Category Archives: life

Books The Window to My Soul and the Guard of my Conscience

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

George R.R. Martin wrote in his book A Dance With Dragons:  “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I constantly read and because I try to imagine what I am reading so that in a way I live it. I have been to places that have never traveled to before and on entering them I know exactly where everything is and what happened there. I remember leading a group from my Army chapel in Wurzburg Germany to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. As I led the group through the town a couple of people asked me how many times I had been there. I told them, “physically, never until today, but I have been here a thousand times before because of books. I saw Wittenberg in my minds eye before I ever saw the city.” They were surprised and both said that it seemed like I had been there many times.

I have had the same thing happen other places that I have visited, and again, it is because I read, and as I read, I imagine and occasionally dream.

I have a huge number of my books in my office most dealing with the history, especially the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the World Wars, and the insurgencies and counter-insurgency wars of the past seventy or so years. I have a lot of biographies, books on American history, military theory, sociology, philosophy, psychology related to war and PTSD, and a few theological works, though most of my theology books are at home because I don’t have room for them in the office.

Coupled with mementos of my military career, other militaria, artwork, and baseball memorabilia the sight and smell can be both overwhelming and comforting at the same time. I hear that a lot from my visitors, including those who come in for counseling, consolation, or just to know someone cares. They tell my visitors volumes about me without them ever asking a question or me telling them, and occasionally someone will ask to borrow a book, and most of the time I will lend them the book, or if I have multiple copies even give it to them.

In a sense my books are kind of a window to my soul, the topics, and even how I have them organized, and they are not for decoration. Many times while I am reflecting on a topic, a conversation, or something that I read in the news I peruse my books and pull one or more out to help me better understand it, or relate it to history. sometimes when in conversation something will come up and I can pull out a book. One of my Chaplains said that he should “apply for graduate credit” for what he learns in our often off the cuff talks. But, for me that is because I read so much and absorb it.

Likewise my memorabilia is there to remind me of all the people in my past who I have served with. I don’t have all my medals, honors, and diplomas up for everyone to see, instead I have pictures and collages, many signed by people who made a difference in my life. When I see the signatures and often all too kind words on them I am humbled, and in some cases a tear will come to my eye, but I digress…

I always try to read a decent amount everyday. I in the past couple of weeks I have finished reading a number of very good books dealing with different historical dramas. I have mentioned a number of my recent reads. Today I finished reading a very good book called Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes In World War II, by Yuki Tanaka. The book is primarily focused on Japanese War Crimes In the Southwest Pacific against Allied POWs, civilians, including German missionaries, and indigenous peoples. I will be referring to it in future articles as I deal with Japanese War Crimes In the Second World War. I am well versed in the Nazi War crimes and only somewhat familiar with Japanese war crimes, but the the takeaway from the book was that both the German War Crimes and Japanese War Crimes committed during the Second World War were committed by men who placed unconditional loyalty to a supreme leader, in the case of the Germans, Hitler’s Fuhrer cult, and in the case of the Japanese, Emperor worship, much like the present day Trump Cult. But I digress, I will go into that in a future article.

I love reading and writing about complex characters, people who may be heroes and at the same time scoundrels. I like the contradictions and the feet of clay of people, because I am filled with my own, and truthfully saints are pretty boring. Unfortunately I haven’t read any biographies of late, although most of my reading deals a lot with biography as the characters weave their way through history.

Last year we observed the Centenary of the end of World War One. As a result I re-read Edmond Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922 and Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Both of these are very important reads which should help us to reflect reflect on what is happening in our world today. There are many similarities and reading them causes me to wonder if world leaders will allow hubris, arrogance, greed, and pride to drag the world into another catastrophic war. Sadly President Trump, doesn’t read, and doesn’t learn from history. Unfortunately, his ignorance is very much a reflection of our twenty-first century media culture.

But to me, books are important, far more important than anything that is shouted at me on television. Unfortunately, the latter is how most people get information today. I often sit at the bar and on quiet days simply listen to those near me repeat ad-nauseam the bullshit echoed by badly educated and historically ignorant conservative pundits, usually from Fox News. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his little but profound book, On Tyranny:

“Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books. The characters in Orwell’s and Bradbury’s books could not do this—but we still can.”

Likewise, 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.”

But anyway, I signed in to my final duty station today where not only my Chaplain skills, but my historical knowledge will be appreciated. I immediately felt at home, far more than I did in my last assignment.

So have a great day and a better tomorrow, so pick up a book and read.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, imperial japan, life, Military, national security, nazi germany, Political Commentary, world war two in the pacific

History, Biography, and Organizing my Library at Home

 

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a very difficult day where I worked in the house, the storage space, and. helped Judy and some of her friends break down their wares at the end of a craft show. This evening I did some more work organizing books in my library here at home. This week while doing my transfer I also caught up with some reading since my orders didn’t actually show up until late Wednesday. I read Mark Rosen’s “The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: a Reconsideration”; “The Participants: the Men of the Wannsee Conference” edited by Hans Christian Jasch and Christopher Kreutzmuller; finished reading “Our Declaration: a Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” by Danielle Allen; and began reading Stefan Kühls “The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism.” While browsing my books I pulled out “Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II” by Yuki Tanaka.

In like of what I have been doing I am reposting an edited and expanded version of an older article emphasizing the connection between history and biography. This is something I try to do when I write. Tomorrow, I start my check-in process after having signed in to my new command, before they send me to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

English historian and military theorist Colin Gray noted that “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, but especially in the matter of war.

I think one of the sad things about history is that many authors, especially in military history, but other areas as well, seem to treat the participants as bit players in a series of events, rather than a prism from which to understand and view history.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had students, and even colleagues tell me that history is dry, boring and uninteresting to them. I will not condemn them, for certainly if it is that is case, it is not their fault, but rather those who write and teach history. If all history is, is arbitrary dates, lists of disconnected events and names of people, without any context to their lives, why should they care about it?

When I first began to study history I was much more concerned about events than people. However, over the past couple of years I have began to develop what I call my philosophy of history. That has come about through my study of the events leading to the American Civil War and in particular my study of the Battle of Gettysburg, but also in other historical events such as the Arab Revolt of 1917,  the French adventures in Indochina and Algeria, and the Holocaust.

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, to make the subjects appear saintlike, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. There are others who go to the opposite extreme and do all they can to demonize their subject. In either case the method is less than honest, but for many people, profit and propaganda value mean more than truth. Of course either type of writing appeals to the masses who do not care about nuance, or for that matter truth.

But such is not history. Neither are “histories” which are designed to support a particular ideology, be it political, religious, or economic. Such works are not history, but propaganda. When I see people, in this country forbidding the teaching of history because it is not patriotic enough I want to scream. It is like I am watching the propagandists of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, or any of many other nations that used ideology or religion to supress history that didn’t meet their definition of “patriotic.” But then I digress…

My gut feeling says that such artificial divisions between history and biography do a disservice to the reader. I take a tremendous pleasure in writing, and I like to try to communicate and interpret facts, which is indeed the vocation of the historian, in a manner that makes them interesting. What I am finding is that when telling the stories of events we must also tell the stories of the people who make these events.

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman who in her writings about events, never forgot importance of people, and refused to turn them in to one dimensional caricatures.

In my writing now I attempt to bring the prism of the biography into the events that I write about.

I had a fellow faculty member note that he liked what I wrote about Gettysburg because it was more than just the events, it was the personal connection he felt to the people.

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.In the next few days you will be seeing some of my Gettysburg work, and hopefully as you read it you will notice that I attempt to find that nuance in the various men, on both sides of the conflict, who are part of the story.

I found that the complexities and contradictions of the subjects of history, the people help me understand the events more than anything. I think my epiphanies came in reading about the lives, as well at writings of men like T.E. Lawrence and Gouvereur Warren whose triumphs, struggles, weaknesses and injuries mirror my own. In learning about these men as people, in the context of what they accomplished helps me to understand their history and the era that they lived far more than simply recounting how they influenced a battle.

Likewise, I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layers and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about more fascinating, because then I gain a holistic perspective and develop an empathy for them. Even good and honorable people who find themselves due to race, religion, or nationality fighting for an evil cause, or evil people fighting for a good cause. Both are troubling, I think that good and honorable men who submit themselves to criminal and evil causes are more troubling.

We are seeing much of that today in regard to various members of the Trump Administration. When I was reading the article on Friedrich Kritzinger, the State Secretary for the Reich Chancellery, a conservative Prussian Civil Servant who served under the Kaiser, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. In his position he made sure that the bureaucracy of the Reich ran efficiently, and also wrote legal justifications for the absorption of the rump of Czechoslovakia, and western Poland into the Reich. He also took part in the Wannsee Conference, for which he was the only participant to express remorse. Stefan Paul-Jacobs and Lore Kleiber, wrote about him in The Participants:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” (St. Augustine). This might not be a quote from Kritzinger, but it serves as a reminder that, by working as a lawyer for a regime, which he has known from the start to be criminal, he made himself a stooge.” (The Participants p.217”) 

The story of Kritzinger, is very pertinent for anyone trapped by ideological or religious constraints, or commitment to a leader that they know is corrupt, acting criminally, or undermining the law and Constitution. That may confuse or even offend you, but it is a part of the human condition. That my friends is history.

Barbara Tuchman noted “that if the historian needs to submit himself to his or her material instead of trying to impose himself on his material, then the material will ultimately speak to him and supply the answers.”

This is very important, because when we do this we discover the answers to the why questions, especially the why questions that are so very uncomfortable, are necessary if we want to discover truth.

I know that I can find connections in the strengths as well as their weaknesses of people that I admire. Thus when I see ordinary people taking part in events, for good or for evil,I can say that given the same set of circumstances that that could be me. Context matters, nuance matters, people matter. If we do not understand that, history becomes nothing more than a set of manipulated facts, devoid of context that can be used to buttress the most evil intentions.

I do plan on developing these thoughts over the coming weeks and months, but for now it will suffice to say that when I write about history, that people matter. That is why I write.

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Filed under books and literature, civil war, History, life, Military, philosophy, racism

Expedited Office Moves


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

My office at work was like a combined library and museum, probably at least a thousand books, lots of civil war art, and tons of memorabilia from 38 plus years of service. After painting what will be my study at home today was a day of moving close to have of my books, building five “Billy” bookcases from Ikea and getting a lot of the books shelved. shelved.

I’ll continue that tomorrow after my weigh in and body composition assessment early, coming home to unload the books from our Ford Escape that I finally quit unloading at 9:30 this evening, and then going back to get the rest of the books and as much else as I can so my Saturday isn’t completely wrecked, since I have to be out of it by Monday. Then I can maybe rest a bit Sunday before fine tuning the organization of the library and maybe hanging some of my nicer pictures up while storing most of the memorabilia. We’ll probably have to get a bigger storage space to make sure that the house does not look cluttered when we get ready to sell.

I haven’t had time to keep up with much today in the news which is just as well. I’m tired. Going to finish my glass of Pinot Gregio and then do some reading.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under books, life, Military, US Navy

The Navy: It’s Not Just a Job, It’s an Adventure, even When Trying to Retire

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Way Beck before I ever entered the military, the Navy had a recruiting commercial called “The Navy, it’s Not Just an Adventure.” I can state with all honesty that after over 38 years of combined Army and Navy Service that yes, even when trying to retire, the adventure continues.

Most of my followers know that last year I chose to retire before my mandatory date. I should have retired September 1st. However, Navy Medicine did me no favors with my injured knees and I had to withdraw my voluntary retirement request to retire at what the Navy said was my mandatory retirement date. That was supposedly April 1st of 2020. The personnel system planned on it as did I.

Since I hadn’t seen a copy of my orders I sent a message to Officer Retirements Branch asking when to expect them. Today, my relief showed up, and I got a call from the Chief of the Officer Retirements Branch that my current retirement orders were cancelled because they miscalculated my actual mandatory retirement date, which is now August 1st, 2020. Mandatory retirement works differently than voluntary retirement. The former is mandatory. The latter you have to apply for and the process can take several months for approval.

Since there is only a four month lag time between my now ex-mandatory retirement date and the new one I have no need of throwing another date out there. So I recommended that my detailer find another local place to stash me until I can once again start the retirement process with the VA, which can only begin 6 months prior to the approved retirement date. I recommend the Joint Forces Staff College where I served as Chaplain, taught ethics, and led the Gettysburg Staff Ride because even though they have a newly assigned Chaplain, they are critically short on military faculty.

Anyway, the adventure continues. Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

7 Comments

Filed under faith, life, Military, US Navy

Transitions: Looking at My Last Few Months in the Military


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week begins my transition from over 38 years of military service in the Army and Navy to the civilian world. My relief will arrive and for the next couple of weeks I will help him during the transition. Since I will be excess to the command and will not want my ghost hanging over him I am going to ask to be placed on temporary duty at the Joint Forces Staff College until my retirement in the spring of 2020. He deserves not to have his predecessor hanging around as he takes over, and I need to be in a place where I can launch myself into the civilian world without being the old guy in the way of the man entrusted with taking over my responsibilities, a man who is a friend.

I think that will be better for both of us. It will help my transition to the civilian world and will allow him to not have my shadow lurking around his shoulders as I make my transition. The academic world is much better for me and my future than just hanging around where I am no longer needed.  One has to understand when their time is up. I know that. Hopefully, my superiors will understand.

Anyway, Sunday and Monday I will be parting and preparing to move  my  work office to home. It will be a lot of work. I thank you for your encouragement, support, and prayers. All of my readers mean a great deal to me, and I wish you all the best.

Peace,

Padre

 

 

 

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Filed under life, Military, ministry

A Last Night in Germany: Thoughts on Returning Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight is our last night in Germany with our friends and it was rather restful. We took the S-Bahn train to Karlsruhe for a bit of shopping for Judy and stopped in an Italian coffee and ice cream shop for lunch. Judy has now developed a taste for Cappuccino, which I like as well. Much of the time we had no internet or LTE connection which wasn’t a bad thing because we spent time with each other.

A word of warning for others who visit areas of Germany that are not in major cities, LTE and 5G Service can be sporadic at best. This can be extremely frustrating at times. Thankfully our friends near Karlsruhe have a WiFi connection in our name connected to their internet service.

After our visit to Karlsruhe we went back to our friends house and while Judy rested, I went for a ten kilometer walk punctuated by a visit to a local pilstube, or bar where I had a couple of beers and spoke to the bartender and regulars. Of course I was the on foreigner there, which is par for the course in many small towns. Until I identified myself as an American, without speaking English, and explained that my wife’s family was from the area, I was able to pass myself off as a German.

Tonight we will have dinner with out friends, and I will do as much packing as I can before going to bed. It has been nice being with our friends; they have three of the same kind of dogs that we have and all are sweet. It is nice to have a sweet dog on your lap when you are away from home.

We will drive to Munich in the morning, drop off our rental car and then check in for our flight. Depending on the time I might get another post off before the flight or when we get back to the United States.

Before bed I have been reading a book that I purchased at Dachau, entitled That Was Dachau 1933-1945 by the Czech historian and former Dachau inmate, Stanislav Zamecnik, published by the International Committee Of Dachau. I am getting close to the halfway point in it but it is well worth the read if you can can get a copy. I will be writing more about Dachau in the future going into far more detail about the policies, laws, and atrocities committed than I am mentioning now. However, it is now late, and after a wonderful time with our friends it is time to go to bed.

Until sometime tomorrow, Central European or Eastern Standard Time I wish you all the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under history, holocaust, life, Loose thoughts and musings, Travel

A Day in Hessen: Friends, Fulda, and Train Rides

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We spent most of the day going back and forth on a regional train from our friends house to the City of Fulda where we visited the magnificent Cathedral, spent time with each other and pretty much stayed disconnected from the world, except for me checking the German Bundesliga soccer scores.

I will write more about some of the history Of the places we have been another time.

We left the house after breakfast and got to Fulda about 12:30. we walked through the town, had lunch, continued to walk and to see the old baroque inner city. I had not been there since 1996 and Judy had never been there. It was a wonderful time with our friends. We left about 5:30 and as the sun set over the beautiful countryside I saw a rainbow from my train window and was able to get a picture of it. We got home about 8:00 and had a light dinner with some wine and spent time with our friends talking about the events of the day and watching the news, while I also caught up on my daily comic strips and skimming the news from home. 

Tomorrow we will have breakfast, pack and begin our journey to see our friends in Karlsruhe, while stopping in places where Judy’s mothers family emigrated from first to Russia then to the United States. They are one the way to our friends house.

It will be another day of mostly being disconnected from from the problems of the world, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve

 

3 Comments

Filed under life, Loose thoughts and musings, Travel