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First Pitches and Last Pitches: The Importance of President Trump’s Failure to Show on Opening Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saul Steinberg wrote: “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” This is something about the American character that President Donald Trump does not seem to understand, these are not qualities that he shares. In a rare move for a new President, Trump refused an invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington National’s Opening Day celebration.

To some people that may seem like a trivial thing, but to me it is yet another indicator of the President’s lack of respect for his office, the institutions of our country, and our greatest traditions. Baseball has always provided a healing balm for our country during various crises and emergencies. During World War Two Franklin Roosevelt said to critics who thought baseball should be shut down for the duration of the war, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” 

Baseball is important and a good number of our Presidents understood this whether you agreed with their politics or not. President George W. Bush made a couple of observations that President Trump obviously has no understanding about. First there were the personal virtues of the baseball legends, virtues that should inform and inspire anyone, especially a President of the United States. Bush noted:

“Baseball isn’t just the stats. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of Willie Mays, or the determination of Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a (Al) Kaline or a (Joe) Morgan, the grace of a (Joe) DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, or the heroism of Lou Gehrig. My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost.”

But then there are the practical leadership, management, and political aspects of managing a baseball team that relate directly to anyone in a leadership position. Bush noted: “The most important qualities for a (baseball) manager are to plan for the season and foster a team spirit that encourages hard work and the desire to win. A good president must set clear goals, recruit the best, build a spirit of teamwork, and be willing to share credit and take the blame.”

After the 9-11 attacks President Bush went to Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch during Game Three of the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks just a few miles from Ground Zero. Despite the fears and warnings of the Secret Service, Bush refused to put on a bulletproof vest, and when he got to the mound he recalled:

“The gravity of the moment never really hit me until the first step coming out of that dugout,” Bush said. “I remembering the noise and it was deafening. I remember looking around the stadium, this giant crowd. Standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium was by far the most nervous moment of my presidency.

Bush understood that this was much more than a game, it was a national symbol, it was something that had to be done where it was done. Billy Crystal recalled “This is a moment. Your politics go away. Here’s the president of the United States, handed this awful baton to run with and he stood up and basically said f— you.” For those watching all over the country and the world it was an electric moment. One can criticize President Bush for many things but not this, that pitch helped the country begin to heal more than any military strike, more than any speech, because it reached back to the virtues of the game that are so enmeshed with the character and the ideals of America.

But since President Trump can’t even show up for the first pitch on opening day, I doubt if he has the capacity to ever inspire anyone in this country to higher ideals and higher. He seems to me more like more like a unscrupulous baseball owner more interested in parting out the team and destroying the franchise to make a short term profit all the while building a garish new stadium to satisfy his need with other people’s money, kind of like the late Margaret Whitton who played the owner of the Cleveland Indians in Major League.

Sadly, the President is not only is his missing and dissing the greatest of American institutions, he his missing out the one game that can actually teach him about politics, as Richard Nixon well understood. You see, Trump’s basic inattention and laziness, his inability to stay focused will destroy his presidency. Nixon said that Trump should heed: “I never leave a game before the last pitch, because in baseball, as in life and especially politics, you never know what will happen.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Orange and Black is Back

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One might say that I have an obsession with baseball, in fact I would dare say that to me it is closer to a religious faith than any of major revealed religions known to humankind. Since coming back from Iraq it is one of the few things in life that center me, more than scripture, prayer or in fact most traditional spiritual disciplines baseball speaks to my heart more than anything. I can truly understand the words of Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in the classic baseball film Bull Durham: 

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.” 

Please do not get me wrong, I am not depreciating religion or my own Christian faith in the slightest by saying this, but it is true that Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball…

This year my two favorite baseball teams are in the playoffs and look like that have a strong chance of moving on the the National League and American League Championship series. Of course I am talking about the only teams whose uniforms fully are appreciative of the month of October, the Baltimore Orioles and the San Francisco Giants whose orange and black uniforms are distinctive. Entering the playoffs many experts consider them underdogs, and while neither has won their divisional series yet, the odds are that both will.

Last night I was watching the Giants play their usual brand of torture ball against the Washington Nationals in a record setting epic 18 inning playoff game that went longer than any post season game in the history of baseball. As is usual with this kind of game I could not leave it for anything. I remember the 2005 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, and the 2005 World Series game between those same Astros and the Chicago White Sox which both went 18 innings. I couldn’t stop watching those games either, but with the Giants and the Orioles it is different. The Orioles like the Giants are really tough in close games and during the regular season were amazing in extra innings games, but I digress…

John Leonard wrote in the New York Times in 1975 that Baseball happens to be a game of cumulative tension but football, basketball and hockey are played with hand grenades and machine guns.” Last night was amazing, that cumulative tension that built throughout the game was high was palpable. Jordan Zimmerman put down 18 Giants in a row before walking Joe Panik with two outs in the top of the ninth, and the rest is history. Buster Posey singled and Pablo “the Panda” Sandoval doubled in to tie the game  It went another nine innings before the appropriately named Brandon Belt “belted” a home run into the second deck in right field at nationals Stadium to give the Giants the winning run.

So tonight, the Orioles who came back against the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the eighth inning to shock the Tigers and Detroit fans play what might be the deciding game of their divisional series against the Tigers. I think that the Orioles have a strong chance at closing the series out tonight. So be assured I will be watching.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Nationals Disaster: Nats Blow 6-0 Lead Lose to Cardinals 9-7 in NLDS

Defeat in D.C. Nationals Outfielder Jayson Werth and the Nationals bench after the game (Washington Post Photo)

The outstanding season of the Washington Nationals came to a stunning end on shortly after midnight was the St Louis Cardinals overcame a 6-0 deficit to win 9-7. The Nationals had the best record in baseball with 98 regular season wins while the Cardinals had worked hard to secure the second Wild Card berth in the National League and had to defeat the Atlanta Braves to get into the NLDS.

The Nationals won the first game of the series in St Louis before having their pitching staff, which had been one of the best in baseball shelled in games two and three by the Cardinals. The Nationals had a walk off win in game four to tie the series and went into the game with ace Gino Gonzalez going up against Jonathan Wainwright of the Cardinals.

The loss was hard to watch. The Nationals scored three runs before the Cardinals got the first out of the 1st inning. By the end of the 3rd inning the lead was 6-0. The Cardinals who I expected to win the series looked like they were done. However Cardinals chipped away at the Nationals lead, scoring 1 in the 4th, 2 in the 5th and 1 in the 6th inning and at the end of seven innings the score was 6-4. They made it 6-5 in the top of the 8th when Daniel Descalso homered against Nationals set up man Tyler Clippard . The Nationals scored in the bottom half of the inning and went to the 9th leading 7-5 with ace closer Drew Storen on the hill.

Storen has been outstanding this year but got into trouble in the 9th. By the end of the inning the Cardinals had scored 4 runs to give them a 9-7 lead. The positive emotion of the crowd which had been building in anticipation of a victory that would send the Nationals into the NLDS hit a wall and the silence was deafening. The Nats could not score in the bottom half of the 9th and the Cardinals as they have so many times before won an elimination game. One only has to look at 2011 when the Cardinals spent the month of September playing elimination games before going on the win the World Series.

No one expected the Cardinals to achieve what they did after losing Albert Pujols and Manager Tony LaRussa. Rookie manager Mike Matheny was an unknown quantity and the Cardinals had to contend with a very strong NL Central. They will go on to face the Giants in the NLCS.

The Nationals have built a winning team. I chalk the series loss up to their inexperience in playoff baseball. They are a solid team that is also young. They are in a tremendous position to become a regular in post season play. One wonders if they had allowed Stephen Strasbourg to be on the playoff roster, if they might have one game two or three, or had him available to possibly stem the Cardinal tide in the 6th or 7th inning.

It was a terribly disappointing end to an amazing season for the Nationals and their fans. But I expect them to be back.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Game 5 Anyone? Resilient Orioles Defeat Yankees in 13 Innings 2-1

Manny Machado Scores winning run (AP Photo)

It was another long night in the Bronx but this time there was no magic from a Yankee hitter and it was yet another thrilling chapter in their 2012 season. The never say die Baltimore Orioles extended their season defeating the Yankees 2-1. Jim Johnson closed out the game in a classic pitchers duel that involved a total of 16 pitchers, 8 from each team. In the 13 innings there were only 15 hits.

Darren O’Day shuts down theYankees in Relief (Elsa Getty Images)

The Orioles struck first as Nate McLouth hit a solo home run in the 5th. The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 6th when Robinson Cano grounded out to second to score Derek Jeter who doubled to lead off the inning. Both teams failed to capitalize on when they had runners in scoring position, the Yankees threatened in the bottom of the 8th when they had runners on 2nd and 2rd with only one out. Darren O’Day entered the game and became the hero of Birdland as he struck out Alex Rodriguez and then got Nick Swisher to fly out to right. O’Day then went on to shut down the Yankees in the 9th, 10th innings allowing no hits.

Nate McClouth makes key catch in against the wall off of Jayson Nix, he doubled up Russell Martin. (Elsa Getty Images)

Pedro Strop came into the game in the 11th and pitched two scoreless innings and in the top of the 13th, with the clock already past midnight 20 year old rookie Manny Machado doubled to right and scored on veteran Shortstop J.J. Hardy’s double to left, both off of David Phelps. The Orioles brought in Jim Johnson who put the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the 13th.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi has managed the series since learning of the death of his father on Sunday (AP Photo Alex Brandon)

It was a tense game as both teams pitchers made the pitches that they needed and hitters struggled. The Yankees and Orioles led the majors in home runs but those big bats for the most part have been remarkably silent. The Orioles can in large part be chalked up to playoff inexperience and hitters swinging at bad pitches, or base running mistakes. The Yankees with the exception of a 5 run 9th inning in game one have been cold and without Ibanez’s home runs in game 3 this series could well be over.

So it comes down to game five. The Orioles and Yankees who were even in the regular season against each other are even again and for one of the teams the 2012 season will be over later tonight, yes it is already Friday.

Meanwhile the magical season on the Oakland A’s came to an end against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles or the Yankees will now play Detroit in the ALCS while San Francisco will await the winner of the Cardinals and Nationals game tonight with that series also tied at two apiece.

What a division championship series in both leagues, every series will go the full five games, all competitive and all exciting. This is playoff baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Giant’s, A’s and Orioles and the 2012 MLB Playoffs: Taking Me Back to the Church of Baseball

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones….It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham

As any reader of this site knows Padre Steve loves baseball. In fact it is a passionate love that goes back to my childhood thanks to my dad. I talk with good reason about belonging to the Church of Baseball.  I love the game and I find a lot of life lessons and draw much inspiration from it.  It is something that is good for my soul, baseball parks are among the few places that I feel absolutely safe and even baseball on television or radio can calm my often troubled PTSD afflicted mind. I love the game, I love the players, I love the people. I can’t say that about a lot in this world.

I have gotten to know a lot of players both major league and minor league, front office staff and among my favorites former players of the Negro Leagues.

This year is kind of weird. If lucky I might have one of my three favorite teams, the Giants, A’s and Orioles make the playoffs. The last time I had a favorite win the World Series was 2010 when the Giants did it. The Orioles and the A’s have had fairly long droughts in getting to the playoffs or the World Series.

As a kid growing up on the West Coast, born in Oakland and being a Navy brat I have a natural tendency to support West Coast teams in the post season, unless they are the Evil Dodgers, who I hate to say I have cheered for in the World Series when they played the Yankees, may God have mercy on me, but it was against the Yankees so I’m sure there is some measure of grace.

My dad was a big National League fan and he became a die hard Giants fan a bit before I was born as the Giants moved to San Francisco about the same time he was transferred to Naval Air Station Alameda. I remember seeing the Giants in Candlestick as a kid, seeing Mays, McCovey and Bobby Bonds play and watching Ed Halicki throw his no-hitter there in 1975. We also went to a decent number of A’s games including the 1972 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers back in the days of Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Mutcat Grant, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Campy Campaneris and Reggie Jackson. My dad couldn’t stand A’s owner Charlie Finley but who could not like the mixture of uniforms and the ball girls in hot pants down the foul lines?

So in a sense because of geography I was a default fan of the Giants and Athletics. However my love of the Orioles defied my dad as well as geography. I started liking the Orioles as a kid because I would always see them in the playoffs. Though my dad didn’t like the Orioles he had tremendous respect for their players, especially outfielder Frank Robinson and Third Baseman Brooks Robinson. I could name the Orioles starting rotation and liked the way that Manager Earl Weaver argued with the umpires. In retrospect my dad kind of reminded me of the scrappy Weaver. My dad always emphasized fundamentals, pitching and working hard.

The Orioles also had the a minor league affiliation with the Stockton Ports back in the 1960s and early 1970s. When my dad was transferred to Alameda for his final assignment on the Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock he moved us to Stockton because we had a great aunt there.  So with the Ports playing at Billy Herbert Field about a mile from our house and a few blocks from where I played Little League ball I was at the stadium a lot including a hat giveaway where the team gave out black Orioles caps with the classic Cartoon Bird. In 1972 the Orioles left and the Angels took the team but from that time I remained an Orioles fan.

That love for the Orioles has increased over the past decade as I have gotten to know the team, organization and players through their minor league affiliates the AAA Norfolk Tides and High Single A Frederick Keys.

I want all of my teams to advance. As I write this the Giants lost their first game against the Reds last night while the A’s have went down 2-0 against the Tigers thanks to great Tigers pitching and critical errors. The Orioles open tonight against the Yankees.

No matter who wins it has been a great season for my teams. The Giants fought a lot of adversity to win the NL West, the A’s pulled off one of the most amazing runs seen in baseball to overtake the highly favored Texas Rangers in the final game of the season and Buck Showalter’s never say die Orioles have surprised the experts, but not me for the entire year.

My picks to win the Division series are the Tigers, the Giants, the Cardinals and the Orioles. Yesterday I would have picked the A’s but as much as I like them the chances of taking three in a row against the Tigers pitching are a lot lower than sweeping the Rangers. However, if there is a team that can come back from a 0-2 deficit it is the A’s. I think that the Giants take the Reds despite last night’s loss, and I think that the experience of the Cardinals will give them the edge over the Nationals, but think that the Nats could win the series. Finally I think that the Orioles are going to take the Yankees. They have played them even all year and despite all the power of the Yankees I think there is something about this Orioles team that is going to take them deep into the playoffs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Midsummer Night Dream: Memories of MLB All Star Games Past and Present

“I think the National League has better biorhythms in July.” – Earl Weaver (1979 All Star Game) 

Before the days of inter-league play and free-agency and the multitude of national and regional television outlets for baseball the All Star Game was the one time outside of the World Series that fans of in a National League town or American League town could watch players from the opposing league play their “boys.”

MVP Melky Cabrera homers in the 4th inning. (Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22979315&topic_id=34326704

My dad was typical of his generation. He was a National League fan. He grew up with the Cincinnati Reds and when he moved west with the Navy he became a San Francisco Giants fan. When the All-Star Game rolled around at was if time itself would stop as we gathered around the TV as a family to watch it.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970 at Anaheim Stadium

I think that is in large part why I have such a veneration for this annual event. As I mentioned back then there was no inter-league play and with free agency very limited players spent their careers in the same organization or with teams of the league that they played.

As far as what league I am for it is hard to say. My dad took me to so many California Angels games at Anaheim Stadium when we were stationed in Long Beach in 1970 and 1971 that I became much more familiar with the players of the American League than the National League. That American League attachment grew stronger when we moved to Stockton California where the local minor league team, the Single A Stockton Ports of the California League were then affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and because of going to Oakland Athletic’s games when the team was in its first era of World Series dominance. He also took me to an occasional Dodger’s game when stationed in Long Beach and sometimes to Candlestick Park to see the Giants but most of the exposure that I had to baseball in my early years was with the American League.

My favorite teams, with the exception of the Orioles tend to be West Coast teams, the Giants and the A’s. My dad was not a fan of the American League, especially of Earl Weaver’s Orioles but between the Ports and seeing the Orioles constantly in the playoffs or World Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s I became a closet Orioles fan. I remember the greats of that team, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Pitcher’s like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally the team was amazing to watch. I became fascinated with the “Oriole way” which to use Cal Ripken Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect” really is a model for success in any field.

Despite this I also love the National League primarily because it does not use the designated hitter and there is more emphasis on pitching and because the San Francisco Giants are a National League team.

Both Leagues have had eras where they dominated the game. Between 1963 and 1982 the National League won 19 of 20 games and the American League won 12 of 13 between 1997 and 2009, the only game that they did not win was the 2002 debacle where Commissioner Bud Selig ended a tie game in the 11th when the teams ran out of substitute players, the only previous tie was in 1961 when rain stopped a tie game in the 9th inning at Fenway Park.

There are some All-Star Game moments that stand out to me more than most. The was Pete Rose plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Pete Rose collides with Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5766041

I remember reverently casting my ballot at Anaheim Stadium that year, which was the first time that fans voted in for All-Stars since 1957 when after a ballot box stuffing scandal by Cincinnati Red’s fans caused then Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to end the practice. I still remember taking that paper ballot and putting it in that box and those votes probably were more important than any political ballot that I have cast, at least I felt like my vote mattered.  Of course now the vote early vote often philosophy which has exploded on the internet takes away some of the reverence that I have for the All Star voting process, but at least no-one checks your ID to vote.

In 1971 I remember the massive home run hit by Reggie Jackson off Dock Ellis at Tiger Stadium, the longest home run in the history of the game, a home run that had it not hit a electrical transformer on the roof was calculated as a 532 foot home run.

Reggie Jackson’s massive home run in the 1972 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=15759689&topic_id=20156278

I remember the 1973 All-Star Game which was the last for Willie Mays, it was his 24th trip to the game, a record that still stands.

The 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was one that brought tears to my eyes. It was magical as Major League Baseball announced its “All Century Team” including the great Ted Williams.  It was an exceptionally emotional experience for me as I watched many of the living legends who I had seen play as a child walk out onto the field.

Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game where the All Century Team was Inducted

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5570299

But I think one of the most memorable for me was watching Cal Ripken Jr. in his final All-Star Game when Alex Rodriguez insisted that Ripken start the game at Shortstop where he had played most of his career and when Ripken went yard in his final All-Star Game plate appearance.

Alex Rodriguez pushes Cal Ripken Jr. to Short in the 2001 All Star Game

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unF087sArpg

Tonight’s game was played in Kansas City, a town with a remarkable Baseball history especially with the Negro League Kansas City Monarch’s. The Negro Leagues were founded in Kansas City in 1920 and it is the home of the Negro League Hall of Fame. The Athletics played there between their time in Philadelphia and Oakland, and the Royals began as an expansion team in 1969 and opened Kaufman Stadium in 1973. I saw the Royals play for the first time in Anaheim against the Angels.  The Stadium was unique in its era because it was the last non dual-purpose stadium built until Oriole Park and Camden Yards opened in 1991. As such it was and is a beautiful yard and with the renovation completed in 2007 is still among the most beautiful parks in the Major Leagues and there is a seat designated in honor of the late Monarch’s player and manager Buck O’Neil and the home of such greats as Satchel Page.

Buck O’Neil

Tonight  like most All-Star Games I was torn my feelings. Unlike my dad I am not an exclusivist regarding the American or National League. I have favorite teams and players in both leagues. Tonight my Giants have a number of starters on the field including the Starting Pitcher Matt Cain, Catcher Buster Posey, 3rd Baseman Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval and Outfielder Melky Cabrera.  The Giants contingent aided by the ballot stuffing San Francisco Fans dominated the game.

On the other hand the American League had three Orioles on it for the first time in a long time, Closer Jim Johnson, Catcher Matt Wieters and Outfielder Adam Jones. There are future Hall of Famers on the field including Atlanta Braves 3rd Baseman Chipper Jones who is played in his final All-Star Game and got a soft single in the top of the 6th inning.

Chipper Jones 

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978231&source=MLB

Justin Verlander was hit hard giving up 5 earned runs in the top of the 1st and Pablo Sandoval had a bases clearing triple. Joe Nathan of the Rangers pitched the 2nd inning and David Price of the Rays pitched the third while Matt Cain pitched 2 shut out innings and was relieved by Gio Gonzalez of the Cardinals. I hope that the game produces a great moment that will be replayed forever.

Managing the game for the National League is Tony LaRussa the now retired former Manager of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The American League Manager is Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.

Pablo Sandoval hits a bases clearing Triple off Justin Verlander in the 1st Inning (Photo Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978523&topic_id=34326704

Well the National League won 8-0 led by a home run by Melky Cabrera in the top of the 4th inning. Five of the 8 National League runs were produced by members of the San Francisco Giants.  Cabrera was the Most Valuable Player and Matt Cain got the win.  It was a long night for the American League  especially with the pitchers due to pitch including National’s Stephen Strasburg, Met’s Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw, and three closers, Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, Ardolis Chapman of the Reds and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves.  As Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Tuesday in DC: Lunch with a Dear Friend and a Night walk through the Monuments

Today was another good day, in fact really good day at the conference I am attending with the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health.  At lunch I was able to spend some time with my former commanding officer at Marine Security Forces.  It was good to see Mike again.  He and I went through some very trying times together and I treasure his friendship as well of that of his family.  I think that of all the commanding officers that have served under which have included some incredible men that he was the best.  We are a lot alike in many ways both rather cerebral and out of the box thinkers. We basically are the same generation as far as military service goes, when he was a young Marine Corps Officer I was a young Army Officer.

We reminisced about the way the country was back then how our leaders still worked together and even if we disagreed with the policies of those in the opposing party that we still knew that we were Americans and that at the end of the day we were friends.  I guess that Mike and I are dinosaurs now; we tend to look at the big picture and both being career officers of the same generation have seen the country change. We both entered the military during the Cold War and after the loss of Vietnam.  Our teachers were the men that served in that war, those who came home to a then hostile country.  Neither Mike nor I are service academy types nor the products of conservative military schools, Mike went to Harvard and attended Navy ROTC and I went to a California State University School, CSU Northridge and took Army ROTC at UCLA.  We both come from strong yet tolerant religious traditions and were influenced by chaplains early in our careers.  Mike’s academic background is Economics mine Theology and Military History and both of us hold advanced degrees in those subjects.  We both graduated from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.  We have both served overseas and in combat.  We love our country and treasure our military service and that of the men and women that we have served with over so many decades.

I am honored that Mike will administer the Oath of Office when I am promoted on September 1st at Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia.  By the way Mike loves baseball too and being from Boston he is a Red Sox fan.  His dad, a die hard fan died a few months before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. My dad died a few months before his San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Talking with Mike today made me think back to a time when things were not like what they are now, where political opponents were simply opponents and not “the enemy.”  I shared with Mike the terms the German Military used in the Second World War to describe those that they fought against.  The Western Allies were “die Gegener” or simply opponents and for the most part the German military observed the Geneva Convention and Laws of War when fighting the Americans, British and French.  However with the Soviet Unionit was different.  The Soviets were “Der Feind” or the enemy.

As divided as we were in the 1970s and 1980s there was still a modicum of respect for the other side and ability to work together when we needed and Mike brought up the relationship of Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’ Neill, vigorous political opponents who remained friends.  However there is today and has been for the past 20 years or so for members of the extreme wings of both major parties to identify their opponents as “enemies.”  The language difference is significant. An opponent is a adversary that you hope to defeat but there is not a hatred involved and when the competition ceases the opponents remain friends and even colleagues even as they prepare for the next “game” so to speak.

Enemies are another matter.  To be an enemy is to assume that the other side poses an existential threat to your side or your agenda.  Thus there can be no compromise and the opponent is not simply to be defeated but destroyed and annihilated much like the Old Testament when the Israelites were commanded by God to kill everything even the babies and pregnant women.  So much for being pro-life but I digress….

Today we are more divided than any time since the Civil War, blood is boiling and if there is compromise it will be a mere truce until the next round of political bloodletting which if we are not careful may become actual bloodletting and the enemies allow their unbridled hatred of each other spill out into open conflict.  Such affairs never end well and if we remember our history our Civil War’s military conflict was over in a few years and yet with the relatively primitive weapons of the ay killed more Americans than any other conflict.  The after effects well, frankly Scarlett took over a hundred years to recover from and I would dare posit that some believe that the war is not yet over.

Tonight I went to dinner alone cancelling my plans to head out to watch the Nationals play the Marlins. I needed the time and solitude and somehow a trip on the DC Metro seemed the last place that I would find it. I walked to the Gordon Biersch where I had dinner, drank a few beers and watched the Orioles beat the Blue Jays.  After dinner I detoured from my normal route back to my campus housing which takes me in front of the White House.

Amid the lights and the amazing splendor of the buildings adorned with American and District of Columbia Flags I walked and simply observed people.  Tourists from across the nation and the world were taking pictures, business people and government workers hurried about, vendors hawked their patriotic wares, mostly made in China I might add or snack foods.  Here and there a protester sought to draw attention to their pet cause, there is the anti-nuclear weapons protestor that has been camped across from the White House since 1981, people demanding to see the Birth Certificate, those protesting for the removal of various Arab dictators and others peppered about. Capitol Police and Secret Service officers were out in force and amid the fortress like surroundings of many government buildings and the offices such as the World Bank and major business and financial institutions armed police and private security stood watch with cameras watching every move.

When I passed the White House I was rather down.  So I decided to walk the monuments that adorn the Capitol Mall.  I passed the Executive Office Building and Washington Monument and crossed the street to the World War Two Memorial.  At each place I paused before I continued to walk into the night.  I then stopped by the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, the stark reminder of the men and women killed and missing in that war as well as the rip in the fabric of the nation that I am not sure we have ever gotten past.  I then went and paused before the Lincoln Memorial and I thought of the immortal words spoken by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address shortly before he was cut down by a bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth.  They are words of reconciliation spoken even while Americans fought Americans in the last months of the war.

Fellow-Countrymen:  At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

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.

As I walked through the warm and humid night air I imagined what it must have been like for officers of the United States Army, Navy and Marine Corps as the nation split in 1861 with many Southerners leaving the service to enter the service of their own states.  Many tearful goodbyes were spoken by men that had served together in war and peace and on the lonely frontier of the nation, men who in a few moths time would be commanding American armies and killing their fellow Americans.  My family fought for the South being from Virginia.  I cannot say that I would have done different like them and so many Southerners or if like General George Thomas of Virginia I would have remained with the Union incurring the wrath of his family for the rest of his life.  Since I have never taken my Oath lightly I can only imagine that I would have done what Thomas did even if it meant the loss of family.

Today I fear that even if our leaders can avert a default on or debts that they have now set the stage for worse I the coming months and years. The open hatred and contempt of our leaders for one another and the ideas that each stand for has wounded the nation more deeply than any default or government shutdown could ever do. This is not simply partisan discourse it is a deep enmity and hatred that has not been seen in this country for 150 years.  If cooler heads do not prevail soon the damage may be irreparable and the consequences more terrible than we can imagine and why anyone would willingly continue down this road is beyond me, but hatred does terrible things to people and nations.

Since it was nearing10 PMI hailed a taxi by the Lincoln Memorial.  I entered into a conversation with the driver, an immigrant fromMoroccowho has been in the United States22 years.  I mentioned my concern and he was far more hopeful than me. He said he believed that a shutdown would be averted.  I love immigrants especially recent ones who have left home and family to become Americans.  My dad’s side family has been in this country since 1747 and my mother’s even longer.  It was inspiring for me to hear this man still be in awe of this nation despite all of our troubles. When I left the cab I thanked him, gave him a decent tip shook his hand and in my woeful Arabic said “Assalamu alaikum” or peace be unto you.

As a historian I tend to see the dangers in what is happening in our country and I do have legitimate concerns, but when I hear the words of hope and awe that this country engenders in those who come here to be free I hope again in spite of myself.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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