeans or Asians only care about Africa for its natural resources, otherwise we would have acted to stop the various genocides on that rich, beautiful and diverse but seemingly cursed continent. The inter-Islamic and other Middle Eastern and Central Asian Moslems likewise have their hatreds, try as they might Arabs and Persians despite a common allegiance to Islam are mortal enemies with animosities that pre-date their conversion to Islam. Even we Americans are not immune to such hostility in our own country and against those that we label as our enemies overseas.

Despite this there are those that first and always resort to military force or terrorist violence to attempt to fight the “war to end all wars.”

The current episode of violence in Gaza is simple another chapter in what has been an unending series of wars since the establishment of the State of Israel. The time since has been marked by major wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1981 the Palestinian Infatada as well as border conflicts between Israel, Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah that have occurred since. These wars forced exodus of Palestinian Arabs from their ancestral homes, as well as the practical end of substantial Jewish and Christian communities in Moslem dominated nations.

The Israelis have in many cases lived under threat of invasion and destruction by neighboring Arab states for much of their history even while maintaining control of territories that they occupy by brutal force in the name of their own security. In some sense the Israeli position is understandable. They occupy but a small portion of land and threats of extermination, real and propagandistic by Arab and nations and the Iranians cause them to see these threats as existential threats.

The Arabs on the other hand deal with centuries of humiliation at the hand of foreigners, many Christian and European, but also that of the Turk and Persian. The constant drumbeat of military defeats endured by them at the hands of the Israelis and the support of Israel by western nations, some of whom ran the brutal colonial administrations which divided their lands, appointed despots as surrogates and exploited their natural resources has ingrained in them a deep seated need for revenge and respect.

I know from my time in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries that the key to friendship and mutual respect is the simple act of taking time to know and appreciate the culture, history, faith and traditions of other people. I frequently in my dealings with Iraqi officers in Al Anbar Province opened doors by taking the time to learn their history, which goes back several millennia as the cradle of civilization and to be both polite and respectful in dealing with them. Iraqi officers were surprised that I knew the positive contributions of Iraqi military officers to Iraq, including the abolition of child labor, public education, the expansion of universities, universal suffrage and public works that benefited all Iraqis before the takeover of the country by Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party. Likewise the fact that I could name the victories of Iraq forces against the British at Al Kut in the First World War, the largest surrender of British forces during the war as well as other victories gained me their respect and friendship as the “American” or “Christian Imam.”

However most Americans have not learned this despite over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was listening to a friend today who was upset that the government of Iraq was urging that Arabs use oil as a weapon against the United States to force the United States to change its policy in regard to the Palestinians. The argument presented on Fox News and echoed around much of the country is that the statement of the Iraqis is an act of ingratitude by a country that we “liberated.”

But that is our fiction that we create to absolve ourselves from the fact that over a period of 20 years American and other Western nations destroyed Iraq and humiliated its people. Yes we overthrew Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator, a man that we supported for years as an ally until he crossed a line that we determined that he should not cross when he invaded Kuwait in 1990. To Shi’te Iraqis the overthrow of Saddam in 2003 was liberation, but it was “liberation” that followed the betrayal of them in 1991 where after encouraging them to revolt against Saddam we allowed them to be slaughtered by his Republican Guard.

To the Sunni of Anbar Province who after realizing that the radicals of Al Qaeda who were bringing more destruction to them than the Americans and allied themselves with the United States military in 2007, the Anbar Awakening the withdraw of American forces was an abandonment. They made our exit from Iraq possible and helped break the back of Al Qaeda, and for their trouble they believe that they have been abandoned to a corrupt Shi’te led government in Baghdad.

In light of all of this who can blame the Iraqis for making those statements. How would be we feel if that were to happen to us in the United States, or in Western Europe? Actually we know from history how we would feel. The answer is obvious in our history as well as our current actions and attitudes. We would not rest until those that brought destruction on our country and betrayed our people were defeated.

It is no wonder that Sun Tzu said that “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

Likewise Abraham Lincoln asked a question that those consumed by the need to destroy their enemies by military force should ask before ever mobilizing an army for war: “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Myth of Decisive Victory in Gaza

“Cure yourself of two commonly fatal delusions: the idea of victory and the idea that war can be limited.” B. H. Liddell Hart

“There is no middle path here – either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. Otherwise there will be no decisive victory.” Gilad Sharon

As one who supports Israel it is hard to watch its leaders falling into the trap of invading Gaza, something that they have done before without success. In the past 5 days the Israelis have blunted the attacks of Hamas militants and others operating in the Gaza Strip, killed some important Hamas military leaders and decimated much of the Hamas missile capability through air, naval and artillery strikes. It is clear that the new Iron Dome missile system has shielded the Israeli population from appreciable harm and that Hamas cannot protect the people of Gaza from Israeli attack. However, the protection of the people of Gaza is not the goal of the leaders of Hamas, their goal is to draw Israel into a war that will sap its strength by drawing its forces into Gaza.

It appears that at least some leaders of Israel may oblige them. The Knesset has authorized the call up of 75,000 reservists for duty and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that the Israelis are to expand the operation. This mobilization is massive by Israeli standards. It is a force that certainly will have the capability of occupying Gaza, and for a time preventing a renewed build up of Hamas’ missile forces, but it will be a force that will be unable to secure a decisive victory as Gilad Sharon believes possible.

Sun Tzu wrote: “Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.”

If some kind of cease fire is not arranged soon the possibility that the conflict could expand is very real. It is also likely that an expansion of the conflict beyond Gaza could be tremendously harmful to Israel and the region. The real possibility that the emotions of war could draw Egypt into the conflict, regardless of that nation’s need for stability is something that cannot be discounted, especially with the Moslem Brotherhood now in control of the government. The even greater threat is that Iran could use other surrogates in Lebanon and Syria to attack Israel and draw the Israelis into a direct attack on Iran.

The emotions of war and those people who have been humiliated by military defeat after defeat are not rational. Peoples who endure defeat after defeat at the hands of any nation only to want to exact revenge on those that they believe are their oppressors. We in the “Christian” West should understand this, it is the history of Europe.

Israel’s operations in Gaza may be successful in the short term, but should they decide to invade Gaza they will invite even more desire for revenge throughout the region. A ground invasion will also cede Israel’s position as the victim of Hamas attacks in much of the world, especially since any invasion will be accompanied by many civilian deaths in a built up area that is already poverty stricken and war torn.

It is not a good situation. One hopes that the conflict can be curtailed before it spreads and becomes a regional war of incalculable costs in terms of lives and treasure.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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