Monthly Archives: December 2020

The Scourge of Race Hatred, Anti-Semitism, Holocaust Denial, and Violence Will Continue Long After Trump Leaves Office

Babi Yar

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We Americans like to think that we have come so far and have risen above the monstrous ideologies of race hatred and anti-semitism. Sadly we have not and the evil that most recently raised it’s head during the Presidency of Barack Obama went into overdrive with the election and approval of President Trump. Whether willingly or unwillingly Trump will leave office on January 20th the lingering of his open racism will remain with us in the shattered remains of the Republican Party which because Trump and his sycophants own the Republican National Committee. Any Republican who challenges him will be crushed by his cult, who have no loyalty to the GOP or the country. Their allegiance is to Trump alone regardless of how washed up and irrelevant he will be. This is because he validated what they already believed. But I digress…

I have a policy about Holocaust denial on my site. If someone denies the Holocaust or tries to minimize it I delete their post. Over the fast five years most of these people are Trump Cultists, especially so called “Evangelical Christians.”

That might sound somewhat restrictive, but I will not give them the space on my site to posit their race hatred and justification of genocide in any way shape or form. It used to be that I would spar with them, but I realized that by doing so I gave them a sense of acceptability, and when some proceeded to make physical threats against me for opposing their ideas I realized that I couldn’t go down that road anymore.

That being said, every so often I get comments from Holocaust deniers, as well as Japanese deniers of the Rape of Nanking and other Japanese atrocities in Asia during the 1930s and World War II. The Japanese Nanking deniers are almost always Right Wing revisionists and hyper-nationalists who subscribe to the racial theory that the Chinese and other non-Japanese are less than human. But I’ve never had an American take issue with Nanking. That being said almost all of my holocaust deniers are Americans who not only deny the Holocaust, but who subscribe to the most base and repulsive theories of anti-Semitism, and White Supremacy. I find that fascinating in a very clinical way.

I say that because I am inherently suspicious. If someone tells me a story or posts something attacking me for something I write here, or post on my Facebook or Twitter feeds I do my best to not take the comments personally, while recognizing their seriousness, especially if threats to my life or my family are involved. Thus I tend to ask myself “Why this? Why me? Why now?” My Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor at Parkland Memorial Hospital called this using a hermeneutic of suspicion, because everybody lies, especially to Priests, Ministers, Rabbis, and other clergy. But, when the President and his entourage lie with such ease to change what they did as they did this week at the Trump Party Convention, as it now is the Republican Party in Name Only, one cannot assume anything they say to be the truth. When a President uses the powers of his office for his profit and political gain it is an abuse of power and a violation of the Hatch Act which forbids every Federal employee from the President to the lowliest janitor, clerk, or military recruit to use Federal property, equipment, or resources for financial gain or partisan politics.

Sadly, since the day of his inauguration until this very day President Trump claims that he is not only above the law, but that his word is the law. His enablers, cabinet officials and most of his party’s senators, representatives, as well as sate and officials fall in line with Trump’s, demands, edicts, and policies in a manner completely different than if President Obama and Clinton, or candidates Kerry, Gore, or Clinton had made them. In the former case they jump to attention in defense of a would be dictator and madman, but would have fought to the death if uttered or proposed by a Democrat. But when a Presidential Candidate like Trump says that he would not lose a vote among his supporters even if he shot and killed someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue, one knew at that moment that the GOP was no longer a political party, but a personality cult of  nearly religious dimensions, unless they had subscribed to the ideology of the cult. Just because he will be leaving office doesn’t mean that the cult won’t continue to stand by him, until perhaps someone like him but smarter, less lazy, and more driven captures their imagination.

To be sure, Trump was no Hitler, though his words continue to sound more and more Hitlerian every day. I will not call the President a Nazi, though he has give tacit support to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups and frequently engages in racist diatribes. That being said I do believe that he has strong Nazi leanings based on his comments about Jews, his disparaging words about racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, as well as those who are physically disabled or chronically ill. These statements of mine are all based on public comments, tweets, or actions he has taken. While he may not be a Nazi, he certainly is acting as any authoritarian leader would, and we have to heed the warning of Russian dissident Gary Kasparov:

“dictators & would be autocrats do not ask “Why?” when it comes to using power for their advantage. They ask “why not?

Today I am writing about the Holocaust Deniers that post on this site or my Twitter or Facebook pages. A few years ago I had one response to this article   The Justification of Genocide: Race Hatred and the Quest for Living Space by shouting “you fear open debate.”  His blog address was listed on the post, so I used some internet tools and went to town. I found plenty of racist, pro-Nazi, and Holocaust denial posts and links made by him as well as an amazingly strong support for President Trump’s racist polices on immigration, and against American Blacks, Jews, and other minorities. So whenever one of these Internet drive by cowards comes to my page I check them out and find that many, if not most of them are incredibly racist, nihilistic and sadistic Narcissistic Sociopaths  emboldened by their Chief, President Trump.

But the reality is that such people fear open debate because when they engage in it they are exposed for the frauds that they are. Some like the English defender of all things Hitler and Holocaust denier, David Irving had the nerve to sue American Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court where she would have to prove her innocence as opposed to an American court where he would have had to prove that she had libeled him. Even in that setting Irving lost. If you want to see a great film, watch the movie adaptation of the trial entitled Denial.” It is worth watching.

A while back I had another Holocaust Denier who ripped into me about the Nazi massacre of Ukrainian Jews at Babi Yar, in which over 33,771 Jews were marched out of Kiev and shot on the 29th and 30th of September 1941. There were 29 survivors who managed to escape the death pits by feigning death and climbing out after dark. Massacres of more than 100,000 other people, mostly non-Jews continued until November. The number of Jews killed was documented by the Commander of the Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C which conducted the massacre. The Einsatzgruppe men were assisted by troops from two Police Battalions and Waffen SS troops with Logistical and security support from the Wehrmacht.  Both the records of the Einsatzgruppe and the testimony of SS men who took part is damning enough, yet my denier critic had the nerve to say “There was no such massacre – it is just another example of war time atrocity propaganda.”

I since he decided to leave his comment, email address, and website exposed, I decided to do a little investigation and found that he is full of these zingers On other blogs and news sites, as well as an avid supporter of President Trump. He plays fast and loose with the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust and claims that “It is currently illegal in many European nations to question the official or generally accepted account of the holocaust of European Jewry during the Second World War.” Of course that is not true, in fact in most of Europe the archives are open, the documents assessable, and the evidence undeniable.

Riot police rush protestors to clear Lafayette Park and the area around it across from the White House for President Donald Trump to be able to walk through for a photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church (seen at rear), during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, near the White House in Washington, U.S. June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

The problem is that the evidence is so great that any to deny it or attempt to revise it deserves both public ridicule and academic scorn. So instead of actually trying to disprove the facts they turn to obvious lies, just as President Trump and his enablers have done with the COVID19 Pandemic and Trump’s both incompetent and evil handling of it, his handling the economic collapse that followed, and absolutely racist and authoritarian response to the protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, used massive force to clear peaceful protestors from Lafayette Park and the area around St. John’s Church to have a photo-op with a Bible that he could not figure how to hold. He couldn’t tell which way was up with it. It was then, that for the first time in my life, felt that an American President had threatened mine as a Priest and Navy Chaplain. But I digress, as closely as this attack is linked to what I am writing about today.

There are laws against Holocaust denial in many European countries precisely because it was such a horrific chapter in human history that it cannot be minimized or defended, but there are no such laws here, just as there are no laws against those who promote the evil, bloodthirsty, racist, and treason laden lies of the Noble South, the Virtues of Slavery, the less than human status of Blacks, and the villainous myth of the Lost Cause. All of these put newly emancipated slaves back into a condition of slavery by another name for another century and more. The repugnant racism of the rebellion for slavery still runs strong in much of the United States and it is not confined to the eleven states of the Civil War Confederacy, but throughout much of the country.

Not surprisingly most of the Holocaust Deniers, are also the proponents of Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism, the Noble South, the Lost Cause, Jim Crow and Segregation, as well those that oppose the Constitutional civil and voting rights of Blacks, Women, and other minorities To include LGBTQ+ people of every race, gender, ethnicity, and religion. This is extraordinarily dangerous, because such people have no scruples against killing those that they hate.

James Morcan in his book Debunking Holocaust Denial Theories wrote something very true that I am all too aware of:

“Unfortunately, the historicity of the Holocaust has been undermined and chipped away at by the exact same sinister forces that created the genocide in the first place: racists, religious bigots and the most paranoid type of conspiracy theorists who, together, are uniting – often unwittingly – to form a new wave of anti-Semitism that will not willingly accept the obvious facts of the past. This chipping away (at the truth) began slowly and insidiously – much like the Holocaust itself – but sadly, and worryingly, it is gathering pace.” 

It is interesting to read through the man who posted that I was afraid of honest debate, to go to his blog and see that his issue is not about anti-Semitism, as he is exceptionally anti-Semitic, nor is it about the killing of the Jews, just the number of Jews killed. It seems that if  he, like the other deniers can somehow lessen the number of Jews killed, that it becomes more acceptable, and over time forgettable. I will not open this site up to Holocaust deniers. One of those deniers is Charles Johnson who was invited to the State of the Union Address in 2018 by Congressman Matt Gaetz. In an interview Johnson responded to the question “what are your thoughts on the Holocaust, WW2, and the JQ in general?” (JQ is short for the Jewish Question) His response was telling.

“I do not and never have believed the six million figure. I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic. I think the Allied bombing of Germany was a war [sic] crime. I agree…about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real.”

Johnson denies being a Holocaust denier and touts his support for Israel, like many others like him do, but his words ring hollow. Moreover his words are all too indicative of what he really believes, and worse of all he is accepted by leading members of the Republican Party. Such associations do nothing but serve to legitimatize Holocaust Deniers and make their arguments more acceptable, after all, if a President and leading Congressmen espouse a position and associate with its proponents, it must have merit. Of course it doesn’t but when there is a dearth of historical knowledge and general indifference it does not take much for such men to motivate others to violence. As Lipstadt noted about David Irving, and I would extend to people like Johnson: “People like David Irving do not throw firebombs. They throw the words that can cause others to throw those firebombs.” 

The sad thing for us as a nation is that quite a few Holocaust deniers, have the ear of the President, people in his administration, and Republican Congressmen. This makes this topic all too relevant. As Marc Bloch wrote “we can truly understand the past only if we read it in light of the present.”

Now, some 40 hours after the end of the Trump Show, otherwise known a

The Constitution that I swore to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic remains under attack by President Trump and his Cult. According to the oath that every Federal, and many state officials swear to defend, President Trump and his supporters are ENEMIES of the Constitution, the Country, and its citizens.

In one of his speeches from March 14th of this year Trump declared:

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”


It nearly killed me to write this article, but how can one not see what is going on and not speak up about it? I love my country, I have swore a sacred oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and now see for the first time in my life a man committed to destroying the Constitution and ruling as a dictator intent on destroying the American Experiment running for re-election on a personal platform little different than Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini even though he lost his re-election bid. As the great American Naval hero of the Revolutionary War, John Paul Jones replied to his British Opponent: “Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!”  And fight I will, as General Henning Von Tresckow said in the attempt to kill Hitler: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

But men like Hitler and any other authoritarian leader including President Trump who has used his office for personal gain, the persecution of the most vulnerable in our society, bulldozed the Constitutional and the unwritten norms that serve as the guardrails of our political system. He has allowed 350,000 Americans to die of Coronavirus 19 and almost twenty million more to be infected. Hundreds of thousands will suffer the physical and emotional damage of that terrible virus. Trump and his Cult worked ceaselessly to impair scientists and public health officials attempts to control the virus until vaccinations could be developed and now they hinder their deployment and cast doubt on their efficacy. These actions are nothing less than criminal negligence leading to the mass murder of American citizens of all walks of life including some of his most high level supporters like Herman Cain. 

Though Trump lost the election decisively he and the Cult continue to try to reverse the election doing all they can to overturn the Constitution and law to do it. I fear that if they are given the slightest bit of credibility this will always be Trump’s America, even when Biden takes office. But, there are still three weeks before Biden’s inauguration, and I put nothing past Trump to try to remain in power. That included unleashing social unrest and violence, or entering into a war with Iran. Should he do so expect that he will attempt to implement personal loyalty oaths to him, the mass arrests of political opponents, and the unleashing of his most violent followers backed by the police on political opponents and racial, religious and other “undesirables.” or those they dream to be “Life Unworthy of Life.”

The perpetrators could  possibly include the military unless the Generals and Admirals decide to stop him. I don’t think that will happen and no sane person one wants that, because most of us who value the Constitution believe that the military should be as apolitical as possible and remain out of politics. However, since his election defeat he has placed loyalists in senior positions in the Defense Department means that he is not going to go without a fight. I expect that the Joint Chiefs and the Combatant Commanders would refuse illegal orders, but that is not entirely certain.

Herbert Hoover used active duty Army units under the command of Douglas MacArthur and George Patton to attack veterans of the First World War demanding their war bonuses early because the were jobless and homeless during the Great Depression. It was one of the most egregious, amoral, and unconstitutional  actions of an American President against American citizens, and to make that matters worse attacking war veterans and their families with active duty Army troops, Marines, and police, even using tanks and chemical agents.

But if the President basically overturns the Constitution and attempts to seize power, they are the last bastion to save the republic from destruction and will have to act. Despite his attack on the Bonus Army, Hoover was unwilling to try to overturn the constitutional guardrails between the Executive, Legislative, or Judicial branches of government. But Hoover, was no Trump. Many other military officers wanted no part of Hoover’s use of the military.

Today’s military leaders have to remember their oaths as all that serve in government must. They must remember the words of General Ludwig Beck who resigned as head of the German Army in 1938 and died in the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.”

Beck also noted:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

I do believe that we are now at the precipice, standing at the edge of the abyss and that unless Trump is thwarted in attempt to overthrow the results of the  2020 election, it might have been the last free election held in this country. One cannot assume otherwise.

We have to remember the warnings of historian Dr. Timothy Snyder who wrote in his book On Tyranny:

“The hero of a David Lodge novel says that you don’t know, when you make love for the last time, that you are making love for the last time. Voting is like that. Some of the Germans who voted for the Nazi Party in 1932 no doubt understood that this might be the last meaningfully free election for some time, but most did not. Some of the Czechs and Slovaks who voted for the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1946 probably realized that they were voting for the end of democracy, but most assumed they would have another chance. No doubt the Russians who voted in 1990 did not think that this would be the last free and fair election in their country’s history, which (thus far) it has been. 

But form me there is a certain timeless component of God’s justice on such people. The German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who ended up dying for his connection to the German  conspirators against Hitler wrote:

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual  stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”

Bonhoeffer’s words are timeless and should send a chill through anyone who claims the Name of Christ, and supports what Trump is doing, and those who oppose Trump for whatever reason and no-matter what their religion or ideology happens to be. We want our fight to be non-violent and follow the norms of our American Constitutional system as it was intended. We do not want to take violent action or undermine our sacred oaths and values as Americans as eschew violence, and promote intelligent and non-violent speech and protest against the crimes of President Trump and his racist and authoritarian followers, including those in Congress, the Justice Department, and too many Law Enforcement organizations and officers. Sadly, it has been demonstrated time after time that peaceful protests will be met with violence and propaganda justifying it.

Please remember that and vote as if our life depended on it and that this may be your last chance to vote in a meaningful election. If you don’t you may never have a meaningful chance to do so again.

In twenty four hours I will be officially retired from the United States Navy and Army after almost four decades of service. That being said my oath remains forever, and my commitment to the Constitution and our laws leave me no alternative but to resist these damned stupid people and their nefarious attempts to overthrow our Constitution and country, and establish a theocracy based on White Nationalism and racism. I say damn them all.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, COVID19, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, war crimes, war crimes trials

Padre Steve: the Inglourious Historian and Nazi Hunter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World (and possibly some of my enemies as well),

I am posting a few thoughts following my latest tangle with an unrepentant and unadulterated American Nazi. On behalf of my friend Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation I helped lure a particular American Nazi out of his lair. It was funny in a way. I identified him, I let him know that he was now in the public eye and I produced his easily identifiable public statements in local newspapers, internet bulletin boards, town hall minutes as well as personal data easily found when you subscribe to a lookup service that shows personal, family, criminal, property, contact and other public information.

I got the subscription a few years ago because of the increasing number of threats I was getting on this blog, including by a US Air Force or Air Force contract employee using a government computer from one of the Air Force’s top secret cyber units located on an annex of Maxwell Air Force Base. The I.P. Address lookup actually located the exact building in 2016. When I alerted the Air Force Criminal Investigative Service I was stonewalled. Thus I elect to protect myself and identify threats the best I can and deal with them.

I find it fascinating how most once identified do what they can to cover their tracks, but surprisingly many use work or personal email addresses to do their dirty work. Some don’t, like the jackass Nazi from the Pacific Northwest that I spent much of Christmas and St. Stephen’s dealing with. That guy a 71 year old son of Czech immigrants belongs to a WWII German military reenactment group, which I presume is an SS unit based on the re-enactment groups in the region. He supports notorious prominent Neo-Nazis in the region and their businesses. He speaks on their behalf in town hall meetings, and he has no problem threatening Jews or those who defend them. In a series of emails I gave him the chance to back off,  let it go and even to think of how he wants to be remembered. Instead he got madder and madder and jumped the shark. I put him on notice and he finally quit the conversation in a rage after making fun of my appearance in a camouflage uniform at the end of my nearly 40 year career. As far as jackasses like this go I scoff at them, but I also watch my back. I know who he is, as does Mikey and if anything is attempted at either of us he knows he is at the top of the suspect list.

Needless to say since I am retired and dealing with transition and medical issues this is an added stress, but in my book these sonsofbitches need to be exposed. In addition to being a Priest and Historian, I am now a Nazi Hunter, and to quote General George Patton, “The Nazis are the enemy….” They were in the Second World War and regardless of what nation they reside today, they are the enemy of all humanity today. There is no such thing as a good Nazi, even the ones that say that they are not who employ Nazi language, terminology, wear their uniforms and make threats against Jews or whoever they are calling “Communists or Socialists” today. You see the message never changes. They  call themselves “victims of Jewish-Communists” regardless of the truth. It is the constant repeated mantra of deluded people who imagine that they are the victims of an imaginary conspiracy. They need people to blame because the world is changing around them. One doesn’t need to be a Nazi to do this as it tends to be a recurring case in conservative nationalists around the world. However, in the United States and Europe many of today’s conspiracy theorists hold Nazi views of race superiority and race hatred.

Thus, Nazis, even those who refuse to say that they are while using Nazi language, wearing Nazi uniforms, and espousing Nazi race hatred need to be exposed. Honesty, one doesn’t have to be a Jew to do this, although historically the best have been Jewish. Of course having been the survivors of Genocide or the children of people who perished in it gives a strong motivation  to want to see the guilty punished.

As for me, I am a gentile possessed by a desire for justice. Since society constrains my actions I will do everything I can to exposes these Nazis before they can commit violence against others, and if I do make sure that I do all that I can to ensure that they are brought to justice in the criminal justice system. However, as violent and unpleasant as it may seem there are times when I would like to capture these malignant people and carve a Swastika into their foreheads like Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds.

That might not seem very Christian, but it is a step up from killing them and taking their scalps. Of course unless these people bring about a civil war in our country and we devolve into a lawless state neither will happen. I will help in identifying them and bringing them to justice under the law, but I will not resort to violence unless they start the war, or if one comes after me or my family. If that happens, all bets are off. My Marine Corps issue K-Bar is ready to carve Swastikas in the foreheads.

Since my usually sign off of “peace” seems less than appropriate I will simply say,

Arreverderci,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under film, History, holocaust, movies, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

There is Nothing More Difficult than Understanding Evil: Dealing with the Evils Unleashed By President Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

Back in 2010 I had a creditable and very specific death threat from a Neo-Nazi in East Tennessee. The man had a formidable internet presence, many publications online, including articles on how best to assassinate people. So I did my research, figured out who he was and reported him to the FBI. A week later his internet presence disappeared. I don’t know what happened to him, but I watch my back.

Over the past few days I have been helping a Jewish friend who is dealing with many Neo-Nazi threats and harassment for supporting an effort to have headstones replaced at the San Antonio Military Cemetery. The headstones were of German POWs but each had a Swastika and the words “he died for his Fuhrer and Fatherland” on them. The fact is that such words and symbols are not allowed by the German Government on the graves of their WWII soldiers in Germany or at any German military cemetery in Europe. Why they ended up on headstones here I don’t know. When an United States Army Colonel complained to the VA about them he was brushed off. That man asked my friend to help. As a result the VA relented, removed the headstones and replaced them with headstones giving the soldier’s names, ranks, military service, and dates of birth and death. But to Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists this was unforgivable.

My friend forwarded those emails to me for assistance. Two were smart enough to use fake email addresses, but one of those revealed his actual name. Another was stupid enough to use his real name and email address. Within 15 minutes I found a plethora of incriminating evidence against him revealing his Nazi affiliations, statements, and all kinds of things easily available through a Google search and tools that are available to purchase. After the first death threat I learned and am continuing learn how to track these people down and expose them to the public from the internet slime they hid in. Sadly, there are a lot more of them now than a decade ago.

But despite attacks and mass murders at synagogues and Jewish Schools, centers, and the vandalism of Jewish businesses, cemeteries, schools, shrines, and synagogues most Americans don’t see the threat. Nor do they when Black Churches are burned, bombed, or attacked by mass murderers. The problem is that most people, even those repulsed by the vile criminals who do such things really don’t want to understand why these people do such things.

I admit that it is uncomfortable and deeply unsettling to do the work needed to understand them, because to do so we have to understand evil and our vulnerability to resorting to evil ourselves. However, it is necessary if we are to stop the scourge of Anti-Semitism and racism in our country. But let me explain.

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang“civilization is tissue thin.”

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

                                    Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the much of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

                       Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I have been to Dachau more times than Incan count since 1996, Bergen-Belsen, Flossenbürg and Buchenwald. I visited the T4 Euthanasia Center at Hadamar, the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, the Wannsee House and many other sites of remembrance in Germany. Likewise I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them. But once the COVID-19 Pandemic travel restrictions are over I will go to Auschwitz and the sites like Babi Yar outside Kiev where the Einsatzgruppen killed 33,000 Jews up close and personal in three days. I refuse to stop learning, remembering, walking, or bearing witness.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being regardless of who we are. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it. I choose to go there knowing the danger because it is the only way to bear witness and not forget.

nankino-masakra-1

                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

I can understand why most people don’t want to go to dark places,  and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them. That happens even more when I have to deal with them after I find them and confront them. None are ever sorry or have any capacity for empathy. They are sociopaths and therefore dangerous.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

tzd8ftsn-1390907543

                                      Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am.

That is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

CambodiaExhibitMassgrave-x1

                                                  The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration. Trump’s time as President is about up, but he as awoken and emboldened an evil that was always a part of American life, but needed permission to go public.

In 2017 Trump briefly attempted to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville.  He equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked. Under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said his statement was almost an admission that he was wrong,” the President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously. Even though he is soon to leave officer his Neo-Nazi and White Nationalist supporters will remain as dangerous as ever.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. I wish that was not the case, but it is. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

17 Comments

Filed under authoritarian government, christian life, civil rights, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, crimes against humanity, ethics, euthanasia, Foreign Policy, germany, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, war crimes, war crimes trials

Christmas in the Cauldron: Dr. Kurt Reuber and the Madonna of Stalingrad

Bundeswehr zeigt "Stalingrad"-Ausstellung

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is Christmas Eve and I am reflecting about the true meaning of Christmas in a world where hope seems to be dying before our eyes. In such an environment I reflect on men who lived in a human made hell, a hell made by hate filled ideologues who launched the world into its bloodiest war and Genocide and I wonder, could it happen again? A decade ago I would have said it never could again happen, but now I am not so sure. After the ravages that Donald Trump leveled on the world, promoting instability, lawlessness, enabling and emboldening enemies of the United States and our allies, coupled with the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic I must try to find hope wherever I can find it.

I think most of my readers know that I am a very soon to be retired career military officer and have served in peace and war as a chaplain. That service includes a tour in Iraq, a war, which by almost any standard would have been considered unjust and illegal, yet I served there, and came back a changed man. As such the stories of those who served in war, especially those who serve in hopeless battles, and even in evil causes during Christmas have a special place in my heart. One of those men was a German Lutheran Pastor and Medical Doctor named Kurt Reuber.

k_reuberl

A Self-Portrait of Reuber

As I said, Reuber was a theologian, pastor and medical doctor, likewise he was an accomplished artist and used that medium to convey his own faith, and doubts. He was a friend of Albert Schweitzer and in 1939 he was conscripted to serve as a physician in the Germany Army. He was opposed to the Nazis and had a love of the Russian people, who when he was not treating German wounded attempted to care for, especially the children. He was also an artist who used what he could to draw portraits of soldiers to send home to their families. Many of these still exist.

By November 1942 he was a seasoned military physician serving with the 16th Panzer Division, part of the German 6th Army, which had been fighting in the hell of Stalingrad. When his division along with most of 6th Army was surrounded by the Soviets, cut off from most supply and without real hope of relief, he like other physicians continued to serve the soldiers committed to his care.

pg-34-stalingrad-2-getty

However, unlike most physicians, the care Reuber offered care included spiritual matters, as he sought to help his soldiers deal with the hopelessness of their situation. As Reuber reflected on the desperation of the German soldiers in the Stalingrad pocket. He wrote to his family.

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”

“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St. John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

The picture was drawn with charcoal on the back of a captured Soviet map and depicted a Russian Madonna and child. When he finished it he displayed it in his bunker, which became something of a shrine to German soldiers. Reuber wrote:

“When according to ancient custom I opened the Christmas door, the slatted door of our bunker, and the comrades went in, they stood as if entranced, devout and too moved to speak in front of the picture on the clay wall…The entire celebration took place under the influence of the picture, and they thoughtfully read the words: light, life, love…Whether commander or simple soldier, the Madonna was always an object of outward and inward contemplation.”

drkrop

As the siege continued men came to the bunker for both medical care and spiritual solace.  On Christmas Eve Reuber found himself treating a number of men wounded by bombs outside the bunker. Another soldier lay dying, just minutes before the soldier had been in the bunker singing the Christmas hymn O Du Froehliche.  Reuber wrote:

“I spent Christmas evening with the other doctors and the sick. The Commanding Officer had presented the letter with his last bottle of Champagne. We raised our mugs and drank to those we love, but before we had had a chance to taste the wine we had to throw ourselves flat on the ground as a stick of bombs fell outside. I seized my doctor’s bag and ran to the scene of the explosions, where there were dead and wounded. My shelter with its lovely Christmas decorations became a dressing station. One of the dying men had been hit in the head and there was nothing more I could do for him. He had been with us at our celebration, and had only that moment left to go on duty, but before he went he had said: ‘I’ll finish the carol with first. O du Frohliche!” A few moments later he was dead. There was plenty of hard and sad work to do in our Christmas shelter. It is late now, but it is Christmas night still. And so much sadness everywhere.”

On January 9th 1943 with all hope of escape or reinforcement gone Reuber gave the picture to the battalion commander as the officer was too ill to carry on and that man was one of the last soldiers to be evacuated from the pocket. Reuber’s commander carried the Madonna out of the pocket and returned it delivered it to Reuber’s family, preserving it for all.

Reuber was taken prisoner and survived the harrowing winter march to the Yelabuga prison camp. In late 1943 Reuber wrote his Christmas Letter to a German Wife and Mother – Advent 1943. It was a spiritual reflection but also a reflection on the hope for life after the war, when the Nazi regime would be defeated, and Germany given a new birth.

In a farewell letter to his wife that accompanied his portrait out of Stalingrad he wrote:

“Look in the child the firstborn of a new humanity, born in pain, outshining all darkness and sadness. Let it be for us a symbol of a victorious and joyful life in the future, which we want to love more genuinely and warmly after all of death’s experiences, a life, which is worth living only if it is radiating light and pure warm love.” 

I wonder if the American Christians that continue to swear fealty to President Trump despite the elector defeat he continues to deny will ever have the capacity to reflect and repent for the evil they helped support. Sadly, twenty or so years ago I would have likely been part of Trump’s cult of “Christian” followers, or if not a part of the cult, a bystander who helped him by choosing to ignore the evil out of Party loyalty. Thankfully my tour in Iraq cured me of that and because I left the GOP was not deceived by Trump.

Reuber wrote at Yelabuga:

“The concatenation of guilt and fate has opened our eyes wide to the guilt. You know, perhaps we will be grateful at the end of our present difficult path yet once again that we will be granted true salvation and liberation of the individual and the nation by apparent disappointment of our “anticipation of Advent”, by all of the suffering of last year’s as well as this year’s Christmas. According to ancient tradition, the Advent season is simultaneously the season of self-reflection. So at the very end, facing ruin, in death’s grip – what a revaluation of values has taken place in us! We thus want to use this period of waiting as inner preparation for a meaningful new existence and enterprise in our family, in our vocation, in the nation. The Christmas light of joy is already shining in the midst of our Advent path of death as a celebration of the birth of a new age in which – as hard as it may also be – we want to prove ourselves worthy of the newly given life.”  (Erich Wiegand in Kurt Reuber, Pastor, Physician, Painter, Evangelischer Medienverb. Kassel 2004. )

prisoner's madonna

Reuber did not live to see that day. He died of Typhus on January 20th 1944, at Yelabuga not long after writing this and about a month after painting another portrait of the Madonna, this one entitled The Prisoner’s Madonna. He was not alone, of the approximately 95,000 German POWs taken at Stalingrad only about 6,000 returned home.

His paintings survived the war and his family gave The Madonna of Stalingrad to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin after it was restored as a symbol of hope and reconciliation. Copies are also displayed in Coventry Cathedral and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Volgograd, the former Stalingrad. A copy of The Prisoner’s Madonna is now displayed at the Church of the Resurrection in Kassel.

I have a print of the Madonna of Stalingrad in my office since until a few weeks ago. I have it at home but I think I have to wait in until we sell our townhome and move to a new place before I can display it in my home office. It has become one of the most meaningful pictures I have since I returned from Iraq in 2008. I miss looking on it every day. To me the print is a symbol of God’s presence when God seems entirely absent.

Praying for an end to war, the Coronavirus Pandemic and the hell of the past several years.

Peace and Merry Christmas,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, History, Military, ministry, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion, spirituality, world war two in europe

“The Wrong Shall Fail, the Right Prevail” I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day in the Final Days of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After another long day, most of it spent in the Dental Clinic getting examined, x-rayed and when that cut into the time to do the concluding work on the root canal. So I had to go back in the afternoon. In between I went to deal with making sure the lady correcting my DD-214. So from 8:00 to 9:00 AM, that’s 0800-0900 military time, I was getting x-rayed and prodded. From nine to 1215 on the road and working on my personnel records to correct the DD-214 before being in the chair another couple of hours getting prepped and completing what had been started a couple of weeks ago. The problem was that in dental-speak the inside of that molar had “unusual architecture” only found in about 6% of people. That being said the did well, I suffered no undo pain, was informed that the other teeth they checked were not in need of any immediate treatment and for that I am glad. But I digress…

I could be writing about the travails being inflicted on the country and the world by our soon to be former President Donald Trump, but I do enough of that. Christmas is coming and even when I don’t explicitly write about Trump the message of the season stands against him and against all that he stands. Frankly I couldn’t give a horses patoot what his Court Following of Evangelical Christian Leaders or his Cult of badly compromised Conservative, Evangelical, Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Catholic followers, who choose him over Christ on a daily basis.

I cannot be part of that despite what such people call me on social media and in comments I will not approve on this blog. Christmas of 2020 comes amid social and religious turmoil not seen since the 1850s that led up to the American Civil War. The rhetoric across the politic spectrum is becoming more uncompromising, and especially in the case of Trump supporters tinged by threats of violence, and even killing political opponents, and this is condoned by supposedly Christian people. Trump demands their fealty and most regardless of the reality of his election loss many if not most continue to worship at his electroplated golden calf.

It is in such times that I reach back to history and often music that came out of the tumult. The American Civil War was such an occasion.

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned these words of hope on Christmas Day, 1863:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Christmas is coming and I feel that Longfellow’s words are as pertinent today as when he first penned them. The thought of what is to come in the next few years, in the United States and in many other liberal democracies bodes ill for our future as authoritarian and often xenophobic leaders like Trump rise to power. The world that we grew up is is passing away, and what comes in its place, a dystopian world where hope will be a rare commodity beckons.

Longfellow’s words became the heart of the song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.  I have heard it a number of times in the past few days and each time it really touches me, because it is real. In it reality and faith come face to face, and both win. No-matter what Trump and his cult do, they will fail and the right will prevail.

The song has been recorded in a number of versions by different artists over the years. However, the words of the song go back to the American Civil War. Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863 following the serious wounding of his son Charles, a Lieutenant in the Union Army at the Battle of New Hope Church during the Mine Run Campaign (not to be confused with a battle of the same name outside Atlanta in 1864) and the death of his wife in a fire two years before. Longfellow had much to despair about, but he maintained a faith in God, as well as the founding principles of the United States.

Longfellow’s words are haunting. Probably because they demonstrate the profound tension that lies at the heart of the Incarnation, which is the heart of Christmas and the Christian faith. the tension, played out so well in the song is the existence of a message of peace and reconciliation in a world where war and hatred of many kinds rip human beings apart coupled with the tragic inability of Christendom, especially American Conservative Evangelicalism to even come close to the message of Christmas.

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

gburg dead2

The reality of this is seen in the third verse. It is a verse that echoes throughout history and seems to be true even today, in fact it seems to be the most real as we deal with war, hatred, terrorism, killing in the name of God, and political fratricide.

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

The interesting part about the songs as opposed to the poem is that they omit three of Longfellow’s verses that admittedly in a reunited country would not help record sales. Those verses speak to the heart of the Civil War.

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

But Longfellow hears in the bells something more powerful. It is the message of Christmas and the incarnation. The message that justice and peace will finally embrace.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The song has been recorded many times by many artists. I like the version sung by Frank Sinatra, which the music was composed by Johnny Marks, composer of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Another earlier version composed by John Baptiste Calkin has been recorded by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash among others.

As wars rage in the Middle East, tensions rise in Asia, Africa and even Eastern Europe while the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, led by the American President rage as we go into another, and even more perilous year with the possibility of nuclear war more probably than not, people still look for hope.

Longfellow, who lost so much in a short time in the midst of a terrible Civil War, reminds us that in such times, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

In a time like this when the world led by the American President seems to be hurtling into the abyss, it is important to remember Longfellow’s words and the message of Christ and the Incarnation. The child born as an outcast in a manger would die as a criminal, crucified by an occupying power with the full support of the leaders of the occupied country. As the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” 

Yes, the wrong shall fail, and the right prevail, but it in the age of Trump it will certainly involve much travail. As for the travail, it is just beginning.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, civil war, faith, History, Military, music, Political Commentary, spirituality

Please Christmas Don’t Be Late, But But Wear a Mask: Some Mostly Silly Christmas Songs

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After a long day of medical appointments including an MRI to ensure my brain isn’t leaking into my nose. No kidding, it’s something they have to rule out before doing a biopsy of a growth there that regardless of what it is, so long as it is not brain needs to come out. Of course it might be the sane part trying to escape, but as usual I digress, but in the midst of all I think I need to spread a bit of cheer on a dark COVID-19 Winter night, unless you are reading this with the sun up.

I get sentimental when I hear Christmas songs of almost any genre. That sentimentality ranges from the hymns of the season such as Silent Night, The First Noel, or Joy to the World. Likewise I find the hymns of Advent like O Come, O Come Immanuel and Es ist Ein Ros Ensprungen (Lo, how a Rose e’re Blooming) to be songs of hope in dark times.

I have shared many of my Christmas favorites each year. This year I haven’t done much of that. But tonight I am going to share some of my favorite non-religious and sometimes funny Christmas songs. I suppose this goes back to my earliest days when as a three to four year old living in the Philippines and my parents bought me David Seville and the Chipmunks Christmas Album, which included the song Christmas Don’t Be Late. 

That came to mind when I had to make sure that our Papillons, especially our puppy Maddy Lyn who is sweet, scary smart and always looking for trouble. She was doing that tonight when I asked what she was doing. She turned around and gave me the “Moi?” look. She is mischievous but so damned funny and sweet. But she is not alone, we have our little boy, Pierre who is sure that he is French royalty. He and Maddy Lyn are about the same size and over the past couple of months they have become buddies once Pierre’s high horse died. Then there is our big girl, Izzy Bella, the sweetest enforcer around. She is bigger than both of the little ones combined, she’s a big Papillon and is drop-dead gorgeous.


Maddie in Time-Out in Judy’s Art Room 

Maddy Lyn and Pierre 


Maddy Lyn and Daddy on the Road

Izzy and his Big Girl Izzy Bella

So anyway, here are my favorite non-religious Christmas songs. Some are sentimental, some irreverent, but I love them all.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, COVID19, faith, film, History, movies, music, News and current events, spirituality

Muddling Through: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, a Perfect Song for a Pandemic

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

There are some songs at Christmas that despite their relative newness as compared to ancient carols seem to strike a chord that resonates deep in the hearts of people. I think that in our day that some speak louder than others.

One of those songs, at least for me, and probably many others is the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The music was written by Ralph Blane and the lyrics by Hugh Martin for the musical Meet Me in St Louis and first performed by Judy Garland in that film. In the movie Garland’s character sings the song to her younger sister after their father announces plans to move from their home of St Louis to New York for a job. It is a haunting song with a fascinating story, especially in the age of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the relentless grasps for power of Fascists and Authoritarians in this country and around the world, economic catastrophe, and the clouds of war looming.

But the lyrics for the musical were different than the ones originally penned by Martin, and it would not be the last time that the words were changed.

For the musical, Garland, director Vincent Minnelli, and co-star Tom Drake felt that Martin’s original lyrics which began with “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, it could be your last. Next year we may all be living in the past” were too depressing. Martin resisted but finally bowed to pressure and the lyrics were changed to “let your heart be light, Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” in response to their request.

The words sung in the musical by Judy Garland have a haunting but very real feel for people who face uncertainty at Christmas, as such they were very meaningful to the US military personnel who heard them at the front in the dark days of the Second World War.

As originally produced they reflect a hope for a better future as opposed to a carefree present. As such they are probably much more appropriate to our current time than in the mid-1950s when Frank Sinatra recorded a modified version of the song for his album A Jolly Christmas.

Frank Sinatra asked Martin to “jolly up” the line “we’ll have to muddle through somehow” and Martin changed it to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

When Sinatra recorded the song in 1957 it too became a hit and the focus on present happiness rather than a hope for a better future fit the times in which it was recorded. It was a time when economic prosperity and growth triumphed, bomb shelters were a growth industry, and Reds in Hollywood were alleged Communists and not people from Red States. Sinatra’s version also notes that “faithful friends gather near to us once more” instead of “will be near to us once more.” Gathering is such a nice thought, unless people spread COVID-19 wherever they gather.

The song was re-written by Martin a number of times including a “Christian” version which included the words “if the Lord allows” instead of “if the fates allow.” Though I am a Christian I think that change was a lame appeal to make a few dollars to be made off religious people who otherwise wouldn’t listen to a song because God wasn’t mentioned in it. But then why not, and he wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last.

The song is one is one of the most recorded Christmas songs ever written and can be heard being sung by artists as diverse as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Steward, the Carpenters, Kelly Clarkson, John Denver with the Muppets, the Pretenders, Olivia Newton John, Kenny Loggins, and even Twisted Sister.

The song as recorded by Judy Garland is actually my favorite, though I also love the Sinatra version. But that being said, in a time like we are living, “muddling through somehow” seems to be more appropriate.

So enjoy these versions of a song that has touched the hearts of hundreds of millions of people since it was first recorded. May it be an inspiration in these uncertain times of a hope for a better future. Maybe that makes it a better Advent song than a Christmas song, and maybe that’s why Muddling Through Somehow isn’t such a bad thing after all, especially if you live to see the end of the worst of COVID-19. 

For me it is kind of a sad song, but at the same time it is mixed with hope…and I always try to live in hope, even when I am sad.

So, here’s to muddling through somehow…

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under faith, film, History, life

“Nuts” The Immortal Reply of General Anthony McAuliffe to the Germans at Bastogne

anthony_mcauliffe1

Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another rerun of an older post because I didn’t sleep well last night and I still have so much to do before my official retirement which is beset with medical and dental issues that are really screwing with my life. I am also dealing with a Navy personnel website that has screwed up my security credentials to get on their website and I found out late Thursday that I have to get on it to get my DD-214 approved. That little document that releases me from active duty is necessary for me to get my VA benefits including my medical care and disability payments.

So until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

On December 16th 1944 the German Army launched an assault in the Ardennes Forrest completely surprising the thinly spread American VIII Corps.  The German 6th Panzer Army, 5th Panzer Army and 7th Army attacked and forced the surrender of 2 regiments of 106th Infantry Division, mauled the 28th Division in the center of the American line while battering other U.S. forces.  To the north the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions were tenaciously defending Elsenborn Ridge while to the south the thinly spread 4th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions resisted the 7th Army advance. As elements of the two German Panzer armies advanced west Eisenhower dispatched his only reserves the 82nd and 101stAirborne Divisions to meet the threat. The 82nd moved to the town of St Vith to aid the 7th Armored Division while the 101st was dispatched to hold the key road center of Bastogne.

By the 22nd of December the besieged American defenders of Bastogne were causing Hasso Von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army headaches. Manteuffel’s leading Panzer units of the 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr had been thwarted from taking Bastogne by a Combat Command of 10th Armored Division and lead elements of the 101st Airborne Division. After failing to take the town the Germans invested it with the 26thVolksgrenadier Division, and a regiment of Panzer Lehr while the  2ndPanzer and the bulk of Panzer Lehr continued their westward advance.

Cut off from any other American forces the 101st and a collection of stray units including CCB 10th Armored Division and remnants of CCR 9th Armored Division, three 155mm artillery battalions including the African American 969th Field Artillery Battalion held out. By the 21st of December they were completely surrounded by strong German Forces with no relief in sight.

The Commander of the American garrison was Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe. McAuliffe was the acting commander of the 101st and normally was the commander of the Division Artillery. Major General Matthew Ridgeway and many key commanders and staff were away from the division when it was hastily deployed to the Bulge to combat the German offensive.  McAuliffe now commanded a division which was surrounded, and that was short of ammunition, food, and cold weather gear.

luettwitz

General Der Panzertrüppen Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz

The German forces surrounding the city were commanded by the veteran General Der Panzertrüppen Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, commander of XLVII Panzer Corps.  Lüttwitz believed that resistance to his forces was futile sent the following message under a flag of truce to McAuliffe.

To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.

The German Commander

McAuliffe’s response has become one of the immortal responses to a surrender demand in military history. According to staff members present when he received Lüttwitz’s note he simple said “nuts.” One of his staff officers suggested that he use “nuts” as his official reply to Lüttwitz and the following reply was typed:

To the German Commander

NUTS!

The American Commander

The reply was delivered by the commander of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Harper and his S-3 Major Alvin Jones. When Harper delivered the message he told the German delegation that in “plain English” it meant “Go to hell.” The scene has been immortalized on film in the movie The Battle of the Bulge

Likewise it is also depicted in the mini-series Band of Brothers. 

And in the 1949 film Battleground 

dsc00072a

The garrison held out until it was relieved on December 26th by the 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army.  Despite that the situation remained tenuous and the town was the scene of much hard fighting over the next two weeks.

1901879_10153009725477994_814138470181390794_n

McAuliffe’s Christmas Message to his Soldiers

McAuliffe went on to command the 103rd Infantry Division by the end of the war.  He returned to Europe as Commander of 7th Army in 1953 and U.S. Army Europe in 1955. He retired in 1956 with the rank of General.  He died in 1975 at the age of 77. His adversary Von Lüttwitz died at the age of 72 in 1969.

As we remain engaged in the current war it is always worth our time to remember the heroism, courage and faith of those that served before us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under film, History, leadership, Military, movies, us army, US Army Air Corps, world war two in europe

I Hate Being Right: My Words from 13 December 2019 about 2020


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wrote this on 13 December 2019. It was my prediction for 2020. Damn, I hate being right, except that I did not predict the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic. Apart from that it’s pretty damned accurate. I only wish I was good at picking lottery numbers. So here it is again with no edits.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

It is not even Christmas and I am beginning to write about the coming year. This was provoked in part by a discussion I had with a dear friend, who also happens to be an Evangelical Christian Trump Cultist. I attempted to talk of basic middle of the road stuff and be honest about history, especially because I was a Republican for 32 years, until I returned from Iraq in 2008 and realized that we had been lied into a war that would have fit three of the four charges leveled against the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg.

But there was no convincing my friend of anything, even when attempting to bridge the divide using facts. To him Trump is the greatest President ever, and Obama, the worst. Of course I live in one of the “reddest” areas of Virginia and while I have quite a few liberal or progressive friends here, quite a few of the people who are also long time friends have transformed themselves from traditional conservatives who could be reasoned with to part of the Trump Cult. Such was the case with this person, every response he gave came straight from a Trump tweet, or something off of Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh. But I digress, my friend is not a bad person, he has

Abraham Lincoln noted:

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

It is good to remember Lincoln’s words in times of turmoil. I do, and they bring me great motivation to work, believe, and fight for justice, truth, and the belief in a spark of goodness in humanity which enables me to believe the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The fact that those words come from a time of tumult, yet in a time where men were beginning to wrestle with and proclaim principles of the Enlightenment matters much to me, especially in times like we live today, where that principle is being attacked and undermined by the American President.

That being said, I believe that 2019 will be remembered in history as a time great turmoil, upheaval, and probably usher in a new epoch of war, economic, and ecological disaster. We are ending the year with the impeachment proceedings against President Trump, and threats of violence and civil war from his supporters if he is removed from office or loses the 2020 election.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as a historian I to look at the world through how human beings, governments, and businesses behave in times of crisis. In fact, human beings are the singular constant in history and in crisis human beings don’t always live up to our ideals.

When major powers and international systems of order break down, or collapse for whatever reason, instability, disorder, and primordial hatreds based on nationalism, religion, and racism rise. A vacuum is created, filled by other powers, but not without some element of travail. Edmond Taylor wrote in his classic “The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Order, 1905-1922:

“The collapse of the great supranational — or at least supraparochial — authorities and the dissolution of long-accepted Imperial bonds released upon Europe a fearsome flood of conflicting national ambitions, of inflamed minority particularisms, of historic (sometimes almost prehistoric) irredentisms, of irreconcilable social aspirations and of rival political fanaticisms.

The impending collapse of the old order today can be seen in a return to a more isolationist policy by the United States, rising populist, nationalist, and ethnocentric movements in Europe which are threatening the existence of the European Union. Those include Brexit, ethnic nationalism mixed with a bit of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Poland, and great strains in France and Germany between right and left wing populist movements, but no one has found a way to deal with these Right Wing  populist movements.

The common thread is the center which was the key to so much social progress, democracy, economic growth and stability, scientific advancement, and international security is giving way. In fact it has pretty much disappeared, There are many reasons for this, on the American side going back to the imperialist overreach of the George W. Bush administration, the inconsistent and detached method of the Obama administration towards the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, following that, the overtly populist, authoritarian, and isolationist policies of the Trump presidency, and his decidedly inconsistent, often irresponsible, and irreconcilable policies of isolationism on one hand, and militarism on the other.

Now a rejuvenated Russia is rushing to fill the void in the Middle East as well as working to destabilize its neighbors, Europe, and even the United States. The Chinese are attempting to make gains in other areas and to drive the United States out of Asia by using every element of national power: diplomacy, information, military might, and economics, while the United States following the Trump Administration’s withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and subsequent punishing tariffs that are hurting allies and Americans more than China the United States is now at a decided disadvantage in Asia.

I could go on, and could go into details on the causes of the current situation but they are many. What we are seeing now is the beginning of the collapse of an order that we have known most of our lives. While many people might be uneasy, most don’t view things in terms of history, in many cases because the events that led to the establishment of the current order are too distant and the witnesses to those times are few, and dying off. People today seldom study history, and even worse no longer know people, including family members who remember what happened to remind them of it.

That was quite similar to the situation in 1914. Europe had been at relative peace for a century. With the exception of the French Republic, most of Europe was still ruled by monarchies with rather limited democratic participation, if any. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The Proud Tower: A Portrait Of the World Before the War, 1890-1914:

“The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, “With emotion, to the man I used to be.”

I believe that 2020 will the a year of multiple crises and the further erosion, if not collapse of the old order, regardless of what happens with impeachment. What will come I do not know, but I expect that at the minimum it will be unsettling and disruptive, if not catastrophic. That doesn’t mean that I am a pessimist, it means that I study history. Provided that humanity does not find a way to destroy itself, we will recover. It may not be pretty and it certainly will not be the same as it was, but we will recover.

Walter Lord wrote about this his book on American in the early Twentieth Century The Good Years: 1900-1914. In the book he wrote about how things changed for Americans as Europe plunged into war. The effects of the war were soon felt in the United States though it would not enter the war until 1917. Lord wrote:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

The truth is, even in the midst of crises that the spark that enables people to believe, to hope, and to labor for a better future where the possibilities of peace, justice, freedom, and progress can be realized.

2019 was a very difficult year, a year of change and turbulence, and truthfully it will probably be just the beginning; but unless we find a way to destroy ourselves before the end of the year, it will not be the end, and 2020 may be one of the most important, yet tumultuous years in human history, and I cannot say if it will end well, for the United States, or the world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under authoritarian government, civil rights, civil war, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, COVID19, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, leadership, national security, natural disasters, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Christmas Coda: Joyeux Noel and My Call after the Military

palmer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As a veteran who served in the badlands of Al Anbar Province during Christmas of 2007 I can relate to Father Palmer, the British priest and chaplain in the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) when he makes the comment “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

I again watched that film tonight. The film is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it. It reminds me of serving in Iraq, at Christmas from my perspective as a Chaplain, and thereby giving voice to those who serve now, as well as those who served God’s people in hellish places before me. It reminds me of how much I hate war, and how much I often hate the clergy who are all too often, bloodthirsty

 

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre in the film, who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead. His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within this country.

I was reminded of that last night and today as the now Impeached President called upon and received the fealty and obedience of his Imperial Court Clergy, and the ever faithful cult of conservative and Evangelical Christians while pledging to destroy his enemies. In such a time I cannot

The Bishop who relieved Father Palmer went on to preach a sermon to newly arrived troops.

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.” Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact until very recently they were really the last masses that I felt the mystery and awe of the love of God that I used to so much feel.

When I left Iraq the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisers without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care. So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie. While I cannot prove it I do believe, and have heard from others who used to work at the Chief of Chaplains office that I have been shunned and punished by past and present leaders of the Chaplain Corps because of my witness in being open about my struggles with faith and PTSD. A can recount a number of incidents that would be of circumstantial evidence, but I digress. That being said I am much better off for that experience than I would be had it not occurred.

It has been thirteen years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Just a year later I was walking home from church where my wife was to sing in the choir during the Christmas vigil mass. I couldn’t handle the crowds, the noise, and I felt so far away from God. That night I walked home in the dark looking up into the sky asking God if he still was there. If there had been a bar on the way home I would have stopped by and poured myself in.

Since Iraq I have dealt with severe and chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, but even more so and maybe more importantly by my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy. It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many. Unlike a few years ago they now occupy the seat of political power as sycophants of our soon to be ex-President, offering no prophetic voice but speaking the words of death covered in the veneer of the Christian faith.

As for me I had the floor kicked from out from under me in the summer of 2014 and it has been a hard fight and while I am beginning to get back to some sense of normal it is a day to day thing. I still suffer the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and the nightmares which came back with a vengeance that summer. I have a REM sleep disorder in which my body doesn’t shut down when I get into REM sleep. This reacts well with the Nightmare and Night Terror disorders because I act out my responses to those terrors. In 2014 I ended up with a visit to the medical clinic with a concussion and sprained jaw and neck. In 2016 I broke my nose, and dark and early this morning I busted my head open  requiring 9 stitches, 2 deep ones and 7 on top. Thankfully Judy got my stubborn ass to the ER. Coupled with my other ongoing maladies of the past couple of months I am really getting too old for this shit.

As for faith, I do believe again, more often than not, though at the same time I doubt. Though I believe I think I still consider myself to be a Christian Agnostic who echoes the cry of the man who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” I believe and yet, I don’t and I don’t think that is a bad thing, I think it helps me understand those who no longer believe, those that struggle, and those who raised as Christians have left the faith.

Like the Priest in Joyeux Noel I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” For me this may no longer be on the battlefield as I will be retired, unless some massive war breaks out and they start calling back recent retirees to service. That has happened before and the Soviets, Chicoms and Iranians aren’t taking time off for Christmas.

However, that being said I will strive to be there for those that struggle with faith and believe, especially those who struggle because of what they saw and experienced during war and when they returned home. Three years ago I hosted the NATO contingent at my former chapel, and had the honor of preaching an Advent message in German.

533506_10151366982457059_868388211_n

Over the last year of my service I continued speak truth to those in power and those whose faithfulness is more a product of their comfort with the God that they create in their own mind rather than the Crucified God wise death on the Cross s a scandal. For many Christians the scandal of the cross is too easy to avoid by surrounding ourselves with pet theologies that appeal to our pride, prejudice and power. The kind of malevolent power represented by the bishop in Joyeux Noel as well as the leaders of the so called “Conservative Evangelicals” who supported a President who says “Merry Christmas” even as he continues to defecate on all who believe in the God who became incarnate as a helpless babe in a manger and who died on a cross.  Last year I saw a mocking meme of Trump saying “Merry Christmas” as he holds a bigger than life Bible to his chest from a very conservative evangelical friend on Facebook, it was blasphemous. Those people remind me of the hate filled nationalist British Bishop.

The French mystic Simone Weil said “He who has not God in himself cannot feel His absence.” I think that sums up the President and his ardent Evangelical supporters. I don’t think they would recognize Christ if he walked among them and would have been among those shouting “Crucify him!” but of course I could be wrong in some individual cases.

So, this Christmas, like the theologian Paul Tillich I have come to believe  that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  In other words I am going to be faithful to the Crucified Christ and remain a complete pain in the ass to them until the day that I die, a real Padre Smedley if you get my drift.

Once again I watched Joyeux Noel, and as usual I cried. Though I had my retirement ceremony Monday, and am officially retired on 31 December and I am praying for peace in hopes that someday it becomes real. St. Francis prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hated, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may no so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying hat we are born into eternal life. 

After all, I still belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, whether I am in the Navy or not.

So until tomorrow,

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

7 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, film, History, Military, ministry, movies, Pastoral Care, Political Commentary, PTSD, Religion, spirituality, Tour in Iraq, US Navy, world war one