Monthly Archives: February 2019

the Four Freedoms, a Universal Message Which Needs to Be Heard Again

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On January 6th 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union Message to Congress and the nation. I spent the time to both both read it and listen to it the other day. It is a profoundly moving speech, not without controversy of course, but one which we need to hear again. It is a speech that like the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s  Gettysburg Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a Dream speech calls us to higher ideals, ideals that we often come up short in living up to, but ideals worth living for and to endeavor to attain in our lifetime.

When Roosevelt spoke the nation was in the midst of crisis. The United States was still recovering from the Great Depression. War threatened as Hitler’s Nazi German legions had overrun all of Western Europe and much much of North Africa. German U-Boats and surface ships were prowling the North Atlantic. Britain stood alone between Germany’s complete domination of Europe. Even the Soviet Union, a mortal enemy of Fascism had concluded a concordat with Hitler to divide Eastern Europe. Though no one yet knew it, Hitler was already planning to break his accord with Stalin and invade the Soviet Union.

In it Roosevelt made a comment that we should remember in light of the knowledge that Russia interfered in our election, and has been working tirelessly to split us from our allies and directly working against our efforts to fight ISIS, and the efforts of our soldiers in Afghanistan. He noted:

“I suppose that every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world — assailed either by arms or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord in nations that are still at peace.”

Roosevelt’s speech, which largely focused on the threat of Nazi Germany, also supported Britain and the exiled governments of nations conquered by Hitler.  As he outlined preparations to defend the United States, Roosevelt also called on Congress to pass Lend Lease to help those fighting the dictators, as well as increased opportunity at home. In response to the emerging threats and the unwillingness of some, including a strong pro-Germany lobby headed by prominent senators, American aviation hero Charles Lindberg, and and big business, Roosevelt challenged Americans to face up to them. He noted:

“As a nation we may take pride in the fact that we are soft-hearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed.  We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal preach the “ism” of appeasement.  We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests.”

On the domestic front Roosevelt reiterated the message of the New Deal, for even with war looming he did not want to see Americans lost in the exchange and he linked freedom abroad to the same at home. He noted:

“As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone. Those who man our defenses and those behind them who build our defenses must have the stamina and the courage which come from unshakable belief in the manner of life which they are defending. The mighty action that we are calling for cannot be based on a disregard of all the things worth fighting for.”

He continued:

“Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment — The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.”

But the real heart of the message, applicable to all people everywhere Roosevelt enunciated a number of principles that are a beacon to all people. Firmly grounded in words of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address they are called the Four Freedoms. Those freedoms are an ideal, in fact they certainly were not practiced well then by Americans, nor now, but they are worth working to: Roosevelt said:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

The speech was important, and now as it did then it calls Americans to higher purposes, to higher ideals, and it recognizes that we have never fully measured up to our own words. At the time it was spoken, Jim Crow was still the law of the land, Mexican Americans were often treated as poorly as blacks, Native Americans had few rights; and barely a year later Japanese Americans would be taken from the homes, lose their business and be sent to detention camps for the duration of the war after Pearl Harbor, simply because they were of Japanese descent. But those abiding principles are things that we should never lose sight of, and always strive to realize.

The great American artist Norman Rockwell did a series of portraits, the first of which was published 76 years ago today.

Today the four freedoms that Roosevelt enunciated are under threat around the world and in the United States too. We live in an age of uncertainty, turbulence, division, inequity, as well as deeply ingrained cynicism. Unscrupulous authoritarian politicians are using that uncertainty and fear to roll back the very liberties that democratic institutions are founded on.

As a result, as a man who promised during his campaign to roll back the rights of many people it is important not to forget this speech. The same is true as state and local politicians set out to not only roll back the rights of some, but to enable religious people to discriminate against other citizens.

It is also important because the government of Russia led efforts to attack the country by influencing the election, and for years has been committing aggression against American allies and working against American and allied efforts around the world. Yet the the incoming administration is not only welcoming it, but attacking and trying to discredit the American intelligence officials who say that it happened, and condemning senators and congressmen of its own party who want to further investigate those attacks by Russia and impose sanctions.  

So I think that it is important to reflect on these events, and then turn to speeches like Roosevelt’s in order for us to strive for a higher purpose, not to lose hope, and give in to fear that would enable our freedoms and the freedoms of any citizen to be curtailed.

The fact is that every bit of this speech is something that President Donald Trump stands against. He stands for the rights of the wealthiest and despises all others; he pretends to be for the rights of Conservative Christians despite mocking their faith and denigrating the faith or lack of faith of all other Americans who haven’t prostrated their religion to him; the freedom of free expression that he attacks every day; and finally fear, which he attempts to instill with every speech, or Tweet that he makes.

The contrast cannot be any greater.

Honestly, if any man or woman seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party would fully embrace the truths of this speech, in thought, word, and deed, they would walk into the White House in a landslide, popular vote and even in the electoral college.

If you can please that the time to listen to it or read it at the following link: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrthefourfreedoms.htm

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

Chronic Pain, Insomnia, Trumped Up National Emergencies and a brief Thought for the Night

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had a very difficult time sleeping last night. Part, probably much was due to physical pain in my knees and especially my right hip. Then there was the pounding rain and wind that kept me awake, and finally the anxiety that I feel for our nation in the wake of President Trump’s “Trumped up” Declaration of National Emergency. I didn’t get to actual sleep until nearly 4 AM, in the military that’s 0400, if you work in the Trump White House Donald’s little hand is shoving a chicken leg down his gullet and and his big hand is on tweet. But I digress…

I’m tired despite having slept until almost 11:00 AM, since today was President’s Day I didn’t have physical therapy at our Navy clinic. I have an assessment on my shoulder at the physical therapy clinic for a nagging injury that has been afflicting me since my return from Iraq. I got treatment for it way back then but little has changed, it’s just gotten worse as I tried to get back some upper body strength doing pull-ups late this summer, and yes I’m still tired. I had a whole bunch of stuff that I started but just saved as drafts this evening.

So with that, especially the Trump National Emergency, I leave you with this thought:

Russian exile and Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov who wrote:

“First of all, people here should understand that nothing is for granted. There were many warnings in the past, you know, but every time, Americans and Europeans—they believe that it’s like bad weather. It comes and goes. But the danger is real. I always want to quote Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Now, probably, it’s not even one generation. Things can happen very quickly, because there’s so much power that comes in the hands of people who have very little affection for the values that make up the core of liberal democracy and the free world.” 

Because of that I believe that we must stand for principle and work for a new birth of freedom even as it seems that freedom itself is in danger due to the actions of the American President. We must stand or we will lose everything that generations of Americans as well as others have fought so hard to preserve, but it is difficult. As Max Boot wrote back in March of this year:

“Trump is sucking a substantial portion of America into his Orwellian universe. The rest of us have to struggle simply to remember that war isn’t peace, freedom isn’t slavery, ignorance isn’t strength.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, PTSD

The Crossing Of an American Rubicon: The Trumped Up National Emergency

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has finally happened. President Trump finally declared his National Emergency because Congress did not give in to him, and because when he had solid House and Senate majorities he couldn’t garner a deal that would pass because of his own intransigence and stupidity ensured the inability to make a deal.

So here we are with a National Emergency that is based on his lies, and his inability to compromise the slightest to get a deal. After failing time and time again he shut down the Government for over a month, endangering the economy and national security in the process, even as the Mueller investigation indicted more of his close associates who appear to have quite extensive dealings with Russian agents, collaborators, and government officials. So in my view he is getting desperate, and more dangerous bit the minute.

I honestly expected that the President would use the cover of a major terrorist attack or war as cover to make his power grab. Right now al, he has done is offer a befuddled series of lies and excuses wrapped in a worthless, and plainly unconstitutional piece of paper as has ever been signed by an American President. Winston Churchill said of Russian intentions:  “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” For Trump one can say that his intentions are clear, selfish, and washed with an enema. The key is Trump’s personal interest.” The irony is that his interests are all backed by the Russians.

It is sickening to watch as the Acting Secretary Of Defense is attempting to find the money and manpower needed for Trump’s Wall from military construction, MILCON accounts which includes everything from training facilities to tarmacs, runways to railheads, shipyards to firing ranges, drydocks to aircraft hangers, and everything that make the bases which support the troops in the field operating. Military family housing, medical facilities, schools operated by DOD which service military kids, and base security designed to protect bases from of all things, actual terrorists. Then he’s going after the DOD part of our nation’s drug interdiction programs, which is ludicrous in light of his rational that the Trump Wall is to keep out illegal drugs.

I will not compare Trump to Hitler because that would be an insult to the genocidal criminal dictator that Hitler was, not because Hitler was a good human being or worthy of any praise, but because he was a far better politician than Trump could ever hope to be. Hitler took advance of his opponents missteps, be they the political opponents, those in his own party, and European governments. But unlike Hitler, Trump delivers unforced error after error and claims to be a brilliant leader even while he is being rolled by men like Kim Jun Un, Vlad Putin, and so many others.

His only salvation is that some 35% of the American electorate, including the vast bulk of Republican legislators, are what he calls the most loyal followers, who in his words would vote for him even if he shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue. I guarantee that if he called on them to kill that thousands would heed the call to kill his opponents, just like his Stormtroopers would before his accession to power; and how his SS, acting in concert with the Army and Police would decapitate the leadership of the SA Stormtroopers, including some of his earliest friends and allies during the Night of the Long Knives. Like Hitler, Trump’s only loyalty is to himself, all others are fungible, even his family if need be.

Now is a dangerous time. Declarations of National Emergency give the President great powers above what Article II of the Constitution normally permit. Unlike any other point in our history we now have a President is prepared to use those powers for his political survival and personal gain, sadly his GOP majority in the Senate has all but surrendered their Article I powers to the imperial President.

I do not know what will happen next. The State Of California has already sued to block the effort, the Democrats in the House Of Representatives are planning legislative and possible legal moves against it. Likewise, Trump’s move has divided Republicans. So obviously this will not be enough to cement his power, it is a ploy to distract as the Mueller Eagle circles its prey.

An animal that acts purely on instinct is most dangerous when cornered. It has become apparent that Trump does not act or live within the confines of reason or legality. His business and personal life has always shown that he is a predator speaking his own engorgment, even at the expense of wives, business partners, contractors, customers, or employees. It is the world that he lives in. It is the world that he imbibed from his father Fred Trump.

So my friends, do not let your guard down. We are in completely untested waters for Americans. What will happen tomorrow we don’t know, and we would be fools to prognosticate about. Thus we have to look at history and how other human beings have behaved in similar situations.

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

To forsee the end of the Trump gambit is not hard. We have the benefit of seeing tyrants of history, including Hitler, with today’s authoritarian leaders. Trump has already deployed Federal troops to the U.S. Mexican Border in what most people, including many Republicans viewed as a political stunt. In the aftermath of his declaration he again went to Twitter and attacked the media as enemy of the people” and demanded retribution against his opponents. How long will it be until one of his militarized and propaganda filled believers goes on the attack. One did last week in El Paso, but thankful they were not armed. What is to keep Right Wing Trump supporters who have concealed carry permits to walk into any place and kill someone they believe to be an enemy of the people? 

The fact is there is that there is nothing that will keep this from happening. This makes me glad that I served in Iraq and on Naval boarding teams in the Persian Gulf completely unarmed, and also in a certain way for the PTSD that I suffer, because one of the afflictions if it can be called that is being very hyper vigilant. I won’t be caught by surprise if I can help it, and even unarmed I know enough how to disrupt and confuse an attacker to at least equalize a situation. After having credible threats to my life in 2009 and 2010 from a neo-Nazi long before I became outspoken in my beliefs I always remain alert, sadly, even on base, because I do take notice of the rather violent political messages on the bumper stickers and window decals of many fellow sailors, marines, and soldiers, active and retired.

I don’t want to be considered a pessimist, but I do forsee the end, unless a sea change that I don’t think will happen occurs. I fully expect something else to happen that allows Trump to expand his powers, an event that even many opponents would find hard to oppose. A Reichstag Fire moment, maybe, but possibly worse.

So with all those happy thoughts in mind, have a good night.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under civil rights, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Last Of the Carriers that Held the Line Found: USS Hornet Discovered 17,000 Feet Below the Pacific

Quadruple 1.1 inch Anti-Aircraft Gun Mount on USS Hornet 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The crew and research teams on the late Paul Allen’s research vessel, the RV Petrel made a tremendous maritime discovery in late January near where Hornet sank following massive damage sustained during the Battle Of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26th 1942.

 

USS Hornet CV-8 Building at Newport News VA

 

Hornet as Completed off Hampton Roads shortly after Her Commissioning

The USS Hornet CV-8 was the third ship of the Yorktown Class and is sometimes referred to as her own one ship Hornet Class.  Laid down on 25 September1939 under the Naval Expansion act of May 17th 1938, Hornet was part of the pre-war naval build up authorized by President and Congress.  The previous Yorktown design was used to speed construction.  Hornet was slightly modified from her sisters Yorktown and Enterprise being 15 feet longer, 5 feet wider in the beam and displacing about 1000 tons more than her near sisters.  Her anti-aircraft armament was also slightly improved.  As with her near sisters Hornet had good protection except that her underwater protection was weak.  However, as would be born out in combat Hornet like her sisters would prove to be extraordinarily tough.

Hornet in Rough Seas Preparing to Launch the Doolittle Raid

Hornet was launched on 14 December 1940 and commissioned 25 October 1941 with Naval Aviation pioneer Captain Marc A Mitscher Commanding. Hornet conducted her initial training and air group qualifications while operating out of Norfolk.  On February 2nd two Army Air Corps B-25 Medium Bombers were loaded aboard.  As Hornet put to sea the bombers were launched to the astonishment of the crew. Hornet departed Norfolk for the Pacific where she embarked 16 B-25s under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle.  Hornet’s own air group was stowed in the hanger bay.  On April 2nd Hornet departed from San Francisco for a rendezvous with Admiral Halsey’s Task Force 16 and her sister ship Enterprise.  As the ship departed Mitscher informed the crew of their mission.  Hornet would launch Colonel Doolittle’s aircraft against the heart of the Imperial Japanese Empire, Tokyo.

Hornet Launching B-25

The plan was for the task force to sail to 400 miles from Japan and launch the bombers. Enterprise  was to provide air cover for the task force while Hornet’s air group was inaccessible while the bombers remained aboard.  On the morning of 18 April the task force was spotted by a Japanese patrol boat.  The craft was quickly dispatched by the heavy cruiser USS Nashville  but not before the craft had reported the presence of the task force.  Though the task force was still 600 some miles from Japan Halsey ordered that Doolittle’s aircraft be launched against Tokyo.  The attack while militarily insignificant came as a major surprise to the Japanese who anticipating a raid by naval aircraft believed that any attack could not take place until the following day.  Even more significantly the attack stunned the Japanese military establishment, especially the Navy. The attack would provoke Admiral Yamamoto to attack Midway in order to draw out the American carriers and destroy them.

Hornet Arrives at Pearl Harbor Before Midway

Hornet along with Task Force 16 sailed back to Pearl Harbor arriving a week later and the mission would remain secret for over a year.  The task force steamed to assist the Yorktown and Lexington at the Battle of Coral Sea but that battle was over before they could arrive.  The task force returned to Pearl Harbor on the 26th of May and sail on the 28th for Midway.  Hornet’s air group was plagued with bad luck.  Torpedo Squadron 8, or Torpedo 8 commanded by LCDR John Waldron found and attacked the Japanese task force losing all aircraft and all pilots save one.  6 new TBF Avengers from her air group operating from Midway met with heavy losses in their attack against the Japanese.  Only one pilot from Torpedo 8 with Waldron’s group survived, Ensign George Gay.  Hornet’s dive bombers followed bad reports of the location of the Japanese carriers and took no part in the action.  Many would have to ditch in the ocean as they ran out of fuel.  Hornet’s air group would help sink the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Mikuma and heavily damaged Mogami on the 6th.  The Battle of Midway was one of the major turning points of the war.  The Japanese had lost six carriers which had attacked Pearl Harbor along with their aircraft and many of their highly trained pilots and flight crews. Coupled with their losses at Coral Sea the Japanese suffered losses that they could ill afford and could not easily replace.

Following Midway Hornet had new radar installed and trained out of Pearl Harbor until order to the Southwest Pacific to take part in the struggle for Guadalcanal.  By the time she arrived she was the only operational American carrier in the Pacific. Enterprise had suffered bomb damage at the Battle of Easter Solomons on August 24th; Saratoga was damaged by a submarine torpedo on August 31stand the Wasp was sunk by a submarine on September 15th.  In the space of 3 weeks the United States Navy had lost 3/4ths of its operational carriers in the waters off of Guadalcanal. Hornet now faced the Japanese alone, providing much of the badly needed air support for the Marines fighting ashore.

Hornet Under Attack: Note “Val” Dive Bomber about to crash ship

The Enterprise rejoined Hornet following hasty repairs off the New Hebrides Islands on October 24th.  On the 26th they joined battle with a Japanese task force of 4 carriers centered on the veterans Shokaku and Zuikaku. The Hornet’s aircraft attacked and seriously damaged Shokaku even as Japanese torpedo planes and dive bombers launched a well coordinated attack against Hornet. Hornet was hit by three bombs, two torpedoes and had two bomb laden Val dive bombers.  On fire and without power her damage control parties fought to regain control of the ship and extinguish the fires that blazed aboard her.

Hornet’s Damaged Island and Main Mast

Assisted by the heavy cruiser Northampton which took her in tow her crew brought the fires under control and were close to restoring power when another Japanese strike group found her and put another torpedo into her.  This hit sealed the fate of Hornet. 

USS Northampton Preparing to take Hornet under Tow 

With this hit Hornet’s list increased and she was abandoned even as she was hit by another bomb.  With Japanese ships in the area it was decided to scuttle the ship. Escorting destroyers hit her with 9 torpedoes and over 400 rounds of 5” shells.  As Hornet blazed in the night her escorts withdrew and a Japanese surface force arrived. The destroyers Makigumu and Akigumo finished the heroic but doomed ship off with four of their 24” “Long Lance” torpedoes. She sank beneath the waves at 0135 hours on October 27th.

140 members of her crew went down with their ship.

Hornet Being Abandoned by Her Crew

In her last fight Hornet’s aircraft along with those of Enterprise mauled the air groups of Shokaku and Zuikaku, again inflicting irreplaceable losses among their experienced air crews.  In the battle Hornet  was hit by 4 bombs, two aircraft, 16 torpedoes and over 400 rounds of 5” shells, more hits than were sustained by any other US carrier in a single action during the war.  She was stuck from the Navy list on 13 January 1943 and her gallant Torpedo 8 was awarded the Navy Presidential Unit Citation “for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service beyond the call of duty” in the Battle of Midway.  Her name was given to the Essex Class carrier CV-12.

The new Hornet served throughout the war and served well into the Cold War.  She now rests as a Museum ship at Alameda California. There is currently no Hornet in commission today. With two new Gerald Ford Class carriers approved, one to be named Enterprise, it might be a a good thing to name the next of the class Hornet. 

The USS Hornet Association website is here:  http://www.usshornetassn.com/

The Museum site is here: http://www.uss-hornet.org/

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under aircraft, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

Trump’s National Emergency and Blazing Saddles

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Today President Trump declared a National Emergency, though in his own words “he didn’t need to do it, he just wanted to do it faster.”

A couple of days ago I wrote about the great and trailblazing Mel Brooks film, Blazing Saddles. 

It was a film way ahead of its time and two of its characters, Attorney General Headly Lamarr, played by Harvey Kormann, and Governor William  Lepetomaine, played by Brooks himself are a startling premonition of the current President, in their lust for power and incompetence, wrapped in ignorance and racism.

Of course the President’s decision impacts military readiness, infrastructure, and the service men and women who work and live on the bases that will now be deprived of billions of dollars of badly needed infrastructure repairs and improvements just to remain operational. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the President, nor does the Constitutional separation of powers that gives to Congress, and Congress alone the power of the purse. But I digress…

The fact is that the President is doing his damnedest to undermine the rule of law by finding some kind of precedent for something that amounts to an unprecedented federal land grab on the basis of an unprovable national emergency.

Now all the President needs is men to carry it out. Of course, there will be no want of volunteers.

So anyway, as this cracked up Operation gets underway, just remember, Trump won’t be the first nor the last to try find a way around the law and the Constitution to fulfill his agenda, but none will be as funny and to the point as Headly Lamarr and William Lepetomaine. Compared to them, Trump is a pathetically clueless, humorless, and soulless rank amature who believes that he is both witty and smart.

All that being said I cannot beleive that he won’t get away with it. The GOP Senate majority has shown no courage when Trump walks on their Party beliefs and Constitutional responsibilities, and the Courts at this point, God only knows. I hope to be wrong but I don’t expect them to exercise any judicial independence in support of the Constitution and the powers granted to them within it.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, film, History, laws and legislation, leadership, movies, News and current events

Harlem Hell Fighters and Chicago Black Devils: Fighting Racism and Germans in 1918

800px-Harlem_Hell_Fighters

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The theme of Black History Month last year was African Americans in Times of War to coincide with the centennial of the end of the First World War. That is not the theme this year, but what the African American men did in France during the Spring and Summer of 1918 still matters.

In 1918 African Americans who in spite of the prejudice, intolerance and persecution they endured at home as a result of Jim Crow, still loved their country. They were men who labored under the most difficult circumstance to show all Americans and the world that they were worthy of being soldiers and citizens of the United States of America. Their stories cannot be allowed to be forgotten, nor can we allow Jim Crow and the intolerance of other movements which demean and persecute those who love this country because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality.

The African America men who volunteered included raw recruits as well as veteran soldiers who had already served full careers on the Great Plains. They were the Buffalo Soldiers, and when the United States entered the First World War, they were not wanted. Instead, the veterans  were left on the frontier and a new generation of African American draftees and volunteers became the nucleus of two new infantry divisions, the 92nd and 93rd.

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However in the beginning they too were kept out of action. These men were initially regulated to doing labor service behind the lines and in the United States. But finally, the protests of organizations such as the NAACP and men like W.E.B.DuBois and Phillip Randolph forced the War Department to reconsider the second class status of these men and form them into combat units.

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Despite this the leadership of the AEF, or the American Expeditionary Force of General John Pershing refused to allow these divisions to serve under American command. Somehow the concept of such men serving alongside White Americans in the “War to end All War” was offensive to the high command.

Instead these divisions were broken up and the regiments sent to serve out of American areas on the Western Front. The regiments of the 93rd Division were attached to French divisions. The 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” were first assigned to the French 16th Division and then to the 161st Division. The Hellfighters stayed in line and under fire for 191 days, longer than any other American regiment, they also suffered the highest casualties of any American regiment, nearly 1,500 during a time when only 900 replacements were received. 170 soldiers of the regiment were awarded the Croix de Guerre for the valor they displayed in combat.

750_harlem_hellfighter_portrait

The first of the Hellfighters so honored was then Private, later Sergeant Henry Johnson who was nicknamed Black Death for his prowess as a fighter. With Private Needham Roberts, Johnson fought off a platoon sized German patrol. They both were wounded and when they ran out of ammunition Roberts fought with the butt of his rifle and Johnson a Bolo knife. When Roberts was knocked unconscious Johnson fought alone and saved his comrade from capture. Some estimate that Johnson killed 4 and wounded up to 30 Germans in the fight. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barak Obama on June 2nd 2015, because he had no living relatives it was accepted by Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson.

The 370th “Black Devils” from Chicago were detailed to the French 26th Division and the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments were assigned to the French 157th (Colonial) Division, which was also known as the Red Hand Division.

These units performed with distinction. The 371st was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur and Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 1st Battalion 371st was the only African American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the First World War. The 372nd was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur for its service with the 157th Division.

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The 157th (Colonial) Division had suffered badly during the war and been decimated in the unrelenting assaults in the trench warfare of the Western Front. It was reconstituted in 1918 with one French Regiment and two American regiments, the Negro 371st and 372nd Infantry. On July 4th 1918 the commanding General of the French 157th Division, General Mariano Goybet issued the following statement:

“It is striking demonstration of the long standing and blood-cemented friendship which binds together our two great nations. The sons of the soldiers of Lafayette greet the sons of the soldiers of George Washington who have come over to fight as in 1776, in a new and greater way of independence. The same success which followed the glorious fights for the cause of liberty is sure to crown our common effort now and bring about the final victory of right and justice over barbarity and oppression.”

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While many white American soldiers depreciated their French hosts and attempted to sow the seeds of their own racial prejudice against the black soldiers among the French, Southerners in particular warned the French of  the “black rapist beasts.” However the French experience of American blacks was far different than the often scornful treatment that they received from white American soldiers.

“Soldiers from the four regiments that served directly with the French Army attested to the willingness of the French to let men fight and to honor them for their achievements. Social interactions with French civilians- and white southern soldiers’ reactions to them- also highlighted crucial differences between the two societies. Unlike white soldiers, African Americans did not complain about high prices in French stores. Instead they focused on the fact that “they were welcomed” by every shopkeeper that they encountered.”

Official and unofficial efforts by those in the Army command and individual soldiers to stigmatize them and to try to force the French into applying Jim Crow to laws and attitudes backfired. Villages now expressed a preference for black over white American troops. “Take back these soldiers and send us some real Americans, black Americans,” wrote one village mayor after a group of rowdy white Americans disrupted the town.”

Stowers

The citation for Corporal Stowers award of the Medal of Honor reads as follows:

Corporal Stowers, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism on September 28, 1918 while serving as a squad leader in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93d Division. His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and when within about 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties. Corporal Stowers’ conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and supreme devotion to his men were well above and beyond the call of duty, follow the finest traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.

Corporal Stowers is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The award of the Medal of Honor was not made until 1991 when President George H. W. Bush presented it to Stowers’ two surviving sisters.

The contrast between the American treatment of its own soldiers and that of the French in the First World War is striking. The fact that it took President Harry S. Truman to integrate the U.S. Military in 1948 is also striking. African Americans had served in the Civil War, on the Great Plains, in Cuba and in both the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation in the Second World War and were treated as less than fully human by many Americans.

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Men of the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments of the French 157th Division Awarded the Croix d’Guerre

Even after President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, African Americans, as well as other racial minorities, women and gays have faced very real discrimination. The military continues to make great strides, and while overt racist acts and other types of discrimination are outlawed, racism still remains a part of American life.

Today things have changed, and that in large part is due to the unselfish sacrifice in the face of hatred and discrimination of the men of the USCT and the State Black Regiments like the 54th Massachusetts and the Louisiana Home Guards who blazed a way to freedom for so many. Those who followed them as Buffalo Soldiers and volunteers during the World Wars continued to be trail blazers in the struggle for equal rights. A white soldier who served with the 49thMassachusetts wrote “all honor to our negro soldiers. They deserve citizenship. They will secure it! There would be much suffering in what he termed “the transition state” but a “nation is not born without pangs.”

Unfortunately racial prejudice is still exists in the United States. In spite of all the advances that we have made racism still casts an ugly cloud over our country. Despite the sacrifices of the Buffalo Soldiers, the leaders of the Civil Rights movement and others there are some people who like the leaders of the AEF in 1917 and 1918 cannot stomach having blacks as equals or God forbid in actual leadership roles in this country.

A good friend of mine who is a retired military officer, a white man, an evangelical Christian raised in Georgia who graduated from an elite military school in the South, who is a proponent of racial equality has told me that the problem that many white people in the South have with President Obama is that “he doesn’t know his place.” Yes racism is still real and rears its ugly head all too often.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Blazing Saddles at 45: It Couldn’t be Made Today, but it Needs to be Seen by Everyone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last Thursday, the 7th of February, was the 45th anniversary of an iconic film that even today challenges Americans about the evils of racism and prejudice. Since I was pretty much out of it following my surgery I didn’t write about Blazing Saddles was shocking in its humor which exposed the racism, sexism, and even the anti-gay prejudices that were common in the era. The use of racial invective and slurs by various characters is so shocking now that people who didn’t live during those times cannot understand the real intent of the film.

Mel Brooks used the parody of the classic America  Western Film to confront very real prejudices that ran rampant at the time, and still do, though most people are a bit more careful to disguise their public language and camouflage their prejudices without ever really given them up. In fact the language and terms used by Brooks and his co-writer, the late Richard Pryor are off limits in much of film. I remember showing the DVD to our younger enslisted personnel in Iraq and they were shocked. I had to explain how prevalent open racism was back when the film was released, and what Brooks’s intentions were. He used the humor of the film to bring to the surface the prejudices of many people, including many who later became his fans.

What is really hard for me to believe is that this masterpiece is unknown to many people. The fact that I lied about my age to get a ticket to see the movie when it came out, it was rated R and I had not yet turned 14, and that it remains one of my favorite films of all time, and not just mine, the film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and is ranked number 6 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list.

The fact is that Blazing Saddles probably couldn’t be made today because of hyper-politcially correct era. Anyone who knows me knows that I am exceptionally wary of ever using racial stereotypes or slurs and have enough empathy and concern for the sensibilities of people who have suffered through racial, ethnic, or religious persecution and prejudice not to want to see them used for cheap laughs. That being said, in certain times where racial prejudice is being driven from the top down, where the President of the United States can get elected by eliciting racism, sometimes it is appropriate to stick a finger in their eye through the use of comedy. Brook’s used that to drive home to people who otherwise wouldn’t recognize just how deeply racism and racist tropes are past f our society even today.

I think for me one of the most poingent moments in Blazing Saddles is in a scene where Chinese, African American, and Irish Railroad workers come to help the Balck Sheriff Bart, played by Cleavon Little and the self-described White God Fearing Citizens Of Rock Ridge save the town. All that was asked was that they would be able to live there. The late great actor David Huddleston, who played one of the town council members said:

“All right… we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don’t want the Irish!” 

When they all threaten to leave he changes his toon and says:

“Aw, prairie shit… Everybody!” 

The thing is that in those days the Irish were still a despised minority, even though they were white. I am about half Irish by my DNA, and I remember how upset my mom got when she heard that line. It offended her, but I think that such comedic barbs are helpful to all of us if they make us more sensitive to others and aware of our own racial, ethnic, religious, or social prejudices.

Besides the camp fire fart scene my friends, that is the continuing value of Blazing Saddles.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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