Category Archives: History

What Does it take to Become a War Criminal? 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the fact that senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens. I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. 

There was a common myth after the Second World War that the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, fought an honorable and clean war while the criminal actions of war crimes and genocide were the fault of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the SS. It was a comforting myth because it allowed a great number of men who agreed with Hitler’s policies, and often assisted in them to maintain a fiction of honor and respectability. While for the most part the German Army in the West fought according to international norms of conduct, it was a different matter on the Easter Front, where following Hitler’s lead the Wehrmacht from its senior officers in down was often at the tip of the spear in enforcing Hitler’s racial and ideological war. 


                                                                                       Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

This came form the top. In addition to the Commissar order, also known as the Criminal Order, Field Marshal Keitel offered this directive to units fighting on the Easter Front:

“In view of the vast size of the conquered territories in the East, the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if instead of punishing resistance by sentencing the guilty in a court of law, the occupying forces spread such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush every will to resist amongst the population.

The commanders concerned, together with all available troops, should be made responsible for maintaining peace within their areas. The commanders must find the means of keeping order within their areas, not by demanding more security forces, but by applying suitable drastic measures.”

                                                                                  Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. 

“The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. … In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. … For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” 

An order was issued by General Erich Von Manstein’s Eleventh Army in November 1941 which stated in part:

“Jewry constitutes the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remainder of the Red Armed Forces which is still fighting, and the Red leadership. More strongly than in Europe it holds all the key positions in the political leadership and administration, controls commerce and trades, and further forms the nucleus for all unrest and possible uprisings.

The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all. Never again must it encroach upon our European living space.

The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties’ which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people…

The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. Nevertheless nothing which the homeland has sacrificed itself to contribute may, out of a misguided sense of humanity, be given to prisoners or to the population unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht.

The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevist terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews…

Manstein claimed that he did not remember the order at his trial and that he sought to ensure that his troops did not engage in conduct not fitting of the honor of soldiers. He included the following in the order: “Severest action to be taken: against despotism and self-seeking; against lawlessness and lack of discipline; against every transgression of the honor of a soldier.”

In his defense at Nuremberg Manstien attempted to mitigate the damning words of the order. He explained that “I do want to point out to you that if it says here that the system must be exterminated, then that is extermination of the Bolshevik system, but not the extermination of human beings.” Despite Manstein’s clarification of what he meant in the order it would be hard for soldiers and commanders receiving the order as written could hardly have been expect not to interpret it literally. Likewise his order mentions the intentional starvation of Soviet citizens and harsh invectives against the Jews. 

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten. 


There are many other examples of German Army commanders at various levels issuing orders similar to Von Reichenau and Von Manstein as well as accounts of Wehrmacht units cooperating with the Einsatzgruppen in various mass extermination actions against the Jews, including the action at Babi Yar. In many cases the cooperation was quite close as evidenced by the report of the commander of Einsatzgruppe C to Berlin on November 3rd 1941:

In a great number of cases, it happened that the support of the Einsatzkommandos was requested by the fighting troops. Advance detachments of the Einsatzgruppe also participated in every large military action. They entered newly captured localities side by side with the fighting troops. Thus, in all cases, the utmost support was given. For example, in this connection, it is worth mentioning the participation in the capture of Zhitomir, where the first tanks entering the city were immediately followed by three cars of Einsatzkommando 4a.

As a result of the successful work of the Einsatzgruppe, the Security Police is also held in high regard, in particular by the HQ of the German Army. The liaison officers stationed in Army HQ are loyally briefed of all military operations, and, besides, they receive the utmost cooperation. The Commander of the 6th Army, Generalfeldmarschall von Richenau, has repeatedly praised the work of the Einsatzkommandos and, accordingly, supported the interests of the SD with his staff.

It is true that in some cases individual Wehrmacht officers refused to cooperate with the Einsatzgruppen in their operational areas, but without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht the extermination campaigns against the Jews and other Soviet citizens could not have been successful. 

                                                                                                 The Rape of Nanking 

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I do believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era. The disturbing thing as that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. 

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. 



There is a scene in the movie Nuremberg in which an American psychologist named Gustave Gilbert questions the commandant of Auschwitz. When he asks the commandant if he felt guilty for the extermination of the Jews in his camp the commandant said “does a rat catcher feel guilty for killing rats.” Thereafter Gilbert confronts Herman Goering pointedly asking the number two Nazi “A rat catcher catching rats”. Is that the kind of thinking it takes to carry out state sanctioned mass murder? Not just blind obedience but also a belief that your victims are not human?” 

Goering replies: Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your medical experiment? Would Americans have dropped bombs as easily on Germany as it did upon Japan killing as many civilians as possible? I think not. To an American sensibility, a Caucasian child is considerably more human than a Japanese child…. 

What about the negro officers in your own army? Are they not allowed to command troops in combat? Can they sit on the same buses as the whites? The segregation laws in your country and the anti Semitic laws in mine, are they not a difference of degree? 

The tragic thing is that Goering was right. For all that is good about America there is a persistent strain of this kind of thinking which deems other people, especially non-white people as inferior racially, culturally, and intellectually. Over the decades we like to think that we have become better but the underlying attitudes are still present today, sometimes in plain view, but often just under our veneer of civility and good manners, but what maintains that civility is quite fragile. In his history of Auschwitz British historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

 “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?”

When I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College I challenged my students to deal with these kinds of questions. They are not easy and they require that we look into the darkest reaches of our hearts to see what we will do when we are confronted with choices to obey orders that go against the values of the institution but may reflect the more troubling aspects of our culture. Some of these men and women I am sure understood and will not break under pressure, but I am not so sure about others, and I worry about them in the crisis. The fact is we are only as good as we are in the crisis. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not discount when asking the question about how ordinary men become war criminals:

“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.”

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. I will address this in the recent American context next week. So until tomorrow, when I publish something more personal and unrelated to this subject.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Devil’s Details: Hitler’s Criminal Orders and his Obedient Generals


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I posted a short article, well by my standards, dealing with the criminal nature of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The words of Hitler are damning, but even worse are the words and actions of the Generals who should have known better.

Hitler’s war against the Soviet Union was something that he had dreamed of long before he took power. I wrote about it in Mein Kampf and spoke about it many times. He wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.” He intended that those who served him would carry out his orders implicitly without regard to traditional morality, ethics, or law. His war against the Soviet Union was unlike any in history.

Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.” His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.” It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Gotthard Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…”


Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.” 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.” General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH wrote in his War Dairy for that meeting: “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.”

Based on the concepts of Lebensraum (living space) 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.” 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.” Territories conquered in the East by the Wehrmacht would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.”

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….” The Slavic inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve. This was directly tied in to the economic considerations of the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. The Slavs, being untermenschen or sub-human in Nazi parlance, were simply excess mouths to feed and thus expendable. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation, and it was cheaper than bullets. As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.” Despite the numerous post-war justifications and evasions of responsibility by various Wehrmacht generals; many of who found employment working for the Americans and British in the years following the war, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.”

Ideology was key to Hitler’s worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war. However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were, he found men who willingly carried them out beyond the true believers of the Nazi faithful. They were embraced by much of 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.


The lesson for today is that no tyrant bent on conquest or terror at home can do so without compliant members of the police, the military, the civil service, and the judiciary. As Timothy Snyder wrote: “If lawyers had followed the norm of no execution without trial, if doctors had accepted the rule of no surgery without consent, if businessmen had endorsed the prohibition of slavery, if bureaucrats had refused to handle paperwork involving murder, then the Nazi regime would have been much harder pressed to carry out the atrocities by which we remember it.” The German Generals also had their chances to stop the Hitler, but they became the men who made his conquests and genocide possible by carrying out his orders.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, leadership, Military, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

Directions for a Criminal War of Annihilation

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The German war was unlike any in modern military history. It was not just a war to defeat the Soviets militarily or to overthrow Stalin’s regime of terror. It was a war conceived to conquer as well as to exterminate and enslave. The Nazis believed the Slavic peoples of the Soviet Union to what the referred to as untermenschen or sub-human and the plan was designed to provide the German master race with the necessary Lebensraum, or living space. The plan called for ethnic cleansing, the deliberate starvation of 30 million people in the Soviet Union, the destruction of the Jews of the Soviet Union, and the elimination of anyone associated with the Soviet government or Communist Party. It was an ideological war without mercy in which civilized norms that governed the conduct of war were defied and trampled.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war.  Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.”  Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.”

Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941 when he told confidants: “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….”

On March 30th 1941 Hitler addressed 250 Generals about the nature of the war to come:

Shortly before the order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that it would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness. Hitler told the Generals that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.” He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension, he told them “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” Few questioned the order and few protested, those that did were told by the Army Commander, Field Marshal Von Brauchtisch “the he would express their opinion to OKW and Hitler respectively.”

But Von Brauchitsch refused to protest to Hitler and instead issued an order on his own authority “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nurmeberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.” Yet Von Brauchitsch’s hands were not unsoiled and he later told his commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” He knew what that meant as he was present.

General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH, or the Army High Command took notes on Hitler’s speech. They are chilling to read as none present could have understood them in any other way than Hitler meant:

“Clash of two ideologies. Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality….We must forget the comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before nor after the battle. This is a war of extermination….We do not wage war to preserve the enemy….War against Russia: Extermination of the Bolshevist Commissars and of the Communist intelligentsia….this is no job for military courts. The individual troop commanders must know the issues at stake. They must be leaders in the fight….This war will be very different from war in the West. In the East harshness today means leniency in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”

General Erich Hoepner, commander of Panzer Group Four who would be executed following the attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944, told his commanders that the invasion was “an essential part of the German people’s struggle for existence” and stated, “the struggle must aim at the annihilation of today’s Russia and must therefore be waged with unparalleled harshness”.  Hoepner told his officers that they were fighting for “the defense of European culture against Moscovite–Asiatic inundation, and the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism … No adherents of the present Russian-Bolshevik system are to be spared.”

The German Army as well as the SS Einsatzgruppen and the German Order Police launched their attack in the early hours of June 22nd and did not lack the hardness required to commit war crimes and atrocities that are unimaginable, and which can never be allowed to happen again.

I could go on but I will end for now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Burning Again: The Resurgence of Hate and Southern Justice

normanrockwellsouthernjustice-2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fifty-three years ago three young men working to register blacks to vote as part of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. As a historian I am troubled as I see an increase in racially motivated hate crimes and displays of nooses left as threats at historically black institutions or places dedicated to remembering the Civil Rights movement. When I see the lack of empathy and the lack of concern shown for these crimes by white people, especially Evangelical Christians I wonder if we are sinking back into the abyss of Jim Crow.

The fact that the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination had to struggle with the issue of civil rights and the race hatred of the Alt-Right last week showed me that the toxin has not been purged from the Convention, or for that matter much of America. The fact that a man who is active in White Supremacist movements murdered two men and wounded a third as they defended Muslim women on a Portland Oregon commuter train was disturbing, as was the murder of a newly commissioned African American Army Lieutenant by a White Supremacist on the campus of the University of Maryland. Likewise there has been a spate of nooses being placed on college campuses, historically Black institutions, Civil Rights sites, and at the offices or residences of people who support civil rights, including professors.

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These troubling incidents have again reminded me of the events of June 21st 1964 when three men, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen. Twenty year old Andrew Goodman was from New York City. He was a progressive activist and Anthropology student at Queens College. Twenty-four year old Mickey Schwerner was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish and had come South to work with others for Civil Rights in Mississippi. The third man, James Cheney, was a twenty-one year old Black Mississippian. Chaney was from Meridian Mississippi and was a volunteer with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equity. All three men were there to assist community leaders with voter registration and education in conjunction with local churches.

On June 21st 1964 the three men were in Philadelphia Mississippi where they were investigating the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church. The church had been working with CORE’s voter registration and education programs. In the wake of the church being burned, many black citizens and church members were beaten by whites, rumored to be aided by members of the local Sheriff’s office. They specifically accused Sheriff’s Deputy Cecil Price of abuse.

When Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were marked men from the moment they arrived. As they left the town the three were arrested for an alleged traffic violation. They were briefly jailed and released that evening, but were not allowed to make any phone calls. On the way back to Meridian, two carloads of Klan members forced their car off the road and then abducted them and murdered them. The bodies were not discovered for 44 days. Their disappearance brought national attention and a major investigation to the town. Eventually seven men, including Deputy Price were convicted of the murders. The murders and the investigation became the subject of the movie Mississippi Burning.

MississippiBurningPressRelease

Iconic American artist Norman Rockwell who was well known for his portraits of American life as well as his support for the Civil Rights movement, painted “Southern Justice” which is sometimes known as “Murder in Mississippi” in 1965. This was not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which over the past decade has been under attack in many southern states and a key provision on racial gerrymandering was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Fifty-three years ago the murders of these three young men brought national attention to the pervasive racism and discrimination in the country. Before this event most murders, lynchings, as well as the burnings of homes businesses were left uncovered by the media, the victims forgotten and the perpetrators unpunished.

I do hope and pray that we never go back to those days, but there are a number of troubling issues for us in the United States today. The first is that there have been quite a few laws passed to limit voting rights in various states. Some of these have been successfully challenged in the courts and eventually one may make its way to the Supreme Court. Then there is the rapidly growing number of racially motivated hate crimes against Blacks and other minorities as well as the threat of nooses being placed in trees around historic sites and museums dedicated to minorities or civil rights. The Southern Poverty Law Commission monitors the activities of hate groups across the political, religious, and racial spectrum and has noted a sharp increase in attacks over the past year.

I wonder if we will see a return to the commonplace violence and silence that characterized the nation’s treatment of minorities before the Civil Rights movement. You think that we have moved the chains so far and that it cannot happen again when before our very eyes it rises like an undead specter to claim new victims. Eternal vigilance is the guardian of freedom; we cannot allow the thousands who died before, and those who have died since these three young men to be forgotten. Too much is at stake.

In memory of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner and others of the Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights movement who died or suffered to peacefully bring about change to our society, I leave you until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Dangers of Political Violence: The Lesson of the Reichstag Fire


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday a man named James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on members of the Congressional Republican baseball team as they practiced for their annual game against the Congressional Democrats which is a charitable event that helps a number of local agencies that help children. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was critically wounded and several police officers were wounded during the exchange of fire in which Hodgkinson was killed. I was shocked and infuriated by his actions. Political violence and the attempted assassination of any elected official in a democracy where we still have the ability to remove people or parties from office at the ballot box is never justified. I would call his act an act of terrorism just as I have other acts by so many others. 

But unlike other times when a white shooter killed or wounded multiple people based on their race, religion, or politics I was joined by many GOP leaders. Sadly, some like Newt Gingrich, Repreantive Steve King and a host of Right Wing pundits blamed it on “typical left wing violence” while ignoring the constant attacks and threats from Right Wing extremists including members of the militia movement, the KKK, and various new-Nazi and Alt Right groups and individuals. 

At least President Trump, for the first time in his presidency urged unity and extolled the best part of Americans working together. I was pleased to here his words which I think were genuine, and I hope that this will be a moment that defines his presidency in a positive way for all Americans. That being said I have reasons to doubt, not that I want to but because of his past actions which I will mention later in the article. 

From was we know Hodgkinson was very active politically and quite angry at the GOP and President Trump but until today no one, even friends who knew him well would have expected him to cross the line to commit political violence. The congressman from his district from Illinois said that Hodgkinson was angry in his communications about issues but never crossed a line for the office to think that he was potentially dangerous. However, he had a history of domestic violence, destruction of property and a number of other issues. One of Hodgkinson’s Facebook posts from 2015 was a editorial cartoon criticizing Scalise. Hodkinson had been in the D.C. area a couple of weeks and had been spending time at the YMCA near the ball field where the shooting occurred. The former Mayor of Alexandria saw him a number of times and reported that he appeared to be living out of a gym bag and had offered to help Hodgkinson get a job.

I’m sure that there will be more information about Hodgkinson coming out so I will not go into any more detail or speculate why he committed this act, but I will discuss the very real dangers to civil liberty and legitimate peaceful political dissent that his act could lead.

Despite my initial optimism about how the President Trump responded today and many of his advisors have shown spoken in very authoritarian language about political dissent, demonizing their opponents, first during their GOP opponents in the primaries, then all who opposed them during the general election and afterwards. The president even blessed violent acts committed by his supporters during the campaign. Any time a protester physically responded to bullying or intimidation at Trump rallies they were set upon and then were blamed for the resulting violence even if they were the victims.

But what I am afraid is that acts such as Hodgkinson’s will result in draconian measures to limit dissent. People forget that it was the action of a single Dutch Communist acting on his own to burn down the Reichstag that gave Hitler the ability to pass the Enabling Act in March of 1933. That act gave his government unprecedented authority to arrest and detail opponents without due process rights, as well as to shut down opposition newspapers. It was followed up by other laws during the course of the Third Reich which further restricted political opposition. Often people arrested in the round ups would be acquitted of any crime but then upon release would be taken by the SA or SS to concentration camps.

Another incident was the assassination of a junior German diplomat at the German embassy in Paris in November 1938. When he died Hitler gave Josef Goebbels permission to launch a pogrom against the Jews now known as Kristallnacht. Hundreds of synagogues were burned, thousands of Jewish businesses looted, and hundreds of Jews killed, with thousands rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

The problem is that individual acts of violence against leaders who are predisposed to authoritarian responses give those leaders license to suspend laws and civil liberties on what are called exceptional circumstances. The attack by Hodgkinson could easily be construed as an act of political terrorism. As Timothy Snyder noted in his book On Tyranny:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”

That is a warning to all who think that individual acts of political violence can be excused or tolerated, they end up threatening the liberties of all. While I do not think this particular attack is a Reichstag Fire moment, the next one might be and anyone who thinks that their act of violence will help the country is sadly mistaken. For that matter it is also possible that a group or individual sympathetic to Trump could create a false flag incident in order to prompt him to suppress legitimate dissent. 

Like I said we will find out more as the days go by about the shooter, the attack, and the possible executive or legislative responses to it, not to mention possible violence against protestors or politicians committed by armed Trump supporters who have often threatened to respond violently to any attack against Trump or the GOP.

This is a very dangerous moment. I do pray that Representative Scalise will recover from his wounds and hope that I will not see progressives rejoice regarding the crime committed by Hodgkinson. Likewise as I mentioned earlier in the article I am heartened by President Trump’s response yesterday and I pray that it will be something that defines the rest of his presidency. I may oppose many, if not most of his policies and actions, as well as hoping that the investigation of his advisers interactions with the Russians goes forward; but I will never continue to hope and pray for the best for our country and yes even for him. That being said I am very wary based on his past words and actions and will never give up my right as an American to speak openly and honestly. I learned that lesson from many great American military men including General Smedley Butler and Colonel David Hackworth. Dissent is still an act of patriotism no matter what some people claim. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A March for the Civil Rights of LGBTQ People in the Nation’s Capital 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I posted an article that I think is one of the most important that I have ever written and the heart of it came from the sermon of Rabbi Roland Gittlesohn, a Navy Chaplain serving with the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima. It is one of the most remarkable sermons that I have ever heard or seen. It says far better than I think I ever have just how important the rights of every American citizen no-matter what their race, creed, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or political beliefs have a right. It is the promise of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” That statement is the bedrock of the American ideal, an ideal that we as a people have often fallen far short of embracing too many times, but it is still the idea that was so revolutionary for its time that even Americans, especially slave owners condemned it. 


When one actually looks at those speeches and writings, by slave power proponents as well as others who legislated against liberty for anyone but White Protestant men, they are chilling. Sadly, the same philosophy of trampling the liberty of all but a few remains a part of our national fabric. We see that manifested daily by people, including politicians, preachers, and pundits in regard to people of color, Muslims, women, and of course the LGBTQ community. Alone of all minorities the LGBTQ community is often attacked by others who are also the victims of racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination, often because their religion informs them that Gays are deserving of damnation. Sadly those who do such things cannot see that LGBTQ civil rights are part of the same struggle that their ancestors pioneered and that they still face themselves. 


But the fact is, that if you are an American, that these rights have been paid for by the blood of Americans of every race, religion, and ethnicity, including Gays. Rabbi Gittlesohn said it so well at Iwo Jima. He spoke for the rights of every American at a time when many ministers, including his fellow Chaplains would never have the courage to do. He spoke for Protestant, Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans. He recognized that fighting for freedom and democracy” abroad does not automatically guarantee that those rights will be protected at home. He said: 

Any man among us the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, them, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price….

We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home…. 

I am a Navy Chaplain, a career officer of almost 36 years of service. I am a Christian and I am a straight ally of my LGBTQ friends. I marched in the nation’s capital yesterday with and for my fellow citizens in support of full equality for my LGBTQ friends. I marched with Section 93 of the Key West Coast to Coast flag, the largest and most historic artifact of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. It is known by many victims of anti-LGBTQ violence and discrimination as The Sacred Cloth and it has symbolized the struggle for LGBTQ rights around the world. Today my friend Mark Ebenhoch will take it to Orlando to commemorate the victims killed in the massacre at the Pulse nightclub. It is a part of American history now, not just LGBTQ history. 

I have continued to read Rabbi Gittlesohn’s sermon over the weekend. Like him, I am determined not to let prejudices spawned by ill-informed minds not to stand in the way of equal rights for anyone. As Rabbi Gittlesohn and Abraham Lincoln noted, it is for all of us to labor for a new birth of freedom, one that encompasses every American as well as those people who come to the United States yearning to be free. If I cannot do that, if you cannot do that then we are a contemptible lot and do not deserve the liberties that far too many men and women have sacrificed their lives, reputations, and sacred honor to defend. 

This my friends is all about the liberties that so many others have done their best to defend. If someone wants to espouse the race based White Supremacy that has been a part of our nation since the beginning, that is their right: but history, liberty, and equality show that theirs is a misguided and immoral philosophy doomed for the ash heap of history. I cannot state that in any clearer terms. The rights and civil liberties of LGBTQ people need to be defended by everyone, even those that do not agree with their lifestyles or sexual preferences, especially those that will fight for their so called religious freedoms that they would deny to others simply because their faith or lifestyle is different. I believe that people who do this either have no concept of civil rights, the Declaration, or the Constitution, or that they fully understand them but willingly would trample them in order to secure their primacy. Either way it is not good.

I was pleased to march for civil rights with my LGBTQ friends yesterday. This really is the crux of them matter. If we believe in the American experiment it is either for all of us or none of us. Rabbi Gittlesohn understood that; the question today is will we? 

So until tomorrow I wish you the best.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Theirs is the Highest and Purest Democracy…” The Sermon of Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn at Iwo Jima

39GittelsonIwoJima2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been serving in the military for almost 36 years between the Army and the Navy, and I have been a chaplain for almost 25 of those years. Over six of those years as a Navy Chaplain were spent serving with the Marine Corps. Rabbi Roland Gittelson volunteered to serve as a Navy Chaplain in the Second World War and like many Navy Chaplains he was assigned to serve with the Marines. He was the first Rabbi to serve with the Marines.

He went ashore with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima. The battle was one of the most brutal ever fought by the Marines. In the month long battle for the 8.1 square mile island the Marines and Navy suffered nearly 7,000 men killed and 19,000 wounded. Over 18,000 of the island’s Japanese defenders died. On March 21st 1945 the Rabbi was one of the Chaplains to dedicate the cemetery for the fallen. The prejudice was such that many of his Christian colleagues wanted nothing to do with him and nothing to do with any service that he conducted. Though the division Chaplain had wanted him to conduct the main service to commemorate all of the fallen: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, White, Black, and Mexican because no one else would conduct an ecumenical service, but both realized that the push back would be too much, so Gittelsohn conducted the Jewish service, expecting little to come of it except for the spiritual impact that it might have on his Jewish Marines, but unbeknownst to him a few Protestant Chaplains watched the service and then distributed it throughout the division and back to home.

Rabbi Gittelsohn’s message is one of the most remarkable that I have heard or read by any Chaplain and is very similar to the message of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is a message that needs to be heard today. That is why I am posting it here.

Have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

This is perhaps the grimmest and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-day. Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends. Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us. Men who were on the same ships with us and went over the sides with us, as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island. Men who fought with us and feared with us. Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the man who could have discovered the cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet—to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory.

It is not easy to do so. Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes. Any one of us might have died in their places. Indeed, some of us are alive and breathing at this very moment only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours. To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy. Of them, too, can it be said with utter truth: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. It can never forget what they did here.”

No, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men and the other dead of our division who are not here have already done. All that we can even hope to do is follow their example. To show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war. To swear that, by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of human will, their sons and ours shall never suffer these pains again. These men have done their job well. They have paid the ghastly price of freedom. If that freedom be once again lost, as it was after the last war, the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs. So it is the living who are here to be dedicated and consecrated.

We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in war. Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors, generations ago, helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor—together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.

Any man among us the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, them, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

To one thing more do we consecrate ourselves in memory of those who sleep beneath these crosses and stars. We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home. This war, with all its frightful heartache and suffering, is but the beginning of our generation’s struggle for democracy. When the last battle has been won, there will be those at home, as there were last time, who will want us to turn our backs in selfish isolation on the rest of organized humanity, and thus to sabotage the very peace for which we fight. We promise you who lie here; we will not do that! We will join hands with Britain, China, Russia—in peace, even as we have in war, to build the kind of world for which you died.

When the last shot has been fired, there will still be those whose eyes are turned backward not forward, who will be satisfied with those wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed. We promise you, our departed comrades: this, too, we will not permit. This war has been fought by the common man; its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man! We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons, the sons of miners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers, will inherit from your death the right to a living that is decent and secure.

When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to whom profit is more important than peace, who will insist with the voice of sweet reasonableness and appeasement that it is better to trade with the enemies of mankind than, by crushing them, to lose their profit. To you who sleep here silently, we give our promise: we will not listen! We will not forget that some of you were burnt with oil that came from American wells, that many of you were killed by shells fashioned from American steel. We promise that when once again men seek profit at your expense, we shall remember how you looked when we placed you reverently, lovingly, in the ground.

This do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: this shall not be in vain! Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come—we promise—the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Amen.

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