Category Archives: Foreign Policy

An Epic Counterattack By a Brilliant Commander Blinded by Ambition to See or Resist the Truth: Erich von Manstein’s Counterstroke

p

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am tired as a result I am posting something out of my archives today. It’s actually a paper I wrote for one of my Masters Degree Classes back in 2009 that I decided to post on the site. Since then I have done much more study on the battle from other sources, many more critical of Manstein and revealing of the crimes committed by his troops on the Eastern Front.  I could probably do more with it except to do more biographical work on Von Manstein, but I don’t expect that I will at them moment because I already know much about his strategic and battlefield brilliance, and enough about his character for now. For me character matters more than battlefield brilliance.

The article deals with the crisis that the German armies faced following Stalingrad and how Field Marshal Erich von Manstein succeeded in talking Adolf Hitler out of certain defeat and inflicting a massive defeat on the now overconfident and over extended Soviet armies.

Von Manstein was a brilliant strategist, his bold plan to conquer France in 1940 was a masterpiece, as was his conduct of combat operations on the Eastern Front until his relief in March of 1944 for withdrawing (and saving) his armies from Soviet destruction without Hitler’s approval. Von Manstein was a brilliant commander at the operational level of war, but he also gave his approval and support to war crimes committed by the SS Einsatzgruppen against the Jews and others in his area of operations. He believed that Bolshevism and the Jews were linked, thus in his codicil to Von Reichenau’s Severity Order in November 1941 stated:

“Jewish Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all and should never again be allowed to invade our European living space … It is the same Jewish class of beings who have done so much damage to our own Fatherland by virtue of their activities against the nation and civilisation, and who promote anti-German tendencies throughout the world, and who will be the harbingers of revenge. Their extermination is a dictate of our own survival.”

This article depicts Manstein at his zenith when even Hitler was forced to give in to his logic, but barely a year later Hitler relieved him of command as Manstein remained committed to a mobile defense surrendering space while attempting to maximize Soviet casualties.

Manstein is a complex character, he defended German Jews in the Reichswehr yet went on to cooperate in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Russia. There is a decent possibility that he had some Jewish ancestry, he opposed the Aryan Paragraph which banned Jews from serving in the German armed forces telling General Ludwig Beck that anyone who had volunteered to serve had already proved their worth. Part of this may have been to protect mixed race grand-nephews who were already serving in the Reichswehr and his concern that he might have Jewish blood.

The SS launched an investigation regarding this, but never completed it. The results of what they found or did not find are unknown. It makes me wonder if I could make an extended trip to Germany and do some research on the topic. This is because based on all of his other anti-Semitic beliefs, if he really did not believe that the Germans had murdered the number of Jews that they did as was recorded in his post-war testimony. Almost all of Von Manstein’s criticisms of Hitler were restricted to the conduct of the war, not the political and moral aspects that formed the heart of Nazi policy and the Holocaust.

Though Manstein knew that Hitler was leading Germany to destruction, he rebuffed his colleagues who attempted to kill Hitler and the overthrow the Nazi regime. Had he supported them he might have brought others with him.

Likewise, though he was tried and convicted of war crimes he was given an early release from prison at the behest of Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer and other notables. After his release he went on to advise the German government on the organization of the new Bundeswehr, and become something of a celebrity among military history students, and military officers, especially Britain and the United States.

Manstien’s  post war writings were highly critical of Hitler and for the most part he succeeded in rehabilitating himself, in large part with the help of  Western military historians and theorists of mobile warfare. These men looked at the military aspects of the war and built what amounted to a cult around Manstein and German military and other high ranking Wehrmacht critics of Hitler, with scant regard to the murderous policies of the Nazis, and the personal responsibility and participation of many of them in carrying out Hitler’s decrees. When Manstein died in 1973 at the age of 85 he was the last surviving German Field Marshal and was buried with full military honors.

While it is true that Manstein was a brilliant commander and strategist, he aided and abetted one of the most criminal regimes in history. The German magazine Der Spiegel wrote of him: “He assisted in the march to catastrophe—misled by a blind sense of duty.”

This is something that all military professionals have to guard against. I am less concerned about senior American military leaders than I was last summer, but there are men and women who though in military had or have a higher alliance to for er President Trump than the Constitution as was demonstrated on 6 January. For the moment my fears are assuaged, but I do know that many self-styled “Patriots” more enamored with White Nationalist, Authoritarian and theocratic beliefs then they are in our Constitution and democracy are serving throughout our military. They include enlisted members, officers, probably including a number of General and Flag Officers, and DOD civilians in high ranking positions. In fact Trump appointed quite a few political hacks to permanent civil service positions in DOD, State, Homeland Security and other important positions before he left office. The Biden administration is attempting to move them to positions where they cannot do damage but they are in place.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Introduction

After Stalingrad the Soviets followed up on their success and attempted to entrap the rest of Army Group South. Field Marshall von Manstein attempted to save the Army Group and perhaps prevent the Soviets from collapsing the entire German front.

Bild 101I-209-0086-12Manstein (center) planning at the front

Chaos and Peril in the South

As 6th Army died at Stalingrad field Marshall von Manstein was faced with one of the most challenging situations faced by any commander in modern times.  He faced strategic and operational “problems of a magnitude and complexity seldom paralleled in history.”[i] Manstein had to deal with a complex military situation where he had minimal forces to counter the moves of a superior enemy force that was threatening to entrap all German forces in southern Russia. Additionally Manstein had to deal with the “Hitler’s obstinate opposition to a maneuver defense and a Red Army flushed with the victory of Stalingrad.”[ii]Facing him were the six Russian armies of the Voronezh and Southwestern Fronts led by Mobile Group Popov[iii]. These Armies had broken through the Hungarian and Italian armies “making a breach 200 miles wide between the Donetz and Voronezh, and were sweeping westward past Manstein’s flank.”[iv]

flak in caucasus

The most dangerous threat that Manstein faced was to Army Group A in the Caucasus. This Army Group “found itself in danger of being cut off, forcing an immediate withdraw.”[v] Disaster was averted by the desperate holding actions of Manstein’s meager forces, Army detachment’s Fretter-Pico and Hollidt, and winter conditions that made “offensive operations extraordinarily difficult, even for the hardiest Soviet troops.”[vi]

A smart withdraw executed by General von Kleist managed to extricate the Army group “just as the Stalingrad forces collapsed.”[vii] To parry the Soviet thrusts the Germans lacked forces to “establish a deeply echeloned defense” and “instead combined maneuver… with stubborn positional defense to give artificial depth to the battlefield.  In this way the Germans were able to break major Soviet attacks, preventing catastrophic breakthroughs….”[viii] The timely introduction of a battalion of Tiger tanks prevented the Russians from breaking through to Rostov and “cutting the rail and road lines on which First Panzer Army’s retreat depended.”[ix] Even so the escape of the Army Group was narrow. “In terms of time, space, force, and weather conditions it was an astonishing performance-for which Kleist was made a field-marshal.”[x] With the Russians only 70 kilometers from Rostov and his own forces 650 kilometers from that city Kleist executed a withdraw “which had appeared hardly possible to achieve.”[xi] The divisions extricated by Kleist would be instrumental in the coming weeks as Manstein moved to counter the Soviet offensive.

Ostfront, Adolf Hitler, Erich v. Manstein

Hitler and Manstein

Despite the successful withdraw the situation was still precarious in early February, Manstein had no effective contact with his left wing, the bulk of which was tied to Kharkov, The Russians had “virtually complete freedom of action across a fifty-mile stretch of the Donetz on either side of Izyum.”[xii] Manstein was hard pressed to “halt the raids of Mobile Group Popov and other exploiting Soviet tank corps in Operation Gallop.”[xiii] Manstein’s forces in the eastern sector had been divided by Russian penetrations, which threatened 1st Panzer Army’s western flank and blocked the Army Group’s main railway line.[xiv]

On 15 February “the SS Panzer Corps withdrew from Kharkov-in spite of orders from Hitler…that the city was to be held to the last.”[xv] SS General Paul Hausser, the corps commander realized that the order to hold Kharkov was impossible and requested permission to withdraw. This was was refused by General Lanz. Under pressure from encircling Russian forces outside and from partisans inside the city, Hausser disobeyed the order and extricated his troops,[xvi] thereby saving thousands of German soldiers and preserved the SS Panzer Corps as a fighting unit.[xvii] Lanz was relieved by Hitler for the loss of Kharkov and although Hausser would escape immediate censure, “Hitler did see it as a black mark against his name.”[xviii] With Kharkov now in Soviet hands the gap between Manstein’s army group and Field Marshal von Kluge’s Army Group Center increased to over 100 miles.[xix] It appeared that the entire German southern flank was disintegrating.  Manstein estimated the ratio of German to Soviet forces in his area at 1:8.[xx] He believed that the Soviets could advance and subsequently “block the approaches to the Crimea and the Dnieper crossing at Kherson” which would “result in the encirclement of the entire German southern wing.”[xxi] Popov’s Mobile Group crossed the Donets and reached Krasnoarmeiskaia by 12 February. Vatutin committed two additional fresh tank corps toward Zaporozhe, a critical transport node which was also the location of Manstein’s headquarters.[xxii]

SS-Tiger-LSAH-01Tiger Tanks assigned to 1st SS Panzer Division

Hitler arrived to consult with Manstein on 17 February and remained for three days with Soviet forces perilously close.  Manstein only had some flak units and the Army Group Headquarters Company between him and Popov’s advanced elements. On Hitler’s last day “some T-34’s approached to within gun range of the airfield.”[xxiii]

The conference of Hitler with Manstein at Zaporozhe as well as a previous conference at the Wolfsschanze on 6 February was critical to the development of Manstein’s plan to restore the front. Manstein had now gotten both the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies across the Don, and “with this striking force, he felt confident of smashing the Russian offensive if he was given a free hand to withdraw from the line of the Donetz, evacuate Rostov and take up a much shorter front along the Mius river.”[xxiv] The conference on the 6th was one of the “rare moments in the war where Hitler authorized a strategic withdraw on a major scale.”[xxv] Yet as the Russians continued to advance Hitler became concerned and came to Zaporozhe.  At first Hitler would not concede to Manstein, as he wanted to assemble the SS Panzer Corps for an attack to recapture Kharkov.[xxvi]Manstein explained the need for a counter stroke and through much explanation was able to convince Hitler that the capture of Kharkov was not possible unless “we first removed the danger of the Army Group being cut off from its rear communications.”[xxvii]

T34_Stalingrad-Offensive-px800Soviet formations advance

The Russian aim was now obvious[xxviii] and Manstein had correctly discerned their strategy.  Manstein knew that his Army Group had to hold the line on the Mius and then quickly defeat the enemy between 1st Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf[xxix] in “order to prevent its own isolation from the Dnieper crossings.”[xxx] The Soviets had outrun their logistics support and had suffered heavy losses of their own and had serious equipment shortages.[xxxi] Manstein explained to Hitler the opportunity offered as it was now the Russians who “were worn out” and far from their supply dumps as the Germans had been in November 1942.  Manstein “foresaw an opportunity to seize the operational initiative with a counter offensive of his own.  Manstein’s target was the Soviet armored spearheads, still careening southwestward between Kharkov and Stalino.”[xxxii] Manstein believed that when the Russian “spearhead lunged, as it must toward the crossings on the upper Dnieper,” then Hoth’s Army would be let loose again.  The three SS Panzer divisions could then “play their rightful role as avengers, and strike southeast to meet 4th Panzer Army, catching the Russian armour in a noose.”[xxxiii] Hitler agreed to Manstein’s plan and Manstein shifted 4th Panzer Army to assume control of the SS Panzer Corps, now reinforced by 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division “Totenkopf.” Hitler reinforced Manstein and released 7 battle worn Panzer and motorized divisions for his attack.[xxxiv]

Soviet Miscalculation

It was now Stalin’s time to miscalculate. He and his subordinates “continued to believe that they were on the verge of a great victory. German defenses in southern Russia appeared to be crumbling and the Stavka sought to expand that victory to include Army Group Center.”[xxxv] To this end they diverted armies to the north and launched attacks in that direction.  However German defenses were stiff and the plan was “predicated on the assumption of continued offensive success further south.”[xxxvi] Reinforcements from Stalingrad failed to deploy and “Army Group Center’s defenses, prepared for the past year and a half proved formidable.”[xxxvii]

In the south Stalin saw the Dnieper and almost “heedlessly drove his armies towards what he thought would be the decisive victory on the banks of this huge Russian river,”[xxxviii] but, Soviet “ambitions exceeded their available resources and the skill of their commanders.”[xxxix] The SS Panzer Corps withdraw from Kharkov “further heightened the Soviet’s intoxication with victory”[xl] and confirmed their beliefs that the Germans were withdrawing.  Stalin believed that “it was inconceivable that Hitler’s Praetorian Guard would abandon Kharkov except as part of a general order to retreat.”[xli] He believed that the encirclement of Army Group South would lead to a chain reaction and quick way to victory over German forces in the east.  Believing that there was no way for the Germans to recover and establish a solid front on the Mius,[xlii] Stalin continued to drive his forces to attack, yet the Russian offensive in the south had reached what Clausewitz had called the “culminating point” and Stalin’s armies were now extremely vulnerable. “The weather, the devastated communications, and their own inexperience in maintaining the traffic density required to support a deep penetration on a narrow front had combined to force a dangerous dispersal of effort on the Russian advance which had broken down into four separate groups.”[xliii]

panzer ivfPanzers assembling to attack

The Soviet forces were now in a dangerous predicament being spread out across the entire south of Russia.  One group, composed of the 69th Army and 3rd Tank Army pushed against Army detachment Kempf west of Kharkov.  To the south the badly depleted 6th Army and 1st Guards Army were now “strung out down a long corridor they had opened between Izyum and Pavlograd,”[xliv] Mobile Group Popov was lagging further east near Krasnoarmeiskaia.   Additional units were isolated behind the front of Army Detachment Fretter-Pico and near Matveyev.  Soviet commanders believed that the Germans were in worse shape and that “the risks of dispersal were justified.”[xlv] They had not anticipated or made allowance for Manstein’s coolness under pressure and actions to preserve his armor while thinning his front “well past the accepted danger limit.”[xlvi]Likewise the Soviets did not know that the Germans had cracked the code used by the Southwest front and from 12 February on “were now privy to Popov’s and Vatutin’s thoughts,” now knowing precisely where the Russians would attack.[xlvii] Manstein had withstood temptation and Hitler’s pressure to use his reserves “for a direct defense of the Dnieper line.”[xlviii] As such he was prepared to launch a devastating counter-stroke against the dispersed and weakened Russian armies which were still advancing into the trap he planned for them. He had managed to “save his counteroffensive plan from Hitler’s shrill demands that the new reserves be thrown into battle piecemeal to prevent further territorial losses.”[xlix] The stage was now set for a two classic mobile operations.[l]

The Destruction of Mobile Group Popov, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army

Manstein launched his counter-stroke on 21 February against Popov’s Mobile Group using XL Panzer Corps under the command of General Henrici composed of the 7th and 11th Panzer Divisions and SS Motorized Division Viking. Popov’s Group was exposed. Popov had “succeed in cutting the railway from Dnepropetrovsk to Stalino and was itching to push further south to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.”[li] The Soviets once again had failed to discern German intentions, believing that the Germans were retreating.[lii] Likewise the Soviet high command did not fully understand Popov’s situation. His force was weak in tanks and low on fuel and his Mobile Group was defeated in detail by the German Corps.  Popov’s immobilized tank and motorized rifle formations resisted desperately but were bypassed by the panzers.  The 330th Infantry Division mopped up the remnants of these formations.[liii] The key battles took place around the town of Krasnoarmeiskaia and the battle became a running battle between that town and the Donets River.[liv] Popov requested permission to retreat, but still believing the Germans to be retreating Vatutin gave a categorical “no.” The terrain in the area was “almost completely open”[lv] and “Popov’s proud Armoured Group was cut up like a cake.”[lvi] Popov extricated some of his units but “only after serious losses in manpower and equipment.”[lvii] Despite this it would not be until the 24th that Vatutin would order a halt to offensive operations.[lviii]

kharkovSS Panzers in Kharkov

As Popov sought to get his units out of the German scythe Manstein set his sights on 6th Army, 1st Guards Army and 25th Tank Corps which was approaching Zaporozhe.[lix] He assigned the task to Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army and its XLVIII Panzer Corps under General Knobelsdorf composed of the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions and the SS Panzer Corps comprising SS Divisions LiebstandarteDas Reich and Totenkopf.[lx] Manstein gave Hoth a brief but explicit order: “The Soviet Sixth Army, now racing towards Dnepropetrovsk through the gap between First Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf, is to be eliminated.”[lxi]

The XLVIII Panzer Corps and SS Panzer Corps were unleashed against the exposed flank of the 6th Army and 1st Guards Army.   XLVIII Panzer Corps quickly “seized bridgeheads over the Samara River, and prepared to move north into the rear of the exhausted Soviet Sixth Army.”[lxii] The two Panzer Corps then made a coordinated concentric attack northwest which “came as a complete surprise to the Russians.”[lxiii] Das Reich thrust deep into the flank of 6th Army supported by Stukas from Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet.  This attack dislodged one Soviet Rifle Corps and destroyed another allowing the division to capture Pavlograd while XLVIII Panzer Corps led by 17th Panzer Division pushed from the south linking up with the SS Corps. This cut off the Soviet 25th Tank Corps and threatened 6thArmy.[lxiv] What followed was a disaster for the Russians.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary Stavka and the Soviet Front commanders still believed that the Germans were retreating.  6th Army was ordered to continue its advance by the front commander who believed that the two German Panzer Corps were withdrawing.[lxv] In a few days the 17th Panzer Division “gained the Izyum-Protoponovka sector on the Donetz River, while the SS Panzer Corps took Losovaya and established contact with Army Detachment Kempf, which had joined the attack from the west.”[lxvi] XL Panzer Corps with the 3rd and 7thPanzer Divisions and 333rd Infantry Division joined in the attack on Popov’s remaining forces completing their destruction.[lxvii]

As Hoth and Hausser converged on Pavlograd, Das Reich and Totenkopf “swung left to the east and then wheeled back north again running parallel to the Russian divisions fleeing from Forty-eighth Panzer Corps. What ensured was a turkey shoot.”[lxviii]Fleeing Russian forces on the open steppe were visible and engaged at long range.[lxix] Leibstandarte helped by holding the left flank against Russian counter attacks from the units now isolated in the west,[lxx] and Totenkopf’s Grenadiers fanned out supported by Stukas to “kill or capture as many Russians as possible.”[lxxi]

By 1 March the Russian penetrations had been eliminated. Popov’s Mobile Group was smashed, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army badly mauled. 25th Tank Corps and three Rifle divisions had to be completely written off and numerous other corps and divisions took heavy casualties.  Two additional corps, encircled before the offensive began were eliminated by German forces.[lxxii] The Germans counted 23,000 Russian dead on the battlefield, and Manstein noted that “the booty included 615 tanks, 354 field pieces, 69 anti-aircraft guns and large numbers of machine guns and mortars.”[lxxiii] The Germans only took 9,000 prisoners as they were too weak, especially in infantry to seal off the encircled Soviet forces.[lxxiv] Yet the forces that escaped they were in no condition to “block the continued progress of the Panzers and SS.”[lxxv] Now there was a 100 mile gap in the Russian lines with nothing no troops to fill it and only “General Mud” could stop the Germans.[lxxvi] Manstein was not yet finished and the next phase of his operation against the Soviet formations west of Kharkov and that city were about to commence.

The Destruction of 3rd Tank Army

With the immediate threat to his Army Group eliminated and having regained the initiative, Manstein and Army Group South now “proceeded to deliver the stroke against the ‘Voronezh Front’– i.e. the forces located in the Kharkov area.”[lxxvii] But the Russians had not been idle. In order to attempt to assist 6thArmy 3rd Tank Army moved two tank corps and three Rifle divisions south and these ran into Manstein’s advancing panzers.[lxxviii] Manstein’ noted his objective now was “not the possession of Kharkov but the defeat-and if possible the destruction of the enemy units located there.”[lxxix] Between March 1st and 5th his forces advanced on Kharkov. Not knowing the Germans dispositions[lxxx]3rd Tank Army made the mistake of moving between the Leibstandarte’s defensive positions and the attacking divisions of the SS Panzer Corps. Hausser wheeled Totenkopf around and completed an encirclement of these units near Bereka on 3 March.[lxxxi] The Russians made futile attempts to break out but the SS Divisions tightened the noose around them and they were eliminated by the SS Panzer Corps which “engaged in concentric attacks during the three days of hard fighting.”[lxxxii] Even Regimental commanders like Heinz Harmel of Das Reich’s Der Fuhrer regiment became engaged in close combat with the Russians.[lxxxiii] The battle was fought in “snowstorms whose intensity caused the SS severe privations.”[lxxxiv] Totenkopf and Das Reich slammed the Russians “back against the Tiger tanks and assault guns of the Leibstandarte.”[lxxxv] The elimination of these units netted another 12,000 Russians killed,[lxxxvi] knocking “out the last remaining obstacle between the Germans and Kharkov.”[lxxxvii]

Return to Kharkov and Controversy

Manstein turned his attention to Kharkov, supported by Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet which for the last time in Russia “provided undisputed air superiority for a major German mechanized operation.”[lxxxviii] He decided to “roll up the enemy from the flank and force him away from Kharkov in the process.”[lxxxix]He ordered a “pincer on the town, sending Grossdeutschland around to the north with a reinforced Kempf detachment and the combined force of Hoth and the SS to attack the town from the south and rear.”[xc] Manstein planned to make a wide envelopment to avoid embroiling his panzers in costly urban combat stating “that at all costs the Army Group wished to avoid Kharkov’s becoming a second Stalingrad in which our assault forces might become irretrievably committed.”[xci] To this end he sent Das Reich and Totenkopf which were approaching from the south to west of the city[xcii] while XLVIII Panzer Corps swung east toward the Donetz.[xciii] As Hoth’s forces came up from the south to envelope the city, Grossdeutschland and the XI and LI Corps fought the Russians to the north and west,[xciv] eventually moving up to Belgorod.  By 8 March lead elements of the SS Panzer Corps were on the outskirts of the city.

At this point there is some controversy as to German actions. As noted Manstein wished to avoid urban combat and desired to surround the city and force its surrender.  According to one writer Hoth ordered Hausser “to seal off the city from the west and north and to take any opportunity to seize it.”[xcv] Others including Glantz and House and Murray and Millett state that Hausser “ignored a direct order” and attacked into the city.[xcvi] Manstein does not explicitly say that there was a direct order but notes that the Army Group “had to intervene vigorously on more than one occasion to ensure that the corps did not launch a frontal attack on Kharkov.”[xcvii] Sydnor states that Hausser ignored a direct order by Hoth on the 11th by detailing a battalion of Totenkopf to assist Das Reich and Leibstandarte in retaking Kharkov by direct assault. The order entailed pulling Das Reich out of the city and taking it to the east.[xcviii] Lucas adds that this order came in the midst of hard fighting in the city and could not be carried out by the division.[xcix]Carell notes that on 9 March Hoth instructed Hausser that “opportunities to seize the city by a coup are to be utilized,”[c] and goes into detail regarding how Hoth’s 11 March order applied to Das Reich. It was to be pulled out of action and brought east, but division was heavily engaged and in the process of breaking through Soviet defenses “quicker in fact than if he had pulled “Das Reich” out of the operation and led it all the way round the city along those terrible muddy and time wasting roads.”[ci] In the end the SS took Kharkov, Manstein said that the city “fell without difficulty”[cii] while others note the difficulty of the action and the casualties suffered by the SS.  Kharkov’s capture; the defeat of Rokossovsky’s campaign against Orel and the beginning of the spring Rasutitsa ended the winter campaign and stabilized the front.

Analysis

The Russian winter offensive following Stalingrad had great potential.  Manstein said: “the successes attained on the Soviet side, the magnitude of which is incontestable.”[ciii] The greatest Soviet shortcomings were inexperience in conducting deep mobile operations and the inability of their logistics system to keep up with their advance.  Clark notes that this was their “first experience of an offensive war of movement on a large scale.[civ] Glantz and House are not alone in noting that the “Stavka continued to undertake operations that were beyond its resources.”[cv] Murray and Millett state that they “lacked the operational focus that had marked the Stalingrad offensive.”[cvi] Had they had the resources and ability to execute their plans they might have destroyed all German forces in the south.  They misread German intentions based on their own over-optimistic expectations opened their forces to Manstein’s devastating counter stroke.  Von Mellenthin, possibly showing some prejudice commented that the Russian soldier “when confronted by surprise and unforeseen situations he is an easy prey to panic.”[cvii]

The Germans snatched victory out of what appeared to be certain defeat. They were aided by Russian overconfidence, mistakes and operational shortcomings.  Manstein refused to panic and conserved his forces for his counterattack.[cviii] Kleist brought his Army Group out of what might have been encirclement worse than Stalingrad.  Hitler for the most part gave Manstein operational freedom which he had not provided other commanders.  German Panzer forces conducted mobile operations against superior enemy armored forces and bested them.  Landsers held their own in at critical junctures, especially on the Mius and gave Manstein the opportunity to employ the panzers in the mobile defense.[cix]

Likewise after a miserable winter the Luftwaffe recovered its balance and the coordinated operations between it and German ground forces gave them an edge at a point where the Red Air Force was unable to support the Red Army.[cx] Above all the Germans still maintained the edge in both overall quality of generalship, especially that of Manstein and Kleist, not to exclude Hoth, Hausser and lower level commanders.  Additionally the average German soldier still maintained an edge over his Soviet adversary in the confusion of mobile operations in open terrain.

Manstein and his forces gave Hitler breathing room on the eastern front.[cxi] As Clark notes: “few periods in World War II show a more complete and dramatic reversal of fortune than the fortnight in February and the first in March 1943…it repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, nipped the Russian spearhead. Above all it recovered its moral ascendancy.”[cxii]

Notes 


[i] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p245

[ii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.143

[iii] Ibid. Glantz. P.143. These units include 3rd Tank Army, 1st and 3rd Guards Armies and the 6th, 40th and 69th Armies.

[iv] Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967. p.253

[v] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.185

[vi] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. 2000. pp.291-292

[vii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY. 1970  p.478

[viii] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.161

[ix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[x] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Second World War. p.479

[xi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. pp.211-212.

[xii] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45.Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. pp.299-300

[xiii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.11

[xiv] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.417

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xvi] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. pp.196-199

[xvii] Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division.Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991. p.91  Glantz and House criticize Hausser saying that the SS Panzer Corps Staff lacked the experience to perform its mission.  (Titans Clashed p.144) Most other commentators agree with the necessity of his withdraw.

[xviii] Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988. p.113

[xix] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xx] Ibid. Manstein. p.419

[xxi] Ibid. Manstein. pp.418-419

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.144

[xxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xxiv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.251

[xxv] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.424.

[xxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.428

[xxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Second World War. p.481

[xxix] This had previously been Army Detachment Lanz, but Lanz had bee relieved over the loss of Kharkov.

[xxx] Ibid. Manstein. p.429

[xxxi] Ibid. Murray and Millet. p.292

[xxxii] Ibid. Wray. p.162

[xxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.302.

[xxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.145

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed . pp.144-145

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.146

[xxxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[xxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxxix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[xl] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xli] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.193

[xliii] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvi] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[xlviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Strategy p.253

[xlix] Ibid. Wray. p.163

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147. Note comments by Glantz and House in footnote 31 on relative strengths of forces involved, especially the weakness of German forces.

[li] Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002. p.93

[lii] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[liii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lv] Ibid. von Mellenthin. p.253

[lvi] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[lvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[lviii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lix] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lx] There is difference in various accounts as to which units composed these Panzer Corps. Von Mellenthin adds 11th Panzer to the XLVIII Panzer Corps and some accounts do not list the Liebstandarte as part of the SS Panzer Corps.

[lxi] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[lxii] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977. p.268

[lxiii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxvii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lxviii] Ibid. Sydnor. pp.268-269

[lxix] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.253

[lxx] Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001. pp.180-181

[lxxi] Ibid. Sydnor. p.269

[lxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxiii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433. Sydnor lists an addition 600 anti-tank guns and notes that the tanks were almost all T-34s. (Sydnor. p.269)

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lxxv] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[lxxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.187

[lxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxx] Ibid. Meyer. p.181

[lxxxi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxxii] Ibid. Meyer. pp.181-182

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxv] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.434

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.13

[lxxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xc] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xcii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xciii] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.75

[xciv] Ibid. Raus. pp.189-192

[xcv] Ibid. Messenger. p.114

[xcvi] See Glantz and House p.187 and Murray and Millett p.293

[xcvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[xcviii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xcix] Ibid. Lucas. p.96

[c] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[ci] Ibid. Carell. p.219

[cii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[ciii] Ibid. Manstein. p.437

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[cv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.143

[cvi] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[cvii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.254

[cviii] A comment by Von Mellenthin commenting on Manstein’s coolness in the conduct of his operations compares him to Robert E. Lee. “To find another example of defensive strategy of this caliber we must go back to Lee’s campaign in Virginia in the summer of 1864. (Von Mellenthin. p.245)

[cix] For some additional comments along these lines see vn Mellenthin who notes four points in regard to the counter stroke: 1. High level commanders did not restrict the moves of armored formations, but gave them long range tasks. 2. Armored formations had no worries about their flanks because the High Command had a moderate infantry force available for counterattacks. 3. All commanders of armored formations, including corps, conducted operations not from the rear, but from the front. 4. The attack came as a surprise regarding the time and place. (Von Mellenthin p.254)

[cx] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[cxi] Despite his success Hitler was not happy with Manstein in regard to giving up ground for operational purposes and Manstein would lose much of the freedom that he enjoyed by March. Wray has a discussion of this.  See Wray. pp.162-163.  The Nazi hierarchy actively promoted the exploits of the SS Panzer Corps and its leaders, especially the commander of the Leibstandarte Sepp Dietrich. (see Weingartner pp. 76-77) The recognition of Hausser would be delayed, some speculate as a result of his disobedience in giving up Kharkov in February.

[cxii] Ibid. Clark. p.306

Bibliography

Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY.

Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967

Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division. Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988

Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986

1 Comment

Filed under anti-semitism, crimes against humanity, ethics, Foreign Policy, germany, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, war crimes, war crimes trials, White nationalism, world war two in europe

A High Crime, not a Misdemeanor: Hold Trump and His Minions Responsible for their Coup Attempt


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The time for reckoning with the manifold crimes of Donald Trump, his Administration, his enablers in the Republican Party, and his coconspirators inside and outside government has come. The organized, encouraged and ordered an assault on the U.S. Congress by a massive number of supporters who proceeded to take over the Capitol Building as the House and Senate were beginning their ceremonial count of the the Electoral College votes that would certify the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President. For over two months Trump and his nefarious allies like Rudy Giuliani and countless others have been calling the election rigged, the results false, and despite all evidence to the contrary they continued to claim yesterday that the election had been stolen, and Trump claimed that he had been cheated. Of course recount after recount in states with Republican governors, legislatures and Supreme Courts rejected his spurious and conspiracy riddled claims. Over 60 of his vaunted legal team’s lawsuits were laughed out of state and federal courts including the completely Republican Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the United States Supreme Court where Trump himself had appointed three of the six Republican appointed justices. The fact of the matter was that Trump lost, there was not a shred of evidence of voter fraud and during all the counting and recounting of the ballots Trump, his enablers, and his often heavily armed Cult members made numerous threats, including death threats against governors, state attorney’s general, state and election officials. Not a single one stood up in court. Undeterred some tried to submit Trump friendly elector slates outside of those approved by the various state legislatures.

Despite all the failures Trump persisted in claiming fraud and even threatening the Various GOP officials who though they wanted him to win stood by the election results in their states. They upheld their oaths and the law. That further enraged Trump and his egregious actions against elected GOP officials ended up so poisoning the electorate in Georgia that in the two Senate runoff elections both incumbent Republican Senators lost ensuring that the Democrats will now have not just a House majority but a Senate majority. In his actions against his own party supporters he also lost the GOP majority in the Senate. This was the result of his arrogance, hubris, and narcissistic need for attention and the limelight. But I digress…

Trump encouraged sedition and treason. He, his son Donald Junior, Rudy Giuliani, and several others encouraged violence against the Congress and his own Vice President. He and they put the lives of every member of Congress, Vice President Pence, and countless others at risk. As a result of this violent craven assault on the “People’s House” at least five people died, including a Capitol Police Officer who was smashed in the head with a fire extinguisher by one of the terrorists. Many others were injured.

The primary targets of this attack were Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, as well as Democrat and Republican members of the House and Senate who opposed Trump. All had been targeted by Trump and other leading Trump supporters as they gathered at the White House and were addressed by Trump, Donald Jr., Rudy Giuliani and others and exhorted to violence and combat.

Of the thousands who assaulted the Capitol and threatened those of both parties in it less than 60 were arrested. Most were allowed to leave the premises without being arrested or charged. That is criminal negligence on the part of law enforcement. If the people who attacked the Capitol had been Black Lives Matter protestors, or any other peaceful non-white Supremacist Trump supporting group there would have been thousands of arrests and a massive unbridled display of force against them.

What happened needs to be investigated from top to bottom and all those complicit need to be charged and tried. Every single one of them from the President to the most pathetic of the violent ignoramuses who attacked the Capitol and committed violence needs to face justice for what they did. That includes the Senators and Representatives who encouraged them, the President and his fellow conspirators who ordered those people into the assault, any public official who aided or enabled these terrorists to breach the perimeter of the Capitol building, or those who deflated or prevented law enforcement reinforcements from getting to the Capitol before the attack.

Now is the time for justice and retribution. Criminal charges need to be filed against everyone who participated in the attack and who conspired to make it happen. None should go unpunished. They planned, encouraged an attack on the Congress by violent insurgents Bent on destruction and assassination. The had firearms, IEDs, Molotov Cocktails, and other weapons with them. In addition other groups attempted to assault the Georgia and Michigan State Capitol buildings and the Governor’s mansion in Washington State.

Of the President does not resign he needs to be removed through the 25th Amendment or impeachment. His movement needs to be restricted so he cannot leave the country In order to flee justice after he leaves office. Senate and House members who took part and encouraged this assault including Senators Cruz and Hawley as well as House members need to be censured and removed from office by the the members of each House. There is no place for those who attempt to overthrow elections and incite violence in either house of Congress. Such removals are not without precedent and need to be undertaken immediately.

All of these people, especially the President pose a clear and present danger to the country and Trump’s actions have set up a national security crisis as our enemies realize how vulnerable we are with a President who cannot be trusted with handling any National Security issue for fear that he might attempt to use one in a vain attempt to remain in power or declare a state of emergency in order to make further attempts on his domestic opponents.

The next 12 days are filled with danger, from American citizens turned terrorists and insurgents to foreign enemies hoping to humiliate us when our President is busily trying to undermine our domestic and national security.

We cannot let our guard down because the danger is too great. This is probably the most vulnerable our nation has been since the secession crisis in 1860-

Peace,

Padre Steve+

19 Comments

Filed under civil war, crime, Foreign Policy, History, laws and legislation, leadership, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

                                    Lynching in the American South

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

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

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

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

mass killing einsatzgruppen

                       Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

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

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

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

nankino-masakra-1

                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

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

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

tzd8ftsn-1390907543

                                      Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

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

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

CambodiaExhibitMassgrave-x1

                                                  The Killing Fields

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

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

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

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

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

                        Rwandan Genocide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

18 Comments

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

“Say I Slew Them Not…” the Long Lasting Impact of Trumpism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the final installment of my introduction and comments regarding Supreme Court Justice and Chief American Prosecutor Robert Jackson’s closing arguments at Nuremberg.

In this final segment of his closing arguments, Jackson confronted the impossibility of a cabal of the most powerful members of the Nazi Party, the German Government, its Military, and Police organizations, the men closest to Adolf Hitler and the center of power in Germany who by their testimony knew nothing of what was going on in the country.

When one reads the transcripts of the trials as I am continuing to do in between reading other books, including one about the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, the defendants universal defense was that they knew nothing, or had learned of the Nazi crimes for the first time during the trial.

What is remarkable is that for every denial there was documented evidence to the contrary, that each in their own way were willing participants in the Nazi crimes. While they pointed fingers at the dead, like Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, or unaccounted for like Martin Bormann, and on occasion the other defendants in the dock, each attempted to cover his tracks with lies and deception. Even Albert Speer, who was the only one of the defendants to openly admit his guilt during the trial engaged in deception.

The lies of these men and their brutal exposure before the watching world should serve as a warning to the leaders of nations, especially the nations which prosecuted these men, the foremost being the United States of America. Before the trial in the London agreement, Jackson noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.

I have served and continue to serve the United States, but my oath to the Constitution demands that I be intellectually honest and forthright in stating that the United States has not lived up to its founding principles or the words of Justice Jackson. During the Cold War the United States engaged in overthrowing foreign governments and replacing them with dictators more inclined to do our bidding, engineered the pretext to allow massive U. S. Military intervention in Vietnam, and after the Cold War used the real pretext of the terrorism of the 9-11-2001 attacks to invade Iraq, a country that was not involved. The list could go on and on, but because of the protections of the First Amendment, a free press has been able to expose many of those lies, even as the beast of corporate media egged on war like the Yellow Journalism of William Randolph Hearst during the run up to the Spanish American War.

Every government in every nation has engaged in some amount of lying to increase its power, influence, or to cover its malfeasance. The United States is not blameless, but too often Americans, ignorant or history, and the Constitution revel in the myth of American Exceptionalism to justify actions against other nations that do the same, that we have gone to war to confront or prosecuted as war criminals for doing. In fact, some of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg defended their actions by citing American history: Slavery, Jim Crow, the extermination of the peoples of America’s First Nations, the American practice of eugenics, and medical experiments on racial minorities or the mentally ill, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor to justify and defend their crimes, even as they denied their culpability for their crimes.

The Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg included true believers as well as opportunists. The were willing members of a regime founded upon lies. In defeat and on trial they would all repeat those lies, and add to them. Unfortunately, the current American President and his administration seem to be playing the same game with truth as the Nazis did. Hannah Arendt wrote:

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”

Truth and integrity are not fungible assets that one can abandon without consequences. Germany is still hampered in international relations as well as domestic politics by what the Nazis did. The shadows of the Nazi past still enshroud Germans who are two or three generations removed from the Nazi past. The great ethicist Sissela Bok wrote:

“Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. They can thrive only on a foundation of respect for veracity.” 

As I watch the final days of President Trump and his consigliere’s of criminal corruption be exposed for what they are by a still free press following an election defeat that he refuses to acknowledge and salts the earth behind him, I am reminded of Hitler and his cult like entourage, including those who did not kill themselves at the end of the war. Their malfeasance and criminal acts are too great to enumerate here, except killing over a quarter of a million Americans by their steadfast refusal to do what was necessary to save lives during the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic. They separated immigrant families from their children and caging those children in inhumane conditions with hundreds still separated even today. Engaging in the forced sterilization of immigrant and refugee mothers in border detention centers. Making common cause with White Nationalists engaging in reigns of terror against Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Asians and Hispanics. Accusing anyone who does not completely agree with them as “enemies of America” “Communists,” or “traitors.”

Through his Twitter Account Trump has spread lie upon lie, and spread hate filled conspiracy theories so base and demonic that they are beyond belief, yet his followers believe those lies as if they were the Gospel. In fact many of his followers who identify as conservative or evangelical Christians act as if Trump’s words and actions trump the beliefs of the Church. Trump has become their Messiah, just as Hitler was for his true believers.

I cannot predict with accuracy what will happen with these people when Trump leaves office, but I presume that they will believe a version of the Dolchstoß Myth, the Stab-in-the-back, of betrayal. Trump will feed that belief and that at least some violence will ensue, including political assassinations, lynchings, and other violence.

I am reminded of how Robert Jackson and the team of Allied prosecutors used the words and documents of the Nazis themselves to indict and convict them.

With that I give you Robert Jackson’s masterful dissection of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice. Something that we should pay close attention to as we follow the nefarious antics of President Trump and his corrupt administration and cult-like followers. What is interesting about the Nuremberg defendants were that some were true believers, while others were opportunists trying to advance their careers, even knowing the cause was evil and often criminal. The latter were probably more like many people nowadays, they just look the other way while trying to take advantage of any opportunity given to them.

Anyway, back to indexing my book.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Record of Proceedings: July 26, 1946, continued:

Rudolf Hess

The zealot Hess, before succumbing to wanderlust, was the engineer tending the Party machinery, passing orders and propaganda down to the Leadership Corps, supervising every aspect of Party activities, and maintaining the organization as a loyal and ready instrument of power.

Joachim von Ribbentrop

When apprehensions abroad threatened the success of the Nazi regime for conquest, it was the double-dealing Ribbentrop, the salesman of deception, who was detailed to pour wine on the troubled waters of suspicion by preaching the gospel of limited and peaceful intentions.

Wilhelm Keitel

Keitel, the weak and willing tool, delivered the armed forces, the instrument of aggression, over to the Party and directed them in executing its felonious designs.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner

Kaltenbrunner, the grand inquisitor, assumed the bloody mantle of Heydrich to stifle opposition and terrorise into compliance, and buttressed the power of National Socialism on a foundation of guiltless corpses.

Alfred Rosenberg

It was Rosenberg, the intellectual high priest of the “master race”, who provided the doctrine of hatred which gave the impetus for the annihilation of Jewry, and who put his infidel theories into practice against the Eastern occupied territories. His woolly philosophy also added boredom to the long list of Nazi atrocities.

Hans Frank

The fanatical Frank, who solidified Nazi control by establishing the new order of authority without law, so that the will of the Party was the only test of legality, proceeded to export his lawlessness to Poland, which he governed with the lash of Caesar and whose population he reduced to sorrowing remnants.

Wilhelm Frick

Frick, the ruthless organiser, helped the Party to seize power, supervised the police agencies to ensure that it stayed in power, and chained the economy of Bohemia and Moravia to the German war machine.

Julius Streicher

Streicher, the venomous vulgarian, manufactured and distributed obscene racial libels which incited the populace to accept and assist the progressively savage operations of “race purification”.

Walter Funk

As Minister of Economics Funk accelerated the pace of rearmament, and as Reichsbank president banked for the SS the gold teeth-fillings of concentration camp victims -probably the most ghoulish collateral in banking history.

Hjalmar Schacht

It was Schacht, the facade of starched respectability, who in the early days provided the window-dressing, the bait for the hesitant, and whose wizardry later made it possible for Hitler to finance the colossal rearmament programme, and to do it secretly.

Karl Dönitz

Donitz, Hitler’s legatee of defeat, promoted the success of the Nazi aggressions by instructing his pack of submarine killers to conduct warfare at sea with the illegal ferocity of the jungle.

Erich Raeder

Raeder, the political admiral, stealthily built up the German Navy in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, and then put it to use in a series of aggressions which he had taken a leading part in planning.

Baldur von Schirach

Von Schirach, poisoner of a generation, initiated the German youth in Nazi doctrine, trained them in legions for service in the SS and Wehrmacht, and delivered them up to the Party as fanatic, unquestioning executors of its will.

Fritz Sauckel

Sauckel, the greatest and cruellest slaver since the Pharaohs of Egypt, produced desperately needed manpower by driving foreign peoples into the land of bondage on a scale unknown even in the ancient days of tyranny in the kingdom of the Nile.

Alfred Jodl

Jodl, betrayer of the traditions of his profession, led the Wehrmacht in violating its own code of military honour in order to carry out the barbarous aims of Nazi policy.

Franz von Papen

Von Papen, pious agent of an infidel regime, held the stirrup while Hitler vaulted into the saddle, lubricated the Austrian annexation, and devoted his diplomatic cunning to the service of Nazi objectives abroad.

Arthur Seyess-Inquart

Seyss-Inquart, spearhead of the Austrian fifth column, took over the government of his own country only to make a present of it to Hitler, and then, moving north, brought terror and oppression to the Netherlands and pillaged its economy for the benefit of the German juggernaut.

Konstantin von Neurath

Von Neurath, the old-school diplomat, who cast the pearls of his experience before the Nazis, guided Nazi diplomacy in the early years, soothed the fears of prospective victims, and as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia strengthened the German position for the coming attack on Poland.

Albert Speer

Speer, as Minister of Armaments and Production, joined in planning and executing the programme to dragoon prisoners of war and foreign workers into German war industries, which waxed in output while the labourers waned in starvation.

Hans Fritzsche

Fritzsche, radio propaganda chief, by manipulation of the truth goaded German public opinion into frenzied support of the regime, and anaesthetised the independent judgement of the population so that they did their masters’ bidding without question.

Martin Bormann

Bormann, who has not accepted our invitation to this reunion, sat at the throttle of the vast and powerful engine of the Party, guiding it in the ruthless execution of Nazi policies, from the scourging of the Christian Church to the lynching of captive Allied airmen.

The activities of all these defendants, despite their varied backgrounds and talents, were joined with the efforts of other conspirators not now in the. dock, who played still other essential roles: They blend together into one consistent and militant pattern animated by a common objective to reshape the map of Europe by force of arms. Some of these defendants were ardent members of the Nazi movement from its birth. Others, less fanatical, joined the common enterprise later, after success had made participation attractive by the promise of rewards. This group of latter-day converts remedied a crucial defect in the ranks of the original true believers, for as Dr. Siemers has pointed out in his summation:

“… There were no specialists among the National Socialists for the particular tasks. Most of the National Socialist collaborators did not previously follow a trade requiring technical education.”

It was the fatal weakness of the early Nazi band that it lacked technical competence. It could not from among its own ranks make up a government capable of carrying out all the projects necessary to realize its aims. Therein lies the special crime and betrayal of men like Schacht and von Neurath, Speer and von Papen, Raeder and Donitz, Keitel and Jodl. It is doubtful whether the Nazi master plan could have succeeded without their specialized intelligence which they so willingly put at its command. They did so with knowledge of its announced aims and methods, and continued their services after practice had confirmed the direction in which they were tending. Their superiority to the average run of Nazi mediocrity is not their excuse. It is their condemnation.

The dominant fact which stands out from all the thousands of pages of the record of this trial is that the central crime of the whole group of Nazi crimes -the attack on the peace of the world -was clearly and deliberately planned. The beginning of these wars of aggression was not an unprepared and spontaneous springing to arms by a population excited by some current indignation. A week before the invasion of Poland Hitler told his military commanders:

“I shall give a propagandist cause for starting war -never mind whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked later on whether we told the truth or not. In starting and making a war, it is not the right that matters, but victory.”

The propagandist incident was duly provided by dressing concentration camp inmates in Polish uniforms, in order to create the appearance of a Polish attack on a German frontier radio station. The plan to occupy Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg first appeared as early as August, 1938, in connection with the plan for attack on Czechoslovakia. The intention to attack became a programme in May, 1939, when Hitler told his commanders that:

“The Dutch and Belgian air bases must be occupied by armed forces. Declarations of neutrality must be ignored.”

Thus, the follow-up wars were planned before the first was launched. These were the most carefully plotted wars in all history. Scarcely a step in their terrifying succession and progress failed to move according to the master blueprint or the subsidiary schedules and timetables until long after the crimes of aggression were consummated. Nor were the war crimes and the crimes against humanity unplanned, isolated or spontaneous offences. Apart from our undeniable evidence of their plotting, it is sufficient to ask whether six million people could be separated from the population of several nations on the basis of their blood and birth, could be destroyed and their bodies disposed of, unless the operation had fitted into the general scheme of government. Could the enslavement of five millions of labourers, their impressment into service, their transportation to Germany, their allocation to work where they would be most useful, their maintenance, if slow starvation can be called maintenance, and their guarding have been accomplished if it did not fit into the common plan? Could hundreds of concentration camps located throughout Germany, built to accommodate hundreds of thousands of victims, and each requiring labour and materials for construction, manpower to operate and supervise, and close gearing into the economy -could such efforts have been expended under German autocracy if they had not suited the plan? Has the Teutonic passion for organization suddenly become famous for its toleration of non-conforming activity? Each part of the plan fitted into every other. The slave labour programme meshed with the needs of industry and agriculture, and these in turn synchronised with the military machine. The elaborate propaganda apparatus geared with the programme to dominate the people and incite them to a war which their sons would have to fight. The armament industries were fed by the concentration camps. The concentration camps were fed by the Gestapo. The Gestapo was fed by the spy system of the Nazi Party. Nothing was permitted under the Nazi iron rule that was not in accordance with the programme.

Everything of consequence that took place in this regimented society was but a manifestation of a premeditated and unfolding purpose to secure the Nazi State a place in the sun by casting all others into darkness.

COMMON DEFENCES AGAINST THE CHARGE OF COMMON RESPONSIBILITY

The defendants meet this overwhelming case, some by admitting a limited, responsibility, some by putting the blame on others, and some by taking the position, in effect, that while there have been enormous crimes there are no criminals. Time will not permit me to examine each individual and particular defence, but there are certain lines of defence common to so many cases that they deserve some consideration.

Counsel for many of the defendants seek to dismiss the charge of a common plan or conspiracy on the ground that the pattern of the Nazi plan does not fit into the concept of conspiracy applicable in German law to the plotting of a highway robbery or a burglary. Their concept of conspiracy is in the terms of a stealthy meeting in the dead of night, in a secluded hide-out, in which a group of felons plot every detail of a specific crime. The Charter forestalls resort to such parochial and narrow concepts of conspiracy taken from local law by using the additional and non-technical term, “common plan”. Omitting entirely the alternative term of “conspiracy”, the Charter reads that “leaders, organisers, instigators, and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan to commit” any of the described crimes “are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan”.

The Charter concept of a common plan really represents the conspiracy principle in an international context. A common plan or conspiracy to seize the machinery of a State, to commit crimes against the peace of the world, to blot a race out of existence, to enslave millions, and to subjugate and loot whole nations cannot be thought of in the same terms as the plotting of petty crimes, although the same underlying principles are applicable. Little gangsters may plan who will carry a pistol and who a stiletto, who will approach a victim from the front and who from behind, and where they will waylay him. But in planning war, the pistol becomes a Wehrmacht, the stiletto a Luftwaffe. Where to strike is not a choice of dark alleys, but a matter of world geography. The operation involves the manipulation of public opinion, the law of the State, the police power, industry, and finance. The baits and bluffs must be translated into a nation’s foreign policy. Likewise, the degree of stealth which points to a guilty purpose in, a conspiracy will depend upon its object. The clandestine preparations of a State against international society, although camouflaged to those abroad, might be quite open and notorious among its own people. But stealth is not an essential ingredient of such planning. Parts of the common plan may be proclaimed from the housetops, as anti-Semitism was, and parts of it kept under cover, as rearmament for a long time was. It is a matter of strategy how much of the preparation shall be made public, as was Goering’s announcement in 1935 of the creation of an air force, and how much shall be kept covert, as in the case of the Nazis’ use of shovels to teach “labour corps” the manual of arms. The forms of this grand type of conspiracy are amorphous, the means are opportunistic, and neither can divert the law from getting at the substance of things.

The defendants counted, however, that there could be no conspiracy involving aggressive war because (1) none of the Nazis wanted war; (2) rearmament was only intended to provide the strength to make Germany’s voice heard in the family of nations; and (3) the wars were not in fact aggressive wars but were defensive wars against a “Bolshevik menace”.

When we analyse the argument that the Nazis did not want war it comes down, in substance, to this: “The record looks bad indeed -objectively -but when you consider the state of my mind -subjectively I hated war. I knew the horrors of war. I wanted peace.” I am not so sure of this. I am even less willing to accept Goering’s description of the General Staff as pacifist. However, it will not injure our case to admit that as an abstract proposition none of these defendants liked war. But they wanted things which they knew they could not get without war. They wanted their neighbours’ lands and goods. Their philosophy seems to be that if the neighbours would not acquiesce, then they are the aggressors and are to blame for the war. The fact is, however, that war never became terrible to the Nazis until it came home to them, until it exposed their deceptive assurances to the German people that German cities, like the ruined one in which we meet, would be invulnerable. From then on, war was terrible.

But again the defendants claim: “To be sure, we were building guns. But not to shoot. They were only to give us weight in negotiating.” At its best this argument amounts to a contention that the military forces were intended for blackmail, not for battle. The threat of military invasion which forced the Austrian Anschluss, the threats which preceded Munich, and Goering’s threat to bomb the beautiful city of Prague if the President of Czechoslovakia did not consent to the Protectorate, are examples of what the defendants had in mind when they talked of arming to back negotiation.

But from the very nature of German demands, the day was bound to come when some country would refuse to buy its peace, would refuse to pay Dane-geld,

“For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that plays it is lost.”

Did these defendants then intend to withdraw German demands, or was Germany to enforce them and manipulate propaganda so as to place the blame for the war on the nation so unreasonable as to resist? Events have answered that question, and documents such as Admiral Carl’s memorandum, earlier quoted, leave no doubt that the events occurred as anticipated.

But some of the defendants argue that the wars were not aggressive and were only intended to protect Germany against some eventual danger from the “menace of Communism”, which was something of an obsession with many Nazis.

At the outset this argument of self-defence fails because it completely ignores this damning combination of facts clearly established in the record: first, the enormous and rapid German preparations for war; second, the repeatedly avowed intentions of the German leaders to attack, which I have previously cited; and third, the fact that a series of wars occurred in which German forces struck the first blows, without warning, across the borders of other nations.

Even if it could be shown -which it cannot -that the Russian war was really defensive, such is demonstrably not the case with those wars which preceded it.

It may also be pointed out that even those who would have you believe that Germany was menaced by Communism also compete with each other in describing their opposition to the disastrous Russian venture. Is it reasonable that they would have opposed that war if it were undertaken in good faith in self-defence.

It is sought to balance the frivolous self-defence theory against the facts, as advocates often do, by resort to a theory of law. Dr. Jahrreiss, in his scholarly argument for the defence, rightly points out that no treaty provision and no principle of law denied Germany, as a sovereign nation, the right of self-defence. He follows with the assertion for which there is authority in classic International Law, that:

“… every State is alone judge of whether in a given case it is waging a war of self-defence”.

It is not necessary to examine the validity of an abstract principle which does not apply to the facts of our case. I do not doubt that if a nation arrived at a judgement that it must resort to war in self-defence, because of conditions affording reasonable grounds for such an honest judgement, any Tribunal would accord it great and perhaps conclusive weight, even if later events proved that judgement mistaken.

But the facts in this case call for no such deference to honest judgement because no such judgement was ever pretended, much less honestly made.

In all the documents which disclose the planning and rationalisation of these attacks, not one sentence has been or can be cited to show an honest fear of attack. It may be that statesmen of other nations lacked the courage forthrightly and fully to disarm. Perhaps they suspected the secret rearmament of Germany. But if they hesitated to abandon arms, they did not hesitate to neglect them. Germany well knew that her former enemies had allowed their armaments to fall into decay, so little did they contemplate another war. Germany faced a Europe that not only was unwilling to attack, but was too weak and pacifist even adequately to defend, and went to the very verge of dishonour, if not beyond, to buy its peace. The minutes we have shown you of the Nazis’ secret conclaves identify no potential attacker. They bristle with the spirit of aggression and not of defence. They contemplate always territorial expansion, not the maintenance of territorial integrity.

Minister of War von Blomberg, in his 1937 directive prescribing general principles for the preparation for war of the armed forces, has given the lie to these feeble claims of self-defence. He stated at that time:

“The general political situation justifies the supposition that Germany need not consider an attack on any side. Grounds for this are, in addition to the lack of desire for war in almost all nations, particularly the Western Powers, the deficiencies in the preparedness for war in a number of States and of Russia in particular.”

Nevertheless, he recommended: “a continuous preparation for war in order to (a) counter-attack at any time, and (b) to enable the military exploitation of politically favourable opportunities should they occur”.

If these defendants may now cynically plead self-defence, although no honest need of self-defence was asserted or contemplated by any responsible leader at that time, it reduces non-aggression treaties to a legal absurdity. They become additional instruments of deception in the hands of the aggressor, and traps for well-meaning nations. If there be in non-aggression pacts an implied condition that each nation may make a bona fide judgement as to the necessity for self-defence against imminent threatened attack, it certainly cannot be invoked to shelter those who never made any such judgement at all.

In opening this case I ventured to predict that there would be no serious denial that the crimes charged were committed, and that the issue would concern the responsibility of particular defendants. The defendants have fulfilled that prophecy. Generally, they do not deny that these things happened, but it is contended that they “just happened”, and that they were not the result of a common plan or conspiracy.

One of the chief reasons the defendants say why there was no conspiracy is the argument that conspiracy was impossible with a dictator. The argument runs that they all had to obey Hitler’s orders, which had the force of law m the German State, and hence obedience could not be made the basis of a criminal charge. In this way it is explained that while there have been wholesale killings, there have been no murderers.

This argument is an effort to evade Article 8 of the Charter, which provides that the order of the Government or of a superior shall not free a defendant from responsibility but can only be considered in mitigation. This provision of the Charter corresponds with the justice and with the realities of the situation, as indicated in defendant Speer’s description of what he considered to be the common responsibility of the leaders of the German nation; he said that … with reference to decisive matters, there was a joint responsibility. There must be a joint responsibility among the leaders, because who else could take the responsibility for the development of events, if not the close associates who work with and around the head of the State?

And again he told the Tribunal that … it was impossible after the catastrophe to evade this joint responsibility, and that if the war had been won, the leaders would also have laid claim to joint responsibility.

Like much of defence counsel’s abstract arguments, the contention that the absolute power of Hitler precluded a conspiracy crumbles in the face of the facts of record. The Fuehrerprinzip of absolutism was itself a part of the common plan, as Goering has pointed out. The defendants may have become the slaves of a dictator, but he was their dictator. To make him such was, as Goering has testified, the object of the Nazi movement from the beginning. Every Nazi took this oath:

“I pledge eternal allegiance to Adolf Hitler. I pledge unconditional obedience to him and the Fuehrers appointed by him.”

Moreover, they forced everybody else in their power to take it. This oath was illegal under German law, which made it criminal to become a member of an organization in which obedience to “unknown superiors or unconditional obedience to known superiors is pledged”. These men destroyed free government in Germany and now plead to be excused from responsibility because they became slaves. They are in the position of the boy of fiction who murdered his father and mother and then pleaded for leniency because he was an orphan.

What these men have overlooked is that Adolf Hitler’s acts are their acts. It was these men among millions of others, and it was these men leading millions of others, who built up Adolf Hitler and vested in his psychopathic personality not only innumerable lesser decisions but the supreme issue of war or peace. They intoxicated him with power and adulation. They fed his hates and aroused his fears. They put a loaded gun in his eager hands. It was left to Hitler to pull the trigger, and when he did they all at that time approved. His guilt stands admitted, by some defendants reluctantly, by some vindictively. But his guilt is the guilt of the whole dock, and of every man in it.

But it is urged that these defendants could not be in agreement on a common plan or conspiracy because they were fighting among themselves or belonged to different factions or cliques. Of course, it is not necessary that men should agree on everything in order to agree on enough things to make them liable for a criminal conspiracy. Unquestionably there were conspiracies within the conspiracy, and intrigues and rivalries and battles for power. Schacht and Goering disagreed, but over which of them should control the economy, not over whether the economy should be regimented for war. Goering claims to have departed from the plan because, through Dahlerus, he conducted some negotiations with men of influence in England just before the Polish war. But it is perfectly clear that this was not an effort to prevent aggression against Poland but to make that aggression successful and safe by obtaining English neutrality. Rosenberg and Goering may have had some differences as to how stolen art should be distributed, but they had none about how it should be stolen. Jodl and Goering may have disagreed about whether to denounce the Geneva Convention, but they never disagreed about violating it. And so it goes through the whole long and sordid story. Nowhere do we find a single instance where any one of the defendants stood up against the rest and said: “This thing is wrong and I will not take part in it.” Wherever they differed, their differences were as to method or jurisdiction, but always within the framework of the common plan.

Some of the defendants also contend that in any event there was no conspiracy to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity because Cabinet members never met with the military commanders to plan these acts. But these crimes were only the inevitable and incidental results of the plan to commit the aggression for purposes of Lebensraum. Hitler stated, at a conference with his commanders, that:

“The main objective in Poland is the destruction of the enemy and not the reaching of a certain geographical line.”

Frank picked up the tune and suggested that when their usefulness was exhausted,

“… then, for all I care, mincemeat can be made of the Poles and Ukrainians and all the others who run around here -it does not matter what happens”.

Reichskommissar Koch in the Ukraine echoed the refrain:

“I will draw the very last out of this country. I did not come to spread bliss ….”

This was Lebensraum in its seamy side. Could men of their practical intelligence expect to get neighboring lands free from the claims of their tenants without committing crimes against humanity?

The last stand of each defendant is that even if there was a conspiracy, he was not in it. It is therefore important in examining their attempts at avoidance of responsibility to know, first of all, just what it is that a conspiracy charge comprehends and punishes.

In conspiracy we do not punish one man for another man’s crime. We seek to punish each for his own crime of joining a common criminal plan in which others also participated. The measure of the criminality of the plan and therefore of the guilt of each participant is, of course, the sum total of crimes committed by all in executing the plan. But the gist of the offence is participation in the formulation or execution of the plan. These are rules which every society has found necessary in order to reach men, like these defendants, who never get blood on their own hands but who lay plans that result in the shedding of blood. All over Germany today, in every zone of occupation, little men who carried out these criminal policies under orders are being convicted and punished. It would present a vast and unforgivable caricature of justice if the men who planned these policies and directed these little men should escape all penalty.

These men in this dock, on the face of this record, were not strangers to this programme of crime, nor was their connection with it remote or obscure. We find them in the very heart of it. The positions they held show that we have chosen defendants of self-evident responsibility. They are the very highest surviving authorities in their respective fields and in the Nazi State. No one lives who, at least until the very last moments of the war, outranked Goering in position, power, and influence. No soldier stood above Keitel and Jodl, and no sailor above Raeder and Donitz. Who can be responsible for the double-faced diplomacy if not the Foreign Ministers, von Neurath and Ribbentrop, and the diplomatic handyman, von Papen? Who should be answerable for the oppressive administration of occupied countries if Gauleiter, Protectors, Governors and Commissars such as Frank, Seyss-Inquart, Frick, von Schirach, von Neurath, and Rosenberg are not? Where shall we look for those who mobilised the economy for total war if we overlook Schacht and Speer and Funk? Who was the master of the great slaving enterprise if it was not Sauckel? Where shall we find the hand that ran the concentration camps if it was not the hand of Kaltenbrunner? Who whipped up the hates and fears of the public, and manipulated the Party organizations to incite these crimes, if not Hess, von Schirach, Fritzsche, Bormann and the unspeakable Julius Streicher? The list of defendants is made up of men who played indispensable and reciprocal parts in this tragedy. The photographs and the films show them again and again together on important occasions. The documents show them agreed on policies and on methods, and all working aggressively for the expansion of Germany by force of arms.

Hermann Goering

Each of these men made a real contribution to the Nazi plan. Each man had a key part. Deprive the Nazi regime of the functions performed by a Schacht, a Sauckel, a von Papen, or a Goering, and you have a different regime. Look down the rows of fallen men and picture them as the photographic and documentary evidence shows them to have been in their days of power. Is there one who did not substantially advance the conspiracy along its bloody path towards its bloody goal? Can we assume that the great effort of these men’s lives was directed towards ends they never suspected?

To escape the implications of their positions and the inference of guilt from their activities, the defendants are almost unanimous in one defence. The refrain is heard time and again: these men were without authority, without knowledge, without influence, without importance. Funk summed up the general self-abasement of the dock in his plaintive lament that:

“I always, so to speak, came up to the door. But I was not permitted to enter.”

In the testimony of each defendant, at some point there was reached the familiar blank wall: nobody knew anything about what was going on. Time after time we have heard the chorus from the dock:

“I only heard about these things here for the first time.”

These men saw no evil, spoke none, and none was uttered in their presence. This claim might sound very plausible if made by one defendant. But when we put all their stories together, the impression which emerges of the Third Reich, which was to last a thousand years, is ludicrous. If we combine only the stories of the front bench, this is the ridiculous composite picture of Hitler’s Government that emerges. It was composed of:

A No. 2 man who knew nothing of the excesses of the Gestapo which he created, and never suspected the Jewish extermination programme although he was the signer of over a score of decrees which instituted the persecution of that race;

A No. 3 man who was merely an innocent middleman transmitting Hitler’s orders without even reading them, like a postman or delivery boy;

A Foreign Minister who knew little of foreign affairs and nothing of foreign policy;

A Field-Marshal who issued orders to the armed forces but had no idea of the results they would have in practice;

A Security Chief who was of the impression that the policing functions of his Gestapo and SD were somewhat on the lines of directing traffic;

A Party philosopher who was interested in historical research, and had no idea of the violence which his philosophy was inciting in the twentieth century;

A Governor-General of Poland who reigned but did not rule;

A Gauleiter of Franconia whose occupation was to pour forth filthy writings about the Jews, but who had no idea that anybody would read them;

A Minister of the Interior who knew not even what went on in the interior of his own office, much less the interior of his own department, and nothing at all about the interior of Germany;

A Reichsbank President who was totally ignorant of what went in and out of the vaults of his bank;

A Plenipotentiary for the War Economy who secretly marshalled the entire economy for armament, but had no idea it had anything to do with war.

This may seem like a fantastic exaggeration, but this is what you would actually be obliged to conclude if you were to acquit these defendants.

They do protest too much. They deny knowing what was common knowledge. They deny knowing plans and programmes that were as public as Mein Kampf and the Party programme.

They deny even knowing the contents of documents which they received and acted upon. Nearly all the defendants take two or more conflicting positions. Let us illustrate the inconsistencies of their positions by the record of one defendant -who, if pressed, would himself concede that he is the most intelligent, honourable and innocent man in the dock. That is Schacht. And this is the effect of his own testimony -but let us not forget that I recite it not against him alone, but because most of its self-contradictions are found in the testimony of several defendants.

Schacht did not openly join the Nazi movement until it had won, nor openly desert it until it had lost. He admits that he never gave it public opposition, but asserts that he never gave it private loyalty. When we demand of him why he did not stop the criminal course of the regime in which he was a Minister, he says he had not a bit of influence. When we ask why he remained a member of the criminal regime, he tells us that by sticking on he expected to moderate its programme. Like a Brahmin among Untouchables, he could not bear to mingle with the Nazis socially, but never could he afford to separate from them politically. Of all the Nazi aggressions by which he now claims to have been shocked, there is not one that he did not support before the world with the weight of his name and prestige. Having armed Hitler to blackmail a continent, his answer now is to blame England and France for yielding. Schacht always fought for his position in a regime he now affects to despise. He sometimes disagreed with his Nazi confederates about what was expedient in reaching their goal, but he never dissented from the goal itself. When he did break with them in the twilight of the regime, it was over tactics, not principles. From then on he never ceased to urge others to risk their positions and their necks to forward his plots, but never on any occasion did he hazard either of his own. He now boasts that he personally would have shot Hitler if he had had the opportunity, but the German newsreel shows that even after the fall of France, when he faced the living Hitler, he stepped out of line to grasp the hand he now claims to loathe and hung upon the words of the man he now says he thought unworthy of belief. Schacht says he steadily “sabotaged” the Hitler Government. Yet the most relentless secret service in the world never detected him doing the regime any harm until long after, he knew the war to be lost and the Nazis doomed. Schacht, who dealt in “hedges” all his life, always kept himself in a position to claim that he was in either camp. The plea for him is as specious on analysis as it is persuasive on first sight. Schacht represents the most dangerous and reprehensible type of opportunism -that of the man of influential position who is ready to join a movement that he knows to be wrong because he thinks it is winning.

These defendants, unable to deny that they were the men in the very highest ranks of power, and unable to deny that the crimes I have outlined actually happened, know that their own denials are incredible unless they can suggest someone who is guilty.

The defendants have been unanimous, when pressed, in shifting the blame on other men, sometimes on one and sometimes on another. But the names they have repeatedly picked are Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels and Bormann. All of these are dead or missing. No matter how hard we have pressed the defendants on the stand, they have never pointed the finger at a living man as guilty. It is a temptation to ponder the wondrous workings of a fate which has left only the guilty dead and only the innocent alive. It is almost too remarkable.

The chief villain on whom blame is placed -some of the defendants vie with each other in producing appropriate epithets -is Hitler. He is the man at whom nearly every defendant has pointed an accusing finger.

I shall not dissent from this consensus, nor do I deny that all these dead and missing men shared the guilt. In crimes so reprehensible that degrees of guilt have lost their significance they may have played the most evil parts. But their guilt cannot exculpate the defendants. Hitler did not carry all responsibility to the grave with him. All the guilt is not wrapped in Himmler’s shroud. It was these dead men whom these living chose to be their partners in this great conspiratorial brotherhood, and the crimes that they did together they must pay for one by one.

It may well be said that Hitler’s final crime was against the land he had ruled. He was a mad “messiah” who started the war without cause and prolonged it without reason. If he could not rule he cared not what happened to Germany. As Fritzsche has told us from the stand, Hitler tried to use the defeat of Germany for the self-destruction of the German people. He continued the fight when he knew it could not be won, and continuance meant only ruin.

Speer, in this courtroom, has described it as follows:

“… The sacrifices which were made on both sides after January, 1945, were senseless. The dead of this period will be the accusers of the man responsible for the continuation of that fight, Adolf Hitler, and the ruined cities which in this last phase lost tremendous cultural values and in which a colossal number of dwellings were destroyed …. The German people remained faithful to Adolf Hitler until the end. He betrayed them knowingly. He finally tried to throw them into the abyss ….”

Hitler ordered everyone else to fight to the last and then retreated into death by his own hand. But he left life as he lived it, a deceiver; he left the official report that he had died in battle. This was the man whom these defendants exalted to a Fuehrer. It was they who conspired to get him absolute authority over all of Germany. And in the end he and the system they had created for him brought the ruin of them all. As stated by Speer in cross-examination:

“… the tremendous danger of the totalitarian system, however, only became really clear at the moment when we were approaching the end. It was then that one could see what the principle really meant, namely, that every order should be carried out without criticism. Everything that has become known during this trial, especially with regard to orders which were carried out without any consideration, has proved how evil it .was in the end…. Quite apart from the personality of Hitler, on the collapse of the totalitarian system in Germany it became clear what tremendous dangers there are in a system of that kind. The combination of Hitler and this system has brought about these tremendous catastrophes in the world.”

But let me for a moment turn devil’s advocate. I admit that Hitler was the chief villain. But for the defendants to put all blame on him is neither manly nor true. We know that even the head of the State has the same limits to his senses and to the hours of his days as do lesser men. He must rely on others to be his eyes and ears as to most that goes on in a great empire. Other legs must run his errands; other hands must execute his plans.

On whom did Hitler rely for such things more than upon these men in the dock? Who led him to believe he had an invincible air armada if not Goering? Who kept disagreeable facts from him? Did not Goering forbid Field-Marshal Milch to warn Hitler that in his opinion Germany was not equal to the war upon Russia? Did not Goering, according to Speer, relieve General Galland of his air force command for speaking of the weaknesses and bungling of the air force? Who led Hitler, utterly untravelled himself, to believe in the indecision and timidity of democratic peoples if not Ribbentrop, von Neurath, and von Papen? Who fed his illusion of German invincibility if not Keitel, Jodl, Raeder, and Donitz? Who kept his hatred of the Jews inflamed more than Streicher and Rosenberg? Who would Hitler say deceived him about conditions in concentration camps if not Kaltenbrunner, even as he would deceive us? These men had access to Hitler and often could control the information that reached him and on which he must base his policy and his orders. They were the Praetorian Guard, and while they were under Caesar’s orders, Caesar was always in their hands.

If these dead men could take the witness stand and answer what has been said against them, we might have a less distorted picture of the parts played by these defendants. Imagine the stir that would occur in the dock if it should behold Adolf Hitler advancing to the witness box, or Himmler with an armful of dossiers, or Goebbels, or Bormann with the reports of his Party spies, or the murdered Roehm or Canaris. The ghoulish defence that the world is entitled to retribution only from the cadavers is an argument worthy of the crimes at which it is directed.

We have presented to this Tribunal an affirmative case based on incriminating documents which are sufficient, if unexplained, to require a finding of guilt on Count One against each defendant. In the final analysis, the only question is whether the defendants’ own testimony is to be credited as against the documents and other evidence of their guilt. What, then, is their testimony worth?

The fact is that the Nazi habit of economising in the use of truth pulls the foundations out from under their own defences. Lying has always been a highly approved Nazi technique. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, advocated mendacity as a policy. Von Ribbentrop admits the use of the “diplomatic lie”. Keitel advised that the facts of rearmament be kept secret so that they could be denied at Geneva. Raeder deceived about rebuilding the German Navy in violation of Versailles. Goering urged Ribbentrop to tell a “legal lie” to the British Foreign Office about the Anschluss, and in so doing only marshalled him the way he was going. Goering gave his word of honour to the Czechs and proceeded to break it. Even Speer proposed to deceive the French into revealing the specially trained among their prisoners.

Nor is the lie direct the only means of falsehood. They all speak with a Nazi double meaning with which to deceive the unwary. In the Nazi dictionary of sardonic euphemisms “Final solution” of the Jewish problem was a phrase which meant extermination; “Special treatment” of prisoners of war meant killing; “Protective custody” meant concentration camp; “Duty labour” meant slave labour; and an order to “take a firm attitude” or “take positive measures” meant to act with unrestrained savagery. Before we accept their word at what seems to be its face value, we must always look for hidden meanings. Goering assured us, on his oath, that the Reich Defence Council never met “as such”. When we produced the stenographic minutes of a meeting at which he presided and did most of the talking, he reminded us of the “as such” and explained this was not a meeting of the Council “as such” because other persons were present. Goering denies “threatening” Czechoslovakia. He only told President Hacha that he would “hate to bomb the beautiful city of Prague”.

Besides outright false statements and those with double meanings, there are also other circumventions of truth in the nature of fantastic explanations and absurd professions. Streicher has solemnly maintained that his only thought with respect to the Jews was to resettle them on the island of Madagascar. His reason for destroying synagogues, he blandly said, was only because they were architecturally offensive. Rosenberg was stated by his counsel to have always had in mind a “chivalrous solution” to the Jewish problem. When it was necessary to remove Schuschnigg after the Anschluss, Ribbentrop would have had us believe that the Austrian Chancellor was resting at a “villa”. It was left to cross-examination to reveal that the “villa” was Buchenwald concentration camp. The record is full of other examples of dissimulations and evasions. Even Schacht showed that he, too, had adopted the Nazi attitude that truth is any story which succeeds. Confronted on cross-examination with a long record of broken vows and false words, he declared in justification -and I quote from the record:

“I think you can score many more successes when you want to lead someone if you don’t tell them the truth than if you tell them the truth.”

This was the philosophy of the National Socialists. When for years they have deceived the world, and masked falsehood with plausibilities, can anyone be surprised that they continue that habit of a lifetime in this dock? Credibility is one of the main issues of this trial. Only those who have failed to learn the bitter lessons of the last decade can doubt that men who have always played on the unsuspecting credulity of generous opponents would not hesitate to do the same now.

It is against such a background that these defendants now ask this Tribunal to say that they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs. They stand before the record of this trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain King. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: “Say I slew them not.” And the Queen replied, “Then say they were not slain. But dead they are ….” If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.

1 Comment

Filed under authoritarian government, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, crimes against humanity, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, Foreign Policy, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, natural disasters, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, war crimes, war crimes trials, White nationalism

Happy 245th Birthday Marines!

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I will take a momentary break from all things Trump and everything else to wish all United States Marines a Happy 245th Birthday.

Honestly, after all that we have been through as a country this year, today is one of these days where I just want to wish people well. Those men and women are those of the United States Marine Corps, with whom I have have spent almost ten years of my thirty-five year military career assigned to or in support of as a chaplain. Today is the 245th anniversary of the establishment of the Marine Corps and its founding at Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia. Tonight I wish all those who have served as Marines past, present and future, especially those who I have served alongside a happy birthday. That includes my Nephew Darren stationed with a squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Arizona.

On November 10th 1775 the Continental Congress passed a resolution that stated:

Resolved, that two Battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors & Officers as usual in other regiments, that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to office or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea, when required. That they be enlisted and commissioned for and during the present war with Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by Congress. That they be distinguished by the names of the first & second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered a part of the number, which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

The history of the Marine Corps is one of the most fascinating of any armed service in the world. Starting out as a tiny force attached to Navy ships and shipyards the Corps has gained prominence as one of the premier fighting forces ever assembled. Flexible and deployable anywhere in the world on short notice the Marine Corps has seen action in “every place and clime” and continues to serve around the world.

In 1775 a committee of the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern to draft a resolution calling for two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and on shore.  The resolution was approved on November 10, 1775, officially forming the Continental Marines. The first order of business was to appoint Samuel Nicholas as the Commandant of the newly formed Marines.

Robert Mullan the owner and proprietor of the said Tun Tavern became Nicholson’s first captain and recruiter. They began gathering support and were ready for action by early 1776.  They served throughout the War for Independence and like the Navy they were disbanded in April 1783 and reconstituted as the Marine Corps in 1798.

The Marines served on the ships of the Navy in the Quasi-wa with France, against the Barbary Pirates where a small group of 8 Marines and 500 Arabs under Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon made a march of 500 miles across the Libyan Desert to lay siege Tripoli but only reached Derna. The action is immortalized in the Marine Hymn as well as the design of the Marine Officer’s “Mameluke” Sword. They served in the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars and in the Mexican-American War where in the storming of the on Chapultepec Palace they continued to build and enduring legacy. In the months leading up to the Civil War they played a key role at home and abroad.  In October 1859 U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee led Marines from the Marine Barracks Washington DC to capture John Brown and his followers who had seized the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry.

The Corps served on through the Civil War and on into the age of American Expansion serving in the Spanish American War in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba where they seized Guantanamo Bay at the battle of Cuzco Wells.  The would serve in China and be a key component of the international force that defended foreign diplomats during the Boxer Revolt as well as the international force that would relieve the diplomatic compound in Peking (Beijing).

In World War One the Marines stopped the German advance at Chateau Thierry and cemented their reputation as an elite fighting force at Belleau Wood where legend and myth has it that the Germans nicknamed them Teufelhunden or Devil Dogs, a name that they Marines have appropriated with great aplomb.

During the inter-war years the Marines were quite active in the Caribbean and Asia and also developed amphibious tactics and doctrine that would be put to use in the Pacific Campaign.  During the war the Marines served in all theaters but won enduring fame at Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and numerous other battles in the Pacific war. Marine Aviators flew in some the most desperate actions in the war to support the Navy and amphibious operations ashore.

After the war the Truman Administration sought to eliminate the Marine Corps but the Corps was saved by the efforts of Americans across the country and Marine supporters in Congress.  That was a good thing because the Marines were instrumental in keeping the North Koreans from overrunning the South during the Korean War on the Pusan Perimeter, turned the tide at Inchon and helped decimate Communist Chinese forces at the Chosin Reservoir.  After Korea the Marines would serve around the World in the Caribbean and Lebanon and in Vietnam where at Da Nang Keh Sanh, Hue City, Con Thien fighting the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies.  The Marines took the initiative to implement innovative counter insurgency measures such as the Combined Action Platoons which enjoyed tremendous success until they were shut down by the Army high command.  These lessons would serve the Marines well in the new millennium during the Anbar Awakening in Iraq which changed the course of that insurgency and war.

The Marines would again be involved around the World after Vietnam serving in the Cold War, in Lebanon and the First Gulf War which was followed by actions in Somalia, the Balkans and Haiti. After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Marines were among the first into Afghanistan helping to drive the Taliban from power. In the Iraq Campaign the Marines had a leading role both in the invasion and in the campaign in Al Anbar Province.  After their withdraw from Iraq the Marines became a central player in Afghanistan where they were engaged around Khandahar and in Helmand Province. In the wake of the ISIS gains in Syria and Iraq the Marines returned to Iraq serving to help train and advise Iraqi Army units in areas of Al Anbar Province and other areas of that country. Likewise they have participated in many humanitarian operations across the Globe where working alongside side the United States Navy, Host Countries, and countless international Humanitarian Relief agencies. If by some chance war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, Marines will be among the first to respond.

The Marines are elite among world military organizations and continue to “fight our nations battles on the air and land and sea.” The Corps under General John LeJeune institutionalized the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday and their establishment at Tun Tavern. General LeJeune issued this order which is still read at every Marine Corps Birthday Ball or observance:

MARINE CORPS ORDER No. 47 (Series 1921)
HEADQUARTERS
U.S. MARINE CORPS Washington, November 1, 1921

The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name “Marine”. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
Major General
Commandant

I have had the privilege to have served with the Marines directly or indirectly for nearly ten of the thirty-seven years that I have served in the military. In addition to that I wear the Fleet Marine Force Officer Warfare Qualification device and I am a graduate of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. I have been able to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday with Marines in places like Ramadi and Guantanamo Bay. For me it is an honor to have served with so many great Americans.

So to all my Marine Corps friends, and any other Marines who read this piece, have a great night and Semper Fidelis.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under afghanistan, civil war, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, Korean Conflicts, middle east, Military, national security, remembering friends, US Marine Corps, US Navy, vietnam, world war one, world war two in the pacific

Revisiting Donald Trump, the Toxic Venomous Vulgarian, Four Years Later

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight my toothache continues unabated but in the morning I will be going to the Dental Clinic at Little Creek to have it worked on. I think there may be a nerve abscess on one of my left bottom molars. I could be wrong as I am no dentist but I have been through this when I was 20 and when I was 50. But enough about me, however between German beer, Australian wine, and wonder Single Malt Scotch, the pain meds take away much of the pain.

However, tonight I am following up my post from last night which was my prediction of what Trump’s followers would be like if elected. That was from October 12th 2016. This is an article from October 21st 2016. This article like the last is reposted in its unedited form. When I wrote it I spoke of Trump’s toxic vulgarity and aspects of his character, the evil that he had normalized, and the effects that would remain “after he had been defeated.”

I was wrong about that last part because like most people I was shocked to see him win. However, what I wrote about his long lasting toxic effects on our society were correct, and have been made much worse since he was elected. Now he is threatening to contest the election and continues to urge violence against anyone who opposes him.

Trump may be ignorant of many things, but that does not mean that he is stupid. I think that most of us assume that he is. He does what he does for specific reasons. His bankruptcies, divorces, fraudulent business dealings, and everything else he has done in life have been to enrich himself at the expense of others or feed his megalomania, and desire for absolute power. What he has done throughout his Presidency is proof of that: his cooperation with Russia to win election in 2016, his attempts to destroy our alliances and to undermine allies on the border of Putin’s Russia, his wanton destruction of the guardrails of our republic, his trampling of the Constitution, and his willingness to sacrifice the lives of Americans during the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic are all proof of his lack of character and the evil in his heart, are not proof of his stupidity; but proof of his ruthlessness and cold blooded cunning to make people underestimate him. Yes, when it comes to basic knowledge of our Constitution, history, science, philosophy, religion, economics, foreign policy, literature or anything else that has enriched Western Civilization, the President is an ignoramus of astounding proportions.

However, when it comes to the art of manipulating people and getting them to do things and support polices that harm them he is probably in the league of Hitler, Stalin, and Chairman Mao. His image is based on a fictionalization of his “successful businessman” persona that he played on “The Apprentice.” It is all fiction, but he plays to the basest beliefs of his base. He knows them better than they know themselves. 

If he finds a way to remain in power, he will exploit it even at the cost of the lives of his opponents, but also his supporters; especially the latter, because they believe his lies as much as they believe the Gospel. They will willing sacrifice themselves to keep him in power. The fact is that his only loyalty is to himself.

That being said, let me take you back to my post of October 21st 2016, which was entitled “The Venomous Vulgarian: the Lasting Toxic Legacy of Donald Trump.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

What follows is the original post.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watched and listened to Donald Trump before and after the third and thankfully final debate of the 2016 Presidential election, I was struck with just how viscous, vulgar, and venomous this man is. I cannot remember anyone in American politics at the national level, Republican or Democrat, or for that matter even Whig, who ever managed to immerse himself so deeply into the amoral, unethical, and undemocratic sewer that Trump has bathed himself, the Republican Party and this nation.

Trump’s toxicity is unparalleled in American politics. Everything and everyone who has ever had anything to do with him is poisoned by his touch. Wives, business partners, contractors, employees, political advisors, and supporters have all been stained by the Mustard Gas that Trump emits on a minute to minute basis. Maybe the most stained are the Evangelical Christian church leaders who have not only endorsed and defended Trump, but  who positively described his character as Christian and said nothing about Trump’s words and actions, which if an opponent had uttered, or had been accused, they would have excoriated with a particularly “Christian” self-righteousness.  Their actions have stained the witness of the church for at least the next generation and it is no wonder that young people are fleeing the church. I specifically use the imagery of Mustard Gas, not just because of its toxicity, but because of its persistence. The battlefields of World War One France and Belgium are still contaminated by it, and the toxic residue still injures people today.

That my friends is the poisonous and corrosive effect of Donald Trump on this country.  He is a toxic and persistent threat to everyone, even his most devout followers. Race baiting, misogynistic, narcissistic, vulgar, and ignorant, Trump spews his vile venom of conspiracy theories wrapped in fiction, and coated in lies, and buttressed with near pornograpic misogyny in every direction. He has given his supporters in the heavily armed Alt-Right, the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and White Supremacists the boldness to come out of hiding because he has normalized their hate, something that no Western statesman or politician has done since before the verdicts at Nuremberg.

I have long felt that Trump reminded me of Nazi leaders, but frankly most of them, while every bit as toxic as Trump were both more intelligent and were better able to cover the darkness of their amoral souls with a modicum of respectability, with the exception of one; the publisher of the infamous newspaper Der Sturmer, and Gauleiter of Nuremberg, Julius Streicher.

Robert Jackson, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg referred to Streicher in his summation:

“Streicher, the venomous vulgarian, manufactured and distributed obscene racial libels which incited the populace to accept and assist the progressively savage operations of “race purification.” 

Is that not exactly what Trump has done during his seventeen month campaign to stir up race hatred against Mexicans and Arabs, not to mention Asians and Blacks? Of course it is, which is exactly why the leaders of the Alt-Right claim him as their candidate, the man who in their perverted minds has made them respectable again and ready to assume their place in Trump’s new order. Anti-Semitism and racism runs rampant in the words of his closest collaborators such as the Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, as well as Alt-Right Neo-Nazi and KKK leaders like David Duke, Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and Peter Brimalow.

My friends, what you see in Trump is what you get. Unlike Hitler and Goering, but much like Streicher, Trump has no capability of maintaining any sort of respectability. He has been stoking the fires of violence by claiming that the election is rigged and pumping up his followers for violence if he loses.

Donald Trump is dangerous and will remain an enemy of the American experiment long after he is defeated on November 8th.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under anti-semitism, authoritarian government, civil rights, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, ethics, faith, Foreign Policy, History, leadership, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, televsion, US Presidents

Lying and Dying: President Trump’s Responsibility for the Coronavirus Debacle

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On February 7th President Trump was being interviewed by Bob Woodward for his upcoming book. The interview was done by telephone and Woodward recorded it. At that point Coronavirus 19 was ravaging the Chinese city of Wuhan and its surrounding province. Not long before Trump had spoken to China’s President Xi and said of Xi:  “I think he is going to have it in good shape. But it’s a very tricky situation. It goes through air, Bob,” … “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” Trump said.

“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.

At this point Woodward did not know that the President had been briefed by his National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien had told Trump in January 28th that “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” He was backed by his deputy, Matt Pottinger, was a China expert whose reports on China’s previous responses and lack of transparency on the 2003 SARS epidemic, and the factors that made this new virus worse than it, warning the President that he needed to think in terms of the 1918-1920 Great Influenza pandemic. The President was briefed by Alex Azar, Dr.Robert Redfield, and Dr. Tony Fauci about what he needed to do, everyone recommended shutting down travel to and from China and imposing a 14 day quarantine for Americans returning from China. This happened on January 31st and is something that the President has since claimed that he did despite the opposition of everyone else in the room. It was a lie, like almost everything the President says and does.

Three days after his interview with Woodward the President said at the White House, in a television interview, and in a campaign rally in New Hampshire, said “When it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away… I think it’s going to work out good. We only have 11 cases and they are all getting better.”

In the following months the President consistently undermined those who had warning him about the danger, and despite knowing the danger admitted that “he was being a cheerleader” and “trying to present an image of strength.” At the same time he repeated false information about the virus and the need for passive protection; masks, hand washing and social distancing.

It is now nine months since President Trump learned of how deadly the virus would be, and still claims that it is not a big deal and that he “defeated” it on the day that the nation recorded its highest number of infections, which has since been surpassed, yesterday there were over 101,000 newly diagnosed cases.

Today’s COVID-19 body count:

New Diagnosed Infections: 101,461
New Deaths: 988
Number of Active Cases: 3,056,626
Total Cases: 9,316,297
Total Number of Deaths: 235,159

Let us put these numbers in perspective. The United States has roughly four percent of the World’s population, but we have roughly 20% of the total cases worldwide, just under 27% of active cases, and just under 20% of total deaths. For a country as advanced as ours this is a debacle created by a President who though he knew the truth, went against all of his experts in infectious diseases, and national security advisors. Additionally he works every day with the GOP Senate, and his Supreme Court to deny healthcare coverage to Americans, guaranteeing that those who need healthcare, especially those with President-existing conditions, which anyone who survived COVID will be certain to have.

Additionally,  as I have said many times, behind every number is a name, a face, a man or woman, a father or mother, husband or wife, child or sibling, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, neighbor, or coworker. Every person infected or killed by this disease is or was a flesh and blood human being, not just a statistic.

His son, Donald Junior, openly mocks those infected and the dead by dismissing the virus as “no big deal,” even as the President continues to deride those who promote sensible public health policies that would save lives.

The President’s actions during this crisis did not reflect incompetence, he knew exactly what he was doing, he was playing to his re-election above all else. Instead they were actions of criminal malfeasance, and a direct violation of his Oath as President. He failed to meet the minimum obligations of his office by lying to the country about the virus and how deadly it would be, and by undermining the nation’s response to it, something he continues to do, even four days before an election that he is promising to undermine if he loses, including telling unconstitutional right wing And white nationalist  “militias” which are nothing more than terrorist groups with more in common to the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, White Leagues, White Liners, and Nazi Brownshirts than they have in common with actual patriots.

It is going to be a very dark Fall and Winter. ICU admissions are filling up the small hospitals in most of the states with the highest infection rates. Hospital admissions are rising, and unlike the Spring and Summer waves which were relatively localized, which made it possible shift medical resources to the danger zones, it is blowing up everywhere. There are no reserves to throw into the battle, soon there will be no room in the ICUs or the hospitals. Doctors are going to have to chose who gets treatment and who doesn’t. The spike in deaths is just down the road a bit. We are staking our hopes on vaccines that are yet unproven, and will likely not be available in significant numbers until next Summer or Fall. By all means I want them to be effective, safe, and given in enough quantities to stop this horrendous virus, but even the most promising vaccines are still problematic, some clinical trials have been halted because of unexpected complications. Likewise, we don’t know their efficacy, and we don’t know when they will be available.

But it didn’t have to be this way. Had President Trump told the truth to the American people and been like Winston Churchill when Britain stood alone, told the British people:

“In this crisis I hope I may be pardoned if I do not address the House at any length today. I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make allowance, all allowance, for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act. I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war…”

But he did not. He could have been a hero, an iconic figure who told the truth and used every resource of the nation and our allies to defeat a global pandemic of which kind has not been seen in history. Had he done those things he could have gone down in history as a hero despite all his other failings as President. I could have lived with that. But he didn’t, and by Election Day there will be approximately 240,000 COVID-19 deaths. Some models say that by Inauguration Day that number might double.

I wish there were some good news to report, sometimes telling the truth is not a job filled with warm fuzzy thoughts.

So until next time, stay safe, protect yourselves, make sure you vote, and look out for your neighbors.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

5 Comments

Filed under Coronavirus, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, COVID19, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, Foreign Policy, healthcare, History, laws and legislation, leadership, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism

Our Heart of Darkness and Failure to Understand rather than Just Condemn Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Joseph Conrad wrote in his book Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” 

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

As I struggle to understand President Trump and his criminal administration and cult followers in regard to the epic disaster of Coronavirus 19 in the United States, his unabashed authoritarian actions in destroying the guardrails of the Constitution and our Institutions, his open and flagrant disregard for law and the unwritten norms that have helped preserve and protect our resilient yet fragile system of government which depends on the constitutional separation of powers and the need for compromise in order to keep us from falling in into an authoritarian and yes, Fascist dictatorship. He has so corrupted the institutions charged with preserving the rights and liberties of our people, regardless of their political party, race, ethnicity, religion or lack thereof, and turned the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security into instruments of domestic terror that it boggles the mind. Despite all Trump has done to corrupt and poison the American political system, he has done little to take his terror abroad, although he seldom speaks up when other authoritarian rulers use their power to kill and imprison their opposition.

The fact is that the current American President is a serial liar, adulterer, business failure, deceiver, swindler and grifter who has no respect for our ideals as written in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the laws enacted by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. But those are just the surface issues, for honestly he is an evil man who could care less about the life of any American, even his followers. The fact is that President Trump is a malignant narcissistic sociopath and open racist who only cares about himself, his power, and his wealth that the lives of people don’t matter to him. Property and businesses yes, but victims of racism and violence committed by Police officers, or right wing racist and fascist individuals or groups don’t matter to him, because they are sub-human criminals who don’t deserve to live as equals in this country. That was never more on display than several times this year after Numerous Black men including George Floyd of Minneapolis who had a police officer who happened to work with him as a club bouncer, kneeled with his knee across Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, despite Floyd’s plea that he couldn’t breathe before he died. Before that there was Brianna Taylor, a paramedic and EMT in Louisville who had her home invaded by Louisville Police and was dunned down. Last week it was the turn of another Black Man, this time Jacob Blake who was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer who was holding on to his shirt as Blake attempted to get in his car with his three young children. Blake survived but will most likely be crippled for life. There are hundreds of other incidents of police brutality and killings of Blacks and other minorities over the past several decades. Then there are the killings committed by White Supremacists at Black churches, Jewish Synagogues, Islamic Mosques, Sikh Temples, people protesting Confederate monuments and other locations which do not seem to even register in President Trump’s perverted soul. It seems to me that many, if not most Americans do not want to believe that any American President is capable of the commission of gross and unspeakable crimes or approve of them. Trump may not be the first of such men, as we can go back much father, but as President he is the worst, even topping Andrew Johnson in that category of racist criminals, and yes both were impeached, but not removed from office. 

So how did we as Americans get to such a place where such a criminal, scofflaw, and unrepentant racist could not only be elected to office, but could based on inflaming the fears of white people could be re-elected. I find that interesting because of something that Gustave Gilbert, an American Army Psychologist assigned to watch over the Major Nazi War Crimes Defendant’s at Nuremberg came to see. He wrote about a truth that we cannot see in President Trump and his cohort of racist cult followers. Gilbert wrote:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

That absence of empathy is common to Trump and the vast majority of his White Christian supporters. The evidence is show in almost every poll, 80-90% of them see nothing wrong in what he is doing and has done. Personally, after having been a Republican for more than half of my life I cannot imagine just how low the GOP has sunk under Trump’s authoritarian leadership. When I left the GOP in 2008 after returning from Iraq, I refused to belief that the party could abandon all principle and support a man with no moral center, no integrity, and no loyalty to family, wives, children, his employees, his investors, or the country.

I honestly believe that one of our greatest problems in the United States is to believe the myths of our nation being a light to the world, our manifest destiny, as well as the twin myths that have shaped us since Reconstruction, the myth of the Noble South, and the myth of the Lost Cause. Likewise the racist crimes committed against committed against almost every immigrant group going back to the Irish and Germans, Then the southern and Eastern Europeans, the Jews, the Japanese, the Chinese, Filipinos, those of Mexican or Latin American Descent, and yes Arabs regardless of their religious beliefs, and last but not least the genocide committed by our English ancestors and our own genocide and confinement to reservations of the descendants of America’s First Nation, more commonly called Native Americans, tend to be minimized by almost all of White America, as well as by other minorities who simply don’t know about the crimes committed by our nation against every Original Nation since the English landed at Jamestown in 1607. We tend to show little empathy for others, especially those darker than us.

Malcom X said something very appropriate, and which if you have not experienced poverty, and discrimination, you may find it hard to empathize with the plight of American Blacks. The often  misunderstood Civil Rights leader said: “The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites.” What we tend to forget is that such treatment in Europe brought many English, Scots, Irish, Germans, and others to the United States, where their descendants emulated the behaviors of their ancestor’s oppressors, especially towards Blacks who many believed were sub-human, the same term used by the Nazis to describe the Jews. Think about if you or I were the products of such longstanding, pervasive, and institutionalized discrimination, how would you feel or what would you do? If you cannot answer the same as Malcom X, then you will never understand.

One of our chief problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people, especially the leaders of enemy nations, because we cannot abide the reflection that we see when we look in the mirror and see our own crimes committed at home and abroad, once again proving that for much of our national existence we have had little empathy for the victims of slavery, the wars against our First Nations, which included biological warfare, and the forced marches of them from their ancestral homelands to desolate lands, which once we found contained gold, silver, or oil, we took back from them, despite our treaty obligations. I could go on to our conquests and geographical expansion against weaker opponents like Mexico, Spain, and the relatively newly independent nations of Central American and the Caribbean. It was no wonder that Ulysses Grant in his memoirs wrote of the conquest of Mexico:

“Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day, regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.

That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted, because we cannot see ourselves in them. This is often  because we We look abroad we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and proclaim that  “they are evil!” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

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

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I was not able to do so this year because of Europe’s well reasoned travel ban on Americans due to the incomprehensible

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who incompetence and insipid evil  of the Trump Regime regarding COVID19 share the immoral culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

                                    Lynching in the American South

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

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

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

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

mass killing einsatzgruppen

                       Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

nankino-masakra-1

                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

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

tzd8ftsn-1390907543

                                      Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

CambodiaExhibitMassgrave-x1

                                                  The Killing Fields

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

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

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

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

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

                        Rwandan Genocide

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

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

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

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under civil rights, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, crimes against humanity, ethics, Foreign Policy, germany, History, leadership, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, us army, war crimes, White nationalism

The Nazi Invasion of Poland 81 Years Later

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his poem September 1st 1939, W.H. Auden penned these words in response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Auden’s words are timeless, as they not only pertain to Hitler, but to every tyrant who has tried to destroy other nations and peoples. There are many such men today, and most start with crushing the resistance of their own countrymen, in order to build up a cult following that will enable them to take their need for conquest to other nations. President Trump, like Hitler, Stalin, Putin, Mussolini, and so many more has been engaged in the first steps of tyranny Since he took office: undermining the courts, congress, and state and local governments, eradicating the written and unwritten norms of our democracy and republic, dismembering the constitutional guardrails that prevent any one person or branch of government to rule by fiat. Pitting White Conservative Christian against religious, racial, or ethnic minorities, and engaging in practices that violate the Constitution, Federal and state laws, and destroying the separation of powers that our founders knew were the only guard against tyranny, especially the tyranny of the Executive Branch.

Eighty one years ago Tuesday, the German Wehrmacht on the orders of Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. He had already bloodlessly conquered Austria and Czechoslovakia without war, he believed that he could do it again in Poland, but after years of appeasement the British and French declared war on Germany, it did not help Poland, because the British and French had the means but lacked the will to threaten Germany by invading her scarcely defended western border from a determined French ground attack, or prevent the Royal Navy from attacking her North Sea Ports, or entering the Baltic to aid Poland. Likewise they had refused Stalin’s offer to aid them if they went to war with Czechoslovakia in 1938, which enabled Hitler, the enemy of all things Communist to negotiate a non-aggression It began the European phase of the Second World War and by the time the war was over Europe would be devastated, Hitler would be dead, and the world changed. An epoch had ended, a new epoch begun. It is quite possible that the epoch that began with the defeat of Nazi Germany is ending, and something else, maybe like the previous era from 1918-1945 is returning. But, what follows the epoch that began in 1945 and appears to be ending, is the province futurists, seers, and prophets.

Not being the Prophet, nor the son of the Prophet, I shall not engage in speculation, but return to 1 September 1939.

When Hitler announced the war to a less than enthusiastic German nation, he used his usual lies to shield himself from starting the war. William Shirer, one of the few American reporters remaining in Europe wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

“Having lied so often on his way to power and in his consolidation of power, Hitler could not refrain at this serious moment in history from thundering a few more lies to the gullible German people in justification of his wanton act. You know the endless attempts I made for a peaceful clarification and understanding of the problem of Austria, and later of the problem of the Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia. It was all in vain… In my talks with Polish statesmen… I formulated at last the German proposals and… there is nothing more modest or loyal than these proposals. I should like to say this to the world. I alone was in the position to make such proposals, for I know very well that in doing so I brought myself into opposition to millions of Germans. These proposals have been refused…. For two whole days I sat with my Government and waited to see whether it was convenient for the Polish Government to send a plenipotentiary or not… But I am wrongly judged if my love of peace and my patience are mistaken for weakness or even cowardice… I can no longer find any willingness on the part of the Polish Government to conduct serious negotiations with us… I have therefore resolved to speak to Poland in the same language that Poland for months past has used toward us… This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory. Since 5:45 A.M. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met with bombs.” 

But things did not turn out Hitler’s way. He expected England and France to remain neutral. When they refused to budge and announced their support for Poland on September 3rd 1939 Hitler called his foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop to his office. One witness told Shirer, who again recorded it in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” 

“When I entered the next room [Schmidt later recounted] Hitler was sitting at his desk and Ribbentrop stood by the window. Both looked up expectantly as I came in. I stopped at some distance from Hitler’s desk, and then slowly translated the British ultimatum. When I finished there was complete silence. Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him… After an interval which seemed an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. “What now?” asked Hitler with a savage look, as though implying that his Foreign Minister had misled him about England’s probable reaction. Ribbentrop answered quietly: “I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour.

His duty performed, Schmidt withdrew, stopping in the outer room to apprise the others of what had happened. They too were silent for a moment. Then: Goering turned to me and said: “If we lose this war, then God have mercy on us!” Goebbels stood in a corner by himself, downcast and self-absorbed. Everywhere in the room I saw looks of grave concern.”

Hitler, though he had concluded non-aggression pact with Stalin’s Soviet Union, that divided Poland between the two authoritarian powers, did not believe that Britain or France would do any more than to conclude a peace agreement after he finished Poland. Though France and Britain could have caused havoc and maybe even ended the war had they even attempted a serious campaign against Germany in September 1939, they did not. Hitler’s gamble which gave great concern to his Generals paid off. Poland was defeated, and with his pact with Stalin in place, Hitler was able to turn his attention to the West.

Hitler’s biographer, the late German historian Joachim Fest wrote:

In spite of all expenditures in the preceding years Germany was armed only, for the war that Hitler launched on September 1, not for the war of September 3. The army did consist of 102 divisions, but only half of these were active and battle-ready. The state of its training left much to be desired. The navy was distinctly inferior to the British and even to the French fleets; not even the strength permissible under the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935 had been attained. Shortly after the Western declarations of war reached Berlin, Grand Admiral Raeder declared tersely that the German fleet, or rather “the little that is finished or will be finished in time, can only go down fighting honorably.” The air force alone was stronger than the forces of the enemy; it had 3,298 planes at its disposal. On the other hand, the ammunition supply had been half consumed by the end of the Polish campaign, so that the war could not have been actively continued for even three or four weeks. At Nuremberg, General Jodl called the existing reserves at the outbreak of the war “literally ridiculous.” Troop equipment also amounted to considerably less than the four-month stock that the High Command of the army had demanded. Even a small-scale attack from the West in the fall of 1939 would probably have brought about Germany’s defeat and the end of the war, military experts have concluded.

But Hitler’s war went far beyond a typical military invasion, occupation and revision of borders or exploitation of economic resources. Hitler’s invasion of Poland was his first movement to achieve Lebensraum “living space” in the East. It was also a racial war where the less than human inhabitants of that space, especially the Jews would be expelled from their homes, driven into ghettos, and eventually exterminated. In Poland the victims included the Polish intelligentsia, professors, priests, military officers, government officials, nobility; anyone who might be able to lead a revolt.

By invading Poland Hitler had abandoned politics which had served him so well against, party rivals, domestic opponents, and later European and World leaders. After Poland Hitler rejected political options and pressed forward with war. Fest wrote:

One of the striking aspects of his behavior is the stubborn, peculiarly blind impatience with which he pressed forward into the conflict. That impatience was curiously at odds with the hesitancy and vacillations that had preceded earlier decisions of his. When, in the last days of August, Göring pleaded with him not to push the gamble too far, he replied heatedly that throughout his life he had always played vabanque. And though this metaphor was accurate for the matter at hand, it hardly described the wary, circumspect style with which he had proceeded in the past. We must go further back, almost to the early, prepolitical phase of his career, to find the link with the abruptness of his conduct during the summer of 1939, with its reminders of old provocations and daredevil risks. There is, in fact, every indication that during these months Hitler was throwing aside more than tried and tested tactics, that he was giving up a policy in which he had excelled for fifteen years and in which for a while he had outstripped all antagonists. It was as if he were at last tired of having to adapt himself to circumstances, tired of the eternal talking, dissimulation, and diplomatic wirepulling, and were again seeking “a great, universally understandable, liberating action.”

Hitler having brought about the destruction of Europe died by his own hand in his bunker having determined that the German people were not worthy of him. The conflict which he bathed in the mythological understandings of Wagner and Paganism was also an eschatological war. Race and Lebensraum overrode all sense of ethics, morality, and even diplomacy that might lead to long term alliances with partners that shared shared mutual interests. Instead, Hitler’s most base instincts, hatred, and the racist desire to establish his mythological Aryan Race as the overlords of Poland, and the. Of every other conquered nation put him in a league of his own.

Fest wrote:

Morally, too, he now crossed the boundary that made the war irrevocable. In the same conversation he demanded the repression of any sign “that a Polish intelligentsia is coming forward as a class of leaders. The country is to continue under a low standard of living; we want to draw only labor forces from it.” Territory that went far beyond the borders of 1914 was incorporated into the Reich. The remainder was set up as a general government under the administration of Hans Frank; one part was subjected to a ruthless process of Germanization, the other to an unprecedented campaign of enslavement and annihilation. And while the commandos, the Einsatzgruppen, commenced their reign of terror, arresting, resettling, expelling, and liquidating—so that one German army officer wrote in a horrified letter of a “band of murderers, robbers and plunderers”—Hans Frank extolled the “epoch of the East” that was now beginning for Germany, a period, as he described it in his own peculiar brand of bombastic jargon, “of the most tremendous reshaping of colonizing and resettlement implementation.”

Diplomacy has no place in eschatology. Interestingly, the same day he invaded Poland, he signed an order for a euthanasia program directed against the weakest members of his own German nation. Called the T-4 operation, it was directed by the SS and was the proving ground where those who operated the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Soribor, and Belzec their training in mass murder.

In Hitler’s worldview the handicapped, the mentally ill, and others with any kind of disability were life unworthy of life. They were a drain on society. Sadly, President Trump and his followers view differs little from Hitler’s.

Anyway, this is enough for the night. I shall refrain from further comparisons with the current American President, and the authoritarian and racist leaders taking power in parts of Europe, and the British Prime Minister working to overthrow Britain’s relationship with Europe while threatening the very fabric of the British Constitutional Monarchy, and the unity of the United Kingdom.

The British Historical John Keegan wrote: “The great men of power who seek to change the nations they belong to usually are pretty terrible people.” I cannot think of any more accurate words to describe President Trump and his cult, be they political, law enforcement, military, media, or common citizens.

The ghosts of the past seldom remain there and often return with a vengeance when awakened by the same forces that unleashed them then.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under crimes against humanity, Foreign Policy, History, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, war crimes trials, world war two in europe

“Bloody Savo” Is the U.S. Navy Ready for a Beat Down Today?

USS_Quincy_CA-39_savo

                         USS Quincy under Attack off Savo Island 

[Note: Updated 15 August 2020 in regard to the erroneous account of Rear Admiral Samuel Elliot Morrison regarding Australian Scout Planes which was repeated in every American history of the battle until it was refuted by the U.S. Navy’s Historical Branch in 2014.] 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am going back to my World War II vault and reposting an older article about the Battle Of Savo Island off Guadalcanal. It was the most lopsided defeat in modern American Naval history. It happened a long time ago and in an age where the United States Navy has not lost a ship in combat, other to mines since August 6th 1945.

Since the latter part of the Cold War when the Soviets Red Navy under Admiral Sergey Gorshkov began to become true threat. In fact it became a threat to our plans to defend Western Europe through its submarine force, its growing surface force, and its integration with Soviet Naval Aviation Tu-16 Badger and Tu-22 Backfire bombers armed with conventional or nuclear air to ship cruise missiles, or Tu-16s equipped for EW, ASW, or Reconnaissance missions. One possible scenario was played out in Tom Clancy’s Cold War thriller, “Red Storm Rising.” In a successful attack by Badgers and Backfires the USS Nimitz was heavily damaged and knocked out of action by two missile hits, the French Carrier Foch was sunk by multiple hits, USS Saipan LHA-2 with over 2500 Marines and Sailors embarked was blown up and sank with only 200 survivors, in addition the USS Ticonderoga CG-47 heavily damaged and put out of action. The Soviets used deception and a saturation attack by anti-ship missiles that overwhelmed our defenses. I was an Army officer serving in Germany when the book was published and it was frightening, because even though the United States and our NATO allies prevailed, it was a great cost, and had it occurred my unit would have been likely chewed to pieces in the Battle for Germany. 

However, since the end of the Cold War we got lazy, with the fall of the Soviet Union we reduced the size of our fleet by massive numbers and then got involved in a series of small wars which wore out ships, and aircraft faster than programmed, and resulted in the early decommissioning of 30 ships, and reduction of 30,000 sailors to fund the war in Iraq. These wars caused additional funding shortages, which were made much worse by the Republican shutdown of Congress which resulted in great sequester of spending that impacted every government agency.

This included a military that was still at war and a massive backlog of maintenance, and replacement of ships. This was compounded by the costly Zumwalt Class “destroyers” which became so that only three of twelve were built, and now the Navy is trying to figure out a mission for them. Likewise, the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS program was promoted as an inexpensive heavily armed and versatile “street fighter.” Unfortunately it came in massively over budget, under armed, incapable of operating with or protecting Carrier Strike Groups, or Expeditionary Strike Groups, and plagued by numerous and often embarrassing maintenance failures. Like the Zumwalt’s the Navy is trying to figure out what to due with them. The USS Gerald Ford Class carriers, the designed replacements for the Nimitz Class are so expensive and plagued with ongoing issues of their new and innovative systems are so bad that the Navy is openly questioning if enough can be built to replace the Nimitz Class Ships. The Ford, though commissioned in 2018, has not deployed and probably will not deploy until 2022.

It seems that we forgotten to remember that should a war break out with a near-peer competitor, like the Chinese Communists or the Russians in waterers where they can gain local superiority, or even regional powers such as Iran which could use asymmetric means of large numbers of small missile equipped ships and attack boats, costal submarines, and land based anti-ship missiles in “swarm attacks” to overwhelm technologically superior American ships in confined waters. We have come close to losing major ships, the cruiser USS Princeton and Helicopter Carrier USS Tripoli, to very primitive moored mines during the First Gulf War, the USS Ruben James to a mine during the tanker wars, and the USS Stark which was hit by Iraqi Exocet anti-ship missiles in 1987. Likewise we have come close to losing the Guided Missile destroyers USS Cole (Terrorist attack), USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald (avoidable collisions with merchant ships), and finally, and perhaps the most disturbing, the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard last month that was so catastrophic that it is quite likely the ship will ever be repaired to her former mission requirements, and her replacement costs will be more than we can afford.

I won’t go into the destruction of the relationships that the Trump administration has caused with the nation’s whose navies we depend on to help us sustain overseas operations in Europe and the Pacific, nor the dearth of shipbuilding, repair, and dry-docking facilities in the United States needed to produce and repair warships in peace, and even more importantly in war. 

We have been lucky. We won’t be as lucky in a real live shootout today. Ships will be lost, damaged, and sailors will die. Compounding the problem for the United States is that years of focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, failed experiments with reducing crew size (smart-ship), reductions in numbers of ships and sailors to satisfy the budgets needs to the unnecessary invasion of Iraq, and the stress put on remaining ships and aircraft have worn us down. Readiness rates remain down, and we no longer have the shipbuilding and repair facilities to replace losses and repair damaged ships, especially in a war with China. There currently are no answers to this. 

That is why instead of commenting on today’s news I write about the worst defeat suffered by the U.S. Navy in the modern era, which I label from World War II to the present, and hope, maybe beyond hope that it will not happen again, but my guess is that those chances are 50/50, but that there is only a ten percent chance of that.

After Savo Island the U.S. Navy continued  to lose carriers, cruisers, and destroyers at an alarming rate, but the resources of the nation had been fully mobilized to replace the losses tenfold, and repair the damaged ships and return them to action. That could not happen today.

Sadly, I think that my introduction to this article may be longer than the article itself. But such are the dangers we face today. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

On August 8th 1942 the U.S. Task Force supporting the invasion of Guadalcanal was tired. The crews of the ships had been in continuous combat operations conducting naval gunfire support missions, fending off numerous Japanese air attacks and guarding against submarine attacks for two days. The force commanded by Admiral Richmond K. Turner was still unloading materials, equipment and supplies needed by the men of the 1st Marine Division who they had put ashore on the morning of the seventh.

On the afternoon of the eighth Turner was informed by Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher that he was pulling his carrier task force out of action. Fletcher alleged that he did not have enough fighter aircraft (79 remaining of an original 98) and as low on fuel. The carriers had only been in action 36 hours and Fletcher’s reasons for withdraw were flimsy. Fletcher pulled out and left Turner and his subordinate commanders the responsibility of remaining in the area without air support with the transports still unloaded, and full of badly needed supplies and equipment.

Gunichi_Mikawa

                                          Admiral Gunichi Mikawa

As the American drama played out, the Japanese moved forces into position to strike the Americans. Admiral Gunichi Mikawa commander of the 8th Fleet and Outer South Seas Force based at Rabaul New Britain quickly assembled a force of 6 heavy cruisers, the 14,000 ton Atago Class Chokai, and the four smaller ships of the Kako Class, the Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furutaka, the light cruisers Yubariand Tenryu and the destroyer Yunagi. Mikawa raised his flag aboard Chokai and the force sped down “the slot” which ran the length of the of the Solomon’s chain mid day on the seventh.

The Americans had warning of their coming. The first sighting was by B-17s before the Japanese forces had reached Rabaul. The second was the elderly U.S. Navy submarine S-38 at 2000 on the 7th when they were 550 miles away not far from Rabaul. This report was discounted because it would not be unusual to find a number of fleet units steaming near a major naval base and fleet headquarters. The last which should have alerted the allies was a sighting by a Royal Australian Air Force patrol aircraft on the morning of the 8th. The crew made numerous attempts to report this, but the common story, which first began with Samuel Elliott Morrison’s account of the battle in his 15 volume History of U.S. Navy Operations in World War Two falsely said that the Australian flight crew made no effort to report the information and flew back to their base, and had tea. American Naval historians writing about the battle have reported this as fact ever since, including me in previous iterations of this article, which I corrected in this article today (8/15/2020). The crew attempted to report it, and their report was even intercepted and reported by the Japanese. Not knowing if their report had been received they made an early return to base and made their report in person to the intelligence officer. This was first reported in 2013, and in 2014, the Chief of the U.S. Navy History Department collaborated the account sole survivor of that aircrew. Hopefully future historians of the battle will do the same. That being said no information was passed to Admiral Turner at Guadalcanal.

The fact is that the allied forces had warning and chose to minimize the threat. Their actions in the following hours displayed an extreme amount of complacency and and failures to take a more active role in preventing any possible Japanese. The American and Australian cruisers all had floatplanes which could have deployed despite a lack of experience in night operations, as the Japanese did so well.

 

USS_Astoria_(CA-34)_off_Guadalcanal_1942

USS Astoria on August 8th off Guadalcanal and USS Chicago (below)

CA-29_Chicago

Turner deployed his support ships to cover the three entrances into what soon would be known as Iron Bottom Sound. He placed the Anti Aircraft Cruiser USS San Juan and Australian Light Cruiser HMAS Hobart to the east with two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott. To protect the south west entrance into the sound south of Savo Island Turner placed the Heavy Cruisers USS Chicago, HMAS Australia and HMAS Canberra and two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral R.A.C. Crutchley RN who in theory commanded the screening force. To the north of Savo he deployed the Heavy Cruisers USS Vincennes, USS Astoria and USS Quincy and two destroyers under the tactical direction of Captain Frederick Riefkohl aboard Vincennes. To the west of Savo he placed two destroyers to act as picket ships. Unfortunately these ships radar sets were insufficient and would fail to pick up the approaching enemy.

800px-SavoIslandMap

                                                   Allied Dispositions

During the early evening Turner recalled Crutchley to his flagship for consultations of what to do regarding Fletcher’s retreat. Crutchley came over in his flagship the Australia denuding the southern force of its commander as well as one of its three heavy cruisers. He left the commanding officer of Chicago Captain Howard D. Bode in tactical command but Bode did not have his ship take the lead position in the patrol assuming Crutchley would return bymidnight.

USS_Vincennes_(CA-44)_in_the_Solomons_1942

USS Vincennes (above) and USS Quincy (below)

ca__39_uss_quincy___1942.08.03___1a

HMAS Canberra Sydney Harbour

                                                    HMAS Canberra 

Mikawa launched float planes to scout the locations of the American ships and to provide illumination once the battle began. Some of these aircraft were spotted but no alert measures were taken as many assumed the Japanese to be friendly aircraft. Many commanding officers were asleep or resting away from the bridge of their ships, lookouts were tired and not expecting the Japanese and Condition Two was set in order to provide some of the tired crews a chance to rest.

800px-SavoIslandYubariSearchlight

Light Cruiser Yubari illuminating American cruisers at Savo Island

Admiral Mikawa now new the Allied disposition and ordered his ships to battle stations at 0045. At 004 he sighted and passed astern of USS Blue the southern picket which also failed to detect the Japanese force. Mikawa assumed that the destroyer might have reported his presence, briefly turned north but turned back to his original course when a lookout allegedly spotted a destroyer to his northeast. He gave the order to attack at 0132 and promptly spotted the American destroyer USS Jarvis which had been heavily damaged and without radio communications was making her way toAustralia for repair and passed her after some ships fired torpedoes and raced toward the southern force at 26 knots. With the southern force just a few miles away Mikawa ordered his ships to commence firing at 0136 and at 0138 torpedoes had been launched.

Mikawa’s lookouts spotted the northern group at 0144 and changed course. The maneuver was badly executed and left the Japanese in two columns as they swiftly closed on the Americans. Mikawa’s flagship Chokai launched torpedoes at 0148 and Astoria the cruiser closest to the Japanese set general quarters at 0145 and at 0150 the Japanese illuminated her with searchlights and opened fire. Astoria under the direction of her gunnery officer returned fire at 0152 ½ just before her Captain came to the bridge unaware of the situation. He ordered a cease fire until he could ascertain who he was firing at assuming the Japanese to be friendly ships. He delayed 2 minutes and ordered fires commenced at 0154 but the delay was fatal. Astoria had opened fire on the Chokai which then had time to get the range on the American cruiser and hit her with an 8” salvo which caused fires which provided the other Japanese ships an aiming point.

SavoJapaneseWarArt

Japanese artist depiction of attack on US Navy Cruisers at Savo Island

Astoria was left burning and heavily damaged barely maintaining headway but attempted to fight on scoring a hit on Chokai’s forward turret even as the Japanese opened up on the next cruiser in line the USS Quincy. Quincy caught between the two Japanese columns. Aoba illuminated her with her searchlight and Japanese forces opened fire. The gunnery officer order Quincy to return fire getting two salvos off before her skipper Captain Samuel Moore came to the bridge, briefly ordered a cease fire assuming that he was firing on Americans and turned on his running lights. Quincy was ripped by salvo after salvo which killed Captain Moore and nearly everyone in the pilothouse just as a torpedo ripped into her engineering spaces turning them into a sealed death trap forcing the engineer to shut down the engines. Burning like a Roman candle Quincy was doomed she was ordered abandoned and capsized and sank at 0235. However Quincy did not die in vain, at 0205 two of her 8” shells hit Chokai causing enough damage the Admiral’s chart room that Mikawa would order a withdraw at 0220 which spared the now defenseless American transports.

633px-SavoIslandMap2A

Vincennes, the lead ship and flagship was next in the line of death. Captain Reifkohl order General Quarters sounded not long after the Japanese illuminated the southern group. At 0150 Vincennes was lit up by the searchlights of three Japanese ships which opened fire on her. Vincennes returned fire at 0153 hitting Kinugasa before she was hit starting fires on her scout planes mounted on their catapults. The Japanese mauled Vincennes, three possibly four torpedoes ripped into her as shells put ever gun out of action. At 0215 she was left burning and sinking by the Japanese who soon withdrew from the action. Ordered abandoned she sank at 0250.

Savo_Island canberra

         HMAS Canberra being evacuated by the Patterson and Blue

Canberra struggled against the odds but was abandoned and was sent to the bottom by an American torpedo at 0800. Astoria also struggled for life but the damage was too great and she was abandoned sinking at 1215. Mikawa withdrew up the sound but on his return the Heavy Cruiser Kako 70 miles from home was sunk by torpedoes from the American submarine S-44 sinking in 5 minutes.

hqdefault (1)

The Americans and Australians lost 4 Heavy Cruisers sunk and one heavily damaged. Two destroyers were also damaged. Casualties were heavy; Quincy lost 389 men killed, Vincennes, 342, Astoria, 235, Canberra, 85, Ralph Talbot, 14, Patterson, 10, and Chicago, 2.

It was an unmitigated disaster, an allied force destroyed in less than 30 minutes time. Boards of inquiry were held and Captain Bode hearing that he shouldered much blame killed himself in 1943.

Admiral Turner gave an honest assessment of the defeat:

“The Navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy. In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances. The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct. I believe that this psychological factor, as a cause of our defeat, was even more important than the element of surprise”

USSQuincy7

     Wrecks of the USS Quincy, Astoria, Vincennes, and HMAS Canberra

It was a rude awakening to a Navy which had believed that technical advances would give it victory and which  in the words of Admiral Ernest King  was not yet “sufficiently battle minded.” It was the first of many equally bloody battles in the waters around Guadalcanal which in the coming campaign became known as Ironbottom Sound. 

16 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, imperial japan, leadership, Military, national security, Navy Ships, News and current events, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific