Tag Archives: the truth

“To Act in the Light of Truth” Another Staff ride at Gettysburg

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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am travelling up to Gettysburg for another Staff Ride with students from the Staff College. The weather this weekend looks like it will be spectacular for the visit, praise be Al Gore for the great weather, but admittedly weather like this probably isn’t that great for us in the long run, so say the climate scientists and researchers that I trust to tell the truth, but I digress…

Gettysburg is a good place for me to visit. It is a place that helps remind me that even in the midst of the most hateful, politically divided period of our history since the Civil War Era, which spans the 1850s, the war, Reconstruction, and the return of White Rule, Black Codes, and Jim Crow, that good has triumphed over evil more than once. That fact helps keep me grounded in history and reminds me that no-matter how hard the fight is that we must resist tyranny, racism, discrimination, and injustice at every opportunity, even when the odds are against us.

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Gettysburg inspires me for many reasons. I cannot go there without sensing the spirits of the men whose blood hallowed that ground, to preserve the Union, and helped pave the way for the slow but steady advances in liberty that our nation experienced, despite often violent opposition, which appear to be threatened again today. I may be a realist, but I still have a sense of idealism that will not let me give up.

One of my inspirations is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a hero of the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. He was a Professor of Natural and Revealed Religion at Maine’s Bowdoin College, who against the wishes of his wife volunteered to serve, going on to great distinction during the war. He wrote:

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”

We have to fight for the higher good, and not our own interests now. We have to act in the light of truth against the phalanx of lies deployed by the President, his advisors, and the propagandists that spread those lies as much as the press of the South encouraged disunion, and the hate of the North. When I hear the lies, distortions, and hatred being spread by them I get angry, but then I remember something else that Chamberlain wrote:

“But the cause for which we fought was higher; our thought wider… That thought was our power.”  

So, have a great day and never give up.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Political Commentary

Chasing Rabbits in Pursuit of Truth

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been thinking about new articles write and you will see some in the next few days. I have been very busy this weekend working on my Gettysburg text and the usual weekend activities. Even so, I have found that in the Gettysburg text and other things that I have been working on I have been often engaged in the very productive activity of chasing rabbits in pursuit of truth.

Some would say that this is a bad thing but I would choose to disagree. I think that we miss a lot by not chasing rabbits, especially those that lead us to truth, knowledge and wisdom that we would otherwise never come to know.

I think that I learned the value of chasing rabbits from my Professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary back in 1991-1992, Dr. Tom Urrey. Dr. Urrey was a fascinating character, a brilliant mind, gifted teacher and someone who never lost his sense of being able to connect theology with life. I had him for a year of New Testament survey courses. The first semester was devoted to the Gospels and the Book of Acts, and the second semester to the remainder of the New Testament.

One thing about Dr. Urrey was that he tended to go off script and chase rabbits, and we students were very good at encouraging this behavior by the questions that we raised. As such we did not even finish the Gospel of Matthew the first semester, and only made it through Romans, First Corinthians and a bit of Second Corinthians the second semester. However, I do not feel that I missed much because what Dr Urrey did do was to lead us to truth by chasing rabbits, truth that we would never had seen had he insisted on driving us through the text at ludicrous speed. (please note the gratuitous Mel Brooks Spaceballs reference)

Now you have to understand something about me. Back then such behavior was frustrating to me because I had the misconception from my time in the that in order to learn something you had to ram your way through it no matter what the cost. Now a quarter century later, I really appreciate what Dr. Urrey allowed us to do in class by enabling him to chase rabbits, and for that I am forever grateful.

For me now it is important, be it in teaching, writing, or research to follow the rabbit wherever he may lead. In doing so I find that I am discovering knowledge that I would have never before attained had I stayed between the lines. I know that by following the rabbit regarding the subject matter in my Gettysburg texts that I have been led to so much new knowledge about contemporary subjects only tangentially related to the Battle of Gettysburg or the Civil War.

Some of this you will see when I put out a major revision to something that I have written and posted here before, especially in my work on Gettysburg and the Civil War. Of course I do this with other subjects as well, but since so much of my time over the past two years has been devoted to Gettysburg and the Civil War era it is those subjects have captivated me and brought me so much more understanding, not just of them in isolation, but for what is going on today.

Now over the coming week I plan on publishing some new material here, some of it relating to the ongoing implosion of the politically minded Christian Right and their political allies related to the Duggar family and their cover up of the admitted criminal activity of their son Josh. I have been spending some time on thinking how to approach that subject, especially because for me truth matters too much to jump the gun and get things wrong in the process.

Apart from that subject we will see where chasing the rabbit leads me. So until tomorrow, I wish you a good evening and pleasant dreams.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Traumatic Truths

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A few years ago I attended a conference about spirituality and trauma conducted by Dr. Robert Grant. I highly recommend his book The Way of the Wound if you have either been affected by trauma in any way, or if you deal as a professional counselor, therapist, or pastoral care giver. The fact is that we all experience difficult times and very often trauma is at the heart of them.

During that seminar he went through a number of things and going back through my notes I decided to pull some of them out, you can note some of my dark humor and sarcasm, not that there is anything wrong with that…. But really all kidding aside these are abiding truths and they can be both uncomfortable and comforting at the same time. To me they actually help make sense of the world.

Back when I was in seminary and in  my early years of ministry, in fact up until the time I landing in Iraq, I was filled with a lot of certitude. I can’t say that now, I have faith but I doubt at least as much as I believe. As baseball great Earl Weaver said: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 

So here are some truths, and as Oscar Wilde noted “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Everyone Dies…. We can’t get around this one a recent study said that 96% of Americans will die someday.

Despite my snarkey comment the fact is that we live in a culture that denies death, while death is such an integral part of life.

No Guarantees…. We are not guaranteed anything in this life. You can live right, maintain good health, treat others right but still can meet with tragedy, betrayal and abandonment. 

We all know people, very good people who do all the right things and despite that still experience trauma and tragedy.

No one can cover all contingencies…. No matter how well we plan there will be unanticipated events in life that shred our plans.  The old saying that “no plan ever survives contact with the enemy” is true.

Now be assured I do believe in planning, including thinking about contingencies, and I do this pretty well. That being said there is seldom a week that goes by where I do not experience something that gums up my plans.

The things that we sometimes believe are solid and long lasting are often transitory in nature…. Even things that we think are solid and will last to the end of time change, deteriorate or dissolve over time.

Need I say more about this?

We and our world are finite…. We have a beginning and an end and our finiteness is sandwiched between the creation and the consummation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about “living in the uncomfortable middle.” Bonhoeffer was right, we don’t know the beginning because we were not there and we do not know the end because it has not yet happened.

This thought by Bonhoeffer one drives a lot of people crazy, especially religious people who have to try to prove things that they cannot prove.

Evil and malevolence exists in individuals, organizations and systems, even those that we esteem highly…. One only has to look at the number of trusted people and organizations that have perpetrated and covered up their own evil acts to know the truth of this. 

I believe in the goodness of most people, but I am also a realist, evil and malevolence is all too real and all to much a part of our world. Until we get that, we will never understand those that commit evil, especially those that do so in the name of God.

So anyway, since we are getting ready for another big winter storm I will close for the day. Tomorrow we’ll see what I put out, until then I think that I just might drink beer instead.

Peace and blessings

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

My New Year’s Resolution: The Passionate Pursuit of Truth

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“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.” – Marcus Aurelius 

Friend’s of Padre Steve’s World. Before I say anything else tonight I just want to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to read, comment and even share what I write. That matters to me and a good number of you have followed my writings for years. So I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart, and if you like what you see please comment and share with others.

As I get older I realize how valuable time is. There are few commodities that truly cannot be replaced or conserved, time is one that is always fleeting. As Dr. Suess said:

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

That being said I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, in fact I generally don’t make any because frankly I think that most are a waste of time. However, I do not think that the pursuit of truth is a waste, and as Benjamin Disraeli noted so wisely; “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.”

To that end I am going to endeavor this year to commit myself to continue to seek truth and to speak truth. Truth matters to me. In my life I have seen so many lies, especially by political and religious leaders that I trusted that I now devote myself to the pursuit of truth. As Captain Jean Luc Picard told the young Cadet Wesley Crusher in Star Trek the Next Generation episode The First Duty: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…” 

So, I will continue to write, especially about historical subjects that have an impact today: civil rights and social justice, faith, military issues, PTSD and military health issues, the Middle East conflicts and a number of other topics. Of course I will write about baseball, which is often my refuge when things are too much for me and music. I may do more regarding music as I was asked to do an article for a journal about liturgical music, stress and resiliency.

I will continue to be as transparent as I can about my own struggles withPTSD and faith in the hopes that my journey will help others who struggle like me. In fact this was a major reason that I started this site back in February of 2009.

Expect more writing about the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War. I have a feeling that that is going going to become a life work, even after I retire from the Navy. The American Civil War is so pertinent to who and what we are as a nation and the more I study it, the people, the issues and the ideologies involved I see many parallels with today; some of which are positively frightening. So expect a lot more about these subjects. In fact the Civil War is one in which debunked myths still hold sway over many, especially among the defenders of the Lost Cause who predominate the Christian Right.

While lies are dangerous the myths can be more so, and the proliferation of lies, half-truths and myth have shriveled the brain cells of those who enjoy the comfort of opinion without the benefit of thought. President John F. Kennedy spoke of this in 1962, and his words are timely, especially when hoards of preachers, pundits and politicians, the Trinity of Evil, do this with abandon:

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

To do this I have to constantly challenge my own thoughts. Even in my work on my Gettysburg and Civil War text I uncover information that points out mistakes in previous editions of my work, and I am not so arrogant that I cannot admit making a mistake or changing my conclusions on a subject. I am actually doing that now on a chapter revision to that work.

As far as other goals, I want to get a publisher for the Gettysburg text, who knows, what I have already written might be two or three books. If you know someone who can help, let me know. I also plan on beginning work on a doctorate to take with me into retirement.

So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary

The First Duty is to Truth: Midweek Musings

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“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Oscar Wilde 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World, I have been busily working this past week oThe n a major revision to a chapter of my Gettysburg text about Colonel Strong Vincent and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Part of that appeared here last week. However, as I continued to do more research I realized that what I wrote was not nearly enough, not in terms of words, but in terms of truth. There is much more to the story, especially concerning the relationship of Joshua Chamberlain and his wife Fannie.

There are times when one seeks truth that the timeless truths of the subject matter have to be taken to heart. Truth does matter to me, even when it is uncomfortable, not just for others but for me as well. As I have written before, that in this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” In it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…

Truth is difficult, especially when one builds their belief on myths, be they of their own or others making. For me the study of the Battle of Gettysburg for my work has become a quest for truth. Not so much about the truth of specific incidents on the battlefield but of the great truths that go beyond the battlefield, the enduring truths about human nature, about relationships and about war and peace. In a sense the story of the battle of Gettysburg and those men who fought on it, has become a palette from which I am drawing truths about the human condition as well as my own terribly flawed condition, and in the process busting myths, my own included.

Barbara Tuchman once wrote: “The reality of a question is inevitably more complicated than we would like to suppose.” That is truth, it is truth with battles, politics, and in fact all of life, but many would rather rest content in myth. Thus as Rene Descartes wrote: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

I doubt a lot. I question a lot more and sometimes that leads to facing things that are uncomfortable. Thus, I will be putting up the redone version of that last article in the next day or two, as well as others where my study is leading me to deeper truths.

My big task now is editing and reorganizing the nearly 450 pages of text that I have written into the past year into a form that I can market to a publisher. I do have a couple of final chapters to write from scratch but hopefully by early spring I will ready to have it complete enough to submit for publication.

In the mean time I will continue to write about other subjects, including some military, some political, some social and some about current events, music, and life in general. There are couple of articles I want to write about some naval battles that have fascinated me for decades as well as more on the inhumanity of the Holocaust, the past and current struggles for civil rights in America and many other subjects.

That being said, you as my readers will get my new insights on Gettysburg, both new and revised articles which reflect that search for truth. I do hope that you find them as something more than simply accounts of the battle, but on the deeper truths of the nature and character of humanity, the nature and character of the conflict that we call war, with all its attendant maladies, but more importantly as a mirror for ourselves. My study of Joshua Chamberlain has resulted in having to face uncomfortable but strangely liberating truths about me and the way I live my life.

This is part of my journey, a journey into truth that goes beyond the mere reporting of facts, facts which often are as subject to interpretation, disputation and change as more “facts” are discovered. The truth is that we have to be able to accept new discoveries once they are determined to be true, or at least at the point that they can be posited as reasonable and worthy of acceptance, no matter how badly they challenge our deep held beliefs, even those about ourselves.  Sadly the lies we believe and persist in telling, and the myths that we believe without question, are much more dangerous than  any new truth that offends us.

I have to agree with Marcus Aurelius who wrote:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

Those truths can be scientific, they can be historical or literary, and quite often the truth can also be quite personal.

As John F Kennedy said at Yale in 1962: “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under faith, History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

The Inconvenient Truth About Iraq and Benghazi

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“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based. And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!” Captain Jean Luc Picard to Wesley Crusher Star Trek the Next Generation “The First Duty” 

I was talking with a conservative friend the other day and he ended up bring up the subject of Benghazi and the tragic loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and 3 other State Department personnel at the consulate last September 11th. He was talking about the scandal of this and the political impact that he hoped it would have on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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I was actually shocked that he said this so for once I decided to actually say something and mention the 4486 official US military deaths in Iraq. My friend who I really do like and respect commented that they were “the result of what happened in war.”

It stunned me when he said that because he is a military brat, but then I realized that he had bought the lie about Iraq and was so solidly partisan that he could not see the moral, ethical and even legal discrepancy in what he was saying. For me the question was far less about whatever impact it might have on Hillary’s campaign should she decide to run but about the truth.

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When I confronted him about it I was stunned by how easily he dismissed all of the dead and wounded and other casualties of Iraq but was so insistent on some kind of conspiracy to cover up Benghazi. But this is how so many people think today thanks to the constant bombardment of ignorance on Fox News and other partisan outlets. It is not about the truth, it is about the nastiest kind of politics.

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I too am upset about Benghazi, but likewise I am upset about the 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers killed at Beirut in October 1983 when the Reagan Administration ignored warnings about putting US troops into Lebanon while taking sizes in that county’s civil war. I am upset about the nearly 3000 killed on 9-11-2001. I am upset about dozens of other terrorist attacks that occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations in which DOD, the State Department and other agencies made mistakes that cost lives.

Some attacks could have been prevented and others probably not. However they were terrorist attacks committed by our enemies, not an illegal undeclared war of preemptive choice conducted by a United States administration against the will and recommendations of many of our closest allies. That is the inconvenient truth.

What has happened over the past decade is that many on the political right cannot admit that they were wrong about Iraq. This despite the fact that President Bush, Karl Rove and almost every senior member of the the Bush administration have admitted that the reasons that they took us into war with Iraq were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear program was a shambles and Iraq was not working with Al Qaida, which like most secular military dictatorships in the Middle East loathed. That is the inconvenient truth.

The fact that so many people on the political right go into a nearly toxic lather about four people lost in Benghazi while shucking off the deaths of nearly 5000 Americans who died in a war that was not only a mistake but violated the very laws that we helped establish at Nuremberg infuriates me. This is no longer about national security to them, it is about politics. This is not about ethics for those that led us into Iraq have none. It is not about justice for if there was justice those who made the decision to attack Iraq would be tried for war crimes.

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I served in Iraq and was fortunate that I served with our advisors and the Iraqis in Al Anbar during the time of the Anbar Awakening. I saw a different war than many people observed and for that I am glad because it busted my illusions about what we did in Iraq forever. I needed that. I may have come back thoroughly goofed up with PTSD and at times I am sure certifiably crazy, but I needed it to see the truth.

The fact is that unlike Benghazi the war in Iraq has crippled this country. Nearly 5000 dead, 30,000 wounded and trillions of dollars of national treasure dumped into the abyss. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or driven into exile, many who greeted us as liberators.  Of course that was before the Bush Administration put the kleptocrats of the Chalabi group rape and pillage the country.

Likewise it was after the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, a man who had never in his career served in the Middle East threw out ever carefully orchestrated plan of DOD and CENTCOM for a peaceful transition in the country thus bringing misery to Iraq and triggering the anti US-Coalition insurgency and Iraqi Civil War. The great military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz said: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” The fact is that the Bush Administration was not only not clear, but they were inept and lawless in invading Iraq.

Additionally the invasion cost the United States the goodwill and trust of many allies and friends. No one will ever see us in the same light again. Instead of being a liberating power and “light to the nations” we are seen in much of the world as a rogue, lawless and imperialist state. Otto Von Bismarck put it so well when he said “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

I don’t know about you but I am sure that is not the vision of our founders. I was told on my first day in the Army back in 1981 that “there are attaboys and aww shits and it takes 2000 attaboys to make up for one aww shit.” The Bush Administration’s lawless invasion of Iraq and incredibly inept occupation was a disaster for the United States, Iraq and most of the region, except maybe for Al Qaida and Iran. By the way let us not forget the crippling effects of the Iraq invasion on the campaign in Afghanistan which allowed both the Taliban and Al Qaida time to regroup, consolidate and regain the advantage in that God forsaken land.To the 4486 we can add a couple of thousand more deaths in Afghanistan thanks to the decision to invade Iraq. That is the inconvenient truth.

For people to ignore a war that defies American and International Law as well as common sense which cost us and the world so much while making cheap political points by exploiting the deaths of four men is a disgrace. Had the men who started the invasion of Iraq been tried for by Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg they would have been convicted as war criminals and sent to the gallows. That is the inconvenient truth.

Justice Jackson said at 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.

My closing thought is that those that want to make political hay out of Benghazi need to take a serious look at Iraq. What’s fair is fair. 4486 dead and over 30,000 wounded not counting another 100,000 or so with PTSD or TBI versus 4 dead and no wounded. I don’t make light of any of the deaths of Americans serving this country at any time or in any place.  I would not dishonor their memory by playing politics with their deaths. But the truth is indeed terribly inconvenient and those who do this must be called out regardless of their political orientation.

If there were mistakes or cover ups by Obama administration officials regarding Benghazi, so be it let them be investigated fairly an impartially not with an eye to political advantage and those that partake of this cup must be willing to drink of the cup of crimes committed by the Bush Administration in Iraq. The same is true when Democrats do the same to Republicans.

Truth matters too much to be sacrificed on the altar of politics even while those doing it ignore far greater crimes of far more epic dimensions committed by members of their political party.

Truth is terribly inconvenient and even when painful should never be sacrificed on the altar of political advantage by partisans of any party.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security

The Uncomfortable Truth about the Rise in Military Suicides

The truth can be uncomfortable and truthfully most people don’t like to deal with uncomfortable things.  Suicide is one of those things that tend to make us uncomfortable.  Occasionally someone will demand the truth and when they finally get, the truth becomes a very uncomfortable thing and frankly many people cannot handle the truth. It reminds me of the exchange in the movie A Few Good Men where Colonel Jessup played by Jack Nicholson tells Lieutenant Dan Caffey played by the Tom Cruise: “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!”

The United States Military has been struggling with an upsurge of suicides and suicide attempts among its personnel since 2005.  Before that point military suicide rates were comparable or lower than comparable civilian populations. That is no longer the case, the military suicide rate is now higher than the civilian rate by a statistically significant percent.

The Associated Press reported a Defense Department report noting that in the first 155 days of 2012 that 154 active duty service members had killed themselves. That number is going up, I know of at least two at my base that have occurred since this report was released including a murder suicide committed by a Staff Sergeant who had recently returned from Afghanistan.

The military has tried to stem the tide. It has bolstered its mental health services and suicide prevention programs but the numbers despite leveling out in 2010 and 2011 have been rising. These numbers are reaching staggering proportions in the active duty, reserve and discharged veteran ranks.

A Veteran’s Administration Crisis line reported that in in 2011 it had received over 164,000 calls last year. It reported 6760 rescues and noted that 2300 self reported Active Duty personnel had called their hotline as well as over 12000 calls from family members or friends of veterans regarding their loved ones.

The rise in suicides particularly as the mission in Iraq has ended and Afghanistan is beginning to draw down has surprised many both inside and outside the military. While many of the men and women who committed or   attempted suicide even more have done so who have not deployed. People are speculating about the reasons for this and we know a lot of the answers and underlying causes.

First and foremost is the stress put on the force by 10 years of non-stop deployments to combat zones and fighting two major insurgencies at the same time and the resultant effects: Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen killed and wounded, combat stress injuries, PTSD, TBI, moral injury, family issues, divorce, infidelity, financial problems, domestic violence, sexual assault, alcoholism and drug abuse. As a Chaplain I know many young men and women who grew up in Christian homes and had what they described as a deep faith who after war have lost their faith. I see an increasing number of these young men and women.

An additional factor is the fact that we are entering a period of time where Soldiers and Marines and to a lesser degree Sailors and Airmen are being threatened with a massive drawdown in numbers.  This will force many to leave the military in the midst of a long term economic downturn that could get worse based on the precarious economy of the Eurozone which threatens the US economy.

There is the perception on the part of many in the military that they fight the war alone. There is a real lack of understanding in the civilian population as a whole about what is involved in going to war. Since only about one half of one percent of the American population is in the military at any given time this should not be a surprise. Finally there is a widely held belief among those that fight the war, no matter what sacrifices they make in Afghanistan that it will not matter in the end, that the war cannot be won. No one wants to admit this but the fact of the matter is that it is true because neither political reads history.

However as important as all of those factors are they are now joined by another factor that was not a factor in the early part of the war. The bond of unit cohesion which was a positive factor is eroding. Prior to the war and during the first few years of it unit cohesion was strengthened by seasoned and mature Staff NCOs, Petty Officers. These men and women had risen through the ranks and were seasoned by years of training, well rounded careers, combat experience and deployments. Many had some amount of college education. They dealt with their own stress well and were excellent leaders and mentors to junior personnel and the young officers that they helped to train.

I was at a training conference in March attended by a couple of hundred Chaplains and Mental Health Professionals. One of the seminars dealt with a program to train the young NCOs and Petty Officers to be first responders who could care for their Marines and Sailors. During the question and answer portion I decided to bring this up. I said that “the program would be great if we had the same force that we started the war with and that the men and women that we were depending on to do this job were themselves among the injured.” I said that the force was “hardened but brittle.” A number of people including the Subject Matter Expert agreed with me, others, mostly those who were relatively new to the military looked at me like I had gone off the reservation. I brought this up at another conference this month with a similar response.

That seasoned core is gone. In their place are younger, combat hardened veterans. Unfortunately many of these young men and women, charged with leading and training the new Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen are damaged goods themselves. They have been back and forth to war so many times that they bear unspeakable burdens. Many suffer from unreported PTSD, struggle with alcoholism and have pressing personal or family problems. Some of them take out these issues on the new troops, something that I think is directly related to the suicide epidemic and other problems. The attitudes of some have become poisonous to good order and discipline and actually compromise the trust of of service members to the chain of command. That trust was essential and helped get the military through the first part of this war but I see it being eroded on a daily basis.

A glaring example of this comes not from a NCO but a Army General, the Commander of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss Texas, Major General Dana Pittard at Fort Bliss Texas. General Pittard wrote on his blog: “I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.”  His attitude serves as a reminder that for many that some leaders see those suffering from PTSD, TBI or other psychological conditions as ‘broken.” Ask any Marine, Soldier, Sailor or Airmen what what it is to be labeled as “broken.” There is still a stigma attached to mental illness, depression, PTSD, suicide and being “broken” that is not helped by statements of leaders like General Pittard.

As a result the resiliency of the force is at stake. Anyone who served in the years following the Vietnam War and the beginning of the all volunteer military can see similarities then and now.  We have not reached the point where the force is broken but the situation will not show much improvement until some point of stability is reached.

I cannot state with certainty the actual proportions of this factor, just my own observations that come from counseling and listening to Marines and Sailors every day. I’m sure that the same is true in the Army where judging by what I read it seems to be worse. The Army suicide rates are the highest in the military.

What has to be done is bigger than the military itself can do. There has to be a national commitment to both finding a way to lessen the stress on the force and to do more than offer platitudes about “supporting the troops.” The truth is that as a nation we refused to pay the cost of these wars and tried to fight them on the cheap. Political leaders after September 11th 2001 told people to “go back to normal” or “go shopping” and did not call the nation to war. The nation was untouched, no one paid a dime in extra taxes and no one was forced to join the military. The burden was placed squarely on those who volunteered. That burden has not been removed and unless the American people and Congress do more than telling the military to “do more with less” while lining the pockets of defense contractors who cannot seem to produce weapons systems without major production problems, cost overruns that are never produced in the promised numbers as well as the war profiteers of the military industrial complex, the lobbyists and Wall Street.

Of course that is just my opinion. It is an opinion formed by serving over 30 years in the military and having gone to war myself. It is an opinion of someone that has been involved with suicide prevention in the military for close to 20 years. It is an opinion based on conversations that I have every day with the young Marines and Sailors that I encounter. It is quietly shared by many leaders.

I have seen what has happened first hand and if anyone actually wants to do something to change the suicide epidemic they need to look at the whole problem. It is a national problem that needs a national solution. As a nation we have burdened a comparatively small part of or population with fighting our wars without a true national commitment to either winning the wars or supporting them.

Military Medicine, Mental Health Services and Chaplains are performing heroic work to care for our troops. Many leaders “get it” and are trying to build a culture where those suffering can get help without suffering the stigma and pain of alienation that comes from being “broken.” Yet despite increases in funding, numbers and emphasis the problem continues to escalate. That is the truth and it will not significantly change until the causes that I have listed are addressed, not simply by the military but the nation.

God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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