Category Archives: books

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+

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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+

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

Recommended Readings from My Reading Rainbow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think that it important to read, and read, and did I say read?

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.”

Since I write about a lot of topics and because I am a historian as well as a stand up theologian, I read a lot and I frequently quote from other people in anything that I write. Sometimes I find that those who have gone before me have said things I want to say much better than I could on my own. Thus I am not afraid or ashamed to give attribution to them, after all, it is only fair.

But today I want to share some of the books that I think are important for anyone seeking to understand our world. In a sense, this is a part of my Reading Rainbow.

Most of my picks deal with history, military, diplomacy, civil rights, politics, as well as baseball, and there are some novels on the list, most of which fall into the categories listed above.

Despite the fact that I am a priest I don’t have many books on theology, religion, or faith on my list, but then the fact is that I don’t see a lot, including many of the so called classics that hold up over time.

In the same manner I do not list any contemporary political biographies or autobiographies, nor books on current events. The fact is that none of them has yet stood the test of history.

So today here are just some of the books that I recommend from my reading rainbow.

They are listed in alphabetical order by author:

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War by Andrew J. Bacevich

The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Scandal of Christianity by Emil Brunner

War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

The Nanking Massacre by Iris Chang

On War by Carl Von Clausewitz

Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire

Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD by Roméo Dallaire

The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 by Lucy Dawidowicz

The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall

This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust

Hitler by Joachim Fest

Forever Free: the Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner

Nuremberg Diary by Gustave Gilbert

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant

A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico by Amy S. Greenberg

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman

Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction by Allen Guelzo

The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam

The Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam

October 1964 by David Halberstam

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

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

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Perpetrators Victims Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 by Raul Hilberg

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter

The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter

A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious American Civil,War General, Daniel Sickles by Thomas Keneally

Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

Hero: A Life of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda

On Being a Christian by Hans Kung

The Catholic Church a Short History by Hans Kung

Why I am Still a Christian by Hans Kung

The Centurions by Jean Larteguy

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence

To Kill an Mockingbird by Harper Lee

In the Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore

Perpetrators: The World of the Holocaust Killers by Guenter Lewy

Why Don’t We Learn from History? By B.H. Liddell-Hart

The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton

Denial: Holocaust History on Trial by Deborah Lipstadt

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

The Past that Would Not Die by Walter Lord

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

Incredible Victory by Walter Lord

The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” by James Loewen and Edward Sebesta

Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow

They Thought they Were Free by Milton Mayer

The Mystery of the Cross by Alister McGrath

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution by James McPherson

The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters by James McPherson

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

Once an Eagle by Anton Meyer

The Crucified God by Juergen Moltmann

Theology of Hope by Juergen Moltmann

The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation by Juergen Moltmann

We Were Soldiers Once… and Young by Hal Moore

A Soldier Once… and Always by Hal Moore

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

1984 by George Orwell

Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial by Joseph Perisco

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

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

Gettysburg by Stephen Sears

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

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts

Berlin Diary by William L. Shirer

The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940 by William L. Shirer

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality by Wolfram Wette

The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy by Russell Weigley

Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany, 1944-45 by Russell Weigley

Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball by George Will

Lincoln at Gettysburg by Gary Wills

Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whitman

What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars by David Wood

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

Sorry, no descriptions or intros included, but trust me. They are all worth the read. Anyway, those are just some of my favorites on from my Reading Rainbow. Yes, there are plenty more, but that’s all for now.

Have a great day and as always,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Breaking Precedent: Trump and Hitler Compared to their Predecessors

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I recently read German historian Joachim Fest’s book Inside Hitler’s Bunker: the Last Days of the Third Reich. The book is the basis for the German language film Downfall which depicted the last ten days of the Third Reich.

I don’t read books or movies about the Third Reich to find comparisons to the present day, I have been studying that period since my years as a college undergraduate and first year graduate student at California State University at Northridge. Most of my history major studies focused on modern German history beginning with Imperial German but really focusing on the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era through the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg. My professor, Dr. Helmut Heussler had served there as a translator.

That was nearly 40 years ago. I continued that study in seminary to some extent, individually during the times that I was stationed in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, and during my second Masters degree. I have continued those studies since then and used what I learned teaching ethics to senior military officers at the Joint Forces Staff College. We dealt a lot with war crimes and I used the film about the Wannsee Conference, Conspiracy as our capstone exercise. I used it so my students could see how ordinary men, officers, lawyers, bureaucrats, and police officials could cooperate to coordinate their agencies actions in regards to implementing the Final Solution to what they referred to as the Jewish Question.

Since 2014 I have made yearly visits to Germany where I take the time to visit the sites and centers related to the study of the Holocaust and the Nazi period. Thankfully because I read, speak and write German I do pretty well navigating around these sites and many of the materials I have now are in German, but I digress, that was all to state my expertise regarding the subject before some troll comes by to say that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

So anyway going back to Fest’s book and one particular statement that Fest made about Hitler in the context of German history and the various leaders who preceded him. Fest wrote:

“What differentiated Hitler from any conceivable predecessors was the complete lack of sense of responsibility beyond the merely personal, of any clear-headed, selfless ethos of service, and of any historic morality.”

I had to stop reading at that point and go back and re-read the preceding section of that chapter to make sure that I had the context right. Hitler certainly absorbed the ideas of racism, anti-Semitism, racial purity and the superiority of the Aryan Race, which do have precedent in German history. They were part and parcel of ideas that he was exposed to while in Vienna before the war and the people that he socialized with in Munich following Germany’s defeat in 1918.

There are also examples of German military forces conducting what amounted to genocide in Namibia when it was a German colony, as well as very harsh measures being conducted against Belgian civilians during the First World War, but those knew limits, and there the comparison with his predecessors ends. Fest wrote:

“There would be a “New Man”who razed everything to the ground, resettled territories, and sought relaxation from his mission… It was a break with everything the world had ever stood for. Trying to invent an origin for this revolution – an origin it did not have – is to fall retrospectively for the regime’s own propaganda. The origins of this program were entirely self generated. No one had ever gone to such extremes, and with such utter madness….”

Then I began to think about President Trump in the context of his presidential predecessors and I realized that in the context of the American political system that what Fest said about Hitler is also true of the 45th American President. While he may represent some of the more isolationist, and racist parts of our history there is no real American Presidential precedent for him.

He has gone back and borrowed from the worst aspects of the American experience and mythology to create his personal cult of personality based on Making America Great Again. He blends crude ante-Bellum and Jim Crow racism, with the anti-immigrant and religious prejudices of the Know Nothings, as well as the Isolationist and Nazi supporting America First movement of the late 1930s and early 1940s. He tries to link himself to Ronald Reagan but that to is a fallacy based on the policies enacted by both men.

Like Hitler, Trump has been enabled by a cult-like following who themselves were ideologically and socially prepared to sacrifice themselves for him and his repackaging of their beliefs despite overwhelming evidence that he will lead them to ruin despite a veneer of success.

I really don’t try to go out of my way to find connections between our era and the early period of Nazi rule in Germany, but when they jump out like this I cannot ignore them. Such moments are epiphanies and should not be ignored.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Witness of History: What is the Worth of Human Life?

Statue-of-Cicero-Stock-Photo-rome

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great Roman philosopher and political theorist Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote, “History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquities.”

Those who follow my writings here on this site know that I am a historian and that much of what I write, even regarding current events, is framed by history and the stories of those who came before us. That is one of my driving passions, a passion for historical truth, and a passion to ensure that the past is not forgotten.

Cicero is an important figure in history. He resisted the moves toward the dictatorship of the Caesars and would die for his belief in the Republic. As such he inspired the founders of the United States, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Adams wrote of the Roman:

“As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight.”

Sadly, it seems that our society, and even our education system is disconnecting itself from history. We have pretty much stopped teaching history in schools, and often what is taught is myth. As such we have become a society that through its ignorance of the past is ever repeating the worst aspects of our history. As a whole we are ignorant of our past, and that ignorance is demonstrated by many of our political, business, journalism, educational, and military leaders on a daily basis.

Cicero wrote “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

Our lives must be woven together with those who came before us, without that sacred connection to the past, we endanger the future, and doom those who follow us. Cicero wrote, “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” Thus, it is for us the living to remember and never forget those who have gone before. That is why I write.

I will write more on things that Cicero wrote and said, including political and social lessons that are as relevant today as when he wrote them.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Though Poppies Grow: Buddy Poppies & Memorial Day 2018

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where we remember those who died in the service of our country. It is not a day to thank the living veterans, that day is Veteran’s Day. Nor is it the day to thank those men and women who currently wear the uniform and fight the wars of our country. This weekend I am reposting a number of articles from past years to remind my regular readers and those new to my writings about how important this remembrance is, not just to me, but to all of us. I do not say that lightly. Memorial Day is the offspring of the families of the American Civil War dead, when people who lost loved ones in the cause of liberty and the defense of the Union honored their loved ones.

While the Buddy Poppy was something that came out of the First World War, and Armistice Day, which after the Second World War became Veteran’s Day. In time it has also become connected with the original Memorial Day. So today’s post is my first reflection of this weekend on the Buddy Poppy and Memorial Day.

I write this in the disastrous aftermath of President Trump’s high stakes game of chicken with North Korean Leader Kim Jung Un in which he bailed after aggressively praising Kim and pushing for direct talks. When I read the President’s letter to the North Korean I realized that the chances of a catastrophic war have gone up.

I also have been watching Ken Burns’ series The Vietnam War while reading Robert K. Massie’s Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. Both are filled with stories of hubris and tragedy.

No matter what your political views, ideology, or religious beliefs, please take time to remember the high human cost of war this weekend, especially on Monday when we observe Memorial Day.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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In Flanders Fields

John McCrae, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Besides the American Flag the Buddy Poppy is perhaps the most ubiquitous symbol of Memorial Day. This poppy as we know it came about when Mrs. Moina Michael read McRea’s poem and inspired wrote this verse:

We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.

She then had the inspiration to begin wearing Red Poppies on Memorial Day and sold the poppies to friends and others with the money going to those in need. A French woman visiting the United States, a Madame Guerin discovered the new custom and took it back to France where she began to make artificial red poppies to sell with the proceeds going to the widows and orphans of the First World War. The custom spread to other countries and in 1921 the Franco-American Children’s League sold the poppies but disbanded in 1921. Madame Guerin approached the newly formed Veteran’s of Foreign Wars, the VFW in 1922 for assistance and in 1922 the VFW became the first American organization to sell poppies. Two years later the Buddy Poppy program began. The artificial poppies were made by disabled veterans who were paid for their work in order to provide them some form of income and distributed by other veterans across the country. Today the VFW continues to distribute the Buddy Poppies which are still produced by disabled Veterans at the nation’s Veteran’s Administration Hospitals.

I remember the first Buddy Poppy that I every received. It was just before Memorial Day 1970, before it became a 3 day weekend falling on the last Monday of May. We were living with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia as my dad sought suitable housing for us in Long Beach California while he was in the Navy.

Our initial move from the small town of Oak Harbor Washington, where my dad had been stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to Long Beach had not gone well. The first place we lived was in a dangerous neighborhood and with my dad traveling frequently to Naval Shipyards around the country to help commission new ships the stress on the family, especially my mother in dealing with that and two young boys was too much. Dad sent us back to Huntington where my Grandparents and numerous other relatives still lived for the duration of the school year as he sought better housing.

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Memorial Day then was filled with visits to cemeteries to place flowers on the graves of departed relatives as well as flags on the graves of relatives who had served in the military. We made a number of stops that day at the Bowen and Dundas cemeteries as well as others where relatives were interred. Afterward we had a home cooked meal prepared by my maternal grandmother Christine and then made a trip on a city bus to to the other side of town to see my paternal grandmother Verdie.

Holidays, were much like that for us during that time that we lived in Huntington, until my dad came back and brought us back to Long Beach in June. Just before my dad arrived to take us back to Long Beach my mom, her cousin Valerie and I were shopping downtown, which at the time before I-64 took traffic around the town and led to a new mall and shopping complex being built just out of town, was a bustling place of commerce and activity. Major retailers all had their stores downtown, while the best movie theaters and restaurants were there as well.

We were coming out of the old SS Kresge store on Fourth Avenue and an elderly man wearing a VFW cap approached us and handed me a poppy. He had to be in his 70s so I presume that he was a Veteran of the First World War. He chatted briefly with my mom and Valerie and I am sure my mom gave him a bit of money for the poppy. I kept it for many years and it was eventually lost in one of our moves. But I will not forget it and any time I see a Veteran distributing them I make sure that I get one.

But I haven’t seen anyone passing them out for years, maybe I will need to start getting them and giving them out myself. Maybe I’ll start that as Veteran’s Day approaches.

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Babe Ruth and President Warren G Harding with the first official Buddy Poppy of 1923

For me the Buddy Poppy is a symbol of thanks for the sacrifices made by so many, those who did not come home from wars being killed or missing in action, as well as the wounded and the families of the dead and those that came home forever changed by their time in war. This year marks the 90th anniversary of it being the official flower of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s wars.

The poppy has even more significance for me now having served in Iraq. Seeing war’s devastation and knowing so many who have either been killed or wounded in the wars that we have engaged since September 11th 2001 has impacted me in ways that I could not have imagined before the war. Likewise having come back changed by my experience and having to deal with the affliction of severe PTSD I sense a camaraderie with those men who came home changed from war and in many cases returned to a country that did not understand them.

I will be observing the “Go Silent” moment at 12:01 Monday with the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association to honor those who have given the last full measure.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in 2012 I was asked to do a review of Max Holland’s book about Watergate Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat. It think that the book is very pertinent today and well worth the read for anyone immersed in the daily revelations of numerous members of the Trump campaign and administration. The sheer number of these allegations, not to mention the number of convictions and plea deals already racked up by the Muller investigation demonstrates the seriousness of the allegations while the web of connections to the fact of Russian meddling in the 2016 demands answers. That being said we need to look back at the history of the Nixon administration to help us understand what is going on today.

So I am posting my review that I published for TLC Book Reviews on June 12th 2012. The review is exactly how I wrote it with no editing for today. I recommend the book to my readers. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Motives do matter and actions often have unintended consequences. That is the lesson of Max Holland’s book about Mark Felt. Felt was the man whose leaks helped end the Presidency of Richard Nixon and skyrocket the young and obscure Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to fame. For more than three decades Mark Felt’s identity remained hidden a mystery man to the public, a man popularized by the dark moniker “Deep Throat.” His role as the leaker was suspected by some, including President Nixon and some of his staff but known only for sure by Woodward, Bernstein and Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee.

In this truly scholarly book Max Holland pieces together the dark underside of the Watergate tapestry that Woodward and Bernstein helped to break in 1972 and would go on to write about in All the President’s Men and The Final Days. It is a book that is important because it is the first account to seriously explore the motivation of Mark Felt when he began to leak and the background story of the monumental post J. Edgar Hoover FBI power struggle.  That story which in normal times would have been a major story was missed in an era where the country was in turmoil and there were so many other “big” stories to cover.

Taking advantage of more recent revelations, disclosures and evidence Holland paints a picture that not only broadens one’s understanding of Watergate but helps the reader understand how important it is to understand the motivations of those that were involved, Nixon and his staff, Felt and other FBI officials and the media.

The picture painted by Holland of Felt makes his role in the story more understandable. Felt was not the altruistic leaker of myth who sought to destroy the Nixon Presidency, something that was the picture painted by Woodward and Bernstein. His motivations were much more down to earth. He wanted to use his knowledge to ensure that he became Hoover’s successor as the Director of the FBI. He used it to destroy L. Patrick Gray who served as the interim Director and his chief rival in the Bureau William C. “Bill” Sullivan in the eyes of the White House, Congress, the Bureau and the media. Felt’s leaks helped blow the lid off of the White House cover up of the Watergate break-in and which led to the resignation of President Nixon and the conviction of a number of his closest advisors. Felt’s duplicity which included deceiving the Administration, Congress, his superiors and the media with falsehoods even as he revealed key truths is amazing to behold.

The picture that Holland paints of the White House is not pretty. The moral depravity and ruthlessness of Nixon and his advisors is shown without dehumanizing them.  In fact they become more human in Holland’s account.  Likewise Holland’s portrayal of other key figures in Felt’s story at the FBI, L. Patrick Gray, William Ruckelshaus and William Sullivan is compelling. The naive and compliant Gray, Felt’s bitter rival Sullivan and the “sweeper” (to use the term given to Harvey Keitel’s character Winston “the Wolf” Wolfe in Pulp Fiction) Ruckelshaus who helps to “sweep” Felt out of the FBI.

But the most interesting part of the book for me is Holland’s portrayal of Woodward and Bernstein. They are young and idealistic and Woodward believes whatever Felt tells him, including deliberate misinformation. What jumped out at me was their willingness to take at face value what Felt told them and not to explore his motivations which could have led to even more revelations that could have shaken the FBI to its core.  Likewise was Woodward’s willingness to press the limits with information provided by Felt going beyond what Felt demanded for secrecy but which Felt, even though upset by the reporter continued to provide information cumulating in his long and rambling confession to Woodward following his retirement under pressure on May 16th 1973.

They, particularly Woodward did not ask themselves the three key questions that anyone should ask when someone comes to them with this kind of information: Why this? Why this information. Why Me?  Why am I being chosen to receive the information. Why Now? Why is the source telling me this information now. Those three questions could have blown the case open even more had they explored them. Of course they were caught up in the chase for “scoops” with rivals at the New York Times, The Washington Sun and Time Magazine and chose to believe what Felt told them, something that occasionally left them hanging when the information was wrong.

Conversely Felt’s distain and lack of respect for the media and the belief that he could use Woodward, Bernstein and others in the media to further his goals with impunity proved false. He became careless and caused the Nixon Administration to suspect him and work to force him out of the FBI without drawing more attention to themselves.

Holland also covers the “cover-up” of “Deep Throat’s identity which was maintained by Felt, Woodward and Bernstein until Felt was in the beginning stages of dementia and his family was ready to reveal his role.  The dual myths of Deep Throat’s motives and the role of the press as the “men in the  white hats” against the evil bad guys in the White House are exposed by Holland who points out how much of the investigation broken by Woodward and Bernstein was being accomplished by FBI agents and appointed to investigate the break-in and staff members at the Committee to Re-Elect the President who were appalled by the illegality of what they saw being done by their superiors.

The book is excellently sourced and researched. It is a compelling narrative that sheds light on a dark period of our nation’s history which also serves as a reminder to those who investigate “leaks” from well placed sources that there is always another layer of motivation and intent that cannot be discounted and must be factored into the investigation.

This is relevant today as the media, Congress and the the Justice Department investigate leaks from inside the Obama White House regarding national security information. Why This? Why Me? Why Now? Those are the questions. Thanks to Max Holland we now know much of what transpired behind the scenes as Woodward and Bernstein investigated and published their accounts of the Watergate break-in and cover up with the information provided by Mark Felt.

The book Leak: How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat is published by the University of Kansas Press and is available at http://www.amazon.com/Leak-Mark-Felt-Became-Throat/dp/0700618295/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339544616&sr=8-1&keywords=leak

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