Category Archives: leadership

Understanding the Actions Ordinary Men: Perpetrators of Genocide

Ordungspolizei Executing Jews in Poland

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

I just finished re-reading Christopher Browning’s classic book on an often overlooked part of the Holocaust in Poland, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution  in Poland. As I read it I was reminded of Niebuhr’s words. The book details the actions of the men of a police unit that one would have expected to be the most unlikely perpetrators of violence and mass killing. Most of the unit’s men were not ardent Nazis or even party members, many were too old to have been drafted into the military, and most came of age long before the Nazis took control of the education system.  They were mostly from Hamburg, one of the least Nazified of all major German cities, and included was a contingent from Luxembourg, a country that was not part of Germany.

In their actions in Poland an estimated ten to twenty percent refused to take part in the mass killings of Jews. Unlike the people who manned the factory like death camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz, these men killed their victims in an exceedingly personal manner. They stood at close range and fired pistol or rifle shots into the back of the skulls of their victims, who mostly were kneeling over pits or prostrate on the ground. The members of the unit killed a minimum of 38,000 Jews in this manner, and were instrumental in the deportations of about 45,000 more to the death camps. Very few were prosecuted for their crimes. Most went home, and some resumed successful careers in the police.

These men were very ordinary, and that is what makes what they did so troubling. One of the problems with human nature is that people in any time or place can participate in the very kinds of evil that the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 and other units like it did. We have to understand what allows normal people to take part in evil. As Timothy Snyder wrote in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin:

“It is easy to sanctify policies or identities by the deaths of victims. It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander.”

It is never easy to examine and understand the actions of the perpetrators. To understand them is not to justify them, but to ensure that we do not become like them, as Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, leadership, Political Commentary

Infallibility, Narcissism, and Paranoia

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again  just a short thought to ponder. Hannah Arendt wrote: “The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error.”

This statement is undeniably true. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, the Ayatollahs, and Pol Pot are just some examples. More troubling is that such personalities are not absent today, Vladimir Putin, Marianne LePen, and our own President display this tendency, and their most devoted followers embrace it as well.

In the case of President Trump, presidential power means never having to say your sorry, or made a mistake. Failures are blamed on others, Congressional leaders, former President’s Obama and Bush, journalists, and even advisors who have outlasted their usefulness, case in point, Michael Flynn.

The inability to admit error is dangerous, but it also points to other potentially severe psychological issues. It is one of the characteristics of a paranoid personality, as well as a narcissistic personality. Richard Hofstadter wrote:

“The idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

Likewise, even if those characteristics do not reach the point of becoming an actual psychological disorder, they can be severe enough to impair sound judgment as a leader, and lead to potentially terrible decisions. History shows us this all too often. These kinds of leaders see the world as a threatening place, full of enemies, real and imagined. The destruction of their enemies is of the first importance to such leaders, even when it is detrimental to the nations that they lead.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, leadership, Political Commentary

Truth Deniers: The Fundamentalist Idolatry of Preachers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned yesterday things have been quite busy and unsettled around here so I won’t be writing a lot today. That being said, I want to mention a comment that a fundamentalist Christian come to my Facebook page and send me a direct message excoriating me for a very considered article that I wrote about the death of the Reverend David Wilkerson a number of years ago after he drove his car into an oncoming truck.

It was a difficult article to write. As someone who admired David Wilkerson yet did not idolize him I took the time to read his blog posts, and then obtain the State Police accident reports, accident photos, and autopsy results. My conclusion based on the evidence, and my experience doing accident investigation when I was in the Army was that Wilkerson had to have intentionally driven into the oncoming truck. The police reports, the photos, and his own words all pointed to it. Honesty, I would have preferred to have discovered that the car had a mechanical issue, or that he had a medical event that caused him to veer into the oncoming truck, but the evidence did not show that. Instead, it showed that on a clear day, on a strait road, that he drove directly into an oncoming tractor-trailer rig, ending his life and fatally injuring his terminally ill wife.

Over the years I have had quite a few Evangelical Christians come to this site as well as my Facebook page to attack me, condemn me to Hell, and do everything but to dispassionately examine the evidence and come to a conclusion. The problem is that I took down the idol that they made of a good man, a man who did many good things, but who also had feet of clay, who like his wife was suffering from serious medical issues, and who had recently suffered the betrayal of the people that he had helped to promote to senior leadership at Times Square Church, people who would have not reached their positions without his help and assistance.

The problem is that David was a fundamentalist, and he had written a small polemic book about suicide being an unforgivable sin. I have the book, I read it before I wrote the article. Personally I don’t think that God will condemn to Hell a suffering person who makes a tragic choice such as suicide. There were many things that I admired David for and others that I disagreed with him, suicide was one of them.

Yesterday I got a personal message from another of his idolators who blasted me every which way but loose. Instead of responding like I have done in the past I realized that no words of mine would change this person’s opinion, so I simply deleted it without comment. To me it is no longer worth debating people who refuse to even entertain  possibilities that are at odds with their beliefs about the men they turn into idols.

That is a problem for many Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians. I have seen too many deny and defends the real crimes of preachers who they have turned into idols. I saw it when I worked for a very well known Fundamentalist televangelist when I was in seminary in the late 1980s and early 1990s and throughout my ministry since then. It doesn’t matter what they do: defraud their followers, be caught in horrendous marital infidelity, abuse of children, and even murder, their followers will defend them to their dying day and then condemn anyone who dares point out inconvenient truths. Pardon me, but that is not Christian, it is idolatry.

To his credit, David Wilkerson did not defraud his flock, he did not cheat on his wife, he did not abuse children, or murder anyone. He appears to have been caught in the terrible throws of depression, hopelessness, and succumbed to the impulse to end his life. There are many people who have also contacted me over the years to share the good things about David and ministry, as well as how he touched their lives who also empathized with the suffering that led him to take his life. I think that demonstrates an appropriate response to the tragic death of someone who did many good things.

Anyway. That’s more than I intended to write and I had no idea how much something that happened almost seven years ago still inspires people to hate and condemn those who however reluctantly destroy their idolatrous image of good but flawed and suffering people. However, I continue to learn that as Lord Dumbledore said: “The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

It is, and some people cannot handle it.

Have a great Saturday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, leadership, ministry, Pastoral Care, suicide

Transfer into the Twilight

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past couple of days have been pretty hectic as I transfer from the Staff College to be the base chaplain at another base in the local area. I’ll still remain as an adjunct at the Staff College to do the Gettysburg Staff Ride which is a good thing. Now truthfully, I did everything I could think of to get a different assignment. I wanted to do something in the Joint world or at least semi-operationally. My qualifications are many, so being assigned to a base chapel makes me feel like I’m being bumped back to the minor leagues, not because caring for people is not important, but because for promotion it’s not highly valued. Of course since I was passed over for promotion last year it is what I get. In today’s military once you are passed over you’re pretty much done, so I’m still lucky to get to do what I have loved doing for decades. Not many people get that chance, so I am lucky, Like Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham, I still get to keep going to the ballpark and getting paid for it.

I spent the last couple of days signing out of all the places that I need to, getting my medical records transferred, taking and passing my latest body composition assessment and physical readiness test, and taking care of last minute things needed to transfer. Then yesterday morning I donned my Service Dress Blues to officially sign in at the new command.

It is interesting because unless something unusual and unexpected happens this will be my last ride and the three or four years I spend in the job will take me to retirement with somewhere between 39 and 40 years of cumulative service in the Army and the Navy. I’ll have a good staff and my goal at this point in my career is to take care of them, and help them to succeed while caring for those committed to our care. I’m an old guy now, there aren’t that many people in the military who have served as long as I have, and most of them are admirals or generals.

I’m kind of reminded of the scene in Bull Durham where Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis gets sent from AAA down to single A Durham to help mentor a young pitcher. In frustration he tells the manager:  I’m too old for this shit. Why the hell am I back in A ball?

Joe Reardon: ‘Cause of Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. Big club’s got a hundred grand in him.

Larry: He’s got a million dollar arm, and a five cent head.

Joe Reardon: Had a gun on him tonight. The last five pitched he threw were faster that the first five, He has the best young arm I’ve seen in 30 years. You’ve been around. You’re smart, professional. We want you to mature the kid. We want you to room with him on the road, stay on his case all year. He could go all the way.

Crash Davis: Where can I go?

Joe Reardon: You can keep going to the ballpark, and keep getting paid to do it. Beats the hell out of working at Sears.

Larry: Sears sucks, Crash. Boy, I worked there once. Sold Lady Kenmores. Nasty, whoa, nasty.

So anyway, there are a lot worse alternatives. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, leadership, Loose thoughts and musings, Military

First Pitches and Last Pitches: The Importance of President Trump’s Failure to Show on Opening Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saul Steinberg wrote: “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” This is something about the American character that President Donald Trump does not seem to understand, these are not qualities that he shares. In a rare move for a new President, Trump refused an invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington National’s Opening Day celebration.

To some people that may seem like a trivial thing, but to me it is yet another indicator of the President’s lack of respect for his office, the institutions of our country, and our greatest traditions. Baseball has always provided a healing balm for our country during various crises and emergencies. During World War Two Franklin Roosevelt said to critics who thought baseball should be shut down for the duration of the war, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” 

Baseball is important and a good number of our Presidents understood this whether you agreed with their politics or not. President George W. Bush made a couple of observations that President Trump obviously has no understanding about. First there were the personal virtues of the baseball legends, virtues that should inform and inspire anyone, especially a President of the United States. Bush noted:

“Baseball isn’t just the stats. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of Willie Mays, or the determination of Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a (Al) Kaline or a (Joe) Morgan, the grace of a (Joe) DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, or the heroism of Lou Gehrig. My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost.”

But then there are the practical leadership, management, and political aspects of managing a baseball team that relate directly to anyone in a leadership position. Bush noted: “The most important qualities for a (baseball) manager are to plan for the season and foster a team spirit that encourages hard work and the desire to win. A good president must set clear goals, recruit the best, build a spirit of teamwork, and be willing to share credit and take the blame.”

After the 9-11 attacks President Bush went to Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch during Game Three of the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks just a few miles from Ground Zero. Despite the fears and warnings of the Secret Service, Bush refused to put on a bulletproof vest, and when he got to the mound he recalled:

“The gravity of the moment never really hit me until the first step coming out of that dugout,” Bush said. “I remembering the noise and it was deafening. I remember looking around the stadium, this giant crowd. Standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium was by far the most nervous moment of my presidency.

Bush understood that this was much more than a game, it was a national symbol, it was something that had to be done where it was done. Billy Crystal recalled “This is a moment. Your politics go away. Here’s the president of the United States, handed this awful baton to run with and he stood up and basically said f— you.” For those watching all over the country and the world it was an electric moment. One can criticize President Bush for many things but not this, that pitch helped the country begin to heal more than any military strike, more than any speech, because it reached back to the virtues of the game that are so enmeshed with the character and the ideals of America.

But since President Trump can’t even show up for the first pitch on opening day, I doubt if he has the capacity to ever inspire anyone in this country to higher ideals and higher. He seems to me more like more like a unscrupulous baseball owner more interested in parting out the team and destroying the franchise to make a short term profit all the while building a garish new stadium to satisfy his need with other people’s money, kind of like the late Margaret Whitton who played the owner of the Cleveland Indians in Major League.

Sadly, the President is not only is his missing and dissing the greatest of American institutions, he his missing out the one game that can actually teach him about politics, as Richard Nixon well understood. You see, Trump’s basic inattention and laziness, his inability to stay focused will destroy his presidency. Nixon said that Trump should heed: “I never leave a game before the last pitch, because in baseball, as in life and especially politics, you never know what will happen.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

The Preciousness of Trust and Integrity

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today, like so many days lately I’m just going to share a few short thoughts about the importance of truth and the importance of trust and integrity in public life.

My first class in seminary was an ethics class, of all things called Moral Problems. The course went into depth on various aspects of morality in public and private life. One of our texts was Sisella Bok’s book Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. When I took the class I had no idea just how much it would influence me throughout seminary and in professional life. Bok wrote:

“The role that one assigns to truthfulness will always remain central in considering what kind of person one wants to be—how one wishes to treat, not only other people, but oneself.” 

It is essential to our wellbeing as individuals, in our relationships, and in public life. When I look at the words and actions of the Trump administration, as well as past administrations of both political parties I do get concerned when falsehood is openly promoted and called truth. Mistakes are one thing, but deliberate lies by leaders, and public institution, government or otherwise destroy public trust. As Bok noted: “Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. They can thrive only on a foundation of respect for veracity.” 

That is why when in a democracy there are scandals involving deliberate lies and cover ups that have or are being perpetrated by government officials, business, military, or religious leaders, they are so destructive in terms of the trust of the public. Of course the leaders of totalitarian regimes have no need for truth as their propaganda is paraded as truth, even when it denies reality, even before they take complete power. Hannah Arendt wrote that “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”

To keep that from happening we as individuals must assign the highest importance to truthfulness even above expediency and the desire to win. It is to borrow the words of Sir Patrick Steward playing Captain Jean Luc Picard in Stat Trek the Next Generation, “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…”

And with that I will close for the day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The High Cost of Lies and Broken Trust: The Trump Administration and a Lesson from 1938

Friends of Padre Steve’s Word,

Thomas Paine wrote: “Character is much easier kept than recovered.” Those words apply to nations and government as much as they do to individuals.

As you might have noticed I have been spending much time writing about the corrosive effect of what the Trump administration’s strategy of willful deceit, the denial of factual truth, and the creation of so-called alternate facts, truth, and reality, on our life as a nation. I am going to return to that again because it appears that the strategy is continuing to be used, and that the administration is now scrambling to hide inconvenient facts from the FBI and Congressional committees investigating the possibility of the collusion of Russian officials with Trump campaign and administration officials. This effort appears to have possibly spread to Representative Devin Nunes who is the committee chairman of the House committee investigating the allegations.

Admittedly at this point none of us know what transpired, if anything between the Russians, the President, and his closest advisors. That being said there are so many people in the administration that appear to be connected to Russian officials, those like former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and others may have received large amounts of money from Russia sources to influence United States policy on the behalf of the Russian government and business oligarchy, particularly in regard to the Ukraine which Russia invaded and seized the Crimean Peninsula. Manafort appears to possibly be connected to Russian actions that led to the death of Ukrainians.

Such actions are quite dangerous, and one only has to look to the example of France in 1938 during the Czech crisis where conservative politicians, military officers, and the French right wing media allowed themselves to fall under the spell of Hitler, abandon Czechoslovakia, and with it their only chance of stopping the Nazi advance in Europe. But to them it did not matter. William Shirer recounts those days in his book The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France 1940:

“Nor did the public realize how it was being poisoned and misled, not only by Fascist-minded leaders and newspapers, small in number but growing in influence, who on ideological grounds wished to accommodate Hitler and Mussolini, but also by Frenchmen who were being manipulated by German agents and money. It was at this time that Otto Abertz, the genial “Francophile” Nazi agent in Paris, became most effective. Easily penetrating political, business, social and cultural circles he worked tirelessly at winning their sympathies for Nazi Germany. He engineered trips with all expenses paid, for numerous politicians, intellectuals, industrialists, and leaders of the war veterans’ groups to Germany, where they were wined, dined, and otherwise feted, and fed with Nazi propaganda. He obtained lucrative contracts for French writers to have their books translated and published in Germany. He arranged interviews for French journalists with Hitler so that the Fuehrer could reiterate that he wished only peace and friendly relations with France. He was believed by the French secret police, which constantly shadowed him, to be the chief source of Nazi funds for buying French journals, journalists, and others of influence. Doriot’s openly Fascist daily, La Liberte, was almost entirely subsidized by Berlin. This was probably an exception. As Pierre Comert., chief of the Press Service at the Quai d’Orsay, testified to the Parliamentary Investigating Committee later: “The German agents at the time didn’t buy newspapers. They bought journalists. It was cheaper. And it was more effective.

Aside from the cheapening of moral values which followed inevitably from the abandoning of Czechoslovakia, the Munich settlement further deepened and complicated the already calamitous divisions among the French…”

When a nation abandons its allies. When its leaders give every impression of siding with an age old hostile power while insulting and demeaning its closest allies. When it reneges on deals made in good faith with other countries on issues that are important to the whole world, such as global warming, when it abandons economic pacts that worked to balance power and maintain peace, it harms more than its physical, military, and economic power: it damages its credibility. As one newspaper wrote of France after the Munich agreement that destroyed Czechoslovakia:

“Who will again believe the word of France? Who will remain her ally? Why would the French government, which has just annulled “of her own accord” her pact with Czechoslovakia, respect the Franco-Soviet Pact?”

What will be said of the United States if its leaders betray its ideals, and its promises? That trust, if lost, will take a generation or more to regain, but the cost of that loss of trust will harm us all in ways that we cannot even begin to fathom.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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