Category Archives: civil rights

Books, the Freedom Of Speech, and its Limitations

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his book Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury wrote:

“The books are to remind us what asses and fool we are. They’re Caeser’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, “Remember, Caeser, thou art mortal.” Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”

Books, I prefer physical copies but will read digital ones when they are available and more affordable than hard copies, are the key to comprehending the past, the present, and in preparing for the future. The one constant in history is humanity, as flawed and evil yet as brilliant and good as it can be. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization…They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Unfortunately we now live in an age where many people, including leaders of great nations have stopped reading and have become entranced by the two dimensional television screen that George Orwell reminded us of in 1984. It was a screen that constantly told people what to think and at the same time was able to read their thoughts. It was a device much like cable television news programs, regardless of the ideology presented, or even more pertinent, Presidential News Conferences, speeches, or statements by Presidential spokesmen or the Press Secretary. All of those are one way conversations, the watcher has no control, other than to turn off the machine, but in 1984 only the party elite could turn it off.

In 1984 books were banned, and the language re-written on a daily basis to make it fit the prevailing ideology of the party. In Fahrenheit 451 books were not only banned but burned.

I have either just finished reading, or am in the process of reading John Meacham’s The Soul Of America, the Battle for our Better Angels, Doris Kerns Godwin’s Leadership In Time Of Crisis; Alistair Horne’s The Age Of Napoleon, William Russell’s Berlin Embassy, and have just started Anthony Beevor’s The Battle Of Arnhem, and Norman Friedman’s The British Battleship 1906-1946. I am also re-starting Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and Dan Van Der Vat’s The Pacific Campaign.

Needless to say I have a pattern of other books circling my landing field.

But the fact is we have become a culture that does not read to absorb wisdom, most would rather allow the tele-screen tell us what to do and think. That is a tragedy because it gives the propagandists the opportunity to talk at us without us having the time to digest the facts and determine if what they are saying is the truth or not. The same goes for the massive number of ideologically driven podcasts that do exactly the same thing.

To compensate I have stopped watching all cable television news shows, even those that I agree with from an ideological viewpoint. I prefer to read a diverse spectrum of newspapers, both American and international to get my news. It gives me the chance to think about what was written, fact check it, and try my best to ascertain the truth, even when it is uncomfortable. When I do this I find that even my best interpretations of the truth are full of conflict. If I was an ideological or religious fundamentalist, such might be troubling, but I realize that there are times that a completely ideological, religious, or fundamentalist worldview would lead to disaster.

I had a long Facebook conversation with a number of friends about limiting and even criminalizing Nazi speech. I was called a hypocrite for supporting a UN resolution dealing with this that the Obama Administration voted against. As much as I believe in the First Amendment, the Founders did not intend it to be a suicide pill that would allow extremists to hijack the right of freedom of speech to overthrow the Republic in order to crush the free speech rights of dissidents.

When one criticizes those in power for backing the free speech rights of people or groups who seek to destroy the rights of minorities and those who oppose the traditional rights of the powerful the defenders of absolute free speech, Associate Justice Of the Supreme Court and the Chief American Prosecutor at the major Nuremberg war crimes trials noted that “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

Anyone who has read my articles over the past decade knows of my reverence for the First Amendment including the unpopular opinions of minority groups. But there are times that the government and the courts have upheld limitations regarding the abuse and weaponization of the First Amendment against the rights of free speech, freedom or association. The fact that such actions are endorsed by President Trump or his Evangelical Christian supporters when endorsed by their political opponents while at the same time used against groups and that actually defend the rights of minorities against the actions of American White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis that support his stated objectives of silencing all opposition, and attacking the rights of all minorities, including Jews.

So anyway, there is much more to say, but it will have to wait.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Alexander Stephen’s Cornerstone Speech and the Continuing Curse Of White Supremacy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On March 21st 1861 in the midst of the Secession crisis, the newly elected Vice President Of the Confederacy, The former Georgia Senator, Alexander Stephens made a speech in Savannah Georgia demonstrating just how much the new Confederacy was different that the Republic founded in 1776 and who those founders struggled with the morality of slavery.

For people who like to comfort themselves in the myth of the Noble South, The Lost Cause, or the illusion that the war was brought about by Northern infringements on the States Rights Of the Slave States, the Speech is damning. The American version of White Nationalism and the superiority of the White Race over African slaves, and in more recent times Eastern Europeans, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanics (especially Mexicans), and Arabs can be refuted by Stephens’ words. He spoke:

“But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind-from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just-but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo-it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of his ordinances, or to question them. For his own purposes, he has made one race to differ from another, as he has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.”

Stephens honesty infuriated Confederate President Jefferson Davis who while he agreed with Stephens was infuriated by the international response to the speech. On learning of the speech and its contents Davis, who had counseled his cabinet members to downplay slavery as an issue wrote:

“That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.”

Unfortunately, what is called America’s Original Sin remains with us. We have a President who historian John Meacham points this out repeatedly in his book The Soul Of America.

So, before anyone wants to defend Southern Secession based on anything other than the maintenance and expansion of slavery and White Supremacy at the expense of Free States as evidenced in the Compromise Of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law Of 1850, compounded by the Dred Scott Decision, and the attempted takeover of Kansas and the battle over the Lecompton Constitution which would have made it a slave state over the majority of its population, try to defend the words of the President and Vice President of the Confederacy.

I bet you can’t.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Stuff Of Dictators: More Threats Of Violence From the President

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1989 Donald Trump wrote in a full page advertisement in the New York Daily News “civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins.” He said that in relation to the Central Park Five, five teenagers who were falsely accused and convicted of the rape of a jogger in Central Park. In 2002 after the real assailant confessed and his crime verified by DNA evidence. Despite the reality Mr. Trump has continued to speak to that issue and claim that the five falsely convicted and imprisoned men are guilty.

Mr Trump repeated expressed his anger that they did not receive the death penalty, something that by the way is not part of the law in any state. Since becoming President the Mr Trump has suggested all sorts of extrajudicial and unconstitutional remedies to crime. Today he suggested doing that to gun owners who could be considered potential mass murderers. He told a group of Congressmen and Senators, as well as his own Vice President Mike Pence: “You could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Now personally I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but it still is unconstitutional. Earlier in the week the President proposed the death penalty to all convicted drug dealers. Again, no love for drug dealers but the President doesn’t get to impose sentences, but the President praised the extermination methods that Philippine President Duterte uses not just to kill suspected drug dealers but political opponents and members of the press. Of course the President has long suggested the political opponents should be jailed and the Press is an “an enemy of the people.” 

As I have written over the past few days in discussing the Reichstag Fire I am very concerned that as the walls close in on the Trump Presidency, that as the Muller investigation implicates more and more of his advisors and quite possibly family members, that as members of his administration like Hope Hicks admit that they lied for him, that the danger to our Republic only rises. I am afraid that there will be a Reichstag Fire moment that will allow the President to through already existing Executive orders and laws to scrap constitutional liberties and establish an authoritarian state. It’s not so much that he has to be popular to do so, the fact is that under threat of attack that most Americans will surrender liberty for the illusion of security. That was demonstrated in 2002 when the Patriot Act, an act so revoltingly un-American and totalitarian in its implications was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress with hardly any resistance.

Today the President again made violent threats against his political opponents. He said:

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

That is what concerns me. For a President claim that the Army and Police are his personal protection force, for him to equate them to motorcycle gangs, for him to say that Nazis are fine people is extraordinarily evil and in complete defiance of the oath that he swore when he became President. In the past he has said similar things and during his campaign offered to pay the legal fees of anyone charged with attacking his opponents at his rallies.

Should a war break out, should there be a major terrorist attack, or anything that severely disrupts the country the mechanisms are in place for the President to declare the situation extraordinary and to take power. The thing is that no President has acted in such a way, but President Trump has repeatedly suggested violating the Constitution and praised foreign leaders like Dutarte, Putin, and Erdogan, men who all use such circumstances and laws to their advantage.

Timothy Snyder wrote:

“For tyrants, the lesson of the Reichstag fire is that one moment of shock enables an eternity of submission. For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions. Courage does not mean not fearing, or not grieving. It does mean recognizing and resisting terror management right away, from the moment of the attack, precisely when it seems most difficult to do so. After the Reichstag fire, Hannah Arendt wrote that “I was no longer of the opinion that one can simply be a bystander.”

Of course Mr Trump has a hard core of loyal supporters who in his words would remain loyal to him “even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Some are actually quite frightening, but in truth I am more frightened by the vast number of people in this country of every part of the political spectrum cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction or true and false, people how simply go along with the flow, especially in times of crisis.  Hannah Arendt, who saw the Nazi takeover of Germany in the beginning wrote:

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

In a world such as the one that we live today it is those who simply go with the flow or are easily persuaded into accepting what in normal times they would not accept because the times are exceptional, or in a crisis believe what they are told and regardless of what happens to fellow citizens or neighbors turn their backs on injustice. Most are totally ordinary and unremarkable and are no different than so many others who committed terrible crimes against humanity and too part in genocide.

British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

When people feel that a crisis makes a situation exceptional to the point that normal codes of conduct, social mores, laws, and ethics are Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men:

“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.” 

My question is: when the crisis finally comes, what will Americans do?

I want to be hopeful. I am not a fatalist. I believe that we can all given the opportunity rise to greatness and defend our Constitution, civil liberties, and embody the principles of the Declaration of Independence. It has happened before. But that being said human history, especially the history of the past century shows us that more often than not that most people do not rise to the occasion. 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.”

In our time that is the most important consideration. With the complete Trumpification of the Republican Party that day is today. he has for all intents and purposes given political cover for his supporters to commit violence on his behalf. The peril is mounting.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Anti-Semitism: Not Just One Prejudice Among Others

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had lunch with a local Rabbi today who I have gotten to know over the past year at a number of diversity celebrations at the headquarters of the Navy Exchange Command, or NEXCOM. I always love taking part I their events because they are not perfunctory, the are occasions of learning, and building community from a diverse workforce. I have taken part in many diversity events in military and civilian settings, but by far NEXCOM, its leadership and people make the events worth going to and being part of, but I digress.

I met the Rabbi at a couple of these events where we offered prayers or spoke. We have become friends and he has invited me to speak at his synagogue during Holocaust Remembrance week,  and invited me to an ecumenical ministers gathering that takes place monthly. I think that I am in the process of finding a spiritual community that I can really be part of when I retire from the Navy. It’s actually something that I have needed for a long time but haven’t found, until now. But again I digress…

We were talking about the various types of anti-Semitism which appear to be growing more strident, public, and vocal than the past. Likewise we discussed how it has not only grown roots in the political Right, but also in the political left., most noticeably in Britain’s Labour party, but also among elements of the American Left. This is troubling because the vast majority of American Jews  tend to be affiliated with the Democratic Party, and much more socially progressive than many other Americans, including guarding the civil rights of other minority groups, including religious minorities.

Despite that there is a long history of prejudice, discrimination, and even violence against Jews since the founding of the United States, the Know Nothings, the KKK, other White Nationalist groups, pre World War II American Fascists and Nazis, and the original America First Crowd. 

We have to be honest; there have been other genocides, including those perpetuated over centuries by the British Colonists and their American descendants against Native Americans, and the inhabitants of El Norte, the northern states of the Republic of Mexico. Likewise, the Nazis perpetuated other mass killings and would have continued their genocidal practices against the Jews and others had they not been defeated.

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote something with which I completely agree. He wrote:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

If this is what it means to make America Great again then we are deep trouble.  Historian Timothy Snyder wrote: “When exactly was the “again” in the president’s slogan “Make America great again”? Hint: It is the same “again” that we find in “Never again.”

Can someone disagree with the policies of the government of Israel and not be anti-Semitic? Of course, vast numbers of American Jews do just that, but in doing so one cannot subscribe or perpetuate the hate filled myths and conspiracy theories of The Protocols Of the Elders Of Zion, or any other brazenly anti-Semeitc and anti-Jewish works that have been used for centuries to demonize Jews, nor can one subscribe to ahistorical Holocaust Denial theories and their authors. Nor can one elevate and mythologize the Nazi Waffen SS as mere elite soldiers fighting for their country. Many were true believers in the Nazi racial theories, and they carried them out, at the front, behind the lines with the Einsatzgruppen, and in alleged anti-partisan operations where hundreds or thousands of kills were claimed but few weapons ever seized, and this was not just on the Eastern Front.

The fact that anti-semitism is arising from the depths of the abyss should not surprise us, but for the President Of the United States, some of his closest advisors, the head of the British Labour Party, and a host of European political parties espouse overt anti-semitism in their party platforms and praise their ancestors who committed genocide is particularly disturbing.

It is with a great deal of humility that I will assume the pulpit in my friends synagogue on April 27th, and speak to his congregation and their guests about the necessity of revisiting the places where these crimes against humanity occurred because it won’t be long until the last perpetrators, victims, and bystanders who witnessed the crimes committed by the Einsatzgruppen, in the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Soribor, Belzec, Treblinka, the Labor murder Camps of Maulthausen, Nordhausen, Begen-Belsen, Buchenwald, and Flossenberg, the political prison of Dachau, and the T-4 Euthanasia centers like Hardheim, Sonnesnstein, and Hadmar where disabled infants, children, adults, as well as the mentally ill were sent to their deaths, murders that were carried out by physicians and nurses.

Likewise one cannot forget the courtrooms, such as the one in Nuremberg which before it was taken over by the Allies at the end of the war saw some of the greatest abuses of justice known to humankind by adjudicated. Nor, can one leave out the room at the Wannsee House in an affluent suburb of Berlin where represenatives  of every major depart of the German Government and Nazi Party gathered to discuss the implementation of what euphemistically was known as The Final Solution Of the Jewish Problem. One learns at Wannsee that language can easily be used to disguise genocide and mass murder.

Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not forget. We as Americans are not unique, we are as prone to moral cowardice and selling the lives of others in the cheap as any nation on earth. So we must remember that what happened in Europe could just as easily happen here. He 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.”

That is what we need to ask and act upon today. The danger is upon us, and as Snyder wrote:

“The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Psychological Portrait Of Trump, by an American Diplomat in 1940

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I been doing a voracious amount of reading of late. I mentioned some of the titles I read during February and so far in March I have completed Tom Segev’s Soldier’s Of Evil which is about the commandants of the Nazi Concentration Camps, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s “Fascism: a Warning,” Ian Kershaw’s “Luck Of the Devil” which is about the attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944, Kati Marton’s ”Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story Of a Man Who Saved Thousands of Jews,” Max Hasting’s Bomber Command; Volume Nine Of the Nuremberg Trials, the Complete Proceedings, the Case Against Goering, and today William Russell’s Berlin Embassy. 

All are worth the read, but Russell’s book is fascinating because it deals with the observations of an American diplomat in Berlin during the 1930s and early 1940s. His primary duties dealt with immigration which alone make the book a must read in the age of President Trump’s despotic anti-immigrant policies, which are starting to make the U.S. policy limiting Jewish entry into the country look positively moral.

Russell makes a number of observations about the various Nazi leaders. But when I read these words about Hitler I could not help but think of the current observations of former staff members, diplomats, civil servants, and journalists of President Trump I was dumbfounded. Never before have I seen a description of Hitler by one of his contemporaries so fit the attitudes and actions of President Trump. Russell wrote:

”This is the man who has in his hands a power greater than that ever held by any ruler in history —a power multiplied by the airplane, the radio, the fast printing presses. He is uncontrolled, he does not have to give account to anybody, he crassly and ruthlessly conceals his every failure, he puffs himself up with every success. Today he follows an impulse. Tomorrow he condemns it as wrong —without admitting that he has been wrong. To promise something and never to do it; to forget things which were never meant seriously; to break every promise but to faithfully keep every threat. That is the psychological picture of Der Fuehrer.” 

The rest nay thing missing was the Twitter tirades, but then Twitter was unknown in 1940.

So, I go back to work tomorrow, at least part time with all of the medical and physical therapy appointments I will continue to have the next few months before my retirement.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Moment that Freedom Of Thought Becomes Impossible: Hatred Of the Other and Blind Ideology

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Salman Rushdie one wrote: “The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

We seem to be at another crossroads in Western civilization, a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  An ideology protects the believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

My favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

As for me I consider myself to be a left-leaning progressive. I am pro LGBTQ rights, and despite being against abortion in principle,  I believe that Roe v. Wade and the right of a woman to have an abortion must be upheld. I believe in equality for women and believe that women are held to a much higher standard than men, especially in politics. Likewise I believe that women face far greater discrimination in the workplace, academia, and the military than do men.

I believe that racial prejudice, especially against blacks is still a major problem, but it is not confined to blacks, but Hispanics, Arabs, and Asians. These are mostly the provence of the political Right, the but then there is classic Anti-Semitism, a prejudice and hatred of Jews, and it spans the political and ideological spectrum. I can say that as a historian of the Holocaust and as a gentile Christian.

That being said, to offer criticism of the Government of Israel in its dealings with its Arab and Druse minorities that happen to be Israeli citizens, and to Palestinians who have been the victims of the Pan Arab nationalism of the 1950-1970s, to find themselves abandoned by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Gulf States is not being anti-Semitic, it is observing something that is the victimization of a people caught in the middle of a greater political-military struggle.

In 2007 I came across a Palestinian refugee camp at the border of Iraq ans Syria at Al Waleed. Thousands of Palestinian Arabs were marooned there, dependent on th U.N. for food and shelter, and the good graces of Americans and Iraqis for security as they had no place left to go. The new Iraqi government didn’t want people who were allies of Saddam Hussein in their country and drove them to their farthest reaches. Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States didn’t want them either. Likewise, the government that should accept them, the Palestinian Authority didn’t want them and they were not welcome anywhere else in the Arab world. Of course, the Israeli government didn’t want them either. This is an irefruable fact. They were abandoned by all.

As far as Anti-Semitism goes, you don’t have to look hard to find it. Neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers have cottage industries that attemp to disprove or minimize the Holocaust. Most reside on the political Right, such as in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and in some parts of the German political spectrum. But some too make their home of the Left, the Labour Party in Britain has come under the spell of Jeremy Corbin, a Left Wing anti-Semitic leader if one existed at all. Much of the current anti-Jewish and and Israel propaganda from both the Right and Left is often lifted straight out of The Protoclals Of the Elders Of Zion, not that the polcies of the Netanyahu government are helping anyone.

I happen to be a liberal and progressive realist, but I cannot be an ideologue. That being said I think that the Presdency and policies of the Trump administration exemplify the worst of American racism and exceptualism. Barely educated racist demagogues hold power over a President whose supporters would support him even if he murdered someone on 5th Avenue. Likewise, I think that there are some progressives who are incapable of seeing both sides of an argument and who are as historically as blind, deprived, and ignorant as the most myth bound Christian Conservatives, or other Right Wing anti-Semites. I truly must be a progressive realist in wonderland.

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge. That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today.

Quite obviously, a lot of ideologues from across the spectrum will disagree.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Struggle for Women’s Rights: Nurses, Spies, and Soldiers in the Civil War

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It’s been a couple of days since International Women’s Day and I am really surprised of how many men Insee attacking and denigrating women military members and combat veterans. I actually wonder how many of these Twitter Trolls have actually served in the military or combat, and how many simply live their lives through myth and video games, but obviously they have never served in combat with the women who serve not only in the United States military, but so many others.

Nor domthey study history, even going back to Biblical Times; Deborah the Judge and Military leader or Judith, the Spy and assassin. Likewise the forget Joan Of Arc, Molly Pitcher, and what this article deals with, the women who served in the American Civil War. In fact, some of these women were what we would now call Transgender. 

There will be more articles in this series. So until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Of course when war broke out the logical end of this train of thought led to the question of whether women should women be allowed to serve in the military. Legally and socially it was not possible for women to serve in the military in 1861, but this did not stop women from doing so. Even so, “women were not expected to defend their country, and when they did nevertheless and were found out, they learned that they were not necessarily a welcome addition to the military. Women who returned home after the Civil War as veterans reaped few of the societal rewards for having rendered such service.” [1] Quite a few women on both sides of the conflict chaffed about not being allowed to fight for their countries, their families and their causes, and despite official prohibitions that kept women from serving in any capacity but nursing, a good number of women found their way to go to war. While men in the North and South “were expected to enlist, any woman actively participating in the Civil War was an oddity if not a renegade.” [2] In some cases this involved hundreds of women taking male identities in order to fulfill their desires to serve their countries.

The motives of these women varied. In some cases women wanted gain the economic privileges of full citizenship, and for others the glory reserved to only to men. In our modern parlance those that took male identities would be considered transvestites or possibly transgender, but for them “transvestitism was a private rebellion against public conventions. By taking a male social identity, they secured for themselves male power and independence, as well as full status as citizens of their nation. In essence the Civil War was an opportunity for hundreds of women to escape the confines of their sex.” [3]

During the war hundreds of women went to war, dreaming of being a second Joan of Arc, taking on the identity of men, however, their idealistic vision of wanting to serve the cause of their country, was not viewed favorably by many, men and women alike, as “they were usually viewed by contemporaries as mentally unbalanced or immoral.” [4] Their morality was question, their motivation was questioned, and their character was questioned, all because they broke long held social, and religious barriers in order to fight for what they believed.

These brave and socially progressive women enlisted under male names and pretended to be men. Unless they were discovered to be women, or unless they confessed to their wartime service either during or after the war, most of their records were lost. In 1861 Private Franklin Thompson “enlisted in Company F of the 2ndMichigan Infantry…unknown to comrades, Thompson actually was Sarah Emma Edmonds.” [5] Edmonds served in the illustrious Iron Brigade until the disaster at Fredericksburg. Well known for her courage as Franklin Thompson, Edmonds participated in some of the bloodiest combats of the war. At Antietam she was caring for the wounded when she came upon a soldier who had been wounded in the neck. That soldier informed Edmonds that she was dying and after a surgeon came by and confirmed what the soldier said the dying soldier told Edmonds:

“I am not what I seem, but I am female. I enlisted from the purest motives, and I have remained undiscovered and unsuspected. I have neither father, mother nor sister. My only brother was killed today. I closed his eyes about an hour before I was wounded….I am Christian, and have maintained the Christian character ever since I entered the army. I have performed the duties of a soldier faithfully, and am willing to die for the cause of truth and freedom….I wish you to bury me with your own hands, that none may know after my death that I am other than my appearance indicates.” [6]

That unknown woman was not alone, at least nine women, eight Union and one Confederate, fought at Antietam and of those five were casualties. Five women, two Federal and three Confederate took part at Gettysburg. All three Confederate women at Gettysburg were either killed or wounded, or captured, including two women who took part in Pickett’s Charge. [7]

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Sarah Edmonds

Sarah Edmonds published a book Nurse and Spy in the Union Army while recovering from malaria in 1863. The book, which was published the following year, sold 175,000 copies, the proceeds that she donated to care for sick and wounded Union veterans. After the war, Edmonds attended Oberlin College, married, had three of her own children and adopted two more. She “became a member of the Grand Army of the Potomac, the organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. She applied for, and received, a military pension, and upon her death in 1898 was buried with full military honors.” [8] She was the only women admitted to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Another of the women to serve was Frances Louisa Clayton. Fighting for the Union as a member of the Minnesota State Militia Cavalry and 2nd Minnesota Battery, serving under the command of Ulysses S. Grant she was wounded at Fort Donelson. Like many other women soldiers, Clayton mastered the art of behaving as a man. She “became “a capital swordsman,” but also commanded attention with her “masculine stride in walking” and “her erect and soldierly carriage.” [9]

Albert-Cashier

However, most women were more discreet during and after the war regarding their true sexuality. Private Albert Cashier hid his sexuality identity for his entire term of service. He enlisted in August 1862 as a member of the 95th Illinois. Cashier was born in Ireland as a woman, Jennie Hodgers. He fought in forty battles and was discharged with the regiment in August 1865. At Vicksburg he was briefly captured by the Confederates while conducting a reconnaissance “but managed to escape by seizing a gun from one of her guards, knocking him down, and outrunning others. Comrades recalled Private Cashier climbing to the top of their fieldworks to taut the enemy into showing themselves.” [10]

After the war “Albert” returned home and lived as a “farmer and handyman and served as a caretaker in his church. He never married.” In 1890 he applied for and received a military pension and in 1911 the now elderly “man” was struck by a car and suffered a broken leg. The doctor treating him discovered that Albert was not a man, but a woman. But the doctor kept his confidentiality and without revealing “Albert’s” secret had the Union veteran admitted to the local Soldier’s and Sailors’ Home at Quincy, Illinois.” [11] A few years later the elderly “man” began to exhibit erratic behavior and was “committed to a public mental hospital and the word was out.” [12] With her story now sensational front page news and “old comrades in arms came to her defense.” [13] Her comrades had never known that “Albert” was a man during or after the war, while the news was a surprise to them they came to her defense. To combat some of the sensationalism in the media Albert’s fellow soldiers testified “to Albert’s bravery in combat and public good works in later life. Albert/Jennie died at Watertown State Hospital in 1915 at age seventy-one. The local post of the Grand Army of the Republic arranged for her burial. Her headstone reads: “Albert D.J. Cashier, Company G, 95th Illinois Infantry.” [14]

There are similar accounts of women who served as soldiers in the Confederate army including Mrs. Amy Clarke who enlisted with her husband and continued to serve until after his death at the Battle of Shiloh. Her gender remained secret until she was wounded and captured by Union forces. As “soon as she had recovered they gave her a dress and sent her back into Confederate lines; but a short time later she was seen in Mississippi making plans to re-enlist.” [15]

Wartime records are sketchy but as a minimum it is believed that “between 250 and 400 women disguised as men found their way into either the Federal or Confederate armies.”  [16] A more recent estimate is that in the Confederate army alone there were some 250 women who served as soldiers during the war. [17] Casualties were high for the women that are known to have served as soldiers, they had a “combined casualty rate of 44 percent” including the fact that fully “eleven percent of women soldiers died in the military.” [18] Some of those women are now well known but many others are lost to history. Most women tried to keep their sexual identities secret, even to the point of their death on the battlefield. Most of the women who served in the armies returned home to resume relatively normal lives after the war.

Other women would serve as spies for both sides, often rendering valuable assistance to their countries. The women who served as spies often took their lives into their hands; however, they often provided vital information to the Union or Confederate officers that they served. Pauline Cushman “parlayed her acting talents into a series of elaborate ruses that allowed her to pry information out of admiring and complaisant Confederate officers; Belle Boyd used an equal measure of talent in as a northern Virginia coquette to elide the same kind of information out of Federal officers.[19]

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Elizabeth Van Lew

Even those women who were successful often suffered for their service during and after the war as they learned “that few people completely trusted or respected a spy, not even a “friend.” [20] Many, especially Southern women who spied for the Union were ostracized and persecuted in their communities after the war, and found little support from Northern politicians. Rebecca Wright, a young Quaker schoolteacher in Winchester, Virginia provided information that “enabled him to defeat General Early’s forces” in the Valley of 1864. She lost her job, and her former friends and neighbors boycotted her family’s businesses. Rejected for a pension, Sheridan helped Wright obtain “an appointment in a government office, remaining there for the rest of her days.” [21] Elizabeth Van Lew was a lifelong resident of Richmond and daughter of a wealthy businessman.  She helped Union prisoners escape from Richmond’s notorious Libby prison and when Grant besieged Petersburg, Miss Van Lew “supplied him with a steady stream of information” [22]

To be continued….

Notes

[1] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.209

[2] Silvey, Anita I’ll Pass for Your Comrade Clarion Books, New York 2008 p.9

[3] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.5

[4] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.79

[5] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell  p.119

[6] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.68

[7] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp. 15-16

[8] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.90

[9] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.58

[10] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp. 16-17

[11] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[12] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[13] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.90

[14] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[15] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.81

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.394

[17] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning  p.87

[18] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp.206-207

[19] ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.395

[20] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.87

[21] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War pp. 103-104

[22] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.102

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