Tag Archives: war

Political Folly and the Lust for Power

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Note: this was inadvertently posted in incomplete for late last night as I closed up my iPad thinking I would complete it today. This is the completed article.

I have been to war. I have been shot at and had rockets pass over my head. I have seen the wounded, and I have seen the devastation caused by war. Likewise I have also trained and prepared for worse worse than I served in. Back in the 1980s the unit that I commanded, the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) had the mission of helping to support the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment on the Fulda Gap. They and we were expected to take 75-90% casualties if the Soviets came over the border. I have to tell you that you haven’t really had to contemplate the reality of war if your neighborhood is not in the fallout pattern of nuclear weapons or the contamination zone of chemical or biological weapons. Mine was, thus ever since I was a young Army Lieutenant I have had a tremendous appreciation for what could happen if all hell broke loose and a worse case war scenario developed. For me it is not that hard to imagine worst case scenarios.

Sadly, that does not seem to be the case with President Trump. He seems hell bent at forcing the military to provide him with expressly demands faster military options for whatever he is planning; he mocks his Secretary of State’s efforts to use diplomacy to defuse the growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula, a crisis that he has made worse by taunting the North Korean leader; he is about to end an agreement with Iran which with the cooperation of our allies has been relatively successful in spite of Iran’s other provocative actions in the Arabian Gulf, in Syria, and in Yemen.

Despite the President’s rhetoric there has been no significant strengthening of the military since he took office. In fact the President’s policies are further stretching a force that spent the better part of a decade and a half wearing itself out in counterinsurgency campaigns that knew no end and cannot be won without the host nations being stable and secure enough to address the underlying causes of the insurgency. Now those forces are being tasked to go back and get ready for potential high intensity conflicts in Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Middle East.

The military is not the solution for every situation. This is something that those of us with significant military experience in peace and war, and who have studied the fundamentals of strategy and strategic thinking using history, economics, political science, geography, science and technology, diplomacy, and information know this. Sun Tzu wrote: “He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.” It is in choosing which elements of national power to gain advantage without war where true success lies, as Sun Tzu noted “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

There are a host of elements of national power, and for the President to be enamored with just one, the most costly and the destructive is foolish. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all the passions.” Because it can only be satisfied by power over others, government is its favorite field of exercise. Business offers a kind of power, but only to the very successful at the top, and without the dominion and titles and red carpets and motorcycle escorts of public office.”

One can see how the lust for power infected President Trump and how business was not enough to satisfy that need, and how even the domestic power of being President is not enough. To me it appears that the President like so many before him sees glory in war conquest and does not consider the cost. When he told reporters that they “could be watching the calm before the storm” and when asked what he meant said “you’ll find out,” not just once but a number of times going into the next day it was unnecessary and unnerving.

Honestly it seems to me that the President through his words and actions is sowing the wind and that in time we will reap the whirlwind unless sane and wise counsel prevails. I do see that senior military leaders are stating their differences with the President on policy matters and one hopes that they if no one else will be able to restrain the President who cannot stomach criticism, attacks his opponents and seems to desire affirmation and not information.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dunkirk: A Symphony of War in Three Parts


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night Judy and I went to see the movie Dunkirk. It was different from any war movie that I have ever seen and that was a good thing. It was a work of art that brought the terrible truth of war, of defeat, and of human courage and suffering together in a symphony. Director Christopher Nolan managed to blend three separate timelines to tie together the action on the ground, at sea, and in the air. 

There was not a lot of dialogue but what there was blended well with the images and the score. The fact that the film was primarily shot in IMAX and 70mm instead of digital and used real ships and aircraft instead of massed amounts of digitally created military hardware added to the realism, as the musical score written by Hans Zimmer wrapped itself around you with the ticking of a watch ever present. 

If you have ever been to war or served at sea and been shot at, the movie captured the worst fears of a soldier, sailor, or airman at war; a soldier being trapped on a beach under fire and waiting for rescue; a sailor struggling to escape a sinking ship, or an airman wondering if you have enough fuel to complete the mission and make it home. It also captured the feeling of being delivered from danger, and how that feeling can change in the blink of an eye to terror and despair. 

I liked the way that Nolan and Hans Zimmer who wrote the musical score gave something we often overlook in life, the matter of time to the forefront. The ticking of the watch and the blending of an hour in the air, a day at sea, and a week on the land reminded me of how important time is, especially when you are at war. I remember traveling in Iraq by air and ground and just how different each felt in manner of time. Likewise, how different the concept of time felt being on a larger ship or a small boat in a hostile area. 

Dunkirk was a different way to look at war, and maybe because so few people in the United States or Western Europe have experienced war that is a good thing. I honestly think that a film like this, which did not focus on the Generals, Admirals, or political leaders, but rather common soldiers, sailors, and airmen, was a good thing. As far as characters in the film I found that Kenneth Branagh’s character, a Royal Navy Commander directing the evacuation of soldiers from the harbor mole, followed by Tom Hardy who played a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot, and Mark Rylance who played a civilian mariner to be the most compelling characters. 

Anyway, it is a film that I believe deserves much praise because it focused on the men who fight the war, and what they feel when under fire, rather than trying to wrap the narrative in a neat package with a happy ending. Dunkirk was a miracle that kept a disaster from ending the war. It was not a military victory, it was a nation pulling together to stave off utter defeat, and it allowed Britain to remain in the war and hold off the Nazis in the west until the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor. 

If you want to read a good book about Dunkirk that will not take too much time I recommend Walter Lord’s Miracle at Dunkirk, and for a broader perspective on the 1940 campaign in France, I recommend Alistair Horne’s classic To Lose a Battle, France 1940, and William Shirer’s The Collapse of the Third Republic, an Inquiry into the Fall of France 1940. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, History, Military, movies, world war two in europe

New Years Eve: Our Hopes and Our Will to Try

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is New Year’s Eve and in some parts of the world it is already 2017, it is amazing how time flies.

After the year that was 2016 with its seeming unending cycle of violence, hate, war, destruction, and political turmoil including Brexit and the 2016 Presidential campaign that culminated in the election of Donald Trump is over. Overall 2016 was a difficult year, and some would even call it bad. One hundred years ago the world was engaged in a war that was killing thousands of men a day. Some hoped that 1917 would be better, but it wasn’t. In fact in some ways the conflagration that had erupted in 1914 would get far worse.

I hope that 2017 is different and turns out better than 2016, we certainly could use a break, but the forces of history and nature are sometimes greater than our hopes, but we can always hope. Even so more than hope we who believe in liberty, freedom, humanity, brotherhood, and justice must work against the forces of war, terrorism, dehumanization, and political ideologies that are designed to enslave, devalue, and marginal people based on race, religion, gender, color, or belief.

I believe that the forces that made 2016 so terrible will not take a break and that we need to stand up and do the right and sometimes the hard things in order to protect liberty. The time for safe zones is past, as progressives we have to toughen up; think rationally, and act strategically if we are to protect the liberties of all people, including people who will find out far to late that they placed their trust in the wrong place. But I digress…

Many people will see in the New Year singing Auld Lang Syne. I suppose that as Judy and I pop the Champagne and toast tonight when we watch the Ball descend in Times Square on our television, safe from all the drunk drivers that we will as well. Not that we will be isolated, we will go out earlier and see our friends at Gordon Biersch around dinner time and get out before the crowds get going and the place gets too loud and crazy for our tastes.

But my favorite song for the New Year is Abba’s Happy New Year.  Like Auld Lang Syne it is a melancholy song of the end of one year’s hopes, dreams and expectations and hopes and dreams for the New Year. I think one of the lines that I like, one which I think calls on us to actually do more than hope, but to act on hope, is “May we all have a vision…” A vision requires that we begin to imagine a better future, in a sense it is to dream, as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, 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.”

To fulfill that dream and vision we must live, work, dream and imagine that things can be better, and as Dr. King said, Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…

The song, Happy New Year ends with this verse, May we all have our hopes, our will to try, If we don’t we might as well lay down and die, You and I

Here is wishing you the best New Year possible, and I for one will not lay down and die.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Political Commentary

More Musings of a Realist in Wonderland


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have just a short thought for the day and plan on writing more again tomorrow and in the coming days. In the days before I travelled to Gettysburg and today I have continued to immerse myself in reading, study, reflection, and writing. Of course this is in addition to normal life and work, so it is a premeditated pursuit of knowledge, as well as truth, which never leaves me disappointed. 

I have been continuing to work on the first couple of chapters of my Gettysburg and Civil War text and I am now convinced that these two chapters, comprising close to 350 pages of text will have to become one or two books as I begin to edited them, and find a publisher. That will leave over 700 pages dealing with the Gettysburg campaign and the battle itself, and that section will also continue to grow. 

But as I do this I am reminded that indeed I am a “Realist in Wonderland.”  I am reminded how, despite how successful the campaigns of the American military have when fighting opponents that behave the way we expect them to at the operational level; my study and observations are like so many others that since the Second World War show me that we win battles but don’t win many wars. 

Actually there is no mystery to this. The simple fact is that the United States does not have a coherent national strategy, what Clausewitz called policy, and as such, our military force used almost exclusively used as a hammer to fulfill policy objectives when when we have so many other non-military tools in our strategic arsenal. 

I was reminded of this as I was revising the first chapter my Gettysburg text which is nearly 200 pages be a book in its own right. As I continue to research the connection between strategy in the American Civil War I read the works of other military historians and theorists I see just how much that disconnected from any rational political policy that war cannot be justified. This is what Clausewitz said nearly 200 years ago, and which, Abraham Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Ulyesses S. Grant demonstrated in the Civil War. 

Those men connected national strategy to military strategy and the operational art, while the Confederates never were able to develop a national strategy that matched their military, economic, and diplomatic capabilities. As such, even the Confederacy’s  best general, Robert E. Lee, who was one of the most prolific commanders at the operational level of war, who like so many other great military leaders, and our own military leaders of the past 30 years, 70 if you go back to Korea, never was able to translate operational success to actually winning a war.

 Clausewitz understood this all too well, the act of war is not an autonomous event, and unless it is connected to rational policy it is madness. 

Pretty soon I will post something from that text revision, but I am not ready to just yet, what I am working on is difficult, because my first instinct is always to pursue conciliation with are enemies and try to limit the destructiveness of war.  But the fact is that the more that I study history, the more I am convinced, as repulsive as it may sound, that the nature of war never changes and that if we continue to attempt to abide by rules of behavior that our enemies do not follow, all of the death, carnage, and devastation of the wars that we have been fighting for over a decade and a half will have been for nothing. To paraphrase British historian Hew Strachan, if the facts to not support theory, you do not suppress facts, but change the theory in light of the facts. Sadly, every American political administration, Republican and Democrat, since the end of the Cold War, as well as the Congress has ignored this basic truth when committing this nation to war. In light of history, that is inexcusable. The fact is that we need leaders like Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman and not like Jeffeeson Davis and Robert E. Lee if we are to ever emerge from this war without end without destroying our nation in the process, and handing its destiny over to the likes of Donald Trump or supposedly Christian religious zealots. 

As unpolitcally correct as this may sound, especially coming from a man who is a liberal and progressive, I have to admit that as Sherman said, “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”  If there was a way way to undo this timeline and go back before 9-11 which brought a measure of fear and vulnerability to the people of the United States as we have ever experienced, and the misbegotten Bush Adminstration invasion of Iraq, the terrible effects of which are still with us and not going away, I would do so. But real life is not science fiction, and we cannot alter the timeline. We can only deal with it the best that we can. 

At this point I do not know how I will post these things. I might post sections of the text or I might write something that flows out of them. Whatever I do, you will see it here first. 

We have to do better. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under civil war, History, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Pause to Think


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a few words this morning. The past day or two have been emotionally draining, mostly due to the negativity and attacks of some friends on social media due to my strong condemnation of the massacre in Orlando and the silence of so many Christians and conservatives about it. The lack of empathy for the victims was astounding as a number of people jumped the shark so to speak and went all out not just to disagree with me, but to condemn me. 

I handled them all well. I refused to degrade myself by sinking to their level and refused to let their venom ruin my day. It was just sad to see otherwise good people be so deluded by their hatred of Gays, Liberals, and Muslims that they couldn’t understand what I was saying. This included conservatives and liberals alike. I am just amazed at the lack of empathy or critical thinking that is the norm in the United States, and while I would like to say that it is just on one side, it spans the spectrum. 

I am a very pragmatic and realistic Liberal. As I said last week there are times that I feel like B.H. Liddell-Hart’s description of Willam Tecumseh Sherman in 1861, “a realist in wonderland.”  

Tomorrow I will be posting what some of my liberal and progressive friends will consider to be a very politically incorrect article about how to fight the Islamic State. In fact it will be similar to what I have written about that subject over the past few years. That being said it will certainly piss off some allegedly conservative people who think that a bomb a day keeps the terrorist away. 

I have grown a rather thick skin over the past few years. I can nuance this, and I can let the personal attacks runoff my back, but I will not stop speaking up for realism, nor will I condemn whole races and religions for the acts of a few. In fact I am so tired of the idiocy of those that condemn all Muslims for the actions of some that I want to throw up. The same is true for those that simply say to “bomb them into the stone ages” or “carpet bomb” them; such people know nothing of war, nor the mindset of those that we fight. 

Likewise, I am equally disgusted by supposed Liberals and progressives who make excuses for cold blooded terrorists and instead blame the United States and Western Europe for things that are often the making and toxic concoctions of well off fundamentalist Muslims who control incredibly oil rich nations, or nations which have nuclear weapons. 

That being said, I will not let those few, or those that support or condone their actions off the hook. The current wars, which came about after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 have been going on for almost 15 years. Since I anticipate that they will still be going on when I retire from the military in 2020 that means that many of the young men and women entering the military when I retire would not have been born when those attacks happened. For me that is unacceptable. Maybe I have become more like William Tecumseh Sherman than I thought that I ever would. He wisely said, that “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”  And then this, “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen. I say let us given them all they want.” My God, how many more young people will have to continue a war that began before they were born if we do not commit ourselves to winning it now? 

This war has to be fought and those committed to terrorism destroyed root and branch. Their families and supporters will have to feel the terror that their terrorist husbands, fathers, and sons have brought upon this world.  Yes, as Sherman said, war is cruelty, but the time for half measures is at an end, otherwise it will be war without end and I can imagine nothing worse for the world than that;  especially for the people, (mostly Muslims) that are already suffering under the yoke of the Islamic State or other Muslim radical and terrorist groups or nations. 

Call me what you want. I can handle it. I am not a warmonger as anyone who knows me or who has read my writings knows. I hate it as only one who has seen it first hand as well as who has studied it can. As Colonel Strong Vincent, who died leading his brigade at the age of 26 on the slopes of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg said, “We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step. We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest…” 

Simply bombing people or calling in drones, and relying on less than one percent of the population to fight our wars for us will never convince those who celebrate the killing of innocents like what happened in Orlando last week that we are in earnest. This has to be a fight that every American that no matter what his or her race, religion, political association or ideology may be needs to have a hand in the fight. We all need to have skin in the game. Those who have killed so many innocents in Orlando, San Bernardino, New York and Washington, Paris and Brussels, London and Madrid, and so many other places need to feel the hard and cruel hand of war, or well will never see the end of it. 

That may not sound pleasant, but it is reality, and I dare ask anyone that disagrees with me to show me from history that I am not correct in saying this. 

Like I said, I will write more about these things tomorrow, and maybe Thursday as well. But until then, have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, middle east, Military, News and current events, terrorism

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is a good day. I have spent the last couple of days talking about life kinds of things and continue that trend by sharing a few thoughts about friendship, politics, and religion.

I have read a number of articles recently that addressed the growing political divide in the country and one of the commonly cited factors are that a growing number of Americans now pick their friends based on politics, religion, and ideology. That reminded me of Thomas Jefferson who once noted, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

Sadly, I have lost friends for these very reasons and every one of them saddened me. In most cases I was not the one that broke off the friendship. Now there have been a couple of times where the relationship had grown so toxic that I had to break it off to in order not end up in the position of hating the person, and to protect myself. But those cases have been few and far between. I think that I can count them on one hand.

I have friends that span the political, ideological, religious, ethnic and racial, and even sexual orientation spectrum. Hell, I even count Los Angeles Dodger’s and New York Yankee’s fans among my friends, and that coming from a diehard San Francisco Giant and Baltimore Orioles fan is truly exceptional.

I guess that most of why I am like this is because I loved the diversity that I experienced at Edison High School in Stockton, California, which I went to because of court-ordered desegregation, and close to thirty-five years of military service. In both cases I got to experience the friendship, in many cases lifelong friendships with people whose experience, culture, and backgrounds were very different from mine. This has enriched me as a human being. 

Today, my closest friends are those that I hang out at my local Gordon Biersch Brewery bar, and the local ballpark. They span the spectrum from the most liberal and progressive Bernie supporters to most devoted supporters of Donald Trump, not to mention mainline liberals and conservatives, Libertarians, Greens, as well as Social Conservatives and members of the Christian Right.

The same is true of my social media, both Facebook and Twitter. I do not have to agree with someone to respect them, care about them, and be a friend. I personally don’t understand how anyone can only hang out with people that are like them, frankly that to me sounds boring. I don’t mind exchanging ideas with friends, but I do get put off by ideologues of all beliefs who care nothing for anything but their agenda. I am not adverse to people having strong beliefs, but to impose them as a condition of friendship is beyond me.

My friends know my beliefs. They know that I am liberal, and a proponent of expanding civil rights, and against any law that is written expressly to deny the rights of others purely for the sake of religion. But that being said I don’t need to impose them as a condition of friendship. I gain so much by the multitude of people that are my friends, their real diversity in all things. I cannot imagine doing anything to intentionally lose any of their friendship this political season.

It’s just my opinion, but I think that we would all be better off to try to do the same this year and build bridges. I think instead of condemning people we don’t know just because they are different that we should take the time to get to know them and become friends that we could actually work together, solve our problems, and heal our wounds. 

But then maybe I am too much of a relic of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Maybe, to use the immortal words of John Lennon “I’m just a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope one day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” 

So anyway, have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Reflections on Christmas & War

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Yesterday I posted an essay about a German physician and pastor who drew the picture The Madonna of Stalingrad, and the day before one about the Christmas Truce of 1914 and the movie Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas). As I have mention before, I get very reflective around Christmas, in large part due to my experiences in Iraq. While I am certainly happy this year, I am, as I still tend to be a bit melancholy. My time in Iraq changed me, T.E. Lawrence; the immortal Lawrence of Arabia wrote to a friend, “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” I often feel that way.

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

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

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

My first Christmas at home was so difficult that at a Christmas Eve mass I handed my wife the car keys and walked home in the dark and cold. Had there been a bar on the way home I would have walked in and poured myself into a bottle.

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

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

As difficult as things have been and as much as I wonder what will happen next, at Christmas I pray for peace, but too many people, some even in this country seem to live for the bloodlust of war.

But amid such unholy thoughts one can hope and pray for peace at Christmas, I guess that is a reason I love the song Happy Christmas, I have put Melissa Etheridge’s version here.

As my Iraqi friends are prone to say, Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

Yes, God willing,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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