Category Archives: leadership

Walking the Good and Bad Ground at Gettysburg


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m in Gettysburg this weekend getting a chance to do some research and walking areas of the battlefield that I have stopped at but never fully explored on foot. Trust me, there is a difference when you actually walk the ground versus making stops and looking around.


I drove up this morning and thankfully traffic was light and there were no traffic jams at any point along the way which meant I made the trip in just a bit over four hours. When I got here I checked into my hotel, unloaded my stuff and set to work walking the route I had planned out. My hotel is right at the base of East Cemetery Hill where the Union troops rallied on the night of July 1st 1863. I decided that I would walk through the town and up to McPherson’s Ridge where John Buford’s cavalry and John Reynolds’s First Corps fought A.P. Hill’s Third Confederate Corps, before turning north past the unfinished Railroad Cut and Oak Ridge on my way to Oak Hill where Confederate General Robert Rhodes’ division of Dick Ewell’s Second Confederate Corps went into action.


Oak Hill is the site of the Eternal Peace Monument which was dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938 as a symbol of reconciliation between the North and South. It bears the words “Peace Eternal in a Nation United”. That was a mere seventy-nine years ago and my heart breaks when I see the same forces at work which tore apart the nation in the years before the Civil War, and sadly they are being stirred up by President Trump who more resembles the incompetence of James Buchanan coupled with the malevolence of Jefferson Davis than Abraham Lincoln, or the loyal opposition of Stephen Douglas.



As I looked out from that high ground I saw the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside still covered in Fall foliage with fields of Sorghum ready for harvest, and cornfields waiting to be plowed over for the next season. Directly in front of me was the ground that two of Rodes’s brigades, those of Alfred Iverson and Edward O’Neal, both incompetent pro-secession political generals sent their units into the attack leading to their slaughter. As I walked into the field where those soldiers fell I felt a certain amount of sadness for them. Yes, most of them made the choice to enlist in the Confederate cause, while others joined out of peer pressure, or others because they were drafted: but none signed up to be slaughtered at the hands of their incompetent commanders. One regiment, the 23rd North Carolina lost 89% of the men it took into battle in barely half an hour of combat. As I walked across that swale in front of Oak Ridge where the men of John Robinson’s division awaited them I was struck by the tragedy of men who went into battle for an unjust and unrighteous cause who fell in such large numbers on July 1st 1863. I wrote in the draft of my yet unpublished Gettysburg book:

When the Confederates got to about fifty yards of Baxter’s troops the commander of the 83rd New York, the Swiss born lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Moesch shouted: “Up men, and fire.” Moesch rode behind his line cheering his men on, but they needed no urging. In the words of one of one, “The men are no longer human, they are demons; a curse from the living here, a moan from the dying there. ‘Give them — shouts one.’ See them run’ roars another.” The well concealed veterans of Baxter regiments slaughtered them as they had O’Neal’s men just minutes before. “One regiment went down in such a neat row that when its survivors waves shirt tails, or any piece of cloth remotely white, Iverson thought that the whole regiment of live men were surrendering.” As the Confederate attack collapsed some “of the regiments in Robinson’s division changed front again, charged, and captured nearly all the men who were left unhurt in three of Iverson’s regiments.” Official Confederate reports list only 308 missing but that number differs from the Union reports, Robinson reporting 1000 prisoners and three flags and Baxter’s brigade nearly 400. As Robinson’s troops smashed the brigades of O’Neal and Iverson, they were joined by the remnants of Cutler’s brigade which changed its face from west to north to deliver more devastating fire into the Confederates.



From there I went over to Oak Ridge and then made my way to Blocher’s Knoll, now know as Barlow’s Knoll. Once you leave Oak Ridge the ground to the east is flat and relatively devoid of any good defensive positions. The Union Eleventh Corps Commander, Major General Oliver O. Howard sent two of his understrength divisions under the command of Carl Schulz to link up with the right flank of Robinson’s division and extend the Federal line to prevent it from being flanked. Unfortunately, one of the division commanders, Francis Barlow decided to advance his division to Blocher’s Knoll which was a mile in front of where Schurz and Howard intended. Noticing what was going on Schurz ordered the other division under the command of Schimmelpfenning to extend its line to maintain contact with Barlow’s division. But there were not enough troops to fill the gap. The line was barely a skirmish line and with no good defensive ground it could do little to stop a determined Confederate attack. Which was exactly what occurred.


George Doles’s brigade of Rodes division, strongly supported by artillery attacked the thin blue line of Schimmelpfenning’s division just as Gordon and Hays Brigades of Jubal Early’s division enveloped Barlow’s terribly exposed division. The men of Barlow and Schimmelpfennig’s divisions made a spirited and fierce defense before they were overwhelmed and retreated to Gettysburg, some making a fighting retreat, others fleeing the Confederate advance, many were killed, wounded or captured. Barlow lay wounded and was given aid by John Gordon who later became a lifelong friend. Schimmelpfennig was rescued from certain capture by a woman in the town who allowed him to hide in a shed behind her home as the Confederates moved into the town.


The memorials to these forgotten and often slandered soldiers line the road from the Mummasburg Road to Barlow’s Knoll. They did fight hard as A private of the 61st Georgia Infantry of Gordon’s brigade noted that the XI Corps troops “stood firm until we got near them. Then they began to retreat in good order. They were harder to drive than we had known them before….Their officers were cheering their men and behaving like heroes and commanders of ‘the first water’”

The 157th New York, was order to help shore up the line. The regiment advanced and engaged in a furious twenty minute fight, continuing the battle “in Indian fashion” until Schurz ordered them to retreat. The gallant 157th sacrificed itself buying time for others to withdraw and left over 75 percent of its men on the battlefield, when the order came, “less than fifty of the 157th were able to rise out of the wheat and follow.” “So the horrible screaming, hurtling messengers of death flew over us from both sides,” recollected a New York soldier. “In such a storm it seemed a miracle that any were left alive.” Krzyzanowski described the scene as “a portrait of hell.”

When one walks that ground it is impossible how that any unit of similar size or composition could have held against the massive pincer attack of Doles’s brigade and Early’s division on Barlow’s exposed position.


As I walked back into town I could imagine the chaos of the retreating Union troops as well as the victorious Confederates as day turned into evening. The Union troops who escaped made their way to link up with Steinwehr’s division and the Eleventh Corps artillery which had been positioned on Cemetery Hill as well as the survivors of the Union First Corps which had fought the Confederate Third Corps to a standstill before being forced back due to weight of numbers. I finished my walk by going up to Cemetery Hill where with the sun beginning to go down I walked among the graves of the fallen Union soldiers and a monument to John Reynolds who fell on McPherson’s Ridge.

As I noted a couple of months ago when I described my walk at Antietam, there is something immensely valuable about walking these battlefields. First, one gets to experience the elements of weather, distance, and terrain which are helpful in understanding what it was like for the soldiers involved. Second, one can see the battle from the perspective of those soldiers, imagining what it would be like to be deal with being under fire on that ground. One understands what men like John Buford and John Reynolds meant when they said that certain terrain was “good ground.” You don’t understand that until you walk it.


I finished tonight with a friend who met me here going to a number of pubs and walking through the town. While walking I saw a number of the churches that served as field hospitals, including Christ Lutheran. The horror of those hospitals is unimaginable to most of us. I have worked in inner city trauma centers and been in field hospitals in Iraq with our wounded and nothing can really prepare you for the horror of blown up, destroyed, and burned bodies of still living men on a such a massive scale.

But what I have experienced pales in comparison to what occurred at Gettysburg and Antietam, and what will certainly happen if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula. I have been in the military all my adult life and I dread what I see coming, but since I know that chances are that it will happen I prepare myself and the men and women who serve under me for it. Sadly, most people, even those who have experienced combat in our recent wars are capable of imagining the carnage and horror of the next war. As a historian and a chaplain who has seen combat and a lot of other violent death I can well imagine it and no I don’t sleep well with that knowledge, especially when I see our President rattling sabers so often with seemingly little concern for the men and women that he will be committing to combat. In light of how he has dealt with the deaths of U.S. military personnel since he has been in office, taking no responsibility for any of them, passing the responsibility to military leaders, I tremble at the thought of what his next tweet might bring, but I digress.

Anyway, tomorrow begins another day of exploring parts of the battlefield on foot. Today I walked just over thirteen miles. I think that tomorrow I may well exceed that. I will tell you about that walk tomorrow night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Military

The NFL and the Problem of Patriotism versus Nationalism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I thought that the controversy over the peaceful demonstrations of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial prejudice and violence committed against African Americans and other people was beginning to die down. That was before today when Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Indianapolis allegedly to watch a football came and see former Indianapolis Colt’s quarterback Peyton Manning be honored by the team. Instead, taking his orders from President Trump, the Vice President traveled to the game and walked out when members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the National Anthem. Thereafter the Vice President and the President went to Twitter to castigate the players and using taxpayer money, in this case over $200,000 to make their point, condemning the protesting players as being disrespectful to the flag and to the military. As labor leader Eugene Debs noted in 1918: ““In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.”

The act was an act of craven political nationalism disguised as patriotism, and there is a difference between the two. George Orwell noted this when he wrote “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.” Sadly I fear that the vast majority of Americans do not know the difference.

For those who don’t know I’m a veteran. In fact I’m a combat veteran. Not only that I am basically a dinosaur in today’s military as I’ve been serving continuously in some component of the military since I enlisted in August 1981. My oath is to the Constitution and that document enshrines the right of free speech and political protest, even of people that I may disagree with, and to see the President and Vice President flagrantly demonizing people for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and exercising those Constitutionally protected rights by kneeling during the national anthem not only offends, but angers me. Likewise the fact that the President found every way he could to avoid military service and openly mocked combat wounded veterans as losers during the Presidential campaign demonstrates the President’s hackneyed understanding of what he calls patriotism. 

My dad also served a full career in the U.S. Navy including a combat tour in Vietnam where he was assigned to an emergency airstrip in the city of An Loc, surrounded by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong for 80 days.

I also had relatives fight in both World Wars and one of my great uncles, a brother of my dad’s mother was killed in action serving as an infantryman during World War Two. Over the last sixteen years of war I have had a good number of friends and comrades die or suffer so much from the psychological and spiritual wounds of war that they later ended their lives.

As such, I have the highest regard for the armed forces of the United States and those who have served in them whether they be volunteers or if they were drafted. At the same time I don’t think that simply being a veteran makes one any more patriotic than someone who hasn’t served in uniform and I find it disgraceful that the military and those that serve are all too often reduced to stereotyped symbols that are used for partisan political causes which are not at all related to patriotism, but instead the most base and banal forms of nationalism, often paid for at sporting events by the Department of Defense.

Please understand that patriotism and nationalism are two different things. One can be a patriot and not a nationalist. That difference was first shown by the members of Congress and other elder statesmen of the country who between 1846 and 1848 opposed President James K. Polk’s unjust and shameful war against Mexico who included John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and a freshman Congressman named Abraham Lincoln. All were called traitors by Polk and his supporters. Military men serving in Mexico found the war criminal and the actions of state volunteers abominable. Ulysses S. Grant, then a young Lieutenant wrote that the Mexican war was “as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

Patriots want the country and our leaders to live up to our highest ideals. Patriots actually believe the words of the Declaration of Independence which state “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” A patriot believes and works for what the founders wrote in the First Amendment to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech, religion, association, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances, and yes, that includes kneeling during the National Anthem.

Likewise a patriot is committed to building upon those foundations as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While those who served in the military and those who have died to protect this county and honored the Constitution are worthy of respect, there have been far to many other patriots who have sacrificed themselves for the ideals of the country and have been treated as criminals for doing so. Those who fought against slavery and who defied the law to fight against it and to protect African Americans from slave owners who were backed by the government were patriots. Women who fought for the right to vote were patriots. Workers who fought for fair wages and safe working conditions. Men and women who protested and opposed unjust wars against Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the Spanish American War, the Vietnam War and the U.S invasion of Iraq were all patriots. Likewise the men and women who have stood up for the civil rights of all citizens often in the face of violent opposition from police were patriots too. 

This list could go in and on listing the patriotic endeavors of Americans of all races, all genders, and all religions to promote the liberty of all, whether they had ever served in the military. Frederick Douglass wrote: “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason… Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

However, nationalism is not the same as patriotism even though a fervent nationalists will without hesitation co-opt the symbols of the nation for purposes that were feared by our founders. Historian Timothy Snyder makes a good comparison of patriotism and nationalism:

“A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.”

One can have honest disagreement as to what they think of the actions of the protesting players, but to deride them as being unpatriotic even as they use the flag as a campaign fundraising tools as the President did in an ad last week and the Vice President’s cynical move Sunday were shameful. Their nationalism reminds me of what Mark Twain called “Monarchical Patriotism” which he noted was different than republican patriotism. Twain wrote:

“There are two kinds of patriotism — monarchical patriotism and republican patriotism. In the one case the government and the king may rightfully furnish you their notions of patriotism; in the other, neither the government nor the entire nation is privileged to dictate to any individual what the form of his patriotism shall be. The gospel of the monarchical patriotism is: “The King can do no wrong.” We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: “Our country, right or wrong!” We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had:– the individual’s right to oppose both flag and country when he (just he, by himself) believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.”

We as a people have become so hopelessly confused as to the meaning of patriotism that we as Twain noted, are throwing away the most valuable assets we have, the right of the individual to oppose both flag and country when they believe them to be wrong. We have allowed the President and those like him to turn the protests regarding injustices that bring shame to our republic to be attacks on the flag and the military, and that is grotesque. We are throwing away our birthright as Americans to protest wrong in our land and are embracing the creed of tyrants. If we continue down this path we will lose our republic. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

The Authoritarian String of Tricks: Learning from History

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a bit under ten months since President Trump took the oath of office as President of the United States. Over that time his actions have been similar to other leaders of history who have gravitated towards authoritarian rule. Today I want to share the words of British military theorist and historian B.H. Liddell-Hart on what happens when authoritarian, or would be authoritarian leaders gain control of a government. His words, from his short, but profound book Why Don’t We Learn from History are worth the considered read for anyone with an open mind who can, despite the proliferation of propaganda can still see clearly. Liddell-Hart wrote:

They soon begin to rid themselves of their chief helpers, “discovering” that those who brought about the new order have suddenly become traitors to it.

They suppress criticism on one pretext or another and punish anyone who mentions facts which, however true, are unfavourable to their policy.

They enlist religion on their side, if possible, or, if its leaders are not compliant, foster a new kind of religion subservient to their ends.

They spend public money lavishly on material works of a striking kind, in compensation for the freedom of spirit and thought of which they have robbed the public.

They manipulate the currency to make the economic position of the state appear better than it is in reality.

They ultimately make war on some other state as a means of diverting attention from internal conditions and allowing discontent to explode outward.

They use the rallying cry of patriotism as a means of riveting the chains of their personal authority more firmly on the people.

They expand the superstructure of the state while undermining its foundations by breeding sycophants at the expense of self-respecting collaborators, by appealing to the popular taste for the grandiose and sensational instead of true values, and by fostering a romantic instead of a realistic view, thus ensuring the ultimate collapse, under their successors if not themselves, of what they have created.

This political confidence trick, itself a familiar string of tricks, has been repeated all down the ages. Yet it rarely fails to take in a fresh generation.

Yes it has been nearly ten months and one can see President Trump following the script of authoritarian rulers. So many of the things that the British historian and theorist noted are present in the actions, words, and policy of the President and his administration.

The book is worth the read.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Calm Before the Storm… You’ll Find Out” The President’s Cryptic Message

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night President Trump met with high ranking military officers at the White House. After the meeting where he pressed them, without being specific to his intent, pressed the leaders to be faster at providing him with “military options” when needed. He said: ““Moving forward, I also expect you to provide me with a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace. I know that government bureaucracy is slow, but I am depending on you to overcome the obstacles of bureaucracy.”

After the meeting at a photo op prior to dinner he quipped to reporters “You guys know what this represents?” Then remarked “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.” When a report asked “What storm” the President said “you’ll find out.”

After all of the President’s saber rattling with North Korea and Iran I truly am afraid. Could it be more bluster? Yes, but I always go back to history and history shows that words like Trump’s often bring about war.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, leadership, national security, News and current events

A View from Germany: The German Election and the Cloud Cuckoo Land of American Politics

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It really is amazing to observe the serious business of politics of another country during an election that matters and then observing how ridiculous the American President is making himself look from overseas. I commented to my German friends that it seems that the President lives in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of his own alternative reality.

Now let me put some perspective on this. In the summer of 1979 I was traveling across the United States and to Britain and the Netherlands. Back then the world was in crisis mode, the Iranian Revolution had shaken the status quo of the Middle East, the Soviets were on the march in Afghanistan, and the United States seemed moribund. The country was still reeling from Watergate, the Vietnam debacle, and a continuing economic crisis. Interest rates were over 20%, gas prices were high, the economy struggling, it seemed that the Japanese were buying up everything in the United States, and President Carter could not get along with his Democratic majority in Congress.

While I was in the U.K., President Carter gave his now infamous Malaise speech. The reaction overseas was hard to describe, people in the U.K., the Netherlands, and other Western European countries who still believed in the United States were aghast, they found his negativity almost incomprehensible. The dollar dropped in value overnight and having a very limited amount of money with me I found it most disheartening. In fact when I was asked about the speech by people that I stayed with in the U.K., I didn’t know what to say or how to defend it. I was embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong, now 38 years later I admire Jimmy Carter but still cannot understand why he said what he did back then, it didn’t help us at all.

So I have been in Germany the last 10 days. The German election was in its final week, and yesterday the Germans voted. It was a tough election, the “Grand Coalition” of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party had proved unable to meet the challenge of the refugee crisis coupled with economic fears, especially in states that made up the former East Germany. In that area, as well as in the traditionally conservative state of Bayern, with the exception of big cities like Munich, the new, Right Wing AfD, or Alternative for Germany Party did well. In the east it got over 21% of the vote, in Bayern close to 15%. In the rest of the country it didn’t do so well. The thing about the AfD is that while it initially began as an anti-European Union party, then became an anti-refugee party, which in time became much more racist, anti-Semitic, and pro-Nazi, even using many of the terms used by the Nazis as they climbed they way to power in the late 1920s and 1930s, and suggesting, quite wrongly that Germany should stop criticizing Hitler’s Third Reich. Also doing well in the east was the revitalized and rebadged Communist Party, now called “Die Linke” or “The Left.” Overall the AfD received 13% of the vote nationwide and became the first party of the far right to gain seats in the national parliament, or the Bundestag going back to when West Germany was founded during the Cold War.

I watched the election returns with our friends on two different German television networks, and was fascinated with the discussion and analysis, and I had read election coverage in different German newspapers of various political leanings since I arrived. Last night, from about six o’clock on I was immersed it the German political debate, and I found it to be much more serious and deeper than ours. The reporters asked hard questions to the leaders of all the parties and didn’t let any of them off the hook. Likewise all the parties signaled that they would not work with the AfD, even the SPD which appears to be choosing the political wilderness of being in the opposition along with the AfD and Die Linke.

There are no television and radio advertisements for any party allowed, though campaign posters, rallies, and debates between different political factions are quite common. By reading the literature of the parties, seeing news coverage or rallies, and seeing the campaign posters one easily could tell what the message of each party was. The remarkable thing was just how racist and fear mongering the AfD campaign was. Even on their campaign posters the basic message was the Islamists are coming for your women. They took advantage of the perceived failure of the Grand Coalition in dealing with the refugee crisis and by blaming immigrants and the EU for Germany’s problems.

So at the end of the day the Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU took a beating, many, almost 1.3 million of its voters chose the FDP, or the Free Democrats who are more socially progressive and business minded as a protest, while another million chose the AfD. The SPD, the Social Democratic Party’s losses, while fewer in number were catastrophic many of its voters migrated to Die Linke or the AfD, the SPD garnered just over 20% of the vote, an all time low for the party. Since no party has a majority of the Bundestag membership, it will be up to the CDU/CSU to form a coalition. Since their former Grand Coalition partners, the SPD are going to the opposition it appears that there will be a Schwarz, Gelb, Gruene Coalition of the CDU/CSU which had 33% of the vote, the FDP with almost 11%, and the Gruenen, or the Green Party, which got about 9% of the vote. The leaders of all three parties have vowed to work for democracy and fight against the extreme right of the AfD. It will be an interesting but complicated coalition and the parties will have to find ways to cooperate and a governing program while satisfying their base, which was something that the Grand Coalition could not do.

So what will matter in the next election in 2021 will be how this coalition works, and if the AfD which has no positive program can hold itself together in the Bundestag. Likewise the SPD, long a bastion of German center-left politics must recover what it lost as an opposition party, while not giving legitimacy to the AfD or their traditional nemesis on the left, the former Communists.

As for now Chancellor Merkel must now build a coalition and she has invited the SPD to participate. In one of the shows I watched tonight the leaders of the Free Democrats and the Greens appeared to be supporting a coalition with the CDU/CSU in order to halt the growth of the extreme right. We won’t know for a few days what the final outcome will be but it appears that most analysts are predicting a Black, Yellow, Green, or Jamaica coalition (the colors of the Jamaican flag) of the CDU/CSU, the FDP, and the Greens.

But turning to the United States and how ludicrous President Trump’s words and actions are, and how they are hurting us overseas with our long time allies, with the exception of the neo-Nazi AfD which has mimicked Trump’s anti-immigration, racial, and do-it alone rhetoric with building a wall, getting more border police, and deporting immigrants, even those determined not to be a threat. As far as the blatant racism of the AfD leaders, one has that while Thomas Botang, a member of the German Nation Football (soccer) team is a good player that he would not want to live next door to him because Botang is black. But I digress…

Since I have been here the President has made multiple new threats against North Korea which has only prompted them to respond in kind, and has spent much of his time insulting anyone who criticizes him. While he described Klansmen and neo-Nazis as “Good People” in the aftermath of Charlottesville, he has been quick to berate African American sports figures over their political protests regarding Black Lives matter, which by the way is still a constitutional right whether he likes it or not, and by disinviting Gold State Warriors basketball player Stephan Curry from the White House. His rambling speech in Alabama on Saturday in which he told NFL owners that they should fire the “sons of bitches” that protest during the national anthem and criticized the league for trying to make the game safer for players was met with more open protests from players and owners, and scoffed at over here.

I mean really, watching the political circus and train wreck that is the Trump administrative from afar is even more disconcerting when you are across the ocean and visiting sites made infamous by leaders who led their county to disaster in two world wars, one of who engineered the single most evil genocide in history. I am sorry but watching from over here, and discussing the matter with German friends and others, I am becoming more and more convinced that there is something seriously wrong with him. I do not know if he is a sociopath, if he is mentally ill, or if he in the early stages of some form of dementia, but something is not right with a world leader who acts this way. Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, and Teddy Roosevelt all have to be spinning in their graves. Richard Nixon is probably joyful that Trump may end up making him look good by comparison.

Watching these events from overseas with less access and time to follow them as much as I would in the States has made me shake my head as I cannot believe that we have come to this. Likewise, not being as connected in the moment hasn’t been a bad thing, and I probably will cut back on some of my online activities and try not to get caught up in whatever crisis de jure the President. one of his family members, advisors, surrogates, or media advocates have cooked up to distract us from the Muller investigation.

But anyway it is late. We did have another good day in Germany yesterday, and since it is later here I am going to wish you a good night as we have plans tomorrow that will keep me offline much of the day.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Presidential Twitter Storms and the Absence of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As residents of southeast Texas struggled against the unrelenting rain and floods of former Hurricane Harvey the President was on a Twitter spree recommending a book by Milwaukee Sheriff David Clark (his other favorite criminal Sheriff after Joe Arpaio) his determination to build a border wall, NAFTA, a visit to Missouri, the 2016 election, a slam against Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, and a few treats bragging about the great response to the hurricane.

It was a banal display of sordid narcissism by a man who shows not a bit of empathy for people, many of who voted for him. But then that should not surprise anyone because his tweets and his public statements have always had a mocking tone towards those most loyal to him.

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a psychologist to the major Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg noted that in his observation and discussions with them he had to deal with the nature of evil. He had to find the common thread among them that allowed them to take part in the most horrific crimes against humanity conducted by an allegedly civilians, western and Christian country. He noted that in his dealings with them they had one thing in common, they had no empathy for their victims. He said, “evil is the absence of empathy.” The common psychological term for a person who cannot empathize with other people is a sociopath. That is what are President is. It is a trait that he shares with the vilest criminals of the Twentieth Century. Yesterday was just another day in the life of our sociopath in chief.

I was have a beer with some friends this afternoon and a friend showed me some Facebook post of a mutual friend. They were posts and memes that belittled and mocked the people fighting the rain and floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. I could only shake my head when she asked me if he was a Trump supporter, because indeed he is, and he was belittling many people who like him voted for and continued unreservedly to support the President, at least until Harvey, we’ll see if they remain supporters. However, That being said, I do think that many of the President’s supporters are so far in the tank for he that he could shoot an kill one of their family members and they would continue to support him.

As I thought of these things last night I was reminded of the words of Hannah Arendt: “When evil is allowed to compete with good, evil has an emotional populist appeal that wins out unless good men and women stand as a vanguard against abuse.”

Now honestly I don’t think that the majority of Trump supporters are themselves evil or even bad people. But that being said I do believe that quite a few of the, perhaps a majority of them have surrendered to taking the path of least resistance and looking out for what they think are their interests first, even if the result of their decisions hurt people who are much like them.

As Arendt said, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

That is what we are watching happen before our very eyes. Some might claim ignorance, or claim that they are non-political and are in no position to judge the morality of this President and his administration, but that is the refuge of the coward. Karl Popper noted “Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind.”

The fact is that today, like in Germany between 1933 and 1945 no one can claim ignorance about the nature and character of our President, but if they don’t know it is simply cause they do not want to know, and for those in positions of authority who turn a blind eye, what Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and later armaments minister wrote “…being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences…”

It is lack of empathy, an active aversion to truth, shunning knowledge, and perhaps worse, a refusal to know when in a position to know which allow people to look the other way in the face of evil and injustice.

Until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Contempt for Facts and Defense of Nazis: the President’s Response to Charlottesville 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I feel like I now live in a alternate universe where everything looks like it is supposed to but at the same time everything is different. This has been particularly striking apparent to me some since the Nazi caused violence in Charlottesville and the President’s multiple responses, ending with yesterday’s news conference in which he deflected the blame for that violence onto what he called “the alt-left.”

Honestly I had a hard time believing this was real, but it is, and now I must continue to speak out. If I don’t I will be as guilty before the bar of justice and humanity as the President and his apologists. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: 

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.” 

The President is a Nationalist who by his words and actions seems to ally himself with the White Nationalists of the Alt-Right. He does his best not to criticize them and when he does he blames their (and his) opponents using a language of moral equivalence. Hannah Arendt wrote: 

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

It is hard for me to imagine any leader in American history who fits Arendt’s description better than President Trump. 

I was aghast when I heard President Trump’s third set of remarks about the Nazi caused violence and death in Charlottesville this weekend. I hardly could believe my ears and just shook my heard when I read the complete transcript. I never believed that I would ever hear any American President do his utmost to deflect the blame off of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers than I heard today. At the same time I had no doubt that this would happen at some point as since the President first announced his candidacy in 2015 I have been saying it, even here on this website, but every time I wrote about it I wanted to be wrong. Sadly I wasn’t wrong and now the President has a news conference and blames everyone but the Nazis for the violence, insisting that there were some “very good people among them” even as he blame liberals of the fictional “alt-left” for what happened.

Yesterday the President held a news conference in which he said that the ideology of the Alt-Right, including the KKK and the Nazis was against American values. I watched it and it seemed forced as he read it from a teleprompter. It sounded so forced that Richard Spencer, one of the leading Alt-Right agitators said that he didn’t believe the President’s words were sincere. 

Today proved that the Nazi was absolutely right about the President. The press conference was a not only a public relations and political disaster for the President, but it covered him in disgrace and dishonor. It also embarrassed the country in the eyes of the world. It was unbelievable. 

The only people who seem to be happy are the Nazis of the Alt-Right who praised the President for his “honesty and courage.” 

The President and his Nazi like apologists have turned their words to reject and demonize legitimate opposition in order to deflect criticism from themselves. In his book On Tyranny Timothy Snyder wrote about how Hitler did this in Nazi Germany:

“Victor Klemperer, a literary scholar of Jewish origin, turned his philological training against Nazi propaganda. He noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition: The people always meant some people and not others (the president uses the word in this way), encounters were always struggles (the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the world in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).”

As I said, the only people defending him are the Nazis of the Alt-Right and the Court Evangelicals who have been his most stalwart supports. There seems to be nothing that he can do to disappoint them and they quickly jump to his defense using the same arguments of moral equivalence that that the President does. The former are Nazis whether they assume the title or not, the latter are no better than the German church leaders who encouraged their flocks to support Hitler and refused to speak out against the crimes of the Nazis. 

Yesterday the President lost any remaining credibility he had in terms of upholding his office and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

God help us,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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