Monthly Archives: September 2016

Munich, the Bier Hall Putsch and American Parallels

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This is another one of my pre-posted articles for while we are traveling in Munich.

I have spent a total of about four years of my life in Germany. I enjoy the country and the people and I love traveling here because for me it is relaxing. When I have a car I enjoy driving on the Autobahn, and I find the mass transportation more than effective and convenient but a great way to travel.

I am a historian who for many years specialized in the study of the latter years of the Kaiser Reich, the German revolution and civil war, the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period. I always find visiting Munich intellectually stimulating. Munich is a very interesting and sometimes contradictory city, rich in culture, music, art, literature and scientific-technological achievements. Likewise it has always been a more cosmopolitan center of a very conservative state, especially religiously conservative as Bavaria is the heart of Catholic Germany. Thus there has always been a tension in the city, between the local more religious conservatives and business leaders and the more secular and progressive inhabitants, and the immigrants from Eastern Europe, especially more traditional and conservative Orthodox Jews.

This tension continues today with the large numbers of foreigners that live and work in the city. Many are Turkish guest workers and their descendants that have been in Germany almost half a century. But many are new immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, some who have embraced German life in a secular state, but many who have not and stand out in the crowd. In particular I think of the number of Moslems who retain their traditional dress and ways, which in many ways is reminiscent of the Eastern European Orthodox Jews, who likewise stood out as they attempted to maintain their cultural and religious identity.

Hitler-Putsch, M¸nchen, Marienplatz

Munich is the capital city of Bavaria, or as it is known here, Bayern. It was ruled for centuries by the Wittelsbach dynasty, which included “Mad King Louis” who built the amazing Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles. That dynasty, with the rest of the German royalty was overthrown at the end of the  First World War. It was replaced for about three months by what was known as the Bavarian Soviet led by Kurt Eisner, an “independent socialist.” Eisner could not hold power and resigned in February 1919 and on the way to his resignation he was assassinated by a right wing extremist who held the views of the racist Thule Society. Eisner was replaced by a Majority Socialist leader who could not form a government and then by an Independent Socialist and Communist government. This government was both inept and brutal, it took hostages from the elite of the city as well as conservative reactionaries and had them executed. This brought a response from Berlin which sent a force of 30,000 Weimar Government employed Freikorps troops, including many Bavarians from rural areas, under the command of Ritter Von Epp to crush the Munich Soviet. After hard fighting against the Communist troops Epp’s men crushed the opposition and executed hundreds of the Communists and Independent Socialist fighter and leaders.

stosstruppe

The city was still rife with revolutionary and reactionary elements and in 1919 a new political party was established. This party became the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany, or the NSDAP. Adolf Hitler joined the party and quickly became its head. He along with General Erich Ludendorff led a coup, or “putsch” against the government on the 8th and 9th of November 1923. The putsch originated at the NDSAP headquarters and Hitler led about 2000 armed members of the party to the Burgerbrau Keller beer hall where the Gustav Von Kahr, who had been appointed with dictatorial powers due to the unrest, was making a speech.

himmler-bier-hall

Hitler took Kahr and other members of the government hostage and declared a revolution and enjoined those present to “join in this grave eleventh hour for our German Fatherland.” While many present were turned by his speech, the revolt did not gain momentum and in desperation Hitler ordered a march to overthrow the government. At Odeonsplatz at the bridge over the Isar River near the Feldherrenhalle his group of nearly 2000 followers including future Nazi Leaders Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess were confronted by about 100 Bavarian police, and defeated. Hitler was arrested and tried, spent nine months in prison during which he wrote Mein Kampf. The Burgerbraukeller and the Feldherrenhalle became Nazi shrines which after Hitler’s takeover became places where Hitler would return yearly to mark his failed putsch.

All of these events took place in a small area of the Munich city center. Sadly most people who come to Munich are aware of the events that occurred here, and many fail to realize how easily a city know for so many cultural and scientific achievements can become the locus of evil for a man like Adolf Hitler.

While I love Munich my love is tempered by how many events which still affect us today occurred here just eight to ninety years ago. To use a German expression, that amount of in the sense of history is merely an “augenblick” or “blink of an eye”. It is hard to believe that so much has happen here, and just how few people understand just how easily such events can happen again.

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When I look at my own country I see parallels between some of the more deplorable of Donald Trump’s supporters, the White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Racists, and members of the so-called “Alt-Right” which is nothing more than a cover for its member’s Nazi ideology with the people that followed Hitler to the Burgerbraukeller. The hatred that they express towards liberals, racial minorities, immigrants and Moslems is so similar to the words of those precursors to the Nazi party rule in Germany that it is frightening. Comforting myths are substituted for history. Race, ideology and xenophobic nationalism, often clothed in the language of tradition “Christian” beliefs are used to demonize those who are different. Sadly too I see some of my fellow progressives inflamed with such a hatred of conservatives that they cannot see the dangers inherent in such polarization. As a historian, I find the parallels disturbing.

But despite that we are here to have fun, and that I am. After all, I choose to believe in the power of acceptance, tolerance and inclusiveness. Those are found in the words that are imprinted on the modern German Army belt buckles and in the German National anthem “eingekeit, recht  und freiheit” or “unity, Justice and freedom.” Those words are also implicit in our own Declaration of Independence which states that “all men are created equal.” Thus for me, not believe that good can overcome evil is central to who I am.

And from Munich, I am your friend,

Peace

Padre Steve

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Traveling Amid Terror Threats

fest-tent-2015

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another one of my pre-posted articles for our Munich trip and I am offering a few thoughts on terrorism. With all of the recent attacks in Europe the authorities in Munich are taking the threat of terrorism very seriously and that is a good thing. There are a lot of extra police and security officers out and about and a fence has been placed around the fest grounds in order to keep people from sneaking in. I was asked before we left if I was thinking about terrorism or afraid. I answered that I think of it but I am not afraid I just stay alert and pay attention to my surroundings like I do anywhere. But as far as terrorism in Europe, it’s real, and there are dangerous elements who I am sure would love to create havoc at the Oktoberfest, but I am not afraid.

This is because Judy and I our old hands when it comes to living with terrorism. When we were stationed in Germany in the 1980s it was at the height of the second generation of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang/ Red Army Faction reign of terror. There were frequent bombings and murders committed by these East German supported terrorists throughout Germany, and we narrowly avoided being victims of two of them; one at the Frankfurt Airport, and one at the Frankfurt Military Exchange. Every day we had to look under our car for car bombs as that was a favorite method of killing. Likewise when we drove onto base, not only did we have multiple forms of identification verified, but our vehicles were checked for bombs underneath, as well as in the trunks and engine compartments, which had to be opened and inspected. Despite that on one occasion a bomb was found in the Mess Hall and defused, across town at another base a young enlisted man was kidnapped and murdered by a female terrorist posing as a date. When we were shopping one day at a German retail store we saw, and reported to the Polizei a group of people that we recognized too late from the wanted posters. We made our report and were interrogated for over two hours. I was actually glad for that, because what we said was taken seriously.

RAF bombing

Baader-Meinhoff/ Red Brigade Bombing in Germany

But sadly that was just the beginning of my experience with terrorism, both international and domestic. Terrorists may have different causes and motivations, but the one thing they desire to do is to is to terrorize and kill, that their victims often have nothing to do with their grievances, real or imagined, and are innocent of any crime against them does not matter; nor does it seem to matter to their western apologists who excuse the terrorists by blaming the societies and governments of the victims instead of placing the blame on the hate filled ideology of the terrorist.

The sad thing is the ideology of DAESH has been around for a long time, but that it would not made much progress had not President Bush destroyed Iraq and given them a place to flourish. Fareed Zakaria hit the nail on the head when he noted: “I should have paid greater attention to my mentor in graduate school, Samuel Huntington, who once explained that Americans never recognize that, in the developing world, the key is not the kind of government — communist, capitalist, democratic, dictatorial — but the degree of government. That absence of government is what we are watching these days, from Libya to Iraq to Syria.” It is the absence of the restraining force of government that has allowed DAESH to thrive, and which will allow it to continue.

But that being said I am not going to let those sonsofbitches or any other terrorist sonsofbitches frighten me from living life or keeping me from traveling.

I have traveled all over the world and I have been to war. I have seen horrible things and even when I admit the many things that this country has done that are wrong, and even criminal, I cannot allow that to color my view that the terrorists; be they the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the Red Brigades, or today the hate filled religious terrorists of DAESH deserve the slightest bit of sympathy, and just because our government and other governments, as well as the media sometimes label people as terrorists who are not, does not mean that the actual terrorists, like the ones who attacked Brussels yesterday are not terrorists. They are terrorist and that word has a definitive meaning for them, there is no moral equivalence of sleight of hand here. They terrorize and kill innocents in the lands that they occupy, and are taking their fight all over the world.

So do I live with it? I decide to live in the  moment regardless of the threat. I refuse to be terrorized and I will speak out, even if I offend people. I think that Salman Rushdie, a man who has known the price of having a bounty on his head by religious fanatics for decades, said it right: “How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”

We are going through the airports and traveling on the subways, and going through train stations; and I will not be afraid.

Now if by some chance something does occur while we are over here I will let you know first hand, but even if terrorists strike I will refuse to be afraid.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, terrorism, Travel

Gemütlichkeit: The Importance of Community

oktoberfest-2015

Oktoberfest 2015

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my pre-posted articles for while we are away. We are halfway through our trip Munich Germany this week for the Oktoberfest and while here we are making number of other trips to historic places and exhibits. But I wanted to post something that I think is important that the Germans do but we often miss in the United States, the concept of community.

What we have always liked about our times in Germany is that it is pretty easy to talk and spend time with people, even perfect strangers. In Munich during the Fest you can do this sitting in one of the Bier Gardens of the Hofbrauhaus tent at the Theriesienwiese grounds, the Hofbrauhaus itself, other restaurants, sidewalk cafes or the hotel bar. I have to say that the ease with which you can mix with and get to know people; the ability to talk about life, culture, and even current events without someone looking for an angle to exploit is in stark contrast to so much of what we see in the States. Since I have lived in Germany for about four years as well as having been back numerous times I can say that whether you are in a big city or small town it is pretty easy to mix.

One of the interesting things is how the Germans, even those who live in big cities understand the concept of community. The Germans take life and work seriously, but unlike many, if not most of us, they know when business stops and fun, family and community begin. When people leave work they leave work, and even the business culture, in which stores are not open 24 hours or on Sundays provide Germans the opportunity to spend good amounts of time with family, their neighbors and friends as they meet for dinner or drinks at the local Gasthaus or inn on a regular basis. Likewise communities sponsor sports teams, and a wide array of other clubs that draw them together, everything from Rotary, to veterans associations, bands and choirs, hunting and shooting clubs and many more. Many of these groups sponsor events in which the entire community can partake.

The concept in all of this is that of Gemütlichkeit, a German word that basically describes a situation of where a cheerful mood, peace of mind and social acceptance are joined with the connotation of being unhurried in a cozy atmosphere. It also is understood in relationship to holidays where public festivities in the form of music, food, and drink help promote a sense of community. In this there is a sense that someone is part of something bigger than himself or herself where they are connected with being accepted by others while enriching the community.

Unfortunately for many Americans this is not the case. Unless one belongs to an organization such a various types of lodges, local sports fan clubs, or a local pub or bar where “everyone knows you name” there are precious few places one can experience this type of community. Churches like to claim that they are places of fellowship, but in my adult experience I have to say that most churches neither foster community nor are they places where one can go to be accepted. They are often the most cliquish, unfriendly, uninviting, and judgmental places around, and this is across the board. This cliquish and uninviting spirit covered in a veneer of spirituality and forced friendliness knows no denominational or theological boundaries, but I digress….

Judy and are lucky, we have a sense of community with friends who span the breadth of society; most of those who we know from the place where everyone knows our name, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant bar in Virginia Beach.

The Germans for all of their serious nature and sometimes-brusque manner of getting around do know how to draw the line between work, and play and in the process build community. Their cities and towns are designed to keep a community connection, including many parks; excellent public transportation systems, sidewalk cafes, local corner grocery stores and bakeries, as well as family run businesses that have not been destroyed by the huge box-stores like Wal-Mart. They are places that you get to know people, where life is lived, and community experienced.

Part of this is the difference in culture and how over the years our American culture has become detached from this sort of community. In many ways we have become increasing individualistic through the proliferation of suburbia, massive box-stores, and all that goes with it, including the abandonment of cities, and small poor rural communities. Even our churches, across the denominational spectrum have embraced the community destroying box-store religion of the mega-churches. The fact is we don’t know our neighbors and that leads to a culture that devalues people, destroys community, and actually brings on social problems including crime.

Without community we fall back into our basest survival instincts; we see people in regard to what they can do for us. People simply become nothing more than commodities that we discard when they are no longer useful. We adopt the modern American business model as our model for relationships; and when we do this, we devalue friendship; we become paranoid, distrustful, isolated and ultimately come to despise our neighbors.

To make matters worse our lack of real community has so poisoned our political system that I doubt we will ever come back together as Americans. I would like to see our divisions healed but I just don’t see it happening, and that to me is heartbreaking.

Anyway, speaking of this Judy and I will be seeing some of our friends and doing some sightseeing today and just enjoying that gift of friendship.

Wishing you all today that sense of Gemütlichkeit,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Collapse that May not Matter


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are in Germany this week and I think I mentioned here that I wasn’t going to watch the first presidential debated between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. If I didn’t say it here I’m sure that I did on my Facebook or Twitter feeds, but whatever. 

Honestly I wasn’t planning on watching it but we were up late with friends following a great day at the Nuremberg Trial Museum in Nuremberg and at Oktoberfest in Munich. Now I know that many people were planning to drink heavily as they watched the debate, but I didn’t. In fact, by the time I got to my room I had drank enough and it was almost time for the debate to begin. So I turned on my television to BBC and watched it, and unlike what I predicted either here or on my social media outlets, there was a debate, the only problem was that only one candidate really showed up, and that person was not Donald Trump, it was Hillary Clinton. Trump spent about 20 minutes repeating GOP boilerplate rhetoric that I am not sure he even believes before he transformed himself before the eyes of the nation into a charicature of an evil circus clown. 

But not only did Trump not show up for the substantive issues he came across as an evil circus clown like you would see in some B grade horror movie that was so bad that it went directly to video. It was sad to watch, especially because I spent 32 years of my life as a Republican and worked for the Ford campaign before I could even vote. I never believed that the GOP could sink to this level and I’m sure that if they were alive today that both Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater would repudiate everything that Donald Trump advocates. Even Richard Nixon might disown Trump if he were still alive and I cannot think of any President in recent times more malignant than Tricky Dick. That’s how bad Trump is. All he lacked were the clown shoes, a Bozo nose, a copious amount of white makeup, and a machete to complete the picture. 

Sadly, I was not surprised. I have stated many times that I believe that Trump is both a narcissist and a sociopath who has no ability to empathize with anyone and whose only concern is his bottom line. He demonstrated those lack of character traits in abundance last night and today. Caught in lies about the Iraq War and his Birtherism, he continued to lie and say that he was being “unfairly treated.” Nailed by Clinton on his profiting from the housing collapse that cost so many Aericans their homes, businesses, and jobs he smugly said “that is business.” He demonstrated not a shred of feeling or empathy for many of the people who lost their homes, businesses, or jobs in the crash of 2008, and who now misguidedly support him. Confronted on his incredibly malicious treatment of women he didn’t have the decency to apologize, instead he continued to attack them. 

His performance in the debate was sad, it showed a lack of preparation and hubris that would be disastrous for the nation and the world if he is elected. It showed that for all of his bluster that he is an empty suit with no capacity for critical thinking, dealing with policy, or leading. It revealed that he cares not a wit for his supporters or for that matter the affairs of hard working people in general. He is a sociopath who has a complete lack of empathy. 

When I went to Dachau and Nuremberg this week I could not help to be reminded that evil exists. I know a lot about the Nazi system, and when I stood by the dock that housed the Nazi war criminals in Saal 600, the courtroom when the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials were held, I could not help to remember the words of Gustave Gilbert, an America Army psychologist who worked with the defendants in the major war crimes trials. Gilbert struggled to understand the nature of evil until he spent time with all of the defendants. Then it dawned on him. None of the defendants had tha capacity for empathy. It was the one think that they all had in common. Gilbert wrote after the trials that “evil is the absence of empathy.” 

Today we face a man who is the nominee of a major party who shows that lack of empathy on nearly a daily basis. The man frightens me. In a normal year he would not have gotten through the primaries, but this is not a normal year, these are not normal times, and many of his supporters are not normal people. As Trump said last year he “could murder someone and his supporters would not abandon him.” Sadly, despite everything that Trump has said and done, many of his supporters will support him unto the last into Trump’s “Gottdamerung” where at the minimum he shatters the GOP, and if he wins would likely destroy the country in order to save it. 

So anyway, from Munich, I am yours.

Have a great day and night. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Importance of Now

munich-2015

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just a short thought while I am traveling in Germany. We live in very unsettled times and when that happens people are often filled with anxiety usually concerning things that they cannot control. I understand that completely, yet there is a time to live in the moment and savor friends, family, the love of a spouse, the warmth of a dog that adores you, a drink with friends, and the exploration of new places.

In our world people ask questions. As James Spader’s character in Boston Legal rightly observed:

“Some people see things as they are and ask why? Others see things as they never were and claim mad cow.” 

I am not an economist, I am a historian and I while I do understand some things about economic theory and history, and I am certainly no expert on markets. Like many I do get concerned when I see the stock markets around the world crashing, not so much for the rich people who are losing inflated stock value, for the rich almost without exception seem to do well in times of such turmoil, in fact they often do better because governments value their business expertise and depend on them to get countries out of the mess. But I worry more for the possible effects that this could have on small business owners, the middle class and the poor. I do get concerned for the middle class who have money invested in the markets through their 401k’s and retirement programs, as well as the poor who could lose their jobs if the companies that they work for tank.

There are so many variables; interest rates, oil prices, housing prices, and employment rates just to name a few. There are also the factors of what is happening in China and other big yet developing markets which can have ripple effects, or even tsunami-like affects across the globe depending how bad things get. There are so many other things going on in the world economy dealing with Greece the EU and the Euro, Russian rumblings in Eastern Europe and the Ukraine, the rise of ISIL and the potential threats to oil producing countries in the Middle East, things going on with vast refugee migrations as well as economic, political, and potential viral epidemics in African countries which frankly most Americans, Europeans and Asians until they reach our shores, and then my God there’s Donald Trump.

All of these things are so troubling on so many levels, and why shouldn’t they be. Not only are we looking at potential economic chaos, but there is climate change and its effects on endangered wildlife like the Virgin Island Screech Owl and the Fresno Kangaroo. Who knows what could be next?

So in light of this worldwide uncertainty I can recommend a number of things. Look at your investments, take a look at history because it always has lessons, or follow the immortal advice of John “Bluto” Blutarsky: “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”

But that being said, no matter how bad things are and how much worse they could get it is far more important to live in the moment with those that you love and care about in the now, not the future that we have so little influence over. As Danny Crane (William Shatner) told Alan Shore (James Spader) in Boston Legal:

“Let me tell you something. When you got polar ice caps melting and breaking off into big chunks and you got Osama still hiding in a cave, planning his next attack, when you got other rogue nations with nuclear arsenals, and not to mention some wack-job, home-grown that can cancel you at any second and when you got…mad cow, now gets high priority. And when you’re still on the balcony on a clear night, sipping scotch with your best friend, now is everything.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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From Dachau to Nuremberg 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight, or rather early this morning I am in Munich Germany for the Oktoberfest, but over the past two days Judy and I have been to the Dachau Concentration Camp and the Palace of Justive in Nuremberg. 


I have been to Dachau before, nearly twenty years ago, but Judy has never been there. It is a sobering site. Dachau was not an extermination camp like Auschwitz, but rather a place to imprison polical, religious, and other opponents and undesirables, but also to humiliate them and take away any shred of their humanity before killing them through torture, starvation, medical experiments, or other repressive measures. The exhibits even detailed things that ordinary Germans, and Nazi Party members bragged about “taking people to Dachau” on floats during festival times at their version of Carnival. 

Dachau was not an extermination camp like Auschwitz, it was a camp designed to crush political, religious, and racial,opposition to the Nazi state, that the Nazis were proud of it. I was the pioneer, it was the “model camp” on which all subsequent camps in the Nazi system used in dealing with the enemies of the Nazi state. When you go to Dachau the documentary evidence is overwhelming and the physical images, the preservation of the devices of torture, and killing all to real to deny. What happened there was beyond the imagination. 

The people initially rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Dachau were political, social, and religious leaders who had stood against them before the takeover. Any accusation was good enough for the Nazis to arrest, imprision, persecute, torture, and kill these men and women, and many of those decisions came in Saal 600, the main courtroom in Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice, the very courtroom that within 13 years would be the site of the Nuremberg trials, both the trials of the major war criminals, but also the leaders of the military, the SS, the mass murder units of the Einsatzgruppen, the doctors who committed inhuman medical experiments on innocent people, and who exterminated the disabled, the judges who adapted themselves to serve the Nazi regime, the corporations like Krupp and I G Farben, as well as the leaders of Nazi organizations. 



The two locations are two sides of the same coin. The Nazi defeat allowed Dachau to be seen and exposed as a place of horror that the Nazi we’re proud of and of which many German citizens approved. The trials at Nuremberg demonstrated to the world that a modern, civilized, cultured, and dare I say “Christian” nation in a very short time can become a criminal state, committing genocide as just one of many crimes against humanity. In that time many otherwise moral, upstanding people, either signed on and became participants in those crimes or said nothing against those crimes. 

These places also remind all of us that the what the Nazis did could be repeated in otherwise civilized Western nations, including the United States. When one hears some of the policy statements of Donald Trump, and the actions of his supporters one cannot help to be reminded of the last few years before the Nazi takeover and what happened in its aftermath. One cannot with an open mind and listening ear interpret his words and some of his supporters actions in any other way. That my friends is frieghtening. 

For me these trips amidst a visit to the Oktoberfest in Munich were important. While I have been to Dachau some twenty years ago, that site has been improved with the work that has been done in the museum. Likewise, the museum for the Nuremberg trials let me imagine being in that courtroom that I teach about in my ethics class at the Staff College, a class when I try to implant in the minds of the men and women who will be the future Generals, and Admirlas of not only own nation, but of our allied nation partners, that what they do in positive ways, as well as negative ways matters from more than a military viewpoint. 

Well it is very late, it has been a long day and when we get up we have some plans. So have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under holocaust, Political Commentary, war crimes

Vast and Heinous Crimes: Babi Yar at 75

babi yar

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

While I am in Germany I am pre-posting articles that I think are important about issues that I think that we should not forget. This especiall6y true during this presidential campaign where one candidate has stated that he would order U.S. troops to commit acts that can only be described as war crimes, and to deport or expel over 11 million people from the country. To put that number in perspective it is great than the numbers of Jews that Hitler’s forces “evacuated” during World War II.

So anyway, have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

As part of my academic work at the Staff College I teach military ethics as related to the Just War Theory. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I deal with the implication of participating in war crimes. It is a serious subject and in the class I attempt to make my students, all relatively senior officers from the United States and allied nations as uncomfortable as possible. I use a number of examples from the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg as well as the Generals Trial. I had an exceptionally good class over the past several weeks and that caused me to go back and do some revisions to a number articles that I have written in the past. I have published a version of this before but I have made some additions and expect that like my work on Gettysburg that this work too will be an ongoing project.

As I went through previous notes and research I felt a tenseness and revulsion for the actions of those that ordered, committed or condoned these crimes, men who were like me professional officers. I realize how easily it is for normal, rational, and even basically decent people to succumb to either participating in or turning a blind eye to crimes against others, even on a massive scale, in fact the bigger they are they seem easier to dismiss, because the victims cease be human, and simply a statistic. Sadly, Josef Stalin probably got human nature right when he said “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” That comment causes great revulsion in my soul, but I have to admit it seems to be the way that many people deal with such great crimes.

September 29th 2016 will be the 74th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. It was committed by members of the SS Einsatzgruppen C near Kiev shortly after the German Army captured that city. 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as Police battalions. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. It was the second largest killing action by the various Einsatzgruppen in the war. It was committed by men who either believed that the people that they were killing were sub-human, or did not have the courage to stand up and say no.

These issues are still with us. Hannah Arendt made the comment that “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

These are uncomfortable subjects. We like to say that the Nazis were different than us or others. To some extent this is true, but the real truth is that most of the Christian Western European countries, and I include the United States have also committed gross crimes against humanity against peoples that we believed were less than human and not afforded human rights or protections. In the movie Judgement at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy makes a comment that should send chills through any of us. He spoke concerning one of the judges on trial, “Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination….”

Babi Yar is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists or insurgents. In the coming days I am posting in small sections an article that I wrote that deals with the ideological as well as military reasons that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union.

What happened at Babi Yar is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists or insurgents.

The article deals with the ideological as well as military reasons that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union.

To be continued….

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, holocaust, nazi germany, world war two in europe

A Reflection on the Importance of Citizen Soldiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am pre-posting my blogs for the coming week as I will be in Germany for the Oktoberfest as well as to visit Nuremberg and the site of the War Crimes Trials, and the Concentration Camp at Dachau. This is a section of my Gettysburg text that deals with the importance of citizen soldiers.

This will be posted about the time I get to my hotel and after the trip to Dachau. If I get a chance to post something new during the week I will.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

“As soldier and citizen, today’s armed forces officer is a champion of both the nation’s defense and the principles upon which the nation was founded. Taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution means swearing to uphold the core values that define the essence of American citizenship; the armed forces officer is first and foremost a citizen who has embraced the ideals of the nation—only then can he or she defend those principles with true conviction.” [1]

The human dimension of war is the most important, regardless of the technological changes inherent in it. The British military theorist Colin S. Gray wrote: “Notwithstanding the vast and really untraceable complexity of the workings of war, peace, and strategy, by far the most, important among them is the human. This has always been the case. It is true today, and no grand design for the transformation of military power or no radical change predicted in the character of war can alter the eternal merit in this dictum.” [2] In this chapter we look at the tradition of the citizen soldier and military.

Carl Von Clausewitz, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and product of Classical German Liberal thought noted in his masterpiece of military thought On War, that “Any complex activity, if it is to be carried on with any degree of virtuosity, calls for appropriate gifts calls for appropriate gifts of intellect and temperament. If they are outstanding, and reveal themselves in exceptional achievements, their possessor is called a “genius.” [3]

Within the U.S. Army the example of Joshua Chamberlain at the Battle of Little Round Top has occupied a prominent place in Army leadership manuals including FM 22-100 and its successor FM 6-22.  However, that being said even those that learn about Chamberlain from this seldom delve deeper into his character, development as a leader and significance, at Little Round Top, Appomattox and after the war. Likewise the examples of both Warren and Vincent which are key to Chamberlain and his regiment even being on the hill are ignored in that publication.

It is important to discuss Vincent and Chamberlain for more than their direct contributions to the battle. Those are widely known and in a sense have become part of the myth that is our understanding of Gettysburg. While discussing those actions it is also necessary to put them into context with the character of both men, the cause that they fought. Likewise it is important to address in this age of the professional all volunteer force the importance of Citizen Soldiers in any kind of democracy or representative republic, a sociological question that military professionals as well as our elected officials and citizenry would do well to revisit.

This is particularly important now as various elected leaders, think tanks, defense contractors and lobbyists are all questioning the economic “liabilities” of the All-Volunteer force as well as the disconnect between the broader military and society at large. This means that there will be efforts to determine how the military will be manned, trained and employed, and if military leaders are ignorant of our history, the vital connection between the military and the citizenry and the contributions of Citizen Soldiers then we will be caught flat footed and unprepared in the coming debates. If that happens those decisions could be made by “bean counters” with little appreciation for what military professionalism and readiness entails, as well as think tanks and lobbyists for the defense industry who have their own motivations for what they do, often more related to their profits, power and influence than national security.

The armies that fought the Civil War for the most part were composed of volunteers who of a myriad of reasons went off to fight that war. Gouverneur Warren is a character whose life and career before and after the Civil War was much more like currently serving regular officers and to some extent the much more professional and hardened by war officer corps of the Reserve Components of each of our Armed Services, in particular the much active and deployed Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

The reserve components still do reflect much of the citizen soldier tradition but that being said between deployments, other activations and required schooling, those assets are much more on par with their active counterparts than they ever have been in our history. The reserves now, contrary to General Creighton Abrams desire to use them “to shield the regular army from misuse by feckless policy makers” were depended on for essential support functions, which in Abrams view would “preclude Washington from waging large scale war without first making the politically difficult decision to mobilize,” [4] are an integral part of how the nation conducts war without mobilizing the people, that key element of Clausewitz’s “paradoxical Trinity.” 

“American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mix force of professionals and citizen soldiers.” [5] Gouverneur Warren and many like him at Gettysburg, including men like John Buford, Lewis Armistead, Winfield Scott Hancock, George Meade and Robert E. Lee represented what until the beginning of the Cold War was the smaller pillar of our pluralistic military institution; that of the long term professional. Many others at Gettysburg represent what Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain, John Gordon represented the volunteer citizen soldier who enlisted to meet the crisis.

Until World War II and the advent of the Cold War these dual pillars existed side by side. Following the Second World War along with the small-wars that went along as part of it the world changed, and the wars that occurred, such as Korea and Vietnam “occurred on a scale too small to elicit a sustained, full-fledged national commitment, yet too large for a prewar-style regular army to handle.” [6] Because of this “military requirements thus became a fundamental ingredient of foreign policy, and military men and institutions acquired authority and influence far surpassing that ever previously possessed by military professionals on the American scene.” [7] General Anthony Zinni noted that the foreign policy results of this transformation have resulted in the United States becoming “an empire” [8] something that no American living in 1863 could have ever contemplated.

This was part of a revolution in military affairs far more important than the application of technology which brought it about, the Atomic Bomb; it was a revolution in national strategy which fundamentally changed American thinking regarding the use of the military instrument in relationship to diplomacy, and the relationship of the military to society at large. Russell Weigley noted: “To shift the American definition of strategy from the use of combats for the object of wars to the use of military force for the deterrence of war, albeit while still serving the national interests in an active manner, amounted to a revolution in the history of American military policy….” [9]

The policy worked reasonably well until Vietnam and the inequities of the system showed its liabilities and brought about a change from politicians. Lieutenant General Hal Moore wrote of the Vietnam era: “The class of 1965 came out of the old America, a nation that disappeared forever in the smoke that billowed off the jungle battlegrounds where we fought and bled. The country that sent us off to war was not there to welcome us home. It no longer existed.” [10]

The debacle of Vietnam and the societal tidal wave that followed brought about the end of the selective service system, by which the large army needed to fight wars was connected to the society at large and the creation of the All-Volunteer force by President Nixon in 1974. The ethos that every citizen was a soldier was destroyed by Vietnam and even men like General William Westmoreland who warned that “absent “the continuous movement of citizens in and out of the service,…the army could “become a danger to our society-a danger that our forefathers so carefully tried to preclude.” [11]

This cultural shift is something that none of the professional officers of the small ante-bellum army like Warren would have ever imagined much less men like Vincent or Chamberlain who were true citizen-soldiers. Thus for currently serving officers it is important to recognize this key change as it applies to American military strategy as well as the place the military occupies in our society.

This makes it important to our study as we examine the actions of Vincent and Chamberlain outside of myth and legend.  We must see the implications that they can have not only on the battlefield but in our relationship to the American citizenry and society. It is to put in in classic terms a return to understanding the relationship between the military and the people so powerfully enunciated in Clausewitz’s concept of war being a “paradoxical Trinity” of “primordial violence, hatred and enmity,… the element of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy….” [12] In Clausewitz’s understanding these are the people, the commander and his army and the government.

While Warren represents the professional officer; Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain and thousands more like them, just men who served in the Civil War represented an important part of our military tradition that no longer exists in such a form. An exception to this might be in example of young men and women that volunteer to serve in the reserve components and leave after they complete their service obligation. Honestly, we no longer have a system that allows, nor do we actively encourage men like Vincent and Chamberlain to leave lucrative civilian employment or academia to serve alongside the professionals in positions of responsibility leading regiments or brigades or serving as senior staff officers unless they are already part of the military in our reserve components.

The examples of Vincent, Chamberlain and so many other citizen soldiers demonstrate the profound of this important legacy, which was for so long one of the twin pillars of our national defense. While this is still to some extent carried on by the reserve components of the United States military service, we no longer provide the opportunity for outsiders such as Vincent and Chamberlain to serve in that manner. While it is true that a great number of citizen soldiers did not perform to the level of Vincent or Chamberlain during the war, the same can be said of some of many of the Regular officers who served alongside of them and often failed miserably, examples of who can be found throughout the Battle of Gettysburg.

That being said, in the coming years military professionals will have to engage lawmakers and the bureaucracy of the Pentagon as the shape of the future military, especially the land components is debated and decided upon by politicians. Thus, it is of the utmost importance of revisiting the tradition of the citizen soldier and how it can be renewed in the coming years. In fact General Stanley McChrystal said in 2012 “I think we ought to have a draft” because a “professional military necessarily becomes “unrepresentative of the population” and “cannot properly represent the country as a whole.” [13] That will be a question for policy makers to debate and for military professionals to consider.

While warfare may have grown more complex, at its heart it remains a primordial art, where true leaders learn the trade and excel in battle or in staff work. The American naval warfare theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, son of Dennis Hart Mahan who was so instrumental in the education of so many of the professional officers who served at Gettysburg wrote something that while directed toward naval leaders is applicable to our discussion here: “Historically, good men with poor ships are better than poor men with good ships; over and over the French Revolution taught this lesson, which in our own age, with its rage for the last new thing in material improvement, has largely dropped out of our memory.” [14]

The question that military professionals, politicians and those who determine policy must ask regarding the future military is whether we will re-enliven this tradition outside of the established reserve components and provide opportunity for men like Vincent, Chamberlain and so many others who throughout our history have demonstrated the aptitude necessary to become models of leadership and military competence without having grown up in the military system. It is a question that is certainly worth debating as we go forward in an era of military cuts and potential changes in how we man, pay and train our forces for the challenges that will most certainly arise.

Chamberlain’s words about the men that he served alongside like his commanding officer, Strong Vincent are a fitting way to close.

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.” [15]

Notes

[1] _______. The Armed forces Officer U.S. Department of Defense Publication, Washington DC. January 2006 p.2

[2] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.93

[3] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.100

[4] Bacevich, Andrew J. Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their Country Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2013 Amazon Kindle Edition p.105

[5] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.xii

[6] Ibid. Bacevich, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their p.50

[7] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.345

[8] Zinni, Tony. The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose Palgrave McMillian, New York 2006 p.4

[9] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.367-368

[10] Moore, Harold G. and Galloway Joseph L We Were Soldiers Once…And Young Harper Perennial Books New York 1992 pp. xix-xx

[11] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.58

[12] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.89

[13] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.121

[14] Mahan, Alfred T. The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire 1793-1812 Little Brown and Company, Boston 1892 p.102

[15] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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Tragic Heroes: Gouverneur Warren Part Five

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The last installment of my work on Gouverneur Warren.

Peace

Padre Steve+

warren5-5

A Martyr to no Cause at All: Disgrace and Restoration

Among the people that Warren made enemies with during the campaign was his mentor and friend George Gordon Meade. The issue with Meade was particularly serious as Meade seriously considered relieving Warren due to his insubordinate attitude. Meade wrote a letter which he never sent to Grant’s chief of staff Colonel John Rawlins where he acknowledged Warren’s fine traits but also his problems. Meade wrote:

“No officer in the army exceeds Genl Warren in personal gallantry, in activity, in zeal and in sleepless nights, or in devotion to his duties,” Meade wrote- he suffered from a serious “defect” in which he often questioned orders rather than obey them. Such a serious defect Meade wrote, “strikes at the root of all Military subordination, and is entirely out of question that I can command this Army, if each Corps Commander is to exercise a similar independence of action.” [1]

Another enemy made by Warren was Phillip Sheridan, the new commander of the army’s cavalry. The two men were seemingly destined to clash; they had already clashed at Spotsylvania where Warren complained about Sheridan’s performance.  Sheridan never forgave or ever forgot Warren’s justified criticism of him during that battle, and

But the issue really came down to personality and leadership style. Joshua Chamberlain who testified at his board of inquiry testified at it that “Warren gave the impression of a slow, quiet contemplative sort who could not be rushed into decision making. Whether on the march or in battle, he moved at a deliberate pace, refusing to commit himself or his troops until he had time to analyze the situation.” [2]

Chamberlain observed that to someone who did not know Warren, as Sheridan did not that “General Warren’s temperament is such that he, instead of showing excitement, generally shows an intense concentration in what I call important movements…and those who do not know him might take it for apathy when it is deep, concentrated thought and purpose” [3] much of which was rooted in Warren’s strong desire not to sacrifice his men needlessly taking care “to ensure that they were not thrown in to suicidal situations” and he “looked out for their welfare.” [4]

Warren and Sheridan were different types of people and commanders. Warren was an exceptionally intelligent man, one of the brightest in the army and highly regarded in many ways. He was excellent leader of men and he was beloved by his troops, but that being said the traits that were his strengths hindered him in command. He did command from the front, but “his real interest was in the science of command. Warren believed that leading a corps gave him discretion and leeway in carrying out his duties – which often he performed with the smugness of the righteous. It developed that not everyone would be tolerant of either his manner or his philosophy of command – particularly not U.S. Grant.” [5] Nor did Warren have the kind of single minded vision and killer instinct that made Grant, Sherman and Sheridan such brutally effective battlefield commanders. He was “handicapped by the breadth of his vision,” [6] the trait that made him such an effective staff officer which at Little Round Top served the army so well.

After the war Grant praised Warren’s intelligence, earnestness and perceptiveness, but he found in Warren, what he called a “defect which was beyond his control, that which was very prejudicial to his usefulness…” What was the defect? Grant wrote: “could see every danger at a glance before he encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.” [7]

Grant had been apprised of the battlefield by a false report of Warren and his troop’s actual location, news that was hours old “told Sheridan to relieve Warren if he judged the Fifth Corps would “do better” under another commander.” Staff officers of Fifth Corps were shocked, and one wrote “General Grant knew that General Sheridan was not a person to be intrusted with such a weapon and not use it.” [8]

sheridan

Major General Phillip Sheridan

Sheridan did use the power Grant had given. Sheridan was still smarting from a setback incurred the previous day where one of Warren’s infantry divisions had to “extricate Little Phil from difficulties with George Pickett’s Confederates at Dinwiddie Court House on March 31”  [9]  relieved Warren while the latter was in the midst of actual combat. However, neither Sheridan nor Grant wanted to admit was that “Warren did about as well as anyone could have that night getting three divisions of the Fifth Corps to Sheridan’s position.” [10]

Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. Sheridan’s actions to relieve Warren at the moment of a great victory “would reverberate for the better part of two decades.” [11] Sheridan’s staff had given Warren wrong information about the positions of the Confederate troops and Warren’s own orders to his division commanders were conflicting. Warren had been working to get Crawford’s division into the fight as it had strayed too far north before turning westward and hit the wrong Confederate units and Warren went to rectify the situation and to get Crawford’s troops into the fight.

Since Sheridan did not see Warren at the front he ordered him relieved of command, even though Warren had personally taken over the direction of one of the brigades, led it into action “and under the setting sun, he snatched up his corps flag, shouted to his men – “Now, boys, follow me, this will be the last fight of the war!” – and rode straight toward the rebel line. His horse was shot and killed, and Colonel Hollon Richardson of the Seventh Wisconsin was wounded as he tried to shield his corps commander when he toppled to the ground….”  [12] Not long after this “official orders relieved Warren of his command.” [13] Sadly, had Warren died that day he might have been eulogized as a hero; instead he suffered terribly at the hands of the leaders of the army that he had served so well.

The relief was brutal, Sheridan wrote that “General Warren did not exert himself to get up his corps as rapidly as he might have done, and his manner gave me the impression that he wished the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack could be completed.” [14] This ruined Warren’s career and even hinted at a possible lack of courage on the part of Warren. This Sheridan refused to reconsider, something that “Chamberlain and the officers and men of the Fifth Corps ever forgave him for what they considered an unjust act made cruel by his refusal to reconsider it.” [15] Many, including men who had little love for Warren and who were often critical of him were appalled at the relief. Colonel Charles Wainwright, the commander of Warren’s corps artillery who once wrote to his wife that Warren was “a very loathsome, profane ungentlemanly & disgusting puppy in power” [16] felt that Warren’s “removal at this time, and after the victory had been won, appears to be wrong and cruel.” [17] Porter Alexander wrote after the war of Warren that “no Federal corps commander had a higher personal reputation for courage, enterprise and good judgment.” [18]

Warren was a professional soldier, but he was not perfect. He “possessed all the attributes of a capable, if not excellent corps commander- intelligence, executive ability, training, and personal bravery. But he was a difficult subordinate, whose arrogance and bouts with depression fueled his temper.” [19] Warren took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan, who in their haste at Five Forks not only destroyed his career but did nothing to rectify their decision even after others protested. Despite the problems in their relationship Meade “on two occasions suggested to Grant that he reinstate Warren as commander of the V Corps, Grant did not respond.” [20]

William Henry Powell wrote in his history of Fifth Corps:

“With the flush of victory on his brow, with the end of the struggle so near, with the faint Rays of the dawn of peace already gleaming in the sanguinary sky, this noble warrior was brushed aside like a fly from a map and sent into what was an undeniable, if not apparently dishonorable, seclusion.” [21]

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineering duty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. The previously noted letter to his wife Emily where Warren stated that “I wish I did not dream so much…” and described symptoms that we might now attribute to some sort of combat stress injury was written during that assignment.

Warren sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but Warren died three months before the results were published. He reportedly told his wife Emily as he lay dying “Convey me to my grave without pageant or show…I die a disgraced soldier.” [22] His last words reportedly were “The Flag! The Flag!” [23] Embittered by the treatment he had received by the army that he had served so well, Warren was buried “as he directed in his will, in civilian clothes and without military ceremony.” [24] In 1888, veterans of the 5th New York, Duryee Zouaves; Warren’s first command placed a bronze statue of Warren standing on the boulder on Little Round Top, where Warren reportedly stood during the battle.

Warren’s funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [25] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.”  [26]

Despite the later events which ended up in his relief by Sheridan, Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd 1863 exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive to achieve. From a leadership perspective Warren’s actions at Little Round Top demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command: “the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates.

However with that being said, during the 1864 campaign in Virginia, Warren was often disconnected from his senior commanders.  During the campaign acted in a manner that did not always contribute to successful mission command, even when events proved him to be correct. During the campaign there were times that his temper, angry outbursts and depression severely hampered his ability to operate on intent, through trust, empowerment and understanding.

In a way the harsh actions of Grant and Sheridan at Five Forks to send a message to the senior leaders of the Army of the Potomac was correct. Unfortunately they directed that action at the wrong man at the wrong time. What Grant and Sheridan did to Warren was without doubt as grave injustice as ever done to any American commander during the prosecution of any war. However, though they were wrong in what they did to Warren “had the same fate been visited upon one or two of the Army of the Potomac’s less-than-stellar corps commanders back in 1862 or 1863, to serve as an indelible lesson to that army’s high command…” [27] much good might have been accomplished and the war in the East brought to an end sooner.  But through their unjust actions General Gouverneur K. Warren “became a martyr to no cause at all.” [28]

Warren’s life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession, that it is possible for good officers, even excellent officers and leaders to do things that hinder or even hurt the ability to maintain the sense of trust required by their command or staff position. The conflicting personalities of Warren and Sheridan demonstrate this lack of trust which culminated in Warren’s relief.

Warren was a tragic hero, brilliant, courageous and caring. He was also was likely suffering from psychological wounds of war. It was probably these unseen wounds that caused him to be misunderstood in the moment of perceived crisis by men that neither knew him nor appreciated him. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry which exonerated Warren after his death wrote:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [29]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize.  His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [30]

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. In the case of Warren where there is so much controversy, this is particularly important. We have to honestly evaluate his strengths and weaknesses and not fall into the trap that many do by isolating a particular event or personality trait, be it good or bad, and using and then using it to turn the person into an icon, or to destroy the subject of our work.

Those that commit this error render a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war nearly everyone who serves in combat, gives up something of themselves and sometimes the effects last long after the war is over. Sadly there are times when the lives and reputations of heroes like Gouverneur Warren can be destroyed, not only by their personality failings or weaknesses; by the affliction of Combat Stress injuries as well as the actions of people in the institutions that they serve.

This is the challenge for current military leaders, for within the ranks of our military, including those of the officer corps there are men and women who are very much like the troubled hero of Little Round Top, Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren.

Notes

[1] ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.305

[2] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p176

[3] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.278

[4] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.316

[5] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.257

[6] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.317

[7] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.262

[8] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders pp.275-276

[9] Inid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.328

[10] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.272

[11] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.255

[12] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.232

[13] Nesbitt, Mark Through Blood and Fire: Selected Civil War Paper of Major General Joshua Chamberlain Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1996 Amazon Kindle edition location 2113 of 2800

[14] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.278

[15] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.175

[16] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York 2005 p.374

[17] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.236

[18] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.514

[19] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.402

[20] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[21] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[22] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.307

[23] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.244

[24] Foote Shelby The Civil War, a Narrative, Volume Three: Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.874  

[25] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[26] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[27] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[28] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[29] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[30] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xi

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Tragic Heroes: Gouverneur Warren Part Four

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Going back to the leadership series and the fourth installment of my work dealing with Union Major General Gouverneur Warren.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

warren-and-staff

Warren With his Staff

Corps Command in Virginia and the Evidence of Combat Stress

Warren was promoted to be the acting commander of II Corps after Gettysburg as Hancock had been wounded and then was appointed to command V Corps.  He served well as a Corps commander, although his often “quick and sulphurous temper which he displayed in the Virginia campaign of 1864 worked against Warren by making him unnecessary enemies and dismaying his friends.” [1] Warren was so short tempered during the campaign, probably, due to the result of the strain of it that Colonel Charles Wainwright complained that Warren “had a screw loose and is not quite accountable for all his freaks.”  [2] In high command Warren’s “fellow officers respected his ability as an engineer, but disliked his arrogance and insolence. Warren’s temper was legendary, and when his anger boiled over he sputtered out profanities that, said one colleague, “made my hair stand on end.” [3] To be fair to Warren that last outburst followed the disaster inflicted by Grant on the army at Cold Harbor, when Grant threw it up against strongly entrenched Confederate troops with great loss. Warren who could not abide meaningless slaughter found it reprehensible.

The interesting thing about all the accounts of Warren’s temper being so violent is that they do not begin until after he is in Corps command, and he gives no hint of such anger and rage in his letters until after his experiences on the Peninsula, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg and finally Gettysburg. During the Army of the Potomac’s inaction during the fall of 1863 it became clear that the war was taking a toll on Warren. Alcohol became a problem, so much that once after drinking a whisky punch with his staff he was “falling down drunk” and had to be told of his actions the following night by one of his staff members. [4]

His letters to Emily display a sense of depression and sometimes even despair. He wrote Emily:

“I repine a great deal. I begin to feel myself giving out in spirit. I need so to rest where I could be contented. So long now my life has been one continued worry or excitement that I am losing my elasticity and I am getting almost afraid for I am apprehensive that I cannot uphold my position…. Every day shows me more and more how this war is severing my old affiliations and making me lonely…here I sit all alone in this great camp (for so I feel) and the memory of my dear friends comes over me and I am morbidly depressed. Indeed I feel I am a very small man that I can endure no more, for I am well and not a prisoner…and have been honored more than I deserve. I have not the heart of a good soldier.” [5]

Since so many people that knew Warren after Gettysburg describe the fearsome and nearly volcanic nature of his temper we can accept that as a fact. Likewise his arrogant, insolent and even haughty attitude towards those that he believed himself to be intellectually superior is evident even during his early career as are his recurrent struggles with depression which only grew worse throughout the war and in following years.

Dr. Judith Herman, an associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School wrote:

“Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the basic attachments of family, friendship, love and community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis.” [6]

But it is only after the continued trauma that Warren experienced at Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg that we see the evidence of Warren’s anger, bitterness and rage becoming a major factor in his life and relationships. If we are to take into account the findings of modern science, medicine and psychiatry in relationship to the descriptions provided by Warren and those that knew him, we have to at least give serious consideration to the real possibility that Warren’s issues were caused by his experience of war and some type of resultant combat stress injury. This could include PTSD, Moral Injury, or possibly even changes brought about by a traumatic brain or concussive injury.

Jonathan Shay, a psychologist with many years of experience in dealing with veterans afflicted with PTSD wrote that “The social conditions that cause complex PTSD – persistent betrayal and rupture of community in mortal stakes situations of captivity – destroy thumos, destroy normal narcissism and undo character.” [7]

Dave Grossman writes about how such events can become what we now call “Character disorders”:

Character disorders include obsessional traits in which the soldier becomes fixated on certain actions or things; paranoid trends accompanied by irascibility, depression, anxiety, often taking on the tone of threats to his safety; schizoid trends leading to hypersensitivity and isolation; epileptoid character reactions accompanied by periodic rages…..What has happened to the soldier is an altering of his fundamental personality.” [8]

Shay writes about what happens to character when it is damaged by war, and the spectrum of clinical manifestations of an injury to character seen in many combat veterans. Among the manifestation that Shay describes, a good number which are present in what we know about Warren. These include: Demoralization, self-loathing, a sense of worthlessness, pervasive “raw” vulnerability and feeling conspicuous, social withdraw irritability, rage at small slights, disappointments and lapses, coercive attempts to establish power dominance. [9]

Warren’s repeated writings about his isolation; depression and despair to Emily are powerful. He writes Emily in words that he shares with no one else. In those letters he conveys the depth of his injury, an injury that has shaken his faith in himself, his leaders and brought about an existential crisis. It is an injury that with a man like Ulysses S. Grant in command that he could not voice to anyone in the army for fear of what we would now call the stigma of PTSD that is experienced by so many combat veterans. Instead it comes out in a drive to ensure that his soldiers are not sacrificed in senseless battles, a sense of his own unworthiness, and a sense that he has been shunted aside, even betrayed by those commanding the army, including his former friend Meade as well as Grant. His letter to Emily that he wrote in 1866 describes the effects of PTSD and Moral Injury almost perfectly:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [10]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.315

[2] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: the Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.305

[3] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.73

[4] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.104

[5] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.106

[6] Herman, Judith Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror Basic Books, a member of Perseus Books Group. New York 1992 and 1997 p.51

[7] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.160

[8] Grossman, Dave On Killing Back Bay Books Little, Brown and Company New York, Boston and London 1995 and 1996 p.48 An epileptoid personality pattern is one that includes irritability, selfishness, aggressiveness and being uncooperative. All of these are demonstrated in the changes that Warren exhibits between 1862 and 1865

[9] Ibid. Shay Odysseus in America pp.160-161

[10] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: the Life of G.K Warren p.249

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