Uncle Thor's Lessons, Anecdotes and Humor


The End of The Sordid Tale

The sordid tale of Dan Halloran ended in June when he entered prison. How he will emerge is anyone’s guess. Even if he appeals the sentence and gets it reduced, he will still spend years behind bars. Frankly, as long as he stays out of my path, I do not care.

Dan Halloran, leader of his own branch of Theodism and an elder in the Ring of Troth / Troth, made a bid for a New York City Council seat in 2009. Considering the size of New York, it is almost like being on the ruling council of a small country. Many Heathens approved of this. Quite a few suggested that even those who disliked Dan should support him. I declined. Heathen or not, I wanted nothing to do with him.

There were a few questionable elements to Halloran’s campaign. For one thing, he harped on his Irish Catholic roots during his election. That rankled a few Heathens. Halloran seemed to want to distance himself from Heathenism. Later, after a scathing Village Voice article pilloried him, Halloran remarked that he should have taken down his Theod website sooner.

In office, Halloran was a mixed bag. He was articulate and gave the Republican view on a few Sunday morning political talk shows. By the same token, during a blizzard he accused the Department of Sanitation workers of staging a work slowdown. That blew up in his face. Meanwhile, his personal life started taking damage. There was a matter of bankruptcy and a divorce caused by adultery. Dan had a dalliance with an intern half his age. The girl’s roomate gave a few unflattering statements about the portly politician. Halloran also had faced forelcosure.

The end of the matter was a corruption and bribery case in 2013. Halloran was indicted by the federal prosecutor for trying the buy a mayoral candidacy for a politician from the other party. There were other charges, Transcripts left little doubt as to what happened. In the end, Halloran was convicted and sentenced The judge was offended by Halloran’s demeanor, and indignant that Halloran was a civil servant and had once been a prosecutor. His sentence exceeded what had been asked by the Federal prosecutor. Dan received a ten year sentence with two years of supervised release.

A milepost for every up-and-coming ethic group, religion and social group is getting their members into places of public prominence. Elected offices, positions of authority, fame in sports and entertainment, and individuals who make a difference can take a group from obscurity and suspicion to mainstream acceptance. I am sure some of our fellow Heathens hoped for that with Halloran. However, prominence alone is no guarantor of acceptance. One who rises to the top brings both his assets and his flaws with him. Many a prominent person has been involved in a sordid scandal. Mainstream groups get no flak when one of theirs offends. Those not in the mainstream can have their reputations tarnished by the mischief of a conspicuous member of their group.

With any small up-and-coming group, each member is an ambassador. Fair or not, the reputation of the group can hinge on the example made by its members. The more prominent and conspicuous the member, the larger the impression he creates.

Say what you will about Dan Halloran, but his time in office did not do Heathenism’s reputation any good.

For our reputation, we need to be strict in deciding whom we will support. Otherwise, his or her actions could very well blow up in our faces. Just making it into a prominent position is not enough cause to lend our names and reputations to the person. We must also ascertain the degree of character that individual possesses. We do well to back a person of character, but risk humiliation if we support someone who is a character but lacks character.


The Need to Express

Life is to be expressed by each and every one of us, each in his or her own way. By doing what we love, we express more of Life. Denying ourselves that expression. only denies us more of the joy of Living. Life seeks expression. You see it in the world around you. You see it in the great galaxies and clusters in space. You see it in the deepest trenches in the sea, for even there, Life thrives. Life seeks expression. And whether your definition of Life includes Spirit, God or Gods, Intelligence, the One Mind, or simply Life, it is the force that propels us. Expression of Life is seen in art and play, work and creating, at home and afar. The Life force is behind our urge to discover and explore. It thrives in our deep sea exploration and our forays further and further into space. Life lives in our curiosity and search for answers. It is also what urges us to expand and grow.

Life starts with simplicity and grows into ever-increasing complexity.

Joy is a profound expression of Life.

Sometimes we lose touch with our past joys as we grow older. Maybe we think we need to “act our age.” Granted, a mature adult behaving like a spoiled brat is repulsive. On the other hand, a stodgy old fart is repulsive and too preoccupied with the June Bug up his butt to realize just how miserable he is. We can abandon the nonsense of the past without losing the joys.

We must keep our sense of wonder and our interest in the world around us.

We must understand that just as work is necessary, so are relaxation and play.

We need to realize that though many things can be measured by counting and weight and size, the most valuable cannot be measured at all.

We need to appreciate those occasions where the opportunity for joy presents itself. And we need to act accordingly.

Finally, we need to realize that age is just a number counting the planet’s revolutions around the Sun. That number has no bearing on our expression of Life.

Life is not always easy and pleasant. There are difficult times for most people. Few adults have avoided some kind of injury, disappointment or setback. By the same token., Life ought not always be miserable. Each of us has the power to overcome and to find success and joy. Each has within him and her the means to be better than circumstances. It all begins with a thought, an idea, a realization that the Life force is working within each of us. We have the power to express it and experience joy and fulfillment, each in his own way


I made it to 60 and I’m not dead!

This is the birthday that we thought might not happen. 60. A year ago at this time, I got winded going up half a flight of stairs. A couple months earlier, the bottom fell out of my breathing while taking a stress test. My life was winding itself down. Never mind that I had survived a heart attack over a decade before, nor that I made it through congestive heart failure two years earlier. That is not counting the close brushes with disaster in much younger days, from car accidents to brawls to looking down the barrel of a gun.

It turns out my cardiologist was going through a health crisis of his own that would force him to retire.

One of my responses was an old trick called “Bridging the Grim Reaper” or “Leaping over Hel.” I bought an electric locomotive: a pair of O gauge F7 A units in NYC markings. It was made by Williams before the company was bought out by Bachmann, and was still unused. This was the near side of the bridge. The far side was my goal to run that locomotive at Yule – the far side of the bridge. Staying alive would be the middle of the bridge. That train was nothing less than hedging my bet, so to speak.

Another cardiologist took over and figured out what the problem was. He had encountered it before and knew what was necessary. So it was that in November, I had open heart surgery to replace a valve. It was painful and difficult. I could not walk on my own for a few days afterward. I needed help taking a shower. Walking came back slowly a couple days before going home. Even then, recovery was agonizingly slow.

That train ran at Yule!

There were setbacks. I took ill in the second half of March. May and June saw problems with my legs and swelling that added 20 pounds in a week. These things were reversed and along with the added 20 pounds, another 20 were lost.

Getting my strength back has been gradual and slow. Nonetheless, there is progress.

Now I have turned 60. All this has made me examine things about health, life and age.

I can no longer do things I did in younger years. This is not due to age, but health. When feeling well, I tend to move briskly. The surgeon who operated on my heart noticed this when we first met. He said seeing how I walk and move about told him a lot about how to approach working on me. My case would be different from someone who moved slowly, as if he were sick. More and more, I can do things again.

Hopefully next year, I will be able to march the whole Memorial Day parade again. For now, I participate in various capacities. I am chaplain for my American Legion Post and our County committee. That requires attending Post meetings, county meetings and installation of officers ceremonies. I also participate in other things with my Post. We provide the squad that does the 21 Gun Salute at the Point Ceremony on Memorial Day. Though I could not march in the parade, I was able to be part of the firing squad again. Last week, I was part of the color guard for Freehold’s annual July 4th Reading of the Declaration of Independence. Granted, standing there at attention for an hour had a few tough moments, but they passed soon enough. In May, we were the firing squad for the dedication of a flagpole at Lake Topanemus park. As chaplain, I also wrote and read the invocation. And though I write a good non-denominational prayer when necessary, I usually start with “Father of All.” That’s part of being an interfaith minister whose own affiliation is rather Norse. I am the only Heathen chaplain around these parts, by the way.

Sunday we have an installation at Post 266. All I do is read one little invocation and I look cool. As with most of the posts in the county, I have good friends at 266 so it is a pleasure to be part of the ceremony. And that is one of the important things in Life: doing something meaningful for friends.

As to age, well, there we have a problem. Some people say “Act your age.” What they really mean is “Act like a stodgy boring old coot and fit in with the rest of the folks who have a June bug up their butts.”

No way! Age is a number and ought not be a constraint. I think of Great Uncle Billy (I had a couple of great uncles named Billy) who was 93 and fixed a gutter on his roof. His wife, my great aunt Mary, had been a schoolteacher in the days of one-room classrooms. That was multitasking! In her late 80s, she was fascinated with the space program and her favorite baseball team, the Mets. And by that time, she was blind, but it did not stop her from getting information. She felt that people who stop learning have stopped living.

My other Great Uncle Billy had a wooden leg and used a cane. I was at his 50th wedding anniversary back in 1962 or 1963. Uncle Billy was a big, loud, white-haired man who looked like Lee Marvin, but redder. I remember him often yelling at another great uncle, Uncle Nick, “Goddammit, Nick, stop your bullsh–tting and get in the car!” Uncle Nick was another old geezer with a cane who managed to get all over the place. He was active in a few organizations and was always selling raffle tickets for one or the other. Uncle Nick had a huge, boat-sized Cadillac by which means he made his rounds throughout Orange and Sullivan counties. They were in their 80s and still carrying on. I remember the time Uncle Nick and I went to the topless joint out on Route 209. That was a hoot!

Look at some of the examples I had, insofar as “aging gracefully”. Graceful my ass! There was nothing graceful about it. They did what they liked to do regardless of age or physical problems.

I still have a great time running O gauge trains and opening a new bag of army men. Audrey says that at age 60 I am still playing with the same toys I liked at age 6.

Age is a number, and injuries just slow you down a little. Health can inhibit sometimes, but ought never be allowed to dominate your life. You still count and can still do the things you like. Maybe not all the things, but most of them. You may have to make a few adjustments to do them, but you do not have to abandon them.

We are here to express Life. Each of us does this in his and her own way. Each of us is part of this greater thing. Supreme Being is an action and we are all part of it We are part of that flow of Life and our thing is to express it, each in his or her own way. And never forget that feeling of wonder that came with opening a new bag of army men, or going to run electric trains, or for the ladies, taking that new doll out of the box for the first time. By all meant, DON’T ACT YOUR AGE. Act your Life! Age is a number based on the earth’s revolution around the Sun. You can measure it by counting. You cannot measure Life by numbers or calculations, nor by length or width or depth or weight. Express yourself, express your Life!


Hatred is a self-induced poison.

This week, we saw the wreckage that came of hate. In my own county, a respected police officer gunned down his ex-wife in Asbury Park. He did this in broad daylight. The result is that their nine children will grow up without parents. His wife is dead and he is going to prison for a very long time. In Charleston, South Carolina, a hate-filled young man gunned down nine people holding a bible study. The boy was White and this victims were Black. Ironically, they invited him to join them when he showed up at the church. By all accounts, both the police officer’s ex-wife and the nine churchgoers were good people who had the love and respect of many. Coincidentally, the ex-wife was also active in her church.

These may seem like two very different events, but there is one point they share. Both are extreme acts of hate. Both hurt others and as a result, both of the perpetrators will suffer. The aftermath includes a dead mother, nine dead parishioners, and nine orphaned children. That number nine sticks out like a sore thumb. Hate destroys. In these cases, hate kills.

What can we do? The message is clear. We cannot allow hatred to take hold within ourselves. Likewise, we need to help our loved ones avoid the path to hatred. If we see a relative or friend becoming hateful, we need to step in and say something to them. We can try to derail their hate-immersed thinking. It may not be easy, but by the same token, we may save a life. At least we can help save someone the burden of his or her own hatred. Hate begins as a bad idea and it festers. Taking the fire from it allows it to cool and dissipate into nothingness.

This is not a matter that is cured by forgiveness. The real cure is ending the hate.

I am reminded of a Norse myth in which a fierce Giant’s heart was described as “sharp, three sided and cuts all ways.” That is hate. It hurts all with no thought of its victims as it grows to massive proportions. The way the myth ended is with the God Thor smiting the Giant in the head with his hammer. And. allegorically, it symbolizes the fact that the way to curb hate is to change the mind of the hater. Stopping the hateful thinking will kill the fire on which hate thrives.


A Cautionary Tale: The Lady and the Inmates

Another cautionary tale is playing out in the news. The woman who helped two inmates escape from the Clinton correctional facility in Dannemora, NY, has lost the support of her husband. He found out there might have been a plot to have the two escapees murder him. Just as upsetting is the fact that his wife had been having sex with the inmates while at work. The 51 year old woman is in jail and faces a trial and a sentence of up to 8 years.

Obviously, she lost sight of WHAT the inmates were and focused on WHO she wanted them to be. It brings up something I posted in 2008 that bears repeating. Here is the 2008 article:
This is a very old story. A version of it was made into a popular song some time during the 1950s. In that version, the main character was a woman. There is an earlier prose version where the main person is an Indian. That is the one I heard first.
The story:

An Indian was climbing down a mountain. It was cold atop the mountain. Along the way, he saw a snake on one of the ledges. The snake was dying of cold. The Indian was going to pass the snake, but the serpent heard him and weakly called for help.

“Please! I am dying of cold. Please carry me down the mountain and place me in the warm sun.”

“ I cannot do that! You are a snake ! You will bite me!” replied the Indian.

The snake cried, “Please! I will not bite you! Please help me! I am dying of cold!”

“You say that, but you are a snake. I will not carry you!” the Indian said.

The snake sighed. “Please help me. I will not bite you. No reasonable creature would harm someone who helped him. “

The Indian thought for a moment. “Certainly, this snake sounds reasonable. I think it is be safe to help him.”

The Indian picked up the snake and put it under his coat to keep it warm. He carefully climbed down the mountain. The Indian could feel the snake getting better as it became warmer.

Finally they reached the bottom of the mountain. It was warm there.

“Please put me on the rocks in the sun,” said the snake.

The Indian placed the revived reptile on a warm, sub-bathed stone. As soon as he set the snake down, it bit him. The Indian could feel it inject his venom into him as it bit.

“Why did you bite me? You promised not to do that. You deceived me! You are poisonous and now I am going to die!” the Indian exclaimed.

“Why are you so surprised, foolish man! You knew what I was before you picked me up,” said the snake.

It is said that the snake is the animal that bites the hand that feeds it.

The moral of the story is evident. A thing is just what it is. No pleading, excuses or promises will change that. If you know it is dangerous, then it is your fault if you ignore that fact.

Once again, we find the Mannar Rune in all its glory. Here was a case of the What – the thing – and what it claims to be. The snake wanted it Indian to forget it was a snake, and instead treat it as a fellow creature in need of help. By overlooking the animal’s identity on favor of its promises, he fell victim to its true nature.
This is a useful tale that teaches a powerful lesson to those who listen.

And therein lies the rub! The woman was an employee at a correctional facility with a notorious reputation for holding some of the most dangerous and violent criminals. The two with whom she became cozy were both murderers. One shot a deputy numerous times and then ran him over with a car. The other tortured and murdered his employer, and then hacked up the body. Did she think this was some kind of adventure or a forbidden romance? The plain fact remained that these men are career criminals with a particularly violent past.

It is important that you know the WHO and the WHAT of the people with whom you deal. You have to remember that as much as the individual, the WHO, may be a nice fellow or gal, there is still the WHAT. In my experience, most people do not change all that much. If the person had been a known criminal, there is a good chance he or she might do it again.

When you hear of a woman working in a prison getting all chummy with the residents, think of the story of the Indian and the Snake. Like the Indian in the story, that woman knew what she was looking at before she got warm and fuzzy for him. It is not just WHO a person is but WHAT he does and WHAT he has done in the past.


There are people who have overcome a bad past, be it crime, addiction or some other bad thing. It took a tremendous and sustained effort over a long time to do it. Such people are few and far between. Most career criminals and those with bad habits do not have the desire, the willingness nor the persistence to make that change. The few who do make it are an uncommon lot as there are not many who would give it the necessary commitment. I have been fortunate to know more than a few who have overcome their woes. What they had in common was the desire to be better and the willingness to go to any length to achieve it.

I have heard commitment explained thus: “I had bacon and eggs this morning. The chicken took part in my breakfast. But that pig, he was committed!”


Rage and Reality

In a custody dispute, people can become enraged and irrational. Sometimes people who ought to know better take it too far. Tuesday saw an extreme case play out in Asbury Park. A Neptune police lieutenant chased his ex-wife’s car into Asbury Park. She hit a parked car and he rammed hers, then emerged with pistol in hand. He fired a dozen shots into her. Their seven-year-old daughter was in the back seat. She is one of nine children.

The Neptune officer raised his pistol to his head several times but could not pull the trigger. He finally gave up to the police. The man was heard to complain that he was tired of going to court and did not want to be kept from seeing his children. Tonight, his own actions made his worst fears come true.

Nine children had two parents, albeit estranged, when the awoke Tuesday morning. By nightfall, they had none. One was dead and the other was on his way into the justice system, charged with murder. Undoubtedly, the children are hurt and are confused and the one who witnessed it all is terribly shaken. By this time, the father / shooter probably knows all too well the outcome of his uncontrolled rage. He is an experienced police officer and is well familiar with the way cases like his play out in the criminal justice system.

I was told this particular officer was well-liked. He was involved with the community and did many things for his town. A family loses two parents and a community loses an asset.

Rage has to be controlled. The failure to control it can lead to irreparable harm and the most dire of consequences. Jails are full of people who did not put the brakes to their anger. Instead, they let it fester and then allowed it to do their thinking. The ironic part of it is that for all the damage they may do to the object of their anger, they often hurt themselves at least as much, if not more.

Tuesday, June 16 brought us another example of the futility of unbridled rage. We need to be vigilant of our own extreme emotions. Anger is an emotion that has fire to it. Anger can plug into raw instinct if we do not keep a lid on it. A person’s anger does not justify an outburst nor any more extreme action. It does not excuse a rash of badly-chosen words and it certainly does not mitigate any acts of harm done from rage.

Tonight, nine children are without the company of their parents. All this because a man who should have known better let his anger rule his thinking. If you find this all sad, all the more reason to make sure you keep your anger out of the driver’s seat of your mind.


Blame It or Fix it: Responsibility

I am in a lot of pain. I managed to do the Point Ceremony at Elk’s point for Memorial Day. However, that was all. And even that required endurance. I could not march in the parade. We got back to the Post, and after a few minutes I had to call it a day. The past 12 months have been a series of episodes where I find myself fighting for my life.

Nobody asks for heart disease or diabetes or any other ailment. Nobody wants to be sick. Despite our wishes, these things may come upon us. Sure, some folks will whine and bemoan fate or blame their God or Devil or Karma. That is superstitious thinking and accomplishes nothing. For instance, some may think that their God is punishing them for something. That is ridiculous. No deity is going to spank you as if you are an overgrown brat. That is not how it works. Whatever had befallen you is a just a natural consequence of living. It may fall on some and never come near anyone else. This is not a Divine thing. It is just the working out of. unrelated causes and things. Consider this: when you were a child, do you think a God or Devil singled you out and gave you the mumps or the chickenpox? Did it also single out some of your classmates who also got it? It is more reasonable that a contagious germ was getting around and you were vulnerable. That is all.

Getting ill or having misfortune is probably not your fault. I say probably because there are a few misguided people who are the authors of their own woes. These are the same people who blame God, Goddess, Gods, Devils, Spirits or Karma. Most people are not the authors of their problems. That does not exempt you from your responsibility. Here is how it works, folks:

You are likely not responsible for your troubles, but if they befall you, you are responsible for seeking a remedy. You are the one who is responsible for finding and implementing a solution to the problem.. If you are sick, see a doctor. If your house gets hit by a landslide, seek shelter and work on finding a new place to live. You are responsible for dealing with it.

You need not do it all alone. Get the right kind of help. Instead of seeking advice from the local windbag gossip, avail yourself of the help you need. Maybe you need to speak to a trusted friend to help clarify things first. Maybe you need professional help. For ailments, a doctor. For legal trouble, a lawyer. For leaky faucets, call a plumber. Take the focus away from the problem and put it on discovering and implementing the right solution.

Life is unfair. So what? It is unfair for everyone. That is just the way it is.

For me, there was another trip to the doctor this morning. Hopefully we can nail this thing. More tests, more things to do. Doing gets things done. And keep this in mind: It might not be your fault if it – whatever it is – befalls you. If it does befall you, however, it is your responsibility to do something about it.


ISIL: Opportunist State

The so-called ISIL caliphate is an opportunist government. It emerged initially in the power vacuum caused by the Syrian civil war. ISIL was able to expand rapidly by filling in another power vacuum in Iraq. The caliphate was welcomed by Sunnites seeking some kind of way to deal with the injustices of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government.

In the grand scheme of things, ISIL is a place-holder. Nature abhors a vacuum. Just as with physics, so it is with politics and government. Its ability to stand has been augmented by the kind of leadership and technical expertise ISIL has been able to attract. Further acquisition of oilfields and money plundered from banks in conquered areas had provided the wealth to fuel its existence and its war machine. If there is any doubt that ISIL is a lucky opportunist, consider that it brought almost no military ordnance of its own except infantry weapons. All of ISIL’s tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons were captured from fleeing Syrian and Iraqi forces. And while there are some shady arms dealers who are doubtlessly selling their wares to the caliphate, none are significant enough to provide heavy weapons and armored fighting vehicles in quantities worth noting.

ISIL has been able to attract fighters from across the Muslim world, most of whom are Middle Eastern Arabs, Chechens, Dagestanis and Pakistanis. Many come with military training via the national armies of their home nations. Some even have prior combat experience. I do not know what percentage of enlistees have prior military experience, but these men can be integrated into existing ISIL units rather quickly. Among them are the men who have training to use the many weapons systems that ISIL captured. Tank crewmen, artillery gun crews, communications men and crewmen for heavy infantry weapons come already trained. Any tank, artillery piece or heavy weapon made from 1950 to the present can be put to almost immediate use.

ISIL’s leaders are not a bunch of ragged sand people. All evidence shows that they train their troops and provide good small-unit leadership. Their forces are disciplined enough to provide a credible threat to the Syrian factions and Iraq. It is no wonder that the force that has withstood them firmly, the Kurds, are also disciplined and trained fighters.

At the top, ISIL has people who can handle money and who can run oil operations. They also have people who can sell the oil in bulk on the black market. Just as they have done well with Internet media and recruitment, so they have been able to maintain a working economy.

For all they have, ISIL can only stand so long as the power vacuum continues. For all its bluster and noise, it is an aberration rather than a phenomenon. ISIL has almost no air power and no notable allies. Its shipping is not much different than smuggling. ISIL has neither a maritime nor an air cargo fleet. Military hardware is mostly what it has captured. Acquiring more via arms deals will yield little. The problem is not just buying it, but getting it to ISIL territory. One thing ISIL cannot survive is the war of attrition. The caliphate can be worn down by the slow and inexorable losses of military hardware, manpower and essentials for its economy.

ISIL can stand alone for the present. When the time comes that it needs allies and economic partners, its days are numbered. No stable government would ally with ISIL for a variety of reasons. Likewise, none will enter into an economic agreement with the caliphate. Ironically, ISIL has made enemies of nations that are inimical to one another. The Arab Gulf States and Iran both oppose it, even as they have their own cold war pitting Arabs against Persians. There seems to be some kind of non-aggression deal with Turkey, but that can unravel quickly. Without allies and a stable form of trade, ISIL will last only as long as its existing supplies of manpower, ordnance, food and fuel. Its survival depends on its ability to provide for itself with the means under its immediate control. That will also dwindle.

ISIL can fall apart in several ways. It may implode from within, splitting into hostile factions. It may be overcome from without by a stronger power, such as Turkey. And it may just crumble, its downfall accelerating as its infrastructure collapses. ISIL is a fierce dragon today, but once the region begins to stabilize, it will become a little sand lizard scurrying for cover.


Ramadi Plus 1

I said it last night: a big part of the current trouble in Iraq is based on sectarian strife. The Shiites who now control the Iraqi government are one faction, the others being Iraq’s Sunnite Muslims and the Kurds. While the Kurds are content to stand their ground for their own people, the dynamic between Shiite and Sunnite Iraqis is a major contributor to the current mess.

During the rule of the previous Iraqi prime minister, a Al Maliki, troubles began. Al Maliki was part of the Shiite majority. Two things happened on his watch. First, he let the Iraqi army deteriorate. Second, Al Maliki’s policies made the Sunnite minority feel oppressed and disenfranchised. Under his party’s rule, Iraq was becoming a Shiite state. Of course, he enjoyed the friendship of the neighbor to the East, Iran. Meanwhile, the Sunnites felt persecuted and cheated. That discontent led several Sunnite tribes to invite ISIL into the country.

Have we seen this before? Those of a certain age may remember the photo on the front page of the Daily News from the 1960s. A Vietnamese Buddhist monk had sat in the pose of meditation and set himself on fire. He was protesting the Catholic-dominated government’s unfair treatment of Buddhists. Some of the fellows stationed in Vietnam at the time felt that this was a sign that South Vietnam could not stand because of this division along sectarian lines. In any case, the rift between Catholic and Buddhist certainly eroded South Vietnam’s cohesiveness.

Buddhist and Catholics on one side, Sunnites and Shiites on the other. The current Iraqi government that promised to mend the rift between Shiite and Sunnite has decided to send in Shiite militias to re-take Ramadi. These are the same militias used to take Tikrit, another Sunnite city. These same militias were accused of atrocities against civilians. The militias are supported by Iran. You can be sure that the re-taking of Ramadi will be a horror show.

Perhaps the only solution to Iraq is to divide it into three countries: Kurdistan in the North, a Shiite state to the center and East, and Sunnite country to the West. You can be sure that in the midst of the split will be a lot of squabbling over oil.


Ramadi Again

The fall of Ramadi to ISIL further illustrates the quagmire that is Iraq. ISIL has shown that it has more resolve, initiative, cohesion and a sense of direction. Iraq is fractious and lacks the resolve necessary to successfully defend its territory. The only sturdy element is its autonomous Kurdish people. ISIL has learned to lessen its activities against the Kurds, who fight back hard, and aim at the Shiite-dominated parts of the country. Why risk the chance of more setbacks by attacking a hardened foe when you can make gains against a weaker one?

ISIL could never have emerged prior to the fall of Iraq and the civil war in Syria. Saddam provided unity and direction to the old Iraqi nation. Assad did the same for Syria. The new Iraqi government does neither. The various factions of Syria do not have the power to annihilate ISIL. It is the Kurds who have done best against the caliphate. The Kurds are united and willing to follow direction necessary to win.

The Iraqi forces in Ramadi had been told to hold their positions and that help was on the way. They were low on ammunition and isolated. “Help” was going to be too late, if it arrived at all. Nobody can blame the soldiers and policemen for retreating under those circumstances. The people to blame are the commanders of the Iraqi army and the political leadership.

What makes ISIL so difficult an adversary? For one thing ,they draw troops from all over the Muslim world. Most are Arab. A few are Russians: Chechens and Dagestanis. Some are Bosnian, or Pakistani. ISIL offers a good salary, by Middle Eastern standards. In a part of the world where the gulf between rich and poor is wide, and unemployment can be over 50%, the appeal is obvious. A young man can sign on and send home enough money for his extended family to live comfortably. These people are so poor that the risk to life and limb is worth it if it means helping the family. (We had a similar thing here during the Civil War. Several states offered hefty recruitment bonuses. New York, a major port of debarkation for Irish immigrants, offered $300. One or two of the oldest sons would enlist, giving the family enough money to buy a small farm. These people were so poor the risk was worth it.)

ISIL attracts fighters from various countries, Several have Universal Conscription, meaning all men must serve in the military for one to two years. A percentage of their recruits already have military training and experience. Some even have combat experience. From these, it is no problem to develop a cadre to train inexperienced fighters. ISIL’s experienced troops come from armies who may have had training based on Russian, British, French or American standards. They can easily find men trained to handle the full gamut of military equipment such as heavy weapons, artillery and tanks.

To be fair, most of the training was not up to Western standards. It can be considered a “lighter” form of training than Western armies give their own troops. This means that ISIL has good small-unit leadership because it gets its troops to perform well on the battlefield. (As General Pershing said, a good leader can get mediocre troops to perform well.)

Iraq has put its sectarian divisions and the goals of its political leadership ahead of the Iraqi nation as a whole. ISIL controls Sunnite territories. The majority Shiite government does not seem too alarmed about that. Perhaps they feel that if the Shiite areas were seriously threatened, Iran might join the fight. As for the US involvement in air strikes: is it really meant to preserve Iraq? Or are we striking in Iraq and Syria as a pre-emptive measure to keep ISIL away from our other allies such as Jordan and Israel?

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