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“ The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.” A Lesson from Judgment at Nuremberg Applicable to Trump and his Defenders


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I have just a short thought in light of the growing number of elected Republicans insisting that former President Trump not be tried for the charge of Incitement to Insurrection in which a mob of tens of thousands of his followers assaulted the United States Capitol Building which resulted in the murder of a Capitol Police Officer the wounding of two score more, and the attempted assassinations of Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocosio-Cortez, and as many Senators or Representatives they could, with the likely inside help of members of the House, Senate and Capitol Police Officers.

Senators Marco Rubio, John Cronyn, Rand Paul, and Tom Cotton  were among at least a half a dozen GOP Senators to oppose an impeachment trial. Their opposition speaks volumes about their lack of character, honor, integrity, or respect for the Constitution and law. This is despite the fact that even Senator Mitch McConnell stated that the actions of the President were clearly impeachable offenses. So far hundreds have been arrested or charged for their part in the assault but none of the people who stoked the fires of their anger for months or incited the attack 6 January has yet to be charged despite they are all were recorded on video, spoke on the House and Senate floor, in speeches, media and Twitter, Facebook, Parlor and a host of other platforms.

Since it is late I am going to end with one of my favorites monologues from the film Judgement at Nuremberg. In it Spencer Tracy sitting in judgement of Nazi Judges made these comments, which I think are rather pertinent to the men and women who incited the insurrection but never took a physical part in it.

You see in Nazi Germany there were many men who ever killed a Jew or political opponent, participated in killing the physically and mentally disabled in the T4 Euthanasia program, or the forced sterilization of such people. But nonetheless their words, speeches, and court judgements contributed to murder and genocide on a scale never seen before or since.

But there is no moral difference between those who assaulted the Capitol with the intent of overthrowing the Constitution and Republic, killing their opponents, those who incited them including former President Trump, Congressman Mo Brooks, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., and others cheered them on, the former President even saying that he would be there with them. However, unlike Hitler how actually led his stormtroopers in the Bier Hall Putsch until they were met by a company of Munich Police who stood their ground at Odeonsplatz, Trump went to a tent with his family to watch the attack rather than lead it. 

But, Donald Trump, Cadet Bones Spurs who dodged the draft five times would never put himself in any physical danger to support the people he sent into battle to support his illegal, unconstitutional, and used seditious acts to overthrow the government and remain in power, is now being defended by Senators who are more afraid of his cult than they are courageous enough to risk Trump and the cult’s fury by being honest and forthright.

In Justice at Nuremberg, Spencer Tracy’s character Judge Dan Haygood made the following statement regarding the Judges who sentenced people to sterilization, euthanasia, or imprisonment for their political, religious or social standing. Haygood spoke words that should send chills down the spines of Trump and his defenders today:

“The trial conducted before this Tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than ten thousand pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded.

Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.

Herr Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this. The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the Tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions, men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men, men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees, the purpose of which was the extermination of humans beings, men who in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws — illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.

Herr Rolfe further asserts that the defendant, Janning, was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of this country. There is truth in this also. Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

That my friends is what this boils down to, the simple matter of the law being supreme and no one, no matter how high their position is above it. The question is what do we stand for today? The Republican defenders of Trump have made their case clear. The former President and his actions are above the law and they will dishonor themselves by doing all in their power to prevent his trial or acquit him. The fact is they are co-conspirators in an attempt to overthrow our Republic, its Constitution, and who over a process of four years did all that they could to bulldoze the Constitutional guardrails that prevented the tyranny that our founders believed could happen if a man like Trump ever became President. They too through the processes of the Constitution governing the behavior or Senators and Representatives should be censured and removed from office by their respective houses.

That is all for now. I have a busy day that begins early tomorrow. So until next time.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.” Bring Justice to Trump and all Connected with his Coup

 

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is time for justice in the matter of America’s most lawless, amoral, and savage President. For years I have warned about him. For years I was told that I was overreacting, being an alarmist or being histrionic. And for years I have been threatened even with death by his cultists, as well as White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis, not that there is that much difference between them. I have had his cultists in a Navy Chapel try to have me tried by Court Martial for preaching the Gospel, straight out of the Bible and undisputed Christian teaching.

I would like to say that my heart was big enough that I had grace enough to love and forgive them. Honestly, I did try but was met with rejection and further threats. Now I have to quote the Psalmist who wrote in Psalm 139:22 who wrote:

“I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.”

There was a time I could have not said that, or even quoted it out of fear of losing any sense of grace, mercy or humanity. I have not lost those, but Imam angry and I cry out for justice as did the prophets of the Old Testament, especially when the people committing and supporting the acts or terror are supposedly Christians. Their flags and banners were on prominent display throughout the assault. They were among the people shouting “hang Pence!” 

Many of them as well as Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and others have attacked me personally and threatened me with death for a decade.  They attack my country and the Constitution for 40 years I swore to defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. They are domestic terrorists and enemies of our Republic, it’s Constitution and form of government and they have become my personal enemies.

Our system is not perfect and can be improved. Many of our elected officials use their offices for their political power and financial gain. But we have dealt with such issues since our founding. The answer is the ballot box and reforming the system. Many people have ideas of how to do that. I don’t presume to have the answer, but the answer is not mob violence committed by radical terrorist insurgents.

Yet, President Trump, Senators Mo Brooks, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, over 140 members of the House and Senate, members of the President’s family, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, at least 13 state representatives, and god knows how many more traitors attempted to overthrow our Republic and Constitution, endorsing their violent overthrow. That my friends fits the definition of sedition, and to being accessories to a terrorist attack and murder of a police officer in the performance of his duties. Do the math.

In the classic film about the Nuremberg Judges Trial, Judgement at Nuremberg, Spencer Tracy, playing Judge Dan Haygood made this comment in the declaration of guilt concerning the Nazi Judges in the trial: The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.”

In the context of our time this includes Trump, his son Donald Jr., Rudy Giuliani, Mo Brooks, Lin Wood, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and over 140 other members of the Republican House and Senate. They all invested themselves in this attack which resulted in multiple deaths and injuries. The people who made the actual attack included elected officials, law enforcement personnel, as well as former or active military personnel. Every single one of them swore an oath to the Constitution which they not only broke, but trampled.  One cannot forget what Trump said on March 14th of 2020:

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”

Trump’s words were an open declaration of war on our people and political system. He spoke the words every true tyrant believes, and last week he acted on it as part of the Götterdämmerung of his final days, and his cult like followers followed his orders to the letter and will do so again.

These terrorists aided and abetted by the President Trump and many others  successfully attacked the largest symbol of our nation’s democracy, something nobody has done since the British burned it in 1814 during the War of 1812. Even the Confederate Army during the Civil War could not seize or damage it.

These traitors attacked the Capitol building with the intent of killing Vice President Pence, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi, not to mention others. The insurgents and terrorists included elected political officials, law enforcement officers from various states, and former or retired members of the military. They not only seized the Capitol after being exhorted by Trump, his son Donald Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and Mo Brooks to name a few, but planned to arrest and kill Vice President Pence, Majority Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi. They even erected a gallows outside the Capitol. this was no spontaneous demonstration, it was a coordinated attack against our democracy for which the perpetrators deserve no forgiveness or mercy.

Even now these terrorists do not care about the lives that were lost, even those of their supporters. Those deluded individuals will probably be canonized like Horst Wesel, the Nazi thug killed in a street battle with German Communists. Likewise they murdered a Capitol Police Officer, who actually was a Trump supporter. However, regardless of his political beliefs he took his duty seriously enough to die in the pursuit of his duties. He is dead because people who defiantly claim to support police killed him just as they promised they would when they issues their call to arms weeks ago, they promised to “kill cops and security guards.” 

You see, to me someone’s political beliefs do not define them when they obey their oath and die in pursuit of their duty, in his case, defending the Senators, Congressmen, staff members, and the Vice President. You see so long as men and women obey their oaths and discharge their duties in the manner prescribed I don’t care what their political beliefs happen to be. Loyalty to the Constitution and country are more important in the long run than one’s particular political beliefs. The officer died in the line of duty, while many of his attackers and their propagandist enablers are free right now, including the President, Senators, and Congressmen who urged on this violence. Those who died in the attack from whatever cause brought on their deaths. The officer did not deserve to die, but his killers and their supporters do deserve to die for their crimes.

So, let us have the courage call these people from President Trump on down to the lowest of the thugs who attacked the Capitol what they are, terrorists, criminals, and insurrectionists. They are the most reprehensible form of humanity to exist. If they had been Frenchmen in 1940, they would have cheered the Nazi conquest of France and collaborated with the Nazis. As General Weygand the last commander of the French Army before France’s defeat in 1940 hated the French Republic and its democracy stated: “I didn’t get the Boches, but I got the regime.” No military commander could ever make such a treasonous comment. But this is exactly how Trump’s most bloodthirsty supporters think, it is who they are. They have no loyalty to the United States, their only loyalty is to Trump and as such nothing they do is illegal, as many rank and file Nazis proclaimed “Der Führerbefhle, wir folgen.” Or in English, “The Leader commands, we follow.”

These people honestly believe that Trump is above the law and those no matter what they do is legal. This is why they are and will remain dangerous whether Trump is in or out of office. That is the power of a death cult.

As such all of us need to shake off the shackles the blind us into not believing that what people, even pathological liars are capable of telling the truth. Hitler did, as did Donald Trump.

Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote something in 2016 that is completely valid in our present crisis:

Even when everything comes apart around them and their leader collapses they cannot admit that he was deceiving them. At the end of the war a German soldier told Victor Klemperer that “Hitler has never lied, I believe the Fuhrer.” Snyder writes: “The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant.”

Snyder also warned us in 2016:

“The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”

Two weeks before Trump’s election in 2016 I wrote on this blog:

As I watched and listened to Donald Trump before and after the third and thankfully final debate of the 2016 Presidential election, I was struck with just how viscous, vulgar, and venomous this man is. I cannot remember anyone in American politics at the national level, Republican or Democrat, or for that matter even Whig, who ever managed to immerse himself so deeply into the amoral, unethical, and undemocratic sewer that Trump has bathed himself, the Republican Party and this nation.

Trump’s toxicity is unparalleled in American politics. Everything and everyone who has ever had anything to do with him is poisoned by his touch. Wives, business partners, contractors, employees, political advisors, and supporters have all been stained by the Mustard Gas that Trump emits on a minute to minute basis. Maybe the most stained are the Evangelical Christian church leaders who have not only endorsed and defended Trump, but  who positively described his character as Christian and said nothing about Trump’s words and actions, which if an opponent had uttered, or had been accused, they would have excoriated with a particularly “Christian” self-righteousness.  Their actions have stained the witness of the church for at least the next generation and it is no wonder that young people are fleeing the church. I specifically use the imagery of Mustard Gas, not just because of its toxicity, but because of its persistence. The battlefields of World War One France and Belgium are still contaminated by it, and the toxic residue still injures people today. 

That my friends is the poisonous and corrosive effect of Donald Trump on this country.  He is a toxic and persistent threat to everyone, even his most devout followers. Race baiting, misogynistic, narcissistic, vulgar, and ignorant, Trump spews his vile venom of conspiracy theories wrapped in fiction, and coated in lies, and buttressed with near pornograpic misogyny in every direction. He has given his supporters in the heavily armed Alt-Right, the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and White Supremacists the boldness to come out of hiding because he has normalized their hate, something that no Western statesman or politician has done since before the verdicts at Nuremberg. 

I have long felt that Trump reminded me of Nazi leaders, but frankly most of them, while every bit as toxic as Trump were both more intelligent and were better able to cover the darkness of their amoral souls with a modicum of respectability, with the exception of one; the publisher of the infamous newspaper Der Sturmer, and Gauleiter of Nuremberg, Julius Streicher. 

Robert Jackson, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg referred to Streicher in his summation:

“Streicher, the venomous vulgarian, manufactured and distributed obscene racial libels which incited the populace to accept and assist the progressively savage operations of “race purification.” 

Is that not exactly what Trump has done during his seventeen month campaign to stir up race hatred against Mexicans and Arabs, not to mention Asians and Blacks? Of course it is, which is exactly why the leaders of the Alt-Right claim him as their candidate, the man who in their perverted minds has made them respectable again and ready to assume their place in Trump’s new order. Anti-Semitism and racism runs rampant in the words of his closest collaborators such as the Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, as well as Alt-Right Neo-Nazi and KKK leaders like David Duke, Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and Peter Brimalow. 

My friends, what you see in Trump is what you get. Unlike Hitler and Goering, but much like Streicher, Trump has no capability of maintaining any sort of respectability. He has been stoking the fires of violence by claiming that the election is rigged and pumping up his followers for violence if he loses.”  The link to that article for doubters is here: https://padresteve.com/2016/10/21/the-venomous-vulgarian-donald-trump-and-the-alt-right/

That will be all for tonight because we do not presume what tomorrow will bring from Trump and his Cult. It is the time of every American who believes in our Constitution, democracy, and the founding principles of our Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” and “I have been to the Mountain” speeches.

I spent almost forty years in uniform supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and though now retired I will not abandon that oath. As the German General Ludwig Beck, an opponent of Hitler who died in the attempt to kill that genocidal dictator said:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.” 

Every man and woman who has sworn the Oath of Office of our country, especially those in positions of authority in the military, police, homeland security, or Justice Department need to remember and do over the next few weeks.

So, until tomorrow stay safe, remain vigilant and resist all who desire to overthrow our Republic and Constitution. They cannot be allowed to run free. They need to face justice and we cannot fear them, or they will win and we cannot allow that to happen. J

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve: the Inglourious Historian and Nazi Hunter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World (and possibly some of my enemies as well),

I am posting a few thoughts following my latest tangle with an unrepentant and unadulterated American Nazi. On behalf of my friend Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation I helped lure a particular American Nazi out of his lair. It was funny in a way. I identified him, I let him know that he was now in the public eye and I produced his easily identifiable public statements in local newspapers, internet bulletin boards, town hall minutes as well as personal data easily found when you subscribe to a lookup service that shows personal, family, criminal, property, contact and other public information.

I got the subscription a few years ago because of the increasing number of threats I was getting on this blog, including by a US Air Force or Air Force contract employee using a government computer from one of the Air Force’s top secret cyber units located on an annex of Maxwell Air Force Base. The I.P. Address lookup actually located the exact building in 2016. When I alerted the Air Force Criminal Investigative Service I was stonewalled. Thus I elect to protect myself and identify threats the best I can and deal with them.

I find it fascinating how most once identified do what they can to cover their tracks, but surprisingly many use work or personal email addresses to do their dirty work. Some don’t, like the jackass Nazi from the Pacific Northwest that I spent much of Christmas and St. Stephen’s dealing with. That guy a 71 year old son of Czech immigrants belongs to a WWII German military reenactment group, which I presume is an SS unit based on the re-enactment groups in the region. He supports notorious prominent Neo-Nazis in the region and their businesses. He speaks on their behalf in town hall meetings, and he has no problem threatening Jews or those who defend them. In a series of emails I gave him the chance to back off,  let it go and even to think of how he wants to be remembered. Instead he got madder and madder and jumped the shark. I put him on notice and he finally quit the conversation in a rage after making fun of my appearance in a camouflage uniform at the end of my nearly 40 year career. As far as jackasses like this go I scoff at them, but I also watch my back. I know who he is, as does Mikey and if anything is attempted at either of us he knows he is at the top of the suspect list.

Needless to say since I am retired and dealing with transition and medical issues this is an added stress, but in my book these sonsofbitches need to be exposed. In addition to being a Priest and Historian, I am now a Nazi Hunter, and to quote General George Patton, “The Nazis are the enemy….” They were in the Second World War and regardless of what nation they reside today, they are the enemy of all humanity today. There is no such thing as a good Nazi, even the ones that say that they are not who employ Nazi language, terminology, wear their uniforms and make threats against Jews or whoever they are calling “Communists or Socialists” today. You see the message never changes. They  call themselves “victims of Jewish-Communists” regardless of the truth. It is the constant repeated mantra of deluded people who imagine that they are the victims of an imaginary conspiracy. They need people to blame because the world is changing around them. One doesn’t need to be a Nazi to do this as it tends to be a recurring case in conservative nationalists around the world. However, in the United States and Europe many of today’s conspiracy theorists hold Nazi views of race superiority and race hatred.

Thus, Nazis, even those who refuse to say that they are while using Nazi language, wearing Nazi uniforms, and espousing Nazi race hatred need to be exposed. Honesty, one doesn’t have to be a Jew to do this, although historically the best have been Jewish. Of course having been the survivors of Genocide or the children of people who perished in it gives a strong motivation  to want to see the guilty punished.

As for me, I am a gentile possessed by a desire for justice. Since society constrains my actions I will do everything I can to exposes these Nazis before they can commit violence against others, and if I do make sure that I do all that I can to ensure that they are brought to justice in the criminal justice system. However, as violent and unpleasant as it may seem there are times when I would like to capture these malignant people and carve a Swastika into their foreheads like Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds.

That might not seem very Christian, but it is a step up from killing them and taking their scalps. Of course unless these people bring about a civil war in our country and we devolve into a lawless state neither will happen. I will help in identifying them and bringing them to justice under the law, but I will not resort to violence unless they start the war, or if one comes after me or my family. If that happens, all bets are off. My Marine Corps issue K-Bar is ready to carve Swastikas in the foreheads.

Since my usually sign off of “peace” seems less than appropriate I will simply say,

Arreverderci,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Please Christmas Don’t Be Late, But But Wear a Mask: Some Mostly Silly Christmas Songs

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After a long day of medical appointments including an MRI to ensure my brain isn’t leaking into my nose. No kidding, it’s something they have to rule out before doing a biopsy of a growth there that regardless of what it is, so long as it is not brain needs to come out. Of course it might be the sane part trying to escape, but as usual I digress, but in the midst of all I think I need to spread a bit of cheer on a dark COVID-19 Winter night, unless you are reading this with the sun up.

I get sentimental when I hear Christmas songs of almost any genre. That sentimentality ranges from the hymns of the season such as Silent Night, The First Noel, or Joy to the World. Likewise I find the hymns of Advent like O Come, O Come Immanuel and Es ist Ein Ros Ensprungen (Lo, how a Rose e’re Blooming) to be songs of hope in dark times.

I have shared many of my Christmas favorites each year. This year I haven’t done much of that. But tonight I am going to share some of my favorite non-religious and sometimes funny Christmas songs. I suppose this goes back to my earliest days when as a three to four year old living in the Philippines and my parents bought me David Seville and the Chipmunks Christmas Album, which included the song Christmas Don’t Be Late. 

That came to mind when I had to make sure that our Papillons, especially our puppy Maddy Lyn who is sweet, scary smart and always looking for trouble. She was doing that tonight when I asked what she was doing. She turned around and gave me the “Moi?” look. She is mischievous but so damned funny and sweet. But she is not alone, we have our little boy, Pierre who is sure that he is French royalty. He and Maddy Lyn are about the same size and over the past couple of months they have become buddies once Pierre’s high horse died. Then there is our big girl, Izzy Bella, the sweetest enforcer around. She is bigger than both of the little ones combined, she’s a big Papillon and is drop-dead gorgeous.


Maddie in Time-Out in Judy’s Art Room 

Maddy Lyn and Pierre 


Maddy Lyn and Daddy on the Road

Izzy and his Big Girl Izzy Bella

So anyway, here are my favorite non-religious Christmas songs. Some are sentimental, some irreverent, but I love them all.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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“Nuts” The Immortal Reply of General Anthony McAuliffe to the Germans at Bastogne

anthony_mcauliffe1

Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another rerun of an older post because I didn’t sleep well last night and I still have so much to do before my official retirement which is beset with medical and dental issues that are really screwing with my life. I am also dealing with a Navy personnel website that has screwed up my security credentials to get on their website and I found out late Thursday that I have to get on it to get my DD-214 approved. That little document that releases me from active duty is necessary for me to get my VA benefits including my medical care and disability payments.

So until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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 101stAirborne 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.

luettwitz

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+

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A Christmas Coda: Joyeux Noel and My Call after the Military

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As a veteran who served in the badlands of Al Anbar Province during Christmas of 2007 I can relate to Father Palmer, the British priest and chaplain in the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) when he makes the comment “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

I again watched that film tonight. The film is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it. It reminds me of serving in Iraq, at Christmas from my perspective as a Chaplain, and thereby giving voice to those who serve now, as well as those who served God’s people in hellish places before me. It reminds me of how much I hate war, and how much I often hate the clergy who are all too often, bloodthirsty

 

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre in the film, who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead. His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within this country.

I was reminded of that last night and today as the now Impeached President called upon and received the fealty and obedience of his Imperial Court Clergy, and the ever faithful cult of conservative and Evangelical Christians while pledging to destroy his enemies. In such a time I cannot

The Bishop who relieved Father Palmer went on to preach a sermon to newly arrived troops.

“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.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.” Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact until very recently they were really the last masses that I felt the mystery and awe of the love of God that I used to so much feel.

When I left Iraq the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisers without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care. So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie. While I cannot prove it I do believe, and have heard from others who used to work at the Chief of Chaplains office that I have been shunned and punished by past and present leaders of the Chaplain Corps because of my witness in being open about my struggles with faith and PTSD. A can recount a number of incidents that would be of circumstantial evidence, but I digress. That being said I am much better off for that experience than I would be had it not occurred.

It has been thirteen years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Just a year later I was walking home from church where my wife was to sing in the choir during the Christmas vigil mass. I couldn’t handle the crowds, the noise, and I felt so far away from God. That night I walked home in the dark looking up into the sky asking God if he still was there. If there had been a bar on the way home I would have stopped by and poured myself in.

Since Iraq I have dealt with severe and chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, but even more so and maybe more importantly by my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy. It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many. Unlike a few years ago they now occupy the seat of political power as sycophants of our soon to be ex-President, offering no prophetic voice but speaking the words of death covered in the veneer of the Christian faith.

As for me I had the floor kicked from out from under me in the summer of 2014 and it has been a hard fight and while I am beginning to get back to some sense of normal it is a day to day thing. I still suffer the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and the nightmares which came back with a vengeance that summer. I have a REM sleep disorder in which my body doesn’t shut down when I get into REM sleep. This reacts well with the Nightmare and Night Terror disorders because I act out my responses to those terrors. In 2014 I ended up with a visit to the medical clinic with a concussion and sprained jaw and neck. In 2016 I broke my nose, and dark and early this morning I busted my head open  requiring 9 stitches, 2 deep ones and 7 on top. Thankfully Judy got my stubborn ass to the ER. Coupled with my other ongoing maladies of the past couple of months I am really getting too old for this shit.

As for faith, I do believe again, more often than not, though at the same time I doubt. Though I believe I think I still consider myself to be a Christian Agnostic who echoes the cry of the man who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” I believe and yet, I don’t and I don’t think that is a bad thing, I think it helps me understand those who no longer believe, those that struggle, and those who raised as Christians have left the faith.

Like the Priest in Joyeux Noel I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” For me this may no longer be on the battlefield as I will be retired, unless some massive war breaks out and they start calling back recent retirees to service. That has happened before and the Soviets, Chicoms and Iranians aren’t taking time off for Christmas.

However, that being said I will strive to be there for those that struggle with faith and believe, especially those who struggle because of what they saw and experienced during war and when they returned home. Three years ago I hosted the NATO contingent at my former chapel, and had the honor of preaching an Advent message in German.

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Over the last year of my service I continued speak truth to those in power and those whose faithfulness is more a product of their comfort with the God that they create in their own mind rather than the Crucified God wise death on the Cross s a scandal. For many Christians the scandal of the cross is too easy to avoid by surrounding ourselves with pet theologies that appeal to our pride, prejudice and power. The kind of malevolent power represented by the bishop in Joyeux Noel as well as the leaders of the so called “Conservative Evangelicals” who supported a President who says “Merry Christmas” even as he continues to defecate on all who believe in the God who became incarnate as a helpless babe in a manger and who died on a cross.  Last year I saw a mocking meme of Trump saying “Merry Christmas” as he holds a bigger than life Bible to his chest from a very conservative evangelical friend on Facebook, it was blasphemous. Those people remind me of the hate filled nationalist British Bishop.

The French mystic Simone Weil said “He who has not God in himself cannot feel His absence.” I think that sums up the President and his ardent Evangelical supporters. I don’t think they would recognize Christ if he walked among them and would have been among those shouting “Crucify him!” but of course I could be wrong in some individual cases.

So, this Christmas, like the theologian Paul Tillich I have come to believe  that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  In other words I am going to be faithful to the Crucified Christ and remain a complete pain in the ass to them until the day that I die, a real Padre Smedley if you get my drift.

Once again I watched Joyeux Noel, and as usual I cried. Though I had my retirement ceremony Monday, and am officially retired on 31 December and I am praying for peace in hopes that someday it becomes real. St. Francis prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hated, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may no so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying hat we are born into eternal life. 

After all, I still belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, whether I am in the Navy or not.

So until tomorrow,

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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“ I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ Thoughts of a Washed up Priest and Chaplain at the End of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A few nights ago I watched the final episode of the television series M*A*S*H “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” As I mentioned in my last blog both the series and the film have been important and long lasting parts of my life. It is interesting because when I was first commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant on 19 June 1983 in the Medical Service Corps, and September 1992 became a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, subsequently serving in the Virginia Army National Guard and Army Reserve as a Chaplain. I also served as a Armor Officer in Texas during seminary. On 9 February 1999 I turned in my Gold Oak Leaf as a Major in the Army for the two Silver Bars of a Navy Chaplain Corps Lieutenant.

Now, 21 years after that move I am a washed up Chaplain and Navy Commander mostly abandoned by fellow Chaplains for openly and honesty dealing with the ravages of PTSD, abandonment which created moral injury that I have never recovered from, no matter how hard I prayed the Daily Office, or studied scripture and theology. Without going into such detail that it would harm me even more in much current fragile emotional state, I can only say that I was abandoned, ghosted, and off revamped by the senior Chaplains who sent me to war, of course I was a very willing volunteer, and then ensured that every subsequent assignment would be harmful to my career, while certain senior chaplains treated me in the most malicious and evil manner knowing I needed a continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care, ripped me away from it sending me on a three year geographic bachelor tour, away from home and those supports.

I also continue to suffer physical and neurological disorders related to combat. One is a combination of serene Tinnitus, and abnormal degraded speech comprehension without corresponding hearing loss. The neurologist thought it was due damage to my auditory nerves and auditory processing center related to PTSD. My speech comprehension was rated in the third percentile, meaning that 97% of people process speech better than me. In order to understand speech in individual conversations or in large groups I have to be completely focused and not have any cross talk or background noise. This makes it difficult to function. Basically, I am functionally deaf unless I am completely focused on whoever is talking and they are speaking clearly enough for me to understand. Judy is really deaf, and she understands speech better than me much of the time.

During Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen the 4077th’s Chaplain, Father Francis Mulcahy is exposed to a mortar blast and suffers Tinnitus and hearing loss, which continue to get worse despite his prayers.

In one of his prayers to God, one which resonates much with me, he cries out:

“Dear Lord, I know there must be a reason for this, but what is it? I answered the call to do your work. I’ve devoted my life to it, and now, how am I supposed to do it? What good am I now? What good is a deaf priest? I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ 

My situation doesn’t simply involve my inability to understand speech but the residual effects of PTSD: hyper vigilance, anxiety, severe depression, sleep disorders, nightmare and night terror disorders that have resulted in injuries including a broken nose when battling the phantom like images of assailants in my dreams.And most recently under the stress I feel, horrible angry outbursts that are so unlike me. They make me feel horrible, but a decade of death threats, internet stalking, being called an “enemy of America”, and for supporting the rights of Blacks a “nigger lover” and “wigger,” and condemnation by Christians for caring about the rights, safety, and decent treatment of LGBTQ as enabling sin against God, but I never saw Jesus turn anyone away. The greatest hurt I experience is when Christian friends attack, condemn, and abandon me, especially over the past five years as so many became members of the Trump Dictatorship Cult. It took a while but I don’t take it anymore and after slicing and dicing their arguments leave things in their hands as where to they want to go with our relationship. Some cut me off and others make sure I know how rotten I am before they cut things off. Back in the early days after returning from Iraq while melting down and being thrown out of my former Church I culled a lot of them preemptively from my social contacts. A few have since renewed and reconciled but not all.

No amount of praying ever changed anything. I still believe in God, but I struggle every day. Sometimes I don’t feel that I am of any use, but too many people tell me that I do. Even so the fourth verse of the M*A*S*H them song, Suicide is Painless rings true for me now. I don’t have the answers. That verse says: A brave man once requested me to answer questions questions that are key, “Is it to be or not to be” and I replied “oh, why ask me?” 

Something that Colonel Potter said to Father Mulcahy and Mulcahy’s reply seems a pretty good place to end this before I sign off from this post:

Col. Potter: Well, Francis, you’ve been a godsend.
Father Mulcahy: Look on the bright side: When they tell us to serve our time in Purgatory, we can say, “No thanks, I’ve done mine.”

So here I am, an old, broken, washed-up Chaplain and priest who is a better historian than many looking to the next phase of my life, with Judy and the puppies, but even so, without a Parish, without an institutional Chaplain position, or any formal place of ministry, I will still be a Priest, and serve whoever comes into my life, even when I struggle and doubt.

Since I am going to have to get a bit of work done  house and do my damnedest to finish the illustration section of my book so I can send it to my agent and publisher tomorrow, which means whenever I wake up, I wish you all peace and safety.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Memories of 1969 through the Lens of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In order to shield myself from as much Election Eve I watched the film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, written, produced and directed by Quentin Tarantino. I have always admired Tarantino’s film making magic and ability to tell a story using period pieces and weaving fantasy into it, and then blend stories within stories, often using a lot of violence, blood and gore. But this was something different from those. It was a love letter to Los Angeles of that era. It was a look into a past I remembered as a kid, 1969 Los Angeles, Southern California, and in large part California in the late 1960s to early 1970s. The culmination of the film dealt with the Manson Family and a fictional ending of that very real and horrifying crime.

Tarantino used the film to portray a year in Hollywood which was pivotal in the transition of the old Hollywood to the Hollywood of today. It was also a year that was part of an era where the country began to change. Growing up on the West Coast, but mostly in Southern and Central California from 1968-1974 I saw that change from the perspective of an eight to fourteen year old. Even when we lived in Oak Harbor, Washington, we made frequent trips to Napa and Stockton California between 1966-1968 before my dad was transferred to Long Beach in the Fall of 1969. The film took me back to that time, the television shows, commercials, films, clothing styles, music, cars, and even the buildings, theaters, fast food restaurants were perfect. As we watched the special features on the Blu Ray disc we talked a lot about things that went on then.

We talked about that era, beginning with the Manson Family killing spree and what a relief it was to both of us it was when he died in prison. We also reminisced about the other things going on in California around that time period, and how each one was terrifying to children and adults. Of course there was Manson and his trial. Then there was the Zodiac Killer, the Golden State Killer and the Symbionese Liberation Army and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. A lot of these groups were covered by national as well as local television and radio stations.

But then there were the thoughts about cars, restaurants, television shows, and movies; the clothing of the period, and other memories, good and bad.

I found the film amazing because of how well it depicted the period, and I liked the ending far more than what happened in real life with the Manson Family. Sometimes the fantasy ending is better than real life. It may be something that we have to hold onto over the next two and a half months.

Hoping and praying for Peace,

Padre Steve+

P.S. The saga of the toothache is over. This morning Judy dropped me off at the Navy Dental Clinic where I was treated very well. I am not going to go into detail about it, but the tooth was cracked, the nerve abscessed, and sometime died making the tooth necrotic. It was removed, I was given more pain meds and a stronger antibiotic. I need to contact the Clinic for other questions on follow-up because I did not ask the questions before Judy picked me up. The pain level has gone down, the swelling too. Thank you for your kind words thoughts and prayers.

 

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To Kill a Mockingbird at 60: Yes, the Bible in the Hand of One Man is Worse than a Bottle in the Hand of Another

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today marks the 60th the anniversary of the release of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. I have read the book, and seen the film many times. Sadly, it is all too relevant in our time. Race hatred and a belief in the absolutes of aberrant forms of Christianity which bless White Racism are rampant in the United States and Europe, many of these groups are overtly Fascist and Authoritarian. Sadly, with the looming 2020 General Election, many of President Trump’s base is Cult of Christians who have forgotten what the Gospel is in their slavish devotion to Trump.

That alone is to make the novel and the film worth reading and watching, especially if you haven’t read the book or seen the film.

Sadly, such people would “kill the Mockingbird” to ensure that they keep their privileged position in society. The Mockingbirds are those that they have condemned to social inferiority and discrimination and eternal punishment, especially gays and the LGBT community, but others as well.

This is especially the case of the preachers, pundits and politicians that crowd the airwaves and internet with their pronouncements against Gays, immigrants, Arabs, poor blacks, political liberals, progressive Christians, and for that matter anyone who simply wants the same rights enjoyed by these Christians.

In the book there is a line spoken by Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor of Atticus Finch and his children. She says to Atticus’s daughter Scout:

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

As I survey the world of Christian conservatives I become surer of this every day. I’ve often wrote about my own fears in regard to dealing with such people as well as the troubling trends that I see. Last week I wrote five articles on the trends that I see in the church, trends toward greed, political power, social isolation and the active campaign of some to deny basic civil rights to people that they hate on purely religious grounds.

The language of some like Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association and a host of others describe actions of governments and courts to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law as threats to Christians, affronts to them and of course to God. Their words are chilling. Matt Staver commented a few years back that if the Supreme Court upheld marriage equity for gays that it would be like the Dred Scott decision. Of course that is one of the most Orwellian statements I have ever heard, for the Dred Scott decision rolled back the few rights that blacks had anywhere in the country and crushed the rights of people in non-slave states.

Again, as a reminder to readers, especially those new to the site, I spent a large amount of my adult Christian life in that conservative Evangelical cocoon. I worked for a prominent television evangelist for several years, a man who has become an extreme spokesman for the religious political right. I know what goes on in such ministries, I know what goes on in such churches. I know the intolerance and the cold hearted political nature of the beast. I know and have gone to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue who once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in those shoes, I have been whipped up by those preachers. I fully understand them, and because I do I am in a unique position to critique their words and actions, especially as the supposedly moral majority snuggle up with one of the most amoral men ever to become President, solely to protect and crease their political power. They have surrendered their claim to being a party of morality, and embraced evil for the sake of their power. Without empathy, they judge and condemn others not like them. They are incapable of understanding anything that conflicts with their visions of White Power, racial superiority, and an interpretation of Christianity which needs state support in order to survive.

As Atticus Finch told his children:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

They cannot, thus I total reject the message of such people now, not out of ignorance, but because I have walked in their shoes. At times I supported their causes, not to any extreme, but all too often my crime was simply said nothing when I knew that what they preached, taught and lived was not at all Christian, but from the pits of Hell.

As far as them being entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, even if I disagree, yes that is their right. But as Atticus said:

“People are certainly entitled to think that I’m wrong, and they are entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

My conscience will not allow me to be silent when I see men like Staver, Perkins, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, and so many others preach hatred towards those who are different than them. Their reach and power has only increased with their support of President Trump.

In the movie and the book the Mockingbirds were Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape and assault and Boo Radley, a shy recluse feared by his neighbors, a man who stories were made up about; stories that turned a simple man into a monster in the eyes of people who did not know him. Today they are others who fit the Mockingbird role, people who just want to get along and live in peace, but who endure discrimination and damnation from those who call themselves Conservative Christians.

Jem Finch, the son of Atticus asks his sister a question in the book and the film:

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

I ask the same question on a daily basis.

So until tomorrow I wish you a good night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Inherit the Wind and the Scopes Monkey Trial In the Trump Pandemic Era

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind

Tomorrow is the 85th Anniversary of the beginning of what became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial which was dramatized in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind. I really do believe that it is well worth watching, especially when a charlatan like Donald Trump, a man with no Christian virtues whatsoever stokes up the hopes of conservative Christians by catering to his base of Conservative Christians who hang on his every word, like a cult, believing that he, through the police power of the state will Christianity great again.

I think that in the time of the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic it is important to confront the science denying cult that surrounds the willfully ignorant Science Denier in Chief, Donald Trump that they are not only wrong but their hands are coated with the blood of every American who has died from this virus. Though he had early warning of it the President and his administration did nothing to prepare for it and hindered the CDC as it attempted to respond. There has been no logic to any of the President’s decisions other than to try to restart an economy shredded by the virus, even though there was not a single state that met the CDC guidelines for reopening, and few that did nothing to mitigate its return by enforcing the only things we have available to slow its spread. Now it has blown up in their faces and now the President wants to pressure schools to open with the virus entering into what could be called a firestorm mode.

Of course the Christianity that Trump and his followers refers to is not that of Jesus, but that of Constantine and every other strongman who has used the Christians and the church to achieve earthly power and to crush any opposition. Noted televangelists have come to Trump’s side, many like John Hagee saying that Christians that God will punish Christians, that vote against Trump. That is why this film is still so pertinent.

It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.

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It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial” which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The film is not completely historically accurate. It was adapted from a play by the same name. It came out following the hysteria of the McCarthy Era, when people were condemned and blacklisted for their freedom of speech, association; frequently on the basis of false testimony against them. However, the film captures the blind hatred of religious bigots the willingly ignorant who object to any belief or theory that threatens their superior position in society.

The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Act in Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.

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Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryant, who had been a progressive advocate had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”

Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.

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Mencken wrote of the trial:

“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”

It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.

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The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.

The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:

“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”

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March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:

“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”

The problem with the Bryant of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.

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Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

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But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

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I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.

So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.

Bryant’s death, coming a few days after the trial was nowhere as near as dramatic as the death scene in the movie, sometimes fiction makes the story a bit more entertaining.

But the film also gives a warning to cynics like Mencken. After Brady’s death and the trials end there is a fascinating dialogue between Drummond (Darrow) and Hornbeck (Mencken). It is worth watching:

Henry Drummond : My God, don’t you understand the meaning of what happened here today?

E. K. Hornbeck : What happened here has no meaning…

Henry Drummond : YOU have no meaning! You’re like a ghost pointing an empty sleeve and smirking at everything people feel or want or struggle for! I pity you.

E. K. Hornbeck : You pity me?

Henry Drummond : Isn’t there anything? What touches you, what warms you? Every man has a dream. What do you dream about? What… what do you need? You don’t need anything, do you? People, love, an idea, just to cling to? You poor slob! You’re all alone. When you go to your grave, there won’t be anybody to pull the grass up over your head. Nobody to mourn you. Nobody to give a damn. You’re all alone.

E. K. Hornbeck : You’re wrong, Henry. You’ll be there. You’re the type. Who else would defend my right to be lonely?

I just know when I watch it, that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.

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I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”

That is why this film and that trial are still so important, for the very practice of liberty and protection of the First Amendment.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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