Category Archives: leadership

Christmas NUTS! Anthony McAuliffe and the 101st Airborne at Bastogne

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Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On December 16th 1944 the German Army launched an assault in the Ardennes Forrest completely surprising the thinly spread American VIII Corps.  The German 6th Panzer Army, 5th Panzer Army and 7th Army attacked and forced the surrender of 2 regiments of 106th Infantry Division, mauled the 28th Division in the center of the American line while battering other U.S. forces.  To the north the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions were tenaciously defending Elsenborn Ridge while to the south the thinly spread 4th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions resisted the 7th Army advance. As elements of the two German Panzer armies advanced west Eisenhower dispatched his only reserves the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to meet the threat. The 82nd moved to the town of St Vith to aid the 7th Armored Division while the 101st was dispatched to hold the key road center of Bastogne.

By the 22nd of December the besieged American defenders of Bastogne were causing Hasso Von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army headaches. Manteuffel’s leading Panzer units of the 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr had been thwarted from taking Bastogne by a Combat Command of 10th Armored Division and lead elements of the 101st Airborne Division. After failing to take the town the Germans invested it with the 26thVolksgrenadier Division, and a regiment of Panzer Lehr while the  2ndPanzer and the bulk of Panzer Lehr continued their westward advance.

Cut off from any other American forces the 101st and a collection of stray units including CCB 10th Armored Division and remnants of CCR 9th Armored Division, three 155mm artillery battalions including the African American 969th Field Artillery Battalion held out. By the 21st of December they were completely surrounded by strong German Forces with no relief in sight.

The Commander of the American garrison was Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe. McAuliffe was the acting commander of the 101st and normally was the commander of the Division Artillery. Major General Matthew Ridgeway and many key commanders and staff were away from the division when it was hastily deployed to the Bulge to combat the German offensive.  McAuliffe now commanded a division which was surrounded, and that was short of ammunition, food, and cold weather gear.

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General Der Panzertrüppen Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz

The German forces surrounding the city were commanded by the veteran General Der Panzertrüppen Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, commander of XLVII Panzer Corps.  Lüttwitz believed that resistance to his forces was futile sent the following message under a flag of truce to McAuliffe

To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.

The German Commander

McAuliffe’s response has become one of the immortal responses to a surrender demand in military history. According to staff members present when he received Lüttwitz’s note he simple said “nuts.” One of his staff officers suggested that he use “nuts” as his official reply to Lüttwitz and the following reply was typed:

To the German Commander

NUTS!

The American Commander

The reply was delivered by the commander of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Harper and his S-3 Major Alvin Jones. When Harper delivered the message he told the German delegation that in “plain English” it meant “Go to hell.” The scene has been immortalized on film in the movie The Battle of the Bulge

Likewise it is also depicted in the mini-series Band of Brothers. 

And in the 1949 film Battleground 

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The garrison held out until it was relieved on December 26th by the 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army.  Despite that the situation remained tenuous and the town was the scene of much hard fighting over the next two weeks.

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McAuliffe’s Christmas Message to his Soldiers

McAuliffe went on to command the 103rd Infantry Division by the end of the war.  He returned to Europe as Commander of 7th Army in 1953 and U.S. Army Europe in 1955. He retired in 1956 with the rank of General.  He died in 1975 at the age of 77. His adversary Von Lüttwitz died at the age of 72 in 1969.

As we remain engaged in the current war it is always worth our time to remember the heroism, courage and faith of those that served before us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Post Script: To read more about the Battle of the Bulge on this site go to Wacht am Rhein: The Battle of the Bulge

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Filed under film, History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, us army, world war two in europe

A Watershed Moment, and a Time to Be Afraid: Jim Mattis Resigns in Protest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned his position in protest at the manner in which President Trump is endangering the security of the United States. His resignation letter speaks for itself but it echoes many things that I have written regarding the Trump military and foreign policy since his election campaign. The final straw for Mattis was Trump’s unilateral decision against the advice of Mattis, the Department Of Defense, the State Department, and the National Security Council to withdraw all U.S. Troops from Syria falsely claiming that ISIS had been defeated.

Secretary Mattis’s letter is show below.

It was a watershed moment in American History. Honestly, I never expected Mattis to survive this long in the Trump Swamp. Everything about him stands in complete opposition to everything that Donald Trump embodies. The disgraced convicted felon Michael Flynn much more represents for which Trump stands.

Mattis was and remains a Marine who exemplified the Marine motto Semper Fidelis, and of living the creed of Duty, Honor, Country. Many times during his time in office he resisted the worst impulses and decisions made by the President. He knew that his duty and oath were to the Constitution of the United States and not the President. I think that he has become a tragic figure, he accepted the position thinking that he could serve the country better by taking it rather than not.

In the end Mattis could not abide the constant attacks on what he believed were the foundations of American national security and he resigned in protest. In a way he reminds me of Colonel General Ludwig Beck, Chief of Staff of the German Army, who resigned in protest over Hitler’s planned invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Beck, who died in the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th, 1944 said:

It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

Working with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster he had allies within the administration who could help check the President’s worst instincts. But Tillerson and McMaster were forced out and replaced by men who Trump believes that are more personally loyal to him, leaving Mattis isolated in the administration. Mattis was not able to get his recommendation for the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein approved by Trump. Mattis took this as a personal affront because the Secretary of Defense usually gets his recommendation for the position approved by the President. I wonder if Trump rejected Goldfein because in addition to being a decorated combat veteran who was actually shot down over Serbia in 1999, is also Jewish. Honestly, I don’t think that Trump could stomach having a Jewish war hero as his Chief military advisor. Maybe someone should ask that question, but I digress…

Mattis’s resignation, combined with Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS and withdraw announcement sent a chill throughout Washington and around the world. Even influential Republican leaders who have carried Trump’s water are seeing the approaching danger of Trump unrestrained. The only question is if they will have the courage to choose principle over personal profit and power. Sadly, to this point they have not backed their words with action. Perhaps with the wheels coming off this presidency they will, but I think they are more afraid of his cult like followers than they are of him, so we will have to see.

Trump promises that he will nominate a replacement for Mattis soon. Make no mistake, whoever Trump chooses will be pliant and nothing more than his lackey. The replacement will be someone in the tradition of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, who was absolutely committed to Adolf Hitler and who not only went along with, but signed criminal orders that obliged the German military to commit war crimes, at home and abroad. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg said about Keitel:

“Keitel, the weak and willing tool, delivered the armed forces, the instrument of aggression, over to the party and directed them in executing its felonious designs.”

I am not sure who would want the job, but I am sure that he will be an modern embodiment of Keitel, and I will be glad that I will be retired within a few months of his confirmation. A year ago I thought that Senator Tom Cotton would gladly take it, but since he was one of the leading critics of the Syria withdraw, that he saw as a surrender to Russia I am not so sure. I don’t think that he’s that stupid. Instead, I think that Trump may pick a retired General or Admiral from his partisans for the job, there are plenty of them out there who would take it, I could be wrong, but we’ll have to see.

Regardless of who takes over for Mattis is the fact that with Mattis out of the way, Trump’s worst instincts will win policy debates and he may even lose John Bolton. Today the danger to our country and to to world has increased exponentially. To quote General Colin Powell’s words in his waning days as Secretary of State, “I sleep like a baby … every two hours I wake up screaming.”

I think that may be the case for many of us in the coming days, weeks, and months. Since I already do that due to my PTSD and combat based nightmares and night terrors this will be nothing new. If that hasn’t been the case for you, welcome to my world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

I Won’t Shut Up Until It’s Fixed: Military and Veteran Mental Health Treatment

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I came across the story which threw me back in to the abyss of PTSD. I still suffer terribly from it. I have terrible nightmares and night terrors and often physically act out my dreams. Since 2014 this has resulted in two Emergency Room visits due to the injuries incurred in those dreams, including a broken nose. In the deepest depths of anxiety, fear, depression and at times paranoia I contemplated suicide many times. The only thing that kept me from it was what the effect would be on Judy and how my dog Molly would understand that daddy wasn’t ever coming back.

Anyway, I read about the story of Colonel Jim Turner who committed suicide in the parking lot of the Bay Pines Florida, Department Of Veternas Affairs Medical Center. He had dressed in his Dress Blues with Medals, got out of his car, sat on his service records, and killed himself with a rifle. The story struck so close to home because in July of 2014 I was at the same point following an encounter with a a provider and what was a very inhuman and machinelike system of treatment at Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth, Virginia.

I had been getting treatment and therapy since the summer of 2008 when I crashed following my return from Iraq. In 2013 I thought that I was doing well enough to discontinue therapy. But in early January 2014, my former Commodore at EOD Group Two, Captain Tom Sitsch committed suicide outside a hospital in New Hampshire. He had been retired about five years and his life was falling apart, but when I met in the spring of 2008 he was the only man who seemed to care about me, and how I was coping as I was crashing. His death hit me really hard and I realized that I needed to get back into therapy at least to have someone to talk to every couple of weeks to make sure that I was  okay.

I wrote about these encounters on this blog a number of times from the day until it happened until the situation was resolved by the intervention of my former Commanding Officer at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune, NC who had since been promoted to Admiral and put me in direct contact with Rear Admiral Jeff Moulton who commanded the Medical Center and Naval Region East.

After my encounter with the provider, a young Psychiatric Resident physician, I was considering suicide in a very similar way to how Colonel Turner killed himself. I was goi g to purchase a chrome plated M1911A1 .45 pistol, my favorite or all weapons I used in the military, clothe myself in my choker whites with full medals and put a round in my heart. I was ready to do it, and then I thought of the effect on my wife Judy, my dogs, and the people who would witness what I did.

If Admiral Lane had not reached out to Admiral Moulton I might well have died by my own hand. But those men took the time to listen to me and ensure that I got help. They saved my life. I am still in therapy. I still suffer crazy nightmares and act out my dreams, even last week when I scared the shit out of my Papillon dog Izzy and Judy when I tried to defend myself from a enemy combatant who had a pistol pointed at me, but I don’t want to die.

But an interesting thing happened. While reviewing my medical records in preparation for going into the VA system I found that the young Psychiatry Resident had put in a very perjorative diagnois Of a personality disorder based on a brief visit and a phone call, in fact the diagnosis was put in weeks after I had talked with her and after I had talked with Admiral. I guess she never thought that I would know about it. I talked with my current therapist who could access her notes about it today. When we talked he gave the dates on her notes, he told me what she wrote, and so this evening I went to my blog archives because I knew I had written about it when it happened. The result blew me away.

If I was a civilian I could sue her for malpractice, but since I am on active duty I cannot due to to provisions of the Feres Decsion. Now at this point in my life I don’t want revenge, I just want to have the perjorative diagnosis removed from my records. Until today I didn’t realize that I had the evidence at my fingertips, my scrambled brain had me think that the encounter was in 2015, but my blog and the Medical records show that it happened in July and August of 2014.

Pray for me, and if you have any legal advice please let me know. I plan to go forward as the psychiatrist is still on active duty at another base heading a clinic that treats patients with PTSD. I wonder if she is using her position to slander young sailors and marines who disagree with her or do not want to use her as a therapist, and who don’t know that a provider can so easily use a medical record to prejudice other providers against them.

As I said back in 2014, I will not shut up until the system is fixed. The late Colonel David Hackworth who Inhad the honor of corresponding with before he died noted: “If a policy is wrongheaded feckless and corrupt I take it personally and consider it a moral obligation to sound off and not shut up until it’s fixed.”

That is now part of my mission, not just for me, but for men like Colonel Turner, Captain Sitsch, and the countless men and women who have been callously treated by military and Veterans Administration mental health providers. For the approximately 20 military personnel and veterans who take their lives every day. All of us deserve better,

By my calculations the psychiatrist who did this to me wasn’t even born whenI enlisted in the Army or had even entered medical school when I deployed to Iraq. At the time that she saw me she had never deployed, been in combat, or commanded troops, in fact I would dare say that when I saw her I had much more experience dealing with death and troops suffering from PTSD than she did. I’m pretty sure that when I told her I didn’t want to do therapy with her I told her that, perhaps she was offended that a non-physician would tell her that, but I tend to tell the truth, and call things the way that I see them.

So anyway, until tomorrow, or maybe since it’s after midnight, later today I wish you peace, and pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under ethics, leadership, mental health, Military, News and current events, PTSD, suicide, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy

“All Stop” Pausing to Remember the End of An Age

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the midst of a very busy “day off” due to the National Day of Mourning in honor of the late President George H. W. Bush, I stopped everything to watch his funeral. On a ship the command “All Stop” involves taking all engines off line by disengaging the engines from the propeller shafts, where they are neither driving the ship forward or in reverse. For landlubbers it is like one puts a car with a manual transmission in neutral or park. The engines may continue to run, but the ship is not being driven forward or reverse.

For a bit over two hours I did that today. I stopped. I didn’t look at email, didn’t answer telephone calls or texts, and didn’t check Facebook or Twitter, instead I stopped to watch, listen, and reflect during the funeral for President Bush. I had other things that I could have done, but as a historian I knew that it was the end of an age.

State funerals are something special in the United States, unlike our mother country we are a republic, and democracy. While Great Britain is a Constitutional Monarchy, it is still a monarchy. State funerals in the United States serve to remind us of our heritage even in times when many people either pay lip service to it, or actually despise it, longing for some form of autocracy. The funeral of President Bush served as a reminder of that better and more noble heritage, what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the better angels of our nature.

Earlier in the morning I had taken Judy to her first physical therapy appointment in two weeks since she tore a Quadricep muscle while doing at home physical therapy after her first knee replacement surgery. She is making great progress but the pain is still pretty bad and she has a hard time getting comfortable in bed, something that makes sleep difficult. After that we went out to breakfast before coming home.

As a Priest, Chaplain, military officer, and historian I thought that it was important. President Bush had been out of office for around 26 years and only had served one term as President, however, those four years were among the most critical in the history of the modern world. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the reunification of Germany as a Westen oriented member of NATO and the European Union, and the liberation of Kuwait and defeat of Iraq by a disparate coalition of 29 very different nations under the authority of the United Nations all within a period of barely two years time were remarkable, and something that we will probably never see again in our lifetimes.

Whether one agreed or disagreed with individual policies enacted by him or his administration; and I did have my share of disagreements one had to admit the basic decency, humility, and respect for political opponents that enabled him to build relationships and keep friendships.

Today’s funeral dealt with history and what it is to be an American: friendship, family, faith, a dedication to the ideals written in the Declaration of Independence, spoken of by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, which referred to that ideal and pledged to build a more perfect Union, as well as a belief in an ideal of service to something greater than ourselves.

Historian John Meecham, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Senator Alan Simpson, and his son, former President George W. Bush, speaking as a son and not a President, were a portrait and a biography of a man who loved life, loved his family, loved his country and who had the courage to defy Party hardliners if it benefited the county, and who could take the time to care about children afflicted with the Leukemia that killed his daughter Robin at the tender age of three.

His was the story of a man who defied affluence and privilege to serve his country by volunteering to serve as soon as he could after the nation went to war, and who at the tender age of 18 became the youngest Naval Aviator in our history. Shot down over Chuchi Jima, he mourned the loss of his flight crew and was always aware of the human cost of war. He did not commit the lives of young Americans, allies, or coalition partners without reflecting on the loss of his flight crew. When he committed the nation to war in 1991 he did so only under the mandate of the United Nations and with a coalition that would be unimaginable today. I could never see our current President doing what George H. W. Bush did to keep the world from plunging into an abyss of disorder and irresponsibility.

This isn’t to say that he didn’t make mistakes, couldn’t go for the jugular as a politician, or who didn’t change his positions on various issues out of political expediency; but he always remained a fundamentally decent man who had great empathy for others.

His funeral was attended by more heads of state, former heads of state, or royalty since that of John F. Kennedy. As I watched the hearse which bore his body from the funeral in which the current President and four other Presidents gathered along with so many heads of state or former leaders gathered I was reminded of the words of historian Barbara Tuchman speaking about then funeral of British King Edward VII:

“So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, iraq, leadership, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

Unassuming, Competent, and Honorable: George H. W. Bush 1924-2018

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was working on another article last night and called it quits because I was tired. I’ll finish and post it tomorrow. But as I was settling in for the night my iPhone and iPad lit up with notifications that former President George H. W. Bush had died.

Many others from across the political spectrum have paid tribute to him far better than Incan ever hope to do. I had a lot of admiration for him. He brought a wealth of experience into the White House which paid huge dividends for the nation and the world as the Cold War ended and the world that we had known for forty years changed overnight.

It was a time fraught with real danger. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact brought freedom to much of Eastern Europe, but also unleashed a storm of long suppressed, but ancient ethnic and religious hatreds, especially in the Balkans. Likewise, the system by which the United States and the Soviet Union kept client States in line collapsed. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was but one of these nations.

Likewise, China responded to calls for democracy by crushing the peaceful demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Some leaders of Warsaw Pact nations whose people began to push for democracy and freedom were tempted to use force to crush their protestors, but none did. Credit has to be given to President Bush for how he used his knowledge, influence, and diplomatic skills to help bring down the Berlin Wall as Communist regimes collapsed all across Eastern Europe.

When Saddam Hussein brazenly invaded Kuwait, it was Bush who worked with the United Nations to build a true international coalition against Hussein and to ensure that Iraq was unable to split that coalition, which included many Arab nations, when it began shooting SCUD missiles at Israel.

At home he wanted a kinder and gentler country, something that we could sure use today. He was despised by Right Wing Republicans and Conservatives for not being “conservative enough.” Of course, the kind of conservatives they wanted in government were the uncompromising, yet morally bankrupt men like Newt Gingrich, and ultimately Donald Trump.

Bush’s political problem was one of hs greatest strengths. He was a decent man who brought humility to his office and did not make the Presidency about himself. He was gracious in defeat and went on work with the man who defeated him in 1992, Bill Clinton, on a number of humanitarian projects.

He was the last member of what has been termed “the Greatest Generation” serve as President. As a nineteen year old he put college on hold and became the second youngest man commissioned as a Naval Aviator. While serving with VT-51 (Torpedo Squadron 51) based on the USS San Jacinto, his TBM Avenger torpedo bomber was shot down over Chuchi Jima. With his aircraft’s engine on fire from hits from Japanese anti aircraft fire, Bush piloted his aircraft away from land to enable his crew to bail out. One went down with the aircraft, the other’s parachute failed to open. Bush landed in the ocean. U.S. fighter aircraft circled overhead and four hours later he was fished from the sea by the crew of the submarine USS Finback. Upon his return to the San Jacinto, Bush rejoined his squadron and flew until the squadron was rotated out of combat. He flew 58 combat missions and was received the Distinguished Flying Cross and three awards of the Air Medal.

Of the Presidents that served in the Second World War, only Bush and John F. Kennedy came so close to death serving in the Pacific. Gerald Ford served in combat operations about the Light Carrier USS Monterrey, a sister ship of San Jacinto for a year and a half. Richard Nixon volunteered for service even though being a Quaker he could have claimed consciousness objector status. He applied for sea duty but was assigned to various logistics and administrative assignments in the Pacific throughout the war. Lyndon Johnson served in the South Pacific, interrupting his congressional term to personally report on the situation to President Franklin Roosevelt. During his tour he got himself aboard an Army Air Force B-26 Marauder which was on a combat mission. There are differences in what happened during the mission, but alone among the crew Johnson, was recommended by Douglas MacArthur for, and awarded the Silver Star. Of course, Ronald Reagan, who had become a Reserve Officer in 1937, never left the Continental United States and was engaged in making training and recruitment films. Jimmy Carter entered the Naval Academy in 1943 but was commissioned too late to see service in the war.

Bush epitomized public service as an elected and appointed official, serving as a Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Envoy to the People’s Republic of China, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, before becoming Ronald Reagan’s Vice President.

As President he surrounded himself with competent professionals who were up to the challenges that his Presidency had to deal with. Unlike his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, there was no shady Iran Contra scandal, or Bill Clinton’s descent into extramarital forced fellatio with White House Intern Monica Lewinski and his lies about it. Neither can his response to Saddam Hussein’s Invasion of Kuwait in 1990 be compared to the criminal invasion launched by his son against Iraq in 2003.

Unlike many of his predecessors and successors he could not only take a jokes and parodies, but became a friend with one of his most successful imitators, Dana Carvey, from Saturday Night Live. Carvey’s parody of the President inspired me to learn to imitate him, Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Bob Dole and others. Most people who have heard me think that I do Clinton the best, some say that my impersonation of him is scary, but I digress. At his final White House holiday party before he left office, Bush secretly invited Carvey. They became lifelong friends. But that is who George H. W. Bush was, and why I can appreciate him so much.

He was a devoted husband and father. He was preceded in death by his wife Barbara and daughter Robin.

May he Rest In Peace.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, shipmates and veterans

The War that did not End All War: Recommended Reading in Light of the Centennial of the End of the Great War

Fort Vaux, Verdun France, 1984

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Many Americans are infatuated with the Second World War. I think this is because it is closer to us and how it has been recorded in history and film. I think much of this is due to the resurgence of popular works such as Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and the associated classic mini-series, and Steven Spielberg’s cinema classic Saving Private Ryan. Of course there were many other books and films one World War Two that came out even during the war that made it an iconic event in the lives of Americans born in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. In fact I have many of the books and videos in my library.

But as pervasive as is the literary and filmography of the Second War War remains, the fact is that the First World War is much more important in a continuing historical sense than the Second World War. Edmond Taylor, the author of the classic account The Fall of the Dynasties: 1905-1922 wrote:

“The First World War killed fewer victims than the Second World War, destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions – but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe. The old world never recovered from the shock.”

First World War is far too often overlooked in our time, yet it was the most important war in the effects that still resonate today. One cannot look at the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans, or Eastern Europe without recognizing that fact. A similar case can be made in Asia where Japan became a regional power capable of challenging the great powers in the Pacific by its participation on the side of the Allies in that war. The same is true of the United States, although in the aftermath of the war it retreated into a narcissistic isolationism that took Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor to break.

But I digress. The purpose I have tonight it to recommend some books and films that I think are helpful in understanding just how important the First World War remains to us today.

I made my first visit to a World War One battlefield when I went to Verdun in 1984. I was a young Army Second Lieutenant, preparing myself for time time that the Red Army would attack across the Fulda Gap. The walk around the battlefield was one of the most sobering events of my life. It was hard to imagine that a minimum of 700,000 German and French soldiers were killed or wounded on this relatively small parcel of ground over a period of nine months in 1916. The fact that many parts of the battlefield are off limits to visitors due to the vast amount of unexploded ordnance and persistent chemical agents, in this gas Mustard Gas also made an impression on me. But what affected me most was unearthing a bone fragment as I shuffled my feet near Fort Vaux and turning it over to a docent. I am sure that it was added to the Ossuary which contains the skeletal remains of over 130,000 French and German soldiers. It is hard to forget.

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

The literature that came out of the First World War by participants or observers, either as memoirs, works of fiction, or poems is impressive. Likewise the volumes chronicled by soldiers which influenced later military strategic, operational, and tactical developments between the World Wars remains with us today. In fact the military works still remain the basis for much of the current understanding of combined arms, counterinsurgency, and mission command doctrine.

More importantly, and perhaps less appreciated by policy makers and strategists are the personal works of soldiers that fought the in the great battles along the western front during the war. For the most part, the soldiers who served on the Western Front, the Balkans, Italy, and the Eastern Front are part of an amorphous and anonymous mass of people who simply became numbers during the Great War, thus the individual works of men like John McRea, Sigfried Sassoon, Erich Maria Remarque, Winfried Owen, Ernst Junger, Erwin Rommel, and even Adolf Hitler, are incredibly important in understanding the war, the ideology, and the disappointment of the men who served in the trenches. This applies regardless of the particular writer’s experience or political ideology.

The fact is that very few men who served on the ground in Europe reached the distinction of individual recognition is remarkable. More often those who achieved fame as relatively low ranking individuals were the Knights of the Air, the aviators who in individual combat above the trenches were immortalized by friend and foe alike. These men were represented as an almost mythological portrait of chivalry in a war where millions of men died anonymously, riddled by machine gun fire, artillery, and poison gas in mud saturated ground, trenches, and no man’s land. There are war cemeteries in France and Belgium where the majority of those interred are unknowns. On the Eastern Front, even those cemeteries and memorials are sparse, swallowed by war, shifting borders, and massive forced population migrations between 1918 and 1948.

For different reasons the books and poems written by the otherwise anonymous soldiers in Europe are important if we are to understand the world that we have inherited and must live in today. The same is true of men like T. E. Lawrence who served in the Middle East, or his East African counterpart, the German Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. Both of them made their names by conducting inventive campaigns using indigenous irregular soldiers to tie down and defeat far stronger opponents.

Histories and biographies written about the period by later historians using the documents and words of the adversaries, as well as solid hermeneutics and historiography are also quite important. So are the analysis of economists, sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, and even theologians as to the effects of the war on us today, but I digress.

Tonight I will list a number of books, poems, and films that I think are important in interpreting the Great War, especially, in trying to understand just how the men who directed and fought that war set the stage for today.

Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” as well as many of his post-war letters, articles, and opinion pieces help us understand the current Middle East through the lens of a brilliant but deeply troubled man. Remarque, Sassoon, McRea, Junger, Owen, and Hitler help us to understand the ideology, motivations, fears, and hopes of men on different sides and even very different ideological and political points of view. Now I would not recommend Hitler’s poorly written, turgid, almost unreadable, and hate filled book to anyone but a scholar of the period or biographer the the Nazi dictator.

Later historians Barbara Tuchman, Holger Herweg, Edmond Taylor, Richard Watt, and Robert Massie help us understand that bigger picture of international politics, intrigue, and strategy. Lest to be trusted, are the memoirs of high ranking men of any side who helped to write, and re-write the history of the war and its aftermath in order to bolster their own historical credibility. The same is true of the men who urged on war in 1914 and retreated from that in 1918 as if they had never heard of the war.

As for the books that came out of the war I would have to recommend Lawrence’s classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom, as well as articles, and letters, written by him available online at T. E. Lawrence Studies . Likewise, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is a classic account of a combat soldier with a distinct anti-war message. Junger’s Storm of Steel is also an account of a combat soldier who came out of the war but with a message completely different than Remarque’s. The poetry of the British Soldiers McRea, Sasson, and Owen is moving and goes to the heart of the war experience in a way that prose, no matter how well written cannot do.

Of the later histories I think that Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties, The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922, Tuchman’s The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 and The Guns of August, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War In 1914, and Margaret McMillen’s The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, are essential to understanding the events and conditions leading up to the war.

Herweg’s World War One and Massie’s Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea are both good accounts of the war. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings, and Home Before the Leaves Fall: A New History of the German Invasion of 1914, by Ian Senior, and Tannenberg: Clash of Empires by Dennis Showalter are excellent recent histories of the opening months of the war which are a good compliment to Tuchman’s The Guns of August.

Books about battles and campaign outside of the opening months and general histories of the war I have to admit that I have not read many. Most of the ones I have read deal with the ordeal and crisis of the French Army in 1916 and 1917. Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, Richard Watt’s Dare Call it Treason, and David Murphy’s The Breaking Point of the French Army: The Neville Offensive of 1917 document the valor, sacrifice, and near collapse of the French Army.

A book that is focuses on the American military in the war and how it helped change American society is Jennifer Keene’s Doughboys: The Great War and the Making of American Society.

A book that I found interesting was Correlli Barnett’s The Sword-bearers: Supreme Command in the First World War. The book provides short biographies of the lives and influences of German Field Marshal Von Moltke, British Admiral Jellicoe, French General Petain, and German General Ludendorff. It is a good study in command. Another biography that I recommend is

As for the war at sea, I recommend Edwin Hoyt’s The Last Cruise of the Emden, R. K. Lochner’s The Last Gentleman of War: The Raider Exploits of the Cruiser Emden, Geoffrey Bennett’s Coronel and the Falklands, Holger Herweg’s Luxury Fleet: The Imperial German Navy, 1888 – 1918 in addition to Massie’s Castle’s of Steel, of which the latter is probably the best resource for the naval aspects of the war.

A couple of books that deal with the often overlooked campaign in East Africa are Lettow Von Vorbeck’s My Reminiscences of East Africa, and Königsberg: A German East Africa Raider by Kevin Patience shed light on this obscure but important campaign.

Erwin Rommel’s Infanterie Greift An (Infantry Attacks) is quite possibly the best book on tactics and operational methods published by a participant. Likewise, the the British historians and theoreticians B. H. Liddell-Hart and J. F. C. Fuller, and German Panzer theorist and Commander Heinz Guderian, who also served on the front produced a number of volumes which influenced later strategic and operational advancements which are still in evidence today.

Watt’s The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution is a necessity if one is to understand the rise of the Nazi State. Likewise, a good resource of the deliberations leading to the Treat of Versailles is Margaret McMillen’s 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. Related to this is the very interesting account of the scuttling of the interred German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow in the aftermath of Versailles, The Grand Scuttle: The Sinking of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow In 1919 by Dan Van der Vat.

One work of fiction that I can recommend is The General by C. S. Forester.

I am sure that there are many other volumes that others could recommend, but these are mine.

In an age where there are many parallels to the years leading up to the Great War, it is important not to forget just how catastrophic such a war can be.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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How Republics Die: William Shirer’s “The Collapse of the Third Republic” and its Relevance Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s Word,

As most of my readers know I am a historian who specializes in both the American Civil War as well as the years between the First World War and the end of the Second World War. On of my favorite authors whose works specialize in the latter is the late William Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Berlin Diary, The Nightmare Years, and maybe most importantly for Americans and Western Europeans today, The Collapse of he Third Republic: an Inquiry into the Fall of France 1940. 

The book is very pertinent for our time. Today, the American Republic faces a crisis that will determine if it will survive without becoming a totalitarian state in which the legislative and judicial branches are subordinated to the executive branch and an imperial presidency, and the overwhelming power of an elite oligarchy of industrialists, land owners, and bankers. The parallels between the Third Republic and the United States are many, especially in the attitudes of the economic elites and their responsibility to the Nation. On Tuesday there will be an election which most probably will determine the fate of the American experiment.

The Collapse of the Third Repubic is a massive work, and Shirer was one of the first to gain access to the records of the Third Republic and to interview its political and military leaders in the years after the Second World War. For me, the most interesting part of this work is how many parallels there are between the French Third Republic in the 1920s and 1930s as there are in contemporary American life, culture, and politics. Those comparisons are too many to discuss in a short article like this, but there was  one point that struck me as particularly important was the attitude of wealthy to the existence of the Republic itself. The Hobbesian attitude of the wealthy conservative classes in the Third  Republic was not terribly different than many in the United States today, men and women who value their wealth and privilege above the very country that they call home and which helps to subsidize their existence.

Shirer wrote about the wealthy French citizens who had been saved by the sacrifice of four out of every ten French men in the First World War, the physical destruction of much of the country, and the debt incurred by nation during the which often benefited the people and the  businesses which profited during, who in turn abandoned the Republic during its hour of need. Shirer wrote:

“The power of a small elite which possessed most of the wealth was greater than the power of the republican government elected by the people, presumably to run the country in the interest of all the citizens. This group was determined to preserve its privileged position and thus its money. In effect, since the triumph of the Republic over President MacMahon there had been a virtual alliance between the possessor class and the Republic, which it manipulated through its control of the Press, the financing of political parties, and the handling of its vast funds to influence the fiscal policies of government.”

While the attitude and actions of the wealthy French business leaders became apparent in the 1870s and 1880s, it appeared full bloom after the First World War.  Shirer wrote:

“And more and more, as the last years of the Third Republic ticked off, the wealthy found it difficult to put the interest of the nation above that of their class. Faced with specific obligations to the country if the state were not to flounder in a financial morass, they shrank from meeting them. The Republic might go under but their valuables would be preserved. In the meantime they would not help keep it afloat by paying a fair share of the taxes. The tax burden was for others to shoulder. If that were understood by the politicians, the Republic could continue. If not… were there not other forms of government possible which promised more security for entrenched wealth? The thoughts of some of the biggest entrepreneurs began to turn to the Fascist “experiment” in Italy and to the growing success of the Nazi Party in Germany.”

The French business elites, as well as their conservative allies hated the Republic so much that they were unwilling to support it and worked to destroy it, even if that meant overthrowing it and establishing an authoritarian state. When the Germans defeated the French in 1940, many of these political and business leaders embraced the Nazis and supported the Vichy state. They were even willing to surrender true freedom and independence, becoming subservient to the Nazis in order to destroy the Republic.

I believe that the French example serves as warning for us today when we see government and business leaders working to destroy the institutions that define our republic and are there to protect its citizens. Thus, Shirer’s book is an important and timely read for Americans today.

Marshal Petain warmly greets Hitler

There is much more in the book, including justified criticism of the French left of the time, but I will finish with this today. General Weygand, who led the French armies during the final phase of the German campaign against France despised the Republic. When it fell he said. “I didn’t get the Boches, but I got the regime.” A more traitorous comment could not have been uttered by a soldier.

One of the few dissenting legislators to the dissolution of the Third Republic by Marshal Petain and Prime Mister Laval, Senator Boivin-Champeaux noted:

“It is not without sadness that we shall bid adieu to the Constitution of 1875. It made France a free country…. It died less from its imperfections than from the fault of men who were charged with guarding it and making it work.” 

Will that be said of us someday?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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