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Character: “The Decisive Factor in the Life of an Individual and of Nations Alike.”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I teach ethics, and as I observe the words and actions of President Trump and his closest advisors I see a massive attack on facts, truth, reason, intellectualism, and with them, more importantly, on integrity and character. It is actually very disconcerting to see those in power attempting to re-write facts, history, and even their own statements and promises before our eyes, denying truth, subverting facts, and pretending that with the exception of what they say today, there is no truth.

When Sean Spicer praised the February jobs report, a report that he and the President used refer to as “phony” he was asked if President Trump thought that this report was accurate. He grinned and said “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

But then what can be expected from an administration that when contradicted calls the contractions lies, and those who insist on facts to be liars? It has insisted that alone of Federal Government employees that White House staffers don’t need to follow government ethics rules, and removes them from required ethics training. This goes to the heart of the problem with this administration, it does not care for truth and has long given up, if it ever had it. President Trump’s long history of not being an honest businessman, his numerous adulterous affairs during his marriages, and a list of people that he has cheated that runs into the hundreds with thousands of lawsuits against his business practices should have warned us that he would be the same man that he has always has been, and now he is in a position not only to continue to destroy any hint of his own integrity, but that nations as well, and many of his followers do not seem to give a damn.

Ethics do matter and facts do matter. Steven Covey wrote that “Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, treating people with respect.” This is sadly lacking in the current administration, and it will be the death of the Republic. When the American President cannot be trusted to tell the truth and when his administration works to shield themselves from the law there will be reverberations. The moral authority of the American nation is at stake, and that matters more than the power of our economy or the military might of the nation. Once that trust, once that moral authority is eroded, the very foundations of the country are undermined, and quite possibly fatally undermined. As Thomas Paine noted: “Character is much easier kept than recovered.”

A nation founded as ours on the proposition that “all men are created equal” which depends on its leaders and citizens caring about their fidelity to the Constitution must understand that its character is linked to how we live up to those great secular scriptures. Character as Theodore Roosevelt noted is “in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“It is More Important to Tell the Truth” Teddy Roosevelt and the Freedom to Criticize a President

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have seen a lot of people, especially conservative Christians demanding that critics of our soon to be President Trump to stop criticizing him and fully support him. It is actually fascinating to watch and listen to as for the past eight years neither the President Elect or most of his supporters have stopped questioning the legitimacy of President Obama. My God, for the past eight plus years his policies have not only been criticized, but his very person has been defamed by the very people who now say that criticizing or failing to support the President is “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and even “treasonable.” I’ve also seen not so subtle threats made against critics of President-Elect Trump, even before he was elected.

Of course that is bullshit. One of the fundamental rights that all of us have as Americans is the right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. It’s called the First Amendment of the Constitution. Our founders were terrified that some nutcase might get the idea to become a tyrant and that the people would let them. That’s why we have all the checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the Federal government, and that is why that freedom of speech has been the cornerstone of the American experiment.

But not anymore. I am not going to say a word about President-Elect Trump or my opinion about him or his possible policies. Instead I am going to note what one of my favorite President’s said about criticizing the President or a Presidential administration. That man was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, if you recall was no Nansy Pansy. The man volunteered for combat and led troops up San Juan Hill in the face of a fusillade of enemy fire, he sent the Great White Fleet around the World, he helped to end child labor, and he created the National Park system. What he wrote in 1918 is important. The United States was at war having joined Britain and France to fight Imperial Germany.

Roosevelt said this when it came to criticizing the President:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.” The Kansas City Star, 18 May 1918

That being said criticism must be based on fact. Roosevelt was criticizing the Wilson administration because of how badly he thought they were pursuing the war effort against Germany. For this people were castigating him. People said that newspapers should not print what Roosevelt had to say as well as “He should stand by the President” and “He should be stood before a stone wall and shot.” So I guess things haven’t changed too much, but I digress…

The point is that criticism of a President should not be considered unpatriotic nor criminal. If we are to believe Theodore Roosevelt; reasoned, respectful, and truthful criticism of our elected officials, up to and including the President is not only necessary, but it is patriotic. Stephen A. Douglas, who later ran against Abraham Lincoln for President destroyed his own chances of becoming President by opposing James A. Buchanan’s deceitful and illegal attempt to make Kansas a Slave state in 1858. Buchanan said that he would destroy him if he opposed the measure. Douglas stood his ground and he told his congressional colleagues: “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

None of us should be regardless of who the President is or what our political beliefs. Principled support, or if need be, opposition, to a President, is both necessary and patriotic. Blind obedience, selling out ones principles, or knuckling under to threats is not. Likewise, those who demand respect, support, and obedience for the person that they voted for without giving it to the other side is not only a hypocrite, but a supporter of tyranny.

This is important, especially when the President-Elect has a long history of lying, cheating small business owners who he contracted with, falsifying, and hiding the truth. His statements in terms of civil liberties, our allies and foreign policy, his questionable relationship with the leader of a hostile foreign power, his manifold conflicts of interest related to his businesses, and his unhinged tirades on social media against any and all critics are all reason to question what he says and does. Those statements are all verifiable, they are not innuendo nor slanderous. They are facts that make a reasonable person question what he says he will do.

Of course, as an American I want President-Elect Trump to do well for all of us and the world. The stakes are too high for me not to care about that. However, to surrender the moral and and Constitutional responsibility to speak out is something that none of us should be prepared to surrender, and those who suggest anyone do should be ashamed of themselves, if they have any sense of shame.

So anyway, until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Happy 241st Birthday U.S. Navy: Still a Global Force for Good

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

President Theodore Roosevelt once said “A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” It is a comment with which I fully concur.

For me anything to do with the United States Navy is historical as well as decidedly personal. Today is the 239th anniversary of the founding of the United States Navy, actually the founding of the Continental Navy but let’s not get too technical.

The fact is that back in 1775 most people and political leaders in the revolting colonies felt that founding a Navy was quite foolish. After all, who in their right mind would ever dare to challenge the might and power of the British Royal Navy?

In fact had General George Washington not sent a letter to the Continental Congress say that he had taken some vessels in hand to disrupt the supplies of the the British Army a Navy might not have ever been established. Timing is everything and in this case it was pretty good timing.

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Since that fortuitous day in 1775 the United States Navy went from being an annoyance to the Royal Navy to the premier naval power in the world. Men like John Paul Jones, Edward Preble Stephen Decatur, Thomas Truxtun, William Bainbridge, Oliver Hazard Perry, David Farragut, David Dixon Porter, George Dewey and many more blazed a path of glory which others, great and small would continue to build on the legacy of the iron men who sailed wooden ships into harm’s way. Men like Arleigh Burke, Howard Gilmore, John C. Waldron, Maxwell Leslie, Bull Halsey, Richard O’Kane, Daniel Callahan, Raymond Spruance, Ernest Evans built upon that legacy in the Second World War. Others would do so in the Cold War, Vietnam and the Global War on Terrorism.

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Great ships like the USS Constitution, USS Monitor, USS Kerasarge, USS Olympia, USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, USS Yorktown, USS Growler, USS Tang, USS Hoel, USS Johnston, USS Samuel B Roberts, USS Laffey, USS San Francisco, USS Houston and USS Arizona, USS Nevada, USS West Virginia and USS California helped build a legacy of valiant sacrifice and service often at great cost in the defense of freedom.

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But over those 241 years it all it came down to the men and now the men and women who served in every clime and place, many times outnumbered and facing certain defeat who through their courage, honor and commitment helped secure the liberty of their countrymen and others around the world. Most of these men and women served in obscurity in war and peace but all had the distinction of serving in the United States Navy.

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Today the men and women of the United States Navy stand in the forefront of our Nation’s defense and in helping others around the world. Fighting against the Islamic State, Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations, attempting to bring stability to Afghanistan and working with allies and partners around the world to secure the freedom of the seas against pirates and others who attempt to disrupt the commerce on which ours and the world’s economy depends; while being on the front line in another kind of war; providing humanitarian relief in many nations, including battling the spread of Ebola in West Africa. As I write this a Navy task force is providing humanitarian relief to people in Haiti even as other U.S. Navy ships keep the vital maritime choke point of the Bab El Mendeb off the coast of Yemen open to international shipping.

As President John F Kennedy said: “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.’”

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Like my father before me I can say that I am proud to have served and continue to serve in the United States Navy for the past seventeen years and nine months after having served seventeen and a half years in the U.S. Army. No matter what some may say or think, in this world of uncertainty and turbulence the U.S. Navy remains a global force for good. For that I am proud.

Peace

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For the Future: The Assassination of John F Kennedy at 50 Years

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President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas on a sunny November afternoon 50 years ago.  The images of the event and its aftermath in photos and film still haunt us and find themselves etched in our individual and collective memory. The two shots that killed the President were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald according to the Warren Commission and subsequent inquiries although there are a host of conspiracy theories regarding the assassination. My purpose is not to prove or disprove the official version or any alternative explanation. I personally believe that Oswald was the lone gunman, but I have to wonder if there were others involved in the plot and at times if there was a second shooter.

However today my purpose is to remember Kennedy’s assassination, a horrible event in the life of our nation and to reflect on how easily something similar could happen again.

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Kennedy in Berlin

Kennedy was not the first President killed by an assassin. Four Presidents of the United States have died by the hand of assassins. The first was Abraham Lincoln killed by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday 1865.  That assassination carried out by a Southern sympathizer not even a week after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox stunned the nation and most likely altered the course of events after the war.

The second was the assassination of James A Garfield who was shot on July 2nd 1881 by Charles Guiteau.  Guiteau was a disgruntled supporter who claimed that he had been commanded by God to kill a the President who he believed to be ungrateful for his support. I find it interesting that one of our four Presidential assassins was motivated by what he believed God to be saying. During his trial he said that some important Europeans told him to do it. Garfield died on September 19th probably due to the incompetence of his doctors.  Guiteau died of a broken neck, expertly administered by a hangman after dancing to the gallows waving to the assembled crowd.

The third U.S. President to die at the hands of an assassin was President William McKinley who was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 5th 1901. McKinley died on September 14th once again because of not so great medical care.

In all over 20 attempts have been made on incumbent or former Presidents. Theodore Roosevelt was wounded by an attempted assassin after his Presidency and John Hinckley Junior nearly killed President Ronald Reagan on March 30th 1981.  Gerald Ford had two close brushes with female assassins within 2 weeks of each other in September 1975. More recent attempts have been made on George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.  A man was arrested for shooting at the White House last week but President Obama was away from Washington during the attack.

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However, Kennedy’s assassination tends to be the most talked about and studied. I believe that his assassination left a scar on the country that really hasn’t healed. I can remember the effect that his assassination as well as the subsequent killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy had on my parents in the following years.  My mother recounted how she felt when she heard the news of Kennedy’s death on Armed Forces Radio while we were stationed in the Philippines.  It was an event that shattered the faith and idealism of many Americans.

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I remember the times around the anniversary of his assassination we would watch television shows about it and the movie PT-109. While I do not have direct memories of President Kennedy’s assassination I do remember those of Dr King and Senator Kennedy as well as the subsequent attempts on President Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush.

John F Kennedy is one of my favorite Presidents. I know that he was a deeply flawed man and I do not gloss over his failings either as a man or some of his decisions while President. He was certainly not perfect but I still I admire him.  I think one reason I admire him was his his ability to enunciate ideas that helped shape my more moderately liberal progressive pragmatism. One thing that he said is something that motivates me daily in our divided nation.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

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Kennedy volunteered to serve in combat on PT Boats despite having chronic lower back problems that kept him out of the Army and necessitated a waiver to enter the Navy. His actions in saving his crew after his PT-109 was sunk were nothing short of heroic and his crew knew it. After he his crew was rescued Kennedy elected to remain in action and commanded PT-59 in combat rescuing Marines on Choisuel Island. Kennedy’s citation for the Navy and Marine Corps Medal read:

“For extremely heroic conduct as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 109 following the collision and sinking of that vessel in the Pacific War Theater on August 1–2, 1943. Unmindful of personal danger, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Kennedy unhesitatingly braved the difficulties and hazards of darkness to direct rescue operations, swimming many hours to secure aid and food after he had succeeded in getting his crew ashore. His outstanding courage, endurance and leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

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After his rescue Kennedy returned to action commanding PT-59 which though low on fuel was part of a two boat mission to evacuate Marines commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Victor Krulak from Choiseul. He remained in action conduction patrols and engaging Japanese forces until he was ordered to relinquish command for medical reasons on November 18th 1943 and evacuated to the United States.  He was mentally and physically exhausted from his ordeal and had lost over 25 pounds between the sinking of PT-109

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Kennedy’s PT-59

Kennedy’s speeches still inspire me. As a child a had a copy of his book Profiles in Courage. I grew up with his promise to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, the creation of the Peace Corps, his backing of Special Forces, his love of the Navy, the great “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, his support of the Civil Rights movement and and his defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis all inspire me.  His inauguration speech where he said “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” was and still is a lot of my motivation for serving my country as a Naval Officer.  When I was young John F Kennedy symbolized the hope of a country. I wonder so often what things might be like had he lived.

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I could be critical and point out all of John Kennedy’s flaws and contradictions. But then too easy to do, People make a living doing that. But in doing so they often ignore the fact that Kennedy was a hero, not a perfect man but a hero.

I wish a quarter of our current elected officials served their country in combat as Kennedy did and understood real danger and heroism. Instead with very few exceptions we have elected men as much or even more flawed and contradictory than John F Kennedy with none of his personal courage to every level of office in the country, mostly because they have the money to win.

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Kennedy being awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal

Kennedy’s wartime service always earned my respect. I tremble when I think that someone would have such a deep hatred of him or for that matter any other President that they would kill or attempt to kill them. That kind of hatred goes beyond me whether it be the hatred and smallness of John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau or Leon Czolgosz.

Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald was a small and pathetic man who needed to be a revolutionary.  Oswald needed to be important failing everything else he killed the President. Unfortunately there are people like Oswald on all sides of the political, ideological and religious spectrum who will gladly trade the life of a President or any other public figure for their moment in the spotlight and need to demonstrate their importance to the world.

I fear for our country because of the intense hatred that has become part and parcel of our political landscape. The hatred toward directed toward President Obama and the many threats made against his life and person are chilling. As I looked for images for this article I found pictures of Kennedy’s body after the assassination and they shook me. I have seen far too much in the way of violent and senseless death. Thus I do pray for the safety of President Obama as well as all of our leaders and for God to protect us from ourselves and those so possessed by hatred and their own self righteousness that they would commit such an abominable act.

But I don’t believe that we should be governed by fear and to embrace the future. Kennedy said:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

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Likewise I still believe in the call to action spoken by Kennedy:

“Now the trumpet summons us again. Not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are; but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’, a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” 

I also believe in an era where the country seems to be withdrawing from engagement with an ever more globalized, interconnected yet dangerous world that his call to “bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

While I do so I remember the President whose life was cut short by the bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald and pray that such an event will never happen again and even more importantly that American political leaders would begin to dream again, visions of hope for the country and world and instead of only seeing limitations, ask that one question in terms of ideas of hope and progress: “Why not?” As Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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D-Day: Brigadier General Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt III Lands at Utah Beach

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“Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a warrior.” Carl Von Clausewitz

By the standards of military service on the front line the man was ancient. He was 56 years old, had arthritis and a history of heart problems, but he was his father’s son.

The oldest man to land on the beaches of Normandy was the son of a President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt who had taken leave of his office as Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the outset of the Spanish-American War. With the help of his friend Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt formed the legendary First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, the “Rough Riders” and led them in the fight at the Battle of San Juan Hill.

The son of the President entered the business world and then served as a Reserve officer and since he had received prior military training was commissioned as a Major when the United States entered World War One. He volunteered for overseas service and served as a battalion commander and later as commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. Leading from the front he was wounded and gassed at Soissons in 1918. For his service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Chevalier Légion d’honneur.

After the war he helped found the American Legion and entered politics and was elected to the New York State Assembly. However while serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Harding Administration he was linked to the Teapot Dome Scandal and though cleared of any wrongdoing his name was tarnished. Opposed by his cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt his political fortunes in elected offices floundered. However he was appointed as Governor of Puerto Rico and later Governor-General of the Philippines a post that he served until 1935 when he returned to the United States and the business world serving as an executive with American Express.

Between the wars “Ted” continued his Army Reserve service attending his annual training periods as well as attending the Infantry Officer Basic and Officer Advanced Courses as well as the Command and General Staff College. When war came to Europe he again volunteered for active service, attended a refresher course and was promoted to Colonel in the Army Reserve. Mobilized in April 1940 he was given command of his old 26th Infantry Regiment assigned to the First Infantry Division and was promoted to Brigadier General in late 1941 becoming the Assistant Division Commander.

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He served well in that role in North Africa and Sicily and earned citations for bravery being constantly on the front lines with his soldiers. However his association with the Division Commander, the unorthodox Terry Allen earned the enmity of George Patton and Omar Bradley. Patton disliked Allen and hated the way both Allen and Roosevelt eschewed “spit and polish” and “dressed down,” often wearing unauthorized uniform items. After Bradley assumed command of 7th Army he relieved both officers, believing that they were guilty of “loving their division too much” something that he admitted was one of the hardest decisions that he made in the war. Roosevelt served as a liaison officer with the Free French Forces in Italy before returning to England to assume duties as Assistant Division Commander of the 4th Infantry Division. Allen would go on to command the 104th Infantry Division in an exemplary manner during the command’s in France and Germany in 1944-45 with even Bradley praising him and his new division as one of the best in Europe.

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Roosevelt constantly trained with the troops and asked his commander, Major General Raymond “Tubby” Barton for permission to land with the first wave in the invasion. After being denied twice Roosevelt put his request to Barton in writing:

“The force and skill with which the first elements hit the beach and proceed may determine the ultimate success of the operation…. With troops engaged for the first time, the behavior pattern of all is apt to be set by those first engagements. [It is] considered that accurate information of the existing situation should be available for each succeeding element as it lands. You should have when you get to shore an overall picture in which you can place confidence. I believe I can contribute materially on all of the above by going in with the assault companies. Furthermore I personally know both officers and men of these advance units and believe that it will steady them to know that I am with them.”

Barton reluctantly approved the request not expecting Roosevelt to survive the landings. Roosevelt was in the first wave of assault troops at Utah Beach. On landing he discovered that the first wave was about a mile off course. Armed with a pistol and supported by a cane Roosevelt led a reconnaissance to find the causeways off the beach. He briefed the battalion commanders and then ordered an attack from where the troops had landed telling his officers “We’ll start the war from right here!” a moment immortalized in the film The Longest Day in which Henry Fonda played Roosevelt.

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Henry Fonda Portrays Brigadier General Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt III in “The Longest Day”

His actions were key in the success of the Utah Beach landings and he was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross by General Barton. Just over a month after the invasion after continuously leading his troops in Normandy Roosevelt died of a heart attack on July 12th 1944, the very day he had been selected for his second star and promotion to Major General and had orders to take command of the 90th Infantry Division. His award was upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor which was posthumously awarded on September 28th 1944. He was buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy, the remains of his younger brother Quentin who had been killed in the First World War were exhumed and interred next to his in 1955.

The Medal of Honor citation reads:

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt’s written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.

Roosevelt’s story is quite amazing. In the modern wars of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries few commanders as senior as Roosevelt would ever be in the first wave of an invasion or offensive operation. The personal courage and example set by Roosevelt in both World Wars, leading from the front and maintaining relationships with the troops that he commanded in combat is something that we talk about a lot in various military leadership classes but often seems to be smothered by business models promoted by think tanks and others with money to be made.

Likewise, a commander suffering from Roosevelt’s infirmities would not be allowed to command troops in combat today. But in the Second World War when many other American Generals failed miserably and often could not be found near the front and were relieved of command for incompetence and cowardice the old, crippled and infirm Roosevelt led from the front. He made decisions on Utah Beach on D-Day that helped ensure that the landings were a success. Bradley, who had fired Roosevelt after the Sicilian Campaign with Allen said that the most heroic act that he had seen in combat was “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach.”

Roosevelt was an exception to Clausewitz’s axiom that “boldness becomes rarer, the higher the rank.” I think that even if a General wanted to lead in the manner of Roosevelt today that he would be punished by the institution for risking himself.

Peace

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Thoughts on the Inauguration of President Obama and the Legacies of Abraham Lincoln and Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” Dr Martin Luther King Jr. 

No matter who the President is, what political party they were the candidate of and no matter if I supported them during their campaign I always try to partake of the inauguration. Today was like that, though this year I was on the road between Virginia and North Carolina and listened to the ceremony live on radio as I made my trip.

Radio is a wonderful way to take in a live event, be it something like today’s events as well as a baseball game. Radio forces you to actually listen to what is being said as well as use your imagination to envision the events themselves. If you are present at the actual ceremony you may not hear what is being said, or miss significant parts of it simply because of the way that sound travels, audio distortions and things happening nearby that distract you even as you take in the visual wonder of the event. Television is a wonderful thing that allows us to see an event live and can enhance our experience of it, but often it can be full of distractions.

Radio on the other hand forces us to imagine the spectacle of the event as well as the actual words spoken.

I watched President Obama’s first inauguration with a very sick and elderly African American woman in the ICU at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. She held my hand as he took the Oath of Office and during his speech. She was in tears as she had lived through segregation, routine abuse by white people in the South, being treated as less of a human being on the basis of her race. She had lived the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement as a contemporary of Dr King. For her it was something that she never believed could happen in her lifetime coming true. It was at that moment I really began to appreciate the full impact of his election, what it meant to this dear woman, and what it meant to so many people. It was a watershed moment as she did not want me to pray for her medical condition, which was not good, but to pray with her for the new President.

The Second Inaugural Address was different as President Obama, now seasoned to the reality of the great political divide that has been part and parcel of our political climate went back to tradition to frame the current issues that are part of our daily life. He appealed to the Declaration of Independence, echoing it as Dr King had but continuing:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”

The speech which touched on a number of potentially divisive issues echoed that of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address. It was an appeal to freedom, freedom for all and also the responsibility of each of us in the that endeavor.

“Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.”

His words near the end of the speech made that clear and he acknowledged the reality that American statesmen such as Washington, Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan understood so clearly.

“That is our generation’s task — to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.”

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Somehow it was fitting that the inauguration was held on the observed holiday of the Birthday of Dr Martin Luther King Junior and in the 50th year of his “I Have a Dream” speech on the Capital Mall. Having walked that Mall, and made numerous visits to our Nation’s capital I could picture these speeches, not just today’s speech by President Obama, but those of past Presidents, those that I have heard, seen or read as well as Doctor King’s speech.

I do not have to agree with every policy of a President to support them and pray for them as President. Today as I listened to both the President and Vice President Biden take their respective Oath of Office I was reminded of the Oath that I and those that serve in the Military take and then as I listened to his speech I heard the President refer to those similarities and the responsibility of all of that take it.

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.  And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.”

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After the ceremony was over I spent some time thinking about the closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and pray that we will be able to fulfill those words in our lifetimes.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

Remembering the Hope of John F Kennedy

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” 

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas on a sunny November afternoon 49 years ago this Thursday.  The images of the event and its aftermath in photos and film still haunt us and find themselves etched in our individual and collective memory. The two shots that killed the President were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald according to the Warren Commission and subsequent inquiries although there are a host of conspiracy theories regarding the assassination. My purpose is not to prove or disprove the official version or any alternative explanation although I personally believe that Oswald was the lone gunman.  It is merely to remember a horrible event in the life of our nation and how easily it could happen again.

Kennedy was not the first President killed by an assassin. Four Presidents of the United States have died by the hand of assassins. The first was Abraham Lincoln killed by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday 1865.  The next was James A Garfield who was shot on July 2nd 1881 by Charles Guiteau a disgruntled supporter who claimed that he had been commanded by God to kill a the President who he believed to be ungrateful for his support.  Garfield died on September 19th probably due to the incompetence of his doctors.   The third was William McKinley who was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 6th 1901. McKinley died on September 14th.  Over 20 other attempts have been made on incumbent or former Presidents of which one wounded Theodore Roosevelt after his Presidency and another which nearly killed President Ronald Reagan on March 30th 1981.  Gerald Ford had two close brushes with female assassins within 2 weeks of each other in September 1975. More recent attempts have been made on George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.  A man was arrested for shooting at the White House last week but President Obama was away from Washington during the attack.

However Kennedy’s assassination tends to be the most talked about and studied and has left a scar on the country that really hasn’t healed. I can remember the effect that it as well as the subsequent killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy had on my parents in the following years.  My mother recounted how she felt when she heard the news of Kennedy’s death on Armed Forces Radio while we were stationed in the Philippines.  I remember the times around the anniversary of his assassination we would watch television shows about it and the movie PT-109. While I do not have direct memories of President Kennedy’s assassination I do remember those of Dr King and Senator Kennedy as well as the subsequent attempts on President Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush.

John F Kennedy is one of my favorite Presidents. I know that John F Kennedy was a deeply flawed man and I do not gloss over his failings either as a man or some of his decisions while President. He was certainly not perfect or That being said I still I admire him.  He volunteered to serve in combat on PT Boats despite having chronic lower back problems tht kept him out of the Army and necessitated a waiver to enter the Navy. His actions in saving his crew after his PT-109 was sunk were nothing short of heroic and his crew knew it. After he his crew was rescued Kennedy elected to remain in action and commanded PT-59 in combat rescuing Marines on Choisuel Island. Kennedy’s citation for the Navy and Marine Corps Medal read:

“For extremely heroic conduct as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 109 following the collision and sinking of that vessel in the Pacific War Theater on August 1–2, 1943. Unmindful of personal danger, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Kennedy unhesitatingly braved the difficulties and hazards of darkness to direct rescue operations, swimming many hours to secure aid and food after he had succeeded in getting his crew ashore. His outstanding courage, endurance and leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Kennedy’s speeches still inspire me. As a child a had a copy of his book Profiles in Courage. I grew up with his promise to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, the creation of the Peace Corps, his backing of Special Forces, his love of the Navy, the great “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, his support of the Civil Rights movement and and his defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis all inspire me.  His inauguration speech where he said “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” was and still is a lot of my motivation for serving in the Navy.  John F Kennedy symbolized to me as a young person the hope of a country that had he lived might be different today

I could be critical and point out all of John Kennedy’s flaws and contradictions.  But then too easy to do. People make a living doing that. People often forget that Kennedy was a hero, not perfect but a hero. I wish a quarter of our current elected officials served their country in combat as Kennedy did and understood what real danger and heroism is. Instead with very few exceptions we have elected men as much or even more flawed and contradictory than John F Kennedy with none of his personal courage.

Kennedy’s wartime service always earned him my respect. I tremble when I think that someone would have such a deep hatred of him or for that matter any other President that they would kill or attempt to kill them. That kind of hatred goes beyond me.  Lee Harvey Oswald was a small and pathetic man who needed to be a revolutionary, who needed to be important failing everything else he killed the President. Unfortunately there are people like Oswald on all sides of the political, ideological and religious spectrum who will gladly trade the life of a President or any other public figure for their moment in the spotlight and need to demonstrate their importance to the world.

I fear for our country because of the intense hatred that has become part and parcel of our political landscape. The hatred toward directed toward President Obama and the many threats made against his life and person are chilling. As I looked for images for this article I found pictures of Kennedy’s body after the assassination and they shook me. I have seen far too much in the way of violent and senseless death. Thus I do pray for the safety of President Obama as well as all of our leaders and for God to protect us from ourselves and those so possessed by hatred and their own self righteousness that they would commit such an abominable act.

While I do so I remember the President whose life was cut short by the bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald and pray that such an event will never happen again and even more importantly that American political leaders would begin to dream again, visions of hope for the country and world and instead of only seeing limitations, ask that one question in terms of ideas of hope and progress: “Why not?”

“Now the trumpet summons us again. Not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are; but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’, a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Political Commentary, US Navy