Thursday, July 12, 2007


The real treat of last Tuesday’s trip to Annapolis was not simply the opportunity to see inside the Naval Academy, but the personal attention we received from Dr. Stephen Wrage, constitutional scholar and professor of ethics at the United States Naval Academy. Wrage, a former gardener on the Close and teacher at St. Albans, enthusiastically devoted his afternoon to directing an extremely informative tour of the Academy grounds and leading a discussion of current issues facing young officers and the military establishment. Although professionally affiliated with the Academy, Wrage is not a recruiter and does not present an idealist’s view of military life. He did, however, convey a heartfelt sense of respect for and even awe of the mindful sense of duty, discipline and personal and team achievement ingrained in the young women and men he teaches. “This is in many ways a bizarre place,” said Wrage. “A graduate of the service academies tends to think of themselves as a different kind of person from civilians.” And that, perhaps, is the rub.

One of the problems with creating that sense of identity, particularly strong among Marines according to Wrage, in an all-volunteer force is the increasing tendency to separate civilian and military sphere of life. Military service, while earning the respect of the public (unlike journalists and politicians), is no longer a shared experience of citizens in the Republic. Only one member of Congress, Senator Tim Johnson, had a son serving in the military when it voted to approve the invasion of Iraq. The war in Iraq even now, four years after it began, tends to have little impact on the everyday lives of Americans who do not have a serviceman in the family, yet it is THE overarching concern of those who serve and their loved-ones. Or how much do we in the civilian world sacrifice on a day-to-day basis for the so-called War on Terror? While we had limited time to vet such issues thoroughly, Wrage managed to stimulate the grey matter by presenting a few cases dealing with the exclusivity of the current officers’ mess. “I get nervous when I hear midshipmen refer to certain elements of society as parasites that should be eliminated,” said Wrage, “or when the military is brought out to handle essentially civilian matters.” Wrage brought up the example of Rome and the increasing role the military played in politics as it morphed from a republic into an empire, a case perhaps we should all study as we contemplate US foreign policy.
While we readily grasp the service that our military personnel provide to this country and certainly got an insider’s view of the training and dedication of our future Naval officers while in Annapolis, let us not forget the service that people such as Dr. Wrage provide by their commitment to education; it is encouraging to know that our future military leaders not only receive the best advanced technical training, but that they are also challenged by teachers such as Wrage to consider philosophy and history in order to make sound and moral judgments.

Monday, July 9, 2007


Monday’s case study of General Petraeus in Mosul gave us a glimpse of just a few of the problems facing the US Army as it continues to attempt to stabilize the situation in Iraq following the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Despite the myriad problems he faced in Mosul, Petreaus, as commander of the 101st Airborne Division, found himself in a position to make a real and positive contribution to rebuilding normal life for many Iraqis and decided to act. Though Gen. Petraeus certainly took the bull by the horns during the summer and fall of 2003, seized the initiative (few other agencies were prepared to go in), and made great strides towards post-conflict reconstruction in the northern Nineveh Province – 45 days after landing in Mosul the 101st had restored power and water, carried out regional elections, were training and equipping local police forces, had fostered local media outlets, and even had a sports program in place -- much of his success proved short-lived as the insurgency gained force and many of his creatively-designed projects ran afoul of US politicians. Whatever your view on using US military forces for so-called nation-building projects, General Petraeus’ work in northern Iraq provides us with a good glimpse of real leadership in action. Among many of the issues we discussed in class, the following positive attributes are worth repeating:

- Think strategically, but don’t forget the details
- Be flexible and willing to make constant adjustments
- Be prepared to mediate personally
- Take risks
- Seize opportunities when they present themselves
- Listen to all sides
- Respect the people you work with
- Listen to and seek the advice of subordinates
- Reward individual initiative
- Keep everyone informed of what you’re doing and why
- Maintain enthusiasm and sense of humor
- Never be above an occasional apology
- Admit mistakes and learn from them
- Set the tone; establish a common culture among your people
- Be an example

And one that will please our intrepid Ms. Woods and one that rarely goes unheeded by organizations in DC: Employ a lot of lawyers.
Follow the stories of our troops on the front line as they grapple with the problems of "Nation Building"

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Public Health, Public Policy and Public Service

Why do so many people so quickly associate public service with politics, and more specifically with politicians? Perhaps it is because the political process and law-making have become so important to effecting real change in public life. And it is more and more difficult to escape the orbit of governmental policy and its directing influence on our private lives as well. The fact is, that whether it is in attempting to regulate imports from China or a biology class in public high school, politicians play an increasingly paternalistic role in American life. Therefore, more and more players from all walks of life are called into the ring of public policy formation. The interaction of scholar, activist, media star, and politician has serious implications for directing public attention and project funding.

Public service careers, therefore, span a myriad of professional and educational backgrounds and involve more than just elected officials. Proving the point, Dr. Anthony Fauci reflected upon his own career in public service as senior AIDS researcher and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Throughout his presentation, Fauci emphasized the accidental in most people’s lives, how seemingly small twists, turns, and decisions along the way come to effect career paths and life work. Fauci hails from a rather modest background among the Italian immigrant community of Brooklyn New York, where his father operated a small pharmacy. Fauci's secondary school choice seems to have had a formidable impact on developing his committment to service (see the Regis mission statement above). He attended Regis High School (a highly competitive Jesuit institution that charges no fees to those boys accepted) and Holy Cross College where he pursued his studies of the Classics, a major that few today recognize as valid or practical for the modern professional (Dr. Wrage of the US Naval Academy, it should be pointed out, was also Classics major). After attaining his medical degree from Cornell, Dr. Fauci found himself in the hand of forces beyond his control and subject to a choice that changed the direction of his life. It was the 60s and American involvement in Vietnam allowed Uncle Sam to demand the military service of medical personnel; faced with a decision, Fauci checked public health service as his first choice over the Navy and Army and arrived in Washington, DC in 1968 as a clinical associate at National Institutes of Health. In 1980, he was appointed Chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation, a position he still holds. “I thought I’d be in Washington three years,” explained Fauci, but little events that he considered ‘beyond his control’ took hold and helped shape an impressive career in public health.

One such incident occurred in the summer of 1981, when an article on a curious form of pneumonia discovered in five gay men caught Fauci’s attention. It so sparked his curiosity, that Fauci decided to completely alter the focus of his research and start studying these few cases. According to Fauci, he was advised at the time by many of his colleagues “not to throw away a good career by studying these gay men.” This was two years before the virus HIV-AIDS was even discovered and named. “We had no idea what we were going to study,” reflected Fauci. With over 68 million people infected with HIV-AIDS today, Dr. Fauci, a pioneer in AIDS research, has become one of the world’s leading figures in the fight against what is, in his opinion, clearly one of the top three or four greatest pandemics in human history.

Using the issue of AIDS as an example, Fauci then described the process of how American society became involved in dealing with a public health crisis. Fauci emphasized the practical and powerful intersection of scientists, activists, politicians, and even rock stars to tackle a major public health crisis that contained quite sensitive issues relating to transmission. Fauci showed how both Republican and Democratic administrations, when confronted with the facts of AIDS, took an interest in promoting research and tackling the problem, each in its own way. “If you get people in government interested in something,” remarked Fauci, “you can really bring about change.” At one point President Clinton asked him ‘what is it you really need?’ to which Fauci replied ‘A research center.’ Clinton’s response to his own people was “make it happen.” The result was the NIAID Vaccine Research Center. Fauci said that he had never seen a building go up that quickly at NIH. “Whatever it takes to move a government to action is not always the way you planned it, but if it works, you take it.” Without the committed work of scientists such as Dr. Fauci, who risked his career over a seemingly obscure immuno-interest, activists such as Larry Kramer, who was tired of seeing his friends die, media stars such as Bono, whose dedication to AIDS relief in Africa has raised awareness of the health crisis around the world, and thousands of unnamed volunteers, all working to influence the direction of political action in Washington, the AIDS pandemic may have had even more disastrous effects in the United States. While the US continues to deal with the problems associated with HIV/AIDS, the developing world still has a major crisis on its hands; because of the lobbying efforts of people such as Fauci, however, President George W. Bush has solidly backed AND funded a major relief and education program to fight AIDS in Africa.

Fauci concluded with a brief discussion of current health issues facing the world, including tuberculosis, an issue he has been trying for years to get government officials to take seriously since 1/3rd of the world’s population is infected with the virus. Until there is a perceived threat, such as the anthrax attacks a few years ago which killed a handful of people (including two in DC), there is little action on the part of public officials. “Nature,” says Fauci, “is our worst bio-terrorist.”

Visit to Antietam Battlefield


Confederare artillery batteries maintained this exposed position under fire throughout most of the day on 17 September 1862


American casualties suffered along the several hundred yards of this road were equivalent (though more actually died here) to those endured on the D-Day landings. Between 10am and 4pm, nearly 6,000 had been killed or wounded along this road alone.
The assaults of Hooker's US I Corps, Mansfeilds XII Corps and one division of Sumner's II Corps slammed into Gen. Stonewall Jackson's Division along this road.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Some Thoughts from Friends in the Washington Ireland Program

Anthea Humphreys (Lisbellaw, Co. Fermanagh): My favorite memory of this past week is standing in a secluded grassy corner on top of a hill in Arlington cemetery, looking out over Washington and catching the sound of distant bells toll three as they carried on the wind. It was a place that finally provided a time and space to sit and ruminate over the past week’s busy affairs, and here are some of my thoughts.After having spent a day looking around the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the eerie Korean War Memorial and Arlington cemetery, thoughts of death, unsurprisingly, crept into my head. It makes you take stock of your life. What have we achieved? How will we be remembered? And it is thoughts such as these that often inspire change in us. It inspires in me a ‘carpe diem’ attitude. I always seem to be living for tomorrow but never for today. As I spent a day, walking around these memorials, remembering the past, living in the present and looking to the future, I was reminded of an extract in C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’ in which he described the danger of living in the Past or living in the Future but forgetting to live in the Present. Though the dangers of living in the past are more obvious to us, the dangers from living in the Future are especially pertinent to me. On this issue C. S. Lewis wrote that the whole race seems to be “perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end…always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the Future every real gift which is offered them in the Present”.I’m not if this is an issue for anyone else, but as far as I’m concerned I know that I need to take my eyes off the ‘Next’ and look instead to the ‘Here and Now’. In regards to WIP then, I want to make sure I savor every day of this great experience and make the absolute most of every opportunity I’m given here. We can’t change tomorrow if we don’t change today.

Colm O'Siochru (Athy, Co. Kildare): It’s easy, though, to get caught up in the pomp and ceremony, in the Presidential glamour and the fluid diplomacy [of working in Washington, DC]. Not that this isn’t an accurate representation of what the Hill is really like. But there’s more to it than just that. The day before yesterday, I sat on the Terrace of the Canon building. It was early morning, and the dome of the Capitol was bathed in brilliant sunlight and set on a canvass of piercing blue sky. All around was a cacophony of sound as the Hispanic Caucus and religious leaders came together to pray for an ‘outpouring of wisdom’ from the Senate on comprehensive immigration reform. The fervour, political and religious, was palpable, and what could have been one Press Conference among many for me that day became something fresh and provocative, something alive and engrossing. The depth of sentiment, the fullness of man’s passionate intensity isn’t something we see all that much in politics anymore, especially in Ireland. But these people were part of something they believed in, with every fibre of their being, and they clung to hope and to prayer in the face of implacable opposition. It’s moments like these that are at once inherently particular, rooted in circumstance, fixed in definite historical context, and at the same time, paradoxically, inherently universal. I could have been at a campaign to abolish slavery, to emancipate Catholics, to extend the franchise, to grant women’s suffrage. Catholic doctrine says that we, as the people of God, are inextricably bound up with those who have died in the faith, and with those yet to be baptized into it; the church is diachronic, transcending our rooted conception of time. In a similar way, I think, we can feel quite keenly the ties that bind us to movements in history that resonate with our present. Many of these movements were defeated, each one, many times. But a popular movement won’t die while there are activists pursuing a vision of justice, determined to overhaul a broken system that compromises society’s supposed fundamental values. This is what the Hill is really about; the people know that, and, deep-down, I think the politicians do too.

Caroline McNeil (Belfast): I have been struck by the differences between [Catholic] Mass in America and Mass in Ireland. The professionalism, reverence and warmth of the American churches is apparent, with an emphasis on participation in the ceremony. The final hymn of the mass was 'America The Beautiful', a patriotic tune for the upcoming July 4 festivities. The pride of the church-goers reflected a confidence in expressing their patriotism and faith something Irish people often shrink from. This is arguably justified given our history, however perhaps in the coming years all the people of our Island can express their religious convictions proudly and freely. This week I have been thinking increasingly of the direction the Irish-American relationship will take in the coming years. It is fair to say that the people of Ireland have benefited from the financial generosity and political attention of the American nation. The Washington Ireland Program is an example of such a beneficial scheme. In light of Ireland's economic and political stability the relationship between our nations must evolve to one of mutual benefits. The program recognizes this duty to respect the hospitality of the American people by our week's community service in New Orleans, which will take place from August 5-August 12 2007. Furthermore the program attempts to foster leaders of the future who will contribute positively to the community they may serve and flowing from that the world community. Ireland is a Country with great potential, we can no longer use political turmoil as an excuse for mediocrity-it is time for our nation to reach its potential and enrich our beautiful island for future generations.
Thanks to Paul Costello and the Management Team of the Washington Ireland Program for making the time to spend an evening with SPS; the positive energy, enthusiasm, and determination to overcome stereotypes and conflict are an inspiration to us all. Check out full student blogs and get more info on WIP by going to

Folkways Festival and Cookout

We all spent Sunday afternoon on the National Mall attending the Smithsonian Folkways Festival, an 'international exposition of cultural heritage' held annually for the two weeks preceding the 4th of July. This year's festival celebrated the cultures of Virginia, Northern Ireland and the Mekong River. According the folks at the Smithsonian:

"The Festival has strong impacts on policies, scholarship, and folks "back home." Many states and several nations have remounted Festival programs locally and used them to generate laws, institutions, educational programs, books, documentary films, recordings, museum and traveling exhibitions. In many cases, the Festival has energized local and regional tradition bearers and their communities, and thus helped to conserve and create cultural resources. Festival practice served as both the backdrop and inspiration for the consideration and ultimately the development of UNESCO's 2003 International Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage."

Highlighting in particular of the peoples and culture of Northern Ireland this year was fortuitous for SPS considering that the following day we would be meeting a group of Irish students dealing with conflict resolution in Northern Ireland.

Ms. Woods also took the opportunity to brush up on her hurling skills.

On our return to St. Albans Mr. Crossan fired up the grill and we enjoyed burgers and steaks in the courtyard.