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Happy New Year: Welcome to 1984, 30 Years Late; But Our Thoughts are Free

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Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984.

Okay, I know it’s 2014 but bear with me, I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until 2013. The NSA revelations though shocking to many shouldn’t have been because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to do similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live.

Technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use Passwords and Pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious Cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985.

But with the advent of technology even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  Likewise the ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target’s retail system demonstrates our vulnerability.

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories while giving credence to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as your thoughts remain free.

Happy New Year!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Coming of Orwell’s 1984 27 Years Late….So Much for Timing

Yes my friends is finally 1984, well the Orwellian kind. I remember the first 1984, back in the good old days of the Cold War and all that.  But that 1984 was more of a number and not very Orwellian. It is funny I read the novel 1984 on my way to my first assignment in Germany in January 1984 and found it rather chilling.  However back then it was still rather futuristic despite being written back in 1948.  Orwell’s vision of surveillance and the manipulation of language didn’t seem as threatening back in 1984 because the technology wasn’t there yet but now it is.

There has been a proliferation of low cost high resolution video surveillance technology which continues to evolve at an exponential rate with corresponding advances in facial, voice and even emotional sensing technology that can have positive outcomes but in the wrong hands, particularly in the hands of terrorists but even worse governments, especially those that sacrifice freedom in the name of security. Since no government or political system is immune to corruption or without actors who are only there for their personal power or advancement of their political, social or even religious ideology these technologies are fraught with danger.  They are a double edged sword with great promise for individuals and societies which can be quickly turned to the service of evil.  An example is high resolution cameras linked to artificial-intelligence software analyzed the images to recognize faces, gestures and patterns of group behavior. There is the Mind’s Eye program being developed for the military which seeks to develop in machines a capability that exists only in animals: visual intelligence. Emotional sensing software is being experimented by some movie studios to judge the emotional reaction of audiences to films and face recognition software is used by Google’s Picasa, Yahoo’s FLICKR and others for file sharing and organizing. Google has also developed Googles which lets a person snap a photograph with a smartphone which then sets off an Internet search of whatever was taken.  Google has refused to put facial recognition software on the phone despite user’s requests. Google realized that since smartphones can be used to take pictures of people’s faces and retrieve all kinds of personal information such as their name, occupation, address and workplace without their knowledge.

September 11th 2001 brought the nation to the realization that terrorism could occur in the United States.  Now people in many other countries have dealt with terrorism of various kinds for years but for Americans it was something that happened to other people far away, or Americans serving, working or living overseas.  When I was a young Army Officer we lived under the daily threat of the Red Army Faction and Baader-Meinhoff terrorists groups in Germany very narrowly avoiding being in the blast zone at the Frankfurt Army Post Exchange on November 25th 1985 when a bomb was detonated injuring 34 Americans. We turned around about 15 minutes before the blast because Judy felt ill; otherwise we would have been right in the zone. I remember getting the call from my Colonel that my Ambulance Company was on alert after this.  We know what it is like to have your vehicle inspected every day going into the base and being questioned by German Police when reporting a terrorist sighting.  So for us this was old hand, but September 11th tore at the soul of the American nation and I dare say that we haven’t been the same since.

We passed the Patriot Act and created new security agencies such the TSA and we greatly expanded the surveillance capabilities at home and abroad of American Intelligence and Police agencies as well as that of the military.  Now I am not knocking all the things that the U.S. Government has done to try to prevent another 9-11 or worse. At the same time every new expansion of security and surveillance there is a corresponding loss of liberty and with each new law or Presidential Executive order or Directive regarding security and intelligence gathering a little more freedom is given up and a greater possibility that the very laws and measures being implemented to “protect” the populace will be used against it in the future.

Those that design the technologies which make the implementation of these laws possible are increasing in the capabilities of their innovations on an exponential basis often with the explicit help and support of the government in particular Federal and State Police agencies, intelligence agencies and the military.  Data mining, aerial surveillance drones both armed and unarmed, the ever present surveillance cameras which seem to populate every public place. Add to the power of individuals using the latest smartphones to do their own spying on people and the technology which has so much promise to do good can and at some point probably will be turned against the people.

This will happen for sure after the next major terrorist attack and it matters not if there is a Democratic or Republican administration in charge.  Security would be the rational and those that dissent will be dealt with in one way or another.  One only has to look back at the Nazi and Soviet regimes to see how governments with far less technology were able to subjugate their people and oppress dissenters to see how easy this can happen. In the name of security and economic stability the Germans, a sizable percentage of that had little regard for the Nazis or Hitler let Hitler enact laws that gave him absolute power.

That is my concern. I like technology and love the benefits that the advances in it provide, but I am certainly aware that the technology that I so enjoy is a two edged sword which in the wrong hand can, is and will be used against the citizens of the countries that come to rely on it and draconian security laws and police procedures.

I am very security conscious. Having lived under the threat of terrorism on a daily basis in the 1980s and having served under constant threat in the far reaches of Al Anbar Province never knowing if Al Qaeda had infiltrated the Iraqi Police or Army units that I was among I fully understand the threat. At the same time I am fully cognizant of the proclivity of men in power to promote a culture of fear in which citizens willingly surrender freedom for security and in the process descend into the abyss.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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29 Years in the Military and still Going Strong

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game.” Vin Scully

Padre Steve in 1982

They say that “time flies when you’re having fun” and I cannot believe that I have been in the military now for 29 years. On August 25th 1981 a 21 year old college kid with long Southern California “surfer” hair walked into the California Army National Guard Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard to enlist in the National Guard after having just sworn into the Army ROTC program at UCLA.   Back then I enlisted in what was or is called the Simultaneous Membership Program or SMP program.  My initial military training came through the ROTC program as well as on the job training in the National Guard as a Field Artillery Forward Observer and Intelligence Specialist.

Like Cal Ripken Jr commenting about his career “So many good things have happened to me in the game of baseball. When I do allow myself a chance to think about it, it’s almost like a storybook career. You feel so blessed to have been able to compete this long.” I can say the same thing just substituting the words “military career” for “the game of baseball.”

On the day that I enlisted I met with Major Charles Armagost the S-1 of 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery and full time advisor for the battalion filled out my enlistment papers and raised my right hand. I still remember the day when I enlisted. It was a hot smoggy Los Angeles day where you could see the air.  I walked down the hall after I swore in to see the supply Sergeant who outfitted me with four sets of Olive Green fatigues and ordered me two sets of the brand new BDUs.  I was issued my TA-50 gear and taken to the motor pool where I was given cursory training on the M151A1 “Jeep” and issued a military drivers license.  The three weeks later I was driving one of those venerable machines to Fort Irwin on a Friday through Sunday drill with the advanced party. It was the beginning of a 29 year career spanning two services, the active and reserve components and now multiple trips to combat zones.

Army Captain 1987

It has to quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead “a long strange trip” spanning the Army and the Navy, active and reserve components as well as two tours with the Marine Corps while serving in the Navy and the beat goes on with my selection for promotion to Commander and my Senate nomination to that grade on August 21st.  I have served on the Fulda Gap in the Cold War, been to what was then East Berlin driving the Helmstedt-Berlin corridor sharing the road with Soviet armored columns.  I supported the Bosnia Operation in 1996-97 and the Korean DMZ with the Marines in 2001. I served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch in 2002 where I was on a boarding team, boarding 75 Iraqi and other country smuggling ships while serving aboard the USS Hue City.  That was followed by multiple trips in and out of theater with the Marine Security Forces from 2003-2006 as well as time on the Cuban fence line at Guantanamo Bay before serving in Iraq with our Marine and Army advisors and their Iraqi Army and Security forces.  I’ve served with Infantry, Armor, Combat Engineer, Artillery, Medical and Ordnance units, Security forces, support elements, bases and training centers, hospitals and ships.

Berlin Wall November 1986

When I enlisted I thought that once I was commissioned that I would serve my entire career in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel. I did not anticipate becoming a Chaplain nor leaving the Army for the Navy. When I am officially promoted to Commander it will be the first rank since I was an Army First Lieutenant that I have not held twice.  When I first enlisted and had no ribbons I used to look at wonderment at the Korea and Vietnam veterans who had tons of ribbons and tell Judy that I wish I had what they had. Now that I am working on 9 rows of the things I cringe every time I have to remount ribbons and ribbons and my wallet screams in agony.  Judy is quick to remind me of my whininess back then and tell me that I asked for it.

She didn’t know what she was getting into

As an Army and Navy Officer I have served or done some kind of military duty in Germany, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Turkey, Spain, Malta, Korea, Japan, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.  I’ve done what I call the “Commie Trifecta” the Berlin Wall, Korean DMZ and the Cuban Fence Line. At the same time I have spent 16 of 27 wedding anniversaries away from home and lost count of birthdays and other important occasions that I missed while serving the country.

Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2004

I have served 5 different Presidents. In that time I have seen changes in the political, social and economic conditions of the country and the world that I could not have imagined at the time of my enlistment.  The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis had just ended but within the Soviet Union had been defeated the Berlin Wall taken down and collapse of the Soviet Union.  Twenty years after I enlisted the people that defeated the Soviets were attacking us on our own soil.

Boarding Party Arabian Gulf May 2002

I lived in Europe and went through the Chernobyl radiation cloud which is obviously the cause of my glowing personality.  While in Europe I ate enough beef to be labeled by the Red Cross as a potential carrier of Mad Cow disease. I worked on military personnel policies at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and saw the beginning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  I saw the Reagan build up and the post Cold War drawdown.  When I was a Company XO and Company Commander we had landlines and typewriters with carbon paper and did not get internet in my office until 1997.  It is hard to believe the changes even in the quantum leaps in computer and communication technology in the past few years where I can check e-mail on my Blackberry and work from almost anywhere with my laptop.

With Advisors and Bedouin on Iraqi-Syrian Border December 2007

Looking back here are some of the things that I have seen since I entered the military:

October 23rd 1983: Beirut Bombing: BLT 1/8 barracks and French 1st Parachute Regiment destroyed by suicide bombers 241 Americans and 58 French Paras killed.  I was at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course at Fort Knox watching CNN late at night when they broke the news.

December 12th 1985:  Arrow Air Charter Boeing 707 crashed in Gander Newfoundland killing 248 American Soldiers returning from Peacekeeping duty in Sinai Peninsula. Among the dead was Sergeant Charles Broncato who had been one of my Squad Leaders in 2nd Platoon 557th Medical Company Ambulance. I was then serving as the Company Commander.

January 28th 1986: The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 73 seconds into flight killing 7 Astronauts.  I was in my office at the close of the day getting ready to adjudicate an Article 15 when my Charge-of Quarters SPC Lisa Dailey ran into my office and said “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” My response was “Come on, Space Shuttles don’t blow up.”

February 15th 1988: The Soviet Union withdraws from Afghanistan. I was a National Guard Officer in Texas attending Seminary and thought this was a good thing.  Now I wish that they had done better and at least killed Osama Bin Laden, then a relatively minor commander.

December 21st 1988: Pan Am 103 downed by Libyan operatives over Lockerbie Scotland killing all 270 passengers and crew. The aircraft a Boeing 747 named the Maid of the Seas was the same aircraft that we had flown home from Germany on December 28th 1986.

October 17th 1989: the Loma Prieta Earthquake causes massive damage in San Francisco and Oakland. I was watching pregame activities of game 3 of the World Series between the A’s and Giants on television when it happened.

November 9th 1989: The Berlin Wall Fell. In November of 1986 we had been to East Berlin and like most Americans never thought that we would see this day.

August 2nd 1990: Iraq Invades Kuwait: At time few people believe it well end in war. I was deputy course leader for Army Chaplain Officer Basic Course, tell my classmates to get ready to go to war.

December 31st 1991: The Soviet Union is dissolved.

April 19th 1993: FBI and other Federal Law Enforcement personnel using Combat Engineering Vehicles from the 111th Engineer Battalion, the unit that I serve as a Chaplain assault the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco Texas. Davidian leader David Koresh and dozens of followers die in fire and shoot out.

June 17th 1994:  Police arrest O. J. Simpson after nationally televised low speed chase charging him with murder in the death of his wife Nicole and Ronald Goldman. NBC splits screen between NBA championship series game between Houston Rockets and New York Knicks and the chase. I watch in back of M577 Command Vehicle on 9 inch television in the field at Fort Hood.

August 12th 1994: Baseball strike cancels season, playoffs and Worlds Series.

April 19th 1995: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blow up Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

January 26th 1998: Bill Clinton states that “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

December 31st 1999: The world awaits the end of life as we know it due to the Y2K flaw sthat supposedly causes computers to malfunction and bring calamity to the earth.

January 1st 2000:  People including me wake up from hangovers to find that computers still work.

September 11th 2001: Al Qaeda terrorists hijack four commercial airliners crashing two into the World Trade Center Towers in New York collapsing them and one into the Pentagon. A fourth is brought down by passengers before it can reach Washington DC and its target, the US Capital killing 2976 people and injuring another 6000+. I am at Camp LeJeune North Carolina and remained locked down on base the next 4 days.

March 19th 2003: US and Allies launch attack on Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm his stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I am assigned to USS Hue City and the ship is in dry dock. The rest is history.

I also saw a lot of baseball mostly from afar, Pete Rose’s epic hit, Cal Ripken’s consecutive games record, Nolan Ryan’s 5000th strike out and 7th no-hitter as well as all of the now steroid tainted home run records including Barry Bond’s 756th home run which I saw live in a chow hall in Baghdad.

Somehow it is all worth it. Judy has not divorced me although I have probably given her reason on more than one occasion to do so and I love what I do and the people that I get to serve. It really is amazing to look back and think about all the events that I have either witnessed or been a part of in the military as well as all of the great people that I have been associated with. Those friendships and relationships mean more than about anything to me and I am grateful to God and to Judy, my family and all of my friends who have helped me, sometimes in very dark times to go as far and as long as I have in both the Army and Navy.

I was selected for promotion to Commander in June and confirmed by the Senate on August 23rd. I now am about to enter a new phase of life, military service and ministry as the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  Lord knows what the future hold, but whatever happens I feel that things will be fine.

I hope that whatever you do that you will experience good things and be able to look back in life and say “wow that was something else.” So here is to all of us and the long strange trips that we embark upon in life.  In the words of Lou Gehrig, “I am the luckiest man alive.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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