Too Busy to Read

[Dear, “Bill”]

The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.

Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.

With [Task Force] 58, I had w/ me Slim’s book, books about the Russian and British experiences in [Afghanistan], and a couple others. Going into Iraq, “The Siege” (about the Brits’ defeat at Al Kut in WW I) was req’d reading for field grade officers. I also had Slim’s book; reviewed T.E. Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”; a good book about the life of Gertrude Bell (the Brit archaeologist who virtually founded the modern Iraq state in the aftermath of WW I and the fall of the Ottoman empire); and “From Beirut to Jerusalem”. I also went deeply into Liddell Hart’s book on Sherman, and Fuller’s book on Alexander the Great got a lot of my attention (although I never imagined that my HQ would end up only 500 meters from where he lay in state in Babylon).

Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.

For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.

We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession. As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don’t know a hell of a lot more than just the [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures]? What happens when you’re on a dynamic battlefield and things are changing faster than higher [Headquarters] can stay abreast? Do you not adapt because you cannot conceptualize faster than the enemy’s adaptation? (Darwin has a pretty good theory about the outcome for those who cannot adapt to changing circumstance — in the information age things can change rather abruptly and at warp speed, especially the moral high ground which our regimented thinkers cede far too quickly in our recent fights.) And how can you be a sentinel and not have your unit caught flat-footed if you don’t know what the warning signs are — that your unit’s preps are not sufficient for the specifics of a tasking that you have not anticipated?

Perhaps if you are in support functions waiting on the warfighters to spell out the specifics of what you are to do, you can avoid the consequences of not reading. Those who must adapt to overcoming an independent enemy’s will are not allowed that luxury.

This is not new to the USMC approach to warfighting — Going into Kuwait 12 years ago, I read (and reread) Rommel’s Papers (remember “Kampstaffel”?), Montgomery’s book (“Eyes Officers”…), “Grant Takes Command” (need for commanders to get along, “commanders’ relationships” being more important than “command relationships”), and some others.

As a result, the enemy has paid when I had the opportunity to go against them, and I believe that many of my young guys lived because I didn’t waste their lives because I didn’t have the vision in my mind of how to destroy the enemy at least cost to our guys and to the innocents on the battlefields.

Hope this answers your question…. I will cc my ADC in the event he can add to this. He is the only officer I know who has read more than I.

Semper Fi, [James] Mattis

Posted in Church | Leave a comment

How to Raise a Puppy

Part of being a benevolent leader is learning the characteristics of good training: patience, fairness, consistency, attentiveness, and intelligence.  good trainers might occasionally feel impatience with a dog, but they always do their best to avoid showing it.  They take a long view of the training process and don’t try to do too much too quickly, building methodically one step at a time.  They keep their anger in check when things aren’t going as planned and realize that a calm and quiet approach vis-a-vis their pup is more helpful.  With that sort of self-possession a trainer can be flexible, responding to what the dog needs rather than reacting to mistakes.

Let us be clear here: this doesn’t mean being lax.  In training, letting the dog ignore known commands or get away with unacceptable behavior is always a formula for future problems. Take the time necessary to be fair and consistent.  If you give a command, make sure to enforce it, and use only commands that you know the dog understands and that you can impose.  For example, don’t try recalling a puppy without some sort of light leash or tether to guide the pup’s response. A pup who learns that she doesn’t have to come every time you call will return only when she feels like it, which will lead to much frustration and consternation.

You can do this, but first you must be aware of how dogs do and do not learn, how they communicate, and which of your own attitudes draw out the best qualities in your dog.

We remember one client who came to us for advice regarding his four-month-old rottweiler puppy, who was starting to grown at strangers. When we went to meet the client ahd his dog, they were sitting on a bench in our front yard.  As we approached, the pup started to growl in a low, threatening ton, and the owner quickly tried to rassure him with a soothing voice, saying, “It’s ok, boy, it’s oookay. Goood boy, goooood boy, eeeasy.” gently rubbing him on his side as he did so. Naturally, the growling only grew worse, and the man looked up helplessly, wondering what to do.  Fortunately, we were able to settle the puppy down by taking a short walk with him, and after several minutes he became very accepting and friendly.  The owner then complained, “I don’t understand it.  He’s such a good pup, and yet he has this thing about growling.”  We explained to the baffled owner that the pup was merely doing what he was told.  Reviewing with him his reactions during the incident, we showed him that he was unintentionally rewarding the puppy’s growling by his soft praise and petting.  The only message the puppy was receiving was “This is the way to act.”

We cannot say that this pup was “disobedient.”  Instead, we can see that the owner misunderstood what he was communicating and was ignorant of how to show his true intent in a clear, authoritative way.

To Obey is to Hear

In dog training, most people understand obedience as something the dog does in response to his handler: the dog is the one who is obedient or not.  This is only half true.  Obedience comes from the Latin word oboedire, which in turn is cognate to obaudire, meaning “to listen, to hear” — by extension, this implies acting on what is heard.  Contrary to popular thought, obedience is as much your responsibility as it is your dog’s — even more so, since you are accountable for shaping your pup’s behavior to fit your living circumstances.  the problem with many owners is that they fail to listen and to respond to the real needs of their dogs; unknowingly, the owners are disobedient.

To be a good companion to your dog, you must be obedient – that is, fully alert and focused on your pup, flexible enough to adapt your approach instantly to his needs.  As odd as it may sound, your dog does not know what is best for him; you do, but only by being truly obedient to him.

Brother thomas, who was the driving force behind the training program here at New Skete until he died in a tragic automobile accident in 1973, had this insight into obedience:

Learning the value of silence is learning to listen to, instead of screaming at, reality: opening your mind enough to find what the end of someone else’s sentence sounds like, or listening to a dog until you discover what is needed instead of imposing yourself in the name of training.

This kind of obedience comes only with time, patience, and study, by learning different techniques and methods of training and using them in different circumstances and, if possible, with different types of dogs.  Because dogs are individuals, not all respond in the same way to particular training methods, Remember Anka’s litter: were we to train Yola in the same way as Sunny, we would probably only compound her submissive, shy personality.  In education, teachers discover from working with different children that they must be flexible adapting a variety of teaching methods to individual students.  A rigorous, highly structured program that is effective with one child may be disastrous with another.  The same is true in dog training.  Part of training means that you become a student of your dog and employ an approach that brings out the best in him.

In discussing training, we will not present you with one absolute method of teaching your pup.  We will try instead to point out some general principles that are important cornerstones for all good training and then show you how there can be applied to different dogs.  This will help you understand and deal with the particular requirements of your own puppy.  Working with dogs of all sizes breeds, temperaments, and personalities, we have learned that limiting yourself to a singular method of training is a serious mistake.  Trainers who insist that only one kind of training works (their own) betray their own ignorance and pride, and close themselves off from a real understanding of dogs.

-The Art of Raising a Puppy, pp166-168. by the Monks of New Skete, copyright 2011

Posted in Church | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1963

NOVEMBER 5, 1963.

Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.

So too when the colonies achieved their independence, our first President in the first year of his first Administration proclaimed November 26, 1789, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty god” and called upon the people of the new republic to “beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions… to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue… and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”

And so too, in the midst of America’s tragic civil war, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November 1863 as a day to renew our gratitude for America’s “fruitful fields,” for our “national strength and vigor,” and for all our “singular deliverances and blessings.”

Much time has passed since the first colonists came to rocky shores and dark forests of an unknown continent, much time since President Washington led a young people into the experience of nationhood, much time since President Lincoln saw the American nation through the ordeal of fraternal war – and in these years our population, our plenty and our power have all grown apace. Today we are a nation of nearly two hundred million souls, stretching from coast to coast, on into the Pacific and north toward the Arctic, a nation enjoying the fruits of an ever-expanding agriculture and industry and achieving standards of living unknown in previous history. We give our humble thanks for this.

Yet, as our power has grown, so has our peril. Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers – for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.

Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings – let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals – and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOHN F. KENNEDY, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of the Congress approved December 26, 1941, 55 Stat. 862 (5 U.S.C. 87b), designating the fourth Thursday of November in each year as Thanksgiving Day, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 28, 1963, as a day of national thanksgiving.

On that day let us gather in sanctuaries dedicated to worship and in homes blessed by family affection to express our gratitude for the glorious gifts of God; and let us earnestly and humbly pray that He will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
DONE at the City of Washington this fourth day of November, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and eighty-eighth.


Posted in Currents | Leave a comment

A Large Tent

I like large tents both when camping and in life. Now, while I’m Catholic because I think it true, I very much appreciate that it is a large tent. A very large tent, an order of magnitude larger than any other tent around, with nested tents within itself – far more intricate than any set of Russian dolls.  This very ‘nesting’ of tents is essential to the Church, in my opinion, since different folks are different in their interactions: what would seem claustrophobic to some would seem like wide open spaces to others and so any organization (not that the Church is merely an organization) that would aim to be universal MUST have a nested organizational structure.

For any large organization to cohere, there needs to be both solidarity – we’re all in this together – and subsidiarity – there’s no substitute for being close. Keeping these together is difficult to  discuss briefly; however, Robert Frost’s wonderful sonnet The Silken Tent does very well in describing the Church:

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware. 


Posted in Church | Leave a comment

Gnostic Liberalism

Robert George writes in the December 2016 edition of First Things:

The idea that human beings are non-bodily persons inhabiting non-personal bodies never quite goes away. Although the mainstreams of Christianity and Judaism long ago rejected it, what is sometimes described as “body-self dualism” is back with a vengeance, and its followers are legion. Whether in the courts, on campus, or at boardroom tables, it underwrites and shapes the expressive individualism and social liberalism that are ascendant.

Christianity’s rejection of body-self dualism answered the challenge to orthodoxy posed by what was known as “Gnosticism.” Gnosticism comprised a variety of ideologies, some ascetical, others quite the opposite. What they held in common was an understanding of the human being—an anthropology—that sharply divides the material or bodily, on the one hand, and the spiritual or mental or affective, on the other. For Gnostics, it was the immaterial, the mental, the affective that ultimately matters. Applied to the human person, this means that the material or bodily is inferior—if not a prison to escape, certainly a mere instrument to be manipulated to serve the goals of the “person,” understood as the spirit or mind or psyche. The self is a spiritual or mental substance; the body, its merely material vehicle. You and I, as persons, are identified entirely with the spirit or mind or psyche, and not at all (or in only the most highly attenuated sense) with the body that we occupy (or are somehow “associated with”) and use.

Against such dualism, the anti-Gnostic position asserts a view of the human person as a dynamic unity: a personal body, a bodily self. This rival vision is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian teaching. This is not to suggest that Christian teaching rules out the view that the individual is numerically identical with his or her immaterial soul. Contemporary Christian thinkers are divided on whether the separated soul is numerically distinct from the human person, or is just the person in radically mutilated form. They agree, however, on the essential point, namely, that the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person (or “self”), but is an integral part of the personal reality of the human being. Christ is resurrected bodily.

Well worth reading


Posted in Church | Leave a comment

On Ryszard Legutko

Ryszard Legutko is a Polish philosopher and politician. His book, recently translated into English, ‘The Demon in Democracy‘ provides a useful perspective on current American politics.
which begins with:

One can look at the affinities between communism and liberal democracy from both a narrower and a wider prospect. The narrower point of view may lead us to a sad conclusion that the modern Western world never really understood quite correctly the communist experience and if it did, it never took seriously the lessons that followed from it. When looked at more broadly, the examination of those affinities may give grounds for a conclusion more daring, namely, that the two regimes stem from the same root, or, more precisely, from the same, not particularly good, inclination of the modern man, persistently revealing itself under different political circumstances. This is assuredly not the only disquieting inclination the modern man has given in to, bearing in mind the bloody history of Europe and America in the last centuries. But the story of the relationship between communism and liberal democracy is of particular importance, as it is about the systems which were hailed and sincerely believed to be the greatest hopes of mankind. The story is thus not only about politics, but, indirectly, about the aspirations and dreams of the modern man.

The book argued that the modern man who was the inspiring force of the two political systems was a mediocrity, not by nature, but, so to speak, by design, and from the beginning was expected to be indifferent to great moral challenges and unaware of the danger of a moral fall. Such was, more or less, a picture which the early modern thinkers created – mostly in opposition to the classical and Christian views of human nature – and which, within a few centuries, managed to overcome virtually all of its competitors. Both regimes imagined man as a creature of common qualities whose commonness made him perceive the world through his own narrow vision and therefore naturally inclined to reduce art, ideas, education – contrary to the old view which had attributed to them an elevating power – to his own dimensions.

Posted in Church | Leave a comment

Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders For Our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, proclaiming Christ crucified, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort.  Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. My own investigations center around the apparent paradox of Christologies seeming to be close together when their related Ecclesiologies are far apart. My booklist (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on at most 24 books of primary importance), finalized in 2016 is:

  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours, unabridged
  • The Confessions; by Saint Augustine
  • Commentary on Job; St Thomas Aquinas
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Sixteen Plays;  by William Shakespeare
  • Oxford Book of English Verse; 1999
  • Collected Poems & Prose; Robert Frost
  • Dylan’s Visions of Sin; Christopher Ricks
  • Pride and Prejudice; by Jane Austen
  • Brideshead Revisited; Evelyn Waugh
  • The Golden Bowl; by Henry James
  • Understanding Analysis; S. Abbott
  • Measure and Category; J. Oxtoby
  • Catholic Church History; Hitchcock
  • Veritatis Splendor; Saint John Paul II
  • Genesis commentary; R. R. Reno
  • Exodus; Thomas Joseph White, OP
  • Jesus of Nazareth; Pope Benedict XVI
  • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

Essential to the culture of the Appalachian Riders For Our Lady is participation in daily Mass at our particular parishes (7am Mass at St Ambrose in Salt Lake City  in my case) and our encouragement of increasing use of the Liturgy of the Hours.


Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

The foundation of everything is Christ Jesus, and him crucified. However, beyond the personal aspects of that, what are the implications for our social relationships?

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, the Bride of Christ, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose chief steward is the bishop of Rome. Besides addressing those preliminary questions, I intend to commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer.

I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically rather than ecclesiologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can “check one’s answers”– the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community.

On a personal level, I think the core of the Protestant error centers on the attempt to place faith above love (see Luther’s commentary on Galatians) contra Saint Paul and the Catholic tradition.

Posted in Church, Currents | Tagged | Leave a comment