Category Archives: Foreign Policy

In Today’s Struggle for Principle with Trump there Will be No Republican Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watch President Trump’s administration attack the law, the Constitution, and violate the civil rights and human rights of citizens as well as people who have come to the United States to flee oppression and danger at home; to threaten freedom of speech and freedom of the press; to categorize political opponents inside and outside of his party as traitors; to legitimize the most repressive dictatorial regimes while attacking longstanding allies; even as he works to destroy the work of American Presidents and diplomats to build a world order that has brought great benefit to the United States and the world by defeating the Nazis, Imperial Japan, and eventually the Soviet Union. He has chosen the choice of being a rogue superpower rather than being the moderating and stabilizing force in the world that it has played since World War Two. Robert Kagan wrote in the Washington Post yesterday:

“The United States’ adversaries will do well in this world, for Trump’s America does not want war. It will accommodate powers that can harm it. It will pay them the respect they crave and grant them their spheres of interest. Those that depend on the United States, meanwhile, will be treated with disdain, pushed around and used as pawns. At times, they will be hostages to be traded for U.S. gain. The United States and the postwar liberal order protected them and helped them prosper, but it also left them vulnerable to any American leader willing to offer them up as sacrifices to appease aggressors. That is a kind of realism, too… It recognizes no moral, political or strategic commitments. It feels free to pursue objectives without regard to the effect on allies or, for that matter, the world. It has no sense of responsibility to anything beyond itself.”

The President and his administration show little regard for the Constitution and established law in this country and our treaties and agreements with other nations. He appoints men and women who had they been Germans after the Second World War would have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity to high office. He defends White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis. He confounds loyalty to himself with patriotism and loyalty to the country.

He uses propaganda to demonize those who seek law and justice. In any normal time a cry would arise from his own party saying “no more,” but his party does nothing, and even those leaders who occasionally speak out against his policies take no actions because they are afraid of retribution. That happened to long time conservative Congressman Mark Sanford in South Carolina this week when the President tweeted his support for his primary opponent. During the primary season White Nationalists, self-proclaimed Nazis, and other Trump supporters advocating the most extreme, unconstitutional and abhorrent positions often swept the field against conservatives who themselves would have been considered extremists just a few years ago. The GOP is on the Party if Trump and it took less than two years to become so.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam something that we are observing up close and personal as President Trump and his administration flounder in a sea of make believe, a cloud cuckoo land of alternative facts, alternative truth, and alternative history:

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

To be true, the Trump administration is not the first in history, in fact not even in our own country to ignore facts when making decisions. However, it is remarkable in its ability not only to shun facts but to make up its own narrative that depends on denying reality while impugning the character, honesty, and decency of those who present facts and truth that is verifiable. To be sure, competence and prudence are not and probably will never be marks of President Trump, his closest advisors, or his enablers in Congress. My hope is that some Republican in either the House or Senate rises up to confront the ineptitude and folly being demonstrated on a daily basis.

President James Buchanan

In some ways the incompetence and refusal to deal with reality by the Trump administration reminds me of the administration of James Buchanan during the years before the American Civil War. Buchanan’s collusion with Chief Justice Roger Taney regarding the Dred Scott decision before his inauguration stained him from the beginning and poisoned his relationship with Congress by declaring that the Congress never had the right to limit slavery as it had in the Missouri Compromise. Buchanan’s presidency is considered by most historians to be the worst in American history, incompetent, arrogant, and ineffective.

Likewise, Buchanan’s attempt to jam the Lecompton Constitution through Congress as a reward to Southern Democrats blew up in his face. The Lecompton Constitution was a gerrymandered bill which ignored the will of the vast majority of Kansas’s settlers who were anti-slavery. The work of the pro-slavery element in Kansas was so onerous that it brought Republicans and Northern Democrats together for the first time as Southern Democrats threatened secession if Kansas was not admitted as a Slave State. Ignoring warnings that supporting a measure that would open the door to slavery in all the western territories would split his party, Buchanan pushed on. His intransigence on the matter brought Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois to the fore in opposing it. Nicknamed “the Little Giant,” Douglas was the odds on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. Douglas was not against the institution of slavery, and he was a racist, but he had no tolerance for those who would upend carefully crafted compromises to expand it through the whole country. Thus he  took his case to the floor of the Senate and to the President himself.

The Confrontation between the Senator and the President was unparalleled. Douglas recalled, “The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir!

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back, “Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.”  It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense.

Undeterred by facts, Buchanan and Southern Democrats fought for the bill’s passage. When Buchanan’s supporters pushed for Lecompton’s approval and the admission of Kansas as a Slave State, Douglas fired back, warning “You do,” I said, “and it will lead directly to civil war!” I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Under Douglas the Northern Democrats joined with Republicans for the first time to defeat the admission of Kansas as a Slave State. Douglas recalled the battle:

“After the Christmas recess, the Administration unleashed its heavy horsemen: Davis, Slidell, Hunter, Toombs, and Hammond, all southerners. They damned me as a traitor and demanded that I be stripped of my chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and read out of the Democratic party. Let the fucking bastards threaten, proscribe, and do their worst, I told my followers; it would not cause any honest man to falter. If my course divided the Democratic party, it would not be my fault. We were engaged in a great struggle for principle, I said, and we would defy the Administration to the bitter end.”

Douglas and his supporters did just that, Buchanan and his supporters were outfought and outmaneuvered by Douglas’s Democrats and their Republican allies. The bill was sent back to Kansas where in a new election the people of Kansas voted solidly against the Lecompton Constitution. In the following Congressional elections the thoroughly discredited Democrats lost their majority, their party now hopelessly divided with Southerners determined to destroy Douglas at any cost, even if it meant losing the presidency, the conflict opened the door for the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

I wonder if there will be a Republican in the Congress with the courage that Stephen A. Douglas displayed in confronting the incompetent and vindictive President Buchanan during the Lecompton Crisis. Will there be a Republican with enough courage to stop the insanity of the Trump administration even if it means in the short term to divide the party and doom their political future? Honestly I doubt it as does conservative Republican political strategist Rick Wilson. Wilson wrote:

“Nothing you do matters to this Congress. No matter what damage you inflict on our economy, our alliances, trade, our stature in the world, our role as an exemplar of democratic values, our ability to serve as an honest broker in the international community, and our security, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will lay supine before you.” 

But if Trump’s march of folly is to be stopped, someone in the Republican Senate or House will have to have the courage to stand up and defend the necessity of thinking for themselves, and doing what is right, sadly there is no Stephen Douglas in today’s GOP.

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Handshakes, Betrayals and a Piece of Paper: Trump Outdoes Neville Chamberlain as Appeaser in Chief

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am an old Cold Warrior. I have served for almost 37 years in the military including tours or deployments on the intra-German border in the 1980s waiting for the Soviets to come pouring across the Fulda Gap, being on the Korean DMZ in 2001, and to complete the Commie Trifecta a bunch of time at Guantanamo Bay Cuba at the Northeast Gate. In those 37 years I have served under six Presidents and never did I believe until now that a President of the United States betray every longstanding ally and then to add insult to injury has very likely surrendered South Korea to the North Korean dictator with no conditions. It reminds me of how Neville Chamberlain sold out Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in 1938.

In 1938 Chamberlain was the supposed leader of the democracies and in order to curry favor with Hitler and to “bring peace to Europe” made a deal which surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler. As bad as that was and as horrific the consequences were for Europe and the world Chamberlain actually believed that his actions were required for peace. He believed that he could appease Hitler at the cost of a small multi-ethnic democracy, after all what did the Czech’s really matter?

When Chamberlain flew back to London he alighted from his aircraft holding a piece of paper and said:

“The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ” … We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.”

Chamberlain realized that his trust in Hitler and his word had been mistaken when Hitler overran the remainder of the Czech state just five months later. Having given up the only democracy in Eastern Europe which was also industrialized and militarily strong to the Nazis, Chamberlain went to war with Hitler over Poland, a authoritarian military dictatorship whose military and geographic position doomed her to the Nazi onslaught. Chamberlain finally did stand up to Hitler when it was too late. He was naive and in the case of Czechoslovakia he acted horribly, but he did recover some sense of honor by not appeasing Hitler in regard to Poland but by then it was too late and he has been forever remembered as an appeaser of Hitler.

Before Chamberlain surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler, General Ludwig Beck, Commander of the German Army wrote to the General Von Brauchtisch the War Minister to oppose the planned invasion:

“Now at stake are final decisions regarding the fate of the nation. History will burden these leaders with blood guilt if they do not act according to their professional and statesmanly principles and knowledge…. If a soldier in a position of highest authority in such times sees his duties and tasks only within the limits of his military responsibilities, without consciousness of his higher responsibility to the whole people, then he shows a lack of greatness, a lack of comprehension of responsibility. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary actions!”

That will not be the case for President Trump. He too has touted his “triumph” as something that will bring peace, but in the process he has betrayed an American ally whose freedom was purchased with the lives of close to 40,000 American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen and I do not see anyone in high command

Unfortunately the current American President has made war much more likely because he has not only sacrificed military exercises that strengthen the American-South Korean alliance with no actual concessions by Kim Jung Un. His actions not only strengthen the North Korean dictator but also strengthen Kim’s allies, the Russians and the Chinese. The Chinese have been actively working against the United States in the military and economic reams in Asia and Africa while Vladimir Putin’s Russia has actively pursued undermining democratic processes in the United States and Europe.

When Donald Trump returns from Asia he will hold up a piece of paper signed by Kim Jung Un and claim that he has brought peace to the world. He may even get a Noble Prize for doing so, but in the end he will sacrifice allies and bring war to the world while making the United States weaker and more vulnerable to our enemies. His actions are not those of a patriot, but a Quisling. His followers will never admit that and like Hitler’s true believers they would much rather die with him in their bunker than admit that they were wrong in the first place.

This is a dangerous time in history and the American Republic is in danger, our alliances which have been crafted with great skill since Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill announced the Atlantic Charter, by Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama over a period of 77 years have been shredded in less than a year and a half by President Trump.

The actions of the American President in the past 72 hours have endangered the United States and its allies. French Historian Marc Bloch wrote in his book Strange Defeat:

“A genuine alliance is something that has to be worked at all the time. It is not enough to have it set down on paper. It must draw the breath of life from a multiplicity of daily contacts which, taken together, knit the two parties solidly into a single whole. That truth had been too long forgotten at First Army H.Q., and we suffered terribly as a result of our negligence.”

Bloch, who served in the First World War and volunteered to serve in the Second World War would die at the hands of the Nazis while working with the French resistance understood what a minority of Americans do today,

I want peace on the Korean Peninsula, I have served there and been on the DMZ. That being said I do not want that peace to come at the cost of the freedom of South Koreans. Likewise, the President has praised the murderous dictatorship of Kim Jung Un and given that dictator a legitimacy that he does not deserve for a minute. Less than two days before he destroyed the G7 Summit and undermined the nation’s who have stood beside the United States throughout the Cold War and then with diplomacy, economic, and military assistance stood with us when we were attacked on September 11th 2001 to the present day.

On Tuesday the President endorsed Concentration camps, re-education centers, slave labor, and human rights violations by North Korea. Today he has claimed that North Korea no longer is a nuclear threat. His decision to end joint military exercises just happens to coincide with the public demands made for years by North Korea, Russia, and China. Do not expect for one moment that he will not do the same in this country, he has already started with immigrants. One should ask who will be next?

In 1938 Winston Churchill told the House of Commons:

“We have sustained a total, unmitigated defeat…. Do not let us blind ourselves. We must expect that all the countries of central and eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power…. The road down the Danube… the road to the Black Sea and Turkey, has been broken. It seems to me that all the countries of Mittel Europa and the Danube Valley, one after the other, will be drawn into the vast system of Nazi politics, not only power military politics, but power economic politics, radiating from Berlin.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“It Can’t Happen Here” but it is Happening Before Our Eyes

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1935 the American writer Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel called It Can’t Happen Here. It was a semi-satirical novel about a Fascist state coming to power in the United States. In it Lewis wrote these words:

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

I believe that we are seeing that happen before our eyes. That being said I realized from the beginning of the Trump campaign that it would to this at home and abroad. I was looking back at my archives going even back to 2012 after President Obama’s re-election and found that I had written about Trump’s maniacal desire to upend defy political and social norms and demonstrate his contempt for the Constitution and our laws. When he announced his campaign he began by appealing to nationalism and racism and he never stopped.

On December 15th 2015 I wrote these words in an article entitled The Mob Determined the Theme. Some people thought that I was writing about the Mafia or gangs, but I was talking about mob rule. Those words are here:

“When Albert Speer discussed the ability of Adolf Hitler to captivate the German people he noted something important. He discussed how Hitler and his minions played to them set by the disgruntled and angry German population. Speer wrote, “The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

Hitler played to that misery, insecurity and the obsessions of the politically and economically disaffected “conservative base” that no longer trusted the party establishments of the old-line conservative parties. He also played to the deep-rooted racism and anti-Semitism of those people. Hitler was an outsider, he was not indebted to any traditional party hierarchy and as such was able to throw away convention and play to the fear and anger of many Germans.

heres-what-donald-trump-supporters-really-believe

Donald Trump is doing today and he is running circles around the traditional politicians of the Republican Party. Every time trump says something that would have gotten himself blown out of the race twenty years ago had he said such things, today his poll numbers keep going up. He is now trending around 35% in most polls of GOP voters and my guess is that those numbers are low, as some supporters may not be willing to tell a pollster that they are for Trump, at least yet. My guess is that Trump’s support in the GOP is probably higher than 40% and won’t go down much. The party hierarchy and most of Trump’s primary rivals consistently criticize Trump, but most say that they will back him if he is the nominee. I cannot imagine that being the case twenty years ago when both the party establishment and the voters would have dumped him in a New York minute.

Aug. 21. 2015 Mobile, AL, Trump supporters at his campaign pep rally in Ladd Peebles Stadium. These women are all party of the Republican Party and plan to vote for Trump.  Over 20 thousand came to the Ladd-Peebles Stadium to attend Trumps campaign pep rally. 40,000 were expected to come.

Trump understands the mood of much of the traditionally conservative public better than his Republican establishment competitors. Trump is not stupid, unlike Hitler who actually believed in his message, Trump is not a radical, he cannot be, he has too much invested in the system. Instead, he is a street smart and pragmatic businessman who is exploiting the situation on the ground to his advantage. His opponents and the GOP establishment are frightened, but like the hidebound conservatives of the Weimar Republic who either dismissed or Hitler or thought that they could contain him are not willing to make a stand. As a result, Trump is able to play to the mood of the base and to coin a phrase, to “trump the establishment” by channeling the deepest anger, fear, hatred, xenophobia, and racism that the GOP establishment refuses to acknowledge. When there is a push back by the establishment it further angers the base, and Trump, quite adroitly threatens to leave the party; something which would doom the GOP in the 2016 general election, and possibly shatter the party.

Trump’s GOP opponents should not underestimate him and neither should establishment Democrats. Trump is using his celebrity bombast and the democratic process to take control of a major political party, and he is a lot smarter than most political analysts give him credit. As such, as a non-establishment outsider, Trump has a chance at taking over a major political party, something that has never before happened in the United States.

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, hatred, and fear to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible. To paraphrase Speer’s words about Hitler and Goebbels: By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Muslims and immigrants, Trump gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions of a disaffected GOP base.”

That was in 2015.

On July 22nd 2017 I wrote I Alone Can Fix It: Trump’s Dictatorial Message as I observed the new GOP nominee at the GOP National Convention. Five months later I wrote on December 27th 2016 I wrote Freedom is Never More than a Generation from Extinction. On March 22nd of this year I wrote Trump’s America: Saving the Form But not the Soul. I could go on and link many other articles but I will not, I have incriminated myself enough tonight.

Now that Donald Trump is in power he has used the Department of Homeland Security through a militarized ICE using mass incarcerations, expulsions, separating children from their families, and operating prison facilities from which people who are not with any crime charged are held indefinitely without legal representation. He has opening given support to White Supremacists including Neo-Nazis. He continues to threaten the Press, the political opposition, and long time allies using his Twitter account and his sycophants at Fox News and a multitude of Right Wing propaganda outlets to peddle lies as truth label those who tell the truth as liars and peddlers of Fake News.

He shows no interest in Civil Rights except support measures at the Federal, State, and local levels to roll back civil rights for ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, women, and LGBTQ people. His economic and social policies are designed to benefit his allies, especially the top 1% and politically reliable Evangelical Christians while impoverishing and disenfranchising all others. He labels all who oppose or criticize him and his policies as enemies of the state and traitors.

In terms of foreign policy he has during the course of his presidency personally undermined and now destroyed alliances and treaties that Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Barak Obama worked to sustain. Those Presidents who included Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan helped build those alliances and forge those treaties for our good and the good of our allies and those who we welcomed into the fold of democratic ideals. Instead he makes diplomatic war on our allies while openly praising dictators abroad and carrying out the dictates of Vladimir Putin.

This brings me back to his attacks on the American Justice system of which almost all are tied to his, his family’s, and his advisor’s connection with Russia attempts to undermine American elections and the military attack and occupation of parts of the Ukraine, which during his campaign he supported by saying that the conquered Ukrainian regions “probably preferred Russian rule.” Neither before or after his election did he, his aides ever condemn the shoot-down of a commercial airliner by Russian forces near the Russian-Ukrainian border. The actions in the Ukraine led the G-7 to expel Russia. This weekend the President proposed reinstating the Russians despite the fact that they are still actively working against the United States and our Allies.

He is launching a trade war with our allies and leading trading partners which will be disastrous to most Americans.

Later today he will attempt to “negotiate a deal” with the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un while admitting that he has done no preparation for it. I would hope for a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula but I believe that the President will either come back with a deal that works to the advantage of the North Koreans or which will fail and bring about war in Northeast Asia. If he does come up with a deal it is very possible that he will use it as a means to go to war against Iran which will result in an apocalyptic conflagration in the Middle-East.

As he does all of this he surrounds himself with terrified yes men who are too afraid of him to tell the truth while increasing his attacks on the law, the Constitution, and people that he sees as his personal enemies at home and abroad. As I watch him and read what he writes I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s who wrote:

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police … yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.” 

The President’s aggressiveness is not brought about by confidence, it is brought about by his fear, he cannot abide criticism of any kind, thus he must crush it.

I fear for what is coming and I am not sure if our institutions, laws, or Constitution will survive in any recognizable form. I want them to, but right now I do not see light at the end of this tunnel, and I would much rather be wrong than right.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Genocide Does Not Occur in a Vacuum: The Necessity of the Appearance of Law and a Compliant Military

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Many people have no understanding that genocide does not appear in a vacuum. At its core it require a base and evil race hatred. But it needs to be backed by the appearance of law to be accepted, and is helped when there is a military doctrine that supports it, and a military willing to assist in carrying it out, or whose officers look the other way. 

This is the next installment of my article on war crimes, genocide and the role of ordinary people in them. This focuses on the legal, ideological, and military doctrine foundations of the German race war in Poland and Russia. Without these foundations it would have been difficult, maybe even impossible for the Germans to implement genocide on such a vast scale. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Wilhelm Keitel: “war was a fight for survival….dispense with outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare…” Bundesarchiv Bild

This study will focus on the German policy of ideological-racial war in Poland and Russia. The German war against the Soviet Union and to a certain extent Poland was waged with an unforgiving ferocity against Hitler’s enemy, the Jewish-Bolshevik state and the Slavic Untermenschen.

The campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union were characterized by the rise of a “political- ideological strategy.” 25 Operation “Barbarossa showed the fusion of technocracy and ideology in the context of competitive military planning.” 26 Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.” 27

Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.” 28 General Halder, Chief of the OKH in his War Dairy for that meeting noted “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.” 29

Based on Lebensraum and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.” 30 Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.”31 Conquered territories would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.” 32

This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….” 33 Other displaced inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve. 34 Part of this was due to economic considerations in the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation. 35 As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.”” 36Despite numerous post-war justifications by various Wehrmacht generals, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.”” 37

Hitler’s racial ideology was central to his worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war. 38 However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were his ideas found acceptance beyond the Nazi faithful to the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with the Einsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations. In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.

ss recruiting poster

Military Doctrine and Ideology

While Hitler’s racial ideology was more extreme than many in the German military and police, these organizations had cultural beliefs and prejudices as well as doctrinal and ideological foundations which helped them become willing accomplices to Hitler. These factors were often, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from early histories of World War II. The Allies relied on German officers to write these histories at the beginning of the Cold War, developing the “dual myth of German military brilliance and moral correctness.”39 British historian and military theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart makes the astounding statement that “one of the surprising features of the Second World War was that German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war than it did in 1914-1918-at any rate in fighting its western opponents….” 40

While Liddell-Hart might be excused by lack of knowledge of some German army atrocities he could not have been ignorant. It was not just the SS who he blamed the atrocities but many of the men who he interviewed. In doing this Liddell-Hart and others presented a myth as truth. 41 The myths were helped by the trials of Manstein and Kesselring where “historical truth had to be sacrificed…to the demands of the Cold War.” 42 British military historian Kenneth Macksey confronted the myth that only the “Waffen SS committed barbaric and criminal acts” noting: “Not even the Knights of the Teutonic Order and their followers in the Middle Ages sank to the depths of the anti-Bolshevik Wehrmacht of 1941.” 43

Germany had a long running history of anti-Semitism before Hitler. German anti-Semitism often exhibited a “paranoid fear of the power of the Jews,” 44 and included a “fashionable or acceptable anti-Semitism” 45 which became more pronounced as the conditions of the Jews became better and Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe returned to Germany. 46 Sometimes this was tied to religious attitudes, but more often focused on the belief that the Jews “controlled certain aspects of life” and presented in “pseudo-scientific garb” the “myth of a secret Jewish plot for world domination which was simultaneously part of the internationalism of Freemasonry.” 47

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris provides an example as he “had grown up in the atmosphere of “moderate” anti-Semitism prevailing in the Ruhr middle class and in the Navy believed in the existence of a “Jewish problem”” and would “suggest during 1935-1936 that German Jews should be identified by a Star of David as special category citizens….” 48 Wehrmacht soldiers were “subject to daily doses of propaganda since the 1930s” and that with the “start of the Russian campaign propaganda concerning Jews became more and more aggressive.” 49 Some officers objected to Nazi actions against Jews. Von Manstein protested the “Aryan paragraph” in the Reichswehr on general principal.” 50 Yet some of the men who planned and executed the most heinous crimes like, Adolf Eichmann had “no fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.” 51

The military “looked to the regime to reshape society in every respect: political, ideological, economic and military…Propaganda would hammer home absolute nature of the struggle…” 52 Ideological training began in the Hitler Youth and Reichsarbeitsdienst and produced a soldier in which “Anti-Semitism, anti-communism, Lebensraum – these central tenants of Nazism were all inextricably linked with the Landser’s conception of duty, with his place and role in the vast machinery of war.” 53

Following the dismissal of General Fritsch in 1938, General Brauchitsch promised Hitler that “he would make every effort to bring the Army closer to the State and the State’s ideology.” 54

Alfred Novotny, a Austrian soldier in the Gross Deutschland division noted how training depicted the Russians as Untermenschen and how they were “subjected to official rantings about how the supposedly insidious, endless influence of the Jews in practically every aspect of the enemy’s endeavors…Jews were portrayed as rats, which were overrunning the world….” 55

anti-jewish poster

This ideological component added to the already “harsh military discipline”which had a long tradition in Germany conditioning soldiers to violence and brutalization of their enemy. Similar programs existed in the Order Police which would play a large part in the eastern campaign, the “image of “treasonous” leftists and Jews helped shape the personal and political beliefs of many policemen throughout the interwar period.” 56 Even ordinary police training before the war in German speaking Europe “was brutalizing.”57 These troops were recipients of an ideological formation which “aimed at shaping the worldview of the police leading to the internalization of belief along National Socialist lines.” 58 Waffen SS soldiers, especially those of the Totenkopf division were subjected to even more systematic political indoctrination on the enemies of National Socialism, the Jews, freemasonry, Bolshevism and the churches. 59

Along with cultural anti-Semitism and the Nazification of German thought in the 1930s, there were aspects of military doctrine which helped prepare the way for the eastern campaign. The most important were the Army’s anti-partisan and rear area security doctrine. The history of security anti-partisan operations dated back to the Prussian Army’s Ettapen, which began in 1813 with the Landwehr’srole in security against looters and others. 60 These units supported and supplied offensive operations from the rear to the combat zone with a secondary mission of countering partisans and preventing disruptions in the rear area. The Ettapen would be reformed and regulated in 1872 following the Franco-Prussian War. 61

The German experience fighting guerrillas and partisans, the francs-tireurs in the Franco- Prussian War, “scarred the Army’s institutional mentality.” 62 Field Marshal Von Moltke the elder was “shattered,” and wrote his brother that “war was now taking on an ever more hate-inspired character.” 63 He was “appalled by improvised armies, irregular elements, and appeals to popular passion, which he described as a “return to barbarism.” 64He wrote:  “Their gruesome work had to be answered by bloody coercion. Because of this our conduct of the war finally achieved a harshness that we deplored, but which we could not avoid.” 65

The brutal German response to the franc-tireurs found its legal justification in Franz Lieber’s principles for classification of belligerents and non-belligerents, which determined that guerrillas were outlaws or bandits. 66 Leiber’s principles were written for the Federal Army of the United States during the U.S. Civil War. Propagated as General Order 100 and signed by Abraham Lincoln the sections dealing with irregular forces and partisans dealt with this in section IV of that code:

Article 82 stated: “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.”

Article 84 stated: “Armed prowlers, by whatever names they may be called, or persons of the enemy’s territory, who steal within the lines of the hostile army for the purpose of robbing, killing, or of destroying bridges, roads or canals, or of robbing or destroying the mail, or of cutting the telegraph wires, are not entitled to the privileges of the prisoner of war.”

Article 85 stated: “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” 67

The German Army adapted that code and incorporated it in its doctrine for dealing with partisans. In response to their experience in France during the Franco-Prussian War the Germans systematically reorganized the Ettapen to include railroad and security troops, special military courts, military police, intelligence and non-military police, including the Landespolizei and the Grenzschutzpolizei. 68

The doctrinal response to partisans, or as they would become known in German writings as “bandits,” was that bandits should be encircled and destroyed. This was employed in the Southwest Africa German colonies. The Germans, influenced by the experience in France, “displayed a ferocity surpassing even that of the racially brutalized campaigns of its imperialist peers.” 69

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Lothar Von Trotha

The campaign against the Herero tribes which resisted the occupation of Namibia from 1904- 1912 utilized encirclement operations, racial cleansing and what would become known as Bandenkämpfung operations. 70 In 1904 the Herero were banished from their lands which were handed over to German settlers. When the Herero resisted Von Trotha ordered that they be exterminated. “Every Herero found within German borders with or without weapons, was to be shot. But most of them died without violence. The Germans simply drove them out into the desert and sealed off the border.” 71

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Of about 80,000 Herero some 60,000 died in the desert, a few thousand survived to be “sentenced to hard labor in German concentration camps.” 72 Despite praise from some in the General Staff the brutality shocked many Germans and General Alfred Von Schielffen who had to defend himself from the “accusations that he had harmed the good name of the army” ensured that “Trotha never served in the field again.” 73 Despite this the application of such Bandenkämpfung operations found their way into German military doctrine.

This was further developed in the First World War, especially in the east where General Fritz Gempp described the security problem as a “ruthless struggle”in which German pacification policy “was in reality the application of terror to galvanize the population into accepting German rule.” 74 Anti-partisan doctrine was codified in the Truppenführung of 1933 which stated that “area defense against partisan warfare is the mission of all units” and that the preferred method of combating partisan bands was that they be surrounded and destroyed. 75 General Erhard Rauss later described active and passive measures used to deal with partisans, focusing on the tactic of encirclement to destroy the enemy. 76

The accounts of the German General Staff praised Von Trotha’s operation. “The month long sealing of desert areas, carried out with iron severity, completed the work of annihilation…the sentence had been carried out” and “the Hereros had ceased to exist as an independent people.” 77

Anti-partisan doctrine focused on the destruction of the partisans, was coupled a total war philosophy and provided fit well with Hitler’s radical ideology. The “propensity for brutality in anti-guerrilla warfare was complimented by officers’ growing preoccupation, both during and after World War I, with the mastery and application of violence.” 78 Michael Geyer notes: “ideological mobilization for the creation of a new national and international order increasingly defined the parameters of technocratic planning.” 79 The acceptance of long used brutal tactics to destroy the enemy combined with Hitler’s radical racial animus against the Jews could only be expected to create a maelstrom in which all international legal and moral standards would be breached.

To be continued…

Notes

25 Geyer, Michael. German Strategy 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategyfrom Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age.

Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986. p.582

26 Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.587

27 Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983 p.174

28 Goerlitz, Walter. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of the German High Command 1938- 1945. Translated by David Irving. Cooper Square Press 2000, First English Edition 1966 William Kimber and Company Ltd. German edition published by Musterschmnidt-Verlad, Gottigen 1961 p. 135

29 Ibid. Fest, Hitler. p. 649

30 Ibid. Megargee, War of Annihilation p.7

31 Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg, Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by

Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p. 27 Goebbels notes a similar theme in his recollection of Hitler’s reasons for destroying Russia a power . See Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984 pp. 413-415.

32 Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff.” Translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder

and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953 p.390

33 Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA,

1964 p. 150

34 Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005. p. 24

35 Aly, Gotz and Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation :Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction Phoenix

Paperbacks, London, 2003, Originally published as Vordenker der Vernichtung, Hoffman und Campe, Germany 1991, English translation by Allan Blunden. First published in Great Britain Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2002 pp. 245-246

36 Ibid. Fest. Hitler p.649

37 Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002 p.93

38 This understanding is different than many historians who as Friedlander notes advocate something like this: “The persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe was but a secondary consequence of major German policies pursued toward entirely different goals.” See Friedlander p.xvi

39 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.xii

40 Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.22

41 It has to be noted that Liddell-Hart published this work in 1948 and was limited in the materials available, his

primary sources being German officers who he viewed with sympathy because he saw them as exponents of his theory of the indirect approach. The time was also around the beginning of the Cold War and the Berlin Blockade when many American and British leaders were trying to end the war crimes trials and bring the West Germans into the new anti-Communist alliance.

42 Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.224

43 Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996. p.139

44 Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977. p.495

45 Ibid. Stern. Gold and Iron p.494

46 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.34

47 Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.34-35

48 Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Translated by J. Maxwell, Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press,New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubledayand Company 1979 p. 216. Canaris would later protest the Kristalnacht to Keitel (p.334) and become convinced of the crime of the Nazis against the Jews.

49 Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.98

50 Ibid Witte The Wehrmacht, p.73

51 Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England and New York, NY 1965. Originally published by Viking Press, New York, NY 1963 p.26

52 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.6

53 Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II. The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 1995 p.195

54 Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1955 p.495

55 Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003 p.40

56 Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.64 Westermann also notes the preponderance of SA men who entered the Order Police in the 1930s, a factor which helped further the politicization of that organization.

57 Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.23

58 Ibid. Westermann Hitler’s Police Battalions p.103

59 Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977 p. 28

60 Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004 p.41

61 Blood, Philip. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books Inc. Washington, DC 2008 p.11

62 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.42

63 Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.93

64 Rothenburg, Gunther. Moltke, Schieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment in Makers of ModernStrategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986 p.305

65 Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993. p.32

66 Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.6 Lieber was a Prussian emigrant to the US who taught law at Columbia University.

67 Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, prepared by Francis Lieber, LL.D., Originally Issued as General Orders No. 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863, Washington 1898: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp 6 May 2014

68 Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.12-13

69 Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.42

70 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.16-19 71 Ibid. Lindqvist Exterminatethe Brutes p.149 72 Ibid. Lindqvist Exterminate the Brutes p.149 73 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.19

74 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.22

75 Condell, Bruce and Zabecki, David T. Editors. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung, Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO and London 2001. p.172

76 Tsouras, Peter G. Editor, Fighting in Hell: The German Ordeal on the Eastern Front The Ballantine Publishing

Group, New York, 1998. First published 1995 by Greenhill Books pp. 142-146. It is interesting to note that Rauss does not describe any actual anti-partisan operation

77 Ibid. Lindqvist. P.149

78 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.45

79 Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.584

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“MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” The Writing is On the Wall: Trump and Iran

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to break the word of the United States in regard to the Iran Nuclear deal I have done a lot of reading and reflecting. His decision seems to be bereft of any real strategy or strengthening of the overall United States position not just concerning Iran but which will have repercussions around the world; perhaps most importantly with the coming summit with North Korea. The President  made his decision to withdraw from the accord despite opposition from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the State Department and it appears that there is no real plan for what happens next.

The deal was a flawed instrument but it was the only thing keeping Iran from moving forward on its nuclear program. Inspectors on the ground and the constant monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities were the best way of ensuring that Iran could not restart its nuclear program. Did the deal keep Iran from playing a part in Syria or Yemen? Of course not, but absent it the Iranians might already be nuclear capable.

The President went against are oldest and most reliable allies and gave the Iranians, as well as the Russians an edge to exploit. The Iranians have already moved to exploit this by pledging to remain in compliance. Whether they meant it or not it gave them the rare opportunity to make themselves look more reasonable than the United States. Likewise it inserted the United States directly into the Iranian – Saudi/ Shia – Sunni divide and emboldened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch attacks on Syria military and Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions in Syria under the premise of preventive strike by the Iranians on Israel.

The players in this deadly game of brinksmanship are so numerous that you can’t keep track of them without a scorecard. There are the major players; the Iranians, Saudis, the United States, Russia, Israel, the EU, and NATO, as well as the lesser but also important players; Oman, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the war ravaged Yemen, the fragile Iraqi state, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Palestinians, various Syrian rebel groups, ISIL, Al Qaida, Afghanistan, the Taliban, and possibly even Egypt, Pakistan and India.

All of these players have their own agenda and capabilities to throw a monkey wrench into anything that the President is attempting to do and both the Pakistanis and Israelis have nukes that they can deliver. Many of these nations or groups have well tested short and intermediate ballistic missile systems as well as well as vast asymmetrical warfare capabilities.

As far as new sanctions the Iranians who have the support of both the Russians and Chinese have many ways to circumvent them.  The President’s strategy, if you can call it that appears to be more about reinforcing his base in American domestic politics by playing fast and loose with the truth while moving towards war.

Let me be fair, I hope against hope that whatever the President is trying to do actually works to deescalate the tensions in the region and maybe even free the people of Iran from the Mullahs. But I really do not think that peace is his intention, not that I trust the Iranians as far as I can throw one, and I certainly believe that Vladimir Putin is doing his damnedest to split the Western alliance and NATO and that President Trump is playing right into his hand.

Do I know what is going to happen in the coming weeks and months? Not really, but I can read the writing on the wall. “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” It is something that I think that the President should take seriously because he is steering the nation and the world towards a disaster. I don’t want that but I can see it coming with the Four Horsemen, and the President will be the man most responsible when everything comes crashing down. The President lives in a world of self-deception and fantasy and as much as I hope that he gets this right I know in my heart that he will not because he is unwilling to have his beliefs checked by facts. Facts are his enemy.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: 

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Forgotten Soldiers: Remembering the Men of Dien Bien Phu 64 Years After the Battle

Dien Bien Phu War Remnants

Dien Bien Phu Today

It was an epic battle in a tragic war and most people neither know or care what happened in the valley where a small border post named Dien Bien Phu became synonymous with forgotten sacrifice. This year fewer remembrances are taking place. Some are in Vietnam and others in France.

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General Vo Nguyen Giap

On May 7th 2011 in Hanoi a small remembrance was held to mark the fall of Dien Bien Phu and honor the victor, 101 year old General Vo Nguyen Giap at his home. Giap was the last senior commander on either side at that time, and he died a year and a half later at the age of 102.  That 2011 ceremony was one of the few remembrances held anywhere marking that battle which was one of the watersheds of the 20th Century. A half a world away in Houston Texas a small group of French veterans, expatriates and historians laid a wreath at the Vietnam War Memorial.  In Paris an ever shrinking number of French survivors used to gather each year on May 7th at 1815 hours for a religious service at the Church of Saint Louis des Invalides to remember the dead and missing of the French Expeditionary Corps who were lost in Indochina. A small number of other small ceremonies were held as late as 2014. There appear to be no services to honor their memory this year.

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Legionnaires of the Second Foreign Legion Parachute Battalion at Dien Bien Phu 

This battle is nearly forgotten by time even though it and the war that it symbolized is probably the one that we need to learn from before Afghanistan becomes our Indochina.

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French Prisoners

On May 8th 1954 the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu surrendered to the Viet Minh.  It was the end of the ill-fated Operation Castor in which the French had planned to lure the Viet Minh Regulars into open battle and use superior firepower to decimate them.  The strategy which had been used on a smaller scale the previous year at Na Son.

The French had thought they had come up with a template for victory based on their battle at Na Son in how to engage and destroy the Viet Minh. The plan was called the “Air-land base.”  It involved having strong forces in a defensible position deep behind enemy lines supplied by air.  At Na Son the plan worked as the French were on high ground, had superior artillery and were blessed by General Giap using human wave assaults which made the Viet Minh troops fodder for the French defenders.  Even still Na Son was a near run thing for the French and had almost no effect on Viet Minh operations elsewhere while tying down a light division equivalent and a large portion of French air power.

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Viet Minh Regulars

The French took away the wrong lesson from Na-Son and repeated it at Dien Bien Phu.  The French desired to use Dien Bien Phu as a base of operations against the Viet Minh.  Unfortunately the French chose badly. Instead of high ground they elected to occupy a marshy valley surrounded by hills covered in dense jungle. They went light on artillery and the air head was at the far end of the range of French aircraft, especially tactical air forces which were in short supply.  To make matters worse, General Navarre, commander of French forces in Indochina was informed that the French government was going to begin peace talks and that he would receive no further reinforcements. Despite this, he elected to continue the operation.

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French Paras Drop into Dien Bien Phu

Once on the ground French logistics needs were greater than the French Air Force and American contractors could supply.  French positions at Dien Bien Phu were exposed to an an enemy who held the high ground, had more powerful artillery, and placed in defensive positions that were not mutually supporting. The terrain was so poor that French units were incapable of any meaningful offensive operations against the Viet Minh. As such they could only dig in and wait for battle. Despite this many positions were not adequately fortified and the artillery was in emplaced positions that were easily targeted by Viet Minh artillery and not hardened.

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Major Marcel Bigeard 

The French garrison was a good quality military force composed of veteran units. It was comprised of Paras, Foreign Legion, Colonials (Marines), North Africans and Vietnamese troops. Ordinarily in a pitched battle it would have done well, but this was no ordinary battle and their Viet Minh opponents were equally combat hardened, well led and well supplied and fighting for their independence.

Many of the French officers including Lieutenant Colonel Langlais and Major Marcel Bigeard commander of the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion were among the best leaders in the French Army. Others who served in Indochina including David Galula and Roger Trinquier would write books and develop counter-insurgency tactics which would help Americans in Iraq. Unfortunately the French High Command badly underestimated the capabilities and wherewithal of the Giap and his divisions.

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Viet Minh Supply Column

Giap rapidly concentrated his forces and built excellent logistics support.  He placed his artillery in well concealed and fortified positions which could use direct fire on French positions. Giap also had more and heavier artillery than the French believed him to have.  Additionally he brought in a large number of anti-aircraft batteries whose firepower from well concealed positions enabled the Viet Minh to take a heavy toll among the French aircraft that attempted to supply the base.  Unlike at Na-Son, Giap did not throw his men away in human assaults.  Instead he used his Sappers (combat engineers) to build protective trenches leading up to the very wire of French defensive positions. These trenches provided both concealment and protection from the French. In time these trenches came to resemble a spider web that enveloped the French base.

Without belaboring the point the French fought hard as did the Viet Minh. One after one French positions were overwhelmed by accurate artillery and well planned attacks.  The French hoped for U.S. air intervention, even the possibility of the United States using nuclear weapons against the Viet Minh. They were turned down by a US Government that had grown tired of a war in Korea.

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Wounded Awaiting Medivac 

Relief forces were unable to get through and the garrison died, despite the bravery of the Paratroops. Colonials and Legionaries. The French garrison was let down by their high command and their government and lost the battle due to inadequate logistics and air power. The survivors endured a brutal forced march of nearly 400 miles on foot to POW camps in which many died. Many soldiers who survived the hell of Dien Bien Phu were subjected to torture, including a practice that we call “water boarding.” General Georges Catroux who presided over the official inquiry into the debacle at Dien Bien Phu wrote in his memoirs: “It is obvious that there was, on the part of our commanding structure, an excess of confidence in the merit of our troops and in the superiority of our material means.”

Few French troops caved to the Viet Minh interrogations and torture but some would come away with the belief that one had to use such means to fight the revolutionaries.  Some French troops and their Algerian comrades would apply these lessons against each other within a year of their release. French soldiers and officers were shipped directly from Indochina to Algeria to wage another protracted counterinsurgency often against Algerians that they had served alongside in Indochina. The Algerian campaign proved to be even more brutal and it was lost politically before it even began.

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The March to Captivity

The wars in Indochina and Algeria tore the heart out of the French Army. The defeats inflicted a terrible toll. In Indochina many French career soldiers felt that the government’s “lack of interest in the fate of both thousands of missing French prisoners and loyal North Vietnamese…as dishonorable.” Divisions arose between those who served and those who remained in France or Germany and created bitter enmity between soldiers. France would endure a military coup which involved many who had fought in Vietnam and Algeria. Having militarily won that war these men called The Centurions by Jean Lartenguy had been turned into liars by their government.  They were forced to abandon those who they had fought for and following the mutiny, tried, imprisoned, exiled or disgraced. Colonial troops who remained loyal to France were left without homes in their now “independent” nations. They saw Dien Bien Phu as the defining moment. “They responded with that terrible cry of pain which pretends to free a man from his sworn duty, and promises such chaos to come: ‘Nous sommes trahis!’-‘We are betrayed.’

The effects of the wars in French Indochina, Algeria and Vietnam on the French military establishment were long lasting and often tragic. The acceptance of torture as a means to an end sullied even the hardest French officers. Men like Galula and Marcel Bigeard refused to countenance it, while others like Paul Aussaresses never recanted.

One of the most heart rending parts of the Dien Bien Phu story for me is that of Easter 1954 which fell just prior to the end for the French:

“In all Christendom, in Hanoi Cathedral as in the churches of Europe the first hallelujahs were being sung. At Dienbeinphu, where the men went to confession and communion in little groups, Chaplain Trinquant, who was celebrating Mass in a shelter near the hospital, uttered that cry of liturgical joy with a heart steeped in sadness; it was not victory that was approaching but death.” A battalion commander went to another priest and told him “we are heading toward disaster.” (The Battle of Dienbeinphu, Jules Roy, Carroll and Graf Publishers, New York, 1984 p.239)

Like many American veterans of Vietnam, many of the survivors of Dien Bien Phu made peace and reconciled with the Vietnamese soldiers who opposed them. While many still regretted losing they respected their Vietnamese opponents and questioned the leadership of their country and army. Colonel Jacques Allaire, who served as a lieutenant in a battalion under the command of MajorMarcel Bigeard reflected to a Vietnamese correspondent in 2014:

“I am now 92 years old and not a single day has gone by since the Dien Bien Phu loss that I haven’t wondered to myself about why the French army lost…Victory was impossible and too far away from us. The aircrafts were not able to give us relief. The French Government changed 19 times in nine years and that messed everything up. General Navarre did not know anything about the battlefield in Vietnam. After the Na San battle, the French commanders thought they could win and decided to attack at Dien Bien Phu, but they were wrong. It was Vietnamese soldiers who owned the hills, because it was their country… I respect my own enemies, who fought hard for national independence…Vietnam Minh soldiers were true soldiers with the will, courage and morality…” 

As a veteran of Iraq whose father served in Vietnam I feel an almost a spiritual link to our American and French brothers in arms who fought at Dien Bien Phu, the Street Without Joy, Algiers and places like Khe Sanh, Hue City, the Ia Drang and the Mekong. When it comes to this time of year I always have a sense of melancholy and dread as I think of the unlearned lessons and future sacrifices that we may be asked to make.

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Legionairs on the Street Without Joy

The lessons of the French at Dien Bien Phu and in Indochina were not learned by the United States as it entered Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor were the lessons of Algeria. It was an arrogance for which we paid dearly and I do not think that many in our political, media and pundits or military have entirely learned or that we in the military have completely shaken ourselves. We lost 54,000 dead in Vietnam, nearly 4500 in Iraq and so far over 2400 in Afghanistan, and 20,000 wounded which does not count many of the PTSD or TBI cases. Add the casualties suffered by our NATO allies the number of allied dead is now over 3500. Some 36,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and Police officers have been killed. Afghan civilian deaths are estimated between 100,000 and 400,000, not counting the wounded or those killed in Pakistan. In January 2018 the Pentagon classified data on Afghan military, police, and civilian casualties.

The Afghan debacle has spanned three Presidential administrations so there accountability for it must be shared between Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, as well as their administrations, the military, and Congress. President Trump has shifted gears from the time he was a candidate when he pronounced the war “lost” to when addressed it as President on August 21st 2017. In his speech at fort Myer Virginia he said:

“When I became President, I was given a bad and very complex hand, but I fully knew what I was getting into:  big and intricate problems.  But, one way or another, these problems will be solved — I’m a problem solver — and, in the end, we will win.” 

But he also said:

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen…” 

There are those even as we have been at war for almost 17 years in Afghanistan who advocate even more interventions in places that there is no good potential outcome, only variations on bad. I do not know how the President who calls himself a “problem solver” will define winning, but how many more American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen will need die  for a “victory” that we cannot even define?

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French Navy F-8 Bearcat at Dien Bien Phu

Like the French our troops who returned from Vietnam were forgotten.The U.S. Army left Vietnam and returned to a country deeply divided by the war. Vietnam veterans remained ostracized by the society until the 1980s. As Lieutenant General Harold Moore  who commanded the battalion at the Ia Drang immortalized in the film We Were Soldiers recounted “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publicly questioned.”

I think that will be the case for those of us who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria. Americans love to say they support the troops and are overwhelmingly polite and even kind when they encounter veterans. But that being said even as they do that they don’t are ignorant about our campaigns, battles, and sacrifices; and even worse fail to hold the government regardless of administration accountable for sending American troops into wars that they cannot win.

I guess that is why I identify so much with the men of Dien Bien Phu. The survivors of that battle are now in their nineties and dissolved their Veterans of Dien Bien Phu association in 2014 due to the difficulties most had in traveling.

For those interested in the French campaign in Indochina it has much to teach us. Good books on the subject include The Last Valley by Martin Windrow, Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall; The Battle of Dien Bien Phu by Jules Roy; and The Battle of Dien Bien Phu – The Battle America Forgot by Howard Simpson. For a history of the whole campaign, read Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. A novel that has some really good insights into the battle and the French Paras and Legionnaires who fought in Indochina and Algeria is Jean Larteguy’s  The Centurions. 

I always find Fall’s work poignant.  The French journalist served as a member of the French Resistance in the Second World War and soldier later and then became a journalist covering the Nuremberg Trials and both the French and American wars in Vietnam. He was killed on February 21st 1967 near Hue by what was then known as a “booby-trap” and what would now be called an IED while covering a platoon of U.S. Marines.

I do pray that we will learn the lessons before we enter yet another hell somewhere else.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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My Country Right or Wrong?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Even since I was a child I was an avid reader of history, especially military history and biography. I idolized the men that I read about and many of the things that they said and did, and almost always skewed them into an almost perverse form of patriotism. After the attacks of 9-11-2001 and during the run up to the invasion of Iraq I got into a internet argument with a man who later became the Presiding Bishop of my former denomination. He was and still is a very honorable man.

While very conservative theologically he had a strong sense of social justice and having come to adulthood during Vietnam war era he had a certain sense of distrust about military adventurism that I, an officer who at that time had some twenty years of military service did not fully appreciate. I responded to one of his comments with a quote from one of my favorite American Naval heroes, Captain Stephen Decatur who once remarked:

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”

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There is some truth in what Decatur said, but his words should not be used to justify imperialistic nationalism, racism, or militarism. Sadly back then that was exactly how I used it to attempt to shut down the arguments of an honorable man. If he ever reads this I hope that Bishop Craig Bates accepts my heartfelt apology for how I treated him back then.

It took me two combat tours, one at sea where I was a member of a boarding team, and the other in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, and a lot more military and historical education that I realized how wrong that I was in doing this. Using patriotic quotes to buttress immoral, illegal, unconstitutional, and un-Christian policies is damnable. G. K. Chesterton noted: “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’”

But, I am afraid that my former understanding of patriotism is exactly what many Americans follow today, regardless of their political affiliation or ideology seem to automatically defer to the decisions of the President in launching military strikes. This has been largely true since the end of Second World War until now with the exception of Vietnam. No one wants to be “against the troops” and I am still one of those troops, but opposing nationalism, imperialism, and militarism is not the same as “supporting the troops.” The late Army Lieutenant General Hal Moore, who led his battalion into the Battle of the Ia Drang in 1965 and was memorialized in the film We Were Soldiers told West Point Cadets in 2005:

“The war in Iraq, I said, is not worth the life of even one American soldier. As for Secretary Rumsfeld, I told them, I never thought I would live long enough to see someone chosen to preside over the Pentagon who made Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara look good by comparison. The cadets sat in stunned silence; their professors were astonished. Some of these cadets would be leading young soldiers in combat in a matter of a few months. They deserved a straight answer.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander in chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake-and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million Americans gave their lives to protect and defend.”

I remember reading General Moore’s back words then and despite my respect for him I didn’t see their truth, I still believed the lies of Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration, and the Right wing media. I was wrong, and within two and a half years I would discover just how right that he was.

Today, some ten years after I returned from Iraq I find that we now have a President whose historical, ethical, and policy blindness is subjected to his narcissistic and paranoid personality. He is a man who dodged the draft, avoided military service, condemned men and women wounded. killed, or captured in combat as losers while bragging that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in the 1980s was his Vietnam.

War is a great way to distract from other real concerns, especially if it gives the President, any President, a chance to divert attention from his own malfeasance and criminality. Our Republic is in danger and I do not think that the danger will soon pass. I only wish that it would.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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