Category Archives: books and literature

Continuing my Reading and Writing Rainbow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

British historian Sir Max Hastings once made the comment: “I would be miserable if I went to bed without having written 1,000 words about something.” I am much the same way and hopefully one day I might be one tenth as good, and as successful writer as him or writers like Barbara Tuchman, William Shirer, and Laurence Rees.

I do most of my writing before I go to bed at night and usually set my articles to post at 6:30 in the morning, although of late I have been posting them as soon as I write them.

I have a hard time going to sleep without writing be it for this website or for one of the books that I am working on. I read voraciously whenever I get the chance sometimes going to a bar just to read a book while enjoying a good craft beer or German or Irish import. Likewise once I am done with whatever I am writing I go right back to reading, sometimes keeping whatever Papillon is sleeping with me from getting the sleep that they want. That’s what I will be doing tonight when I finish this article which you will be reading tomorrow when it posts. In a sense my writings are kind of like Schroedinger’s cat, they are written yet unwritten at the same time, but I digress…

But going back to writing and reading I have to say that I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do either, I think I would be in some sort of hell if I couldn’t write every night or read. Doing these things helps me keep my perspective and to more fully appreciate the events of the day. Honestly, if I had not consciously immersed myself in history from the time that I was a child, including the many days that I cut 10th grade Geometry class to read the history reference books that I couldn’t check out of the school library I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I like writing history because I become immersed in the people, the places, and the intricacies and complexity of the events. I like to incorporate the little known back stories of people help understand their actions at a given point. Likewise think that the lives of the individuals involved in the events I write about, both before, and after the event should they have lived through it, give my readers a more human connection to the events, as well as understanding of the people involved. I find that the stories of people allow readers to make those connections, maybe even inspiring in them a bit of sympathy for scoundrels or suspicion of supposed saints.

I think that the character of people, good, bad, or wherever it falls on the spectrum, and their basic humanity; their strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, and their feet of clay, matter immensely and need to be part a of the story. I hate it when I read a history where a given character’s actions during a given event are examined in detail, but who they are as a person never comes through because the authors didn’t give their readers the courtesy of introducing them as people because they included little or no biographical details to make them interesting. Instead they become one dimensional caricatures of who they were in life, which in my view does them, the story, and the reader a grave injustice. So when I write I try to find interesting parts of a person’s life that is not directly related to the event to paint the picture. Walter Lord, who wrote prolific books on some of the key events of the Twentieth Century including books about the Titanic, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Dunkirk, the desegregation of the University of Mississippi, and many more noted something that I have taken to heart, “I look for something that is highly unusual, involving ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations.”

That’s one reason I like the writings of both Tuchman and Hastings, they bring life to to the events they write about, they allow your imagination to run and to want discover more about the people and the events. The late Walter Lord, was also excellent at doing that, as was William Shirer, and I think that is how I would like my writings be remembered. But in order to do that I have to read and write, as Stephen King said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 

In the past couple of months I have read Ian Kershaw’s To Hell and Back, Europe 1914-1949; Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat’s How Democracies Die; Benjamin Cart Hett’s The Death Of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall Of the Weimar Republic; Geoffrey Megargee’s Inside Hitler’s High Command; Christopher Browning’s Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp; Bonnie Weinstein’s When Christians Break Bad: Letters from the Insane, Inane, and Profane; and I am just about done with Laurence Rees’s Hitler’s Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss. I plan on finishing it tonight.

I also need to get back to a submission to my agent on the book I started during the Spring, entitled Walk, Remember, Bear Witness: Remembering the Holocaust as the Last Survivors Pass Away. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under books, books and literature, History, holocaust, Teaching and education

“A Country that Will Tolerate Evil Means – Evil Manners, and Standards Of Ethics… Will be So Poisoned that it Never Have Any Good End”

1_PdtRL0EWQD_TJZdqE8BzQg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am re-posting an older article that I think is even more pertinent than it was when I first wrote it. I am doing this because I haven’t slept well for the past few weeks. My sleep doctor ordered me a BIPAP machine, replacing my CPAP. Hopefully it will help me sleep better. It may not stop all the crazy PTSD dreams and nightmares, but maybe I will sleep better, but I digress.

Thew fact is that many of Trump’s followers were prepared for his advent by years of highly politicized propaganda nationalistic covered with a very thin veneer of Christian jibber-jabber, most of which is at odds with 2000 years of the teachings of the Church going back to Jesus. But this propaganda has brought about a wave of hatred that consumes many toward those that they identify as enemies, and indifference to the victims of the policies that their political and clerical leaders espouse.

Historian Ian Kershaw wrote: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.” I find that comment all too real today when I look at the President, his propagandists, and those who follow him without question even when they know that he is lying to them.

The longer that I live the more that I understand how this happens. Today, as there were in 1930s and 1940s Nazi Germany, there are all too many hate-filled ideologues who desire to destroy or subjugate entire races and ethnic groups, or members of different religions or political ideologies. In the United States they have free reign to do speak and write freely about their goals and for many years we have regarded most of them as fringe characters who had no chance of ever enacting anything that they proposed.

Barry Goldwater, the true conservative scion of the GOP was frightened by the Christians who now form the core of the Trump personality cult. Goldwater said:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” 

Many of these were and continue to be the most vocal supporters of President Trump, and see in him a man who will help them accomplish their desires as no President has done before. One of them, Steve Bannon who served as his chief policy adviser and strategist. Likewise, there are no shortage of civil rights opponents and proponents of a police state in his cabinet, including his first, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and his current AG, William Barr. While serving. As AG before he was fired, Sessions, the top law enforcement official in the country joined a chorus of Republican youth chanting “lock her up” meaning former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. More recently Mr. Barr has moved to ensure that the Executive Branch achieves the primacy over the legislative and judicial branches that it is denied in the Constitution. Ken Cuccinelli said that the words on the Statue Of Liberty only applied to those of European descent.

e5b0006d86d35ad18a117e40a2e528af

Despite the myriad of actions taken by the Trump administration, its abuses of power, its probable connections to a hostile power, its attempts to shut down law enforcement probes of the Russia connections, its unabashed attempts to silence the press and all other opponents, and its nearly uncountable number of lies and distortions that it makes on a daily basis is that the vast majority of Congressional Republicans nor his supposedly Christian followers seem to care.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of opposition, but among his followers and the great number of people in the middle who prefer not to get involved there is little real opposition; moral, religious, ethical, or political to anything that he says or does, mostly because they do not understand how it effects them or their liberties, nor how toxic it is to the nation. It seems to me that they are not only apathetic to the abuses of power, but have no empathy towards the people that they are directed against.

But as I said at the opening of this article, the were prepared by decades of political propaganda covered with a veneer of Christian jibber-jabber. I know this because for a bit over two decades I was exposed to it and and believed it. Years ago I knew and went to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue. He once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in the shoes of Trump’s “Christian” personality cult, and at one time I was as whipped into a frenzy of hate by those preachers, and their colleagues in right wing talk radio. That was before I went to and returned from Iraq. Thus I fully understand them and now I reject them and their intolerant creeds.

img_0476

For the Trump supporters this is not a problem. He represents a chance for them to recover their greatness, just as Hitler did for many of his followers in the 1930s, including those who joined the Party late. One of the greatest film monologues that illustrated this phenomenon is that of Burt Lancaster in his portrayal of a Nazi judge who is on trial in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. His comments remind me so much of what I see among many Trump supporters today:

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

img_0178

While we have not reached the point that the Third Reich did between 1933 and 1938, it will not take much for us to get there. Trump is certainly not Hitler, but he is escalating his words and actions toward the establishment of an authoritarian state. We misjudge ourselves if we belief that such things cannot happen here.

Sinclair Lewis, who wrote the book It Can’t Happen Here as a response to authoritarian and Fascist movements in the 1930s wrote in it:

“A country that tolerates evil means—evil manners, standards of ethics—for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end.”

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.”

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American theologian noted: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

We should heed their warnings before we cross that precipice and head into the abyss.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under books and literature, civil rights, ethics, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

“So It Goes” Reading, Writing, and MRI Results

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: ““I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”

I kind of do that, except ever since I hurt my knees, instead of my pocket I carry them in a replica German WWII medical aid bag. It was either do that or get a Murse, had to hold a bunch of stuff in one hand when walking with a crutch because of bad knees. I got the MRI results back on my right knee today. I had the MRI done late last Monday night. It took almost nine months since I hurt it to get the MRI. Instead I received a round of physical therapy, followed by referral to Sports Medicine for various forms of injection therapy. Cortisone shots, Platelet Rich Plasma, and Gel injections, before the Sports Medicine Doctor said that all my treatments were basically for arthritis and had failed, admitting that something else was going on. “So it goes.”

Since last August I told every doctor that examined me that I knew that I had arthritis in the knee but it had never interfered with my life until I had my fall down the stairs last August. I knee then that I had injured it. The MRI showed much more damage than the arthritis, which was bad, basically forming bone spurs in a knee that had no cartilage left, with other damage. The surgeon who ordered it was the one who did my arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. He explained that about the only surgical option was knee replacement. I kind of figured that months ago. “So it goes.”

So Monday I go back to my aquatic physical therapy and I am doing to start going the local recreation center which has an indoor heated pool with a track in it in order to strengthen myself before any surgery. I see the bone and joint surgeon after physical therapy Monday morning. Hopefully I will get the surgery scheduled to replace the knee. “So it goes.”

But all that is a lead up to my May Reading Rainbow.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson I always carry at least one book to read, and one to write in. The only thing the one I write in is my iPad. I kind of have to, I can barely read my own writing so this is the better option. But as far as my reading has gone I have been reading up a storm over the past month, and am continuing to do more. Over the past couple of months I have read Justice Michael Musmanno’s The Eichmann Kommandos which was about the Einsatzgruppen Trials; John Meacham’s The Soul Of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels; Doris Kearns Godwin’s Leadership In Turbulent Times; Anthony Beevor’s The Battle Of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation Of World War II; My Old Professor Helmut Haeussler’s book General Wilhelm Groener and the Imperial German Army; Terrance Petty’s Enemy of the People: The Untold Story Of the Journalists who Opposed Hitler; and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. “So it goes.”

I also re-read Raul Hilberg’s Perpetraters, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945, and Timothy Snyder’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. I am currently reading Christopher Browning’s Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp, and Joshua Greene’s Justice at Dachau: The Trials Of an American Prosecutor.

I keep books in my aid bag to read during the waiting times at doctors appointments, waiting in military pharmacies and anywhere else I can find a moment to read, and of course the iPad is there for when the muse strikes. Samuel Johnson noted:

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve

1 Comment

Filed under books, books and literature, life, Loose thoughts and musings

A New Year Resolution: Read, Read, and When You Can’t Read Anymore, Read Some More

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Welcome to 2019. I know, we’re all still a bit hung over from last night, but welcome to the New Year. Admittedly it doesn’t yet feel a lot different than 2018, but I really expect that 2019 will mark an epochal change in our history. Since I wrote about that yesterday I won’t go back for more.

That being said there is one resolution that I think that all people, the great and the small, should do, and that is not to cry boo who, but read like our lives depended on it, which in a sense they do. By reading, I don’t mean just the news, commentary, or opinion sections of print or online news services, but get real books, especially works of history, biography, philosophy, and the classics.

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Likewise, the French philosopher Voltaire hit the nail on the head when he said:

“Despite the enormous quantity of books, how few people read! And if one reads profitably, one would realize how much stupid stuff the vulgar herd is content to swallow every day.”

That my friends is fact. If you want to be able to better distinguish fact from fake, read.

Last year I committed to read more, even as I stayed current on the news, analysis of it, and commentary, even as I continued to write. My office at work is crammed with books, as is much of our home. I think that we follow well the advice of Dr. Seuss who wrote:

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.”

So I read, and I read, until my eyes they turned red. I read with those eyes that had turned red, in bed and even in the head.

I read as I eat, and eat as I read, because somewhere in my soul I have this great need, which I ever did cede I would be a great deal poorer indeed.

The pages they turned and as my eyes burned I knew I could never be through so long as my fingers don’t turn blue. I read and read with voices sounding through my head I, but I will not stress even though I digress…

But really, I read a lot last year and will continue to do so in the coming year. I cannot remember who said it, but someone that oI respect recently said that we should all read at least thirty books a year. That comes out to a bit over half a book a week.

I write about reading rainbow quite frequently, so today after a little extra inspiration last night I decided to look back at what I actually read this year. Here is the list which includes printed books and those that I read on my Amazon Kindle reader in no particular order:

The War that Ended Peace by Margaret McMillan

Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany and the Winning of the Great War at Sea by Robert Massie

Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division through France, June 1944 by Max Hastings

The Nightmare Years: 1930-1940 by William Shirer.

Silent Night: The Story Of the World War One Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub

The Guns Of August by Barbara Tuchman

The Proud Tower: A Portrait Of Europe Before the War, 1890-1914 by Barbara Tuchman

1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies

The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution by Christopher Browning

The Nazis: A Warning from History by Laurence Rees

The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees

Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory by Deborah Lipstadt

Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor

The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Anthony Beevor

Hitler by Joachim Fest

Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich by David Clay Large

The Trial Of the Germans by Eugene Davidson

Vietnam’s Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN by Andrew Wiest

The Anatomy Of the Nuremberg Trials by Telford Taylor

Incredible Victory by Walter Lord

Telling Lies about Hitler: History, the Holocaust, and the Trial Of David Irving by Richard Evans

The Eichmann Trial by Deborah Lipstadt

A Bright and Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan

Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Vietnam by Bernard Fall

After Tet: the Bloodiest Year in Vietnam by Ronald Spector

Waterloo: The Story Of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell

Grant by Ron Chernow

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen

Landscape Turned Red by Stephen W. Sears

Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning

Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power by Henry Ashby Turner

The Night of the Long Knives by Max Gallo

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goering, Dr. Douglas M. Kelly, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII by Jack El- Hai

Hitler’s Generals on Trial: The Last War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg by Valerie Hebert

Buchenwald : ostracism and violence 1937 to 1945 : guide to the permanent exhibition at the Buchenwald Memorial edited by Volkhard Knigge in collaboration with Michael Löffelsender, Rikola-Gunnar Lüttgenau and Harry Stein on behalf of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation ; translation: Judith Rosenthal

The Participants: The Men Of the Wannsee Conference by Hans-Christian Jasch

The Good Years: 1900 to the First World War by Walter Lord

Munich Playground by Ernest Pope

The Fall of the Dynasties: 1905-1922 by Edmond Taylor

Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941 by Stanley Weintraub

Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life Of a Mass Murderer by Bettina Stangeth

Enemy of the People: The Untold Story Of the Journalists Who Opposed Hitler by Terrance Petty

Hunting Eichmann: How a Band Of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Tracked Down the Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb

The Eichmann Kommandos by Justice Michael Musmanno

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder

Perpetrators: The World Of the Holocaust Killers by Gunther Lewy

Thinking the Twentieth Century by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder

The Butcher Of Poland: Hitler’s Lawyer, Hans Frank by Garry O’Connor

Third Reich in History and Memory by Richard Evans

The First Salute: a View Of the American Revolution by Barbara Tuchman

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Dereliction Of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam by H. R. McMaster

Dispatches by Michael Herr

The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan

Everything Trump Touches Dies by Rick Wilson

The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstadt

The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goering by Johannes Steinhoff

Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew

The Somme by Peter Hart

July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin

Hitler Ascent: 1889-1939 by Volker Ulrich

What Have We Done: the Moral Injuries of Americas Longest Wars by David Wood

QB VII by Leon Uris

Russian Roulette by Michael Isikopf and Davis Corn, Operation Eichmann: The Inside Story Of History’s Most Notorious Manhunt Told by its Chief Investigator by Zivi Aharoni and Wilhelm Dietl

The Road not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam by Max Boot

Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden

Why Don’t We Learn From History by B. H. Liddell-Hart

Lincoln’s Lieutenants: The High Command Of the Army Potomac by Stephen Sears

The Collapse of the Third Republic: an Inquiry Into the Fall of France 1940 by William Shirer

The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality by Wolfram Wette

War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941 by Geoffrey Megargee

Sherman’s March by Burke Davis

Antietam by Bruce Catton

The Culture Of Defeat: on National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery by Wolfgang Shivelsbusch

The Nanking Massacre: History Of China, Japan, and the Events Surrounding the Nanking Massacre by Mukuro Mori

The Miracle Of Dunkirk by Walter Lord

Note that very few books that I read this year deal with current events. I have always been that way. For the most part books on current events tend not to have stood the test of time.

I also read quite a few of the transcripts of the Nuremberg Trial, and still have many more to go. It kind of do those in between, and since each volume is the size of a book, they should count as books, but I don’t count them as books, although maybe I should.

Not counting the Nuremberg transcripts I read about 78 books this year, that’s about a book and a half a week, and I am not a speed reader. Yet it is not only about quantity, it is about content. Likewise, if one is to read one must understand and learn the lessons of the the past and the men and women have already learned and passed down. As Will Rogers notes:

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Reading is the key to not falling for what the vulgar hoard is both eager and content to devour. That includes the average 15 lies, falsifications, and distortions of truth that the American President tweets or speaks every day. So I close with the words of Dr. Seuss:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under books and literature, History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

I Will Live a Thousand Times Before I Die: Reading as a Way of Life

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

George R.R. Martin wrote in his book A Dance With Dragons:  “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I constantly read and because I try to imagine what I am reading so that in a way I live it. I have been to places that have never traveled to before and on entering them I know exactly where everything is and what happened there. I remember leading a group from my Army chapel in Wurzburg Germany to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. As I led the group through the town a couple of people asked me how many times I had been there. I told them, “physically, never until today, but I have been here a thousand times before because of books. I saw Wittenberg in my minds eye before I ever saw the city.” They were surprised and both said that it seemed like I had been there many times.

I have had the same thing happen other places that I have visited, and again, it is because I read, and as I read, I imagine and occasionally dream.

I have a huge number of my books in my office most dealing with the history, especially the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the World Wars, and the insurgencies and counter-insurgency wars of the past seventy or so years. I have a lot of biographies, books on American history, military theory, sociology, philosophy, psychology related to war and PTSD, and a few theological works, though most of my theology books are at home because I don’t have room for them in the office.

Coupled with mementos of my military career, other militaria, artwork, and baseball memorabilia the sight and smell can be both overwhelming and comforting at the same time. I hear that a lot from my visitors, including those who come in for counseling, consolation, or just to know someone cares. They tell my visitors volumes about me without them ever asking a question or me telling them, and occasionally someone will ask to borrow a book, and most of the time I will lend them the book, or if I have multiple copies even give it to them.

In a sense my books are kind of a window to my soul, the topics, and even how I have them organized, and they are not for decoration. Many times while I am reflecting on a topic, a conversation, or something that I read in the news I peruse my books and pull one or more out to help me better understand it, or relate it to history. sometimes when in conversation something will come up and I can pull out a book. One of my Chaplains said that he should “apply for graduate credit” for what he learns in our often off the cuff talks. But, for me that is because I read so much and absorb it.

Likewise my memorabilia is there to remind me of all the people in my past who I have served with. I don’t have all my medals, honors, and diplomas up for everyone to see, instead I have pictures and collages, many signed by people who made a difference in my life. When I see the signatures and often all too kind words on them I am humbled, and in some cases a tear will come to my eye, but I digress…

I always try to read a decent amount everyday. I in the past couple of weeks I have finished reading a number of very good books dealing with different historical dramas. Since my trip to Germany at the end of September I have read, or re-read a number of books. One that I read for the first time was Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich by David Clay Large. I read it while during the week that we spent in Munich and it was very a very enlightening look at a complex and often contradictory city that has seen a number of cultural and political shifts since the Eighteenth Century, including its place as the spiritual home of the Nazi movement.

I re-read British military historian, Max Hastings book Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944. It focuses on the leadership, and culture of the Waffen SS Division, and on the war crimes committed by its units and personnel it moved from Southern France to Normandy during the week following the Allied invasion of France. The book deals with especially the extermination of the population of the town of Oradour Sur Glane. For those who mythologize the Waffen-SS as an elite military formation, it should be required reading.

Also on my reading list in Germany and after were Anthony Beevor’s The Fall,of Berlin 1945. I read it in order to refresh my memorial on the Battle of Berlin, and the locations that we would visit while in the city. I finally decided to read Robert Massie’s Castle’s of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea, which I have had on my bookshelf for years, and re-read Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle, also about the Battle for Berlin. I first read that book as a teenager.

One of the most troubling books that I read while in Germany was Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine, by Christian Ingrao. Believe and Destroy is particularly troubling because it shows that racism, anti-Semitism, and the planning and execution of genocide is not just the work of poorly educated thugs.

I read Barbara Tuchman’s The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution; and The Butcher of Poland: Hitler’s Lawyer Hans Frank, by Garry O’Connor. To change things up I read Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House, Rick Wilson’s Everything Trump Touches Dies, and the late Tony Judt’s I’ll Fares the Land.

I love complex characters, people who may be heroes and at the same time scoundrels. I like the contradictions and the feet of clay of people, because I am filled with my own, and truthfully saints are pretty boring. Unfortunately I haven’t read any biographies of late, although most of my reading deals a lot with biography as the characters weave their way through history.

Since we just observed the Centenary of the end of World Aar One, I have started re-reading Edmond Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922 and Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Both of these are very important reads which should help us to reflect reflect on what is happening in our world today. There are many similarities and reading them causes me to wonder if world leaders will allow hubris, arrogance, greed, and pride to drag the world into another catastrophic war. Sadly President Trump, doesn’t read, and doesn’t learn from history. Unfortunately, his ignorance is very much a reflection of our twenty-first century media culture.

But to me, books are important, far more important than anything that is shouted at me on television. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his little but profound book, On Tyranny:

“Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books. The characters in Orwell’s and Bradbury’s books could not do this—but we still can.”

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

But anyway, I am late getting this out. So have a great day and a better tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under books, books and literature, History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Political Commentary, Teaching and education

The War that did not End All War: Recommended Reading in Light of the Centennial of the End of the Great War

Fort Vaux, Verdun France, 1984

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Many Americans are infatuated with the Second World War. I think this is because it is closer to us and how it has been recorded in history and film. I think much of this is due to the resurgence of popular works such as Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and the associated classic mini-series, and Steven Spielberg’s cinema classic Saving Private Ryan. Of course there were many other books and films one World War Two that came out even during the war that made it an iconic event in the lives of Americans born in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. In fact I have many of the books and videos in my library.

But as pervasive as is the literary and filmography of the Second War War remains, the fact is that the First World War is much more important in a continuing historical sense than the Second World War. Edmond Taylor, the author of the classic account The Fall of the Dynasties: 1905-1922 wrote:

“The First World War killed fewer victims than the Second World War, destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions – but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe. The old world never recovered from the shock.”

First World War is far too often overlooked in our time, yet it was the most important war in the effects that still resonate today. One cannot look at the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans, or Eastern Europe without recognizing that fact. A similar case can be made in Asia where Japan became a regional power capable of challenging the great powers in the Pacific by its participation on the side of the Allies in that war. The same is true of the United States, although in the aftermath of the war it retreated into a narcissistic isolationism that took Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor to break.

But I digress. The purpose I have tonight it to recommend some books and films that I think are helpful in understanding just how important the First World War remains to us today.

I made my first visit to a World War One battlefield when I went to Verdun in 1984. I was a young Army Second Lieutenant, preparing myself for time time that the Red Army would attack across the Fulda Gap. The walk around the battlefield was one of the most sobering events of my life. It was hard to imagine that a minimum of 700,000 German and French soldiers were killed or wounded on this relatively small parcel of ground over a period of nine months in 1916. The fact that many parts of the battlefield are off limits to visitors due to the vast amount of unexploded ordnance and persistent chemical agents, in this gas Mustard Gas also made an impression on me. But what affected me most was unearthing a bone fragment as I shuffled my feet near Fort Vaux and turning it over to a docent. I am sure that it was added to the Ossuary which contains the skeletal remains of over 130,000 French and German soldiers. It is hard to forget.

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

The literature that came out of the First World War by participants or observers, either as memoirs, works of fiction, or poems is impressive. Likewise the volumes chronicled by soldiers which influenced later military strategic, operational, and tactical developments between the World Wars remains with us today. In fact the military works still remain the basis for much of the current understanding of combined arms, counterinsurgency, and mission command doctrine.

More importantly, and perhaps less appreciated by policy makers and strategists are the personal works of soldiers that fought the in the great battles along the western front during the war. For the most part, the soldiers who served on the Western Front, the Balkans, Italy, and the Eastern Front are part of an amorphous and anonymous mass of people who simply became numbers during the Great War, thus the individual works of men like John McRea, Sigfried Sassoon, Erich Maria Remarque, Winfried Owen, Ernst Junger, Erwin Rommel, and even Adolf Hitler, are incredibly important in understanding the war, the ideology, and the disappointment of the men who served in the trenches. This applies regardless of the particular writer’s experience or political ideology.

The fact is that very few men who served on the ground in Europe reached the distinction of individual recognition is remarkable. More often those who achieved fame as relatively low ranking individuals were the Knights of the Air, the aviators who in individual combat above the trenches were immortalized by friend and foe alike. These men were represented as an almost mythological portrait of chivalry in a war where millions of men died anonymously, riddled by machine gun fire, artillery, and poison gas in mud saturated ground, trenches, and no man’s land. There are war cemeteries in France and Belgium where the majority of those interred are unknowns. On the Eastern Front, even those cemeteries and memorials are sparse, swallowed by war, shifting borders, and massive forced population migrations between 1918 and 1948.

For different reasons the books and poems written by the otherwise anonymous soldiers in Europe are important if we are to understand the world that we have inherited and must live in today. The same is true of men like T. E. Lawrence who served in the Middle East, or his East African counterpart, the German Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. Both of them made their names by conducting inventive campaigns using indigenous irregular soldiers to tie down and defeat far stronger opponents.

Histories and biographies written about the period by later historians using the documents and words of the adversaries, as well as solid hermeneutics and historiography are also quite important. So are the analysis of economists, sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, and even theologians as to the effects of the war on us today, but I digress.

Tonight I will list a number of books, poems, and films that I think are important in interpreting the Great War, especially, in trying to understand just how the men who directed and fought that war set the stage for today.

Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” as well as many of his post-war letters, articles, and opinion pieces help us understand the current Middle East through the lens of a brilliant but deeply troubled man. Remarque, Sassoon, McRea, Junger, Owen, and Hitler help us to understand the ideology, motivations, fears, and hopes of men on different sides and even very different ideological and political points of view. Now I would not recommend Hitler’s poorly written, turgid, almost unreadable, and hate filled book to anyone but a scholar of the period or biographer the the Nazi dictator.

Later historians Barbara Tuchman, Holger Herweg, Edmond Taylor, Richard Watt, and Robert Massie help us understand that bigger picture of international politics, intrigue, and strategy. Lest to be trusted, are the memoirs of high ranking men of any side who helped to write, and re-write the history of the war and its aftermath in order to bolster their own historical credibility. The same is true of the men who urged on war in 1914 and retreated from that in 1918 as if they had never heard of the war.

As for the books that came out of the war I would have to recommend Lawrence’s classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom, as well as articles, and letters, written by him available online at T. E. Lawrence Studies . Likewise, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is a classic account of a combat soldier with a distinct anti-war message. Junger’s Storm of Steel is also an account of a combat soldier who came out of the war but with a message completely different than Remarque’s. The poetry of the British Soldiers McRea, Sasson, and Owen is moving and goes to the heart of the war experience in a way that prose, no matter how well written cannot do.

Of the later histories I think that Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties, The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922, Tuchman’s The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 and The Guns of August, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War In 1914, and Margaret McMillen’s The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, are essential to understanding the events and conditions leading up to the war.

Herweg’s World War One and Massie’s Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea are both good accounts of the war. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings, and Home Before the Leaves Fall: A New History of the German Invasion of 1914, by Ian Senior, and Tannenberg: Clash of Empires by Dennis Showalter are excellent recent histories of the opening months of the war which are a good compliment to Tuchman’s The Guns of August.

Books about battles and campaign outside of the opening months and general histories of the war I have to admit that I have not read many. Most of the ones I have read deal with the ordeal and crisis of the French Army in 1916 and 1917. Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, Richard Watt’s Dare Call it Treason, and David Murphy’s The Breaking Point of the French Army: The Neville Offensive of 1917 document the valor, sacrifice, and near collapse of the French Army.

A book that is focuses on the American military in the war and how it helped change American society is Jennifer Keene’s Doughboys: The Great War and the Making of American Society.

A book that I found interesting was Correlli Barnett’s The Sword-bearers: Supreme Command in the First World War. The book provides short biographies of the lives and influences of German Field Marshal Von Moltke, British Admiral Jellicoe, French General Petain, and German General Ludendorff. It is a good study in command. Another biography that I recommend is

As for the war at sea, I recommend Edwin Hoyt’s The Last Cruise of the Emden, R. K. Lochner’s The Last Gentleman of War: The Raider Exploits of the Cruiser Emden, Geoffrey Bennett’s Coronel and the Falklands, Holger Herweg’s Luxury Fleet: The Imperial German Navy, 1888 – 1918 in addition to Massie’s Castle’s of Steel, of which the latter is probably the best resource for the naval aspects of the war.

A couple of books that deal with the often overlooked campaign in East Africa are Lettow Von Vorbeck’s My Reminiscences of East Africa, and Königsberg: A German East Africa Raider by Kevin Patience shed light on this obscure but important campaign.

Erwin Rommel’s Infanterie Greift An (Infantry Attacks) is quite possibly the best book on tactics and operational methods published by a participant. Likewise, the the British historians and theoreticians B. H. Liddell-Hart and J. F. C. Fuller, and German Panzer theorist and Commander Heinz Guderian, who also served on the front produced a number of volumes which influenced later strategic and operational advancements which are still in evidence today.

Watt’s The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution is a necessity if one is to understand the rise of the Nazi State. Likewise, a good resource of the deliberations leading to the Treat of Versailles is Margaret McMillen’s 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. Related to this is the very interesting account of the scuttling of the interred German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow in the aftermath of Versailles, The Grand Scuttle: The Sinking of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow In 1919 by Dan Van der Vat.

One work of fiction that I can recommend is The General by C. S. Forester.

I am sure that there are many other volumes that others could recommend, but these are mine.

In an age where there are many parallels to the years leading up to the Great War, it is important not to forget just how catastrophic such a war can be.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under books, books and literature, History, leadership, middle east, Military, News and current events, world war one

“It Merely Required No Character” The Truth About Trump’s Evangelical Cheerleaders

Catch-22 (1970) Alan Arkin Mike Nichols 24

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I see the political-religious leaders of the Christian Right defend the indefensible actions of President Trump I am reminded of the words of Joseph Heller in his classic novel Catch 22  who wrote about the Chaplain:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” 

As much as I doubt I am still a Christian, even if I wasn’t already a Christian I couldn’t think of a single reason to follow the false God of men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, or any of the host of big name Evangelical Christian preachers who excuse the behaviors of President Trump and his decadently despicable defenders, including people that I once thought that I knew.

I used to think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly. In fact today when I see the words and actions of these supposed Conservative Christians.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

Likewise I struggle with faith every day. If you have read this blog from the beginning you will see chronicle my struggles with faith and its practice, especially in life and politics.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

When they look at people like me or Yossarian they believe as Heller wrote:

“Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” 

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under books and literature, christian life, film, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion