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Der Schicksaltag: An Execution, an Abdication, a Beer Hall Putsch, Kristallnacht, and the Fall of the Wall

Hitler-Putsch, M¸nchen, Marienplatz

Schicksaltag: The Fateful Day and the Beer Hall Putsch November 9th 1923

There are some days in history that are crammed full world changing events, and sometimes those events occur, for good or bad and sometimes good and bad in different countries. In the United States July 4th is not only Independence Day, but eighty-seven years later marked the surrender of Vicksburg and the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army from Gettysburg. Likewise it was the day that the Louisiana Purchase was announced in 1803 and that in 1826 the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. In Russia however it was on July 4th 1918 that Czar Nicholas and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks.

Since 1918 November 9th has been a day in German history that has impacted both Germany and the world in many ways. In a sense it is almost hard to believe that so much occurred on that day. It is known by many as Der Schicksaltag (the fateful day).

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Robert Blum

In 1848 a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, Robert Blum was arrested and executed executed for traveling to Vienna to support the 1848 democracy uprising there. A liberal, humanist and democrat Blum advocated German unification without Prussian dominance, protested Prussian oppression of Poles, stood against anti-Semitism and for the rights of Catholics in heavily Protestant German kingdoms. Blum’s dream remained unfulfilled for over a century after his death.

Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung über die Grenze in das holländische Exil

 

Kaiser Wilhelm II Cross the Dutch Border Following his Abdication

It was a gloomy day at the military headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9th 1918 when General Wilhelm Groener looked his sovereign in the eye and told Kaiser Wilhelm that the war was lost, and that he no longer had the support of the Army. The Kaiser, reeling from battlefield defeats and the mutiny of the High Seas Fleet was stunned, and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who had for all practical intents directed the war effort meekly nodded his concurrence with Groener. The Kaiser abdicated the throne and departed in his private train to the Netherlands the next day.

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Phillip Scheidemann Proclaims the Republic 

In Berlin Majority Socialist parliament member Philip Scheidemann proclaimed the Republic, in part to prevent a Soviet takeover, which became known as the Weimar Republic. However, the promise of democracy was soured by a continued allied blockade, a humiliating peace treaty, loss of territory, and occupation of the industrial areas of the Ruhr and Saar by France and Belgium, heavy reparations, and war guilt; compounded by civil war between various right and left wing factions and major economic problems including massive hyper-inflation doomed the young republic.

Beer Hall Putsch

 

Beer Hall Putsch

Five years later an Austrian in Munich who had fought and been wounded fighting for Germany in the First World War gathered with his political sympathizes and para-military street thugs and attempted a putsch. The man was Adolf Hitler, the head of the small and radical National Socialist Deutches Arbeiter Partei, or National Socialist German Workers Party, which he hoped that his putsch would result in a popular uprising against the German government in Berlin. The putsch was a failure and ended in bloodshed at the Feldherrnhalle on Munich’s Odeonsplatz.

Hitler was wounded, convicted of treason and jailed for nine months at the Landesberg prison where he wrote his book Mein Kampf and continued to recruit others to his cause. Under ten years later Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. He quickly banned political opposition and began his persecution of Jews and others that he believed to be sub human and on Hindenburg’s death in 1934 merged the office of Chancellor and President become the leader of Nazi Germany.

In November 1938 Hitler’s and his henchmen were looking for a reason to openly begin persecuting the Jews, something that they had already been doing since the seizure of power. One of the chief reasons for this was to seize the property and financial resources of German Jews, which coincided with the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. A reason was furnished when a young Polish man, Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents were expelled from Germany on November 3rd went to the German embassy in Paris and shot and mortally wounded Ernst von Rath, a young diplomat, who reportedly had some anti-Nazi sentiments.

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The murder was what Josef Goebbels needed and on the night of November 9th Nazi storm troopers ransacked Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues causing hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks in damage, destroying over 200 synagogues and 7000 businesses. About 100 Jews were killed during the rampage, which went unchecked by police. Another 2000-3000 subsequently died either by suicide or in concentration camps. About 30,000 Jewish men were incarcerated. To add to the insult to injury Jews were charged for the damage done to their property and insurance payments that should have gone to them were collected by the state. The night became known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass and marked a major turn in the open Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany, which would extend throughout Europe and end in the Final Solution and the systematic murder of nearly six million Jews. World War Two ended with the total defeat of Germany and the Nazi regime.

berlin_wall_02

 

Occupied by the allied powers Germany was split in two, the East under the domination of the Soviet Union which became the German Democratic Republic, and the West which supported by the United States and Britain became the Federal Republic of Germany. The divided country became the focal point of what became the Cold War, the fortified border became infamous as the Iron Curtain. The divided Berlin was blockaded by the Soviets in 1948 and the subsequent airlift kept West Berlin Free. However in August 1961 as the Cold War escalated the leaders of East Germany erected a fence which became the Berlin Wall, a wall which was effectively a means to imprison the population. It seemed to be a fixture that would never come down.

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But in the 1980s the Cold War began to thaw, the economically strapped Soviet Union was bogged down in a costly war in Afghanistan, and a struggle against a Polish democratic movement; Premier Gorbachev sought to relieve the situation with a policy of openness. It backfired, throughout Eastern Europe, pro-democracy and pro-freedom groups began to protest the status quo, and as borders were opened hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans including thousands of East Germans went west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. East Germans began to gather at the wall and on November 9th 1989 a tottering East German government decided to open border crossing points, but on hearing the news hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the six crossings demanding to be let through, finally, ignoring orders, Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jäger who commanded the Bornholmer Strasse crossing opened the gates. The wall had fallen and 339 days later East Germany was dissolved and Germany reunited.

The new Germany is the economic heart of the European Union and has become a champion of human rights and social progress. It has now been twenty five years since the Wall fell, seventy-six years since Kristallnacht, eighty-nine years since the Beer Hall Putsch and ninety-six years since the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. These are all important events, and our challenge as citizens of the world is never to forget just how important and fateful each was, and why November 9th is indeed the “fateful day.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s 2013 Down and Dirty Primer on the Muddle East

Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib

“When you are up to your arse in alligators it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp.” Old British Colonial Saying

Note: This is an update to my 2011 Primer on the Muddle East

During the dark days of World War Two when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was making fools of a series of British commanders in North Africa people including senior British military and government leaders sometimes referred to the theater of operations as “the Muddle East.” Some things never seem to change. The Muddle East today is quite frankly speaking in a real muddled state if there ever was one with world leaders and regional leaders muddling about as if they were the New York Mets.

A large part of the muddle goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War when the victorious Allied Powers redrew the map of the Middle East and made alliances with various local tribal sheiks who many times were crowned king over other tribes who didn’t necessarily want them as king. This along with heavy handed European military actions such as the British using poison gas dropped from aircraft in Iraq and a real lack of effort to better the lives of the newly “liberated” peoples of the region was just the start. Add to the cesspool a bunch of oil presided over by major oil companies, the anti-colonial movements that flourished in the years after World War Two when the French, British and Italians had to divest themselves of their Middle Eastern holdings. The French had to fight a real war in Algeria but finally withdrew leaving Algeria’s new rulers to goof up the country and oppress their people for decades to come.  In the coming years many of these newly independent nations found that life still sucked so in a number of countries military officers overthrew the despised monarchs promising reforms but oppressing their people while blaming all their problems on the Israelis.  They got their asses kicked by the Israelis in a series of wars which did a number of things that made the Middle East Muddle even worse.

First it ensured that Palestinian Arabs ended up under Israeli rule and were used with great aplomb by the Middle Eastern despots to prop up support for their regimes while doing nothing to help the Palestinians other than to put them in camps in Lebanon.  Even when the Egyptians made a peace deal with Israel most of the Arab World ostracized them.  Then in 1979 the Shah of Iran was sent packing by a bunch of Mullahs and in 1981 Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran in one of the bloodier wars of the late 20th Century which finally ended in 1988. Of course the United States was pissed at the Mullahs so Saddam became our favorite Arab despot for a while.  Add to the mix the Soviet Union and the United States arming their favorite Arab dictators who were given carte blanche to continue oppressing their people so long as it didn’t interfere with their support of either party or the oil supply. Finally the Soviets went Tango Uniform in 1989 not long after being forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S. supplied, Pakistani supported and Saudi Arabian fundamentalist financed Mujahideen.

With the Soviets “Tango Uniform” and the Warsaw Pact nations trying to get into NATO the United States was now the uncontested Numero Uno country in the world Saddam presumed upon his late supporters and invaded Kuwait, albeit after thinking that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said that we wouldn’t mind.

Well he was wrong we did mind and got a lot of countries from NATO and including a bunch of Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia to get on board on a mission to get Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. It was a kick ass mission and since the United Nations didn’t authorize removing Saddam and because President George H.W. Bush was smart enough to not to drive on Baghdad to kick him out preferring the despot we knew to a quagmire Saddam was left in power.

So we stationed ground and air forces around the Gulf to keep Saddam and Iran in check and even put them in Saudi Arabia which a large number of radicals such as Osama Bin Laden equated to letting the Devil play in Allah’s Holy Sandbox.  So Osama went and set up a base with the Medieval bunch of Pashtun known as the Taliban in Afghanistan stirred up a bunch of shit killing Americans and blowing up stuff including the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks complex in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and then 2001 another attack on the World Trade Center which took down the towers with hijacked aircraft and also struck the Pentagon triggered an American response against Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts.  The United States then invaded in Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in taking out Saddam but also succeeded in alienating a good many Iraqis who greeted us with open arms because we goofed up the occupation and pissed a lot of them off by dissolving the Army, Police and Civil Service and letting thugs and opportunists take over. Unfortunately since we didn’t go in with enough troops to secure all the Iraqi bases, their weapons depots and actually take control of surrendering Iraqi units these newly unemployed and dishonored people launched an insurgency bolstered by Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters even as Sunni and Shi’a Moslems began to settle scores with each other. Insurgency and civil war, two great tastes that go great together, but what the heck right?

Of course it took years to get control of the situation on the ground and thankfully the United States forces in Iraq were helped when the Sunni Moslems in Al Anbar Province realized that these foreign fighters were a worse enemy than the United States and switched sides. This turned the tables in Iraq and the insurgency was brought under control and an elected government managed to start to get their stuff together and allow us to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Of course the focus on Iraq gave the Taliban a chance to regroup as the Afghani Government proved itself corrupt, incompetent and not to give a shit about the Afghani people. So the Taliban who had been hated made a comeback and made our lives much harder so that now almost 10 years into the fight we are having a really hard time.  Well enough about us there was plenty more going on in the Muddle East besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Let’s see….there was the law of unintended consequences in that by taking Saddam Down and weakening Iraq we took away Iran’s natural enemy and the key to the balance of power in the region. Iran was strengthened and began a nuclear program that everyone with half a brain knows in intended for military use and expanded its influence in Lebanon where the Iranian backed Hezbollah took power.  Now Hezbollah which actually has an experienced military force and probably owns 40,000 or so rockets and missiles a good number of which can hit deep in Israel seems to be ready for war especially because they fought the Israelis to a stalemate in 2008, the first time an Arab military ever did that. Not only did they take on the Israelis but they are also helping Syrian dictator Bashir Assad turn the tide against the polyglot Syrian rebel forces which are being assisted by Sunni foreign fighters from all over the Middle East and the ever present Al Qaida presence.

Then was the effect that the wars in those countries made things harder for us in many other friendly Arab nations.  Of course there is the problem of a nuclear armed Pakistan which is about as stable as a Japanese nuclear reactor after getting hit by a tsunami and plays both sides of the street in the war on terror.  The Palestinians and Israelis continued their love affair and since Fatah which ran Palestinian Authority was so corrupt and gooned up a more militant group, Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Hamas is a pretty bloodthirsty lot too but not the same level of threat as Hezbollah to the Israelis.  Of course the Israelis have done little to help the situation by their often heavy handed treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The witches’ cauldron of the Muddle East is getting even more muddled on a daily basis as young Arabs throughout the Muddle East are rising up against their despotic rulers and it doesn’t seem that any are safe, those allied with the United States and the West as well as those that have been a thorn in the side of the United States and the West. It just seems that despots and tyrants are no longer in vogue. The uprisings began in Iran after a disputed election where reformers were cheated of power and the revolt crushed by the Revolutionary Guard and other thugs of the Iranian regime. However with the election of “moderate” whatever that means cleric Hasan Rowhani as President hopes are that Iran, despite the machinations of many other clerics and the Revolutionary Guard might be brought to the negotiating table. That being said Iran is reportedly sending about 4000 troops to go help Assad in Syria so go figure.

Elsewhere in the Middle East things continue to boil. In December 2010 the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their President for Life Ben Ali in a peaceful uprising followed shortly after by the Egyptians who tossed out long term President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. In Tunisia a “moderate Islamist” regime has been attempting to maintain control of radicals and keep some semblance of balance in that country while in Egypt the Islamic Brotherhood was able to get majorities elected in the Parliament and elect Mohammed Morsi as President. Needless to say both countries are still in turmoil.

In Iraq the Sunni Shi’a divide is as wide as ever and that country is threatening to become engulfed in yet another civil war as sectarian violence increases and the Kurds make more moves toward independence.

2013-05-31T115012Z_01_IST12_RTRIDSP_3_TURKEY-PROTESTS

Turkey, the heart of the old Ottoman Empire is now beginning to erupt as secularist elements in the society are protesting the policies of Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leading to repeated clashes over the past two weeks between protestors and police.

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Afghanistan though technically not part of the Middle East continues to be a problem for US and NATO consuming intelligence, economic diplomatic and military resources that could be put to play with better effect elsewhere.  What T.E. Lawrence said of the British occupation of a restive Mesopotamia  in 1920:

“We realise the burden the army in Mesopotamia is to the Imperial Exchequer, but we do not see as clearly the burden it is to Mesopotamia. It has to be fed, and all its animals have to be fed. The fighting forces are now eighty-three thousand strong, but the ration strength is three hundred thousand. There are three labourers to every soldier, to supply and serve him.” ‘France, Britain, and the Arabs’ by Col. T. E. Lawrence The Observer, 8 August 1920

In Libya the Arab Spring claimed the long time pain in the ass Moammar Gaddafi. That conflict center of the action in 2011 until Gaddafi was overthrown and murdered. Since then Libya has remained in turmoil despite elections, militias run amok and the US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in an attack on the US Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi on September 11th 2012.

Yemen and Bahrain, Algeria, and Jordan have or are experiencing demonstrations which look to be revolts in the making and even Saudi Arabia is trying to head off a potential popular uprising.

However the real problem now, the problem that threatens to send the region into a regional war is the revolt in Syria which began with peaceful protests by reformers against the Assad regime. However the hard line response of that regime to the protests spawned a civil war which now threatens to overflow the borders of Syria. France, Britain and the US have stated that they believe that there is evidence that the Syria government has used chemical weapons, in particular Sarin nerve agents against the rebels. The conflict has claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000 people with hundreds of thousands more now living as refugees.

The conflict in Syria epitomizes one of the greatest challenges in the Middle East that many in the West are just beginning to recognize, the Sunni Shi’a divide. That divide is becoming more serious with every passing day as Iran continues to lead and assist Shi’a elements in predominantly Sunni Arab countries, as well as in Iraq where the Arab Shi’a are in the majority. The conflict in Syria is predominantly Sunni versus Shi’a though in that patchwork nation of Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite Shi’a tribe of the Assad clan, various Christian and Druse groups. Lebanon which borders Syria is as divided as its larger neighbor and Hezbollah holds tremendous power in that country.

Yes my friends this is a mess and almost everybody that is anybody in the military and economic power houses of the world doesn’t have their handprints all over at least some part of this mess. All of these own some of the blame for what is going on, both the rulers of the nations in the region as well as world powers who all try to influence the nations and peoples for their own diplomatic, intelligence, military or economic gain. Almost no one is unsoiled by their involvement in the Muddle East over the past 90 years or so and so in a way all of great world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

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The region is more volatile than at any time in recent history and events there could easily ignite a regional war with worldwide implications.  That is why the region has been called the Muddle East for decades.  We all hope and pray for the best and that somehow all of this that the promise of a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” will become a reality, but there are better than even odds that things get way worse before they get better. There are just too many wild cards in this deck and the swamp is full of hungry alligators.

With the announcement this week that the US would provide military aid and training to the Syrian rebels and that US forces will remain in Jordan even as US and NATO Patriot missile batteries stand ready in Turkey there is a really good chance that the conflict in Syria will not stay in Syria.

Of course there is always the wild card if what Israel may do in what it perceives to be its security interests against outward foes such as Iran and Syria but also inside its borders and occupied territories, especially if it is attacked or provoked by Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.

May God help us all and bring about peaceful change, or as my Iraqi friends simply say “Inshallah, God willing.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Primer on the Muddle East

“When you are up to your arse in alligators it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp.” Old British Colonial Saying

During the dark days of World War Two when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was making fools of a series of British commanders in North Africa people including senior British military and government leaders sometimes referred to the theater of operations as “the Muddle East.” Some things never seem to change. The Muddle East today is quite frankly speaking in a real muddled state if there ever was one with world leaders and regional leaders muddling about as if they were the New York Mets.

A large part of the muddle goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War when the victorious Allied Powers redrew the map of the Middle East and made alliances with various local tribal sheiks who many times were crowned king over other tribes who didn’t necessarily want them as king. This along with heavy handed European military actions such as the British using poison gas dropped from aircraft in Iraq and a real lack of effort to better the lives of the newly “liberated” peoples of the region was just the start. Add to the cesspool a bunch of oil presided over by major oil companies, the anti-colonial movements that flourished in the years after World War Two when the French, British and Italians had to divest themselves of their Middle Eastern holdings. The French had to fight a real war in Algeria but finally withdrew leaving Algeria’s new rulers to goof up the country and oppress their people for decades to come.  In the coming years many of these newly independent nations found that life still sucked so in a number of countries military officers overthrew the despised monarchs promising reforms but oppressing their people while blaming all their problems on the Israelis.  They got their asses kicked by the Israelis in a series of wars which did a number of things that made the Middle East Muddle even worse.

First it ensured that Palestinian Arabs ended up under Israeli rule and were used with great aplomb by the Middle Eastern despots to prop up support for their regimes while doing nothing to help the Palestinians other than to put them in camps in Lebanon.  Even when the Egyptians made a peace deal with Israel most of the Arab World ostracized them.  Then in 1979 the Shah of Iran was sent packing by a bunch of Mullahs and in 1981 Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran in one of the bloodier wars of the late 20th Century which finally ended in 1988. Of course the United States was pissed at the Mullahs so Saddam became our favorite Arab despot for a while.  Add to the mix the Soviet Union and the United States arming their favorite Arab dictators who were given carte blanche to continue oppressing their people so long as it didn’t interfere with their support of either party or the oil supply. Finally the Soviets went Tango Uniform in 1989 not long after being forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S. supplied, Pakistani supported and Saudi Arabian fundamentalist financed Mujahedeen.

With the Soviets Tango Uniform and the Warsaw Pact nations trying to get into NATO the United States was now the uncontested Numero Uno country in the world Saddam presumed upon his late supporters and invaded Kuwait, albeit after thinking that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said that we wouldn’t mind. Well he was wrong we did mind and got a lot of countries from NATO and including a bunch of Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia to get on board on a mission to get Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. It was a kick ass mission and since the United Nations didn’t authorize removing Saddam and because President George H.W. Bush was smart enough to not to drive on Baghdad to kick him out preferring the depot we knew to a quagmire despite Saddam’s crimes against his own people who thought we would help them.  So we stationed ground and air forces around the Gulf to keep Saddam and Iran in check and even put them in Saudi Arabia which a large number of radicals such as Osama Bin Laden equated to letting the Devil play in Allah’s Holy Sandbox.  So Osama went and set up a base with the Medieval bunch of Pashtun known as the Taliban in Afghanistan stirred up a bunch of shit killing Americans and blowing up stuff including the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks complex in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and then 2001 another attack on the World Trade Center which took down the towers with hijacked aircraft and also struck the Pentagon triggered an American response against Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts.  The United States then invaded in Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in taking out Saddam but also succeeded in alienating a good many Iraqis who greeted us with open arms because we goofed up the occupation and pissed a lot of them off by dissolving the Army, Police and Civil Service and letting thugs and opportunists take over. Unfortunately since we didn’t go in with enough troops to secure all the Iraqi bases, their weapons depots and actually take control of surrendering Iraqi units these newly unemployed and dishonored people launched an insurgency bolstered by Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters even as Sunni and Shi’a Moslems began to settle scores with each other. Insurgency and civil war, two great tastes that go great together, but what the heck right?

Of course it took years to get control of the situation on the ground and thankfully the United States forces in Iraq were helped when the Sunni Moslems in Al Anbar Province realized that these foreign fighters were a worse enemy than the United States and switched sides. This turned the tables in Iraq and the insurgency was brought under control and an elected government managed to start to get their stuff together and allow us to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Of course the focus on Iraq gave the Taliban a chance to regroup as the Afghani Government proved itself corrupt, incompetent and not to give a shit about the Afghani people. So the Taliban who had been hated made a comeback and made our lives much harder so that now almost 10 years into the fight we are having a really hard time.  Well enough about us there was plenty more going on in the Muddle East besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Let’s see….there was the law of unintended consequences in that by taking Saddam Down and weakening Iraq we took away Iran’s natural enemy and the key to the balance of power in the region. Iran was strengthened and began a nuclear program that everyone with half a brain knows in intended for military use and expanded its influence in Lebanon where the Iranian backed Hezbollah took power last year.  Now Hezbollah which actually has an experienced military force and probably owns 40,000 or so rockets and missiles a good number of which can hit deep in Israel seems to be ready for war especially because they fought the Israelis to a stalemate in 2008, the first time an Arab military ever did that.

Then was the effect that the wars in those countries made things harder for us in many other friendly Arab nations.  Of course there is the problem of a nuclear armed Pakistan which is about as stable as a Japanese nuclear reactor after getting hit by a tsunami and plays both sides of the street in the war on terror.  The Palestinians and Israelis continued their love affair and since Fatah which ran Palestinian Authority was so corrupt and gooned up a more militant group, Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Hamas is a pretty bloodthirsty lot too but not the same level of threat as Hezbollah to the Israelis.  Of course the Israelis have done little to help the situation by their often heavy handed treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The witches’ cauldron of the Muddle East is getting even more muddled on a daily basis as young Arabs throughout the Muddle East are rising up against their despotic rulers and it doesn’t seem that any are safe, those allied with the United States and the West as well as those that have been a thorn in the side of the United States and the West. It just seems that despots and tyrants are no longer in vogue. The uprisings began in Iran after a disputed election where reformers were cheated of power and the revolt crushed by the Revolutionary Guard and other thugs of the Iranian regime. But then in December 2010 the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their President for Life Ben Ali in a peaceful uprising followed shortly after by the Egyptians who tossed out long term President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

This brought about spontaneous uprisings all over the Middle East with Libya and the long time pain in the ass Muammar Gaddafi being the current center of the action. However Yemen and Bahrain both are in trouble, Algeria, Jordan and Syria have or are experiencing demonstrations which look to be revolts in the making and even Saudi Arabia is trying to head off a potential popular uprising.

Yes my friends this is a mess and almost everybody that is anybody in the military and economic power houses of the world doesn’t have their handprints all over at least some part of this mess. All of these own some of the blame for what is going on, both the rulers of the nations in the region as well as world powers who all try to influence the nations and peoples for their own diplomatic, intelligence, military or economic gain. Almost no one is unsoiled by their involvement in the Muddle East over the past 90 years or so and so in a way all of world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

The region is more volatile than at any time in recent history and events there could easily ignite a regional war with worldwide implications.  That is why the region has been called the Muddle East for decades.  We all hope and pray for the best and that somehow all of this will bring about a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” but there are better than even odds that things get way worse before they get better. There are just too many wild cards in this deck and the swamp is full of hungry alligators.

May God help us all and bring about peaceful change, or as my Iraqi friends simply say “Inshallah, God willing.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Commie Trifecta

Once upon a time there was something called the Cold War.  It was rather frosty, even in the sub-tropical paradise of Cuba.  During the Cold War the Soviet Union aka Russia led what was called the Warsaw Pact in a global conflict of world domination against the United States and it’s Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as NATO.  Both sides had minor surrogates around the world.

During the Cold War there were several places where the United States had forces face to face with the Soviet Union and its Allies. The most prominent of these were Berlin where the Berlin Wall surrounded West Berlin keeping its prosperous citizens from the great deals to be found on the East German economy and the East Germans out of the decadent West.

The Wall Comes Down

In the far east the United States and its South Korean ally faced the DRNK or the Democratic Republic of Nutso Korea headed by a man named Kim who would pass the leadership of the DRNK to his son who also is named Kim.  I think that the second Kim was named after Kim Novak but this is just a rumor started by the CIA to attempt to undermine the DRNK.  The demarcation line was that of the Armistice line of the Korean War located  in the general vicinity of the 38th parallel.  This remains one of the most heavily fortified locations in the world.

The final point of direct contact was in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay where failed baseball prospect Fidel Castro took his revenge on Major League Baseball by taking over Cuba, allying himself with the Soviet Union.  He almost helped start a thermonuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  After this Castro isolated Cuba from the Major Leagues and prevented them from having access to his star baseball players, except for defectors.

Padre Steve at the Brandenburg Gate on the East Side of the Berlin Wall

To have served in the US Military at all three flash points was nearly impossible akin winning Major League Baseball’s hitting “triple crown.”  By this I don’t just mean the American or National League crown but the entire league.  The last player to do this was Mickey Mantle in 1956 who hit .356 with 52 home runs and 130 in a mere 154 games.  I refer to the feat of serving at all three locations as accomplishing the Commie Trifecta.

PT on the Korean DMZ

To do this now is an accomplishment because you had to be serving in the military in Germany before the Soviet Union went Tango Uniform and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  Thus it is an accomplishment that few can attain unless they enter an alternate time line were the the Soviet Union survives.

On the North Korean Side of the Armistice Line

However Padre Steve has accomplished this feat.  Back in November 1986 he and the Abbess made the trip from West Germany along the Helmstedt corridor to West Berlin and then through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin.  12 years passed and Padre Steve was now in the Navy serving with the the 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in Korea from February through April of 2001.  Part of this involved camping out at Warrior Base a mere 800 meters from the South side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.  Serenaded by nightly musical serenades and inspiring messages approved by the boy named Kim we trained and also got a tour of the Armistice village of Panmunjom where in the conference room guarded by really tall and scary looking South Korean Soldiers one can actually cross over the to North Korean side of the room.  I would also do PT along the DMZ carefully avoiding anywhere marked “mines.”

Overlooking Commie Cuba from Leeward

The third portion of the Commie Trifecta was in November 2003 while assigned to the Marine Security Forces who manned the Colonel Nathan R Jessup Memorial Fence Line which separates the Guantanamo Naval Station from Communist Cuba.

This makes Padre Steve a relic albeit one who has been around long enough to get to do the Commie Trifecta. That friends is is way cool.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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20 Years: The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War

Berlin Wall 4Berlin  Wall Being Built 1961

For those that did not get to experience the “other” side of the Iron Curtain and only know the Berlin Wall from history the 9th of November may not mean a lot.  However as someone who spent three years commanding troops preparing for the day that the Soviet Union would strike across the Fulda Gap and across the North German Plain the fall of the Berlin Wall was an amazing event.  The wall had been built in 1961 and in the succeeding years increased in complexity and many East Berliners lost their lives trying to escape at the hands of the East German Grenzschützen and Stasi agents.

Berlin-Wall 5Berlin Wall Death Zone

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War under the threat of “Mutual Assured Destruction” proxy wars in the Middle East, Asia and Africa and tense confrontations between U.S., NATO and Soviet forces at sea, in the air and at various flash points the Wall seemed like it would be there for the rest of our lives.

The initial cracks in the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe began in Poland as an obscure shipyard worker named Lech Walesa along with others who had been active in strike movements in the 1970s which were legalized in 1980 as Solidarity.  This movement would help encourage those in other Eastern European, or Warsaw Pact nations to begin their own resistance movements.  This in every case was a risky undertaking.  Anti-Soviet movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and been crushed by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact nations in 1956 and 1968.  Encouraged by support from U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II these movements in Poland and elsewhere continued to grow.

RonaldReagan at wallPresident Reagan at the Wall 1987

When Reagan gave his “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech on June 27th 1987 it was greeted with derision by many but in less than three years would become a reality as the Soviet system suddenly and unexpectedly came apart in September and October of 1989.  That speech contained these immortal words:

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

berlin wallPadre Steve at Berlin Wall in November 1986

At the time President Reagan made that speech I was an Army Captain at Fort Sam Houston Texas in San Antonio.  The Abbess and I had just returned from a three year assignment in Germany.  My unit, the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance)  where I served as a platoon leader, executive officer and later company commander was part of the 68th Medical Group. Our mission in the event of a war with the Soviet Union was to provide casualty evacuation in V Corps area of operations and assist in the reconstitution of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment which was expected if war occurred to have a 90% casualty rate.  Our preparations went on every day, site visits to locations we would occupy, REFORGER exercises and several alerts a month where we were expected to be ready to move to our GDP (General Deployment Positions) locations in 4 hours or less.  This meant ready to go to war.  Additionally there was the very real threat of terrorist directed at U.S. and German soldiers, officials and public locations such as the Frankfurt International Airport and the U.S. PX at Frankfurt which were both bombed by the Red Brigades.  In fact the Abbess and I were on the road to the Frankfurt PX when she told me to turn around because she was not feeling well.  Had we continued on there is a good chance that we would have been at or near where the blast occurred.

We visited Berlin in November of 1986 driving my 1985 bright red Opel Kadett through the Helmstedt-Berlin corridor to Berlin.  That was an interesting trip.  Paperwork had to be completed well in advance and approved before the trip.  Because the trip involved going through East Germany it was required that we first stop at the NATO border checkpoint followed by the Soviet Checkpoint.  The trip was 110 miles to Berlin and we had to repeat the process first with the Soviets then at NATO.  There was to be no deviation from the route and the trip had to be made in a certain amount of time.  Too fast, you got a ticket, too slow, you got investigated.  Since we did not recognize the authority of the East German government all dealings were to be with the Soviets.

The trip was interesting, Soviet and East German troop convoys on the road with us, East German Polizei monitoring our progress and the dreariness of the East German towns and cities that we passed.  It was like driving through a time warp back to the 1950s.  It was a radical difference from what we knew in West Germany.

Cars were different; they were Soviet built Ladas, actually Fiats made under license in the Soviet Union, East German Traubis, and Czech build Skoda automobiles.  All were antiquated by western standards and at best were products of 1950s and 1960s technology.  My Opel was an economy car in the west but as the European Car of the Year in 1985 was a masterpiece of technology in comparison to anything built in the Eastern bloc.

We remained in West Berlin our first night and in the morning made the trip into the East.  Going through Checkpoint Charlie was a surreal experience as we watched East German Border Police take our photos from their control point.   We eventually found some parking in the Alexanderplatz, did some shopping, sightseeing, had a small bite to eat and a beer, the beer being quite bad, obviously the product of the Communist system, you could not believe that it had been brewed in Germany it was so bad.  It was so bad it made any cheap American beer taste good by comparison.  We went to the East Side of the Brandenburg Gate, visited a number of other sites, including the East German War memorial where as I lined up a photo was nearly kicked in the balls by an East German soldier as he goose stepped during the changing of the guard ceremony.  So members of a Scottish Regiment of the British Army got a “kick” out of this and I had no idea how close to disaster I had come until Judy told me later.  That would have been worth the price of admission for all who saw it had the boot landed.  When we finished in the east we went over to the Reichstag and the western side of the wall.   When we returned to our hotel I discovered that I had no film in the camera and so the next morning we made the trek to East Berlin once again.  This time I was able to get photos.

berlin wall 3The Wall Falls November

The Soviet System began to come apart in the summer of 1989.  Strikes, riots and refugee crisis enveloped much of the Warsaw Pact.  Hungary opened its border with Austria in August allowing thousands of East Germans into the west followed by Czechoslovakia.  Gorbachev had decided as early as 1986 that he would not use force to quell trouble in the Warsaw pact nations.  As the turmoil built throughout the Warsaw Pact the situation in East Germany became critical as thousands of East Germans gathered at border crossing points on the night of November 9th.  Later in the evening the wall would be breached.  It was the beginning of the end for the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.  In country after county Communist governments fell, most peacefully but in cases like Romania in a violent manner.  On December 31st 1990 the Hammer and Sickle was taken down from Red Square in Moscow signaling the end of the Soviet Union as on Republic after another declared their independence ushering in a period of uncertainty, change and confusion in the former Soviet Union.

gorbachev and reaganMikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in 1987, in 1986 Gorbachev Decided that He would Not Use Force to put down Revolts in Eastern Europe

Gorbachev’s foreign affairs adviser, Anatoly Chernyaev, recorded the moment of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in his diary.

“The Berlin Wall has collapsed. This entire era in the history of the socialist system is over,” he wrote. “Today we received messages about the retirement of [China’s] Deng Xiaopeng and [Bulgaria’s] Todor Zhivkov. Only our ‘best friends’ Castro, [Romania’s Nicolae] Ceausescu, and [North Korea’s] Kim Il Sung are still around — people who hate our guts.”

Looking back 20 years it is still hard to believe that the event occurred. As a former Cold Warrior I pray that the West and the Russian Republic will not return to a Cold War mentality and begin to cooperate in ways that are beneficial to peace, security and economic stability.  In the current world situation we have more shared concerns, especially in relationship to radical Islam and terrorism which affect both the West and the Russians in a similar manner.  Economic, military and diplomatic cooperation between the West and the Russians is more important than ever.

The rest is history and the future is yet to be written.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Forgotten Cold Warriors

CheckpointCheckpoint Charlie in the Berlin Crisis

Note: As a follow up to this Article I posted “20 Years: The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War” to this site.  The link to that article is here:

https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/11/08/20-years-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-and-the-end-of-the-cold-war/

From the Berlin Blockade and until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 American, British, NATO and Asian Allies waged a Cold War against their Soviet and Warsaw Pact Countries, North Korea and at times China and Vietnam.  The war was a world war, fought by the major powers, their alliances and proxies throughout the world.  It was a world of gray areas where soldiers, sailors, airmen as well as Special Forces and intelligence agencies from both sides attempted to gain dominance over the world through political, military, economic, diplomatic and intelligence means and through use of surrogates.  Sometimes the war turned hot as in Korea, Vietnam and for the Soviet Union Afghanistan.

The conflict found its way to almost every corner of the earth and the world lived on edge wondering if the superpowers and their allies would end up in a hot war.  US and NATO Navies played a cat and mouse game with the Red Navy both under the sea and upon the waters.  Sometimes this war turned deadly as US and Red Navy Submarines disappeared and were never heard from again amid circumstances like those of the USS Scorpion that are still debated.  On the high seas US and NATO ships shadowed each other and occasionally played a game of chicken where ships collided attempting to gain advantage as they undertook surveillance missions or shadowed task forces.  Spy ships from both sides plied the seas collecting any type of information on their opponent’s operations.  In the air spy aircraft maintained a ready vigil with US SR-71s and U-2s flying missions over the Soviet Union.  Soviet Bear and Backfire Bombers probed the airspace of the United States and Canada and NATO forces at sea who responded by sending up interceptors.   In the closed confines of the Mediterranean the Navies sparred while a in the Middle East and North Africa both sides sought dominance through treaties with the surrounding nations who moved from Western to Soviet and Soviet to Western orbit as they deemed fit. Ideology and behavior of these client regimes was less important than having them in your camp, creating a surreal world of moral ambiguity in the shadow realm of alliances.

In divided Germany NATO and Warsaw Pact Forces faced off in a tense standoff along the inter-German Border and where millions of troops planned and trained for a hot war on the Fulda Gap and Northern German Plain which would include the use of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons.  West Berlin was an island surrounded by the Olive uniformed Red Army and Field Gray of the German Democratic Republic.  A similar watch was maintained on the Korean DMZ.  In Africa, Asia, South and Central America, the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East forces of the major powers worked with allies and surrogates to gain advantage.   The Soviets blockaded West Berlin while in response to the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba the US imposed a naval blockade.  The CIA sponsored a failed attempt by Cuban expatriates to land at the Bay of Pigs.  The Soviets toppled governments and put down revolts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia while maintaining a system of Gulags at home.  Even international sporting events became occasions where each side used propaganda to show itself off to the world as the ideal society.  All of this occurring while the world lived under the constant threat of intentional or unintentional nuclear war.   In  missile silos and aboard Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines and manned bombers men stood by to push buttons and turn keys that could have ended the world as we know it.

763px-USS_Yorktown_collisionSoviet Krivak Class Frigate Intentionally Colliding with USS Yorktown CG-48 in the Black Sea 1988

Casualties were taken, even in places where the war was not “hot.”  Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Intelligence Service personnel undertook missions that are still classified the details of which they cannot reveal to this day.  Some suffer from PTSD from their involvement in and guilt over missions that they cannot reveal.  Men from both sides know that the weapons systems that they were involved with killed men on the other side in operations that will never be known.  American Veterans of the Cold War have been ignored by the country.  Russian Veterans have been forgotten as the Soviet Union crashed down on itself.  Countries spanning the globe bear the scars of the “hot” Cold War waged on their soil.  The results of the Cold War are still with us.  The West celbrated the collapse of the Soviet Empire but failed to make the new Russia a full member of the new world causing resentment which still boils today influencing Russian policy toward the West.

I met a man recently in hospital who was one of these veterans.  Tormented by the demons of operations he cannot reveal he suffers from physical and emotional wounds.  He is not alone.  There are many like him.  I do not suffer from my Cold War Service.  I served as a platoon leader, company executive officer and company commander in Germany in the mid-1980s.  If a war had broken out along the Fulda Gap my Chrysler Corporation bailout Dodge M-886 Ambulances with no communications systems adorned with bright red “mobile registration points’ were to be involved with reconstituting units which were expected to take 90% casualties.  We trained for chemical and biological warfare.  The maps used in my NBC defense officer course showed the housing area in which I lived.  We lived in a world of alerts where within two hours we had to be ready to head to war.  A world where Soviet spies operated and recruited Americans and where the German Red Brigade Terrorists bombed housing areas, clubs and even the Main Frankfurt PX, where we were on our way to when Judy felt sick and we had to return home.  Occasionally American Servicemen were murdered by Soviet Agents or Red Brigade Terrorists.  This was life for those stationed in Germany as well as South Korea.

I have been in East Berlin and was surprised as hell to see the Berlin Wall come down.  I have been to the Korean DMZ and the Northeast Gate of Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  I call it the “Commie trifecta.”  Without the Berlin Wall there are only two places where the US faces a Communist state directly.   Yet my time in a “hot” war has been in Iraq, I remember the days of the Cold War from childhood through my early Army career.

Cold War Veterans are the last forgotten Veterans group in the United States or even Russia.  Their sacrifices are not recognized.  The US belatedly issued a Cold war Service certificate for its veterans, but vets have to deal with a system that makes it difficult to even obtain a piece of paper that says “thank you” which gives them no other benefit.  The certificate is available to any person who worked for the Federal Government, including temporary holiday employees of the US Postal Service and does not mention military service. A Cold Service Medal was constantly fought by DOD during the last administration as too costly to support at this time.  The Cold War Service Medal last appeared in the FY 2008 DOD spending bills but was cut.   With the present demands on the military in the current wars and the fact that the cost of any award would come out of DOD’s budget it is unrealistic to expect this any time soon as it would cut into the funds needed to fight this war. At the same time these Veterans have no memorial and no status.  While their war was not “hot” it was world wide, lasted 40 years with many casualties.  Yes I agree it was not a hot war and that many who served in it were not in combat.  At the same time the Cold War veterans helped give the world a chance at a new beginning in 1991, unfortunately that has been squandered by governments around the world including the US government, but that is not the fault of those who stood the watch.  Someday they should be recognized.

Berlin WallMe on the East German Side of the Berlin Wall, November 1986

I have my medals from Iraq, the War on Terror and Korean Defense service.  I do believe that those men who stood the watch and many times paid with their lives or health should be recognized.  Other countries have done so.  I wonder why a few dollars per medal cannot be spent on men and women who served on the front line of freedom for 40 years. At the same time I understand that the costs of any such Medal would be born by DOD which is strapped to fight the ongoing wars.  I don’t think it realistic to have the money spent now, but maybe when the dust finally clears and these conflicts subside someone will take the time to remember these men and women.

The gentleman I saw recently never got a thank-you, never got a parade, and never was able to talk about the things that haunted him.  I wonder just how many more are waiting for the chance to come in from the cold.  If you know one of them, thank them for thier service and if they are one of those suffering from their service take care of them.

Peace, Steve+

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