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Who Were the Victims? Does Anybody Care? The Holocaust and War Crimes Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I write about the victims of the Holocaust, and other Nazi Crimes Against Humanity. At the heart of the Nazi crimes was the genocide committed against the Jews, but the Nazi crimes extended far beyond them; the systemic extermination of the handicapped, mentally ill, chronically sick, and others deemed to be Life Unworthy of Life. Likewise there was the killing of possible political political opponents in the Reich and conquered territories; the intentional starvation of Poles and Russians, the use of slave labor, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

In the film Judgement at Nuremberg the American Prosecutor at the Judges Trial played by Richard Widmark asked a question when showing a film of the victims of the Nazis when the Concentration Camps were liberated by American and British troops in the spring of 1945. His question in the face of films of massed piles of bodies being bulldozed into mass graves at Bergen-Belsen, of the cremated remains, shrunken skulls, and lampshades made of human skin at Buchenwald, gas chambers, medical experiments, the emaciated bodies of still living victims; little more than skin and bones, elbows, hips, and knees bulging over the shrunken remains of their bodies, eyes sunken in to the skulls.

Who were they?

The Nazis specifically targeted the Jews for extermination. According to Hitler, his hnchemen, and other German nationalists, the Jews were less than human, they worked hand in hand with the Bolsheviks, and thus deserved their fate. Likewise, there were those crippled in body or mind who were euthanized, political opponents, religious and racial minorities, populations of conquered nations, who died at the hands of the German military, or who were gunned down in mass graves by the Einsatzgruppen, intentionally starved to death, or who were worked to death as Slave laborers in the Nazi work camps.

To the average German of the time they were subhuman, and even those not fully in agreement with the Nazis seldom cared, and simply turned their backs. There were the perpetrators and the bystanders, who seldom if ever thought about their victims. In a way very much like most of us don’t even blink when we are confronted with war crimes committed by our own soldiers, and their victims, or innocent women and children killed during air or drone strikes where perhaps one or two at best terrorists or insurgents were reportedly located.

we have a lot to learn from the past.

The victims of the Nazis, like so many others who have committed crimes against humanity, including us, were men and women, wives and husbands, sons and daughters. They spanned the spectrum from infants to the aged. Too many times multiple generations of families went to death together. Examples of the Nazi crimes are so numerous that they must never be forgotten. That is why I write tonight, that we never forget, so we do not repeat them ourselves. Human nature is human nature, and as much as we think we have progressed, the darkness still resides in us, and we must fight to do right.

However, some witnesses to the Nazi crimes were appalled and when the Nazi regime finally was crushed testified to those crimes.

One of them was Hermann Graebe, a civilian employed to help build roads for the Wehrmacht came across one of the many massacres committed up close and personal by SS Men on October 5th 1943 at Dubno, Ukraine. At Nuremberg he testified:

Moennikes and I went direct to the pits. Nobody bothered us. Now I heard rifle shots in quick succession, from behind one of the earth mounds. The people who had got off the trucks—men, women and children of all ages—had to undress upon the orders of an SS-man, who carried a riding or dog whip.

They had to put down their clothes in fixed places, sorted according to shoes, top clothing and underclothing. I saw a heap of shoes of about 800 to 1,000 pairs, great piles of underlinen and clothing. Without screaming or weeping these people undressed, stood around in family groups, kissed each other, said farewells and waited for a sign from another SS-man, who stood near the pit, also with a whip in his hand.

During the 15 minutes that I stood near the pit I heard no complaint or plea for mercy. I watched a family of about 8 persons, a man and woman, both about 50 with their children of about 1, 8 and 10, and two grown up daughters of about 20 to 24. An old woman with snow-white hair was holding the one year old child in her arms and singing to it, and tickling it. The child was cooing with delight. The couple were looking on with tears in their eyes. The father was holding the hand of a boy about 10 years old and speaking to him softly; the boy was fighting his tears. The father pointed toward the sky, stroked his head, and seemed to explain something to him. At that moment the SS-man at the pit shouted something to his comrade.

I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching or the heads lying already motionless on top of the bodies that lay before them. Blood was running from their necks.

I was surprised that I was not ordered away, but I saw that there were two or three postmen in uniform nearby. The next batch was approaching already.

These victims were not just numbers and statistics. They were living breathing human beings whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their allies. They had been abandoned by most of the world. Anything of value that they possessed was appropriated by the men who exterminated them; their businesses, homes, farms, clothes, shoes, currency, jewelry, wedding rings, artwork, furniture, and even their gold fillings, and yes, their hair, and even their skin.

Whole towns were exterminated, millions of people killed and millions of other people displaced, never to return to their homes. At Babi Yar outside of Kiev 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as Police battalions. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. The German Army provided logistic support as well as security for the murder squads.

Fritz Hoefer, a SS man serving as a truck driver with the Sonderkommando said these words at the Einsatzgruppen Trial:

One day I was ordered to drive my truck out of town. I had a Ukrainian with me. It was about 10 a.m. On our way, we passed Jews marching in columns in the same direction, we were going. They were carrying their belongings. There were whole families. The farther we drove away from the town, the more people we saw in the columns. There were piles of clothes in a wide open field. My job was to fetch them.   

I stopped the engine nearby, and the Ukrainians standing around started loading the car with this stuff. From where I was, I saw other Ukrainians meeting the Jews who arrived, men, women and children, and directing them to the place where, one after another, they were supposed to remove their belongings, coats, shoes, outer garments and even their underwear.

They were supposed to put all their belongings together in a pile. Everything happened very quickly, the Ukrainians hurried those who hesitated by kicking and pushing them. I think it took less than a minute from the moment a person took off his coat before he was standing completely naked.

No distinction was made between men, women and children. The Jews who were arriving could have turned back when they saw those who had come earlier taking off their clothes. Even today I cannot understand why they didn’t run.

 

Columns of Jews march past a corpse in Kiev

Naked Jews were led to a ravine about 150 metres long, 30 metres wide and 15 metres deep. The Jews went down into the ravine through two or three narrow paths. When they got closer to the edge of the ravine, members of the Schutzpolizei (Germans) grabbed them and made them lie down over the corpses of the Jews who had already been shot.

It took no time. The corpses were carefully laid down in rows. As soon as a Jew lay down, a Schutzpolizist came along with a sub-machine gun and shot him in the back of the head.The Jews who descended into the ravine were so frightened by this terrible scene that they completely lost their will. You could even see some of them lying down in the row on their own and waiting for the shot to come.

Only two members of the Schutzpolizei did the shooting. One of them was working at one of the ravine, the other started at the other end. I saw them standing on the bodies and shooting one person after another.

Walking over the corpses toward a new victim who had already laid down, the machine gunner shot him on the spot. It was an extermination machine that made no distinction between men, women and children.Children were kept with their mothers and shot with them. I did not watch for long. When I approached the edge, I was so frightened of what I that I could not look at it for a long time.

 

German Einsatzgruppen & Police force groups of Jews to hand over their possessions and undress before being shot in the ravine at Babi Yar

I saw dead bodies at the bottom laid across in three rows, each of which was approximately 60 metres long. I could not see how many layers were there. It was beyond my comprehension to see bodies twitching in convulsions and covered with blood, so I could not make sense of the details.Apart from the two machine gunners, there were two other members of the Schutzpolizei standing near each passage into the ravine.

They made each victim lie down on the corpses, so that the machine gunner could shoot while he walked by. When victims descended into the ravine and saw this terrible scene at the last moment, they let out a cry of terror. But they were grabbed by the waiting Schutzpolizei right away and hurled down onto the others.

Those who followed them could not see the terrible scene because it was obstructed by the edge of the ravine. While some people were getting undressed and most of the others were waiting their turn, there was a lot of noise. The Ukrainians paid no attention to the noise and just kept forcing people through the passages into the ravine.

You could not see the ravine from the site where people were taking off their clothes, because it was situated about 150 metres away from the first pile of clothes. Besides, a strong wind was blowing and it was very cold. You couldn’t hear the shooting in the ravine.

Jews at Babi Yar waiting to be murdered

So I concluded that the Jews had no idea what was actually happening. Even today I wonder why the Jews did nothing to challenge what was going on. Masses of people were coming from town and they did not seem to suspect anything.

They thought they were just being relocated.              

The men who were the leaders of the mobile Einsatzgruppen which conducted these up close and personal killings of nearly a million and a half Jews and others were not common thugs. Most were very educated and accomplished men.

General Telford Taylor, an American lawyer who served as a prosecutor at the Einsatzgruppen Trial explained:

“These defendants are not German peasants or artisans drafted into the Wehrmacht. They are not uneducated juveniles. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, and a former clergyman. They are, in short, men of education, who were in full possession of their faculties and who fully understood the grave and sinister significance of the program they embarked upon. They were part of the hard core of the SS. They did not give mere lip service to Himmler’s atrocious racial doctrines; they were chosen for this terrible assignment because they were thought to be men of sufficient ruthlessness to carry them out. They are hand-picked fanatics; every one of them was an officer of the SS … They are not unhappy victims, unwillingly pushed into crime by the tyranny of the Third Reich; these men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.”

The men who ran the death camps might not have been from the same “elite” stock as the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen but they carried out their duties in calculating and businesslike manner. Rudolf Hoess who commanded Auschwitz gave this statement to the International Military Tribunal:

On 1 December 1943 1 became Chief of Amt 1 in Amt Group D of the WVHA, and in that office was responsible for co-ordinating all matters arising between RSHA and concentration camps under the administration of WVHA. I held this position until the end of the war. Pohl, as Chief of WVHA, and Kaltenbrunner, as Chief of RSHA, often conferred personally and frequently communicated orally and in writing concerning concentration camps. . . .

The ‘final solution’ of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time, there were already in the General Government three other extermination camps: Belzek, Treblinka, and Wolzek. These camps were under the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD. I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one-half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Cyklon B, which was a crystallized prussic acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special Kommandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.

When he was asked specifics, Hoess stated: This gold was melted down and brought to the Chief Medical Office of the SS at Berlin.

He continued with some pride during cross examination:

Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chamber to accommodate 2,000 people at one time whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: We had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.

But the bodies…

Jews and Gentiles from every nation in Europe as well as the Americas, Africa, and Asia ended up dying at the hands of the Nazis, either in their Death Camps, Concentration/ Labor Camps, or up close and personal at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen, the Waffen SS, or the Wehrmacht.

Every one of those bodies, the cold statistics of the Nazi machine were people like you and me. In April of 2018 I visited the United States Holocaust Museum while visiting friends in Washington D. C.

I think that the one that hit me the hardest was the pictorial Tower of Faces from the Polish shtetl of Ejszyszki. That town was home to some 4,000 Jews and the pictures had been taken over the preceding decade by local photographers. They were pictures of everyday family and community life; men, women, children at work, at play, at rest. Worshipping, working, studying, the old and the young, the well off and the poor, the religious and those not as religious at all phase of life captured in photos for eternity. For 3500 of them their lives ended on September 21st 1941 when the Nazis rounded up the Jews at their Synagogues on the eve of Yom Kippur and executed them by firing squad in mass graves at the town’s Christian and Jewish cemeteries. Only 29 of those who survived that day lived through the war. That Jewish community had existed for 900 years and was exterminated in a matter of hours.

          The Tower of Faces at the United States Holocaust Museum 

I looked at those pictures and I could not get over all of those innocent lives cut short. Each face was the picture of an individual or individuals, families, friends, schoolmates. They were not abstract numbers or statistics but real flesh and blood people like you and me. They had hopes and dreams, but because they were Jews they were exterminated, like nearly six million other Jews who also were real people with hopes and dreams that would be destroyed by the Nazi racial war. Of course the Nazis targeted others, but none with the relentless anti-Semitic racial hatred propagated by Nazi ideology. Thus they condoned and executed by people who would have ordinarily have been considered upstanding and moral citizens. The late Christopher Hitchens 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.” 

The Jewish-Italian Philosopher and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi wrote:

Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we ill have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.

               Wehrmacht Troops Pose With Jews that They Hanged 

I write because the remaining witnesses to the Nazi Crimes are dying off and deniers are becoming ever more numerous. In researching this article I came across a man, an American of all people, who is denying the mass murder at Babi Yar. I have to shake my head, but the fact is that such people have become emboldened by the Presidency of Donald Trump, a man who has pardoned and praised convicted American War Criminals. They see in him a kindred spirit. Such does not bode well for the future, and the lives who will stand behind the faces and names of the future crimes against humanity.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Give the Devil His Due: Some of My Favorite Halloween Horror Films


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. Judy and Minnie are out at a friends house while I sit with the porch light and other front lights out watching American Horror Story while Izzy and Pierre bark at anyone who dares ring the doorbell, so far four or five. But I cannot help but share some of my favorite horror movies.

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“Without me, Transylvania will be as exciting as Bucharest… on a Monday night.” Count Dracula (George Hamilton) on being banished from his castle by Romanian Communists in Love at First Bite

Yes it is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve and time for me to share my favorite Halloween horror films with you. Horror movies can be scary, but they can also be funny and even kind of klitschy. I think that is why they have such an enduring fascination to so many people, including me. I love horror, suspense, science fiction and the paranormal. They tend to be less scary than driving to work on the local interstate highways in the Hampton Roads area or going to a Mall or Wal-Mart.

Horror films have always fascinated me, especially the ones that are not simply built around a bunch of slashing and mindless killing and brutality.

Some of the films I like are more dramatic and suspenseful while others are more on the funny side of the horror genre. Not that there is anything wrong with that. There are hundreds of not thousands of horror films out there and many are variations on a theme and many are so bad I will not watch them. That being said there are some that I cannot miss.

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I love the whole vampire and Dracula genre. The Bela Lugosi Dracula was interesting but the klitchshy Hammer Dracula films with Christopher Lee were always my favorites. It was always fun for me to watch how some idiot managed to find a way to spill some blood on Dracula’s ashes and re-animate the Prince of Darkness. Of course the fact that Lee’s Dracula was always going after some really good looking girl made the series predicable and enjoyable.

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The female versions of the Dracula films produced by Hammer Productions were even more enjoyable for a teen age boy. Ingrid Pitt played a great Carmilla Karnstein, a seductive female vampire who preyed on great looking women in The Vampire Lovers.  In the vampire genre Quentin Tarintino’s Dusk ‘Til Dawn was pretty good and Wesley Snipes Blade series was enjoyable too.

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I think that the horror film that still gives me the creeps is another vampire film, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I saw it the first time while visiting my wife’s cousin who lived in the Netherlands back in 1985. It was on Dutch television in English and subtitled in Dutch. To me it is the ultimate in horror, I have a copy but haven’t watched it in years. It scares the bejesus out of me.

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Now I admit these are not the best Dracula movies, but they are entertaining. I liked Interview with a Vampire, Dracula(1979) starring Frank Langella, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Donald Pleasance, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) starring Gary Oldham and Winona Ryder were all actually better films.  Other films in the vampire genre that I like included Fright Nightand The Lost Boys.

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There were parodies as well, my favorites being Love at First Bitestarring George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Dick Shawn and Arte Johnson, Mel Brooks’ Dracula Dead and Loving it starring Leslie Nielsen and Blackula, a blacksploitation parody starring William Marshall.

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Frankenstein was okay but I love Mel Brooks’ parody Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr and Peter Boyle.

William Friedkin_The Exorcist_1973

Then there are the Satanic or Demonic possession and oppression films based on actual events. There is the classic The Exorcist and more recently The Conjuring. Both kept me on the edge of my seat and were scarier at home than they were in the theater. Another film which I like but which might better fit into the Science Fiction or loosely based on real events category is The Mothman Prophecies. 

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Zombie films have never been that interesting to me but the original Night of the Living Dead is a classic that I will watch and I did enjoy the parody Shaun of the Dead starring Simon Pegg, and Zombieland starring Woody Harrelson.

army-of-darkness

In a different class is the cult classic Army of Darkness a sequel to the Evil Dead films.  In this Bruce Campbell plays a hardware store employee who gets transported through time to a medieval castle being attacked by a ghoulish army. It really is a classic full of great one liners and action. I think one of my favorite lines is where Campbell’s character “Ash” answers the leader of the dead army when he is asked who he is: “Well hello Mister Fancypants. Well, I’ve got news for you pal, you ain’t leadin’ but two things, right now: Jack and shit… and Jack left town. 

Halloween2

When I was in junior high school, high school and college a lot of different horror films came out which became cult classics which spawned sequel after sequel. There was the original Halloween starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I never got into the most of the sequels because none of them were as good as the originals.

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Another film that I found positively frightening was Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Donald Sutherland. It was a remake of an earlier film but the whole concept of falling asleep and being replaced with a pod person freaked me out.

Like I said at the beginning of the article, there are thousands of horror films out there. I could go on and mention more but to do so would be to repeat variations on similar themes or to stretch the genre to include various murder mysteries with horror or demonic elements such as Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, or films which are more appropriately classed as Science Fiction such as Alien.

Ghostbusters

In a totally different category are the Ghostbusters comedies, and Scrooged. Both comedies with classic horror twists. I love those movies. Then there is Mel Brooks classic parody of the original Frankenstein using the original  Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr, Marty Feldman, and Gene Hackman.

So as Halloween winds down and the trick or treaters go home, while you are snuggled in your bed with your love, turn on the television and find something scary to watch. After all, tomorrow is Friday, but not the 13th.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Second Mass Murder this Weekend: now 30 killed, nearly 50 wounded in Two Attacks

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am shaking my head at the mass killing in Dayton, Ohio last night. Another nine people killed and 20 more wounded in the space of 30 seconds. Using a AR-15 type weapon equipped with a 100 round drum magazine while dressed in black clothing, and wearing body armor, the murderer was killed by Dayton police just before he could enter a crowded bar. Had he gotten in his already his already gruesome toll in human lives would have skyrocketed. He even killed his sister.

His history as a student in high school records that he was expelled once and re-admitted. At the same time he was reported as having been a bully, a misogynist, and to have had a “hit list” of people that he wanted to kill or rape. He also used social media to say that he was a “Satanist” and a “Leftist” who railed against the radicals of the extreme Right and President Trump, although he gloated over the death of Senator John McCain, which would be unusual for someone who despised Trump, McCain for his faults was admired by many on the left. So I wonder, if his was a false flag, especially with his earlier violent history.

However, violent sociopaths are not limited to the political Right. The Left, especially in Europe, Asia, and South and Central America his its share, not so many in the United States, especially since the end of Vietnam, but not unknown.

The killer obtained his weapons by mail from Texas through a local dealer. He drove his sister and others to the site of his massacre, then disappeared until he came back to kill. What is motivation was is undetermined, but he was a violent sociopath who masqueraded as a nice guy. Evil knows no boundaries. People forget that many of Stalin’s secret police and military officers had once been loyal servants of the Czar, and that many of Hitler’s most ruthless killers had at one time been Communists, Socialists, or members of the political Center. They just shifted their loyalties.

But the one common thing between the last two, and if you extend it to the killer at the Garlic Festival early last week, the real problem is not just the evil of these killers. But, that the problem also resides in our nation’s lax gun laws. There are so many loopholes that make it easy for any person to acquire military grade weapons, extended magazines, flash suppressors, silencers, body armor and Kevlar helmets, with little to no restrictions. In fact, these terrorists and criminals no matter what their persuasion or ideology are aided by the gun lobby and its army of lawyers, and are often more heavily armed and protected than law enforcement officers. Please, try to tell me how that makes any sense at all.  If you can I’ll give you a cookie.

Until we as a people, regardless of our political beliefs regarding the Second Amendment are willing to face that fact there will be more carnage. There will by hundreds, if not thousands of deaths. Empty words from the President or members Congress, without bipartisan legislation that gives law enforcement agencies the authority to enforce those laws is simple bullshit, regardless if it comes from a Republican or Democrat.

I have qualified or familiarized with almost every individual or team fired weapon in the current and past United States military inventory dating back to 1981. My favorites were the M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol, and the M203 Grenade Launcher. It was an M16A1 with a 40mm grenade launcher below the muzzle. I also used to call for fire for 155mm field artillery. To be sure putting those rounds on target gave me a woody. Once we finalize the final renovations to our townhome and move to a ranch house, my wife and I plan on getting matching bolt action carbines. She shoots like Annie Oakley, she’s a much better shot than me.

That being said neither of us needs an AR-15 or AK 47, or for that matter any of their derivatives. For that matter, I don’t believe anyone needs that kind of weaponry unless they are willing to use the basic 10 round magazines that were the original standard magazine for the M16 and AR15. My opinion, is that if you cannot protect yourself with such a weapon with the standard magazine you are either an incompetent, or have malevolent intentions. In fact most people could easily defend their home with a fully automatic and non-lethal paint gun rifle. The intruder would be immobilized and marked for law enforcement, even if he or she managed to flee the scene. Until I get my paint gun or bolt action carbine I will glades used any of my collection of baseball bats, swords, and cunning to defend my home against any intruder. I would be like the character played by Eli Roth in the film Inglorius Basterds, Donny Donowitz, the Bear Jew. My bat would knock their brains out of the park like “Teddy Fucking Williams.”  

I realize that such an attitude is inconsistent with my relatively passive interpretations of a Christian’s response to violence. But having been physically threatened by White Supremacists and neo-Nazis in the past, I have to say that if any showed up at my house, they better be prepared.

As far as assault weapons, magazines, and protective gear that gives a terrorist of any belief or ideology the ability to engage in mass killings and match up evenly or give them tactical superiority over law enforcement officers, I totally oppose it as I do believe the men who wrote the Second Amendment would of they could foresee the carnage of our time.

I believe that more now than ever.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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To Kill a Mockingbird at 59: Sometimes the Bible in the Hand Of One Man is Worse than a Whiskey Bottle in the Hand Of Another

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tomorrow marks the 59th the anniversary of the release of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. I have read the book, and seen the film many times. Sadly, it is all too relevant in our time. Race hatred and a belief in the absolutes of aberrant forms of Christianity which bless White Racism are rampant in the United States and Europe, many of these groups are overtly Fascist and Authoritarian.

That alone is to make the novel and the film worth reading and watching, especially if you haven’t read the book or seen the film.

Sadly, such people would “kill the Mockingbird” to ensure that they keep their privileged position in society. The Mockingbirds are those that they have condemned to social inferiority and discrimination and eternal punishment, especially gays and the LGBT community, but others as well.

This is especially the case of the preachers, pundits and politicians that crowd the airwaves and internet with their pronouncements against Gays, immigrants, Arabs, poor blacks, political liberals, progressive Christians, and for that matter anyone who simply wants the same rights enjoyed by these Christians.

In the book there is a line spoken by Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor of Atticus Finch and his children. She says to Atticus’s daughter Scout:

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

As I survey the world of Christian conservatives I become surer of this every day. I’ve often wrote about my own fears in regard to dealing with such people as well as the troubling trends that I see. Last week I wrote five articles on the trends that I see in the church, trends toward greed, political power, social isolation and the active campaign of some to deny basic civil rights to people that they hate on purely religious grounds.

The language of some like Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association and a host of others describe actions of governments and courts to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law as threats to Christians, affronts to them and of course to God. Their words are chilling. Matt Staver commented a few years back that if the Supreme Court upheld marriage equity for gays that it would be like the Dred Scott decision. Of course that is one of the most Orwellian statements I have ever heard, for the Dred Scott decision rolled back the few rights that blacks had anywhere in the country and crushed the rights of people in non-slave states.

Again, as a reminder to readers, especially those new to the site, I spent a large amount of my adult Christian life in that conservative Evangelical cocoon. I worked for a prominent television evangelist for several years, a man who has become an extreme spokesman for the religious political right. I know what goes on in such ministries, I know what goes on in such churches. I know the intolerance and the cold hearted political nature of the beast. I know and have gone to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue who once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in those shoes, I have been whipped up by those preachers. I fully understand them, and because I do I am in a unique position to critique their words and actions, especially as the supposedly moral majority snuggle up with one of the most amoral men ever to become President, solely to protect and crease their political power. They have surrendered their claim to being a party of morality, and embraced evil for the sake of their power. Without empathy, they judge and condemn others not like them. They are incapable of understanding anything that conflicts with their visions of White Power, racial superiority, and an interpretation of Christianity which needs state support in order to survive.

As Atticus Finch told his children:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

They cannot, thus I total reject the message of such people now, not out of ignorance, but because I have walked in their shoes. At times I supported their causes, not to any extreme, but all too often my crime was simply said nothing when I knew that what they preached, taught and lived was not at all Christian, but from the pits of Hell.

As far as them being entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, even if I disagree, yes that is their right. But as Atticus said:

“People are certainly entitled to think that I’m wrong, and they are entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

My conscience will not allow me to be silent when I see men like Staver, Perkins, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, and so many others preach hatred towards those who are different than them. Their reach and power has only increased with their support of President Trump.

In the movie and the book the Mockingbirds were Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape and assault and Boo Radley, a shy recluse feared by his neighbors, a man who stories were made up about; stories that turned a simple man into a monster in the eyes of people who did not know him. Today they are others who fit the Mockingbird role, people who just want to get along and live in peace, but who endure discrimination and damnation from those who call themselves Conservative Christians.

Jem Finch, the son of Atticus asks his sister a question in the book and the film:

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

I ask the same question on a daily basis.

So until tomorrow I wish you a good night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Fanaticism and Ignorance is Forever Busy” The Scopes Monkey Trial at 94Years, and Inherit the Wind

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind

Tomorrow is the 84th Anniversary of the beginning of what became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial which was dramatized in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind. I really do believe that it is well worth watching, especially when a charlatan like Donald Trump, a man with no Christian virtues whatsoever stokes up the hopes of conservative Christians by catering to his base of Conservative Christians who hang on his every word, like a cult, believing that he, through the police power of the state will Christianity great again.

Of course the Christianity that Trump and his followers refers to is not that of Jesus, but that of Constantine and every other strongman who has used the Christians and the church to achieve earthly power and to crush any opposition. Noted televangelists have come to Trump’s side, many like John Hagee saying that Christians that God will punish Christians, that vote against Trump. That is why this film is still so pertinent.

It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.

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It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial” which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The film is not completely historically accurate. It was adapted from a play by the same name. It came out following the hysteria of the McCarthy Era, when people were condemned and blacklisted for their freedom of speech, association; frequently on the basis of false testimony against them. However, the film captures the blind hatred of religious bigots the willingly ignorant who object to any belief or theory that threatens their superior position in society.

The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Act in Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.

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Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryant, who had been a progressive advocate had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”

Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.

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Mencken wrote of the trial:

“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”

It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.

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The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.

The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:

“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”

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March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:

“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”

The problem with the Bryant of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.

 

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Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

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But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

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I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.

So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.

Bryant’s death, coming a few days after the trial was nowhere as near as dramatic as the death scene in the movie, sometimes fiction makes the story a bit more entertaining.

But the film also gives a warning to cynics like Mencken. After Brady’s death and the trials end there is a fascinating dialogue between Drummond (Darrow) and Hornbeck (Mencken). It is worth watching:

Henry Drummond : My God, don’t you understand the meaning of what happened here today?

E. K. Hornbeck : What happened here has no meaning…

Henry Drummond : YOU have no meaning! You’re like a ghost pointing an empty sleeve and smirking at everything people feel or want or struggle for! I pity you.

E. K. Hornbeck : You pity me?

Henry Drummond : Isn’t there anything? What touches you, what warms you? Every man has a dream. What do you dream about? What… what do you need? You don’t need anything, do you? People, love, an idea, just to cling to? You poor slob! You’re all alone. When you go to your grave, there won’t be anybody to pull the grass up over your head. Nobody to mourn you. Nobody to give a damn. You’re all alone.

E. K. Hornbeck : You’re wrong, Henry. You’ll be there. You’re the type. Who else would defend my right to be lonely?

I just know when I watch it, that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.

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I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”

That is why this film and that trial are still so important, for the very practice of liberty and protection of the First Amendment.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Truth and the Twilight Zone in the Age Of Trump: “Logic is an Enemy, and the Truth is a Menace”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Judy and I have been binge watching the classic television series The Twilight Zone. The show, written by Rod Sterling first aired before either of us was born. If you have never watched it, suppose you were born too late, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to take some time to do.

But I should preface this with the words of the great historian, Barbara Tuchman:

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.

There are a lot of truths buried in the various episodes, truths about reality and fantasy; religion and ethics; science and technology; human nature and yes, government too. The Twilight Zone is a strange place, you never know when you might end up there, in fact in Trump’s America every day feels like an experience in the Twilight Zone, in this case Season Two, episode 29, The Obsolete Man. In the episode the state determines who is obsolete and therefore condemned to death.

In the episode, Burgess Meredith plays a character named Romney Wordsworth, a librarian who has been declared obsolete by the state. Books have been banned as well as belief in a God that is not the no-God of the state. He is brought before the Chancellor, played by Fritz Weaver, and condemned to a death of his choosing.

The opening narration, spoken by Sterling sets the stage for the story:

You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He’s a citizen of the State but will soon have to be eliminated, because he’s built out of flesh and because he has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in The Twilight Zone

I won’t play the spoiler but I will end this brief article with the warning spoken by Sterling at the end of the episode. The episode can be found on Netflix. But, actually, this is unedited ending of that episode.

The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He was obsolete. But so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, entity, or ideology becomes obsolete when it stockpiles the wrong weapons: when it captures territories, but not minds; when it enslaves millions, but convinces nobody. When it is naked, yet puts on armor and calls it faith, while in the Eyes of God it has no faith at all. Any state, any entity, any ideology which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man…that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for “Mankind” – in The Twilight Zone.

So consider this a warning, especially for the followers of the authoritarians, fascists, and real or would be dictators, including the American President and his cult like supporters; a warning from the Twilight Zone.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Trump’s National Emergency and Blazing Saddles

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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