Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another Canadian Soldier Falls in Afghanistan

Following the practice of this blog, I note the death of Trooper Larry John Zuidema Rudd, killed by a roadside Improvised Explosive Device in Afghanistan, near Kandahar, on 24 May. Trooper Rudd served with the Royal Canadian Dragoons and was attached to 1st Bn, The Royal Canadian Regiment. He was from Brantford, Ontario, and was known to his comrades as a " 'Gentle Giant' because of his intimidating size but friendly demeanour". trooper Rudd becomes the 146th Canadian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.

My brother the Mad Colonel put me on to this amazing CNN interactive map, showing all NATO and allied casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and 2003 respectively. It is a sobering thing to look at.

The Military Robots Are Coming. Are We Ethically Ready? Part 2

In a brief update to those robot soldiers of the future, I noted that the US Army announced yesterday that it had reached a milestone of one million hours of unmanned flight. At present, to my limited knowledge, all the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) flown by the US have a human controller, but I'm willing to bet that autonomous robotic systems to make data analysis and response quicker (thus avoiding delays in analysis and decisions or through lost telemetry) are in the works. As the US DOD piece says, "the Army continues focusing on the future, improving capabilities and fielding new systems". Vague, yes. Of interest to military ethicists, certainly.

US Closer to Making it Easier for Gays to Serve in Military

In the Canadian Forces we have officially welcomed active homosexuals to serve in the ranks for years now, as a reflection of Canada's laws prohibiting discrimination for race, sexual orientation, or gender.

In the US military however there have been longstanding fears that allowing gays and lesbians to serve would impair the effectiveness of combat units. Today the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration was in talks with congress to repeal the Clinton-era "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy, which in effect allowed gays and lesbians to serve if they did not draw any attention to their orientation, and were in effect sexually invisible. The proposed compromise with Congress is that the policy would not be changed until the Pentagon releases a study on the subject, due 1 December.

In related news, Thomas Rick's Best Defence Blog offers this moving reflection from a US Army officer on the human cost of serving under DADT Worth reading, as are any of these testimonies on being gay in the US military offered by the ServiceMembers Legal Defence Network blog.

We actually touched on this issue in the Ethics course that's just wrapping up here in Ottawa. Bottom line: doesn't matter what we as chaplains believe about homosexuality according to our theological beliefs. As chaplains, we are called to serve all in the military without partiality as best as we can. These stories reinforce the fact that gay and lesbian soldiers are as human as anyone else in or out of uniform, and that the military is not immune to the social complexity of this issue. As an infantry major I know likes to say, "If they can shoot straight and march far, we like 'em." Amen to that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

With Queen Victoria in Ottawa

The 24th of May is the Queen's birthday, so they sang in my mother's day. Ottawa's excellent repertory cinema, the ByTowne (another reason why I'd like to get posted to Ottawa), was cleverly running the 2009 film The Young Victoria, so as a good subject in the town she chose as Canada's capital, I went to see it.

Beautiful looking film, and Emily Blunt brought a lot of intelligence to the role. Not sure I learned that much about history, but it was better than the Marie Antoinette film that came out a few years back. I tend to agree with Anthony Lane that Blunt was the best thing hiding in an otherwise staid but visually gorgeous film.

And, since Kate Beaton is still making me laugh, here's her take on Victoria Day.

Weekend in Ottawa

With the Ethics Course I'm taking having left me in Ottawa this last weekend, I thought I'd escape from papers and assignments from time to time to see some sights. Caught a few images using the camera that is part of my iphone, including several at night, which turned out quite decently.

This last weekend happened to be the gala reopening of the Canadian Museum of Nature after a multi-year renovation. One of the features left as it was were the moose heads over the door.

This faithful old beast looked down on the casket of Sir Wilfrid Laurier leaving the building after his lying in state.

The moose (and his ((consort? partner? mate? friend?)), there are two) also looked down on Canada's parliamentarians after they set up shop in the museum after the Houses of Parliament burned down in 1916.

Inside the museum, with a view of the staircase build inside the glass tower that replaced the original stone tower. I like the chance fact that I caught a woman having her photo taken. Through the windows you can see Ottawa facing towards Parliament Hill as the sun begins to set.

At the foot of tower on the inside, with the last of the sunset.

A view of the tower from the outside. You can see the long lineups waiting for the ghost tours. Didn't get a chance to take one given the crowds, but I did get to meet Sir Wilfrid in a stairwell.

On the way home to St. Paul's University along the Rideau Canal, a shot of the Pretoria Bridge reflected in the canal.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kate Beaton Does Canadian History

Props to my nephew Tom for putting me on to the artwork of Kate Beaton, whose Hark A Vagrant strip offers whimsical takes on Canadiania, history, philosophy, and general nonsense. Here's a taste.

One warning, though, you can easily waste several hours visiting her site.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bishop's Visit to Greenwood

I'm in our chaplain's Ethics course today sitting beside my buddy Padre Gordon Mintz, the webmaster for the Anglican Military Ordinariate website, and he mentions to me that he's just posted an account of our Bishop's visit to 14 Wing Greenwood this March. Hey, there I am!

Briefly, according to our tradition, which preserves a pre-Reformation structure of church governance, all Anglican clergy require the license and supervision of a bishop in order to perform ministry. Bishop Peter Coffin is the bishop to all Anglican chaplains in the Canadian Forces, as well as the bishop to all lay readers and Anglican members of Canadian Forces chapels across Canada and overseas. Bishop Coffin was a soldier himself and has given freely of his time to the Military Ordinariate since retiring from his post as Bishop of Ottawa.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Military Robots Are Coming. Are We Ethically Ready?

Today in my Ethics course here at St. Paul's University in Ottawa, my chaplains' course heard two presentations by representatives of the Canadian Forces' Defence Ethics Program and Army Ethics Program. These are great programs, carefully and sincerely designed to help Canada's young men and women learn to do the right thing on the morally complex and ambiguous battlefields of today and of the forseeable future.

However, an article posted on summarizes a new generation of technology that will allow the US and allied militaries deploy a variety of robotic systems, including autonomous robot fighting systems, in the near future.

Lethal military robots are currently deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ground-based robots like QinetiQ's MAARS robot (shown here), are armed with weapons to shoot insurgents, appendages to disarm bombs, and surveillance equipment to search buildings. Ronald Arkin, a professor of computer science at Georgia Tech, is in the first stages of developing a package of software and hardware that tells robots when and what to fire.

We're already familiar with weapons systems like the Predator Drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle controlled by an operator who may be thousands of miles away. But what happens as these sorts of systems are married to cognition systems that allow them to act independently of humans once they are programmed and deployed in theatre? The ethics programs of the near future may well be aimed at computer programmers as much as they are aimed at soldiers. Or so we can hope.

''Sometimes you just can't get away from the things you have seen.''

Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry is a Grenadan-born soldier in the British Army who won the fabled Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth's highest decoration for valour in combat, in Iraq in 2004. He recently told the British media of how, in December 2008, he attempted to kill himself by driving his sports car into a street light. The UK's The Sun ran a piece today describing some of the therapies used to treat soldiers such as Beharry (1 in 20 in the British Army) who suffer from PTSD.

How Soldiers Can Save Their Buddies From Suicide

As part of our mental health programs, the Canadian Forces we run a suicide intervention program called ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), which teaches soldiers what signs to watch for and gives them strategies to come alongside and assist a friend or comrade who may be acting suicidal. This story from the US Department of Defence News Service offers a great example of what that sort of friendship and intervention looks like in real life. MP+

Face of Defense: Buddy’s Concern Saves Soldier’s Life

By Zach Morgan
Fort Polk Guardian

FORT POLK, La., May 18, 2010 - Aug. 7, 2008, was a hot day in Iraq, and it seemed as if the walls were closing in on Army Spc. Joe Sanders.

Army Cpl. Joe Sanders and Spc. Albert Godding pose April 27, 2010, after Godding received a Meritorious Service Medal for preventing Sanders' suicide in Iraq in 2008U.S. Army photo by Zach Morgan

Sanders had deployed to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division's 5th Battalion, 25th Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. Sander's wife was leaving him, and he had several months left to serve in Iraq when he attempted suicide by turning his weapon on himself.

His battle buddy, Army Spc. Albert Godding, had seen the signs of Sanders' stress, and removed the firing pin from his friend's rifle earlier that day. The weapon misfired and Godding confronted his friend about the attempt. Sanders sought counseling and made it home alive.

On April 27 here, Godding received the Meritorious Service Medal for his actions. He is now with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, Colo., and was at Fort Polk for a pre-deployment rotation with his unit when he received the award.

Sanders is thankful his friend had intervened in Iraq.

"Every day I wake up, I have to thank Godding," he said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have gotten to experience my fiancée. I wouldn't have gotten to lead troops, or attend schools and learn. Those are things I love to do."

Read the whole piece here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Notable Quotable: Martin Luther King on the Need to Maintain an Ethical Climate

Heard this on my morning run and thought it worth repeating. The quote came from Andrew Young, an aide to Martin Luther King, interviewed along with his godson, Kabir Sehgal. by NPR's Diane Rehm. Young was taking about how an organization loses its moral compass, and he said that Dr. King liked to say "If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin but he who causes the darkness."
The quote is King's, but MLK was quoting the French author Victor Hugo. Still worth taking to heart.

Some of Canada's Latest Fallen Soldiers

I've been remiss lately in noting on each of Canada's soldiers to fall in Afghanistan, something I've tried to do in this blog. Here is a recap of the most recent fatal casualties.

Today it was reported that Colonel Geoff Parker, a member of the Royal Canadian Regiment (and former commander of its Second Battalion) stationed in Kabul, was killed in a suicide attack on a NATO convoy that also killed five US soldiers and some twenth Afghan civilians. Col. Parker was stationed at Land Forces Central Area HQ in Toronto. He is the highest ranking Canadian soldier to be killed by enemy action in theatre.

Private Kevin Thomas McKay was killed by an IED on 13 May. He was 24 years of age, and was with the 1st Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry out of Edmonton, AB. He was in the last days of his tour in Afghanistan.

Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake, age 37, was killed on 3 May while on duty in Afghanistan as an explosive disposal expert. He came from the Fleet Diving Unit in Halifax, was a respected triathlete and a father of two. He has the distinction of being the first member of the Canadian Navy to be killed in Afghanistan and he was remembered during ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Navy.

Together these three bring the number of military deaths in Afghanistan to 145. They may be viewed here.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

John Thompson on the Capt. Robert Semrau Trial

The letter below appeared yesterday in the National Post and was the subject of spirited discussion in the intermediate ethics course for chaplains I'm currently taking here at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. It offers a balanced and thoughtful attempt to situate the alleged actions of Capt. Semrau in the context of the grey area where ethics meets the battlefield. If you don't know about Capt. Semrau, read this piece published in Maclean's Magazine today. As the Maclean's piece puts it, Semrau "is the first Canadian soldier in the history of combat to be charged with homicide on the battlefield, and his ordeal has triggered a fierce debate—in the ranks and out—about what happens to the law of war when it comes face to face with the reality of war".

One issue I would take with Thompson's piece is his claim that in deciding whether to aid the wounded Taliban soldier, Semrau had to weigh "as a foreign expert attached to the Afghan Army, his credibility with these rough men fighting a vicious enemy". The implication is that if he had sacrificed the mission and tried to call in medevac for the wounded soldier (assuming that was an option), Semrau would have also sacrified his "credibility with these rough men". As I understand him, Thompson is suggesting that a display of ethics on Semrau's part would have been seen as weakness. Without wanting to judge the case one way or another, I would ask Thompson, are we not expecting that when we assign Canadian soldiers as mentors to foreign armies, we are asking them not only to teach effective tactics, leadership and soldiering, but we are also asking our soldiers to mentor in ethics and the military virtues of the honourable warrior? We expect these values of our own soldiers, are they not worth teaching to "rough men" of other armies? MP+

John Thompson: Judging Robert Semrau
Posted: May 17, 2010, 8:15 AM by NP Editor

In October 2008, Captain Robert Semrau of the Royal Canadian Regiment was commanding a "mentoring team" of four Canadian soldiers operating with a company of Afghan National Army troops engaged in fighting Taliban insurgents in Helmand Province. Taliban insurgents opened fire on this force and were engaged by a supporting U.S. Apache gunship. The Taliban promptly withdrew, leaving one of their gunmen dead and one severely wounded.

The Afghan Army troops did not treat the wounded Talib, who had one leg shredded off and a foot severed, and may have also been wounded in the torso. Instead they apparently kicked and insulted him and then moved on. This created a dilemma for the Canadians.

The textbook on modern ethical warfare would advise immediately halting the Afghan troops; treating the badly wounded prisoner (who was apparently dying in great pain); calling for a medical evacuation; then, and only then, continuing with the mission. But textbook solutions are one thing; reality on the ground is something else.

The Afghan Army troops obviously showed no interest in the well-being of the badly wounded Talib -- the Taliban themselves have shown little respect for any laws of war. The Afghan National Army is poor and short of resources and may not have had a means of evacuating a wounded prisoner in time to possibly save him. Moreover, the sweep for the enemy had to continue.

Captain Semrau had to balance resources, time, the rules, the mission and, as a foreign expert attached to the Afghan Army, his credibility with these rough men fighting a vicious enemy. Evidently, this badly wounded Talib would not have survived long enough to reach effective treatment. So which was the right action: Prolonging the Talib's pain to no purpose, or ending it?

From what we know so far, Captain Semrau's decision was to fire two bullets into the wounded Talib and end his suffering.

Strangely, while the central act of war is homicide and there is no end to histories, commentaries and studies of almost every facet of war, the shelves of material are slender when it comes to issues like this. This is something veterans seldom talk about.

That war is homicide is a point that needs no debate. War revolves around killing people, but in a manner that most of us sanction in one way or another.

We have laws, rules, customs and unwritten practices to outline what forms of homicide are acceptable during warfare, yet there is a substantial grey area between some of the absolutes. It is acceptable for a soldier to kill an enemy who is shooting at him. It is unacceptable to execute unarmed prisoners in a safe area in the rear. The grey areas lie between, shading from light to dark according to circumstances and situations. The customs and unwritten practices of combatants remain an ambiguous and largely unexplored territory, although they go far toward defining what is permissible according to men in battle.

One grey area concerns the killing of badly wounded personnel-- especially those of the enemy.

As an infantryman in the Rhineland offensive in February 1945, my uncle was involved in such a dilemma with a German fallshirmjaeger. Another veteran once told me of a night in Holland where a badly wounded enemy soldier was alternatively screaming and wailing for his mother in the deadly ground between two fiercely held positions, until a grenade was tossed into his hole by a Canadian medic. Barry Broadfoot's Six War Years contains an anecdote of a Canadian slitting the throat of a badly wounded soldier in a dark night between the lines in Italy -- without checking which uniform he wore.

There are some accounts of regret from soldiers in many armies who killed their own badly wounded or those of the enemy, and regrets from those who did not. The morality of every incident is disputable because the circumstances are always different, but the choices are always the same absolutes. This aspect of warfare is seldom discussed. It happens and veterans reserve their judgments to themselves; some remain untroubled by their choices, some are haunted by them.

Captain Semrau was charged with second degree murder for killing the wounded Talib and has been in a court martial. These charges never should have been laid.

The only people who can properly judge Captain Semrau are his true peers -- veterans of combat. The only person who can truly condemn or reprieve him is himself.

National Post

John Thompson is president of the Mackenzie Institute. He has studied warfare all of his life, but his own years of military service were entirely peaceful.

British Sikh Chaplain Organizes UK Armed Forces Sikh Conference

From a UK MOD press release. MP+

Armed Forces Sikh Conference fosters 'sense of extended family'
A People In Defence news article
18 May 10

The fourth annual Armed Forces Sikh Conference, which took place at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre at Amport House near Andover, has been celebrated as a huge success by delegates.

Mandeep Kaur and assembled delegates on the steps of Amport House
[Picture: Cpl Steve Blake RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

The conference took place from 14 to 16 May, with servicemen and women from all three Services attending, some with their families. It was hosted and organised by Mandeep Kaur, the Sikh Civilian Chaplain to the Military.

Conference sessions ranged from 'Diversity in the Military' by Group Captain Pemberton, to discussions on various current practices and issues that Service personnel come across.

Read the whole piece here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Canadian Press story highlights problems of burnout in Canadian Forces Chaplaincy Branch

I am enjoying three weeks on course in Ottawa, the nation's capital, to study Ethics. The food is good, the accomodations at St. Paul's University are first rate, there's an awesome theological library here, and every day the chance to run the Rideau Canal (saw the Defence Minister, the Hon. Peter McKay, while running the Canal this afternoon). It's all very cushy, and I've no complaints, but today the Canadian Press released this piece on how the high tempo of operations and the demands to care for our soldiers and their families are putting many of my colleagues at risk. I can't comment on the magnitude of this problem, but I can say first hand that I know chaplains who are much the worse the ware for their experiences overseas, either in theatre or in hospitals. They deserve our prayer and our support. MP+

Chaplain colleagues pay their respects at the ramp ceremony for Petty Officer Second Class Douglas Blake on 5 May at Kandahar Airfield.

Alison Auld

The Canadian Press
Published on Monday, May. 17, 2010 3:13AM EDT

Chaplains in the Canadian military are suffering high levels of burnout and many are at risk of developing disorders like depression, according to documents that pin the blame on heavy workloads and compassion fatigue.

Officials in the chaplaincy office link the elevated stress to the prolonged surge in operational tempo, staff shortages and the strain of tending to families of soldiers killed or injured overseas.

Leadership in the Chaplain General's office is so concerned about the issue that it has submitted a strategic plan to the chief of military personnel outlining ways to deal with the problem.

Read the whole piece here.

Video Addresses PTSD

Kudos to my brother Alex for letting me know about this awesome video which highlights issues of PTSD and some of the various intiatives to treat it. The music is by a serving Canadian soldier. I may well use this down the road in a padre's talk to the troops. Thanks bro!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Doonesbury's take on military chaplaincy

Meant to blog this earlier when I first noticed it, but I was pleased to see that Gary Trudeau's venerable Doonesbury cartoon strip had a reasonably accurate and sympathetic take on military chaplaincy. In this sequence, one of the regular characters, Melissa, is asked to see a chaplain when her buddy is afraid that an officer is harassing her.

You can find the whole sequence via the Doonesbury archive function on Slate.

Wallace and Gromit in Kabul

Now that the British election is over, the UK Ministry of Defence is once again publishing its daily news roundup (suspended during the election by a law prohibiting government institutions from influencing the election with news/propaganda). I enjoyed this piece about a British soldier, LCpl. Wallace, and his security dog, named, of course, Grommit. It's typical of the sense of humour that seems typical of the Brits. MP+

Lance Corporal Andy Wallace and patrol dog Gromit out on patrol in the suburbs of Kabul
[Picture: Squadron Leader Dee Taylor, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

The Historical Roots of France's Burqa Worries

Interesting piece posted on the Foreign Policy website on May 12th offers some historical perspective, dating back to the 19th century Dreyfuss Affair and beyond, on the decision of French President Sarkozy to ban the burqa. Much of Ruth Harris' piece is helpful to understanding the deep ambivalence to the niqab, a veil that covers a Muslim woman's face, in Quebec. MP+

How the Dreyfus Affair Explains Sarkozy's Burqa Ban

Militant secularism has a long, troubled history in France, from paranoia over nun's wimples to the Dreyfusard anti-Jesuit campaigns. Where will it end?


France is once again beset by the politics of the veil. After a 2004 ban on "all conspicuous" religious symbols in French state schools -- a measure that barred the wearing of crucifixes, Sikh turbans, and Jewish skullcaps but was clearly targeted at headscarf-wearing Muslims -- President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken it a step further.

Now he is pressing for a total ban on the public wearing of the full veil, or burqa, by Muslim women, framing the legislation in terms of national identity: "[The burqa] will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic," he said last year. The veil made women "prisoners behind netting" and "is not the idea the French republic has of women's dignity."

Indeed, the debate has a long history in France and is not merely a product of the right, though Sarkozy's opponents denounce it as a nakedly political attempt to attract anti-immigrant support. A powerful, and sometimes irrational, fear of religious influence -- once Catholic, now Muslim -- has long been a part of French society, through the anti-clerical campaigns of the 19th century and the anti-Jesuit paranoia of the Dreyfus affair. It's impossible to understand the burqa debate without understanding the nature of the polemics that shaped it.

Read the whole piece here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Last Surviving British Airborne Padre of WW2 Passes

May be hard to believe that this etheral looking young cleric got into a frail wooden and canvas glider with other troops, crash landed under fire in enemy territory, ministered to the living and the wounded, and buried the dead, but there was a whole generation of chaplains like Canon John Vaughan-Jones and they are now gone.

Again, kudos to nephew Tom for this link.

Veterans Transform Uniforms Into Art

Thanks to my nephew Tom for tipping me off to this page about the Combat Paper project, a Vermont, USA based project that allows veterans to turn their uniforms into paper and thus into art that allows them to tell their stories by creating "cathartic works of art. The uniforms are cut up, beat and formed into sheets of paper. Veterans use the transformative process of papermaking to reclaim their uniform as art and begin to embrace their experiences as a soldier in war."

Can there be too much marriage therapy?

Jessica Grose makes a good point, that the adage "perfect is the enemy of good enough" can apply to marriages as well. MP

Can This Marriage Be Fun?
Enough with all the marriage therapy!
By Jessica Grose in

Posted Thursday, April 29, 2010, at 10:04 AM ET

Last week, the editor-in-chief of Ladies Home Journal went on the Today show to promote the magazine's new series of webisodes, based on the iconic midcentury column "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" These snappy two-and-a-half-minute clips are meant to update the 57-year-old marriage-improvement series for a reality-TV age. A goofy man in an Unsolved Mysteries-style, trench coat narrates the couple's woes against a fake-gritty backdrop, with a fog machine blowing, before looking into the camera and asking the audience things like, "Will Robin choose her puppy over her hubby?"

But his lighthearted banter belies the enormity of the task at hand. The issues shown in these webisodes range from petty to serious and everything in between: There's good old "Robin" and her husband "Ted" who get a dog in order to pave over the problems in their relationship. "I think it's absolutely ridiculous to have a dog in bed with us," Ted rages. Another webisode features "Jim" and "Melissa," a "typical young couple" who have not had sex in years. Years! With no end date planned for the series, the webisodes will surely cover every possible marriage pitfall, from in-laws to bedtimes to incompatible dishwasher-loading techniques. It's enough to spook a girl off of marriage entirely. But I am getting married—in a little more than a month, in fact—and quite happy about it, so I am determined to take an entirely different view of the whole thing.

Read the whole piece here.

Can there be too much marriage therapy?

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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