Category Archives: movies

What Do We Stand For? Hard Questions in the Trump Era from Judgement at Nuremberg

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have written about the classic film Judgment at Nuremberg many times. I am doing it again because I have been doing a lot of reading about some of the other war crimes trials conducted in post-World War II Germany, today I began reading Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States by Bradley Hart.

Today I am following those earlier writings up with another, albeit, short post regarding one of the most riveting monologues in film history, from Judgement at Nuremberg. Since Holocaust Remembrance Day was just a couple of weeks back it is appropriate to take the time, and never forget, for while we may not want to admit it, as human beings we are capable of the same inhumanity.

In this segment of the film, which is a fictionalized version of the Judges Trial, Spencer Tracy plays the role of Chief Judge Dan Heywood who gives his verdict is one of the most telling sequences in cinema regarding what it means to be an American. I used to show it in the first session of my military ethics class at the Staff College and since the majority of my students had never seen the film, it usually left them in silence. So tonight I am just going to leave it with you to watch, read, and contemplate. Ask yourself, who are we, and what do we stand for?

This is especially true when the President, politicians of the majority party in the legislature, pundits, and politically minded preachers make no bones that they have every intent of persecuting those who are of certain races, religions, or political beliefs that they abhor, often using the most scurrilous charges, and outright lies in order to demonize them, dehumanize them, and  open the door for normal, decent, and even brilliant people to justify government sponsored cruelty and injustice that defies the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution itself.

Please, watch the video and read the text. Ponder it in your heart, because it speaks to something that is not a historical aberration, not just a dramatic film, but something that affects the human condition and is present right here and right now in our own country.

“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.”

Think about it…

Have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Stupid is as Stupid Believes

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Anyone who ever watched the classic film Forrest Gump knows the classic comment by Forrest played by Tom Hanks: “Stupid is, as stupid does.” But Forrest didn’t really get to the root of the epistemology question, of why people do things. Truthfully it all,comes down to beliefs.

If one believes that the world is flat in spite of all the scientific and physical evidence are stupid.

If one believes that their religious beliefs and traditions trump all other such believes and traditions, which none of which are based on fact, but rather faith, they are stupid.

If anyone believes that vaccines against a host of proven scourges which in times before they were introduced killed millions of and devastated the pieces of millions of others are more harmful than beneficial, they are stupid.

If someone believes that a particular political ideology is superior to all others, or has no weaknesses, they are stupid.

If someone believes that their race is superior to all others beasts on some combination of religion, political and racial ideology, or pseudo-science, the are stupid.

I could go on to a host of other topics including long held military dictums, economic and social theories, but I will not.

There is not one human held theory or belief that when followed to its logical conclusion cannot be either disproven or questioned. But there are some things which on the simple basis of fact can not only be disproven, but the following of can be called stupid.

The fact is that stupid people do stupid things, but the deeper truth goes back to what they believe. Forrest Gump wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box but he had good character and a bit of common sense. That makes a lot of difference.

So as the world heads into a very trying and tumultuous time when basic beliefs or right and wrong, true and false, ethical and unethical are being refined and tested to separate the precious from the dross, it is time for every serious person to look to character, and if they are Americans ask if a particular belief or ideology aligns with the premise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the certain unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” From my point of view, if they do not, regardless of their beliefs, religious, or political ideology, they are stupid.

Stupid is, as stupid believes, and the beliefs result in actions that can only be labeled as stupid.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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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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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