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The Indictment of America Today: Justice Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is hard to write this series of articles in the wake of President Donald Trump’s pardoning of American soldiers convicted of War Crimes and the Crime of Aggressive War initiates by President George Bush against Iraq in 2003. Before such actions, even the My Lai Massacre and other atrocities in Vietnam I couldn’t imagine the United States government going against the Nuremberg War Crimes precedents or the words of Justice Robert Jackson who organized the trials and served as the chief American Prosecutor at the Major War Crimes Trials. Before those Trials Jackson noted something incredibly profound, which too many Americans, regardless of their political party or ideology fail to comprehend.

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

However, Jackson’s words are not our reality, Bush and Trump are not out of the ordinary when it comes to Twentieth Century and even the Obama Administration which with the barest of obfuscation continued without asking for either a declaration of war or update to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force against Al Qaeda. In fact all of our military actions since 2001 have been based on that that one act by Congress, disregarding any other facts regarding those that we are fighting.

That brings me to tonight’s article and my articles for much of the next week.

On November 20th, 1945 twenty Nazi leaders took their seats in the dock in Saal 6oo (Courtroom 600) at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The men were among the top leaders of the Third Reich, though there were a number of conspicuous absences. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler had committed suicide as the Reich collapsed. Martin Bormann was missing and was believed to have escaped. Reinhard Heydrich died of wounds caused by Czech partisans in 1942.

Now, the men who ruled over most of Europe just three years before presented a sad sight. Deprived of their opulent uniforms and power they looked terrifyingly ordinary.

At 10 A.M., Presiding Judge, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence banged his gavel on his desk looking across the courtroom at the defendants and made his opening statement, saying:

“Before the defendants in this case are called upon to make their pleas to the indictment which has been lodged against them, and in which they are charged with Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity, and with a Common Plan or Conspiracy to commit those Crimes… The trial which is now about to begin is unique in the history of the jurisprudence of the World and it is of supreme importance to millions of people all over the globe…”

Two years ago during I stood next to that same defendant’s dock where Hermann Goering and nineteen other men sat. Goering had been Hitler’s number two man and designated successor until the last days of the war. The others in the dock with Goering were Governor General of Poland, Dr. Hans Frank; Minister of the Interior and Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia, Dr.Wilhelm Frick; General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Staff of the Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht; Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; Gauleiter of Thuringia, and head of Slave Labor programs, Fritz Sauckel; Dr. Arthur Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Occupied Easter Territories, Dr. Arthur Seyess-Inquart, Reichskommissar of occupied Netherlands; Julius Streicher, Gauleiter of Franconia and publisher of the Nazi propaganda paper, Der Sturmer; Commander of the German Navy and Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Karl Donitz; Minister of Economics, Dr. Walter Funk; Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess;;Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath; the First Commander of the German Navy under Hitler, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder; Head of the Hitler Youth, and Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach; Armaments Minister, Albert Speer; Hans Fritzsche of the Propaganda Ministry, Dr. Hjalmar Schlacht pre-war head of the Reichsbank, and Economics Minister, Franz von Papen, who also had served as Vice Chancellor, Ambassador to Austria and later Turkey.

Also indicted but not in the dock, were SS Obergrüppenfuhrer and Chief of the Reich Security Main Office, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was recovering from a mild stroke; Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Head of the Armaments and heavy industry conglomerate Friedrich Krupp AG, and Chief of The Nazi Party Chancellery Martin Bormann. Robert Ley, leader of The German Labor Front committed suicide in his cell before the trial began. Krupp was too sick and senile to go to trial.

On the second day of trial Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Robert Jackson who was serving as Chief Prosecutor for the United States gave one of the most powerful opening statements in any trial. He said:

May it please Your Honour, the privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hands of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgement of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that Power ever has paid to Reason.

This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of seventeen more, to utilise International Law to meet the greatest menace of our times -aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honour.

In the prisoners’ dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led, almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these miserable men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals their fate is of little consequence to the world.

What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalism and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which embroiled Europe, generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived, and with the forces they have directed, that tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which attached to their names. Civilisation can afford no compromise with the forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.

What these men stand for we will patiently and temperately disclose. We will give you undeniable proofs of incredible events. The catalogue of crimes will omit nothing that could be conceived by a pathological pride, cruelty, and lust for power. These men created in Germany, under the “Fuehrerprinzip,” a National Socialist despotism equalled only by the dynasties of the ancient East. They took from the German people all those dignities and freedoms that we hold natural and inalienable rights in every human being, The people were compensated by inflaming and gratifying hatreds towards those who were marked as “scapegoats.” Against their opponents, including Jews, Catholics, and free labour the Nazis directed such a campaign of arrogance, brutality, and annihilation as the world has not witnessed since the pre-Christian ages. They excited the German ambition to be a “master race,” which of course implies serfdom others. They led their people on a mad gamble for domination. They diverted social energies and resources to the creation of what they thought to be an invincible war machine. They overran their neighbours. To sustain the “master race” in its war-making, they enslaved millions of human beings and brought them into Germany, where these hapless creatures now wander as “displaced persons.” At length, bestiality and bad faith reached such excess that they aroused the sleeping strength of imperilled Civilisation. Its united efforts have ground the German war machine to fragments. But the struggle has left Europe a liberated yet prostrate land where a demoralised society struggles to survive. These are the fruits of the sinister forces that sit with these defendants in the prisoners’ dock.

In justice to the nations and the men associated in this prosecution, I must remind you of certain difficulties which may leave their mark on this case. Never before in legal history has an effort been made to bring within the scope of a single litigation the developments of a decade covering a whole continent, and involving a score of nations, countless individuals, and innumerable events. Despite the magnitude of the task, the world has demanded immediate action. This demand has had to be met, though perhaps at the cost of finished craftsmanship. In my country, established courts, following familiar procedures, applying well-thumbed precedents, and dealing with the legal consequences of local and limited events, seldom commence a trial within a year of the event in litigation. Yet less than eight months ago to-day the courtroom in which you sit was an enemy fortress in the hands of German S.S. troops. Less than eight months ago nearly all our witnesses and documents were in enemy hands. The law had not been codified, no procedures had been established, no tribunal was in existence, no usable courthouse stood here, none of the hundreds of tons of official German documents had been examined, no prosecuting staff had been assembled, nearly all of the present defendants were at large, and the four prosecuting powers had not yet joined in common cause to try them. I should be the last to deny that the case may well suffer from incomplete researches, and quite likely will not be the example of professional work which any of the prosecuting nations would normally wish to sponsor. It is, however, a completely adequate case to the judgement we shall ask you to render, and its full development we shall be obliged to leave to historians.

Before I discuss particulars of evidence, some general considerations which may affect the credit of this trial in the eyes of the world should be candidly faced. There is a dramatic disparity between the circumstances of the accusers and of the accused that might discredit our work if we should falter, in even minor matters, in being fair and temperate.

Unfortunately, the nature of these crimes is such that both prosecution and judgement must be by victor nations over vanquished foes. The world-wide scope of the aggressions carried out by these men has left but few real neutrals. Either the victors must judge the vanquished or we must leave the defeated to judge themselves. After the First World War we learned the futility of the latter course. The former high station of these defendants, the notoriety of their acts, and the adaptability of their conduct to provoke retaliation make it hard to distinguish between the demand for a just and measured retribution, and the unthinking cry for vengeance which arises from the anguish of war. It is our task, so far as is humanly possible, to draw the line between the two. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.

At the very outset, let us dispose of the contention that to put these men to trial is to do them an injustice entitling them to some special consideration. These defendants may be hard pressed but they are not ill used. Let us see what alternative they would have to being tried.

More than a majority of these prisoners surrendered to or were tracked down by the forces of the United States. Could they expect us to make American custody a shelter for our enemies against the just wrath of our Allies? Did we spend American lives to capture them only to save them from punishment? Under the principles of the Moscow Declaration, those suspected war criminals who are not to be tried internationally must be turned over to individual governments for trial at the scene of their outrages. Many less responsible and less culpable American-held prisoners have been and will continue to be turned over to other United Nations for local trial. If these defendants should succeed, for any reason, in escaping the condemnation of this Tribunal, or if they obstruct or abort this trial, those who are American-held prisoners will be delivered up to our continental Allies. For these defendants, however, we have set up an International Tribunal, and have undertaken the burden of participating in a complicated effort to give them fair and dispassionate hearings. That is the best known protection to any man with a defence worthy of being heard. If these men are the first war leaders of a defeated nation to be prosecuted in the name of the law, they are also the first to be given a chance to plead for their lives in the name of the law. Realistically, the Charter of this Tribunal, which gives them a hearing, is also the source of their only hope. It may be that these men of troubled conscience, whose only wish is that the world forget them, do not regard a trial as a favour. But they do have a fair opportunity to defend themselves -a favour which, when in power, they rarely extended even to their fellow countrymen. Despite the fact that public opinion already condemns their acts, we agree that here they must be given a presumption of innocence, and we accept the burden of proving criminal acts and the responsibility of these defendants for their commission.

When I say that we do not ask for convictions unless we prove crime, I do not mean mere technical or incidental transgression of international conventions. We charge guilt on planned and intended conduct that involves moral as well as legal wrong. And we do not mean conduct that is a natural and human, even if illegal, cutting of corners, such as many of us might well have committed had we been in the defendants’ positions. It is not because they yielded to the normal frailties of human beings that we accuse them. It is their abnormal and inhuman conduct which brings them to this bar.

We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count in the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants re-enact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.

We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance between the most extreme of the Nazi revolutionists, the most unrestrained of the German reactionaries, and the most aggressive of the German militarists. If the German populace had willingly accepted the Nazi programme, no Storm-troopers would have been needed in the early days of the Party, and there would have been no need for concentration camps or the Gestapo, both of which institutions were inaugurated as soon as the Nazis gained control of the German state. Only after these lawless innovations proved successful at home were they taken abroad.

The German people should know by now that the people of the United States hold them in no fear, and in no hate. It is true that the Germans have taught us the horrors of modern warfare, but the ruin that lies from the Rhine to the Danube shows that we, like our Allies, have not been dull pupils. If we are not awed German fortitude and proficiency in war, and if we are not persuaded of their political maturity, we do respect their skill in the arts of peace, their technical competence, and the sober, industrious and self-disciplined character of the masses of the German people. In 1933, we saw the German people recovering prestige in the commercial, industrial and artistic world after the set-back of the last war. We beheld their progress neither with envy nor malice. The Nazi regime interrupted this advance. The recoil of the Nazi aggression has left Germany in ruins. The Nazi readiness to pledge the German word without hesitation and to break it without shame has fastened upon German diplomacy a reputation for duplicity that will handicap it for years. Nazi arrogance has made the boast of the “master race” a taunt that will be thrown at Germans the world over for generations. The Nazi nightmare has given the German name a new and sinister significance throughout the world, which will retard Germany a century. The German, no less than the non-German world, has accounts to settle with these defendants.

The fact of the war and the course of the war, which is the central theme of our case, is history. From September 1st, 1939, when the German armies crossed the Polish frontier, until September, 1942, when they met epic resistance at Stalingrad, German arms seemed invincible. Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands and France, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Balkans and Africa, Poland and the Baltic States, and parts of Russia, all had, been overrun and conquered by swift, powerful, well-aimed blows. That attack on the peace of the world is the crime against international society which brings into international cognizance crimes in its aid and preparation which otherwise might be only internal concerns. It was aggressive war, which the nations of the world had renounced. It was war in violation of treaties, by which the peace of the world was sought to be safeguarded.

This war did not just happen -it was planned and prepared for over a long period of time and with no small skill and cunning. The world has perhaps never seen such a concentration and stimulation of the energies of any people as that which enabled Germany, twenty years after it was defeated, disarmed and dismembered, to come so near carrying out its plan to dominate Europe. Whatever else we may say of those who were the authors of this war, they did achieve a stupendous work in organisation, and our first task is to examine the means by which these defendants and their fellow conspirators prepared and incited Germany to go to war.

In general, our case will disclose these defendants all uniting at some time with the Nazi Party in a plan which they well knew could be accomplished only by an outbreak of war in Europe. Their seizure of the German State, their subjugation of the German people, their terrorism and extermination of dissident elements, their planning and waging of war, their calculated and planned ruthlessness in the conduct of warfare, their deliberate and planned criminality toward conquered peoples -all these are ends for which they acted in concert; and all these are phases of the conspiracy, a conspiracy which reached one goal only to set out for another and more ambitious one. We shall also trace for you the intricate web of organisations which these men formed and utilised to accomplish these ends. We will show how the entire structure of offices and officials was dedicated to the criminal purposes and committed to the use of the criminal methods planned by these defendants and their co-conspirators, many of whom war and suicide have put beyond reach.

It is my purpose to open the case, particularly under Count One of the Indictment, and to deal with the Common plan or Conspiracy to achieve ends possible only by resort to Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity. My emphasis will not be on individual perversions which may have occurred independently of any central plan. One of the dangers ever present in this trial is that it may be protracted by details of particular wrongs and that we will become lost in a “wilderness of single instances.” Nor will I now dwell on the activity of individual defendants except as it may contribute to exposition of the Common Plan.

The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority behind all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture, the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and racked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.

I shall first take up the lawless road by which these men came to possess the power which they have so used. The chief instrumentality of cohesion in plan and action was the National Socialist German Workers Party, known as the Nazi Party. Some of the defendants were with it from the beginning. Others joined only after success seemed to have validated its lawlessness or power had invested it with immunity from the processes of the law. Adolf Hitler became its supreme leader or “Fuehrer” in 1921.

On the 24th February, 1920, at Munich, it publicly had proclaimed its programme (1708-PS). Some of its purposes would commend themselves to many good citizens, such as the demands for “profit-sharing in the great industries,” “generous development of provision for old age,” “a land reform suitable to our national requirements,” and “raising the standard of health.” It also made a strong appeal to that sort of nationalism which in ourselves we call patriotism and in our rivals chauvinism. It demanded “equality of rights for the German people in its dealing with other nations and the evolution of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.” It demanded the “union of all Germans on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples to form a Great Germany.” It demanded “land and territory (colonies) for the enrichment of our people and the settlement of our surplus population.” All of these, of course, were legitimate objectives if they were to be attained without resort to aggressive warfare.

The Nazi Party from its inception, however, contemplated war. It demanded the “abolition of mercenary troops and the formation of a national army.” It proclaimed that “in view of the enormous sacrifice of life and property demanded of a nation by every war, personal enrichment through war must be regarded as a crime against the nation. We demand, therefore, ruthless confiscation of all war profits.” I do not criticise this policy. Indeed, I wish it were universal. I merely wish to point out that in a time of peace, war was a preoccupation of the Party, and it started the work of making war less offensive to the masses of the people. With this it combined a programme of physical training and sports for youth that became, as we shall see, the cloak for a secret programme of military training.

The Nazi Party declaration also committed its members to an anti-Semitic programme. It declared that no Jew or any person of non-German blood could be a member of the nation. Such persons were to be disfranchised, disqualified for office, subject to the alien laws, and entitled to nourishment only after the German population had first been provided for. All who had entered Germany after 2nd August, 1914, were to be required forthwith to depart, and all non-German immigration was to be prohibited.

The Party also avowed, even in those early days, an authoritarian and totalitarian programme for Germany. It demanded creation of a strong central power with unconditional authority, nationalisation of all businesses which had been “amalgamated,” and a “reconstruction” of the national system of education, which “must aim at teaching the pupil to understand the idea of the State (state sociology).” Its hostility to civil liberties and freedom of the Press was distinctly announced in these words: “It must be forbidden to publish newspapers which do not conduce to the national welfare. We demand the legal prosecution of all tendencies in art or literature of a kind likely to disintegrate our life as a nation, and the suppression of institutions which might militate against the above requirements.”

The forecast of religious persecution was clothed in the language of religious liberty, for the Nazi programme stated “We demand liberty for all religious denominations in the State.” But it continued with the limitation, “so far as they are not a danger to it and do not militate against the morality and moral sense of the German race.”

The Party programme foreshadowed the campaign of terrorism. It announced, “we demand ruthless war upon those whose activities are injurious to the common interests,” and it demanded that such offences be punished with death.

It is significant that the leaders of this Party interpreted this programme as a belligerent one, certain to precipitate conflict. The Party platform concluded:

“The leaders of the Party swear to proceed regardless of consequences -if necessary, at the sacrifice of their lives -toward the fulfilment of the foregoing points.”

It is this Leadership Corps of the Party, not its entire membership, that stands accused before you as a criminal Organisation.

We have not sought to include every person who may, at some time, have supported the Nazi Party, but only the leadership core which pledged itself to achieve its ends at the risk of their lives.

Let us now see how the leaders of the Party fulfilled their pledge to proceed regardless of consequences. Obviously, their foreign objectives, which were nothing less than to undo international treaties and to wrest territory from foreign control, as well as most of their internal programme, could be accomplished only by possession of the machinery of the German State. The first effort, accordingly, was to subvert the Weimar Republic by violent revolution. An abortive “putsch” at Munich in 1921 landed many of them in jail. A period of meditation which followed produced “Mein Kampf,” henceforth the source of law for the Party workers and a source of considerable revenue to its supreme leader. The Nazi plans for the violent overthrow of the feeble Republic then turned to plans for its capture.

No greater mistake could be made than to think of the Nazi Party in terms of the loose organisations which we of the Western world call “political parties.” In discipline, structure, and method the Nazi Party was not adapted to the democratic process of persuasion. It was an instrument of conspiracy and of coercion. The Party was not organised to take over power in the German State by winning the support of a majority of the German people; it was organised to seize power in defiance of the will of the people.

The Nazi Party, under the “Fuehrerprinzip,” was bound by an iron discipline into a pyramid, with the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, at the top and broadening into a numerous Leadership Corps, composed of overlords of a very extensive Party membership at the base. By no means all of those who may have supported the movement in one way or another were actual Party members. The membership took the Party oath which in effect amounted to an abdication of personal intelligence and moral responsibility. This was the oath: “I vow inviolable fidelity to Adolf Hitler; I vow absolute obedience to him and to the leaders he designates for me.” The membership in daily practise followed its leaders with an idolatry and self-surrender more Oriental than Western. We will not be obliged to guess as to the motives or goal of the Nazi Party. The immediate aim was to undermine the Weimar Republic. The order to all Party members to work to that end was given in a letter from Hitler of 24th August, 1931, to Rosenberg, of which we will produce the original.

Hitler wrote:-“I am just reading in the Volkischer Beobachter, edition 235/ 236 page 1, an article entitled ‘Does Wirth intend to come over?’ The tendency of the article is to prevent on our part a crumbling away from the present form of government. I myself am travelling all over Germany to achieve exactly the opposite. May I therefore ask that my own paper will not stab me in the back with tactically unwise articles …” (047-PS)

Captured film enables us to present the defendant, Alfred Rosenberg, who from the screen will himself tell you the story. The S.A. practised violent interference with the elections. We have here the reports of the S.D., describing in detail how its members later violated the secrecy of elections in order to identify those who opposed them. One of the reports makes this explanation:

“The control was effected in the following way: some members of the election-committee marked all the ballot-papers with numbers. During the ballot itself, a voters list was made up. The ballot-papers were handed out in numerical order, therefore it was possible afterwards with the aid of this list to find out the persons who cast no-votes or invalid votes. One sample of these marked ballot-papers is enclosed. The marking was done on the back of the ballot-papers with skimmed-milk.” (R-142)

The Party activity, in addition to all the familiar forms of political contest, took on the aspect of a rehearsal for warfare. It utilised a Party formation, “Die Sturmabteilungen,” commonly known as the S.A. This was a voluntary organisation of youthful and fanatical Nazis trained for the use of violence under semi-military discipline. Its members began by acting as bodyguards for the Nazi leaders and rapidly expanded from defensive to offensive tactics. They became disciplined ruffians for breaking up opposition meetings and the terrorisation of adversaries. They boasted that their task was to make the Nazi Party “master of the streets.” The S.A. was the parent organisation of a number of others. Its offspring included “Die Schutzstaffeln” commonly known as the S.S., formed in 1925, and distinguished for the fanaticism and cruelty of its members; “Der Sicherheitsdienst,” known as the S.D.; and “Die Geheime Staatspolizei,” the Secret State Police, the infamous Gestapo formed in 1934 immediately after Nazi accession to power.

A glance at a chart of the Party Organisation is enough to show how completely it differed from the political parties we know. It had its own source of law in the Fuehrer and it had its own courts and its own police. The conspirators set up a government within the Party to exercise outside the law every sanction that any legitimate State could exercise and many that it could not. Its chain of command was military, and its formations were martial in name as well as in function. They were composed of battalions set up to bear arms under military discipline, motorised corps, flying corps, and the infamous “Death Head Corps,” which was not misnamed. The Party had its own secret police, its security units, its intelligence and espionage division, its raiding forces, and its youth forces. It established elaborate administrative mechanisms to identify and liquidate spies and informers, to manage concentration camps, to operate death vans, and to finance the whole movement. Through concentric circles of authority, the Nazi Party, as its leadership later boasted, eventually organised and dominated every phase of German life -but not until they had waged a bitter internal struggle characterised by brutal criminality. In preparation for this phase of their struggle they created a party police system. This became the pattern and the instrument of the police State, which was the first goal in their plan.

The Party formation, including the Leadership Corps of the Party, the S.D., the S.S. the S.A. and the infamous Secret State Police, or Gestapo -all these stand accused before you as criminal organisations; organisations which, as we will prove from their own documents, were recruited only from the recklessly devoted Nazis, ready in conviction and temperament to do the most violent of deeds to advance the common programme. They terrorised and silenced democratic opposition and were able at length to combine with political opportunists, militarists, industrialists, monarchists and political reactionaries.

A glance at a chart of the Party Organisation is enough to show how completely it differed from the political parties we know. It had its own source of law in the Fuehrer and it had its own courts and its own police. The conspirators set up a government within the Party to exercise outside the law every sanction that any legitimate State could exercise and many that it could not. Its chain of command was military, and its formations were martial in name as well as in function. They were composed of battalions set up to bear arms under military discipline, motorised corps, flying corps, and the infamous “Death Head Corps,” which was not misnamed. The Party had its own secret police, its security units, its intelligence and espionage division, its raiding forces, and its youth forces. It established elaborate administrative mechanisms to identify and liquidate spies and informers, to manage concentration camps, to operate death vans, and to finance the whole movement. Through concentric circles of authority, the Nazi Party, as its leadership later boasted, eventually organised and dominated every phase of German life -but not until they had waged a bitter internal struggle characterised by brutal criminality. In preparation for this phase of their struggle they created a party police system. This became the pattern and the instrument of the police State, which was the first goal in their plan. The Party formation, including the Leadership Corps of the Party, the S.D., the S.S. the S.A. and the infamous Secret State Police, or Gestapo -all these stand accused before you as criminal organisations; organisations which, as we will prove from their own documents, were recruited only from the recklessly devoted Nazis, ready in conviction and temperament to do the most violent of deeds to advance the common programme. They terrorised and silenced democratic opposition and were able at length to combine with political opportunists, militarists, industrialists, monarchists, and political reactionaries.

On January 30,1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the German Republic. An evil combination, represented in the prisoner’s dock by its most eminent survivors, had succeeded in possessing itself of the machinery of the German Government, a facade behind which they thenceforth would operate to make reality of the war of conquest they so long had plotted. The conspiracy had passed into its second phase.

We shall now consider the steps, which embraced the most hideous of crimes against humanity, to which the conspirators resorted In perfecting control of the German State and in preparing Germany for the aggressive war indispensable to their ends.

The Germans of the 1920′ s were a frustrated and baffled people as a result of defeat and the disintegration of their traditional government. The democratic elements, which were trying to govern Germany through the new and feeble machinery of the Weimar Republic, got inadequate support from the democratic forces of the rest of the world. It is not to be denied that Germany, when world-wide depression added to her other problems, was faced with urgent intricate pressures in her economic and political life, which necessitated bold measures.

The internal measures by which a nation attempts to solve its problems are ordinarily of no concern to other nations. But the Nazi programme from the first was recognised as a desperate programme for a people still suffering the effects of an unsuccessful war. The Nazi policy ends recognised as attainable only by a renewal and more successful outcome of war. The conspirators’ answer to Germany’s problems was nothing less than to plot the the regaining of territories in the First World War and the acquisition of other fertile lands of Eastern Europe by dispossessing or exterminating those who inhabited them. They also contemplated destroying or permanently weakening all other neighbouring peoples so as to win virtual domination over Europe and probably over the world. The precise limits of their ambition we need not define, for it was and is as illegal to wage aggressive war for small stakes as for large ones.

We find at this period two governments in Germany-the real and the ostensible. The form of the German Republic was maintained for a time, and it was the outward and visible government. But the real authority in the State was outside of and above the law and rested in the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party.

On February 27, 1933, less than a month after Hitler became Chancellor, the Reichstag building was set on fire. The burning of this symbol of free parliamentary government was so providential for the Nazis that it was believed they staged the fire themselves. Certainly when we contemplate their known crimes, we cannot believe they would shrink from mere arson. It is not necessary, however, to resolve the controversy as to who set the fire. The significant point is in the use that was made of the fire and of the state of public mind it produced. The Nazis immediately accused the Communist Party of instigating and committing the crime, and turned every effort to portray this single act of arson as the beginning of a Communist revolution. Then, taking advantage of the hysteria, the Nazis met this phantom revolution with a real one. In the following December, the German Supreme Court, with commendable courage and independence, acquitted the accused Communists, but it was too late to influence the tragic course of events which the Nazi conspirators had set rushing forward.

Hitler, on the morning after the fire, obtained from the aged and ailing President von Hindenburg a Presidential decree suspending the extensive guarantees of individual liberty contained in the constitution of the Weimar Republic. The decree provided that “Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the Press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.” (1390-PS)

The extent of the restriction on personal liberty under the decree of 28th February, 1933, may be understood by reference to the rights under the Weimar Constitution which were suspended:

Article 114. The freedom of the person is inviolable. Curtailment or deprivation of personal freedom by a public authority is only permissible on a legal basis. Persons who have been deprived of their personal freedom must be informed at the latest on the following day by whose authority and for what reasons the deprivation of freedom was ordered. Opportunity shall be afforded them without delay of submitting objection to their deprivation of freedom.

Article 115. Every German’s home is his sanctuary and is inviolable. Exceptions may only be made as provided by law.

Article 117. The secrecy of letters and all postal, telegraphic and telephone communications is inviolable. Exceptions are inadmissible except by Reich law.

Article 118. Every German has the right, within the limits of the general laws, to express his opinions freely in speech, in writing, in print, in picture form or in any other way. No condition of work or employment may detract from this right and no disadvantage may accrue to him from any person making use of this right.

Article 123. All Germans have the right to assemble peacefully and unarmed without giving notice and without special permission. A Reich law may make previous notification obligatory for assemblies in the open air, and may prohibit them in the case of immediate danger to the public safety.

Article 124. All Germans have the right to form associations or societies for purposes not contrary to criminal law. This right may not be curtailed by preventive measures. The same provisions apply to religious associations and societies. Every association may become incorporated (Erwerb der Rechtsfaehigkeit) according to the provisions of the civil law. The right may not be refused to any association on the grounds that its aims are political, social-political or religious.

Article 153. Property is guaranteed by the Constitution. Its content and limits are defined by the laws. Expropriation can only take place for the public benefitand on a legal basis. Adequate compensation shall be granted, unless a Reich law orders otherwise. In the case of dispute concerning the matter to the ordinary civil courts, unless Reich laws determine otherwise. Compensation must be paid if the Reich expropriates property belonging to the Lands, Communes, or public utility associations. Property carries obligations. Its use shall also serve the common good.” (2050-PS)

It must be said, in fairness to von Hindenburg, that the Constitution itself authorised him temporarily to suspend these fundamental rights “if the public safety and order in the German Reich are considerably disturbed or endangered.” It must also be acknowledged that President Ebert previously had invoked this power.

But the National Socialist coup was made possible because the terms of the Hitler-Hindenburg decree departed from all previous ones in which the power of suspension had been invoked. Whenever President Ebert had suspended constitutional guarantees of individual rights, his decree had expressly revived the Protective Custody Act adopted by the Reichstag in 1916 during the previous war. This Act guaranteed a judicial hearing within twenty-four hours of arrest, gave a right to have counsel and to inspect all relevant records, provided for appeal, and authorised compensation from Treasury funds for erroneous arrests.

The Hitler-Hindenburg decree of 28th February, 1933, contained no such safeguards. The omission may not have been noted by von Hindenburg. Certainly he did not appreciate its effect. It left the Nazi police and party formations, already existing and functioning under Hitler, completely unrestrained and irresponsible. Secret arrest and indefinite detention without charges, without evidence, without hearing, without counsel, became the method of inflicting inhuman punishment on any whom the Nazi police suspected or disliked. No court could issue an injunction, or writ of habeas corpus, or certiorari. The German people were in the hands of the police, the police were in the hands of the Nazi Party, and the Party was in the hands of a ring of evil men, of whom the defendants here before you are surviving and representative leaders.

The Nazi conspiracy, as we shall show, always contemplated not merely overcoming current opposition, but exterminating elements which could not be reconciled with its philosophy of the State. It not only sought to establish the Nazi “new order” but to secure its way, as Hitler predicted, “for a thousand years.” Nazis were never in doubt or disagreement as to what those dissident elements were. They were concisely described by one of them, Col. General von Fritzsche, on 11th December, 1938, in these words:

“Shortly after the first war I came to the conclusion that we should have to be victorious in three battles if Germany were to become powerful again: (1) The battle against the working class -Hitler has won this; (2) Against the Catholic Church, perhaps better expressed against Ultramontanism (3) Against the Jews.” (1947-PS)

The warfare against these elements was continuous. The battle in Germany was but a practice skirmish for the world-wide drive against them. We have here in point of geography and of time two groups of crimes against humanity -one within Germany before and during the war, the other in occupied territory during the war. But the two are not separated in Nazi planning. They are a continuous unfolding of the Nazi plan to exterminate peoples and institutions which might serve as a focus or instrument for overturning their “new world order” at any time. We consider these Crimes against Humanity in this address as manifestations of the one Nazi Plan and discuss them according to General von Fritsche’s classification…

Jackson would continue his statement and address the battle against the Working Class, the battle against the churches, the crimes committed against the Jews, crimes in the conduct of war. I will deal with each of these In later articles.

Jackson concluded his opening statement with this words, and they are important, not only to the Nuremberg Process, but in our day today:

While the defendants and the prosecutors stand before you as individuals, it is not the triumph of either group alone that is committed to your judgement. Above all personalities there are anonymous and impersonal forces whose conflict makes up much of human history. It is yours to throw the strength of the law behind either the one or the other of these forces for at least another generation. What are the forces that are contending before you?

No charity can disguise the fact that the forces which these defendants represent, the forces that would advantage and delight in their acquittal, are the darkest and most sinister forces in society-dictatorship and oppression, malevolence and passion, militarism and lawlessness. By their fruits we best know them. Their acts have bathed the world in blood and set civilisation back a century. They have subjected their European neighbours to every outrage and torture, every spoliation and deprivation that insolence, cruelty, and greed could inflict. They have brought the German people to the lowest pitch of wretchedness, from which they can entertain no hope of early deliverance. They have stirred hatreds and incited domestic violence on every continent. There are the things that stand in the dock shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners.

The real complaining party at your bar is Civilisation. In all our countries it is still a struggling and imperfect thing. It does not plead that the United States, or any other country, has been blameless of the conditions which made the German people easy victims to the blandishments and intimidations of the Nazi conspirators.

But it points to the dreadful sequence of aggression and crimes I have recited, it points to the weariness of flesh, the exhaustion of resources, and the destruction of all that was beautiful or useful in so much of the world, and to greater potentialities for destruction in the days to come. It is not necessary among the ruins of this ancient and beautiful city with untold members of its civilian inhabitants still buried in its rubble, to argue the proposition that to start or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst of crimes. The refuge of the defendants can be only their hope that International Law will lag so far behind the moral sense of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must be regarded as innocent in law.

Civilisation asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of International Law, its prospects, its prohibitions and, most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will, in all countries, may have “leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the law.”

Following the trials of the major war criminals, eleven more trials were held, including the Doctor’s Trial, a General’s Trial, also known as the Hostage Trial, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial, as well as others.

To stand in the courtroom where such evidence was presented and powerful testimony given was humbling. To see where learned men, powerful, and even respected men, who had so willingly sacrificed any trace of personal honor and morality, men who aided and abetted a regime which committed the most heinous crimes committed by a civilized “Christian” nation in history left me silent. I have studied these trials since I was in college over 35 years ago. My primary professor, Dr. Helmut Haeussler was an interpreter at the trials.

Since that time I have continued to study them and today as I see the rise of Right Wing movements in Europe, as well as the United States, movements which have at their core many of the same beliefs and principles held by Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the men who stood trial at Nuremberg I find myself frightened.

This is especially so in the United States where Donald Trump has made repeated policy statements limiting civil rights and freedom of speech, limiting the role of the courts, curtailing freedom of the press, favoring one religion above others, curtailing the legal and civil rights of whole groups of people, expelling millions of people, banning whole groups of other people entry into the country, promising to rid the government of his opponents, to fire military leaders who disagree with him in mass, to commit the military to use methods that are condemned as war crimes, war crimes such as were prosecuted by the United States and her Allies at Nuremberg.

To make matters more frightening, many of Trump’s supporters see no problem with this and are often shown on video threatening opponents, advocating even more extreme and violent measures than Trump himself. They justify their proposed polices by saying that these measures are to “protect the country,” and to Make America Great Again.” 

But at what price?

In Judgement at Nuremberg, the film version of the Judges’ Trial, Spencer Tracy played Judge Dan Heywood. In the scene at which the verdicts were read, he gave this speech, some of which echoed the words of Justice Robert Jackson’s closing argument in the Major War Criminal Trial.

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

A nation is what it stands for. The ideals that have marked the American experiment have never been perfectly practiced by the United States, but they are still the hallmark of the last and greatest hope of civilization. They are the ideals which lead people around the world to want to become Americans, they are the ideals which sustain us. But what Trump and his followers say is that they are not important, and in fact should be limited or abrogated entirely. But this is the way of expediency, and the end of the American experiment.

Standing beside the dock at Nuremberg I was humbled by the fact that I was where such history had been made, and at the same time I was frightened for my country and the world. This is important because the United States is not immune from going down the path of the Third Reich. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

The Nuremberg trials help us to understand why. We cannot forget them.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, ethics, History, holocaust, iraq,afghanistan, nazi germany, Political Commentary, War on Terrorism

A Veteran’s Day Postscript: Belonging to a Different World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I wrote about Armistice Day and Veteran’s Day but I decided to write a postscript to it today. I write this specifically as a combat veteran who more than a decade after my return still deal with the effects of war, PTSD, TBI, sleep disorders, nightmares and night terrors, bad knees, ankles, shoulders, tinnitus, inability to understand speech, and a bunch of other stuff. I know many more who deal with what I do and worse. At least I am no longer suicidal, though I do experience periodic bouts of depression, panic attacks, and anxiety.

For me it began in February 2008 when on the way back from Iraq the military charter aircraft bringing us home stopped in Ramstein Germany. After a few hour layover we re-boarded the aircraft but we were no longer alone, the rest of the aircraft had been filled with the families of soldiers and airmen stationed in Germany. Just days before most of us had been in Iraq or Afghanistan. The cries of children and the intrusion of these people, not bad people by any means on our return flight was shocking, it was like returning to a world that I no longer knew.

I think that coming home from war, especially for those damaged in some way, in mind, body or spirit is harder than being at war.

In that thought I am not alone. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic novel All Quiet on the Western Front wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

Likewise, Guy Sajer a French-German from the Alsace and veteran of the Grossdeutschland Division on the Eastern Front in World War II noted at the end of his book The Forgotten Soldier: 

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.”

I have been reminded of this several times in the past week. It began walking through a crowded Navy commissary on Saturday, in the few minutes in the store my anxiety level went up significantly. On Tuesday I learned of the death of Captain Tom Sitsch my last Commodore at EOD Group Two, who died by his own hand. His life had come apart. After a number of deployments to Iraq as the Commander EOD Mobile Unit 3 and of Task Force Troy he was afflicted with PTSD. Between June of 2008 and the end of 2009 he went from commanding an EOD Group to being forced to retire.  Today I had a long talk with a fairly young friend agonizing over continued medical treatments for terminal conditions he contracted in two tours in Iraq where he was awarded the Bronze Star twice.

I have a terrible insomnia, nightmares and night terrors due to PTSD. My memories of Iraq are still strong, and this week these conditions have been much worse. Sager wrote:

“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”

Nearly 20 years after returning from war, a survivor of the 1st Battalion 308th Infantry, the “Lost Battalion” of World War One, summed up the experience of so many men who come back from war:

“We just do not have the control we should have. I went through without a visible wound, but have spent many months in hospitals and dollars for medical treatment as a result of those terrible experiences.”

butler-medals1

Two time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler toured Veterans hospitals following his retirement from the Marine Corps. He observed the soldiers who had been locked away. In his book War is a Racket:

“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill. If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit  any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.”

Similarly Remarque wrote in All Quiet on the Western Front:

“A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round. And this is only one hospital, a single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.”

Lt.ColonelCharlesWhiteWhittlesey

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey

Sometimes even those who have been awarded our Nation’s highest award for valor succumb to the demons of war that they cannot shake, and never completely adjust to life at “home” which is no longer home. For them it is a different, a foreign world to use the words of Sager and Remarque. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey won the Medal Medal of Honor as Commander of 1st Battalion 308th Infantry, the “Lost Battalion” in France. After the war he was different. He gave up his civilian law practice and served as head of the Red Cross in New York. In that role, and as the Colonel for his reserve unit, he spent his time visiting the wounded who were still suffering in hospitals. He also made the effort to attend the funerals of veterans who had died. The continued reminders of the war that he could not come home from left him a different man. He committed suicide on November 21st 1921not long after serving as a pallbearer for the Unknown Soldier when that man was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

In his eulogy, Judge Charles L. Hibbard noted:

“He is sitting on the piazza of a cottage by the sea on a glorious late September day but a few weeks ago. . . He is looking straight out to sea, with naught but sea between him and that land where lie so many of his boys. The beating surf is but an echo, the warm, bright sunshine, the blue sky, the dancing waves, all combine to charm. But a single look at his face and one knows he is unconscious of this glory of Nature. Somewhere far down in the depths of his being or in imagination far off across the waters he lives again the days that are past. That unconscious look has all the marks of deep sorrow, brooding tragedy, unbearable memories. Weeks pass. The mainspring of life is wound tighter and tighter and then comes the burial of the Unknown Soldier. This draws the last measure of reserve and with it the realization that life had little now to offer. This quiet, reserved personality drew away as it were from its habitation of flesh, thought out the future, measured the coming years and came to a mature decision. You say, ‘He had so much to live for – family, friends, and all that makes life sweet.’ No, my friends, life’s span for him was measured those days in that distant forest. He had plumbed the depth of tragic suffering; he had heard the world’s applause; he had seen and touched the great realities of life; and what remained was of little consequence. He craved rest, peace and sweet forgetfulness. He thought it out quietly, serenely, confidently, minutely. He came to a decision not lightly or unadvisedly, and in the end did what he thought was best, and in the comfort of that thought we too must rest. ‘Wounded in action,’ aye, sorely wounded in heart and soul and now most truly ‘missing in action.’”

Psychologist and professor Dr. Ari Solomon analyzed the case of Colonel Whittlesey and noted:

“If I could interview Whittlesey as a psychologist today, I’d especially have in mind … the sharp discrepancy between the public role he was playing and his hidden agony, his constant re-exposure to reminders of the battle, his possible lack of intimate relations, and his felt need to hide his pain even from family and dearest friends.”

I wish I had the answer. I have some ideas that date back to antiquity in the ways that tribes, clans and city states brought their warriors home. The warriors were recognized, there were public rituals, sometimes religious but other times not. But the difference is that the warriors were welcomed home by a community and re-integrated into it. They were allowed to share their stories, many of which were preserved through oral traditions so long that they eventually were written down, even in a mythologized state.

But we do not do that. Our society is disconnected, distant and often cold. Likewise it is polarized in ways that it has not been since the years before our terrible Civil War. Our warriors return from war, often alone, coming home to families, friends and communities that they no longer know. They are misunderstood because the population at large does not share their experience. The picture painted of them in the media, even when it is sympathetic is often a caricature; distance and the frenetic pace of our society break the camaraderie with the friends that they served alongside. Remarque wrote, “We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.”

If we wonder about the suicide epidemic among veterans we have to ask hard questions. Questions like why do so many combat veterans have substance abuse problems and why is it that approximately one in ten prisoners serving time are veterans? It cannot be simply that they are all bad eggs. Many were and are smart, talented, compassionate and brave, tested and tried in ways that our civilian society has no understanding for or clue about. In fact to get in the military most had to be a cut above their peers. We have to ask if we are bringing our veterans home from war in a way that works. Maybe even more importantly we have to ask ourselves if as a culture if we have forgotten how to care about each other. How do we care for the men and women who bear the burden of war, even while the vast majority of the population basks in the freedom and security provided by the soldier without the ability to empathize because they have never shared that experience.

For every Tom Sitsch, Charles Whittlesey or people like my friend, there are countless others suffering in silence as a result of war. We really have to ask hard questions and then decide to do something as individuals, communities and government to do something about it. If we don’t a generation will suffer in silence.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, leadership, Military, ministry, PTSD, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans, suicide, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, world war one

Happy 244th Birthday Marines

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

i will take a momentary break from politics and everything else to wish all United States Marines a Happy 244th Birthday. This one is more special than many others because my nephew Darren is now a Marine.

Honestly, after all that we have been through as a country this year, today is one of these days where I just want to wish people well. Those men and women are those of the United States Marine Corps, with whom I have have spent almost ten years of my thirty-five year military career assigned to or in support of as a chaplain. Today is the 244th anniversary of the establishment of the Marine Corps and its founding at Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia. Today I wish all those who have served past, present and future, especially those who I have served alongside a happy birthday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Corps would serve through the Civil War and on into the age of American Expansion serving in the Spanish American War in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba where they seized Guantanamo Bay at the battle of Cuzco Wells.  The would serve in China and be a key component of the international force that defended foreign diplomats during the Boxer Revolt as well as the international force that would relieve the diplomatic compound in Peking (Beijing).  In World War One the Marines stopped the German advance at Chateau Thierry and cemented their reputation as an elite fighting force at Belleau Wood where legend has it that the Germans nicknamed them Teufelhunden or Devil Dogs, a name that they Marines have appropriated with great aplomb.

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

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

The Marines would again be involved around the World after Vietnam serving in the Cold War, in Lebanon and the First Gulf War which was followed by actions in Somalia, the Balkans and Haiti. After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Marines were among the first into Afghanistan helping to drive the Taliban from power. In the Iraq Campaign the Marines had a leading role both in the invasion and in the campaign in Al Anbar Province.  After their withdraw from Iraq the Marines became a central player in Afghanistan where they were engaged around Khandahar and in Helmand Province. In the wake of the ISIS gains in Syria and Iraq the Marines returned to Iraq serving to help train and advise Iraqi Army units in areas of Al Anbar Province and other areas of that country, while others have been involved in relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. If by some chance war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, Marines will be among the first to respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
Major General
Commandant

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I’ve Got those Yellowstain Blues: Watching as the President Snatches Defeat from Victory and Sends the Middle East into a Major Conflict


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The stain on whatever honor the United States has left continued to grow this weekend as President Yellow Stain abandons another ally, throws the NATO alliance into peril, and lights wick on the powder keg that is the Middle East.

Every time he speaks regarding foreign policy I am reminded of the song from the novel and film The Caine Mutiny, “The Yellowstain Blues.”  The President is man who dodged the draft in Vietnam; a man who bragged on The Howard Stearin Show about avoiding sexually transmitted diseases as his Vietnam, and who has constantly maligned combat veterans and respected military and diplomatic leaders. He routinely supports despotic leaders who oppose every ideal espoused in the Declaration of Independence, scoffs at the Constitution of the United States, and attacks the laws, foundations, and institutions of our Republic.

The words of the song Yellowstain Blues from The Caine Mutiny seem apt to describe President Trump.

I’ve got those yellow stain blues,
From my head down to my shoes,
When someone fires a shot,
It’s always there I am not.
Those yellow stain blues
Those yellow stain blues

I’ve got those yellow stain blues,
Those old yellow stain blues,
Well you sh
ould see strong men quail,
If he should spy a shirt tail
Those yellow stain blues

Those old yellow stain blues

Sadly, the words from the movie which were directed at Captain Queeg, played by Humphrey Bogart in the film were directed at a man who was cracking up under the strain of war, not a President who has spent his life avoiding military service and deriding far better men than himself.

The Syrian regime of Bashir Assad is sending troops to defend the Kurds as President Trump hastily withdraws our military personnel from the danger zone. Once the Syrians commit their troops the Iranians will not be far behind since they have tens of thousands of their Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria. Likewise their allies in Hezbollah will move against the Turks, even as thousands of Islamic State captives escape to re-enter combat against the United States, and anyone else that opposes them. Because of the chicken-hearted actions of the President one has to hope that the actions of the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbollah will both protect the Kurds and counter the victory that President Trump has given the Islamic State.

However, this won’t be the end. Soon the Saudis, the Israelis, the Gulf States, and the ever fragile government of Iraq will be involved. This war will will spiral out of control because of President Yellowstain, and the victims will include many U.S. Military personnel and God knows how many others.

Sadly, this can only get worse, and it will be the fault of the U.S. President and his cult-like supporters. He could have made a principled decision based on facts , but instead he has emboldened the Turkish dictator, who is both an Islamist and a Nationalist. Soon, Erdogan will take Turkey out of NATO, unleash 3.5 million Syrian refugees on the European Union, and openly ally himself with Russia, the traditional enemy of the Turks.

A wider and far more costly war will follow, and we will only have President Yellowstain to blame.

God help us all,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

 

 

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A Heap Of Swords Piled as Delicately as Jackstraws: One Cannot Be Pulled Out Without Moving the Others: The Middle East 2019

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been watching the events unfolding in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East with a fair amount of apprehension. Seldom has a region been so similar to Barbara Tuchman’s words in her epic work The Guns Of August:

Europe was a heap of swords piled as delicately as jackstraws; one could not be pulled out without moving the others.

Armed to the teeth the militaries of Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Israel, vast numbers of powerful Sunni and Shia militias: the Islamic State, Hezbollah, Houthi, and so many more, scattered from Yemen, to Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza, and Syria, not to mention the vast power of the United States, its now somewhat recalcitrant allies, as well as elements of Russian, Turkish, and even Chinese military power prowl the region on the land, sea and air.

Ancient hatreds and rivalries, Sunni versus Shia, Persian versus Arab, Muslim versus Christian, Jew versus Muslim, Turk versus Arab, and even Christian versus Jew. Ancient hatreds that go beyond mere religious quarrels; not to say that wars of religion have been some of the most bloody and malevolent in history.

These ancient hatreds and rivalries have been aided directly by the United States and Europe following the World Wars. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, the triumph of the British Indian Office over the British Foreign Ministry which allowed the House Of Saud to conquer most of the Arabian Peninsula and drive out the House Of Faisal Hussein which were relegated to Jordan and Iraq after helping the British defeat the Ottoman Turks in the Middle East.

I fear that the President Trump’s unjustified and highly questionable support of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman bin Saud, who ordered the murder of an Saudi Arabian Journalist and resident of the United States, Jamal  Khashoggi, and for who all purposes seems to be of a business partner of, than the President of the United States.

T.E. Lawrence wrote during the early phases of the British occupation of Mesopotamia (Iraq) less than two years after the war:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

Lawrence’s words could be applied to the United States since 1990 and thereafter, especially beginning in 2003 during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Now we have a President threatening to go to war by Tweet with Iran at the behest and on the word of his Saudi business partner without consulting Congress. At least the administration’s Of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton worked within the confines of the United Nations and Congressional authorizations before committing the military in Harm’s way. Even George W. Bush when rebuffed by the U.N. in Iraq, got Congressional authorization for his actions, but we now have a President threatening a major war that could result in catastrophic harm to the world, including the men and women of the U.S. Military, by tweet.

Please don’t get me wrong. I no longer trust the words of any of the players involved, including the Iranians, Saudis, Israelis, Turks, Russians, and everyone else involved, and yes, even the Trump administration. What is scary is that many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are all in favor or bringing on the apocalypse.

I fear that war is coming, and there are too many players with swords in the pile to avoid it. Including an impulsive, unstable, habitual liar. Even if he doesn’t want war he may well lead us into it. Let the reader understand.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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“I Imagined it Would Be Different” Passing the Baton on my Last 9-11 on Active Duty and Reflecting on All We Have Lost

flight_175_photo

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

September 11th is a day that always makes me more introspective. It brings back so many memories, some that I wish I could forget; but I cannot get the images of that day out of my mind. The burning towers, the people jumping to their deaths to escape the flames, and the scenes of devastation. I knew one of the victims in the attack on the Pentagon, an Army Lieutenant Colonel, Karen Wagner who commanded a Medical training company at Fort Sam Houston where I was serving as the Brigade Adjutant in 1987 and 1988. She was a very nice person, very gracious and decent, admired by everyone who knew her; I was shocked to see her name on the casualty list after the attack.

The emotions that I feel on the anniversary of these terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of so many innocent people, and which devastated so many families, still haunts me, and my subsequent service, especially in Iraq has changed me. Years after he returned from his time in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence; the immortal Lawrence of Arabia wrote to a friend, “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” I often feel that way.

Eighteen years ago I was getting ready to go to the French Creek Gym at Camp Le Jeune North Carolina where I was serving as the Chaplain of Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division. I had returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea just two months before and was preparing to transfer to the USS Hue City, a guided missile cruiser stationed in Mayport, Florida.

At the time of the attack I had already been in the military for over 20 years and I had actually taken a reduction in rank to transfer from the Army, where I was a Major in the reserves, to the Navy to serve on active duty. In those previous 20 years I had served overseas during the Cold War along the Fulda Gap. I had been mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996, and I had just missed being mobilized for Operation Desert Storm as my unit was awaiting its mobilization orders when the war ended. I had done other missions as well as the deployment to the Far East that returned from in July 2001; but nothing prepared me for that day. Like other career military officers I expected that we would be at war again and thought it might be back in the Middle East, and probably a result of some fool’s miscalculations; but like the American officers who were serving at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, I never expected what happened that morning.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 had started like so many days in my career. Routine office work, a couple of counseling cases and what I thought would be a good PT session. I was about to close out my computer browser when I saw a little headline on Yahoo News that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I paid little attention and figured that a private plane, something like a Cessna piloted by an incompetent had inadvertently flown into the building.

9-11 jumpers

That delusion lasted about two minutes. I got in my car and the radio, tuned to an AM talk station had a host calling the play by play. He started screaming “oh my God another airliner flew into the other tower.” Seeking to see what was happening I went to the gym where there were many televisions. I got there and saw the towers burning, with stunned Marines and Sailors watching silently, some in tears. I went back out, drove to my office and got into uniform. After checking in with my colonel a made a quick trip to my house for my sea bags and some extra underwear, and personal hygiene items. When I got back the headquarters we went into a meeting, and the base went on lock down mode. The gates were closed and additional checkpoints, and roadblocks established on base. Marines in full battle-rattle patrolled the perimeter and along the waterfront. I did not leave the base until the night of the 15th when things began to settle down and we all went into contingency planning mode for any military response to the attacks.

My wife, who as waiting for a doctor’s appointment with a friend saw the attacks on live television and knew when the first plane struck she told her friend that it was terrorism. Her friend responded “that damned Saddam Hussein.” Like so many of us who initially thought this, my wife’s friend was wrong. my friend Fregattenkapitäne Micheal Hufnagel, then the  First Officer Of the German Guided Missile Destroyer Lutjens was among the first to express support for the United States. Steaming next to the USS Winston Churchill helped put up a banner that said We Stand By You. It was an iconic moment. Eight months later I met Michael and we became fast friends, to this day.

LutjensHonors

Those were tumultuous days, so much fear; so much paranoia; and so much bad information as to who committed the attacks and what was going to happen next.

hue city boarding party

 

Honestly, I didn’t expect the war to go on for more than a few months, but months became years, and years became decades. I guess I was a lot like the German military officers who in the wake of the dramatic success of the Wehrmacht in the west and the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa  the German victory was so certain that resistance was futile and the best course was to follow orders, believing that victory over the subhuman Taliban and Al Qaeda was just around the corner. In the beginning I was little different than your average Wehrmacht officer, but by the time I left Iraq I realized just how wrong I was in supporting that misbegotten invasion.

I was so spellbound by Operation Desert Storm and operations in the Balkans that I ignored history. I knew the results of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the British, Indian, and Macedonian adventures there, but we were the United States. We would win. Then the Bush Administration forgot Afghanistan and went into a war with Iraq, which was doomed from the start, and which met every standard of the war crimes that we tried the Nazis for at Nuremberg. As the American Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson noted before those trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

A few months later I deployed aboard Hue City to the Middle East where we supported the air operations in Afghanistan, anti-terrorist operations off the Horn of Africa and in Operation Southern Watch and the U.N. Oil Embargo against Iraq. I then did three years with Marine Security Forces, traveling around the world to support Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team companies. For three years I was on the road one to three weeks a month traveling to the Middle East, Europe, the Pacific and many parts of the United States. Then I was promoted and transferred to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group Two, from which I was deployed with my assistant to Iraq, where we served as members of the Iraq Assistance Group in all Al Anbar Province supporting small teams of Marine Corps, Army and Joint Force adviser teams to the Iraqi Army, Border troops, Port of Entry police, police and highway patrol.

with-mtt-3-7-ronin

 

When I returned from Iraq I was a changed man and while I am proud of my service I am haunted by my experiences. One cannot go to war, see its devastation, see the wounded and dead, as well as the innocents traumatized by it. One cannot get shot at, or be in enclosed rooms, meeting with people that might be friends, or might be enemies, and while everyone else is armed, you are not.

War changed me, and my homecoming was more difficult than I could have imagined. I never felt so cut off from my country, my society, my church, or even other chaplains. My experience is not uncommon among those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter those who have served in almost any modern war. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic All Quite on the Western Front wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

That being said I would not trade my experience for anything. The experience of PTSD and other war related afflictions has been a blessing as well as a curse. They have changed my world view and made me much more emphatic to the suffering and afflictions of others, as well when they are abused, mistreated, terrorized and discriminated against. These experiences along with my training as a historian, theologian, and hospital chaplain clinician before and after my tour have given me a lot bigger perspective than I had before.

But I have to live with all of the memories. Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

As hard as this has been these are good things, and as I go on I wonder what will happen next. I do not think that the wars and conflicts which have followed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks will be over for years, maybe even decades. I pray for peace, but too many people, some even in this country seem to live for the bloodlust of war. One can only hope and as my Iraqi friends say, Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

I wonder too, if the words of T.E. Lawrence reflecting on his service in the Arab Revolt are not as applicable to me and others who came back from Iraq, “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” I have lost too many friends in these wars, including men who could not readjust to home, many like me. I have seen the men and women, broken in body, mind and spirit and I wonder if any of it was worth it, and if in some of our response, especially the invasion of Iraq has not made a bad situation even worse, and turned the war into a generational conflict.

As for me, I am now an old guy by military standards. I recently celebrated 38 years of service and will, God willing, retire next year. Sadly, I know all too well that those who I have worked with, and those who are yet to enlist will be continuing to fight a war which seems to be without end long after I retire, despite the efforts of President Trump to make a deal with the Taliban.

Tomorrow there were and will be many ceremonies and services to remember the victims of the attacks. I think that is fitting, Lest We forget. However, I don’t think any should be used as platform to promote war without end. We will be conducting a 9-11 Remembrance Ceremony in the morning. I am having my brand new junior chaplain do invocation and benediction. I have helped him and given him guidance, but he has produced a good result that didn’t need much of my guidance to be something that honored the victims of 9-11, the U.S. military, and our allies since, as well as the innocent victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and so many other places this unending war has touched. It is time for me to step aside and let the young men and women who were children when this began to be up front. My goal now is to help the young folks get recognized for good work and train them to represent the best in the Chaplaincy and to be guardians of the First Amendment, not religious theocrats.

So please, have a good day and whatever you do do not forget those whose lives were forever changed by those dastardly attacks and all that has transpired in the years since. Honestly I did not think that we would still be at war today. It is hard for me to believe that we still are at war and that there is no end in sight.

As Erich Maria Remarque wrote “I imagined that it would be different…”

At the same time I do hope that things will get better and that some semblance of peace will return to the world.

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“So it Goes” Remembering the Day Before 9-11-2001 and the Beginning Of War Without End

The twin Towers, September 10th 2001 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After 18 years of unending war, terrorism, and the paranoia that come with it, I almost find it hard to remember what things were like on September 10th 2001.

I had been in the military over 20 years by then, but having resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve in order to return to active duty as a Navy Chaplain serving with the 2nd Marine Division at a lower rank, I try to think about Monday, September 10th once in a while.

Despite coming close to a ground war in Kosovo in 1999, we had settled into the norms of peacetime training and preparation for whatever the next crisis might be. I had participated in the preparations for the Kosovo campaign, which thankfully we were prevented from going into a ground war over due to Serbian President Slobodan Miloševićat blinking at the last minute and agreeing to a ceasefire and withdraw from Kosovo, which could have led to a wider war in the Balkans and with Russia.

On the night of September 10th 2001 my mind was as far from war and terror as it could be. I was much more interested in the MLB Pennant Race than I was anything going on in the world, after all the only issues we faced were occasional, if deadly terrorist attacks on foreign installations and deployed ships like the USS Cole.  But as to the security of the Continental United States, or as it has been referred to by some since 9-11 as “the Homeland” I wasn’t concerned. Somehow, despite my knowledge, understanding and study of terrorist groups I just never thought anyone could pull off an attack of this magnitude.  The next morning I discovered just how wrong I was as the first reports came in while I was on my way to a late PT session at Camp LeJeune North Carolina where I was serving with the Second Marine Division, but that is a story for tomorrow night.

September 10th was a normal and pretty much a typical September day in America. The Denver Broncos beat the New York Giants in Denver that night. The Seattle Mariners won their 104th game of the season, defeating the Anaheim Angels 5-1.

But the next morning changed all of our lives and ushered in what is now 18 years of war which has cost the United States military almost 80,000 casualties including over 7,000 dead or died of wounds. Of course that does not count non-DOD agency casualties, or those of the contractors who have been a big part of the war effort, nor does it count the number of friendly Afghans, Iraqis, and others who have to use the antiseptic and dehumanizing term collateral damage, who have been killed, maimed, or displaced by nearly two decades of war.

Eighteen years after 9-11-2001 we are not only still at war, but it is becoming a war without end. President Trump tried and failed using ham handed tactics to make a deal with the Taliban, including a meeting that was to occur yesterday at Camp David to allegedly secure a peace deal that would net him the Nobel Peace Prize. That didn’t happen after Taliban fighters killed yet another American soldier in combat last week. Of course the deaths of over a dozen other Americans since January, not to mention hundreds of Afghan soldiers, police and civilians who have died at the hands of the Taliban and the descendants of the original Al Qaida. Those lives didn’t matter as long as the President thought he could get a deal to end the war, then with Taliban representatives at his doorstep he called the talks off. Personally I don’t think the President really cared about any of those lives, he hasn’t mentioned any of them over the past year, nor gone to their funerals, or met their remains at Andrews Air Force Base, so what happened had to be about him, otherwise why invite Taliban leaders to meet with him of the week of the anniversary of the 9-11-2001? If not to get a deal.

Eighteen years ago, I figured that after a few months Al Qaeda would be no more, and the war that they had unleashed upon us would be over. however I was wrong. Now now, many of the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen I deal with were just children or not even born when the attacks happened.

In just over six months I will be retired from the military, and as Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse Five: “So it goes…” 

Have a good night, until tomorrow,

Peace

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