Monthly Archives: August 2016

Jackie Robinson and the Freedom Summer

Jackie Robinson Speaking with the Press

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still on vacation and will posting some new material have brought an older article out of the vault. I think it is important because it covers a watershed moment in American politics, a moment that started the Republican Party down the path that has culminated today. It is about the Freedom Summer of 1964 and baseball icon and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson’s trip to the 1964 Republican National Convention. Though the events happened some fifty-two years ago, they are not ancient history, and the spirit and ideology that characterized them is all to present today, especially in the modern Republican Party. 

So have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.” Jackie Robinson on his observations of the 1964 Republican National Convention

Jackie Robinson was a Republican. So was I for 32 years and for much of that time I considered myself a “conservative” whatever that means, though I thought it meant freedom, limited government and opportunity for all regardless of race, color, religion or any other trait or belief. I also believed and still do in a strong defense, but I can no longer consider myself a man that blesses American intervention in other people’s wars unless there is a clear and present danger to the United States, not simply our so called “interests” which may not be those of the nation at all but of multi-national corporations which were originally American businesses but not only need our military, diplomatic and intelligence resources to increase their profits.

My parents were Kennedy type Democrats, but in the 1970s, torn by the extremism of the 1972 Democratic Convention in Chicago and feeling the hatred of people for those in the military, including a Sunday School teacher who told me that my dad, then serving in Vietnam was “baby killer” I at the age of 12 decided that I would be a Republican. I was a Republican until I returned from Iraq in 2008, fully aware of the lies that took us into that war and seeing the cost both to American servicemen and the people of Iraq.

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I have been doing a lot of reading lately on a period of history that as a historian I had pretty much skipped over. That is the period of the Civil Rights movement of the early to mid-1960s. I guess I skipped over it because I was more interested in the glory of war and patriotism wrapped in historic myth than in the experiences of fellow citizens who had been killed, abused, tormented and persecuted by people like me simply because of the color of their skin. I had not yet begun to appreciate the concept of justice at home being interconnected to our deepest held principles and how we embody them in our foreign policy.

For many years I echoed the point made by some conservatives that it was the GOP that helped make the Voter’s Rights Act of 1964 and Civil Rights Act of 1965 passed into law. That is true. Most Republicans voted for them, with a notable exception, Barry Goldwater. However, what is also true is that the Republicans that voted for the 1964 act were considered “liberals” and treated shamefully at the 1964 convention, whose delegates voted down a part of the platform that would have supported that act. Of the Democrats that voted against those bills almost all came from the Deep South, a region which within a decade become a Republican stronghold and a key part of the Southern Strategy of every GOP Presidential Candidate since Richard Nixon. A Republican aide at the 1964 convention told a reporter that “the nigger issue was sure to put Goldwater in the White House.” (See Freedom Summer by Bruce Watson p.163)

However as a life long baseball fan there is one thing that I know, that if there had been no Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson we might not have gotten Rosa Parks or the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

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Robinson was appointed as a special delegate to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller who was running against Goldwater and attended the convention. He had given up his job as a spokesman for and Vice President of the Chock Full O’Nuts Coffee Company to assist Rockefeller’s campaign in 1964.

Robinson knew what it was like to be the “point man” in the integration of baseball and in his career was threatened with physical violence and death on many occasions. Some teammates circulated petitions that they would not play for a team that had a “black” on it. Robinson, encouraged by Rickey persevered and became an icon in baseball, the Civil Rights movement and the history of the United States. However, not even 10 years after his retirement from baseball and 2 years after he was elected to the Hall of Fame he once again discovered just how deep racism still ran in this country. As he attended the convention FBI agents and other Federal authorities attempted to find the bodies of three young Voting Rights staff who were part of the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi. Eventually, later in the summer the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner would be discovered buried in the base of a dam near Philadelphia Mississippi. Their killers were local law enforcement officers and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Maybe I lived in my own fantasy world. My experience growing up was on the West Coast living in a military family in small towns and big cities. I am proud to be part of the first class that attended high school in my home town when the courts ordered desegregation in our schools. That experience at Edison High School of Stockton California from 1975-78 changed me, as did having a black roommate in college.

However, that being said it took me a long time to realize that things really haven’t changed that much from 1964 in many parts of the country, especially since I have lived most of my adult live in the historic States that comprised the Confederacy. I can say from practical observation and knowledge that racism and other forms of more acceptable prejudice live on in this country. There is not a day that goes by that I do not run into the vestiges of the hate that lived during the Freedom Summer of 1964. It is more subtle in some cases, but other times is so blatant that is sickening. I never expected that I would ever be called a “nigger lover” or “wigger” until I had people make those comments on this website in response to articles that had nothing to do with race relations or civil rights, nor did I expect physical threats from people who call themselves “Christian.” Those were learning experiences that I won’t soon forget.

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Robinson wrote of his experience at the 1964 Convention:

“I wasn’t altogether caught of guard by the victory of the reactionary forces in the Republican party, but I was appalled by the tactics they used to stifle their liberal opposition. I was a special delegate to the convention through an arrangement made by the Rockefeller office. That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man. It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people.

A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.

The same high-handed methods had been there.

The same belief in the superiority of one religious or racial group over another was here. Liberals who fought so hard and so vainly were afraid not only of what would happen to the GOP but of what would happen to America. The Goldwaterites were afraid – afraid not to hew strictly to the line they had been spoon-fed, afraid to listen to logic and reason if it was not in their script.

I will never forget the fantastic scene of Governor Rockefeller’s ordeal as he endured what must have been three minutes of hysterical abuse and booing which interrupted his fighting statement which the convention managers had managed to delay until the wee hours of the morning. Since the telecast was coming from the West Coast, that meant that many people in other sections of the country, because of the time differential, would be in their beds. I don’t think he has ever stood taller than that night when he refused to be silenced until he had had his say.

It was a terrible hour for the relatively few black delegates who were present. Distinguished in their communities, identified with the cause of Republicanism, an extremely unpopular cause among blacks, they had been served notice that the party they had fought for considered them just another bunch of “niggers”. They had no real standing in the convention, no clout. They were unimportant and ignored. One bigot from one of the Deep South states actually threw acid on a black delegate’s suit jacket and burned it. Another one, from the Alabama delegation where I was standing at the time of the Rockefeller speech, turned on me menacingly while I was shouting “C’mon Rocky” as the governor stood his ground. He started up in his seat as if to come after me. His wife grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Turn him loose, lady, turn him loose,” I shouted.

I was ready for him. I wanted him badly, but luckily for him he obeyed his wife…” From Jackie Robinson “I Never Had it Made” Chapter XV On Being Black Among the Republicans

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Belva Davis, then a young journalist wrote of her experiences at that convention:

While the Goldwater organization tried to keep its delegates in check on the floor, snarling Goldwater fans in the galleries around us were off the leash. The mood turned unmistakably menacing…

Suddenly Louis and I heard a voice yell, “Hey, look at those two up there!” The accuser pointed us out, and several spectators swarmed beneath us. “Hey niggers!” they yelled. “What the hell are you niggers doing in here?’”

I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck as I looked into faces turned scarlet and sweaty by heat and hostility. Louis, in suit and tie and perpetually dignified, turned to me and said with all the nonchalance he could muster, “Well, I think that’s enough for today.” Methodically we began wrapping up our equipment into suitcases.

As we began our descent down the ramps of the Cow Palace, a self-appointed posse dangled over the railings, taunting. “Niggers!” “Get out of here, boy!” “You too, nigger bitch!” “Go on, get out!” “I’m gonna kill your ass!”

I stared straight ahead, putting one foot in front of the other like a soldier who would not be deterred from a mission. The throng began tossing garbage at us: wadded up convention programs, mustard-soaked hot dogs, half-eaten Snickers bars. My goal was to appear deceptively serene, mastering the mask of dispassion I had perfected since childhood to steel myself against any insults the outside world hurled my way.

Then a glass soda bottle whizzed within inches of my skull. I heard it whack against the concrete and shatter. I didn’t look back, but I glanced sideways at Louis and felt my lower lip began to quiver. He was determined we would give our tormentors no satisfaction.

“If you start to cry,” he muttered, “I’ll break your leg.” ( Belva Davis “Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman’s Life in Journalism)

The sad thing is that in many states the new GOP has taken a page out of the past and has been either passing legislation or attempting to pass legislation that makes it harder for Blacks and other minorities to vote. Groups have shown up armed at heavily black polling sites in recent elections and efforts have been made to ensure that minorities cannot vote. They have also challenged the 1964 Voter’s Rights Act in Court and have a friend in Justice Antonine Scalia who called it a “racial entitlement” and violation of State sovereignty.

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The tactics are quite similar to those used in the Deep South prior to 1964 which made it virtually impossible for a Black man or woman to cast a vote, and if they tried even to register to vote did so at the peril of their lives or families. The opponents of integration, voter’s rights and equal rights used some of the same lines used today against those that support these rights. “Communists sympathizers, Socialists, Atheists, Anti-Christian, Anti-American, Anti-Constitution,” you name it the same labels are being applied to those that simply want to be at the table. The sad thing that many of the most vicious users of such untruths are my fellow Christians.

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These are hard things to look at and it is far easier to believe myth than it is to actually seek truth. A few years back I cannot every in a million years having written this article. However the threats to minorities be they racial, religious or even gender have become part an parcel of the new GOP, the GOP that I could not remain a part of when I returned from Iraq.

I guess that I am becoming a Civil Rights advocate, or then, maybe it’s that I’m actually becoming more of a Christian. Branch Rickey said “I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.” Oh well, I amy not be able to do something about racism and other prejudice everywhere but I can do it here and wherever I work or preach.

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Oh well whatever, it really doesn’t matter so long as I can live with myself. Besides, I’ll get labeled anyway so what does it matter? I would rather be in the same camp as someone like Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey than Antonine Scalia or those that seek to keep people down simply because they are different anyway.

Martin Niemoller once said:

First they came for the , communist
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Friends, it is all too important that we not forget this, even as Donald Trump and many of his supporters who include most of the White Supremacists, Klansmen, and Neo-Nazis in this country offer the same threats against blacks, other minorities, and political moderates and liberals. Make no mistake, what is happening now is nothing more than a resurgence of the hatred and violence that was unleashed against those who fought for civil rights fifty years ago.

 

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The Waco Kid Rides into the Sunset: Rest in Peace Gene Wilder


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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday night lost a comic genius and great human being. Gene Wilder passed away with his family surrounding him at the age of 83 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. While many remember him most for his role as the quirky candy genius Willy Wonka, I will always remember him most for his roles in Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers. Of course I will never forget him in Stir Crazy or The Silver Streak, but for me it was his roles in the Mel Brooks comedies that I will never forget. 


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The first time I saw him was in The Producers where he played the neurotic accountant Leo Blum who helped Max Bialystok (Zero Mostel) figure out that he could make more money producing a Broadway flop than a hit. I saw that film on television when I was about 12 years old, well before I ever saw him in Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, and I never forgot him. Then in 1974 I was able to convince the box office attendants and ushers that I was old enough to be admitted to the latter two films. Actually, it wasn’t that hard back then to fake it, no one ever asked for I.D., and I’m sure that some of them were stoned before they even showed up for work but I digress… 


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There are few people who could play neurotic people with the comic sensitivity that Gene Wilder did, the man was brilliant.  The next film that I saw him appear was Brooks’s classic Western spoof, Blazing Saddles where he played the washed up alcoholic gunfighter, the Waco Kid, whose name was Jim, though most people called him Jim. Wilder was a last minute replacement for Gig Young who actually did have an alcohol problem and collapsed on set forcing Brooks to shut down production for a day and bring Gene Wilder in relief. Wilder was perfect for the role and complimented Clevon Little who play the Black sheriff Bart to a tee. I think my favorite scene is where Sheriff Bart wishes a little old lady a “good day” and is told by her “up yours nigger.” Almost inconsolable Bart comes back to the office where the Waco Kid gives him some great advice. 

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Then there was Young Frankenstein where Wilder played the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein opposite Marty Feldman, Terri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle. This was followed by Willy Wonka and so many others. I loved Wilder when he was paired with Richard Pryor as well. 

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I could go on and on about Gene Wilder, by I will stop for now. He and so many of his fellow cast members from these films are gone. Zero Mostel, Kenneth Mars, Clevon Little, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Richard Pryor, Alex Karras, and Peter Boyle to name but a few. He never announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s because he didn’t want to upset kids who saw him and said “look there’s Willy Wonka.” He was a joyful spirit who loved life, and now joins the love of his life, the late Gilda Radner, and now he goes into that final sunset. 


Rest in peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Norman Rockwell’s Southern Justice and the Continued Fight for Civil Rights

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am on vacation this week and though I have posted a few new articles today I am going back to the vault to reflect on the killings of three young civil rights workers during the Freedom Summer of 1964. Their brutal murders by Ku Klux Klan members aided and abetted by law enforcement officials was memorialized in Norman Rockwell’s painting Southern Justice and dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning. It is import that we remember this because the ideology and spirit of their killers is rising again in too many places in this country, and not just in the South. 

Please never forget their sacrifice and why it is important to fight for real justice. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Fifty-two years ago three young men working to register blacks to vote as part of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The men, twenty year old Andrew Goodman from New York City, was a progressive activist and Anthropology student at Queens College. Twenty-four year old Mickey Schwerner was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish. Twenty-one year old James Chaney was from Meridian Mississippi and was a volunteer with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equity working on voter registration and education with local churches.

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On June 21st 1964 the three men were in Philadelphia Mississippi where they were investigating the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church which had been working with CORE in the town. In the wake of that many black citizens and church members were beaten by whites, and they accused Sheriff’s Deputy Cecil Price of abuse.

The three were arrested for an alleged traffic violation, jailed and released that evening without being allowed to make any phone calls. On the way back to Meridian, two carloads of Klan members forced them over, abducted them and killed them. The bodies were not discovered for 44 days. Their disappearance brought national attention and a major investigation to the town. Eventually seven men, including deputy Price were convicted of the murders. The murders and the investigation became the subject of the movie Mississippi Burning.

Rockwell, well known for his portraits of American life and the Civil Rights movement painted “Southern Justice” which is sometimes known as “Murder in Mississippi” in 1965. This was not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which has been under attack in many southern states over the past decade and had a key provision gutted by the Supreme Court last year.

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52 years ago the murders of these three young men brought national attention to the pervasive racism and discrimination in the country. So many murders, lynchings and burnings of homes businesses and that went before had been covered up by the media. I do hope and pray that we never go back to those days, but as laws are passed to limit voting rights in various states I wonder if the clock will be turned back. I don’t thing that it will in the long run, but the sacrifice of so many for those rights should never be forgotten.

In memory of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner and others of the Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights movement who died or suffered to peacefully bring about change to our society.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Dream at 53: Still Laboring for the New Birth of Freedom


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since I am out of town this week I am going to post a short article tonight. Today was the fifty-third anniversary of one of the greatest speeches in American history. It was on this day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The speech was powerful, eloquent, and even today when one listnes to Dr. King’s marvelous oratory the effect is electrifying. I was on three years old and living in the Philippines when he spoke them and so it was not until years later that I heard it for the first time.  Every time I watch the films of Dr. King speaking those words I am forced to recall not just his eloquence, but the depth of what he said, and how much is still true today. While I think I am a pretty good writer I would only hope to half as gifted as a speaker as Dr. King. 

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I did get to speak yesterday at the Morehead Pride Festival and afterwards I was thinking about Dr. King’s message for all people. I do have that dream for all who are oppressed. I was talking to a lot of people before and after and so many told me how many of how they had been ostracized by the church for being Gay but still longed for that sense of spiritual support and acceptance. I began thinking what it would be like if most churches would simply accept people and love them. But many churches and Christians, especially the more conservative types of churches who are so willing to accept people and even bless people like Donald Trump as “God’s choice” for the highest office in the land, treat LGBTQ people as worse than the devil. Why? Because they are gay and according to their interpretation of the Bible that seems to be the only sin God cannot forgive. Less than fifty years ago many people in this country felt the same way about African Americans. But I digress… 

But the fact is that for many people, especially African Americans, other people of color, poor whites, women, religious minorities, as well as LGBTQ people, the promise of this nation is not yet fully realized. Dr. King equated the words of the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note, meant for all people that had been defaulted on by our nation, and how could he not? 

As a historian I know the words of the preamble of the Declaration, as well as the Gettysburg Address are for all purposes are the cornerstone of American Secular Scripture. They define what we can and should be. And yesterday while I was speaking I again realized just how much promise those words have: they are what make us Americans and if we fail to remember them, if we fail to work to ensure that they are the basis of who we are as a people both in word and deed, then we too will default on that promissory note, and the treasury of freedom and justice will be bankrupt; and we have none to blame but ourselves. 

But I have a dream, as Dr. King so eloquently put it “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Far too many people have shed their blood for that sacred proposition for us to abandon it: soldiers, civil rights leaders, men and women, black and white, straight and gay, of every religion and race that have ever longed for the realization of that proposition. Dr. King was one of them, as was Harvey Milk, they and so many others cut down by assassin’s bullets, or murdered, or lynched. So with them in mind we must take heed of the words of Abraham Lincoln, another martyr in the cause of freedom, who reminded those present at the dedication of the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg, “that is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us here to be dedication to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” 

So until tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Pride in Morehead


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a special day for me and a lot of other people. I was honored to have a very minor speaking role at the Morehead Pride Festival in Morehead, Kentucky. It was amazing event, the first of its kind in that beautiful Eastern Kentucky town and it was a big change from just one year ago where the city was surrounded in controversy when Kim Davis the Rowan County Clerk refused to issue marriage certificates in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Obergfell  v. Hodges which granted marriage equality to Gays, Lesbians, and other members of the LGBTQ community. At that time various wanna be presidential candidates including Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, as well as all kinds of other anti-LGBTQ leaders descended on the town turning it into a circus. Interestingly enough once these politically minded preachers and ant-LGBTQ professionals had milked Kim Davis for all the publicity they could get they abandoned here and Rowan County, but I predicted that last year. 


Timothy Love, Mark Ebenhoch, Me and Larry Love in front of Section 93 

In contrast to that time today was a joyful occasion for the many people in attendance, most of whom are from Morehead and the surrounding area. It was amazing, for them it was the first time that many of them could openly show who they are in a safe place. Last year with all of the out of town zealots present it was not safe. Today the local LGBTQ community, led by David Moore put on a wonderful event working with the leaders of the town. It was a safe, family friendly event which drew more vendors and participants than any other festival hosted by the town. There were young and old, male and female, gay and straight, and people of every color, quite a few from Morehead State University. It was really eat to see local people, especially seniors stayingfor the whole event. The love and kindness was wonderful.




There were musical performances by local musicians, including those who honor the great Bluegrass music which is a rich part of the local musical heritage, and there were some great Drag Queens, including Kentucky drag queen Cadillac Seville who served as the MC for the event. Speakers included Mark Ebenhoch who brought section 93 of the original Sea to Sea Pride flag which is an iconic piece of LGBTQ heritage; Timothy Love and a number of the other plaintiffs in Obergfell v. Hodges, Aaron Jackson, the founder of Planting Peace, and many others.


Like I said, I had the honor of speaking and I basically talked about things that have brought me as a Christian, as a Priest, and as a career military officer, and historian to become a vocal propponent for equally for all. Mark recorded my speech and once I figure out how to put it on the blog I will do it. 

So anyway, it has been a long day. I am back in Huntington, West Virginia with Judy and our friend Patty. We’ll be attending church Sundy at a local Methodist congregation that was formed from several churches which no longer could make it one their own, including Southside Methodist where my parents and grandparents attended and at which I was baptized as a baby back in 1960. My cousin Paula is the music director there as she was at Southside. 

Have a great night and a better tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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The Courageous vs. the Ideologues 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Being an ideologue of any kind is easy, you adopt an ideology and then use it to interpret the world. That is why there are so many of them of so many different varieties: right wing, left wing, religious and so many more. In fact if you take a look at the most strident supporters of any ideology, politician, or religious leader you can see that they are little different from one another. 

The fact is that there is a difference between people who lean a certain way politically or religiously, and the people Eric Hoffer called, the “true believers,” the people who chose a side and never wrestle with the hard choices of life. They simply declare all who oppose their ideology or theology to be unworthy of life. 

It’s funny, I am a liberal and a progressive, but I often find left-wing ideologues to be as off putting as militant right wingers. I guess that is because despite everything I am a realist. I wake up every day to try to do the hard thing of deciding what is right and what to believe. 

My favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing. I see examples of this every day, especially in my Twitter feed. While I’m sure that many, if not most of these people are good and well meaning people, they seldom display any originality of thought or true character. I had one left wing Twitter follower attack repeatedly me because to her I was supposedly a sellout. I have had right wing religious friends and followers on social media do the same, but the intellectual commonality they share is the fact that they are ideologues and zealots, and while they espouse different beliefs they are almost indistinguishable in their inability to think critically. 

I guess that is one of the things that bothers me the most about so much of what I see going on in the United States today. Too many ideologues, not enough critical thinkers. Too many people who value absolute consistently of thought without asking if what they preach is still true today, or if it might be tomorrow. 

One thing that I have learned over the past eight years or so is that I have to ask what is right today, and make a choice of when to stand up, or to stand down. Sometimes, I don’t like those choices, but I make them. 

I guess that is why I like reading about the lives of complicated and often conflicted people; men like T.E. Lawrence, William Tecumseh Sherman, and the fictional Raymond Reddington. I find much to admire and to criticize in all of them even as I empathize and understand each one of them. Interestingly, each of my heroes all have feet of clay. As Reddington said, “We become who we are. We can’t judge a book by its cover… But you can by its first few chapters, and most certainly by its last.” 

Have a great day and weekend.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Finding my Way Home: Nine Years After Iraq


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was thinking last night  as I watched an episode of the television show The Blacklist, where the lead character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader made a comment about Homer’s classic Greek myth The Oddesy where he said, “Odysseus spent a decade at war. But his biggest battle was finding his way home.” I can understand that. Nine years ago I was on my first long distance mission out to the Syrian border in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. It was the first of many missions in the badlands of that war ravaged province, and seven months later I returned home, but I didn’t. Too much of me was still in Iraq, and in some ways still is, but that being said I think I can finally say that I am home. 

Now let me say, there is still a lot of Iraq in me and if I got the chance to go back I would probably jump at it. I still have issues from my tour in Iraq, the dreams, nightmares, and night terrors have caused more physical injuries than my actual time in country. Frankly, I expect that will never change, so I simply adapt to minimize risk, and to enjoy life to the utmost. That is my reality. I can dwell on the bad and hate life, or I can make the adjustments and enjoy life. 

After a major emotional crash in the spring I decided that the latter was the better choice and I have not looked back since. 

My experiences in Iraq have helped make me the man I am today, and for that I am grateful. I can admit that I am damaged and at the same time realize that I am in the process of becoming whole, maybe for the first time in my life. I have really come to appreciate life and the blessings that I have, especially my wife Judy, my two little dogs, and my friends. Things are not perfect, nor will they ever be, but I am happy and for the first time since I deployed to Iraq in July 2007 can say that I am home. Like the journey of Odysseus, mine has been a long, and for that matter, a strange trip.

Once I get at least one of my three texts dealing with the Civil War era and Gettysburg published, I’ll write my story. 

So until tomorrow I wish you peace, and the joy of making it home.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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What’s Coming this Week: Massacres and Malevolent Meetings


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a few housekeeping notes today. I have been busy at work with my ethics class and doing more writing on my various Gettysburg and Civil War texts. Likewise I have been paying attention to things going on in the United States and the world. I will be writing some about the most current events, but I will also be doing some writing about the Rape of Nanking as my article on it has been attracting some attention, especially from Japanese deniers of a well documented war crime and crime against humanity. Truthfully the Japanese deniers are no better than the deniers of the Holocaust, or the defenders of slavery in the American South, or the genocide committed against Native Americans by European colonists and our own American ancestors. 

Likewise I plan on posting some of my newest material from A Great War in an Age of Revolutionary Change as well as re-posting some articles from deep within the vault. I am going to be speaking Saturday at the Morehead Pride celebration and I will post something about that over the weekend too. 


Today was the last day for my current group of students in my ethics elective at the Staff College. As always, after the teaching and student presentations are done I show the film Conspiracy which is a dramatization of the Wansee Conference which set into motion the plan for Hitler’s Final Solution against the Jews. I always find the film chilling and use it to show that even well meaning and basically moral people can come to support, even reluctantly, evil plans. As I always tell my students, the one constant in history are people, and human nature never changes. 

So anyway, until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under film, History, holocaust, Loose thoughts and musings, world war two in the pacific

Beautiful and Deadly: The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing to write and research on a number of topics which I will be posting soon. So until then I am reposting another article from the depths of my vault about one of my passions, great warships. This article is about the German Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

I hope you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The naval architects of Germany in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War. Following Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted a building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy which then was composed of obsolete pre-Dreadnaught battleships and a few modern light cruisers and destroyers. The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic. These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships and incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruise range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns. While an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by the British battle cruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse.

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Scharnhorst Class Diagram 

The next and first truly capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau battleships which in reality were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships. Despite this in displacement and armor protection of the ships was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US North Carolina class. Only the British Hood was their superior in speed.

gneisenau battery

Gneisenau Main Battery

As built they displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long. They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick. Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons. Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes. The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred although Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed.

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Scharnhorst in Action Against HMS Glorious

Laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936 Scharnhorst was commissioned 7 January 1939. Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938. Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping. In November they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war. From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base.

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While in the port of Brest Gneisenau was bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs. Due to the exposed location of the port the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen. This was Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942 and involved the ships making a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy although both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines and needed subsequent repairs. While undergoing repairs in Kiel Gneisenau was further damaged by the Royal Air Force requiring repairs in or to steam to the port of Gotenhafen for repair and conversion. Although some work was completed she was decommissioned and sunk as a blockship on 23 March 1945. Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped.

Gneisenau sunk

Gneisenau Sunk as Blockship

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia. On Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey the Scharnhorst set sail with several destroyers undertook Operation Ostfront and the ensuing battle became known as the Battle of North Cape. This was to be an attack on two Russia bound convoys; however the orders were intercepted and decoded by the British which allowed Scharnhorst to be intercepted by the battleship HMS Duke of York four cruisers and a number of destroyers as she closed with the convoy after Bey had detached his escorting destroyers. While attempting to escape she received damage that impacted her speed and maneuvering capabilities and was sunk with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew. Her wreck was discovered 3 October 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway.

Thus ended the careers of two of the most beautiful ships to grace the seas, though their careers were short they both survived frequent heavy battle damage to return and fight again. Perhaps their greatest weakness was the inability of the German Navy to provide them adequate escort and the Luftwaffe being unable to protect them against air strike while in port.

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, World War II at Sea

Blacks in the U.S. Navy: 1798-1917

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I’m back with something fresh, a short article from my text A Great War in a Revolutionary Age of Change. As I was looking at the text I realized that there were some major gaps to fill in regarding the service of African Americans in the military. So over the past couple of weeks I have been working on covering those gaps in order to smooth out the text and show how the social and political changes that began during the Civil War continued to work their way through our history to the present day. This section is about the African American experience in the U.S. Navy from 1798 until World War One.

There will be more so enjoy and have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Unlike the Army, African Americans had served aboard United States Naval vessels since the Revolution, and were an important part of ship’s crews all through the age of sail and the Civil War. In 1798, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, a slaveholder “barred “Negroes or Mulattoes” from serving in the new navy, and the Marine Corps did the same. Given the need to fill out their crews, however, captains often took free blacks as crew members. Both free blacks and slaves had served in the Continental Navy, the state navies, and privateers during the revolution, but that precedent had been forgotten.” [1] Even so, the Navy would continue to recruit free African Americans and they would make up a significant percentage of the crews of U.S. Navy ships, part of the reason that since the earliest times in the colonies, free blacks had taken up a seafaring way of life serving on merchantmen or in the Royal Navy. Likewise, “life at sea during the eighteenth century was difficult and dangerous. Therefore navies were forced to enlist practically anyone who was willing to serve.” [2]

During the War of 1812 free blacks comprised between ten and twenty percent of the crews of U.S. Navy ships. Captains like Oliver Hazard Perry who initial complained about having blacks on his ships became believers in their ability. At the Battle of Lake Erie “blacks constituted one-fourth of his 400 man force aboard the 10-vessel fleet.” He was so impressed by their performance under fire that he wrote the Secretary of the Navy “praising their fearlessness in the face of excessive danger.” [3] During the war, the Secretary of the Navy lifted Stoddert’s ban on blacks serving and free blacks responded by joining in increasing numbers.

Unlike the Army, the Navy became a place for free blacks to find a place to serve their country, and when the Civil War erupted these men continued to serve, and they would continue to serve throughout the war, and the Union Navy enlisted a proportionally higher number of its personnel from free blacks, nearly seventeen percent than did the Army, a force of approximately 30,000 sailors. Navy officers like David Dixon Porter praised them. He recruited them for his Mississippi Squadron as “coal heavers, firemen, and even gun crews.” He wrote “They do first rate work, and are far better behaved than their masters,” he declared. “What injustice to these poor people, to say they are only fit for slaves. They are far better than the white people here, who I look upon as brutes.” [4]

In 1862 the Union Navy was facing a manpower shortage the Federal and state governments discouraged whites from serving in the Navy due to the vast manpower needs of the Army. The government did not provide “bounties for those who joined nor counting them in local recruiting quotas.” [5] When confronted with the thousands of escaped slaves, or “contrabands” Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles authorized their enlistment, and they were treated comparatively well. There were no segregated quarters due to the cramped conditions of shipboard life and as a result the men messed and were quartered in common spaces. Black sailors had complete control of their pay and had the same privileges as their white shipmates.

Most Naval officers had never been abolitionists before the war, and some had been defenders of slavery before the war, but their wartime experiences converted them to the abolitionist cause. Samuel Francis Du Pont wrote “I have never been an abolitionist… on the contrary most of my life a sturdy conservative on the vexed question.” He explained that he had “defended it all over the world, argued for it for it as patriarchal in its tendencies,” he admitted in 1861.“Oh my! What a delusion…. The degradation, the overwork, and ill treatment of the slaves in the cotton states is great than I deemed possible, while the capacity of the Negro for improvement is higher than I believed.” He noted that no officer in his squadron had voted for Lincoln, by April 1862 he wrote “there is not one proslavery man among them.” [6]

Sadly after the war the opportunities for blacks began to decrease in the Navy. They still served but as the Navy became more technological, recruiters began to seek out more educated men to crew the ships of the new steel and steam navy. Increasing segregation and Jim Crow affected naval recruiting and by 1917 only about 7,500 blacks were still in the service. In the 1890s the navy began to exclude blacks from “all but the most undesirable jobs. Moreover, whites still would not tolerate blacks in blacks in positions of authority over them.” As a result promotion was rare, they worked in segregated conditions, and “to avoid friction between the two races,” commanders also segregated their eating and sleeping areas.” [7] With the exception of a successful experiment by Secretary of the Navy to integrate crews of certain auxiliary ships in 1944, these conditions would continue until President Truman ordered to integrate all branches of the military in 1948.

Notes

[1] Daughan, George C. If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy – From the Revolution to the War of 1812 Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, New York 2008 p.320

[2] Fields, Elizabeth Arnett African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience – Before the Civil War, Blacks in the Union and Confederate Armies, Buffalo Soldier, Scouts, Spanish American War, World War I and II, U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington D.C. 1998, Amazon Kindle edition Progressive Management location 624  of 11320

[3] Ibid. Fields African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience location 668 of 11320

[4] McPherson, James M. War Upon the Waters: The Union and the Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2012 p.137

[5] Ibid. Fields African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience location 844 of 11320

[6] Ibid. McPherson War Upon the Waters: The Union and the Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 p.137

[7] Kraeczynski, Keith The Spanish American War and After in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience – Before the Civil War, Blacks in the Union and Confederate Armies, Buffalo Soldier, Scouts, Spanish American War, World War I and II, U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington D.C. 1998, Amazon Kindle edition Progressive Management location 2842  of 11320

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Military, US Navy