Category Archives: movies

Roughing it Out While Reading

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was nothing but a series of medical appointments, physical therapy and surgery follow-ups followed by going to Gordon Biersch and watching Athletico Madrid defeat Juventus in the first stage of the Champions League Round Of 16.

As far as the medical surgery follow up appointments went I’m not doing too badly. The surgeon who did the arthroscopic surgery as well as the physical therapists were happy with how the left knee is doing. Evidently all the pain, popping, and swelling are normal, but I was able to get my knee to flex to 103 degrees, which according to the Dr. and Physical Therapist is very good for this stage of recovery. However, the Platelet Rich Plasma treatment wasn’t so effective so the surgeon has begun a course of three treatments of injecting gel into my knee. This is supposed to work as a lubricant and shock absorber where the meniscus and other cartilage has degenerated. Today was the first treatment. I hope it works because the next step is knee replacement surgery.

But anyway, I have continued to do a lot of reading, so far this month I have read Max Hastings “Bomber Command,” Madeline Albright’s “Fascism: A Warning,” Mark Perry’s “Grant and Twain: A Friendship that Changed America,” and Humphrey Cobb’s World War I anti-War novel “Paths Of Glory” which later became a film produced and directed by Stanley Kramer by the same name starring Kirk Douglas in one of his first major roles.

As of now I am reading four books, a couple that I am almost already finished reading. I am almost done with Charles Lockwood’s “Tragedy at Honda” which is about the greatest peacetime disaster in the history of the U.S. Navy, Colin Woodard’s “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America; Tom Segev’s “Soldiers Of Evil: The Commandants Of the Nazi Concentration Camps,” and the book of my primary undergraduate-professor, Dr. Helmut Haeussler, “General Wilhelm Groener and the Imperial German Army.”

I won’t go into detail tonight on any of them, I will toward the end of the month.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Trump’s National Emergency and Blazing Saddles

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Today President Trump declared a National Emergency, though in his own words “he didn’t need to do it, he just wanted to do it faster.”

A couple of days ago I wrote about the great and trailblazing Mel Brooks film, Blazing Saddles. 

It was a film way ahead of its time and two of its characters, Attorney General Headly Lamarr, played by Harvey Kormann, and Governor William  Lepetomaine, played by Brooks himself are a startling premonition of the current President, in their lust for power and incompetence, wrapped in ignorance and racism.

Of course the President’s decision impacts military readiness, infrastructure, and the service men and women who work and live on the bases that will now be deprived of billions of dollars of badly needed infrastructure repairs and improvements just to remain operational. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the President, nor does the Constitutional separation of powers that gives to Congress, and Congress alone the power of the purse. But I digress…

The fact is that the President is doing his damnedest to undermine the rule of law by finding some kind of precedent for something that amounts to an unprecedented federal land grab on the basis of an unprovable national emergency.

Now all the President needs is men to carry it out. Of course, there will be no want of volunteers.

So anyway, as this cracked up Operation gets underway, just remember, Trump won’t be the first nor the last to try find a way around the law and the Constitution to fulfill his agenda, but none will be as funny and to the point as Headly Lamarr and William Lepetomaine. Compared to them, Trump is a pathetically clueless, humorless, and soulless rank amature who believes that he is both witty and smart.

All that being said I cannot beleive that he won’t get away with it. The GOP Senate majority has shown no courage when Trump walks on their Party beliefs and Constitutional responsibilities, and the Courts at this point, God only knows. I hope to be wrong but I don’t expect them to exercise any judicial independence in support of the Constitution and the powers granted to them within it.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Blazing Saddles at 45: It Couldn’t be Made Today, but it Needs to be Seen by Everyone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last Thursday, the 7th of February, was the 45th anniversary of an iconic film that even today challenges Americans about the evils of racism and prejudice. Since I was pretty much out of it following my surgery I didn’t write about Blazing Saddles was shocking in its humor which exposed the racism, sexism, and even the anti-gay prejudices that were common in the era. The use of racial invective and slurs by various characters is so shocking now that people who didn’t live during those times cannot understand the real intent of the film.

Mel Brooks used the parody of the classic America  Western Film to confront very real prejudices that ran rampant at the time, and still do, though most people are a bit more careful to disguise their public language and camouflage their prejudices without ever really given them up. In fact the language and terms used by Brooks and his co-writer, the late Richard Pryor are off limits in much of film. I remember showing the DVD to our younger enslisted personnel in Iraq and they were shocked. I had to explain how prevalent open racism was back when the film was released, and what Brooks’s intentions were. He used the humor of the film to bring to the surface the prejudices of many people, including many who later became his fans.

What is really hard for me to believe is that this masterpiece is unknown to many people. The fact that I lied about my age to get a ticket to see the movie when it came out, it was rated R and I had not yet turned 14, and that it remains one of my favorite films of all time, and not just mine, the film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and is ranked number 6 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list.

The fact is that Blazing Saddles probably couldn’t be made today because of hyper-politcially correct era. Anyone who knows me knows that I am exceptionally wary of ever using racial stereotypes or slurs and have enough empathy and concern for the sensibilities of people who have suffered through racial, ethnic, or religious persecution and prejudice not to want to see them used for cheap laughs. That being said, in certain times where racial prejudice is being driven from the top down, where the President of the United States can get elected by eliciting racism, sometimes it is appropriate to stick a finger in their eye through the use of comedy. Brook’s used that to drive home to people who otherwise wouldn’t recognize just how deeply racism and racist tropes are past f our society even today.

I think for me one of the most poingent moments in Blazing Saddles is in a scene where Chinese, African American, and Irish Railroad workers come to help the Balck Sheriff Bart, played by Cleavon Little and the self-described White God Fearing Citizens Of Rock Ridge save the town. All that was asked was that they would be able to live there. The late great actor David Huddleston, who played one of the town council members said:

“All right… we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don’t want the Irish!” 

When they all threaten to leave he changes his toon and says:

“Aw, prairie shit… Everybody!” 

The thing is that in those days the Irish were still a despised minority, even though they were white. I am about half Irish by my DNA, and I remember how upset my mom got when she heard that line. It offended her, but I think that such comedic barbs are helpful to all of us if they make us more sensitive to others and aware of our own racial, ethnic, religious, or social prejudices.

Besides the camp fire fart scene my friends, that is the continuing value of Blazing Saddles.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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Babylon Berlin: An Amazing Series, Excellent History, and Lessons for Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have just finished watching the German historical crime series Babylon Berlin for the second time. I watch it on Netflix and it is worth watching.

Set in 1929 Berlin it is a story that involves a criminal inspector from Cologne going to Berlin to solve a case. In it he works with the Vice and Homicide squads in Berlin. The series accurately depicts the social, economic, and political situation that existed in the latter part of the Weimar Republic.

Since very few people understand much about the complexity of life in Weimar Germany, this is not a bad place to start. From it they can go into the social and political complexities covered books such as Weimar Culture by Peter Gay, The Reichswehr and the Politics by F. L. Carsten, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic by Andreas Dortpalen, and The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard Evans.

The series is dubbed into English from the German and also subtitled in English. The settings and equipment including trains, cars, weapons, aircraft and trucks are exceptionally matched to the period. Likewise, the director and producers show a social and political setting that is unmatched in accuracy for any television production that I have seen.

The protagonist in the series is Cologne detective Gereon Rath played by Volker Bruch. His mission is to find incriminating evidence of sexual depravity against his father, but ends up in a Byzantine world of libertine excess, Right and Left Wing extremism, and Soviet interference to destroy the Republic in order to set up a Soviet State. Of course parts the right Wing wanted to restore the monarchy, while Hitler and his Nazis wanted a Fascist State. The Monarchist and conservative Army was willing to work with the Soviet Union to obtain the weapons that it was forbidden by the Treat Of Versailles. The perverse and often incestuous world of those trying to overthrow the Republic from the Left and Right are met with the opposition of a few police officials and civil servants who are simply trying to do their job and uphold the law, while being attacked and vilified by Right and Left Wing extremists, all who will resort to violence to achieve their goals.

The female lead Charlotte Ritter, a poor woman who finds temporary work with the Berlin Police while working as an escort, entertainer, and prostitute at one of Berlin’s premier nightclubs is played by Liv Lisa Fries. Her story is one of the many threads that make this series such a powerful drama.

Rath’s partner, Bruno Wolter, a former army comrade is played to a tee by Peter Kurth. I think that one of the most fascinating characters is played by Mattias Brandt, who plays the head of the Criminal Police, August Brenda.

The webs of intrigue and betrayal in this show kept me on the edge of my seat both times that I watched it, and I am a student of the period.

However, the lessons to be learned are still pertinent. While the Weimar Republic was still in its infancy and the American Republic is now over 240 years old, they are torn by similar passions and attacked by similar parties, foreign and domestic, including Russia. In the middle there are imperfect men and women who serve cognizant of their oath to the Constitution and be the target of all, even when it would be easier to side with any particular party.

Mark Twain quipped: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Babylon Berlin shows that, and the shades of gray that it portrays can shed lite on our current world.

I really do recommend this series, and I won’t give away spoilers. It is worth watching.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, History, Loose thoughts and musings, movies

Look Who’s Back (Er ist Wieder Da) A Comedy With a Far too Serious Message

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just watched the German satirical comedy Er ist Wieder Da or as it is called in its English title Look Who’s Back, on Netflix.

The film is about Hitler who wakes up in a garden near the former Reichs Chancellory In 2014 with no knowledge of anything that happened in the intervening 50 years. He is befriended by a man that runs a newspaper kiosk, as well as a down on his luck television producer. Neither man believes that he is Hitler, but in the world of YouTube, Facebook, and Google, the Führer becomes a reality television celebrity.

I am not going to give away the story or or any spoilers. At times it is hysterically funny as it goes between scripted scenes to unscripted scenes done on the streets of Berlin and other German cities with people who are not actors. I guess that for me, the unscripted scenes were the most frightening, because regardless of whether the people were members of the AfD, the NPD, the CDU, the Greens, the SPD, or Die Linke, many were attracted to the the populist, anti-immigrant, and anti-democratic film version of spouted. It was like watching the Borat of the Third Reich.

However, there is one exchange of dialogue toward the end of the film that is far too troubling not to cite here, simply because it is not only appropriate to Hitler and Germany, but to France and Le Pen, Hungary and Orban, Turkey and Erdogan, the Philippines and Duterte; and if we don’t think we are so different that 1933 Germany, the United States and Donald Trump.

The television producer who helped bring Hitler back to fame says:

“Yes history repeats itself. You are fooling people with your propaganda.”

Hitler replied:

“Oh Sawatski. In 1933, people were not fooled by propaganda. They elected a leader who openly disclosed his plans with great clarity. The Germans elected me.”

The film is frightening, it might even be more so if I was German, but it is frightening enough in the United States.

That exchange between Hitler and Sawatski demonstrates exactly what President Trump and his base believe, otherwise he would never have remained in office despite everything. The fact is, that like Hitler, there are many people who love him and would do all they could to see his racist, authoritarian, and unconstitutional dreams come into being. In 2015 candidate Trump made the comment:

“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

Like those that followed Hitler into the Bunker and flames of Berlin, Trump’s most loyal followers will do that today.

I have never laughed so hard at a movie that terrified me more than this. I have to say, that my friends is exceptional satire.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Thought for Christmas Eve: It’s Not too Late…

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just a quick thought from one of my favorite Christmas movies for Christmas Eve.

Those of you who know me personally, or follow my writings here know how much I struggle with faith, as well as how much Christmas means to me. It is the one time of year that I tend to believe again.

The thought is from the classic comedy Scrooged starring Bill Murray. I think that in the midst of all the turmoil and hate that it somehow may be the best that we might be able to do.

“It’s Christmas Eve! It’s… it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we… we… we smile a little easier, we… w-w-we… we… we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”

Have the best Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate as you can.

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Joyeux Noël, Christmas Eve 2018: History and Memory, the Stubborn Humanity Within Us

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I rewatched the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) which is one of my Christmas traditions. When I watch it I cannot stop. I don’t look at my social media, I don’t tweet. Although it recounts an incident that occurred over a century ago, I am drawn to it out of a feeling of camaraderie, and a hope that people of good will can, and maybe will someday put and end to the scourge of war. I guess one reason I have to put down everything else is that I cry through most of the film.

I do not think that  end of war will happen anytime soon, for as Henry Wordsworth Longfellow wrote some fifty years before this incident, “for hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth, goodwill to men.” 

But I dare not, even in the age of a madman in the White House and warmongering dictators and despots wreaking havoc on the world, give up the hope of peace. I tend to watch it before or after reading Stanley Weintraub’s book: Silent Night: the Story Of the World War One Christmas Truce. 

It was a book that I refused to read until after I returned from Iraq in 2008. Of course as a military historian I knew of the Christmas Truce, but it was something that I tried to keep a distance from after September 11th, 2001. After my experience of Christmas on the Iraq – Syrian Border In 2007 I could no longer ignore it.

Weintraub Wrote:

Christmas 1914 evokes the stubborn humanity within us, and suggests an unrealized potential to burst its seams and rewrite a century.

I say that my time in Iraq did that to me. I cannot forget the Masses that I celebrated on the border and my time with Americans, Iraqi Soldiers, and local Bedouin during those days.

In the film, one of the main characters is the Chaplain of the Scottish battalion played by Gary Lewis tells a Lieutenant:

“Tonight, these men were drawn to that altar like it was a fire in the middle of winter. Even those who aren’t devout came to warm themselves. Maybe just to be together, maybe just to forget the war.” 

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The war was supposed to be over by Christmas, or so the planners had said. Instead after a series of massive battles that produced unprecedented number of casualties the war settled into a stalemate. As the sides exhausted themselves in a series of meeting engagements throwing the flower of their idealistic youth into the great maw of the front to be torn apart by massed artillery and machine gun fire the planners sought new ways to find military victory.

In December 1914 with neither side having the ability to force the issue and casualties already running over a million dead and wounded the armies dug in. Massive trench networks were constructed in the mud of France and Belgium as the artillery continued its impersonal work of destroying men, machines and the homeland of millions of civilians.

From Clipboard

Despite the stalemate the high commands of the various nations continued to through their troops into meaningless attacks to gain a few yards of their opponent’s trench networks. The attackers always suffered the worst as they went “over the top” and were cut down by well sited machine guns and networks of defensive redoubts.

As Christmas neared individual parties of British and German troops began to fraternize exchanging gifts and attempting despite the wishes of their commanders to maintain an attitude of live and let live. On Christmas Eve German troops began to decorate their trenches with Christmas trees and lights, carols were sung and Christmas greetings exchanged as the local truces became widespread and soldiers met in no man’s land to talk and give each other gifts of cigarettes, alcohol, food and souvenirs.  In some places the sides helped each other collect and bury their dead and some Chaplains even led Christmas services in which men of both sides worshipped.

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The truce would not last as the high commands of each side issued strict orders against them and within days had moved the units that they believed most “infected” by the Christmas spirit to other locations and replaced them with units inculcated with the message of the inhumanity of their enemy. Such messages often included the religious understanding of this being a “holy war” against enemies of God and humanity. It is funny that though Muslims are frequently demonized for committing Jihad, that Christians have a terrible record when it comes to finding theological reasons to kill those that they believe, even other Christians to be the enemy.

Christmas Day December 1914 World War One

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This really wasn’t surprising, after all for in the years leading up to the war many school children, especially in France and Germany had been propagandized. Churches and ministers cooperated in the carnage.

In the movie Joyeux Noel the British Padre who had cooperated in the Christmas truce is relieved by his Bishop and sent home. The Bishop then preaches to the newly arrived soldiers, those replacing the men who had found peace for a moment. The sermon is not a work of fiction, it is actually part of a sermon that actually was given in Westminster Abbey in 1915. It was a sentiment that fit the mood of the high command who sought to minimize the danger of peace without victory. It was a sermon, the likes of which were preached by ministers, preachers, priests and bishops throughout that terrible war. It is a sermon that many preachers, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu even today mimic with terrible consequences.

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

Unfortunately I have met and heard men preach the same message against those they hate, a message that twists the words of Jesus in a diabolical way to justify the worst acts of nations and peoples. In the year 2018 wars rage around the world. Some are conducted by well organized professional militaries but many by militias, paramilitary and terrorists groups. In some cases the brutality and inhumanity exhibited makes the industrialized carnage of the First World War seem sane. Even now preachers of various religions, including Christians, Moslems and Jews advocate the harshest treatment of the enemies of their peoples all in “the name of God.”

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Eleven short years ago I was traveling up and down the western border of Iraq with Syria. I was visiting our Marines that were advising the Iraqi Army and Border Forces, conducting Christmas services for them and also visiting Iraqi soldiers as well as civilians. In a couple of instances Iraqi and Jordanian Christians working as interpreters came to the Eucharist services, for one it had been years since he had received the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion. While out and about visiting Iraqis we were hosted by Iraqi troops and well as Bedouin tribesmen and their families. The warmth and hospitality and faith of these wonderful people was amazing.

T.E. Lawrence wrote that the Bedouin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he was within God.” 

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I think that for me that Christmas week was the one that will remain with me more than any and despite being in a war zone, it for me was a time of peace on earth and good will toward men. Some people cannot imagine how a career military officer could feel that way. In the movie the French company commander is confronted by his father after the truce, and after the military postal censors had reported the many incidents of fraternization with the enemy to the various high commands in France, Germany, and Great Britain.

The Country? What does it know of what we suffer here? Of what we do without complaints? Let me tell you, I felt closer to the Germans than to those who cry “Kill the Krauts!” before their stuffed turkey…  no, you’re just not living the same war as me. Or as those on the other side.”  

Weintraub wrote:

“To many, the end of the war and the failure of the peace would validate the Christmas cease-fire as the only meaningful episode in the apocalypse. It belied the bellicose slogans and suggested that the men fighting and often dying were, as usual, proxies for governments and issues that had little to do with their everyday lives. A candle lit in the darkness of Flanders, the truce flickered briefly and survives only in memoirs, letters, song, drama and story.”

During World War One there were men who retained their conscience and tried to mitigate the effects of the war and suffering. Likewise there were those who could not let go of their hate. One such Soldier was Adolf Hitler, whose story is recounted in Weintraub’s book:

Although he was out of the line in reserve, discussion arose about crossing into Niemandsland to share Christmas with the British. He refused. “Such a thing should not happen in wartime,” Hitler argued. “Have you no German sense of honor left at all?” More than patriotic scruples were involved. Although a baptized Catholic, he rejected every vestige of religious observance while his unit marked the day in the cellar of the Messines monastery to which they had retired on the 23rd. “Adi” was distinctly odd. He received no mail or parcels, never spoke of family or friends, neither smoked nor drank, and often brooded alone in his dugout. In the ruins open to the sky, Corporal Frobenius, a Lutheran theology student also decorated with the Iron Cross, read the Christmas gospel to a joint congregation of Catholics and Protestants, but not to Corporal Hitler.

Hitler’s Nihilism, racist nationalism, and unrepentant rejection of his religious heritage while gaining the support of the most religious Christians in the Reich would be part  of his life until he took it in his Berlin Bunker In 1945, and it would be shared by all too many men since the First World War until the present.

I will not be one of them.

Maybe someday we will begin to understand, until then, like so many others in so many wars before, I am still dreaming of home.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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