Tag Archives: terrorist attacks

The Day After the Boston Marathon Attack: No Answers and Many Questions

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Two bombs. Three dead. 177 wounded. Many questions and no answers. That is what we know. The attack on the Boston Marathon yesterday was certainly an act of terrorism. The questions though are who did it and why?

We now know something about the devices used in the attack. Pressure cookers loaded with smokeless gunpowder, ball bearings and nails placed in back packs or gym bags. Crude yet powerful and deadly. Improvised explosive devices designed to kill and maim innocent, unsuspecting people. The FBI is taking the residue from the devices to reconstruct them.

Such devices have been used in terrorist attacks both overseas and in this country before. They are crude but effective. They could be the product of any terrorist group, foreign or domestic as well as a “lone wolf” attack of a person with no connection to an organized terrorist group.

Motive of course will be determined once someone or a group claims credit for the attack. Since no one has yet claimed credit we can only speculate who they are and why they did this. Obvious suspects include Al Qaeda or one of its affiliate groups, other terrorist groups affiliated with a foreign government opposed to US policies, a domestic terrorist group with any number of possible motives or a lone wolf terrorist with no direct connections to any group. As of right now we have no idea who might be the responsible group or individual. All is speculation at this point. Thus we must not jump to any conclusions and let a careful and thorough investigation examine all the forensic evidence and discover the leads needed to find the responsible parties and bring them to justice.

There have been some that have been quick to name certain groups at the perpetrators. Unfortunately without solid evidence or any claim of responsibility such charges only serve to stir emotions and create a situation where justice could be impressed and innocent people blamed.

Some of the most popular theories posited by some involve Al Qaeda or any number of other Islamic terrorist groups. There is good reason for this because of the history of such groups behavior. However the thing that makes me doubt that is that no Islamic group has claimed credit. Normally these groups are quick to claim credit for attacks on the “infidels” and justify the attacks using past American attacks or insults to them or Islam. Since no claims of credit from any Al Qaeda linked group have been forthcoming I believe that the chances become less likely every day that this is the case.

There are numerous other possibilities, foreign and domestic, affiliated with a known terrorist group, organization or hostile government or an individual acting on his own accord. Thus before jumping to a conclusion it is important to let the FBI and other law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies do a thorough investigation. That is the only way to solve the case and being those responsible to justice. The inane allegations of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, Eric Rush and Glenn Beck be damned. Will the investigation take time? Probably, especially if the attacker or attackers covered their tracks and do not want to be found in order that they can attack again.

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Such a scenario is a district possibility and could involve any group, Islamic, anti-government, anarchist, left-wing, right-wing or an individual bent on the death of innocents to satisfy their needs for retribution or vengeance. Unless they are found and caught the probability that they strike again is a real possibility. Thus it is unwise to promote speculation and conspiracy theories in the interregnum of the attack and the discovery of the actual person or persons responsible. Likewise to make allegations against the government or media simply to promote such conspiracy theories, or to counteract the possibility that their pet theory is wrong is not only unwise but dangerous.

I want the murderous terrorists responsible for this attack brought to justice, no matter who they are, foreign or domestic and irregardless of their religious, ideological or political affiliation. No matter who they are or what they believe they are murderers and terrorists. The killing of innocent civilians is criminal.

I pray that whoever did this is not an American regardless of their politics, religion or ideology. For me the thought that this could be the work of a countryman is frightening, much more so than a foreign terrorist group or government agent.

I do hope and pray that those responsible, regardless of who they are will be found and either arrested and prosecuted, or failing that killed. I have seen the results of what happens when neighbors and countrymen turn on each other both in Iraq and the Balkans and I for one do not want to see that happen here. We went through that 150 years ago during our Civil War and we still haven’t fully recovered.

That is enough for tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Bombing in Boston: Terror Returns to the United States

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The 117th Boston Marathon was drawing to an end as Boston celebrated Patriot Day. The winners had finished their races about two before and those men and women still on the course were those doing this for the simple fact of conquering a marathon, a famous marathon at that. At about 2:45 PM a large explosion went off near the finish line followed shortly by a second. Initial reports claimed dozens injured, some seriously and several deaths.

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When I first heard about the attacks I was waiting to board a flight from Chicago to Norfolk. My mind flashed back to 9-11-2011 and for a few minutes I wondered if something might also be going on with attacks on aircraft. I was glad to arrive home safely and as I heard the updated reports about the attack and was stunned. As I saw the video of the attacks I felt emotions that I had not felt since 9-11-2001. As I saw those images for the first time when we stopped for dinner felt tears come to my eyes.

We now know that 3 people were killed and around at least 113 wounded in today’s attack. It is the biggest terrorist attack in the United States since 9-11. Certainly it is not the most deadly in recent years, the mass murders at Virginia Tech, Aurora Colorado and Newtown Massachusetts took more lives but were not the result of a terrorist attack and each of those attacks were committed by lone gunmen with reported psychiatric problems.

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In the initial reports there was no indication of what had caused the explosions but all eyes focused on terrorism. Police are now reporting that small Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were used in the attack. Other reports state that police may have defused a number of other devices. Those reports are still unconfirmed.

No group has yet claimed responsibility but there are some reports that a “person of interest” has been taken into custody. Of course speculation runs rampant as to who or what group might have orchestrated this attack. My guest is some Islamic extremist group but I could also see a domestic terrorist group, possibly of the neo-Nazi type being behind the attack because of how international the event is in regard to the actual racers. Of course some conspiracy theory types, notably Alex Jones of the Prison Planet website believes it is an event orchestrated by the government. I think that Jones’ theory is the least credible. I believe that if the attackers are of an Islamic group that they will make a public announcement sooner rather than later, a domestic terror group will more than likely try to remain under the radar.

The possibility of a terrorist group attacking a sporting venue has long been on my mind. I have wondered why international or domestic terrorist groups have not attacked such venues simply because they are relatively soft targets where large numbers of people congregate. Attacks on aircraft, transportation and government buildings have been done but I think that many people almost assume that possibility now. What most people do not anticipate are attacks on sporting, entertainment, retail businesses like malls, educational facilities or even places of worship.

Ever since the 9-11-2001 attacks I have feared that terrorists, foreign and domestic would adjust their tactics to hit a major sporting event, but I did not believe that it would be a marathon, I expected a college or high school football game in the heartland of the country, far away from where most people expect terrorists to strike. A place that would show how vulnerable such events are and bring terror to people that have only known it through what they have seen on the news.

Such attacks if they do become the new normal for terrorist tactics could strike unimaginable fear across the country because these places a supposed to be safe. They are places where we can reasonably expect to take our families for enjoyment and recreation. One only has to remember the Washington DC Beltway sniper rampage in 2002 to see the kind of fear that such attacks provoked and how disruptive they were. Those attacks took place over a period of 23 days and sent an entire region into a state of shock and terror. In the 1980s while stationed in Germany we lived with the constant threat of terrorism conducted by the Baader-Meinhoff Gang/ Red Army Faction and State sponsored Islamic terrorists from Libya. On more than one occasion we just missed being at the sites of bombings at the Frankfurt PX and Airport in 1985.

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Red Army Faction Bombings in Germany

As we learn more about who or what group conducted this attack, the types of explosive devices used and the motivation and rational given for the attack we will be able to respond. Terrorists make their living by terrorizing people, breaking routine and destroying the feeling of security of those that they target. Even small attacks can disrupt open societies. Such attacks do not have to use explosives. Since weapons, including weapons that are military grade assault weapons are readily available a group willing do die for their cause could launch commando type attacks on public places where police and security officers, or even armed citizens would be badly outgunned until SWAT type units arrived. The attacks of Pakistani Taliban militants on an Indian Hotel in Mumbai a few years ago are indicative of the carnage that such attacks can inflict before the attackers are killed or captured.

It is quite possible that this could be the new normal for how terrorists attack the United States. If so we will have to learn how to best provide security without becoming a police state. I would hope that it is not, but I would not be surprised if it is. If it is the beginning of a new wave of terror we have to be ready.

I do hope that this is an isolated incident and that the perpetrators are found and swiftly brought to justice. Likewise I pray for the victims of this attack and their families and friends, people whose lives will not be the same after today. That being said it is very possible that these attacks are the opening salvo in a terror campaign that we have not experience before in the United States, but which has been common in Europe and the Middle East over the past 40 years.

Sometimes an event like this reminds me of just how isolated we are to this kind of terror. In Iraq today several dozen people were killed and close to 150 others wounded in terrorist attacks. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the Irish Republican Army terrorized Britain, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the Red Brigades and Baader Meinhoff Gang did the same in German. I remember the terror of the Baader Meinhoff Gang when I was stationed in Germany including just missing being at the site of a terrorist bombing. In the Moslem world there are varying reactions. The leader of a Jordanian terror group expressed no remorse while there’s prayed that the culprit would not be a Moslem.

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Pray and prepare because we do not know what will come next. President Obama has promised that the guilty will face justice. That being said, I do believe that the perpetrators will be found and brought to justice. Even so I wonder if there are others that will continue this kind of terror attack now that they know that it can be done.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Memorial Day 2011: Counting the Cost of War and Remembering its Brotherhood

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…” William Shakespeare “Henry V”

“Heroism is latent in every human soul – However humble or unknown, they (the veterans) have renounced what are accounted pleasures and cheerfully undertaken all the self-denials – privations, toils, dangers, sufferings, sicknesses, mutilations, life-” Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Monday is Memorial Day, the ninth that we have observed during our current series of wars which officially began on September 11th 2001.  One could argue that they had begun sooner with attacks on U.S. Forces and installations overseas and even the attempted truck bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.  But we really did not go to war until that fateful Tuesday in September 2001.  As we come to Memorial Day I am a bit melancholy as the war continues, force reductions loom, threats abound and I observe my first Memorial Day without my father, a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who served in Vietnam who died of complications of Alzheimer’s Disease in June 2010.

Iraq Military Training Team in West Al Anbar

We did go to war but it was not like wars past where we relied on a true national effort to win the wars. The wars have been fought by a force profession force of Active and Reserve Component Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coastguardsmen that hovers a bit above a half a percent of the total population. Of those eligible for service most do not meet the entrance requirements for military service meaning that the prosecution of the war has been the task of a miniscule portion of the population.  Shortly after the 9-11 attacks President George Bush urged Americans to do their civic duty “go shopping” to get the economy moving.  As a career military officer I was aghast at his words. While he praised the military at every turn and increased military budgets, much of which went to defense contactors the actual heavy lifting was and continues to be done by men and women who volunteer to keep going back.  While the military fights the war Wall Street does business in a manner that is good for it and the vast majority of Americans are totally immersed in self-entertainment, the latest video gaming system or imbibing on a constant diet of “reality TV.”  Others on both sides of the political spectrum elect to shred their political opponents to itty bitty sheds and maneuver to gain political advantage and power without really caring what is happing to the country despite their proclamations of doing what is right for America.  In regard to the troops most of the political classes only seem to care when it affects their state, district or party.

Advisors in Afghanistan 

This Thursday 9 more Americans were killed in Afghanistan, eight in an IED blast while on a mission to root the Taliban out of a suspected strongpoint and another in a helicopter crash.  In Afghanistan we have lost 1514 military personnel killed in action or died of wounds. Another 11191 have been wounded. Additionally or NATO Allies have lost 889 military personnel listed as killed or died of wounds. In Iraq 4454 U.S troops have been killed and another 32227 troops have been wounded.  Additionally 318 Coalition troops have been killed in Iraq.  None of these figures include the high number of personnel with PTSD, mild to moderate TBI or other psychological and spiritual wounds.  5968 Americans have been listed as killed or died of wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan while another 43,418 have been officially listed as wounded.

Memorial Day is a day to remember the fallen.  It is a day to reflect on the sacrifice of those that have died in the service of our country.  Originally established as Decoration Day and its roots stretch back to the Civil War.  Other nations have similar remembrances for their war dead.  Unfortunately because our military is such a small part of our population and now concentrated into a few major bases often out of sight and out of mind of most Americans the observance has become a kick off to the summer for most Americans who are blissfully unaware of the real costs of war.  In a way I can’t really fault them because when the war began with an attack on our shores our President did not call the nation to make sacrifices to win the war he told people to go shopping while “the few” would take the war to the enemy and avenge the devastation of September 11th 2001.  It turned the vast majority of the country into cheerleaders or bystanders.  History shows time after time that nations that wage war this way seldom achieve their goals.

As Clausewitz so aptly observed that war the nature or the “remarkable trinity of war” violent emotion, chance and rational policy which are balanced with the social trinity of the people, the commander and the army and the government (or in the case of non-nation state actors tribal, social or revolutionary leaders) necessitates that the people have to be part of the equation if one is to successfully conduct a war.  While it is possible to win short wars without much support of the people any long conflict necessitates that the people be engaged as much as the military and the government policy makers, especially in a democracy. Vietnam was a classic example of the social trinity gone bad. Policy makers failed to set goals for the prosecution of the war, military leaders attempted to fight the war with operational theories and forces that were not adapted to the type of war being fought and ignored the lessons of history regarding the type of war and eventually the people turned on the policy makers and the military as the war ground on with no apparent victory in sight.  The same can be seen in the current conflict in Afghanistan with the government pushing a policy that seems to have little strategic benefit or chance of success.  A military that can inflict punishing losses on the Taliban without destroying them or due to limited resources hold onto areas that they drove the enemy and a public that is divided between cheerleaders, critics and bystanders.  Few of the latter have any personal stake in the war other than bearing some of the financial cost and having to it occasionally referred to in the news cycle.  Our “trinity” is dysfunctional and will be our undoing despite the heroic efforts of those who give their “last full measure” on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya.

While we can discuss ways bring functionality back to our social trinity and the “remarkable trinity” or essence of war we must understand that our enemies, even non state actors often have a much more congruent view of war than we do and how to connect their strategic goals, military strategy and leverage the energy of the people against the United States and our Western allies.  They do not have our military power and wherever we meet them on the battlefield where we can employ our tactical superiority in weapons and training we have success but we have been unable to translate battlefield success into victory because we do not understand the nature of the conflict, the heart and will of our enemy and are dysfunctional in our own social, military, policy and political understanding of this war and how to win it.

What does this mean to those that have given their “last full measure” and those “happy few” that bear the burden of prosecuting the war? It means that their sacrifices may not be enough and will like the veterans of Vietnam come home without victory despite never losing a battle.  After Vietnam the force was cut back, military personnel who gave all they had on the battlefield were turned out of the service and even officers reverted to enlisted status to remain in the Army and Marine Corps.  Today even as the war rages cuts are being made to the force and those cuts will only get bigger as time goes on. Like Vietnam we already have a substantial number of veterans suffering from wounds physical, psychological and spiritual unable to get adequate care or assistance from an overburdened, underfunded, under staffed and often dysfunctional or even worse uncaring Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. Others that have served most of their careers at war and are approaching retirement are seeing the benefits that they earned with their flesh and blood and the long sacrifice of themselves and their families being termed “a rich entitlement program” targeted for reductions in pensions and medical care.  People that make these decisions if they served in the military at all often served only in peacetime or in times of short military conflicts and thus really do not understand the terrible cost and burdens placed on those that serve and continue to serve in this “war without end.”

Since Monday is Memorial Day and I simply ask that people take a few minutes and reflect on sacrifices of those that served in this war, wars past or those that continue to volunteer and serve in harm’s way far from home in a cause that the government does not understand and the public no longer supports.  Yes people treat military personnel better than in times past, there is little hostility to the military but at the same time has little social connection to or understanding of, thus we are a small brotherhood forged by a war that most of our fellow citizens can comprehend.

One of my Brothers: RP2 Nelson Lebron in Iraq

As for all who served we are part of a Band of Brothers.  As William Shakespeare so well wrote in Henry V:

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Kenneth Branagh Henry V: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yZNMWFqvM

At the same time I cannot count the number of men and women that have come to me and expressed their regret at never having served when they had the chance. By and large they are wonderful people that live with this regret. In a sense they know well the last part of the Henry V speech “And gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” For such men and women I can bear no hostility because the regrets that they live with are more than I would want to live with. When spending time with people living in regret I simply to do what they do in an honorable manner, take care of their families and support the troops in any way that they can.

One of my Band of Brothers MTT with 3rd Battalion 3rd Brigade 7th Iraqi Division

As for me I continue to serve affected by war in ways that I never imagined when I enlisted nearly 30 years ago. All those who have served, past present and future are my brothers and sisters and it matters not their social status, race, religion or politics as Shakespeare noted  “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition….”

Guy Sager wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier” about his return home from war, society and that brotherhood, something that many who have served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan can share:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.

I had looked everywhere for Hals, but hadn’t been able to find him. He filled my thoughts, and only my acquired ability to hide my feelings kept me from weeping. He was attached to me by all the terrible memories of the war, which still rang in my ears. He was my only friend in this hostile world, the man who had so often carried my load when my strength was failing, I would never be able to forget him, or the experiences we had shared, or our fellow soldiers, whose lives would always be linked to mine.”

Most of us that have served in combat zones have memories like that and like the people in the train most people don’t understand.  One thing that I do know is that I am part of a brotherhood that extends from time in memoriam to the consummation of time when war will be no more, death will be swallowed up in victory and every tear will be wiped from our eyes.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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