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Routines Thrown Out of Kilter: A Good Friday Reflection in the Season of COVID

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a strange Good Friday, and for that matter Holy Week itself. With the Coronavirus pandemic and the resultant interruption of our normal daily routines, it has been hard to keep track of what day it is. This week was very busy at work and on Tuesday I actually asked a co-worker what day it was, and asked the same of Judy on Wednesday. I don’t know about you, but the end of my former routine has left me somewhat untethered.

But I guess that was the way the followers of Jesus felt on that first Good Friday. With the exception of John, and Mary the Mother of Jesus the rest went into hiding, fearing for their lives. Now instead of packed churches and Easter Egg hunts, family get togethers, or other celebrations, we have empty church buildings and most other events are cancelled, severely restricted, or modified due to social distancing and other precautions.

This doesn’t simply effect Christians, but others whose religious gatherings, such as the Jewish Passover which began last night, or Ramadan for Muslims which begins in May. Likewise, non-religious people have also seen their own routines thrown out of kilter.

I don’t really have any words of wisdom to share except to believe that whatever the new normal is, that we will find ways of building new routines, social, or religious as time goes by.

Today, I have tried to stay offline as much as possible, to take a step back, reflect,  think and pray.  I did this while I was sitting in social isolation while waiting for oil changes and inspections to be done on our cars. Likewise, I paid particular heed to the separation, and the physical changes, and barriers of different types, including masks while picking up a cup of coffee or Coke in convenience stores. I walked  down one of our city’s busiest streets only to notice the emptiness of businesses, churches, and traffic.

While walking to get coffee while waiting on the first car, I saw a Methodist church with three wooden crosses planted on it. One had a piece of black cloth attached, blowing in the chilliness of a stiff breeze. I paused, and in that moment I imagined more about the pain, emptiness, separation, and loneliness of that first Good Friday than I think I ever did before.

On my way home I received a call from one of our civilian workers. He believed that he and other workers had been exposed to COVID, due to their proximity to a worker who had tested positive. I was able to refer him to someone who had the influence to get an answer to him. I was happy to help, but I worry for him and others exposed to the virus.

But, for me, those crosses and that black cloth symbolized all that we are all going through today with this pandemic. The deaths, the suffering, the anxieties about the virus, and the devastating ripple effects: people being separated from family and friends at death, friends without jobs, people worrying about making car payments, rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and other bills, and wondering if their lives will ever be the same or return somewhat normal. That list can go on and on.

Add to it the separation from family, friends, and our daily routines, all of which to some extent we grieve. For me, the words of T.E. Lawrence ring true today:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

Yes, that is the feeling,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, Coronavirus, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Religion

Look Who’s Back: A Film Far too Pertinent in Europe and the USA “At Their Core they are Just Like Me” The Trump and Hitler Cults

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A bit earlier we watched, and I re-watched the German film Look Who’s Back (Er ist Wieder Da) which is about Hitler rising from his bunker in 2014. It is a very dark comedy where the actors mingle with regular people, and the actor playing Hitler mingles with them, but no-one really believes that he is really Hitler, but many are willing to make public support of Hitler’s policies. Finally, the amateur filmmaker who discovered Hitler realizes that the man he thought was an actor is really Hitler, and the following conversation ensues:

Hitler: I was wondering when you would show up.

Sawatski: It’s you. You’re him.

Hitler: I never claimed to be anything else. History repeats itself. I guess it’s my fate to have to part with my dearest companions.

Sawatski: That way. Yes, history repeats itself. You’re fooling people with your propaganda.

Hitler: Oh, Sawatski. You don’t understand. In 1933, people were not fooled by propaganda. They elected a leader, one who openly disclosed his plans with great clarity. The Germans elected me.[At gunpoint, Hitler takes the elevator to the top of the building and walks out on the rooftop, standing close to the edge.]

Sawatski: You’re a monster.

Hitler: Am I? Then you have to condemn those who elected this monster. Were they all monsters? No. They were ordinary people, who chose to elect an extraordinary man, and entrust the fate of the country to him. What do you want to do, Sawatski? Ban elections?

Sawatski: No. But I’m going to stop you.

Hitler: Have you never asked yourself… why people follow me? Because at their core, they are just like me. They have the same values. And that’s why you won’t shoot.

[Sawatski shoots, and Hitler falls backward off the rooftop. Sawatski looks over the edge and sees no body.]

Hitler: You can’t get rid of me. I’m a part of you. A part of all of you. And look; it wasn’t all bad.

The film should be required viewing, not just in Germany but in Trump’s America.

Being an ideologue of any kind is easy, you adopt an ideology and then use it to interpret the world. That is why there are so many of them of so many different varieties: right wing, left wing, religious and so many more. In fact if you take a look at the most strident supporters of any ideology, politician, or religious leader you can see that they are little different from one another. But in terms of the ideologies they espouse the most enduring of them, and the only to have ever been the foundation of state power or those dealing with economics such as the Soviet Union; or race such as Nazi Germany or the American Southern Confederacy. Hannah Arendt wrote:

“For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man. Few ideologies have won enough prominence to survive the hard competitive struggle of persuasion, and only two have come out on top and essentially defeated all others: the ideology which interprets history as an economic struggle of classes, and the other that interprets history as a natural fight of races. The appeal of both to large masses was so strong that they were able to enlist state support and establish themselves as official national doctrines. But far beyond the boundaries within which race-thinking and class-thinking have developed into obligatory patterns of thought, free public opinion has adopted them to such an extent that not only intellectuals but great masses of people will no longer accept a presentation of past or present facts that is not in agreement with either of these views.” 

The fact is that there is a difference between people who lean a certain way politically or religiously, and the people Eric Hoffer called, the “true believers,” the people who chose a side and never wrestle with the hard choices of life. They simply declare all who oppose their ideology or theology to be unworthy of life. If one is honest one has to admit that all kinds of ideologues of various persuasions, right wing, left wing, religious, atheistic, or racist have committed crimes which are incomprehensible and abhorrent. History shows that this is truth, but then when a regime decides to censor the past, as the Trump Administration is currently doing, and many other regimes have done, all bets are off. Likewise, when a government decides to admit to what its predecessors have done, as has Germany has done with World War II and the Holocaust, there will always be people who wish for a fictional better time, and either deny the truth, or seek to bring back the horrors of the past.

I am a liberal and a progressive, but I often find left-wing ideologues to be as off putting as militant right wingers. I guess that is because despite everything I am a realist. I wake up every day to try to do the hard thing of deciding what is right and what to believe.

My favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing. I see examples of this every day, especially in my Twitter feed and on Facebook.

While I’m sure that many, if not most of these people are good and well meaning people, they seldom display any originality of thought or true character. A while back I had one left wing Twitter follower attack repeatedly me because to her I was supposedly a sellout. I have had right wing religious friends and followers on social media do the same, as well as making actual death threats.

While they attack me and each other from different ends of the political spectrum, the intellectual commonality they share is the fact that they are ideologues and zealots; and while they espouse different beliefs they are almost indistinguishable from each other in their inability to think critically and that wears me out, but I refuse to stand down.

I guess that is one of the things that bothers me the most about so much of what I see going on in the United States today. Too many ideologues, not enough critical thinkers. Too many people who value absolute consistently of thought without asking if what they preach is still true today, or if it might be tomorrow, and far too many more who are unwilling to by more than apathetic bystanders waiting to see which way the wind blows before deciding on a position.

Of course there are also the people who would be the victims of ideologues of any type, and the ideologues will be the perpetrators. At this time, after the Senate voted to acquit Trump, the President has mounted a campaign of revenge against his opponents. My money is on the Trump ideologues to take the first shot.

From the beginning of his campaign he never hid what he believed or who or what he is. In the process he has built a cult following around himself, taken over the Republican Party, used all media, but especially that of the Right Wing media to propagate his hateful ideology. He has bulldozed the Constitution, the law, and the institutional guardrails that protected our Republic for over two centuries; and must of his cult like supporters, just like Hitler’s won’t abandon him, but will become more violent in their actions toward his opponents. Likewise, he will use the organs of the State to implement his policies, as he is doing with the Border Patrol, INS, and every other part of the executive branch that his Cult controls. Against this I don’t think that left wing ideologues, who often are a mirror image of their right wing cousins have a chance; but men and women of conscience must make a stand.

One thing that I have learned over the past decade or so is that I have to ask what is right today, and make a choice of when to stand up, or to stand down. Sometimes, I don’t like those choices, but I make them. As Sophie Scholl said:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I guess that is why I like reading about the lives of complicated and often conflicted people; men like T.E. Lawrence, William Tecumseh Sherman, Henning Von Tresckow, Ludwig Beck, and the fictional Raymond Reddington so fascinating. I find much to admire and to criticize in all of them even as I empathize and understand each one of them. Interestingly, each of my heroes all have feet of clay. As Reddington said, “We become who we are. We can’t judge a book by its cover… But you can by its first few chapters, and most certainly by its last.” 

But in such a perilous time, how can we not see what Trump has openly proclaimed he would do when he became a presidential candidate, and since his election. However, we cannot blame it all on Trump. He was clear in what he would do as President, and as the fictional Hitler asked “Have you never asked yourself… why people follow me? Because at their core, they are just like me. They have the same values.” 

Have a great day, until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, film, germany, History, leadership, movies, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

An Act of War: Trump Has Iranian General Assassinated

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great Prussian military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz wrote:

“No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it.”

Late Thursday night I saw that the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps “Al Quds” division, General Qasem Soleimani was assassinated by an American Air Force Drone strike, which killed the leader of many of Iraq’s Iranian allied Shia militiamen. This was a day after the Shia militia withdrew after attacking the American Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Rather than maintaining a policy of plausible deniability like the Israelis, Russians, Chinese or North Koreans, President Trump had the Defense Department almost immediately claim credit for the strike. Don’t get me wrong, I shed no tears for Qasem Soleimani.

He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not more than a thousand American troops in Iraq, by supplying completed and equipment used to make Improvised Explosive Devices to Shia militants. Thousands of others were wounded, and throughout Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, and even Israel. Militias that he supplied and that are allied with Iran have killed countless Sunni, Kurdish, Sufi, and Christian Arabs. Quite simply, there is no love between the Persians and the Arabs, it is a hatred that preceded the foundation of Islam, or Christianity for that matter. The Persians have always treated the Arabs as inferiors regardless of religion, one reason that some of the most powerful Iraqi Shia leaders remain Iraqi nationalists.

The smart thing to do would have been to use locally manufactured weapons, or those common in the region from Russia, China, North Korea, and European nations, to kill him, and then say nothing. That is how intelligent nations assassinate their opponents, by maintaining plausible deniability. Pardon my less than Christian interpretation of such actions, but beating your chest after such an action as President Trump did today only serves to embolden one’s opponents.

Iran was in the midst of disintegration, protests and deteriorating economic conditions were making it ripe for revolution, but every authoritarian government knows, the easiest way to unify a divided country is war, especially when a longstanding enemy launches a surprise attack that kills a man not only considered a military leader but an national icon. Likewise, the killing of Soleimani will do nothing to change the course of Iran or its policies anywhere. His successor is the man who has been his deputy since the late 1990s. Rather than dividing Iran, this will unify it, against the United States.

One should expect attacks by Iran’s allied militias in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, and Yemen against American, western, Israeli, and Saudi interests. Likewise one can not calculate the actions of the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, or others, even friends will be. We could easily find ourselves fighting on multiple fronts without allies or support.

This is uncharted territory. The President did not seek the advice and consent of Congress for  an action that was a functional declaration of war, neither sanctioned by international law, nor in any way covered by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Force sought by the Bush Administration to take action against Al Qaida and Afghanistan; a document used by every succeeding administration for use of force around the world, whether connected with Al Qaida or not. At no point has Congress asserted its authority to declare war. In fact it hasn’t been since President Roosevelt asked for and got a declaration of war against Japan on December 8th 1941, and Germany and its allies when they declared war against the United States a few days later. Since then Congress has yielded to the executive branch and President in every subsequent occasion. Even the War Powers Act, enacted after Vietnam has done little to curtail the actions of each succeeding Presidency. As such this is not just a foreign policy and potential war action, but yet another assault on the Constitution; but then the Constitution hasn’t mattered to most Americans in decades, especially when it comes to military action.

Sun Tzu wrote: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

I feel that Americans by and large neither know ourselves, or our enemies, and that this is most exemplified by the example of President Trump. that my friends saddens me.

We believe that our military is the strongest and most capable in the world, which it would be if it had not been gutted by 18 years of war, which despite the vast sums spent on it is now less capable of projecting military power than it was in 2001. Likewise, massive debt of the country impedes the overall economy, the President’s attacks on the nation’s intelligence and free press have harmed our ability to gain information as well as use information to our advantage, and finally the gutting of the State Department has devastated our ability to use diplomacy rather than force to solve problems.

Every instrument of what American diplomats and strategists have called the DIME, the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic pillars of national power are crumbling and neither the President or Congress has the honesty to say so, even though unclassified reports of all of the above are readily available for anyone to see. But many, if not most Americans prefer ignorance of the law, the Constitution, and facts to reality.

Expect cyber attacks, terrorist attacks on Americans overseas and quite possibly attacks in the United States itself. War could easily consume most of the Middle East and world. While the United States military would probably destroy most of Iran’s conventional military, and infrastructure, it will be a great cost. American losses will be more than OIF and OEF combined. The videos of American Warships burning and sinking from saturation attacks by Iran’s vast number of surface to surface anti-ship missiles, swarm attacks by Iran’s missile and torpedo boats, and speedboats laden with explosives piloted by suicide crews will be hard to fathom. Iranian attacks on U.S. bases in Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia with ballistic and cruise missiles will also overwhelm available missile defenses.

This may sound like a bleak estimate, but I study, I read, and I know.

I don’t know how to end this article but it just seams to me that the President has sown the wind, leaving his military and people to reap the whirlwind. I sincerely hope that I am wrong. But as Admiral Josh Painter, played by the late actor and Senator Fred Thompson said in the Hunt for Red October: “This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.” 

In 1920 T. E. Lawrence wrote of the continuing British intervention and occupation of Iraq: “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.” 
I feel much as Lawrence did at this moment in time, and I so want to be wrong.

It is very late and I am tired. Likewise I only think that things will get much worse before they get better.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion, terrorism, War on Terrorism

Armistice Day at 101 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Forty years after the guns went silent in on November 11th 1918, General Omar Bradley, spoke these words on the eve of Armistice Day, 1948:

Tomorrow is our day of conscience. For although it is a monument to victory, it is also a symbol of failure. Just as it honors the dead, so must it humble the living. Armistice Day is a constant reminder that we won a war and lost a peace…”

It was supposed to be the “War to end all war,” or so thought President Woodrow Wilson and other American idealists. However, the war to end all war birthed a series of wars which far exceeded the losses of the First World War as ideological wars, exponentially more powerful weapons, and systematized mass murder and genocide birthed new horrors.

Winston Churchill wrote:

“The Great War differed from all ancient wars in the immense power of the combatants and their fearful agencies of destruction, and from all modern wars in the utter ruthlessness with which it was fought. … Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa became one vast battlefield on which after years of struggle not armies but nations broke and ran. When all was over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves: and they were of doubtful utility.”

In the First World War there were over 22 million military casualties including over 8 million dead of which over 126,000 were Americans. Close to 20 million civilians also were casualties of the war.

President Woodrow Wilson established what we know now as Veteran’s Day as Armistice Day in November 1919, a year after the guns went silent.

Wilson wrote:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…

That initial proclamation was followed 45 years later by one of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower signed into law what we now know as Veteran’s Day in 1954.

In a sense I wish we had two holidays, one for Veterans from all wars in general and this one which we should never forget. It seems that in combining them we have lost some of the sacredness of the original. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.” 

Because of that, I will remember all who served tomorrow as we observe Veterans Day, but I will not forget Armistice Day.

It is important not to forget the horrors and results of the First World War because both it and the Second World War, have faded from memory. Most people today cannot fathom killing on such a large scale, the overthrow of powerful nations and dynasties, the creation of new nations built from diverse, and often rival ethnic and religious groups such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, or the re-establishment of ancient nations such as Poland.

Yet to those of us who have gone to war and studied past wars the end result is not so distant. It is a part of our lives even today. Edmond Taylor accurately noted in his book, The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922:

“The First World War killed fewer victims than the Second World War, destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions – but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe. The old world never recovered from the shock.”

The cost in human lives alone is incomprehensible. In the short time that United States forces went into action in late 1917 on the western front and the armistice, 126,000 Americans were killed, 234,000 wounded, and 4,500 missing; 8.2% of the force of 4,355,000 the nation mobilized for war. More Americans were killed in the First World War than Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined.

But American losses were small in comparison with the European nations who had for over four years bled themselves dry.  If one wonders why Europeans seem to have so little desire for involvement in war, one only needs to see how the concentrated killing of the First World War decimated the best and brightest of that generation. Out of the nearly 8.5 million Frenchmen mobilized lost 1,357,000 killed, 4,266,000 wounded and 537,000 missing, 6,160,000 casualties or 73.3% of its forces. The Russians also lost over 73% of 12 million, Romania 71% of 750,000, Germany 65% of 11 million, Serbia 47% of 707,000, tiny Montenegro 40% of 50,000, Italy 39.9% of 5.6 million, Great Britain 36% of almost 9 million, the Ottoman Empire 34% of 8.5 million. But the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary which began the war in response to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lost 90% of the 7.8 million men that it sent to war.

The human costs were horrifying. In all over over 65 million men served under arms in the war. Over 8.5 million were killed, over 21 million wounded, 7.75 million missing or prisoners or almost 37.5 million military casualties alone. That total would be roughly equivalent to every citizen of the 30 largest American cities being killed, wounded or missing.

Much of Europe was devastated and in the following months and years, mass numbers of refugees the dissolution of previously stable empires were displaced. A Civil War in Russia killed many more people and led to the establishment of the Soviet Union. Germany too was torn apart by civil war that left it bitterly divided and planted the seeds of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Border conflicts between new states with deep seated ethnic hatreds broke out. A flu pandemic spread around the world killing millions more. Economic disasters culminating in the Great Depression and social instability led to the rise of totalitarian regimes which spawned another, even more costly World War and a 40 year Cold War. The bitter results of the First World War are still felt today as conflicts in the Middle East in part fueled by the decisions of Britain and France at the end of the war rage on.

T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, who gained fame during the Arab revolt looked at the results of the war with a great deal of melancholy. He wrote:

“We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.”

The his epic war poem, In Flanders Fields, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea symbolized the cost of that war and the feelings of the warriors who endured its hell.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Yes there are always consequences to actions. This weekend as we remember what we Americans now call Veteran’s Day, and the British refer to as Remembrance Day let us blood shed by so on the battlefields of Verdun, Gallipoli, Caporetto, Passchendaele, the Marne, the Argonne, Tannenberg, the Somme, Galicia, the Balkans, Flanders Fields, at sea and in the air.

President John F. Kennedy said: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Kennedy was right, that our appreciation is not just to utter words, but to live by them. Sadly, the current American President has no understanding of such nuances. He continued thump his chest and spit in the face of allies while, courting nations hostile to the very ideals of the United States. Likewise, the President, a man who never served in the military, and spent the Vietnam War avoiding service and dodging the draft while later comparing avoiding sexuality transmitted diseases to combat again dishonored the men who spilt their blood in the First World War. Donald Trump does not understand anything about history, war, courage, or honor. Sadly, he is all too representative of a generation that neither knows or cares about those things. He and others like him will be the ones that lead the world into another disaster.

“Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.”

I write in the hope of peace and an end to war. I will write about Veteran’s Day later today.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, middle east, Military, Political Commentary, us army, US Marine Corps, world war one

Trump Sets Stage for Turkish Offensive and Genocide Against Syrian Kurds

  

Awaiting Orders, Turkish Armor on Syrian Border

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was stunned to find out Sunday that President Trump announced that U.S. advisors and other troops backing the Kurds in Syria were going to be pulled out in order to aid a Turkish offensive against them. It was an announcement evoked strong bi-partisan condemnations in Congress, but it appears that the President will not make down.

       U.S. Troops Pulling Out to Make Way for Turkish Offensive 

During the war against ISIS, or the Islamic State, it was the Kurds who were our most effective and and loyal ally. It was mostly due to their military prowess and sacrifice, that we achieved a large measure of success in defeating ISIS on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. For the most part they did the dying for us and still are doing so. The Kurds were also responsible for clearing ISIS from much of northern Iraq.

Kurdish Forces in Action 

While crippled, ISIS is not yet defeated, its key leaders remain alive and the Kurds are necessary to ensure their final defeat. Our military commitment inside Syria has been minimal and achieved greater success than our substantially greater efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Joint operations with the Kurds in Syrian and northwestern Iraq have arguably been our most successful operations in the Middle East since we invaded Afghanistan eighteen years ago.

Over a hundred years ago T. E. Lawrence provides the template for success that we have used with the Kurds. While we have given them important help, it has been their war to win or lose. Lawrence wrote his superiors:

“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.”

We could keep doing that if we didn’t have a President who is willing to cut and run, and abandon the Kurds to the Turks under their leader Recep Erdogan. Erdogan is not just a Turk Nationalist, he is an Islamist. He and for that matter many generations of Turks have desired to crush the Kurds, a people left without a state when the borders of the former Ottoman Empire were redrawn after World War One. They live in Iraq, Syrian, and eastern Turkey. They are a distinct ethnic group who only want freedom and to be left in peace.

Now all the success against ISIS is in doubt and the Turks will have a free hand to exterminate the Kurds. History shows that they are quite good at genocide. The Armenian genocide was bloody and brutal. Between 700,000 and 1.5 million  Armenians were killed, others used as Slave Labor, placed in Concentration Camps, subjected to poison gas, infected with Typhus, in some cases pushed out to sea in overloaded unseaworthy small boats in condition that left them to drown.  Still others driven into the Syrian desert. The genocide began in 1915 and continued after the war, however, over the preceding decades they had been subjected to smaller yet brutal pogroms. At the same time the Turks conducted similar operations against ethnic Greeks and Abyssinians.

Now, the American President is presenting Turkey its long delayed chance to eliminate the Kurds. Sadly, with his emigration policies, those men and women who have fought alongside of us for the better part of a decade will not be afforded asylum and left to the bloody designs of the Turks, and the revenge of ISIS.

In response to his critics the President tweeted something so incredibly inane that I cannot begin to fathom it:

If he really believes this he should be removed from office under the 25th Amendment. Anyone who says that they have Great and Unmatched Wisdom” as they threaten to destroy the economy of another country with good options for support, such as Russia and China, our economic and military competitors is a loon.

At this point I can only imagine the worst, unless Congress votes to overturn his unilateral action. The blood of the Kurds will be on our hands, and we will be saddled with the reputation of being an unreliable ally that cannot be trusted. That is already happening across the globe as long time allies explore non-U.S. based options for their security. In such a case no amount of military might can save us. We will be alone, but then that is what Trump wants. He thinks an omnipotent military, a tightly controlled police state, and economic isolation through tariff after tariff, including against allies will Make America Great? 

Although all of this is connected I digress. We are watching the President melt down before our eyes. His actions are erratic and setting us, all of us, his supporters and opponents alike up for disaster, economic, and possibly military. In his desperation to save his Presidency with impeachment looming, it is highly likely that he will become more unstable and devolve further.

But right now I expect the worst for the Kurds.

Anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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A Heap Of Swords Piled as Delicately as Jackstraws: One Cannot Be Pulled Out Without Moving the Others: The Middle East 2019

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been watching the events unfolding in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East with a fair amount of apprehension. Seldom has a region been so similar to Barbara Tuchman’s words in her epic work The Guns Of August:

Europe was a heap of swords piled as delicately as jackstraws; one could not be pulled out without moving the others.

Armed to the teeth the militaries of Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Israel, vast numbers of powerful Sunni and Shia militias: the Islamic State, Hezbollah, Houthi, and so many more, scattered from Yemen, to Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza, and Syria, not to mention the vast power of the United States, its now somewhat recalcitrant allies, as well as elements of Russian, Turkish, and even Chinese military power prowl the region on the land, sea and air.

Ancient hatreds and rivalries, Sunni versus Shia, Persian versus Arab, Muslim versus Christian, Jew versus Muslim, Turk versus Arab, and even Christian versus Jew. Ancient hatreds that go beyond mere religious quarrels; not to say that wars of religion have been some of the most bloody and malevolent in history.

These ancient hatreds and rivalries have been aided directly by the United States and Europe following the World Wars. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, the triumph of the British Indian Office over the British Foreign Ministry which allowed the House Of Saud to conquer most of the Arabian Peninsula and drive out the House Of Faisal Hussein which were relegated to Jordan and Iraq after helping the British defeat the Ottoman Turks in the Middle East.

I fear that the President Trump’s unjustified and highly questionable support of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman bin Saud, who ordered the murder of an Saudi Arabian Journalist and resident of the United States, Jamal  Khashoggi, and for who all purposes seems to be of a business partner of, than the President of the United States.

T.E. Lawrence wrote during the early phases of the British occupation of Mesopotamia (Iraq) less than two years after the war:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

Lawrence’s words could be applied to the United States since 1990 and thereafter, especially beginning in 2003 during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Now we have a President threatening to go to war by Tweet with Iran at the behest and on the word of his Saudi business partner without consulting Congress. At least the administration’s Of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton worked within the confines of the United Nations and Congressional authorizations before committing the military in Harm’s way. Even George W. Bush when rebuffed by the U.N. in Iraq, got Congressional authorization for his actions, but we now have a President threatening a major war that could result in catastrophic harm to the world, including the men and women of the U.S. Military, by tweet.

Please don’t get me wrong. I no longer trust the words of any of the players involved, including the Iranians, Saudis, Israelis, Turks, Russians, and everyone else involved, and yes, even the Trump administration. What is scary is that many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are all in favor or bringing on the apocalypse.

I fear that war is coming, and there are too many players with swords in the pile to avoid it. Including an impulsive, unstable, habitual liar. Even if he doesn’t want war he may well lead us into it. Let the reader understand.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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“I Imagined it Would Be Different” Passing the Baton on my Last 9-11 on Active Duty and Reflecting on All We Have Lost

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

September 11th is a day that always makes me more introspective. It brings back so many memories, some that I wish I could forget; but I cannot get the images of that day out of my mind. The burning towers, the people jumping to their deaths to escape the flames, and the scenes of devastation. I knew one of the victims in the attack on the Pentagon, an Army Lieutenant Colonel, Karen Wagner who commanded a Medical training company at Fort Sam Houston where I was serving as the Brigade Adjutant in 1987 and 1988. She was a very nice person, very gracious and decent, admired by everyone who knew her; I was shocked to see her name on the casualty list after the attack.

The emotions that I feel on the anniversary of these terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of so many innocent people, and which devastated so many families, still haunts me, and my subsequent service, especially in Iraq has changed me. Years after he returned from his time in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence; the immortal Lawrence of Arabia wrote to a friend, “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” I often feel that way.

Eighteen years ago I was getting ready to go to the French Creek Gym at Camp Le Jeune North Carolina where I was serving as the Chaplain of Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division. I had returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea just two months before and was preparing to transfer to the USS Hue City, a guided missile cruiser stationed in Mayport, Florida.

At the time of the attack I had already been in the military for over 20 years and I had actually taken a reduction in rank to transfer from the Army, where I was a Major in the reserves, to the Navy to serve on active duty. In those previous 20 years I had served overseas during the Cold War along the Fulda Gap. I had been mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996, and I had just missed being mobilized for Operation Desert Storm as my unit was awaiting its mobilization orders when the war ended. I had done other missions as well as the deployment to the Far East that returned from in July 2001; but nothing prepared me for that day. Like other career military officers I expected that we would be at war again and thought it might be back in the Middle East, and probably a result of some fool’s miscalculations; but like the American officers who were serving at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, I never expected what happened that morning.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 had started like so many days in my career. Routine office work, a couple of counseling cases and what I thought would be a good PT session. I was about to close out my computer browser when I saw a little headline on Yahoo News that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I paid little attention and figured that a private plane, something like a Cessna piloted by an incompetent had inadvertently flown into the building.

9-11 jumpers

That delusion lasted about two minutes. I got in my car and the radio, tuned to an AM talk station had a host calling the play by play. He started screaming “oh my God another airliner flew into the other tower.” Seeking to see what was happening I went to the gym where there were many televisions. I got there and saw the towers burning, with stunned Marines and Sailors watching silently, some in tears. I went back out, drove to my office and got into uniform. After checking in with my colonel a made a quick trip to my house for my sea bags and some extra underwear, and personal hygiene items. When I got back the headquarters we went into a meeting, and the base went on lock down mode. The gates were closed and additional checkpoints, and roadblocks established on base. Marines in full battle-rattle patrolled the perimeter and along the waterfront. I did not leave the base until the night of the 15th when things began to settle down and we all went into contingency planning mode for any military response to the attacks.

My wife, who as waiting for a doctor’s appointment with a friend saw the attacks on live television and knew when the first plane struck she told her friend that it was terrorism. Her friend responded “that damned Saddam Hussein.” Like so many of us who initially thought this, my wife’s friend was wrong. my friend Fregattenkapitäne Micheal Hufnagel, then the  First Officer Of the German Guided Missile Destroyer Lutjens was among the first to express support for the United States. Steaming next to the USS Winston Churchill helped put up a banner that said We Stand By You. It was an iconic moment. Eight months later I met Michael and we became fast friends, to this day.

LutjensHonors

Those were tumultuous days, so much fear; so much paranoia; and so much bad information as to who committed the attacks and what was going to happen next.

hue city boarding party

 

Honestly, I didn’t expect the war to go on for more than a few months, but months became years, and years became decades. I guess I was a lot like the German military officers who in the wake of the dramatic success of the Wehrmacht in the west and the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa  the German victory was so certain that resistance was futile and the best course was to follow orders, believing that victory over the subhuman Taliban and Al Qaeda was just around the corner. In the beginning I was little different than your average Wehrmacht officer, but by the time I left Iraq I realized just how wrong I was in supporting that misbegotten invasion.

I was so spellbound by Operation Desert Storm and operations in the Balkans that I ignored history. I knew the results of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the British, Indian, and Macedonian adventures there, but we were the United States. We would win. Then the Bush Administration forgot Afghanistan and went into a war with Iraq, which was doomed from the start, and which met every standard of the war crimes that we tried the Nazis for at Nuremberg. As the American Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson noted before those trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

A few months later I deployed aboard Hue City to the Middle East where we supported the air operations in Afghanistan, anti-terrorist operations off the Horn of Africa and in Operation Southern Watch and the U.N. Oil Embargo against Iraq. I then did three years with Marine Security Forces, traveling around the world to support Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team companies. For three years I was on the road one to three weeks a month traveling to the Middle East, Europe, the Pacific and many parts of the United States. Then I was promoted and transferred to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group Two, from which I was deployed with my assistant to Iraq, where we served as members of the Iraq Assistance Group in all Al Anbar Province supporting small teams of Marine Corps, Army and Joint Force adviser teams to the Iraqi Army, Border troops, Port of Entry police, police and highway patrol.

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When I returned from Iraq I was a changed man and while I am proud of my service I am haunted by my experiences. One cannot go to war, see its devastation, see the wounded and dead, as well as the innocents traumatized by it. One cannot get shot at, or be in enclosed rooms, meeting with people that might be friends, or might be enemies, and while everyone else is armed, you are not.

War changed me, and my homecoming was more difficult than I could have imagined. I never felt so cut off from my country, my society, my church, or even other chaplains. My experience is not uncommon among those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter those who have served in almost any modern war. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic All Quite on the Western Front wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

That being said I would not trade my experience for anything. The experience of PTSD and other war related afflictions has been a blessing as well as a curse. They have changed my world view and made me much more emphatic to the suffering and afflictions of others, as well when they are abused, mistreated, terrorized and discriminated against. These experiences along with my training as a historian, theologian, and hospital chaplain clinician before and after my tour have given me a lot bigger perspective than I had before.

But I have to live with all of the memories. Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

As hard as this has been these are good things, and as I go on I wonder what will happen next. I do not think that the wars and conflicts which have followed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks will be over for years, maybe even decades. I pray for peace, but too many people, some even in this country seem to live for the bloodlust of war. One can only hope and as my Iraqi friends say, Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

I wonder too, if the words of T.E. Lawrence reflecting on his service in the Arab Revolt are not as applicable to me and others who came back from Iraq, “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” I have lost too many friends in these wars, including men who could not readjust to home, many like me. I have seen the men and women, broken in body, mind and spirit and I wonder if any of it was worth it, and if in some of our response, especially the invasion of Iraq has not made a bad situation even worse, and turned the war into a generational conflict.

As for me, I am now an old guy by military standards. I recently celebrated 38 years of service and will, God willing, retire next year. Sadly, I know all too well that those who I have worked with, and those who are yet to enlist will be continuing to fight a war which seems to be without end long after I retire, despite the efforts of President Trump to make a deal with the Taliban.

Tomorrow there were and will be many ceremonies and services to remember the victims of the attacks. I think that is fitting, Lest We forget. However, I don’t think any should be used as platform to promote war without end. We will be conducting a 9-11 Remembrance Ceremony in the morning. I am having my brand new junior chaplain do invocation and benediction. I have helped him and given him guidance, but he has produced a good result that didn’t need much of my guidance to be something that honored the victims of 9-11, the U.S. military, and our allies since, as well as the innocent victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and so many other places this unending war has touched. It is time for me to step aside and let the young men and women who were children when this began to be up front. My goal now is to help the young folks get recognized for good work and train them to represent the best in the Chaplaincy and to be guardians of the First Amendment, not religious theocrats.

So please, have a good day and whatever you do do not forget those whose lives were forever changed by those dastardly attacks and all that has transpired in the years since. Honestly I did not think that we would still be at war today. It is hard for me to believe that we still are at war and that there is no end in sight.

As Erich Maria Remarque wrote “I imagined that it would be different…”

At the same time I do hope that things will get better and that some semblance of peace will return to the world.

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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