Category Archives: natural disasters

“Say I Slew Them Not…” the Long Lasting Impact of Trumpism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the final installment of my introduction and comments regarding Supreme Court Justice and Chief American Prosecutor Robert Jackson’s closing arguments at Nuremberg.

In this final segment of his closing arguments, Jackson confronted the impossibility of a cabal of the most powerful members of the Nazi Party, the German Government, its Military, and Police organizations, the men closest to Adolf Hitler and the center of power in Germany who by their testimony knew nothing of what was going on in the country.

When one reads the transcripts of the trials as I am continuing to do in between reading other books, including one about the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, the defendants universal defense was that they knew nothing, or had learned of the Nazi crimes for the first time during the trial.

What is remarkable is that for every denial there was documented evidence to the contrary, that each in their own way were willing participants in the Nazi crimes. While they pointed fingers at the dead, like Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, or unaccounted for like Martin Bormann, and on occasion the other defendants in the dock, each attempted to cover his tracks with lies and deception. Even Albert Speer, who was the only one of the defendants to openly admit his guilt during the trial engaged in deception.

The lies of these men and their brutal exposure before the watching world should serve as a warning to the leaders of nations, especially the nations which prosecuted these men, the foremost being the United States of America. Before the trial in the London agreement, Jackson noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.

I have served and continue to serve the United States, but my oath to the Constitution demands that I be intellectually honest and forthright in stating that the United States has not lived up to its founding principles or the words of Justice Jackson. During the Cold War the United States engaged in overthrowing foreign governments and replacing them with dictators more inclined to do our bidding, engineered the pretext to allow massive U. S. Military intervention in Vietnam, and after the Cold War used the real pretext of the terrorism of the 9-11-2001 attacks to invade Iraq, a country that was not involved. The list could go on and on, but because of the protections of the First Amendment, a free press has been able to expose many of those lies, even as the beast of corporate media egged on war like the Yellow Journalism of William Randolph Hearst during the run up to the Spanish American War.

Every government in every nation has engaged in some amount of lying to increase its power, influence, or to cover its malfeasance. The United States is not blameless, but too often Americans, ignorant or history, and the Constitution revel in the myth of American Exceptionalism to justify actions against other nations that do the same, that we have gone to war to confront or prosecuted as war criminals for doing. In fact, some of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg defended their actions by citing American history: Slavery, Jim Crow, the extermination of the peoples of America’s First Nations, the American practice of eugenics, and medical experiments on racial minorities or the mentally ill, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor to justify and defend their crimes, even as they denied their culpability for their crimes.

The Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg included true believers as well as opportunists. The were willing members of a regime founded upon lies. In defeat and on trial they would all repeat those lies, and add to them. Unfortunately, the current American President and his administration seem to be playing the same game with truth as the Nazis did. Hannah Arendt wrote:

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”

Truth and integrity are not fungible assets that one can abandon without consequences. Germany is still hampered in international relations as well as domestic politics by what the Nazis did. The shadows of the Nazi past still enshroud Germans who are two or three generations removed from the Nazi past. The great ethicist Sissela Bok wrote:

“Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. They can thrive only on a foundation of respect for veracity.” 

As I watch the final days of President Trump and his consigliere’s of criminal corruption be exposed for what they are by a still free press following an election defeat that he refuses to acknowledge and salts the earth behind him, I am reminded of Hitler and his cult like entourage, including those who did not kill themselves at the end of the war. Their malfeasance and criminal acts are too great to enumerate here, except killing over a quarter of a million Americans by their steadfast refusal to do what was necessary to save lives during the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic. They separated immigrant families from their children and caging those children in inhumane conditions with hundreds still separated even today. Engaging in the forced sterilization of immigrant and refugee mothers in border detention centers. Making common cause with White Nationalists engaging in reigns of terror against Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Asians and Hispanics. Accusing anyone who does not completely agree with them as “enemies of America” “Communists,” or “traitors.”

Through his Twitter Account Trump has spread lie upon lie, and spread hate filled conspiracy theories so base and demonic that they are beyond belief, yet his followers believe those lies as if they were the Gospel. In fact many of his followers who identify as conservative or evangelical Christians act as if Trump’s words and actions trump the beliefs of the Church. Trump has become their Messiah, just as Hitler was for his true believers.

I cannot predict with accuracy what will happen with these people when Trump leaves office, but I presume that they will believe a version of the Dolchstoß Myth, the Stab-in-the-back, of betrayal. Trump will feed that belief and that at least some violence will ensue, including political assassinations, lynchings, and other violence.

I am reminded of how Robert Jackson and the team of Allied prosecutors used the words and documents of the Nazis themselves to indict and convict them.

With that I give you Robert Jackson’s masterful dissection of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice. Something that we should pay close attention to as we follow the nefarious antics of President Trump and his corrupt administration and cult-like followers. What is interesting about the Nuremberg defendants were that some were true believers, while others were opportunists trying to advance their careers, even knowing the cause was evil and often criminal. The latter were probably more like many people nowadays, they just look the other way while trying to take advantage of any opportunity given to them.

Anyway, back to indexing my book.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Record of Proceedings: July 26, 1946, continued:

Rudolf Hess

The zealot Hess, before succumbing to wanderlust, was the engineer tending the Party machinery, passing orders and propaganda down to the Leadership Corps, supervising every aspect of Party activities, and maintaining the organization as a loyal and ready instrument of power.

Joachim von Ribbentrop

When apprehensions abroad threatened the success of the Nazi regime for conquest, it was the double-dealing Ribbentrop, the salesman of deception, who was detailed to pour wine on the troubled waters of suspicion by preaching the gospel of limited and peaceful intentions.

Wilhelm Keitel

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

Ernst Kaltenbrunner

Kaltenbrunner, the grand inquisitor, assumed the bloody mantle of Heydrich to stifle opposition and terrorise into compliance, and buttressed the power of National Socialism on a foundation of guiltless corpses.

Alfred Rosenberg

It was Rosenberg, the intellectual high priest of the “master race”, who provided the doctrine of hatred which gave the impetus for the annihilation of Jewry, and who put his infidel theories into practice against the Eastern occupied territories. His woolly philosophy also added boredom to the long list of Nazi atrocities.

Hans Frank

The fanatical Frank, who solidified Nazi control by establishing the new order of authority without law, so that the will of the Party was the only test of legality, proceeded to export his lawlessness to Poland, which he governed with the lash of Caesar and whose population he reduced to sorrowing remnants.

Wilhelm Frick

Frick, the ruthless organiser, helped the Party to seize power, supervised the police agencies to ensure that it stayed in power, and chained the economy of Bohemia and Moravia to the German war machine.

Julius Streicher

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”.

Walter Funk

As Minister of Economics Funk accelerated the pace of rearmament, and as Reichsbank president banked for the SS the gold teeth-fillings of concentration camp victims -probably the most ghoulish collateral in banking history.

Hjalmar Schacht

It was Schacht, the facade of starched respectability, who in the early days provided the window-dressing, the bait for the hesitant, and whose wizardry later made it possible for Hitler to finance the colossal rearmament programme, and to do it secretly.

Karl Dönitz

Donitz, Hitler’s legatee of defeat, promoted the success of the Nazi aggressions by instructing his pack of submarine killers to conduct warfare at sea with the illegal ferocity of the jungle.

Erich Raeder

Raeder, the political admiral, stealthily built up the German Navy in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, and then put it to use in a series of aggressions which he had taken a leading part in planning.

Baldur von Schirach

Von Schirach, poisoner of a generation, initiated the German youth in Nazi doctrine, trained them in legions for service in the SS and Wehrmacht, and delivered them up to the Party as fanatic, unquestioning executors of its will.

Fritz Sauckel

Sauckel, the greatest and cruellest slaver since the Pharaohs of Egypt, produced desperately needed manpower by driving foreign peoples into the land of bondage on a scale unknown even in the ancient days of tyranny in the kingdom of the Nile.

Alfred Jodl

Jodl, betrayer of the traditions of his profession, led the Wehrmacht in violating its own code of military honour in order to carry out the barbarous aims of Nazi policy.

Franz von Papen

Von Papen, pious agent of an infidel regime, held the stirrup while Hitler vaulted into the saddle, lubricated the Austrian annexation, and devoted his diplomatic cunning to the service of Nazi objectives abroad.

Arthur Seyess-Inquart

Seyss-Inquart, spearhead of the Austrian fifth column, took over the government of his own country only to make a present of it to Hitler, and then, moving north, brought terror and oppression to the Netherlands and pillaged its economy for the benefit of the German juggernaut.

Konstantin von Neurath

Von Neurath, the old-school diplomat, who cast the pearls of his experience before the Nazis, guided Nazi diplomacy in the early years, soothed the fears of prospective victims, and as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia strengthened the German position for the coming attack on Poland.

Albert Speer

Speer, as Minister of Armaments and Production, joined in planning and executing the programme to dragoon prisoners of war and foreign workers into German war industries, which waxed in output while the labourers waned in starvation.

Hans Fritzsche

Fritzsche, radio propaganda chief, by manipulation of the truth goaded German public opinion into frenzied support of the regime, and anaesthetised the independent judgement of the population so that they did their masters’ bidding without question.

Martin Bormann

Bormann, who has not accepted our invitation to this reunion, sat at the throttle of the vast and powerful engine of the Party, guiding it in the ruthless execution of Nazi policies, from the scourging of the Christian Church to the lynching of captive Allied airmen.

The activities of all these defendants, despite their varied backgrounds and talents, were joined with the efforts of other conspirators not now in the. dock, who played still other essential roles: They blend together into one consistent and militant pattern animated by a common objective to reshape the map of Europe by force of arms. Some of these defendants were ardent members of the Nazi movement from its birth. Others, less fanatical, joined the common enterprise later, after success had made participation attractive by the promise of rewards. This group of latter-day converts remedied a crucial defect in the ranks of the original true believers, for as Dr. Siemers has pointed out in his summation:

“… There were no specialists among the National Socialists for the particular tasks. Most of the National Socialist collaborators did not previously follow a trade requiring technical education.”

It was the fatal weakness of the early Nazi band that it lacked technical competence. It could not from among its own ranks make up a government capable of carrying out all the projects necessary to realize its aims. Therein lies the special crime and betrayal of men like Schacht and von Neurath, Speer and von Papen, Raeder and Donitz, Keitel and Jodl. It is doubtful whether the Nazi master plan could have succeeded without their specialized intelligence which they so willingly put at its command. They did so with knowledge of its announced aims and methods, and continued their services after practice had confirmed the direction in which they were tending. Their superiority to the average run of Nazi mediocrity is not their excuse. It is their condemnation.

The dominant fact which stands out from all the thousands of pages of the record of this trial is that the central crime of the whole group of Nazi crimes -the attack on the peace of the world -was clearly and deliberately planned. The beginning of these wars of aggression was not an unprepared and spontaneous springing to arms by a population excited by some current indignation. A week before the invasion of Poland Hitler told his military commanders:

“I shall give a propagandist cause for starting war -never mind whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked later on whether we told the truth or not. In starting and making a war, it is not the right that matters, but victory.”

The propagandist incident was duly provided by dressing concentration camp inmates in Polish uniforms, in order to create the appearance of a Polish attack on a German frontier radio station. The plan to occupy Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg first appeared as early as August, 1938, in connection with the plan for attack on Czechoslovakia. The intention to attack became a programme in May, 1939, when Hitler told his commanders that:

“The Dutch and Belgian air bases must be occupied by armed forces. Declarations of neutrality must be ignored.”

Thus, the follow-up wars were planned before the first was launched. These were the most carefully plotted wars in all history. Scarcely a step in their terrifying succession and progress failed to move according to the master blueprint or the subsidiary schedules and timetables until long after the crimes of aggression were consummated. Nor were the war crimes and the crimes against humanity unplanned, isolated or spontaneous offences. Apart from our undeniable evidence of their plotting, it is sufficient to ask whether six million people could be separated from the population of several nations on the basis of their blood and birth, could be destroyed and their bodies disposed of, unless the operation had fitted into the general scheme of government. Could the enslavement of five millions of labourers, their impressment into service, their transportation to Germany, their allocation to work where they would be most useful, their maintenance, if slow starvation can be called maintenance, and their guarding have been accomplished if it did not fit into the common plan? Could hundreds of concentration camps located throughout Germany, built to accommodate hundreds of thousands of victims, and each requiring labour and materials for construction, manpower to operate and supervise, and close gearing into the economy -could such efforts have been expended under German autocracy if they had not suited the plan? Has the Teutonic passion for organization suddenly become famous for its toleration of non-conforming activity? Each part of the plan fitted into every other. The slave labour programme meshed with the needs of industry and agriculture, and these in turn synchronised with the military machine. The elaborate propaganda apparatus geared with the programme to dominate the people and incite them to a war which their sons would have to fight. The armament industries were fed by the concentration camps. The concentration camps were fed by the Gestapo. The Gestapo was fed by the spy system of the Nazi Party. Nothing was permitted under the Nazi iron rule that was not in accordance with the programme.

Everything of consequence that took place in this regimented society was but a manifestation of a premeditated and unfolding purpose to secure the Nazi State a place in the sun by casting all others into darkness.

COMMON DEFENCES AGAINST THE CHARGE OF COMMON RESPONSIBILITY

The defendants meet this overwhelming case, some by admitting a limited, responsibility, some by putting the blame on others, and some by taking the position, in effect, that while there have been enormous crimes there are no criminals. Time will not permit me to examine each individual and particular defence, but there are certain lines of defence common to so many cases that they deserve some consideration.

Counsel for many of the defendants seek to dismiss the charge of a common plan or conspiracy on the ground that the pattern of the Nazi plan does not fit into the concept of conspiracy applicable in German law to the plotting of a highway robbery or a burglary. Their concept of conspiracy is in the terms of a stealthy meeting in the dead of night, in a secluded hide-out, in which a group of felons plot every detail of a specific crime. The Charter forestalls resort to such parochial and narrow concepts of conspiracy taken from local law by using the additional and non-technical term, “common plan”. Omitting entirely the alternative term of “conspiracy”, the Charter reads that “leaders, organisers, instigators, and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan to commit” any of the described crimes “are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan”.

The Charter concept of a common plan really represents the conspiracy principle in an international context. A common plan or conspiracy to seize the machinery of a State, to commit crimes against the peace of the world, to blot a race out of existence, to enslave millions, and to subjugate and loot whole nations cannot be thought of in the same terms as the plotting of petty crimes, although the same underlying principles are applicable. Little gangsters may plan who will carry a pistol and who a stiletto, who will approach a victim from the front and who from behind, and where they will waylay him. But in planning war, the pistol becomes a Wehrmacht, the stiletto a Luftwaffe. Where to strike is not a choice of dark alleys, but a matter of world geography. The operation involves the manipulation of public opinion, the law of the State, the police power, industry, and finance. The baits and bluffs must be translated into a nation’s foreign policy. Likewise, the degree of stealth which points to a guilty purpose in, a conspiracy will depend upon its object. The clandestine preparations of a State against international society, although camouflaged to those abroad, might be quite open and notorious among its own people. But stealth is not an essential ingredient of such planning. Parts of the common plan may be proclaimed from the housetops, as anti-Semitism was, and parts of it kept under cover, as rearmament for a long time was. It is a matter of strategy how much of the preparation shall be made public, as was Goering’s announcement in 1935 of the creation of an air force, and how much shall be kept covert, as in the case of the Nazis’ use of shovels to teach “labour corps” the manual of arms. The forms of this grand type of conspiracy are amorphous, the means are opportunistic, and neither can divert the law from getting at the substance of things.

The defendants counted, however, that there could be no conspiracy involving aggressive war because (1) none of the Nazis wanted war; (2) rearmament was only intended to provide the strength to make Germany’s voice heard in the family of nations; and (3) the wars were not in fact aggressive wars but were defensive wars against a “Bolshevik menace”.

When we analyse the argument that the Nazis did not want war it comes down, in substance, to this: “The record looks bad indeed -objectively -but when you consider the state of my mind -subjectively I hated war. I knew the horrors of war. I wanted peace.” I am not so sure of this. I am even less willing to accept Goering’s description of the General Staff as pacifist. However, it will not injure our case to admit that as an abstract proposition none of these defendants liked war. But they wanted things which they knew they could not get without war. They wanted their neighbours’ lands and goods. Their philosophy seems to be that if the neighbours would not acquiesce, then they are the aggressors and are to blame for the war. The fact is, however, that war never became terrible to the Nazis until it came home to them, until it exposed their deceptive assurances to the German people that German cities, like the ruined one in which we meet, would be invulnerable. From then on, war was terrible.

But again the defendants claim: “To be sure, we were building guns. But not to shoot. They were only to give us weight in negotiating.” At its best this argument amounts to a contention that the military forces were intended for blackmail, not for battle. The threat of military invasion which forced the Austrian Anschluss, the threats which preceded Munich, and Goering’s threat to bomb the beautiful city of Prague if the President of Czechoslovakia did not consent to the Protectorate, are examples of what the defendants had in mind when they talked of arming to back negotiation.

But from the very nature of German demands, the day was bound to come when some country would refuse to buy its peace, would refuse to pay Dane-geld,

“For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that plays it is lost.”

Did these defendants then intend to withdraw German demands, or was Germany to enforce them and manipulate propaganda so as to place the blame for the war on the nation so unreasonable as to resist? Events have answered that question, and documents such as Admiral Carl’s memorandum, earlier quoted, leave no doubt that the events occurred as anticipated.

But some of the defendants argue that the wars were not aggressive and were only intended to protect Germany against some eventual danger from the “menace of Communism”, which was something of an obsession with many Nazis.

At the outset this argument of self-defence fails because it completely ignores this damning combination of facts clearly established in the record: first, the enormous and rapid German preparations for war; second, the repeatedly avowed intentions of the German leaders to attack, which I have previously cited; and third, the fact that a series of wars occurred in which German forces struck the first blows, without warning, across the borders of other nations.

Even if it could be shown -which it cannot -that the Russian war was really defensive, such is demonstrably not the case with those wars which preceded it.

It may also be pointed out that even those who would have you believe that Germany was menaced by Communism also compete with each other in describing their opposition to the disastrous Russian venture. Is it reasonable that they would have opposed that war if it were undertaken in good faith in self-defence.

It is sought to balance the frivolous self-defence theory against the facts, as advocates often do, by resort to a theory of law. Dr. Jahrreiss, in his scholarly argument for the defence, rightly points out that no treaty provision and no principle of law denied Germany, as a sovereign nation, the right of self-defence. He follows with the assertion for which there is authority in classic International Law, that:

“… every State is alone judge of whether in a given case it is waging a war of self-defence”.

It is not necessary to examine the validity of an abstract principle which does not apply to the facts of our case. I do not doubt that if a nation arrived at a judgement that it must resort to war in self-defence, because of conditions affording reasonable grounds for such an honest judgement, any Tribunal would accord it great and perhaps conclusive weight, even if later events proved that judgement mistaken.

But the facts in this case call for no such deference to honest judgement because no such judgement was ever pretended, much less honestly made.

In all the documents which disclose the planning and rationalisation of these attacks, not one sentence has been or can be cited to show an honest fear of attack. It may be that statesmen of other nations lacked the courage forthrightly and fully to disarm. Perhaps they suspected the secret rearmament of Germany. But if they hesitated to abandon arms, they did not hesitate to neglect them. Germany well knew that her former enemies had allowed their armaments to fall into decay, so little did they contemplate another war. Germany faced a Europe that not only was unwilling to attack, but was too weak and pacifist even adequately to defend, and went to the very verge of dishonour, if not beyond, to buy its peace. The minutes we have shown you of the Nazis’ secret conclaves identify no potential attacker. They bristle with the spirit of aggression and not of defence. They contemplate always territorial expansion, not the maintenance of territorial integrity.

Minister of War von Blomberg, in his 1937 directive prescribing general principles for the preparation for war of the armed forces, has given the lie to these feeble claims of self-defence. He stated at that time:

“The general political situation justifies the supposition that Germany need not consider an attack on any side. Grounds for this are, in addition to the lack of desire for war in almost all nations, particularly the Western Powers, the deficiencies in the preparedness for war in a number of States and of Russia in particular.”

Nevertheless, he recommended: “a continuous preparation for war in order to (a) counter-attack at any time, and (b) to enable the military exploitation of politically favourable opportunities should they occur”.

If these defendants may now cynically plead self-defence, although no honest need of self-defence was asserted or contemplated by any responsible leader at that time, it reduces non-aggression treaties to a legal absurdity. They become additional instruments of deception in the hands of the aggressor, and traps for well-meaning nations. If there be in non-aggression pacts an implied condition that each nation may make a bona fide judgement as to the necessity for self-defence against imminent threatened attack, it certainly cannot be invoked to shelter those who never made any such judgement at all.

In opening this case I ventured to predict that there would be no serious denial that the crimes charged were committed, and that the issue would concern the responsibility of particular defendants. The defendants have fulfilled that prophecy. Generally, they do not deny that these things happened, but it is contended that they “just happened”, and that they were not the result of a common plan or conspiracy.

One of the chief reasons the defendants say why there was no conspiracy is the argument that conspiracy was impossible with a dictator. The argument runs that they all had to obey Hitler’s orders, which had the force of law m the German State, and hence obedience could not be made the basis of a criminal charge. In this way it is explained that while there have been wholesale killings, there have been no murderers.

This argument is an effort to evade Article 8 of the Charter, which provides that the order of the Government or of a superior shall not free a defendant from responsibility but can only be considered in mitigation. This provision of the Charter corresponds with the justice and with the realities of the situation, as indicated in defendant Speer’s description of what he considered to be the common responsibility of the leaders of the German nation; he said that … with reference to decisive matters, there was a joint responsibility. There must be a joint responsibility among the leaders, because who else could take the responsibility for the development of events, if not the close associates who work with and around the head of the State?

And again he told the Tribunal that … it was impossible after the catastrophe to evade this joint responsibility, and that if the war had been won, the leaders would also have laid claim to joint responsibility.

Like much of defence counsel’s abstract arguments, the contention that the absolute power of Hitler precluded a conspiracy crumbles in the face of the facts of record. The Fuehrerprinzip of absolutism was itself a part of the common plan, as Goering has pointed out. The defendants may have become the slaves of a dictator, but he was their dictator. To make him such was, as Goering has testified, the object of the Nazi movement from the beginning. Every Nazi took this oath:

“I pledge eternal allegiance to Adolf Hitler. I pledge unconditional obedience to him and the Fuehrers appointed by him.”

Moreover, they forced everybody else in their power to take it. This oath was illegal under German law, which made it criminal to become a member of an organization in which obedience to “unknown superiors or unconditional obedience to known superiors is pledged”. These men destroyed free government in Germany and now plead to be excused from responsibility because they became slaves. They are in the position of the boy of fiction who murdered his father and mother and then pleaded for leniency because he was an orphan.

What these men have overlooked is that Adolf Hitler’s acts are their acts. It was these men among millions of others, and it was these men leading millions of others, who built up Adolf Hitler and vested in his psychopathic personality not only innumerable lesser decisions but the supreme issue of war or peace. They intoxicated him with power and adulation. They fed his hates and aroused his fears. They put a loaded gun in his eager hands. It was left to Hitler to pull the trigger, and when he did they all at that time approved. His guilt stands admitted, by some defendants reluctantly, by some vindictively. But his guilt is the guilt of the whole dock, and of every man in it.

But it is urged that these defendants could not be in agreement on a common plan or conspiracy because they were fighting among themselves or belonged to different factions or cliques. Of course, it is not necessary that men should agree on everything in order to agree on enough things to make them liable for a criminal conspiracy. Unquestionably there were conspiracies within the conspiracy, and intrigues and rivalries and battles for power. Schacht and Goering disagreed, but over which of them should control the economy, not over whether the economy should be regimented for war. Goering claims to have departed from the plan because, through Dahlerus, he conducted some negotiations with men of influence in England just before the Polish war. But it is perfectly clear that this was not an effort to prevent aggression against Poland but to make that aggression successful and safe by obtaining English neutrality. Rosenberg and Goering may have had some differences as to how stolen art should be distributed, but they had none about how it should be stolen. Jodl and Goering may have disagreed about whether to denounce the Geneva Convention, but they never disagreed about violating it. And so it goes through the whole long and sordid story. Nowhere do we find a single instance where any one of the defendants stood up against the rest and said: “This thing is wrong and I will not take part in it.” Wherever they differed, their differences were as to method or jurisdiction, but always within the framework of the common plan.

Some of the defendants also contend that in any event there was no conspiracy to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity because Cabinet members never met with the military commanders to plan these acts. But these crimes were only the inevitable and incidental results of the plan to commit the aggression for purposes of Lebensraum. Hitler stated, at a conference with his commanders, that:

“The main objective in Poland is the destruction of the enemy and not the reaching of a certain geographical line.”

Frank picked up the tune and suggested that when their usefulness was exhausted,

“… then, for all I care, mincemeat can be made of the Poles and Ukrainians and all the others who run around here -it does not matter what happens”.

Reichskommissar Koch in the Ukraine echoed the refrain:

“I will draw the very last out of this country. I did not come to spread bliss ….”

This was Lebensraum in its seamy side. Could men of their practical intelligence expect to get neighboring lands free from the claims of their tenants without committing crimes against humanity?

The last stand of each defendant is that even if there was a conspiracy, he was not in it. It is therefore important in examining their attempts at avoidance of responsibility to know, first of all, just what it is that a conspiracy charge comprehends and punishes.

In conspiracy we do not punish one man for another man’s crime. We seek to punish each for his own crime of joining a common criminal plan in which others also participated. The measure of the criminality of the plan and therefore of the guilt of each participant is, of course, the sum total of crimes committed by all in executing the plan. But the gist of the offence is participation in the formulation or execution of the plan. These are rules which every society has found necessary in order to reach men, like these defendants, who never get blood on their own hands but who lay plans that result in the shedding of blood. All over Germany today, in every zone of occupation, little men who carried out these criminal policies under orders are being convicted and punished. It would present a vast and unforgivable caricature of justice if the men who planned these policies and directed these little men should escape all penalty.

These men in this dock, on the face of this record, were not strangers to this programme of crime, nor was their connection with it remote or obscure. We find them in the very heart of it. The positions they held show that we have chosen defendants of self-evident responsibility. They are the very highest surviving authorities in their respective fields and in the Nazi State. No one lives who, at least until the very last moments of the war, outranked Goering in position, power, and influence. No soldier stood above Keitel and Jodl, and no sailor above Raeder and Donitz. Who can be responsible for the double-faced diplomacy if not the Foreign Ministers, von Neurath and Ribbentrop, and the diplomatic handyman, von Papen? Who should be answerable for the oppressive administration of occupied countries if Gauleiter, Protectors, Governors and Commissars such as Frank, Seyss-Inquart, Frick, von Schirach, von Neurath, and Rosenberg are not? Where shall we look for those who mobilised the economy for total war if we overlook Schacht and Speer and Funk? Who was the master of the great slaving enterprise if it was not Sauckel? Where shall we find the hand that ran the concentration camps if it was not the hand of Kaltenbrunner? Who whipped up the hates and fears of the public, and manipulated the Party organizations to incite these crimes, if not Hess, von Schirach, Fritzsche, Bormann and the unspeakable Julius Streicher? The list of defendants is made up of men who played indispensable and reciprocal parts in this tragedy. The photographs and the films show them again and again together on important occasions. The documents show them agreed on policies and on methods, and all working aggressively for the expansion of Germany by force of arms.

Hermann Goering

Each of these men made a real contribution to the Nazi plan. Each man had a key part. Deprive the Nazi regime of the functions performed by a Schacht, a Sauckel, a von Papen, or a Goering, and you have a different regime. Look down the rows of fallen men and picture them as the photographic and documentary evidence shows them to have been in their days of power. Is there one who did not substantially advance the conspiracy along its bloody path towards its bloody goal? Can we assume that the great effort of these men’s lives was directed towards ends they never suspected?

To escape the implications of their positions and the inference of guilt from their activities, the defendants are almost unanimous in one defence. The refrain is heard time and again: these men were without authority, without knowledge, without influence, without importance. Funk summed up the general self-abasement of the dock in his plaintive lament that:

“I always, so to speak, came up to the door. But I was not permitted to enter.”

In the testimony of each defendant, at some point there was reached the familiar blank wall: nobody knew anything about what was going on. Time after time we have heard the chorus from the dock:

“I only heard about these things here for the first time.”

These men saw no evil, spoke none, and none was uttered in their presence. This claim might sound very plausible if made by one defendant. But when we put all their stories together, the impression which emerges of the Third Reich, which was to last a thousand years, is ludicrous. If we combine only the stories of the front bench, this is the ridiculous composite picture of Hitler’s Government that emerges. It was composed of:

A No. 2 man who knew nothing of the excesses of the Gestapo which he created, and never suspected the Jewish extermination programme although he was the signer of over a score of decrees which instituted the persecution of that race;

A No. 3 man who was merely an innocent middleman transmitting Hitler’s orders without even reading them, like a postman or delivery boy;

A Foreign Minister who knew little of foreign affairs and nothing of foreign policy;

A Field-Marshal who issued orders to the armed forces but had no idea of the results they would have in practice;

A Security Chief who was of the impression that the policing functions of his Gestapo and SD were somewhat on the lines of directing traffic;

A Party philosopher who was interested in historical research, and had no idea of the violence which his philosophy was inciting in the twentieth century;

A Governor-General of Poland who reigned but did not rule;

A Gauleiter of Franconia whose occupation was to pour forth filthy writings about the Jews, but who had no idea that anybody would read them;

A Minister of the Interior who knew not even what went on in the interior of his own office, much less the interior of his own department, and nothing at all about the interior of Germany;

A Reichsbank President who was totally ignorant of what went in and out of the vaults of his bank;

A Plenipotentiary for the War Economy who secretly marshalled the entire economy for armament, but had no idea it had anything to do with war.

This may seem like a fantastic exaggeration, but this is what you would actually be obliged to conclude if you were to acquit these defendants.

They do protest too much. They deny knowing what was common knowledge. They deny knowing plans and programmes that were as public as Mein Kampf and the Party programme.

They deny even knowing the contents of documents which they received and acted upon. Nearly all the defendants take two or more conflicting positions. Let us illustrate the inconsistencies of their positions by the record of one defendant -who, if pressed, would himself concede that he is the most intelligent, honourable and innocent man in the dock. That is Schacht. And this is the effect of his own testimony -but let us not forget that I recite it not against him alone, but because most of its self-contradictions are found in the testimony of several defendants.

Schacht did not openly join the Nazi movement until it had won, nor openly desert it until it had lost. He admits that he never gave it public opposition, but asserts that he never gave it private loyalty. When we demand of him why he did not stop the criminal course of the regime in which he was a Minister, he says he had not a bit of influence. When we ask why he remained a member of the criminal regime, he tells us that by sticking on he expected to moderate its programme. Like a Brahmin among Untouchables, he could not bear to mingle with the Nazis socially, but never could he afford to separate from them politically. Of all the Nazi aggressions by which he now claims to have been shocked, there is not one that he did not support before the world with the weight of his name and prestige. Having armed Hitler to blackmail a continent, his answer now is to blame England and France for yielding. Schacht always fought for his position in a regime he now affects to despise. He sometimes disagreed with his Nazi confederates about what was expedient in reaching their goal, but he never dissented from the goal itself. When he did break with them in the twilight of the regime, it was over tactics, not principles. From then on he never ceased to urge others to risk their positions and their necks to forward his plots, but never on any occasion did he hazard either of his own. He now boasts that he personally would have shot Hitler if he had had the opportunity, but the German newsreel shows that even after the fall of France, when he faced the living Hitler, he stepped out of line to grasp the hand he now claims to loathe and hung upon the words of the man he now says he thought unworthy of belief. Schacht says he steadily “sabotaged” the Hitler Government. Yet the most relentless secret service in the world never detected him doing the regime any harm until long after, he knew the war to be lost and the Nazis doomed. Schacht, who dealt in “hedges” all his life, always kept himself in a position to claim that he was in either camp. The plea for him is as specious on analysis as it is persuasive on first sight. Schacht represents the most dangerous and reprehensible type of opportunism -that of the man of influential position who is ready to join a movement that he knows to be wrong because he thinks it is winning.

These defendants, unable to deny that they were the men in the very highest ranks of power, and unable to deny that the crimes I have outlined actually happened, know that their own denials are incredible unless they can suggest someone who is guilty.

The defendants have been unanimous, when pressed, in shifting the blame on other men, sometimes on one and sometimes on another. But the names they have repeatedly picked are Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels and Bormann. All of these are dead or missing. No matter how hard we have pressed the defendants on the stand, they have never pointed the finger at a living man as guilty. It is a temptation to ponder the wondrous workings of a fate which has left only the guilty dead and only the innocent alive. It is almost too remarkable.

The chief villain on whom blame is placed -some of the defendants vie with each other in producing appropriate epithets -is Hitler. He is the man at whom nearly every defendant has pointed an accusing finger.

I shall not dissent from this consensus, nor do I deny that all these dead and missing men shared the guilt. In crimes so reprehensible that degrees of guilt have lost their significance they may have played the most evil parts. But their guilt cannot exculpate the defendants. Hitler did not carry all responsibility to the grave with him. All the guilt is not wrapped in Himmler’s shroud. It was these dead men whom these living chose to be their partners in this great conspiratorial brotherhood, and the crimes that they did together they must pay for one by one.

It may well be said that Hitler’s final crime was against the land he had ruled. He was a mad “messiah” who started the war without cause and prolonged it without reason. If he could not rule he cared not what happened to Germany. As Fritzsche has told us from the stand, Hitler tried to use the defeat of Germany for the self-destruction of the German people. He continued the fight when he knew it could not be won, and continuance meant only ruin.

Speer, in this courtroom, has described it as follows:

“… The sacrifices which were made on both sides after January, 1945, were senseless. The dead of this period will be the accusers of the man responsible for the continuation of that fight, Adolf Hitler, and the ruined cities which in this last phase lost tremendous cultural values and in which a colossal number of dwellings were destroyed …. The German people remained faithful to Adolf Hitler until the end. He betrayed them knowingly. He finally tried to throw them into the abyss ….”

Hitler ordered everyone else to fight to the last and then retreated into death by his own hand. But he left life as he lived it, a deceiver; he left the official report that he had died in battle. This was the man whom these defendants exalted to a Fuehrer. It was they who conspired to get him absolute authority over all of Germany. And in the end he and the system they had created for him brought the ruin of them all. As stated by Speer in cross-examination:

“… the tremendous danger of the totalitarian system, however, only became really clear at the moment when we were approaching the end. It was then that one could see what the principle really meant, namely, that every order should be carried out without criticism. Everything that has become known during this trial, especially with regard to orders which were carried out without any consideration, has proved how evil it .was in the end…. Quite apart from the personality of Hitler, on the collapse of the totalitarian system in Germany it became clear what tremendous dangers there are in a system of that kind. The combination of Hitler and this system has brought about these tremendous catastrophes in the world.”

But let me for a moment turn devil’s advocate. I admit that Hitler was the chief villain. But for the defendants to put all blame on him is neither manly nor true. We know that even the head of the State has the same limits to his senses and to the hours of his days as do lesser men. He must rely on others to be his eyes and ears as to most that goes on in a great empire. Other legs must run his errands; other hands must execute his plans.

On whom did Hitler rely for such things more than upon these men in the dock? Who led him to believe he had an invincible air armada if not Goering? Who kept disagreeable facts from him? Did not Goering forbid Field-Marshal Milch to warn Hitler that in his opinion Germany was not equal to the war upon Russia? Did not Goering, according to Speer, relieve General Galland of his air force command for speaking of the weaknesses and bungling of the air force? Who led Hitler, utterly untravelled himself, to believe in the indecision and timidity of democratic peoples if not Ribbentrop, von Neurath, and von Papen? Who fed his illusion of German invincibility if not Keitel, Jodl, Raeder, and Donitz? Who kept his hatred of the Jews inflamed more than Streicher and Rosenberg? Who would Hitler say deceived him about conditions in concentration camps if not Kaltenbrunner, even as he would deceive us? These men had access to Hitler and often could control the information that reached him and on which he must base his policy and his orders. They were the Praetorian Guard, and while they were under Caesar’s orders, Caesar was always in their hands.

If these dead men could take the witness stand and answer what has been said against them, we might have a less distorted picture of the parts played by these defendants. Imagine the stir that would occur in the dock if it should behold Adolf Hitler advancing to the witness box, or Himmler with an armful of dossiers, or Goebbels, or Bormann with the reports of his Party spies, or the murdered Roehm or Canaris. The ghoulish defence that the world is entitled to retribution only from the cadavers is an argument worthy of the crimes at which it is directed.

We have presented to this Tribunal an affirmative case based on incriminating documents which are sufficient, if unexplained, to require a finding of guilt on Count One against each defendant. In the final analysis, the only question is whether the defendants’ own testimony is to be credited as against the documents and other evidence of their guilt. What, then, is their testimony worth?

The fact is that the Nazi habit of economising in the use of truth pulls the foundations out from under their own defences. Lying has always been a highly approved Nazi technique. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, advocated mendacity as a policy. Von Ribbentrop admits the use of the “diplomatic lie”. Keitel advised that the facts of rearmament be kept secret so that they could be denied at Geneva. Raeder deceived about rebuilding the German Navy in violation of Versailles. Goering urged Ribbentrop to tell a “legal lie” to the British Foreign Office about the Anschluss, and in so doing only marshalled him the way he was going. Goering gave his word of honour to the Czechs and proceeded to break it. Even Speer proposed to deceive the French into revealing the specially trained among their prisoners.

Nor is the lie direct the only means of falsehood. They all speak with a Nazi double meaning with which to deceive the unwary. In the Nazi dictionary of sardonic euphemisms “Final solution” of the Jewish problem was a phrase which meant extermination; “Special treatment” of prisoners of war meant killing; “Protective custody” meant concentration camp; “Duty labour” meant slave labour; and an order to “take a firm attitude” or “take positive measures” meant to act with unrestrained savagery. Before we accept their word at what seems to be its face value, we must always look for hidden meanings. Goering assured us, on his oath, that the Reich Defence Council never met “as such”. When we produced the stenographic minutes of a meeting at which he presided and did most of the talking, he reminded us of the “as such” and explained this was not a meeting of the Council “as such” because other persons were present. Goering denies “threatening” Czechoslovakia. He only told President Hacha that he would “hate to bomb the beautiful city of Prague”.

Besides outright false statements and those with double meanings, there are also other circumventions of truth in the nature of fantastic explanations and absurd professions. Streicher has solemnly maintained that his only thought with respect to the Jews was to resettle them on the island of Madagascar. His reason for destroying synagogues, he blandly said, was only because they were architecturally offensive. Rosenberg was stated by his counsel to have always had in mind a “chivalrous solution” to the Jewish problem. When it was necessary to remove Schuschnigg after the Anschluss, Ribbentrop would have had us believe that the Austrian Chancellor was resting at a “villa”. It was left to cross-examination to reveal that the “villa” was Buchenwald concentration camp. The record is full of other examples of dissimulations and evasions. Even Schacht showed that he, too, had adopted the Nazi attitude that truth is any story which succeeds. Confronted on cross-examination with a long record of broken vows and false words, he declared in justification -and I quote from the record:

“I think you can score many more successes when you want to lead someone if you don’t tell them the truth than if you tell them the truth.”

This was the philosophy of the National Socialists. When for years they have deceived the world, and masked falsehood with plausibilities, can anyone be surprised that they continue that habit of a lifetime in this dock? Credibility is one of the main issues of this trial. Only those who have failed to learn the bitter lessons of the last decade can doubt that men who have always played on the unsuspecting credulity of generous opponents would not hesitate to do the same now.

It is against such a background that these defendants now ask this Tribunal to say that they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs. They stand before the record of this trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain King. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: “Say I slew them not.” And the Queen replied, “Then say they were not slain. But dead they are ….” If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.

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 “So the Old World Slipped Away Never to Return Again…”: A Look Back at my Prediction for 2020


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wrote this article on 13 December 2019. It was pretty pessimistic even then without the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic which has killed over a quarter of a million Americans and infected over 11 million more, over a million in the past week. Over course that was not included in this article. The title then was  “So the Old World Slipped Away Never to Return Again…”: the Coming Disorder of 2020. Damn I hate being right, and we still have 49 days left in the year and President Trump seems intent on destroying the country using a scorched earth policy and attempting to provoke violence as the Proud Boys and other White Supremacist and self-proclaimed “militias” which are nothing more than heavily armed right wing vigilante and terrorist groups unrecognized by any law and operating outside of the Constitutional understanding of militias. Now we are ending the year with the President refusing to concede an election he lost by a lot in terms of popular vote and the electoral college, sowing discord and doubt about the American election system and our Republic, things that erode trust at home and abroad. But anyway, enough for now, and on to what I wrote last December.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

“So the Old World Slipped Away Never to Return Again…”: the Coming Disorder of 2020. 13 December 2019

It is not even Christmas and I am beginning to write about the coming year. This was provoked in part by a discussion I had with a dear friend, who also happens to be an Evangelical Christian Trump Cultist. I attempted to talk of basic middle of the road stuff and be honest about history, especially because I was a Republican for 32 years, until I returned from Iraq in 2008 and realized that we had been lied into a war that would have fit three of the four charges leveled against the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg.

But there was no convincing my friend of anything, even when attempting to bridge the divide using facts. To him Trump is the greatest President ever, and Obama, the worst. Of course I live in one of the “reddest” areas of Virginia and while I have quite a few liberal or progressive friends here, quite a few of the people who are also long time friends have transformed themselves from traditional conservatives who could be reasoned with to part of the Trump Cult. Such was the case with this person, every response he gave came straight from a Trump tweet, or something off of Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh. But I digress, my friend is not a bad person.

Abraham Lincoln noted:

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

It is good to remember Lincoln’s words in times of turmoil. I do, and they bring me great motivation to work, believe, and fight for justice, truth, and the belief in a spark of goodness in humanity which enables me to believe the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The fact that those words come from a time of tumult, yet in a time where men were beginning to wrestle with and proclaim principles of the Enlightenment matters much to me, especially in times like we live today, where that principle is being attacked and undermined by the American President.

That being said, I believe that 2019 will be remembered in history as a time great turmoil, upheaval, and probably usher in a new epoch of war, economic, and ecological disaster. We are ending the year with the impeachment proceedings against President Trump, and threats of violence and civil war from his supporters if he is removed from office or loses the 2020 election.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as a historian I to look at the world through how human beings, governments, and businesses behave in times of crisis. In fact, human beings are the singular constant in history and in crisis human beings don’t always live up to our ideals.

When major powers and international systems of order break down, or collapse for whatever reason, instability, disorder, and primordial hatreds based on nationalism, religion, and racism rise. A vacuum is created, filled by other powers, but not without some element of travail. Edmond Taylor wrote in his classic “The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Order, 1905-1922:

“The collapse of the great supranational — or at least supraparochial — authorities and the dissolution of long-accepted Imperial bonds released upon Europe a fearsome flood of conflicting national ambitions, of inflamed minority particularisms, of historic (sometimes almost prehistoric) irredentisms, of irreconcilable social aspirations and of rival political fanaticisms.

The impending collapse of the old order today can be seen in a return to a more isolationist policy by the United States, rising populist, nationalist, and ethnocentric movements in Europe which are threatening the existence of the European Union. Those include Brexit, ethnic nationalism mixed with a bit of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Poland, and great strains in France and Germany between right and left wing populist movements, but no one has found a way to deal with these Right Wing  populist movements.

The common thread is the center which was the key to so much social progress, democracy, economic growth and stability, scientific advancement, and international security is giving way. In fact it has pretty much disappeared, There are many reasons for this, on the American side going back to the imperialist overreach of the George W. Bush administration, the inconsistent and detached method of the Obama administration towards the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, following that, the overtly populist, authoritarian, and isolationist policies of the Trump presidency, and his decidedly inconsistent, often irresponsible, and irreconcilable policies of isolationism on one hand, and militarism on the other.

Now a rejuvenated Russia is rushing to fill the void in the Middle East as well as working to destabilize its neighbors, Europe, and even the United States. The Chinese are attempting to make gains in other areas and to drive the United States out of Asia by using every element of national power: diplomacy, information, military might, and economics, while the United States following the Trump Administration’s withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and subsequent punishing tariffs that are hurting allies and Americans more than China the United States is now at a decided disadvantage in Asia.

I could go on, and could go into details on the causes of the current situation but they are many. What we are seeing now is the beginning of the collapse of an order that we have known most of our lives. While many people might be uneasy, most don’t view things in terms of history, in many cases because the events that led to the establishment of the current order are too distant and the witnesses to those times are few, and dying off. People today seldom study history, and even worse no longer know people, including family members who remember what happened to remind them of it.

That was quite similar to the situation in 1914. Europe had been at relative peace for a century. With the exception of the French Republic, most of Europe was still ruled by monarchies with rather limited democratic participation, if any. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The Proud Tower: A Portrait Of the World Before the War, 1890-1914:

“The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, “With emotion, to the man I used to be.”

I believe that 2020 will the a year of multiple crises and the further erosion, if not collapse of the old order, regardless of what happens with impeachment. What will come I do not know, but I expect that at the minimum it will be unsettling and disruptive, if not catastrophic. That doesn’t mean that I am a pessimist, it means that I study history. Provided that humanity does not find a way to destroy itself, we will recover. It may not be pretty and it certainly will not be the same as it was, but we will recover.

Walter Lord wrote about this his book on American in the early Twentieth Century The Good Years: 1900-1914. In the book he wrote about how things changed for Americans as Europe plunged into war. The effects of the war were soon felt in the United States though it would not enter the war until 1917. Lord wrote:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

The truth is, even in the midst of crises that the spark that enables people to believe, to hope, and to labor for a better future where the possibilities of peace, justice, freedom, and progress can be realized.

2019 was a very difficult year, a year of change and turbulence, and truthfully it will probably be just the beginning; but unless we find a way to destroy ourselves before the end of the year, it will not be the end, and 2020 may be one of the most important, yet tumultuous years in human history, and I cannot say if it will end well, for the United States, or the world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Ten Days In November: COVID-19 Winter Sets In

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

COVID-19 Winter is here. The past month was brutal. Between 14 October and 13 November the United States went from 8,188,931 total cases 11,064,164. That is almost three million more infections. During that time there was an increase of COVID-19 deaths from 222,247 to 249,975. The number of active cases went from 2,675,985 to 4,025,243. Texas and California both topped a million total cases and Texas will soon top 20,000 deaths.

Most states are reporting all time highs in terms of new infections, and the infections are leading to large numbers of hospitalizations and in many rural states hospitals are at or near capacity and their ICU units are full. Across the country the virus is spreading and the same thing is happening. Even worse, the shortage of trained and experienced doctors, nurses, and technicians is stressing the system even more, because those on duty are exhausted, many are becoming infected. It is so bad in North Dakota that COVID-19 infected medical professionals are being allowed to return to work.

The growth is exponential. If the past month was bad, the last ten days were worse, 1,235,146 new infections and 11,337 deaths. The average of those ten days is over 123,000 new infections a day and 1,130 deaths.

The good news is that an effective vaccine may be approved with distribution starting in January. Even so it will take months at best to vaccinate enough people to start making a substantial impact, and the caveat is that a person needs two doses.

That still leaves us with doing the basics and doing them well to slow the spread of the virus: wearing masks correctly, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and frequent hand washing. But unfortunately President Trump, much of his administration, Congressional supporters, Republican governors and legislators, and his cult like followers resist doing these things. Trump and his cult politicized public health and the result is disaster followed by worse. This will break our medical system. The corporate for-profit system that prioritizes procedures that make big money from insurance companies, which profit by charging people as much as they can, paying as little possible, and denying coverage for paying customers whenever possible has turned health care into a privilege for those that can afford it and pushes those that cannot afford  it into no-win situations.

When we were traveling in Germany two years ago my wife got a bacterial infection that sickened her. When we arrived at a friend’s house near Karlsruhe it was getting pretty bad. Our friend took Judy to her doctor who took time with her, and prescribed antibiotics. The cost of the visit was minimal, far less than would have been charged here, and the cost of the medication was negligible. If we had been without insurance here it would have such care it would have been very costly. No wonder so many people here, even those with insurance plans put off, delay or don’t seek treatment.

Two weeks ago I began a journey into an abyss that I have just about recovered. I had a molar in the back of my mouth crack from the top to the root. It started with a headache on Wednesday 28 October. The headache was bad enough to make me miss work. The next two days I had contractors in the house and on Friday 30 October the tooth started hurting with my pain level going up to 12 on a scale of 10 by Friday night. Since all the Navy dental clinics were closed I went to the Naval Medical Center Emergency Room with to hope of been to see the on call Dentist. I was examined by a very young Physician’s Assistant who gave a cursory look at my mouth, said that she could not see anything worth calling down the dentist, sent me home with pain killers and antibiotics, telling me to go to my clinic on Monday morning. I have been in the military forever, I have learned to suck pain up and not complain. I went home where despite the medicine my pain got much worse and the infection in my jaw became far worse. By the time I got to the dental clinic the first dentist I saw was in shock at what he saw. I was immediately referred to an Endodontist who determined that the tooth had cracked, the nerve became infected and died with the infection spreading throughout my lower jaw. The tooth was pulled, antibiotics injected into the socket and I was sent home with stronger antibiotics and more pain medication. But I am still feeling the effects. I am having TMJ like symptoms, I continue to suffer bad headaches and the swelling is not yet gone. I called today but just got the clinic and Endontist voice mail. I will have to try to contact them on Monday morning to see about follow up.

Sadly, if I was most of the people I know in the civilian world, they would have received less care and an exorbitant price, because most health care plans severely limit dental care. However, the infection in my jaw could have become life threatening. People die from complications to dental infections, but this does not seem to be import to our profit driven health care system. Our military provided medical insurance payments for dental care are so pathetic that many dentists refuse to accept it and demand payment in full, by the way unless we are stationed overseas our family members cannot be seen in military dental clinics. Compared to most people we are privileged. Is that any way to live? Does that promote any sense of life and liberty? I think not.

How can we ever claim to be a people that values life when we make it impossible for people to have the medical care, mainly preventive care in order to fully realize the premise of the Declaration of Independence, that “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If people do not have a right to healthcare, they give up much of their unalienable rights to life, freedom and happiness. Unfortunately the choices our leaders have made for more than a generation have harmed our health care system and are directly impacting our response to the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic. We do not have enough physicians, enough nurses, or enough trained clinicians to take care of people in a holistic manner, we don’t have surpluses of beds, Reserve ICUs, or equipment because our hospitals and medical systems are based on maximizing profit, minimizing time in hospitals, and oppose traditional doctor patient relationships which at one time were based on doctors who knew their patients, sometimes for generations. Because of how hospital systems and insurers drive payments most doctors no longer have the time to actually know their patients and do what is best for them. This is not the fault of the doctors, most I know would love to have that luxury and are highly frustrated by the constraints placed on them by the insurance and corporate health care complex.

This has redounded to our current crisis. We don’t have the doctors, nurses, support staff, or reserve bed space because to do so is not profitable.

Our COVID-19 Winter Has just begun. Deaths could double. Hospitals will have to pick and chose who they will treat, guarantying that far to many will die and that even survivors will be subjected to lifelong illnesses.

Ten days from now I will write an update to this.

By the way, if you actually care about life you need to read historian Timothy Snyder’s latest book “Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary. It is not a long read, but it is very sobering.

That is enough for now, but ask yourself the question: “How important is life to me? Is it enough to consider that our lives and liberty depend on being healthy? Or does that not matter? It if it does not, then I would dare say that you do not value life, liberty, or anything that is supposed to be an anchor of who we are as Americans, especially if we claim to be Christians. your personal “liberty” involves endangering the lives of other citizens by disobeying the most basic public health precautions involved in the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” and opposing measures to ensure that every citizen has affordable and effective healthcare that does not leave them at the lack of mercy of our current corporate profit driven system, then I think your concept of the Declaration and what it means to be an American, and what it means to be a Christian is wrong. One cannot support our current policies and healthcare system and still say they support our nations foundational ideas, nor the teachings of Jesus.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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The Film that Shocked the World: Nazi Concentration Camps From Nuremberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,


Instead of writing much tonight I am posting a video compiled by American and British personnel as they liberated Nazi Concentration Camps in Germany. The images even though shot in black and white are still nearly 75 years after it was shown in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice on 29 November 1945, just a week into the trial the Allied Prosecutors led by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Robert H. Jackson introduced it into evidence.

The UPI report of the day’s testimony and the film described the scene:

NUREMBERG, Nov. 29, 1945 (UP) – A tense audience at the war crimes trial watched for 52 horror-packed minutes today a 6,000-foot American Army film baring conditions at Nazi concentration camps. The prosecution charged that the camps were an instrument of policy of German leaders, including the 20 men on trial in the courtroom, in their drive for power.

In an almost deathlike silence the defendants, silhouetted in the dark courtroom by fluorescent lamps so that their guards could watch them, stared fascinated, bowed their heads low or mopped their faces as the show proceeded.

One, Hjalmar Schacht, kept his back turned throughout. Another, Polish Overlord Hans Frank, one of the most infamous mass murderers in world history, got sick.

American Sidney S. Alderman had closed the case on the German seizure of Austria, denouncing Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering, Austrian traitor Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Baron Franz von Papen and former Foreign Minister Baron Constantin von Neurath as the arch-plotters – “sly bullies wearing sanctimonious masks to cover their duplicity.”

High spots included a telephone talk in which Goering dictated to Seyss-Inquart a request which Seyss-Inquart was to make that German troops be sent into Austria; a telephone talk in which Adolf Hitler said he would “never, never forget” Benito Mussolini for co-operating and a 41-minute call by Goering to former Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, then Ambassador in London, describing how “the birds are twittering here” in Berchtesgaden the day after the German invasion.

Court recessed at 3:15 so the movie screen could be made ready. At 3:35 the lights suddenly went out. At the same instant lights set around the prisoners’ dock rail flashed on to light the defendants. Reinforcements of American M.P.’s filed silently into the room to join the white-helmeted guards around the dock.

American Prosecutor Thomas Dodd rose.

“We will now show what concentration camps mean,” he said. “… the camps were not an end in themselves but an integral part of the Nazi system of government. We intend to prove that each defendant knew of the camps and that the camps were instruments by which the defendants retained power. They used the camps to prepare aggressive war.”

At 3:50 the film started grinding. The 6,000 feet shown were selected from 80,000 feet.

First came Leipzig – shots of bodies, burned to a crisp, of men and women who had tried to flee barracks the Nazis set afire and were mowed down by machine-gun fire.

Goering leaned forward in his seat, staring. Rudolf Hess snapped upright, betraying intelligent interest for the first time since the trial started, and whispered to Goering on his right and Ribbentrop on his left.

The camera eye moved slowly over the heaps of burned bodies. War correspondents had seen them before they were piled up – fingers dug into the earth in agony.

Col. Gen. Alfred Jodi put on dark glasses. Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel bent stiffly forward.

The film flashed to Hamadar, which the Germans called the shudder house.

Papen lowered his head and covered his face with a handkerchief.

The film went on to Northausen, which the American 3rd Armored and 104th Infantry divisions liberated. It showed 2,500 bodies stacked beside a bombed building.

Schacht, his owl-like glasses reflecting the light in the prisoners’ dock, remained rigidly facing the audience, turned away from the screen.

German civilians, carrying bodies to mass graves under the guns of American troops, passed on the screen.

Grand-Adm. Karl Doenitz leaned heavily over the side of the dock as if he had taken all he could. Keitel took off his glasses, mopped his sweating face and lowered his head.

Next came Buchenwald, one of the worst of all. The film showed German civilians marching past a display of lamp shades, picture frames, plaques and bookmarks made of the skin of murdered men. The wife of the S.S. camp commandant had selected the victims.

Hess still watched, intensified. Julius Streicher stared with a deadpan face. Ribbentrop still had his eyes to the floor.

Then came Mauthausen, notorious Dachau, one of the earliest, greatest and most dreadful, and Belsen, where bodies were piled so high British bulldozers had to push them int o mass graves.

The film ended and the lights went on. For long moments the entire audience sat as if transfixed. Goering did not move his eyes from the screen until court adjourned one minute later. Schacht stood up and his lawyer said that he had nothing to do with the camps – in fact, would tell the court that he spent seven months at Dachau himself.

The film is real, and there was much more like it; in fact the Soviets would show a film from the death camps they liberated just two months later. But for now I will leave you with the film that shocked the world, and forever turned the tide against the Nazi Major War Criminals.

Please don’t believe that such events could happen in any country in the World, including Trump’s America. Please watch all of it, even if it sickens you as it should. Please don’t believe anything Trump says regarding race, ethnicity, religion, political opponents, the free press, and his deliberate falsification or anything that might embarrass him, because in each case he is telling his alternate version of the truth which acquits him and blames his victims.
As of today he has been responsible for decisions that have claimed the lives of over 160,000 American and infected over Five million Americans with the Coronavirus 19 virus and a pandemic that has made a nation with just 4.25% of the Worlds population, which supposedly had the best in medical, scientific and research programs to stop pandemics to the worst for a nation supposedly so well educated, prepared, and ready for a pandemic.

But instead of a President dedicated to telling the truth, backing the facts of science and medicine, we have a man who only speaks for himself and those who will not turn on him. 162,000 dead, and over Five Million infected Americans testify against him

Yet, unlike the President I will tell the truth because I am bound by my oath to the Constitution, and my vows as a priest.

With that I leave you for tonight. I do need get some sleep.

I report, you decide.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Coronavirus Pandemic: Leadership and the Ability to Admit the Hard Truth and Inspire them to Greater Things during an Existential Crisis

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Winston Churchill said:

“There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.” 

I think that Americans, once we strip away the veneers we have laid over our society, and tear down the walls that ideologues have tried to divide us will realize this, probably sooner rather than later.

As we approach an total 80,000 deaths attributable to the novel Coronavirus 19 I am reflecting on it and the 1918-1919 Great Influenza. I am not so much thinking about similarities in the viruses, but both were, or are highly infectious, airborne, and could be spread through touching droplets of it from tables, chairs, doorknobs and then wiping one’s face without having thoroughly washed their hands.

Likewise, since no vaccine existed for either. It was not until the 1940s that one was developed for the H1N1 Great Influenza, and still none today for COVID 19. While virologists and researchers are working around the world to find one, most experts believe that one will not be available for a year to eighteen months, not including the manufacturing and distribution time should one be developed.

Like 1918-1919, which actually continued through 1920, the only defense was what we call non-pharmacological interventions. It is like going forward into the past, and unsurprisingly many of these interventions are as unpopular today as they were in the Great Influenza pandemic.

The interventions included then, and now are well known. They include what we now call Social distancing; the prevention of the spreading or inhaling of infected droplets from coughing, sneezing, or being in the close proximity to an infected by the virus by wearing face masks; as well as frequent hand washing, wearing protective gloves when needed, and sanitizing work stations, and common areas where people gather. Some states and cities even criminalized spitting in public places.

In 1918-1919 these measures were all taken by local or state authorities businesses were closed, sporting events, including the NHL Stanley Cup were postponed or cancelled. In some municipalities mayors, like that of St. Louis shut down church services, and did not cave in to immensely powerful clergymen, like the Archbishop of St. Louis. Cities that took these measures in 1918-1920 and didn’t let up even in the face of public pressure minimized their deaths and ensured that hospitals were not overwhelmed. As a result, even with the restrictions life began to resume at a normal pace.

In the cities that eased up, or eliminated their non pharmacological interventions in the face of public pressure, the influenza returned with a vengeance because there were still far too many people who had no immunity to the virus. Of course the pressure was do to business leaders, politicians, and religious leaders. One group even called itself an “anti-mask league.” But even though there was public opposition to these measures, even some protests, which by and large used the same rational as today’s protestors, there is no instance of protestors invading state capital buildings, or city halls. Nor did they resort to violence or threats against local leaders. Likewise, unlike now, they did not have the active support of the President, or nationwide television and internet media outlets to spread their message and threaten state and local government officials.

Likewise, there is the difference in the attitudes of the Presidents during each pandemic, Woodrow Wilson during the 1918-1919 pandemic, and Donald J. Trump today. The two were very different, Wilson was a native of Virginia, a Democrat, an academic, and a former university professor and President of Princeton University when drafted to campaign for the governorship of New Jersey, which he one in 1910. His policies as governor propelled him into being nominated as the Democratic candidate for President in 1912. He won the election, mostly because the Republicans were divided by the candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt running as a third party candidate and the incumbent, William Howard Taft. They split the conservative vote and had just over 50% of the vote between them. Wilson lost progressive votes to Socialist Eugene Debs, who garnered 6% of the vote. Wilson’s 42% was enough to garner a majority in the Electoral College.

Wilson’s policies were more progressive than most Democrats of his era, but not nearly as progressive as Teddy Roosevelt or Eugene Debs. Though he championed and helped establish the Federal Reserve and anti-trust laws, Women’s Rights, and those of workers, he remained a Southern Racist and segregationist at heart. His actions as President set back the civil rights of Blacks, in the military and civil service, and his premier of D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation legitimatized the rise of the second birth of the KKK. However, they were enough to ensure that he barely won re-election in 1916.

Wilson led the effort to have Congress declare war on Germany and its allies in April 1917, and once war began he became completely focused on it, and it was only. Nothing else mattered. In regard to the Great Influenza he made no public statements about the pandemic, and when the war ended he went to Europe and remained completely engaged in fighting for his 14 Points and the establishment of the League of Nations. He was unsuccessful at Versailles which his points were swept aside by Britain and France, and defeated at home when Congress refused to ratify the treaty establishing the League of Nations. He was a believer in internationalism and not nationalism or isolationism. He suffered a stroke which left him incapacitated for most of his remaining year and a half in office. All that being said he never sought to undermine physicians and scientists, or state and local governments doing their best to contain the virus, even as they searched for a cure.

I won’t go into his differences with President Trump other to say that Trump would have supported his racist policies, and opposed Wilson’s progressive policies. Likewise he would have been an isolationist and not an internationalist.

The big difference in the men is in how they chose to deal with pandemics that where killing tens of thousands of Americans. Wilson remained silent and focused on prosecuting the war at whatever cost. That being said he did not interfere with the efforts of the newly established National Health Service, or the heads of the Army and Navy Medical Departments, the American Red Cross, or the states to fight the virus and save lives.

While Wilson remained unengaged, he didn’t interfere with efforts of others to to fight it, however, he could have done much more. That is very different from President Trump who has tried to discredit scientists and doctors, creditable intelligence reports, going back to December of 2019, issued conflicting, contradictory, and completely false statements about the virus. He is now doing his best to undermine the only effective measures outside a vaccine to stop the spread of the virus, even when his administration published a report that if the guidelines were not strictly adhered to, would result in a doubling or tripling of death from COVID19 by this summer.

Unlike Wilson who was so focused on winning the war as well as the peace, Trump is only focused on his power, authority, and self-image, without any concern for how many Americans might die. He has a fantasy that he can make things go back to they way they were a few months ago, and in that world facts, science, and history, have no importance. Nor do human lives. He insists on the testing of anyone near him, and to be tested regularly, inside a tightly sealed location, even as he disparages the importance and efficacy of testing for the general population. When he is exposed to the virus he goes into a volcanic rage that his staff is not doing enough to protect him. I guess he is experiencing what many Americans have felt since March.

A members of ReOpen Maryland wearing a custom face mask listens to a speaker during a road rally procession calling for the re-opening for the state of Maryland amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sailsbury, Maryland, U.S., May 2, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Even so he allows his Attorney General, Bob Barr, to threaten States and cities with lawsuits or penalties that he believes are excessive “draconian” measures to maintain public health and safety. This is nothing but an authoritarian or dictatorial measure. If successful it will forever destroy the separation of powers between the states and the Federal government established by our founders in the Constitution.

I’m sorry, but that is not a leadership trait. It is the trait of a pathologically, narcissistic, sociopath, who has no concern for anyone but himself. No American President has ever behaved in this kind of manner. That being said he is preying on those who believe conspiracy theories. He is stoking their distrust the government, and encouraging them to have less empathy than they already have for other human beings that they believe to be weak, or whose lives are expendable. To use the terms of the Euthanasia proponents of to 1920s and 1930s, and the actions of Hitler’s SS medical and euthanasia experts, such people, the weak, the by the chronically ill or those possibly afflicted with terminal disease, the mentally ill, the elderly, the poor, or anyone else considered to be Life unworthy of life.

The focus of this President is his political survival and it does not matter how many people have to die to revive his personal myth of creating the greatest economy in history. So he has countermanded his own directives, and undercut and discredit the scientists and experts who know how to best deal with a pandemic and it’s human and economic effects,  in order to attempt to recreate a mythical past that any worthwhile scientist, economist, or historian, would not expressly condemn as a myth, fantasy, and ravings of a man who created nothing, and who was a failure in almost every enterprise he undertook. The numerous corporate bankruptcies, the multiple failed marriages, the unfulfilled promises of his campaign and presidency, as well as the tens of thousands of fact checked lies and distortions, that he has told during his campaign and throughout his Presidency bear this out in lurid detail. Dwight Eisenhower noted: “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” It is something that President Trump has never understood.

Now in the middle of the COVID 19 Pandemic, he has ensured that a pandemic which would have killed many people, and harmed the economy regardless of who was serving as President, was made worse by his words and actions. When it was first identified and there was a chance to prepare with a unified whole of government response, he ignored it. He denied it would come to the United States. He minimized it once it arrived. Then he declared himself to be a wartime President, but made unfulfilled promise after promise, and ignored actionable intelligence going back to January, if not before. Likewise, he abandoned responsibilities which are normally those of the Federal government, and pushed them off on the states. It would have been like Franklin Roosevelt telling the governors that fighting the Second World War was their job.

I do not want to sound harsh but I value truth and competence in a public office holder above allegiance to any political party. But the President’s actions have made both the public health and economy more than they should have been.

As of now there have been over 78,000 deaths in the United States and over 1.3 million infections, of which over a million are still active cases. Around 2,000 people are dying per day, and the daily infections are creeping back up to 30,000 a day, even as deaths and infections in New York and New Jersey, for long the epicenter of the virus have sharply declined. At the same time the states most resistant to the non pharmacological interventions, those with massive protests, are starting to increase by large numbers since their state governments started ignoring public health guidelines, and opening up their states to business with limited regard to public health and safety.

As a side note, my wife Judy and I both tested negative to COVID19 following a possible exposure of her that resulted in a fever. I had not symptoms, but since we live together I felt being tested was the right thing to do.  I could not take a chance that We spent the last three days under quarantine waiting for the results, and no matter what we do we always wear masks, social distance, and minimize our public exposure, and take no chances that if we got infected we would not infect anyone else. It’s called being a responsible human being.

By the way the doctor at the clinic where we were tested said the masks that Judy makes are the best that he has seen and probably as effective as an N-95 because of the number of layers of fabric, the removable polypropylene layer, the adjustable nose piece, the adjustable straps and the excellent seal.

But before I close let me talk about masks. They take a while to get used to wearing if you never have worn them before. Some people find them to cause claustrophobia, and some people hyperventilate. The key is to find a comfortable clothe mask that is more than one layer thick that has an adjustable nose piece, and provides a tight seal around your nose and mouth. If you find yourself hyperventilating, calm done and take a few deep breaths. Then when you are wearing it in public make sure that you are wearing it correctly. Make sure you have a good seal and ensure that both you mouth and nose are covered. This serves a twofold purpose, to protect others in case you have the virus, and to protect yourself from getting it. Back in my Army days in Cold War Germany we had to learn to live wearing an M-17A1 protective mask, as well as a protective suit, heavy rubber gloves, and  rubber overshoes to wear over our boots for up to twelve hours at a time. Trust me, none of the cloth protective masks, or medical masks being used today are nearly as claustrophobia inducing as one of them.

If you one of the fools that protests social distancing and wearing masks as attacks on your freedom, including your religious freedom, please don’t call yourself “pro-life.” Your words and actions show that you are not, and that you do not care about the lives of others, especially their right to life, which among the three unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, is first, ahead of liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Likewise, attacking state houses and city halls while assaulting police, while outfitted in body armor, helmets, and carrying assault type weapons, high powered rifles, and semiautomatic handguns with large magazine capacities is not patriotic, but criminal. I have served this country in peace and war for coming up on 39 years, and I don’t see such actions patriotism but terrorism. The interesting thing is that most of these rallies are being led and financed by anti-government White Nationalist, and Neo-Nazi groups who want to start a civil war.

Honestly, when I see politicians, pundits, and preachers trying to push for trying to go back to how things were a few months ago with the virus still rages is beyond me. If they succeed they will ensure that the number of infections and deaths spike higher than previously, and do far more damage to the economy, especially if people ignore the non pharmacological interventions, which are our only defense right now until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed.

Despite this I am not a pessimist or fear monger, but a realist who believes that we can beat this and eventually be better off than we were. Like Winston Churchill in the dark days of the Blitz said to the beleaguered but not defeated British people:

“We shall go forward together. The road upwards is stony. There are upon our journey dark and dangerous valleys through which we have to make and fight our way. But it is sure and certain that if we persevere – and we shall persevere – we shall come through these dark and dangerous valleys into a sunlight broader and more genial and more lasting than mankind has ever known.” 

I wish that President Trump were so inspiring and realistic. We would be better off today had he been more like Churchill, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said during the dark days of the depression with the clouds of war building in Europe and Asia:

“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

In our battle to overcome the novel Coronavirus 19 we must never lose sight of what our fellow citizens suffer in order to simply try to jumpstart an economy that where unemployment has jumped to 14.7%, a number not seen since the Great Depression and where another quarter of negative economic growth will officially confirm we be in another depression. Since neither the Coronavirus or our massive economic problems will not disappear with the waving of a magic wand, we need face the reality as did men like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. We need what we need now from our leaders is the brutal honesty to tell the truth as unpleasant as it may be, who will still inspire us to pull together as Americans, and human being and overcome this scourge, for we are not merely dealing with a pandemic and economic collapse, but every day we see the storm clouds of war gathering around the world.

We need leaders at the Federal, State and local level who are willing to speak truth rather than pleasantries designed to tickle itching ears and in the process avoid scrutiny. When he became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940, Britain and France were facing disaster. Nazi Panzer Divisions had broken through the French lines and were spreading behind the allied lines like a virus without a cure. Churchill told the members of Parliament, the people of Britain, and the world the truth, as unpleasant as it was. He said:

“I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terrors — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival…

I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

That is what we need. We don’t need a man who calls himself a wartime President and then on multiple opportunities denies all responsibility for his actions on multiple occasions. We need leaders at every level who are willing to tell the truth and say, the buck stops here.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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“If I Offended You… I’m not in the least Sorry” The Liberation of Buchenwald at 75

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

During our trip to Germany last year we visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, which as a Major Camp had numerous sub-Camps, including Ohrdruf which Generals George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower visited shortly after its liberation in April 1945. Both went out of their way to describe the horrors they saw.

In our day there are fewer and fewer people who lived through or personal saw or documented the evils of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Likewise, there are a host of Holocaust deniers who produce a plethora of pseudo-scholarly articles claiming to be legitimate historians. Even more frighteningly the rise of apologists for the Nazi regime including those who are active members of allegedly conservative parties in the United States and the European Union is beginning to influence politics. The abject racism, rejection of anyone considered racially inferior, and quite often their unhidden anti-Semitism show that what lies in the dark heart of Naziism is not dead and in fact is rising.

In the United States its rise is being fueled and legitimized by the Presidency of Donald Trump who has referred to American Nazis and White Supremacists as “very good people” after one of their protests where an anti-Nazi demonstrator was murdered and others brutally attacked. In the same time frame a good number of Republican candidates have exposed themselves as White Supremacists and actual Nazis while running for office. A host of new-Nazi and White supremacist organizations openly meet and flood the internet with their race hatred, and it goes unchecked by the Administration and the Justice Department.

The fact is that anyone who denies the Holocaust, attempts to minimize it, or advocates the same policies of race hatred and violence against political, religious, or other opponents is no better than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Likewise, those who stand by and say nothing are worse. As Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The good thing is that there were people who took the time to record what they saw in the Nazi Concentration Camps and exposed those deeds to the world in such a way that only perverted and evil people could brazenly deny those facts.

One of the most detailed descriptions of a liberated Concentration Camp was written by General George Patton in his memoirs entitled War as I Knew It.

… we drove to Ohrdruf and visited the first horror camp any of us had ever seen. It was the most appalling sight imaginable.

A man who said he was one of the former inmates acted as impresario and showed us first the gallows, where men were hanged for attempting to escape. The drop board was about two feet from the ground, and the cord used was piano wire which had an adjustment so that when the man dropped, his toes would just reach the ground and it would take about fifteen minutes for him to choke to death, since the fall was not sufficient to break his neck. The next two men to die had to kick the board out from under him. It was stated by some of the Germans present that the generals who were executed after the Hitler bomb incident were hanged in this manner.

Our guide then took us to the whipping table, which was about the height of the average man’s crotch. The feet were placed in stocks on the ground and the man was pulled over the table, which was slightly hollowed, and held by two guards, while he was beaten across the back and loins. The stick which they said had been used, and which had some blood on it, was bigger than the handle of a pick.

Our guide claimed that he himself had received twenty-five blows with this tool. It later developed that he was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners. General Eisenhower must have suspected it, because he asked the man very pointedly how he could be so fat. He was found dead next morning, killed by some of the inmates.

Just beyond the whipping table there was a pile of forty bodies, more or less naked. All of these had been shot in the back of the head at short range, and the blood was still cooling on the ground.

In a shed near-by was a pile of forty completely naked bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime – not, apparently, for the purpose of destroying them, but to reduce the smell. As a reducer of smell, lime is a very inefficient medium.

The total capacity of the shed looked to me to be about two hundred bodies. It was stated that bodies were left until the shed was full and then they were taken out and buried. The inmates said some three thousand people had been buried from this shed since January 1, 1945.

When our troops began to draw near, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes. They therefore used the inmates to exhume the recently buried bodies and to build a sort of mammoth griddle of 60 cm. railway tracks laid on a brick foundation. The bodies were piled on this and they attempted to burn them. The attempt was a bad failure. Actually, one could not help but think of some gigantic cannibalistic barbecue. In the pit itself were arms and legs and portions of bodies sticking out of the green water which partially filled it.

General Walker and General Middleton had wisely decided to have as many soldiers as possible visit the scene. This gave me the idea of having the inhabitants themselves visit the camp. I suggested this to Walker, and found that he had already had the mayor and his wife take a look at it. On going home those two committed suicide. We later used the same system in having the inhabitants of Weimar go through the even larger slave camp (Buchenwald) north of that town. (Excerpted for G. Patton War as I Knew It)

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote after seeing the camp:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

One of those reporters was Edward R. Murrow who broadcast his visit to Buchenwald:

There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing….

[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.

They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.

As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.

In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts….

We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man’s feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.

I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge….showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We’re very efficient here.”

We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.

I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn’t possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.

But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?

I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words. 

If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry….

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime. The late Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian philosopher and survivor of Auschwitz wrote: “It happened, it can happen again.” 

I will now quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.

That is our reality. There are people, even neighbors and those that we think are friends who would become perpetrators or remain bystanders when those that transgress the way of Trump . I would love to be wrong about this, but I am a historian and a theologian and I know the human condition far too well to sit back and remain silent, no matter what the cost.

I often quote historian Timothy Snyder, but he was all too correct when he wrote these words about three and a half years ago:

The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.

If you don’t believe me read the words of the President, his closest supporters, the prominent political preachers of the Christian Right, and any number of Trump leaning columnists, pundits, and politicians. There are some who are so far gone that they will accuse any opponent of being disloyal, not the the Constitution or the law but to President Trump.

Some of the preachers even blame the Jews for the current Coronavirus 19 pandemic, as well as abortion and pornography. One, a supposed “Christian Pastor” and I use those two words loosely, named Rick Wiles specifically blamed the Jews for controlling abortion and pornography. He said that President Trump wouldn’t take executive action to shut down porn or abortion because his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jarod Kushner are Jews. Earlier in the month he blamed the Jews for Coronavirus as well. I can fault Jarod and Ivanka for much, but being Jews or being responsible for abortion and pornography, my God no. Sadly, there a lot more like Wiles out there.

Others don’t directly blame the Jews, but use other terms coined by the American and German eugenicists in the 1920s, 1930s, and were finally put into action by the Nazis in 1939. These people, often very learned decided that others, particularly the elderly, the chronically sick, the mentally ill, the physically or mentally disabled, “asocials”, babies born with disabilities or illnesses, were not worth keeping alive. Bill O’Reilly, formerly of Fox News described most of the victims of the virus “were on their last legs anyway.”  His words reminded me of the terms of the eugenicists and the Nazi killers, “Life unworthy of life.” 

In 2018, one of those people tried to get my commanding officer to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in which he lied about what I said. I had to spend my money to hire a lawyer to defend me from the false charges and have them dismissed during the preliminary investigation.

No we are living in the middle of a deadly pandemic that has officially killed over 20,000 Americans, infected a half million more, and has a death rate of 41% among resolved cases, that is those who have died or survived the virus. Sadly, that number represents under 10% of the total official number of cases, of which around 481,00o are still active. Within weeks the economy has crashed, and the unemployment rate is over 10%. Mass graves for the dead are being dug in New York.

If the President desired to use them, there are a host of Executive Orders that would give him nearly absolute power. I am sure that his executive centric Attorney General, Bob Barr would no doubt implement in order to secure total power. So far the President has not shown the will to truly wield his executive powers during the current national emergency. For the first time all 50 States are under emergency declarations. I hope that the President resists the urge to listen to people like the Attorney General, or anyone advocating such action.

Trust me, if this happens and we lat it go, our fate will be worse than that of Nazi Germany because we should have known better. We should have learned from Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. We should have learned fro Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, we should have learned from the Nuremberg trials, but we have not.

So with all of that happy commentary I will leave you until tomorrow.

Until then have a good night, and please, never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“We are All Americans” Reflection on Appomattox during The COVID-19 Pandemic

chamberlian gordon appomattox

Joshua Chamberlain Receives the Surrender of John Gordon at Appomattox

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a difficult, tiring, and yet extraordinary week. I have had little sleep, and did all that I could do to be with and among the people I serve. Of course I always wear a high quality face mask when outside the confines of my very isolated cubicle so I can be out and among them. Unfortunately, technology, the unpreparedness of our nation and military for the novel Coronavirus pandemic, and my own medical needs made yesterday very exhausting and frustrating. I haven’t published anything here since 7 April, which is unusual for me, as I seldom miss a day without writing something. Over the past couple of days I have been working on a different article which will be later today or early tomorrow. I just thought that this was more timely.

So now I am publishing a highly edited and revised post about the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia to the Armies commanded by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

That event is something that all Americans should still celebrate today, because it was a moral and patriotic act of surrendering individual agendas for the sake of the Union, reconciliation, and equality. I hope that we can learn from it today.

Until tomorrow or whenever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

One hundred and fifty-five years ago on the 9th and 10th of April 1865, four men, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E. Lee, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Ely Parker, taught succeeding generations of Americans the value of mutual respect and reconciliation.

The four men were all very different. The very thought that they would do so after a bitter and bloody war that had cost the lives of close to three quarters of a million Americans which had left hundreds of thousands others maimed, shattered or without a place to live, and who had seen vast swaths of the country ravaged by war and its attendant plagues is quite remarkable.

The differences in the men, their upbringing, and their views about life seemed to be insurmountable. The Confederate commander, General Robert E. Lee was the epitome of a Southern aristocrat and career army officer.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, like Lee was a West Point graduate and veteran of the War with Mexico, but there the similarities ended. Grant was an officer of humble means who had struggled with alcoholism and failed in his civilian life after he left the army, before returning to it as a volunteer when war began.

Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had been a professor of rhetoric and natural and revealed religion from Bowdoin College until 1862 when he volunteered to serve in the Army against the wishes of his wife. He was one of the heroes of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, who helped exemplify the importance of citizen soldiers, and military professionals in peace and war.

Finally there was Colonel Ely Parker, a full-blooded Seneca Indian.  Parker was professional engineer by trade, but was barred from being an attorney because as a Native American he was never considered an American citizen. At the beginning of the war Parker was rejected from serving in the army for the same reason, but his friend Grant obtained him an officer’s commission and kept him on his staff for the entirety of the war.

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General Ulysses S. Grant

On 5 April 1865 the Confederate line around the fortress of Petersburg was shattered at the battle of Five Forks. To save the last vestiges of his army Lee attempted to withdraw to the west. Within a few days the once magnificent Army of Northern Virginia was trapped near the town of Appomattox. On the morning of April 9th 1865 Lee replied to an entreaty of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant requesting that he and his Army of Northern Virginia be allowed to surrender. Lee wrote to Grant:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 9, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

R.E. LEE, General.

The once mighty Army of Northern Virginia, which had won many victories, but more defeats, and in almost every battle except Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor, lost as a higher percentage of casualties that they could not replace, as compared to their foes in the Army of the Potomac. At its peak strength during the Gettysburg campaign, Lee’s Army numbered nearly 80,000 men, but less than two years later it was now a haggard and emaciated, but still proud force of about 15,000 soldiers. For Lee to continue the war now would mean that they would have to face even more hopeless odds against a vastly superior enemy. Grant recognized this and wrote Lee:

I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be set-tied without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c.,

Since the high water mark at Gettysburg, Lee’s army had been on the defensive. Lee’s ill-fated offensive into Pennsylvania was one of the two climactic events that sealed the doom of the Confederacy. The other was Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, which surrendered to him a day after Pickett’s Charge. That day became known as The Most Glorious Fourth, because the dual defeats coincided with the 87th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But it was Grant’s victory which cut the Confederacy in half, and was the true beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

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General Robert E. Lee

However, those disastrous defeats did not end the war. Lee conducted a bloody and ultimately doomed defensive struggle that lasted through 1864 as Grant bled the Confederates dry during the Overland Campaign, leading to the long siege of Petersburg. Likewise the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman cut a swath through the Deep South, captured Atlanta, the true industrial and economic hub of the Confederacy. Grant forced Lee into a protracted siege at Petersburg, while Sherman cut a swath across Georgia and the Carolinas, capturing Charleston, South Carolina, the ideological heart of the Confederate cause, South Carolina’s Capital of Columbia, and Wilmington, North Carolina, the last of the major Confederate seaports.

With each battle that followed Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia became weaker, and finally after the nine month long siege of Petersburg ended with a Union victory there was little else to do. Lee wanted to continue the war but his beloved shatter shell of an Army was trapped. On the morning of April 9th a final attempt to break through the Union lines by Major General John Gordon’s division was turned back by vastly superior Union forces.

But, two days before, on April 7th Grant wrote a letter to Lee, which began the process of ending the war in Virginia. He wrote:

General R. E. LEE:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General

Lee was hesitant to surrender knowing Grant’s reputation for insisting on unconditional surrender, terms that Lee could not yet bring himself to accept. Lee replied to Grant’s offer with this message:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 7, 1865 Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R.E. LEE, General.

The correspondence continued over the next day even as the Confederates hoped to fight their way out of the trap that they were in. But now Robert E. Lee, who had through his efforts extended the war for at least six months, knew that he could no longer continue. Even so, some of Lee’s younger subordinates wanted to continue the fight. When his artillery chief Porter Alexander recommended that the Army be released he recommended that the soldiers of the Army, “take to the woods and report to their state governors.”

Lee knew that such action would bring about even more death and destruction.

“We have simply now to face the fact that the Confederacy has failed. And as Christian men, Gen. Alexander, you & I have no right to think for one moment of our personal feelings or affairs. We must consider only the effect which our action will have upon the country at large.”

Lee continued:

“Already [the country] is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of their officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live…. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from… You young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Alexander was so humbled at Lee’s reply he later wrote “I was so ashamed of having proposed such a foolish and wild cat scheme that I felt like begging him to forget he had ever heard it.” When Alexander saw the gracious terms of the surrender he was particularly impressed with how non-vindictive the terms were, especially in terms of parole and amnesty for the surrendered soldiers.

Abraham Lincoln had already set the tone for the surrender in his Second Inaugural Address given just over a month before the surrender of Lee’s army. Lincoln closed that speech with these words of reconciliation.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

appomattox surrender

Lee met Grant at the house of Wilmer McLean, who had moved to Appomattox in 1861 after his home near Manassas had been used as a Confederate headquarters and was damaged by artillery fire. Lee was dressed in his finest uniform complete with sash, while Grant was dressed in a mud splattered uniform and overcoat only distinguished from his soldiers by the three stars on his shoulder boards. Grant’s dress uniforms were far to the rear in the baggage trains, and Grant was afraid that his slovenly appearance would insult Lee, but it did not. It was a friendly meeting. Before getting down to business the two reminisced about the Mexican War in which they had both served and first met. At that time Lee was one of the rising stars of the Army, and Grant a mere Lieutenant.

Grant provided his vanquished foe very generous surrender terms:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

When Lee left the building Federal troops began cheering in jubilation, but Grant ordered them to stop. He did not want to personally humiliate Lee anymore than the reality of defeat and surrender already done.  Afterward, Grant felt a sense of melancholy and wrote “I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

In the hours before and after the signing of the surrender documents old friends and West Point classmates, separated by four long years of war gathered on the porch or around the house. Grant and others were gracious to their now defeated friends and the bitterness of war began to melt away. Some Union officers offered money to help their Confederate friends get through the coming months. It was an emotional reunion, especially for the former West Point classmates gathered there.

“It had never been in their hearts to hate the classmates they were fighting. Their lives and affections for one another had been indelibly framed and inextricably intertwined in their academy days. No adversity, war, killing, or political estrangement could undo that. Now, meeting together when the guns were quiet, they yearned to know that they would never hear their thunder or be ordered to take up arms against one another again.”

Grant also ordered that 25,000 rations be transported to the starving Confederate army waiting to surrender. The gesture meant much to the defeated Confederate soldiers who had had little to eat ever since the retreat from Petersburg began.

The surrender itself was accomplished with a recognition that only soldiers who have given the full measure of devotion can know when confronting a defeated and humiliated enemy who before had been their countrymen. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic victor of Little Round Top was directed by Grant to receive the final surrender of the defeated Confederate infantry divisions on the morning of April 12th 1865.

The morning dawned rainy and the beaten Confederates marched to the surrender grounds. As first division in the column, that of John Gordon passed, Chamberlain was so moved by emotion he ordered his soldiers to salute the defeated enemy for whose cause he had no sympathy. Chamberlain honored the defeated Rebel army by bringing his division to present arms.

Gordon, was “riding with heavy spirit and downcast face,” looked up, surveyed the scene, wheeled about on his horse, and “with profound salutation returned the gesture by lowering his saber to the toe of his boot. The Georgian then ordered each following brigade to carry arms as they passed third brigade, “honor answering honor.”

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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Chamberlain was not just a soldier, but before the war had been Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdoin College, and a student of theology before the war. Chamberlain, a citizen soldier could not help to see the significance of the occasion. He understood that some people would criticize him for saluting the surrendered enemy.

However, Chamberlain, unlike others, understood the value of reconciliation, and at his heart was a Christian, and theologian, as well a staunch abolitionist and Unionist, who had nearly died on more than one occasion fighting the defeated Confederate Army. However, unlike many hardline politicians and ideologues, Chamberlain understood that the achievement of equality for all, the freedom, enfranchisement, and integration of African Americans into society, and true Union could be achieved unless the enemies became reconciled to one another. At that point the men of the Army of Northern Virginia knew that they were defeated and at the mercy of those who vanquished them.

Chamberlain noted that his reasons for doing what he did afterward.

“The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

The next day Robert E Lee addressed his soldiers for the last time. Lee’s final order to his loyal troops was published the day after the surrender. It was a gracious letter of thanks to men that had served their beloved commander well in the course of the three years since he assumed command of them outside Richmond in 1862.

General Order
No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. — R. E. Lee, General

Sadly, Lee failed to acknowledge his role in bringing the Confederacy to complete destruction by not telling his Commander in Chief, President Jefferson Davis that the war was lost when Atlanta fell. For all his virtues, he could not overcome his innate racism, and lack of moral courage to confront an arrogant superior that the war could not be won and the Confederacy surrender. Only Lee could have done so, Davis would not listen to anyone else, as no one had Lee’s stature and respect among Southerners. But he did not do that until his army was for all intents and purposes destroyed. If effect he continued to fight when there was no human, or Christian purpose to do so. With the fall of Atlanta he knew that there was no political, economic, diplomatic, or military reason to continue the war, but he did so anyway.

But Appomattox was the beginning of the end of the end. The war had really been lost at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, and was certainly lost when Sherman captured Atlanta and began his march across Georgia, which ensured that the Confederates would have to deal with Abraham Lincoln and not the Northern Peace Democrats or Copperheads, who were willing to let the Confederacy live than to continue a war that was being won on all fronts. Other Confederate forces continued to resist for several weeks, but with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, led by the man that nearly all Southerners saw as the embodiment of their nation the war was effectively over.

Lee had fought hard and after the war was still under the charge of treason, but he understood the significance of defeat and the necessity of moving forward as one nation. In August 1865 Lee wrote to the trustees of Washington College of which he was now President:

“I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid the restoration of peace and harmony… It is particularly incumbent upon those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.

Unfortunately, by that time, despite his remaining prejudice and failure to acknowledge the evil of the cause for which he had fought, offered words which should have been heeded by every man and woman in the former Confederacy.

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Brigadier General Ely Parker

Lee’s words, do offer a lesson for all of us in our terribly divided land need to learn regardless of or political affiliation or ideology in the midst of a global pandemic that pays no respect to the lives of anyone, that knows no border, race, creed, nation, or religion.

After he had signed the surrender document, Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp Colonel Ely Parker, was a full-blooded Seneca Indian. He stared at Parker’s dark features and said: “It is good to have one real American here.”

Parker, a man whose people had known the brutality of the White man, as well as a man who was not considered a citizen and would never gain the right to vote in his lifetime, replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.”

That afternoon Parker would receive a commission as a Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, making him the first Native American to hold that rank in the United States Army. He would later be made a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

I don’t know what Lee thought of that. His reaction is not recorded and he never wrote about it after the war, but it might have been in some way led to Lee’s letter to the trustees of Washington College. I think with our land so divided, ands that is time again that we learn the lessons so evidenced in the actions and words of Ely Parker, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain, for we are all Americans.

Sadly, I think that there is a portion of the American population who will not heed these words and will continue to agitate for policies and laws similar to those that led to the Civil War, and which those that could not reconcile defeat, and almost immediately put into place laws that made newly freed slaves, into slaves by another name again during the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. For me such behavior and attitudes are incompressible, but they are all too real, and all too present in our divided nation.

But I still maintain hope that in spite of everything that divides us, in spite of the intolerance and hatred of some, that we can overcome. I think that the magnanimity of Grant in victory, the humility of Lee in defeat, the graciousness of Chamberlain in honoring the defeated foe, and the stark bluntness of Parker, the Native American, in reminding Lee, that “we are all Americans,” is something that is worth remembering, and yes, even emulating today.

But even more so we need to remember the words of the only man whose DNA and genealogy did not make him a European transplant, the man who Lee refereed to as the only true American at Appomattox, General Ely Parker, the Native American who fought for a nation that not acknowledge him as a citizen until long after he was dead.

In the perverted, unrequited racist age of President Donald Trump we have to stop the bullshit, and take to heart the words of Ely Parker. “We are all Americans.” If we don’t get that there is no hope for our country. No amount of military or economic might can save us if we cannot understand Parker’s words, or the words of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” Really, it does not matter if our relatives were second sons of European Gentry, religious dissidents, refugees of repressive regimes, African Slaves, Asians seeking a new life in a new country, or Mexican citizens who turned on their own country to become citizens of a new Republic, men like Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican governor of El Norte and one of the First U.S. Senators from California.

Let us never forget Ely Parker’ words at Appomattox, “We are all Americans.”

Sadly, there are not just more than a few Americans, and many with no familial or other connection to the Confederacy and the South than deeply held racism who would rather see another bloody civil war because they hate the equality of Blacks, Women, immigrants, and LGBTQ Americans more than they love the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

That is why Parker’s words to Lee still matter so much and why we must never give up the fight for equality for all Americans. Likewise, whether one likes it or not, Robert E. Lee broke his sacred oath to the Constitution as a commissioned officer, and refused to free the slaves entrusted to his care by his Father in Law in 1859, who also refused to support his Confederate President’s plan to emancipate and free African American slaves who were willing to fight for the Confederacy until February 1865.

Lee the Myth is still greater than Lee the man in much of this country. Lee the man is responsible for the deaths for more Americans than the leaders of Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, or any other foreign power. He even cast aside such loyalists as George Pickett, whose division he destroyed in a suicidal attack at Gettysburg on July 3rd 1863, and then continued to damn Pickett for mistakes which were his own until the end of the war.

Both sides of my family fought for the Confederacy as officers and members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry. Most reconciled, but others didn’t, including the patriarch of my paternal side of the family. His decision ended up costing the family millions of dollars in the following years. The maternal side was smart enough to reconcile after the war and to later engage in the profoundly libertarian practice of bootlegging until the end of prohibition. I don’t know if any members of either side of my family were KKK supporters, but if they were I wouldn’t be surprised.  They lost almost all they had during the war by fighting on the wrong side and when their rebellion ended in defeat many refused to reconcile with the United States, or head the words of Robert E. Lee, and they deserved it.

But, despite his words Robert E. Lee refused to completely admit his crime of treason. He used the language of reconciliation without fully embracing it.

So for me April 9th is very personal. I have served my country for nearly 38 and a half years, and in the midst of a pandemic I continue to serve while wondering if the grim necessity of the times keep me from retiring.

That being said, I cannot abide men and women who treat the men and women that I have served with in the defense of this county as less than human or fully entitled to the rights that are mine, more to my birth and race than today than any of my inherent talents or abilities. That includes my ancestors who fought for the Confederacy on both sides of my family. Ancestors or not, they were traitors to everything that I believe in and hold dear.

As for me, principles and equality trump all forms of racism, racist ideology, and injustice, even when the President himself advocates for them. I am a Union man, despite my Southern ancestry, and I will support the rights of people my ancestors would never support, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, LTBTQ, and other racial, religious, or gender minorities.

So I am a Unionist and a continuing abolitionist when it comes to protecting and advancing the rights of those whose rights continue to be trumped by prejudice. So I am a supporter of Equal rights for African Americans, immigrants of all races, nationalities, and religions. Likewise, I am a women’s rights advocate, including their reproductive rights, and a supporter of LGBTQ people and their rights, most of which are opposed by the Evangelical Christians who I grew up with. I also will not hesitate to criticize the elected President of the United States when he pisses on the preface of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and attacks the bedrock principles of the Bill of Rights.

How can I be silent? I know that I cannot be a bystander, Even when in the midst of a pandemic these same people are not only being victimized by the Coronavirus pandemic, but by the government that should be doing it can to protect and defend the lives and livelihoods of all of us, citizens, those on the way to citizenship, or those who simply hope and long to be free by leaving their homelands to become truly free.

So I will stand fast on this anniversary of Appomattox and echo the words of Eli Parker to all, no-matter their status or unforgiving ideology that stand against them:  “Sir, we are all Americans.” Such people, who represent the most extreme and ideological pillars of the political Right and Left, may not understand this, but I certainly do.

The failure to work towards reconciliation and equality on both sides of the ideological spectrum will doom us all, and destroy the Republic and the ideals that were planted in the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, the XIII, XIV, XV, and XIX Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the end of DOMA, and the yesterday to be ratified Women’s Rights Act. The reversal of any of these achievements places us on a trail that only leads to an imperfect and imagined past which is often overplayed with myth and ideology to create a nation where diversity is the enemy, where race and religion matter more than the simple understanding that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” 

 

 

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Nothing Seemed Simple Anymore: COVID 19 and How it Will Change our Lives

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Her words are as true as when she wrote the in her book The Guns of August, published over a half century ago. The fact is, that historically speaking all that we thought true about the world we live in has been changed in a historical nanosecond. Walter Lord, one of my favorite narrative historians wrote in his book The Good Years 1900-1914:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

That being said, yesterday was a good but exhausting day. The CDC and the military, including the Navy, came to their senses over the weekend and decided to recommend that all Americans were face masks to prevent more infections from the novel Coronavirus 19. They decided that as a minimum that even improvised masks could reduce the spread of the virus, even though the masks might not be fully effective. However, I was recommending that to my chain of command every time that I could over the past month, only to be told that the Navy was following CDC guidelines.

I have served as an ICU and ER Chaplain during two pandemics and I have to say that some protection, any protection, is better than none. So I went to work yesterday with the mask that Judy made for me and began my walk-about ministry for the the day. it is amazing how serious most people are taking things now versus a week or two ago. I guess we are finally waking up to the fact that the novel Coronavirus 19 is like nothing we have dealt with in our lifetimes, and it is changing the world that we live in before our very eyes. What we thought was true just a few weeks ago, and our supposed invulnerability to disaster or disease, has been shattered.

I lost count of the number of people I spent time with and checked on throughout the day. Tomorrow I will do more of the same with other across the shipyard. One of my jobs as a Chaplain is to help advise the Commander and other leaders of the pulse of the command, without breaking anyone’s confidentiality. I can say that morale among our sailors and civilian workers is pretty good, although there is a lot of anxiety about the COVID 19 pandemic, and all the economic, social, and family impacts that it is causing.

The fact is that people matter. I will do video, phone, email, or other types of non-face to face ministry, in fact I advertise that fact, but where I really belong is doing face to face ministry, within the confines of social distancing, with my face mask and gloves on, is walking, listening, talking, caring, sharing, and praying for our people. My God, the burdens that they are carrying are immense, as I am sure that yours are at this time.

Thankfully, where I work, we have a caring chain of command, and I am blessed to be serving where I am now. Not everyone can say that about their workplace, military or civilian. Our people, military and civilian alike make me proud, and it is an honor to serve them in a time of crisis. A longtime friend, and reader of my writings here had misunderstood some things I said. He wrote me a long and thoughtful private email. I have known him since I was a sophomore in high school, and his dad, a pastor played an important part in my life and ministry, until he unexpectedly died on an operating table at the hospital where he served as a chaplain.

Instead of being offended I took the time to write my friend back, to both thank him for his thoughts, express my continued thoughts and appreciation of him, and let him know that he and his family were never out of my prayers. I then took the time to explain things in my life that led me to where and who I am today, that he might have misinterpreted. He replied, that my explanation really helped understand why I write the way that I do, and he said, “it looks like all that you have been through before have been preparing you for today.”  I agree with that assessment, without all the things that I have been through, experienced, learned, and sometimes painfully grown from, all have helped prepare me for today.

Let’s face it, it is really hard to completely convey one’s story unless you occasionally share a meal, visit, or drink together. The virtual world of blogs, social media, texts, and instant messaging is helpful, but it is not the same as sitting alongside one another. This my preference, despite being an extreme introvert, to push out where my people are, and yes, social distancing is painful, but unfortunately necessary right now, but within the guidelines I still push myself out, when all the other institutional caregivers switch to non-face to face mediums. I do use them, but as a back up to face to face, mask and gloves, observing proper social distance visits to the places where my people work.

So with that being said I must lay down my head, say a few prayers and read myself to sleep with our oldest dog surprisingly snuggled at my feet.

Until tomorrow, stay safe and be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders in the Age of COVID-19

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are now living in an age where established norms of civilized peoples have been turned upside down and inside out. This is due to combination of events, some that I mentioned in my last post. however, the most troubling that I see is for people in positions of power where they could actually do good to mitigate our losses in the novel Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, either directly contribute to its spread, or turn their backs knowing what is happening. Holocaust Historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

But here we are again with that choice. Like the Holocaust it comes down to the question of who lives and who dies. But unlike the Holocaust where those decisions were made by people who killed their carefully selected  victims by bullets, gas, medical experiments, euthanasia, or who worked and starved them to death, we are brought to this point by the lack of preparation and callous indifference to the disease when it had a chance to be stopped, slowed, or brought under control until a vaccination or an effective treatment can be found. Now, doctors and nurses, themselves potential victims because they do not have adequate personal protective equipment, will have to make choices about who lives and who dies because they do not have enough ICU beds and ventilators to treat everyone. Last week I wrote  about the coming combat mass casualty triage that many hospitals will have to implement in the coming days and weeks. To those who have not seen combat, been in mass casualty situations, or really their history, the decisions will seem cruel, and maybe even unjust, but that is the reality that we are soon to face here.

Honestly I don’t see the doctors and nurses who have to make such decisions as perpetrators, as they too are being infected and dying. They are also victims, as are the infected and dying. The real perpetrators are those that allowed this virus to spread, who denied it being a threat, minimized the threat, those who delayed acting, and those who have profited by it are the perpetrators.

The rest of us have a choice. We can take the side of and do everything we can to help the victims, or we can join the list of perpetrators by perpetuating their lies and crimes, or be bystanders who turn a blind eye to what is happening, neither taking a stand for or against what is happening. Sophie Scholl who lost her life at the age of 22 by writing the truth about the evils of the Nazi regime wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I haven’t mentioned the numbers lately. They started to remind me of the nightly casualty counts that were shown like baseball box scores on the nightly national news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC. Sadly, every one of these numbers is a real person. The infected and dead are of all races, religions, genders, rich and poor, good and bad alike.

So I ask that when you read them to remember that, each one a real person with hopes and dreams, either ended or put on indefinitely by the virus. Then there is the ripple effects, all the family members, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues left behind. There are now holes in lives of people who have lost loved ones or friends, that cannot  be filled by pious talk, blaming others, or by saying that this is God’s will or judgement.

Each of these people, the infected, the dead, and even those who recover bear the physical, emotional, and spiritual know the feeling of the God forsaken, as do those who knew them, loved them, and suffered with them. Forgive the intrusion of faith here, but for me it is the image of Jesus the Christ, hanging on a cross, forgiving a thief, comforting his mother, can crying out to his God and Father in defense of those killing him, “forgive them they know not what they do.” But then there were the bystanders who just sat back and watched, whose inaction be it from their agreement to what was occurring or fear of speaking out allowed them to do nothing. Elie Wiesel wrote “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” 

So here are today’s latest numbers. Worldwide the toll stands at 1,261,095 infections, 68,468 deaths, and 260,032 recoveries. A death rate that is now up to 21% based on the resolved cases, be they recovered or dead. Of the 932,595 active cases we have no idea as to how their cases will resolve. Hopefully the numbers of recoveries against deaths in these cases will begin to lower the death rate number. However, we cannot know that number until the cases are resolved, but the death rate among resolved cases has climbed from the 14%-15% rate to 20-21% in about ten days worldwide.

But in the United States, for once we are now leading the world in terms of the number of infections, despite the fact that our intelligence agencies wanted the President as early as mid January of what was coming. The President, denied, delayed, dithered, and dispersed the blame to everyone but himself until he saw the stock markets tank.

So with that being said let us talk about the United States and how many people are infected, died or recovered here. In the Good Ol’ USA, which if we remember the words of our President had become  great again under his personal leadership, there are now 331,285 total cases, 9,479 deaths, and 17,091 recoveries from the virus. That is a 36% death rate. That rate among the resolved cases has remained constant between 35-40% over the last week and a half. additionally we have only tested 1,751,296 people, and thousands of they tests have not been processed because the laboratory system is overwhelmed.  But the number of Americans tested is just slightly over one half of one percent of the Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimate of 329,450,000. So we cannot be sure of how many people have been exposed to, infected by, recovered, or died of the disease.

Likewise we now lead the world in total infections, our deaths only trail those of Spain and France. We’re number three, can I get a cheer for that? I doubt it because within a week at the most we will also lead the world in deaths. So let’s hear that chant of USA! USA! USA! And We’re number One!”  Can I get an Amen brothers and sisters? I hate to sound flippant and sarcastic at such a time, but with so many people ignoring social distancing and doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus, including pastors who flaunt their state laws and Federal recommendations and continue to gather, or Florida’s Governor Rick DeSantis who reopened his states beaches barely two days after he closed them, how can I not be somewhat sarcastic and flippant? It’s gallows humor. These people are going to spread the virus or contract it themselves. The data shows that each infected person spreads the virus to an average of 2 to 3 other people. Do these people want others to become infected, or spread the virus to their friends and families, or do they have some kind of death wish?

I’m sorry, but those are rhetorical questions No sane person would want that to be the case, unless they are brainwashed cult members, apocalyptic Christians, or sociopaths who only want the worst for others in order to achieve their own salvation or annihilation. You cannot be too sure about religious ideologues, some of them get a kick of thinking that they will be martyrs for their cause, even if that cause were a lie. Just ask the 9-11 hijackers, but they are all dead. Ideologues, religious or otherwise who seek to kill people and then want the honor of martyrdom are simply narcissistic sociopaths who could care less about the death they inflict and the subsequent consequences, because it is really all about them.

But the President was not alone in first dismissing the virus or the impact that it would have. It appears that China’s President Xi did the same thing, as did Russia’s President Putin, and many other world leaders. No matter who they are or what country they lead, if they denied, delayed, or otherwise left their people unprotected in the face of this virus they are the perpetrators. Especially leaders that ignored the warnings of their medical and scientific advisors and urged people to go back to work as if things were still normal and the virus couldn’t kill them. Admittedly, their is a scale of culpability in this, early on many nations said that they were not like China, or then like Italy. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, but the sooner a nation and it’s leaders got over denial, the sooner they began to actually take action to protect the lives of their people.

Likewise so so called religious leaders who encourage the ignorant sheep in close proximity of each other fully realizing that some or many could be contagious, supposedly in the name of religious freedom, but more to gather their cults and collect their money as for profit prophets, promoting imaginary cures based on supposed secret “words from God” or miracle cures that can be purchased, and providing you have faith will work. They and others like them are the perpetrators.

But that leaves the rest of us. Will we speak? Or will we for whatever reasons, as logical as they may seem to be we have a choice of what we will do.

But then there are the heroes who save lives and are punished for doing so. One of them is Captain Brett Crozier, the Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, tried to inform his chain of command of an large outbreak of COVID-19 on his ship that was threatening to overwhelm the capacities of his medical department. He did not get a satisfactory answer so he blasted out an email to many Navy officials, which was leaked by someone and published by the San Francisco Chronicle. But his email got attention, and he was allowed to take the ship to Guam, where he was able to begin transferring infected sailors off the ship and arranged to have the rest of the crew tested, and placed in safe quarters.

He was also bound by the DOD’s decision to follow CDC guidelines and not to have his crew wear Personal Protective Equipment if they were not medical personnel, or already infected and showing symptoms. That CDC guidance was finally changed Friday, and I just received a text saying we were now allowed and encouraged to wear cloth masks. Thankfully, during this period many of our workers were teleworking or on paid administrative leave due to they or their family members are in high risk groups for contracting the virus. Commanders of ships at sea didn’t get that opportunity.

The strange thing to me is that multiple Naval Commanding  Officers whose negligence, lack of adherence to Naval Regulations, or concern for the welfare of their crews and safety of their ships enjoyed the benefit of a full hearing by experienced Naval Officers before they were relieved of their commands. This did not occur with Captain Crozier, who was relieved by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly against the advice of the Chief of Naval Operations. Modly has noted that he understood and admitted that President Trump, a man who fired Modly’s predecessor Richard Spencer who publicly stated that the President’s defense and pardoning of convicted war criminals harmed good order and discipline in the Armed Forces, wanted to fire Captain Crozier, despite the fact that he protected his ship and crew. However, against the advice of the Chief of Naval Operation and other senior Naval officers, Mr. Modly relieved Captain Crozier before such a board of inquiry could be convened, which meant that there is no chance of one occurring now, except as a means to decide if he should be prosecuted for his actions.

Of course any such board would have probably affirmed Captain Crozier’s actions, unlike the Commanding officers of other ships who covered up their ship’s training, manning, and technical or mechanical deficiencies and who by doing so sacrificed the lives of their sailors, and grave and costly damage to their ship which rendered those ships non mission capable for more than a year each. Despite the lies being presented by the President aided by his media and political apologists, Captain Crozier exhibited the finest of Naval tradition in protecting his ship and crew, and boldly risked his career for the defense of his crew and the nation. And it appears that he too has contracted COVID-19 and may be prosecuted for his actions. In this case it appears to me that the Navy’s justice system has been turned inside out and upside down.

So I must make a judgment. Captain Crozier acted in the best interests of his ship, sailors, the Naval tradition, sore values, and truth. In doing so he was afforded less justice then men whose lack of concern for their ships, crews, and the nation were given. Likewise, though his actions saved lives, and will result in the ship and crew being fully mission capable with a few weeks. Yet he was given less respect or protection for his actions, by the President has in pardoning convicted war criminals.

But as a veteran of over 38 years of military service, in peace and war,  I have to admit that I am ashamed of our political, military, and moral leadership which would pardon war criminals, give full hearings to men whose actions led to deaths of their crew members and long term costly repairs to their ships, before relieving them, who then condone and defend their actions against Captain Crozier whose real offense was trying to save his crew. He is a victim of both the disease, and the Navy leadership, who have become perpetrators of injustice.

Captain Crozier was denied a fair hearing, and and condemned because the President wanted it to happen. That my friends, as an officer whose oath is to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and not the actions of any a political party or President, demands that my honor is based on defending the Constitution, and at the same time knowing that it is not my career that is sacred, but the honor and reputation of the nation in upholding our laws, Constitution, and institutions of the nation, against usurpers who  only seek to expand their power and gratification at the expense of the United States, and its citizens, even using the police and military power of the state against them to do so, I have to make a stand for truth, and like General Ludwig Beck who resigned his position as Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht in defiance of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, and who lost his life in Operation Valkyrie in 1944, I have to state like Beck:

“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.”

For me, my friends, that is the heart of the matter. This is about the public health and the welfare of my neighbor, not about me. If any order is issued in contradiction  to the  the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of  Rights, the U.S.Constitution, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice,  I must raise my voice against it, and as a matter of honor defend those accused  of breaking them. How can a man with any sense of honor not due so?

We all have a choice. Will we be a perpetrator, victim, or bystander during this crisis? I cannot be a bystander, I cannot be silent. I have to echo and proclaim the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

So until after that tomorrow  and I wish you all the best, and please be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The COVID-19 Tsunami is Here and The Pro-Life is Exposed as Profit over People

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The disaster that few prepared for, including our President despite having verified and validated evidence of it in January is here. Back then we were given a moment in time to prepare, something that people that experience tsunamis ever get. An administration in denial dismissed evidence that could have mitigated the novel Coronavirus and minimized the number killed by it. I will not go through the litany of deception and false claims that he made made, and the actions of his administration in giving away tons of vitality needed Personal Protective Equipment  from our national stockpile, to China. PPE that our doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are crying out for because they are having to reuse or use makeshift gear to treat the victims of the novel Coronavirus. 

Back in January there were only a few cases, which the President said would soon disappear along with the virus, and the President’s “band played on,” to borrow words the late Randy Shilts in his monumental volume about the initial response of the Reagan Administration to the AIDS pandemic. However, despite the warning the President played politics by minimizing the threat, and later bragging about how he has responded to it, constantly upstaging, and contradicting the experts of the CDC including Drs. Fauci and Brix, while ignoring the rising infection rate and death toll until it became a political liability. When that happened he and is enablers, supporters, and propaganda network, you know them well Fox News began to deflect the blame to the Democrats, the impeachment hearings and Senate trial, the Chinese, the media, and anyone else for his multiple failures when simply listening to experts and being honest with the American people would have been far better. In fact he took his impeachment trial and COVID-19 so cavalierly that he kept having campaign rallies beating his chest, demonizing his opponents, bragging on himself, and exposing his followers to to a deadly virus in massed rallies who God knows how many were exposed to satiate his vanity. That is the mark of a true sociopath, he doesn’t even care about his supporters. Think about that.

Just 24 days ago, on 8 March, the United States reported 541 infections and 22 deaths. By March 18th there were 9,259 cases and 150 deaths. Four days later we were at 46,182 cases and 582 deaths, a death rate of 66%, well over the worldwide percentage. Two days later we were over 66,000 infections and over 1,000 deaths. Now we lead the world in number of infections, as infections and deaths are spiking, and the healthcare system is being overwhelmed without enough resources to care for the victims or protect their caregivers. In two and a half months we went from a barely noticeable situation, unless you pay attention to potential pandemics. But in 24 days we went from a noticeable wave to a tsunami of infection and death, not to mention economic carnage, and worldwide instability. But, instead of doing what almost all of his 44 predecessors did, President Trump declared “I don’t take responsibility for anything.” Forget President Harry Truman who declared “the Buck stops here,” or any other President, this President denies any blame for anything regardless of how serious it is. But that is his history: draft dodging, divorces, affairs, corporate bankruptcies and failures, leaving employees, contractors, and now the American people in the lurch to protect himself.

As of now the United States has 215,300 of the world’s 936,204 infections, or 23% of the world total. That is a 338% increase since 8 March. Our death rate since 8 March has gone up by 223%. By the way we have the unfortunate distinction of having the most infections or any country in the world. But wait, there’s more. Of the 47,249 deaths we went from 3,ooo to over 5,000  deaths in 48 hours. Our death toll is now 5,110, or 11% or the worldwide death total, and supposedly we have the best medical system in the world.

But that is not the case. Public health ranks at the bottom of our priorities. Expensive specialty procedures and interventions are at the top, not to include medical procedures performed simply for our vanity and good looks. Preparation for pandemics and disasters  is also low, because our medical system is profit based predicated on what insurance companies will pay for, if an American is fortunate enough to have medical insurance. The fact is that our private and even public hospitals operate with very little surge capacity, because it takes profits down. ICU beds, ventilators, and the highly trained staff need to man them are expensive. Insurance companies don’t like to pay those costs, nor do hospitals and medical systems. For the corporations, profit takes priority over people, even when the doctors, nurses, and other staff are committed to life and the Hippocratic Oath.

As of today that number is far lower than it was a week ago, as failing businesses end their COBRA policies, and then fire their workers. It looks great on a corporate balance sheet but it fucks all of their employees, especially those who devoted their lives and careers to those corporations, while the Trump Administration refuses to let the millions of people impacted by this to purchase health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. The President rejected that today, it is quite obvious that he would rather destroy the lives of people than to save them and then claim victory despite the loss of 100,00-240,000 people or more. Those are not the actions of a man who stands for the sanctity of life, but rather a sociopath willing to sacrifice lives to keep power.

The cruelty of profit over life exposes that our real civil religion and morality is not life, but profit. As a historian and scholar of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, I have to ask when palliative care transitions to euthanasia, and those deemed life unworthy of life, are euthanized by the people who supposedly there to care for them and protect the sanctity of their lives. As this cris continues, and the Trump Administration remains in change that such a decision will be made, not to protect the sanctity of life, but to enhance corporate profits, and political power, regardless of the human cost.

It is late and I am tired, but as of now of those whose cases were resolved by death and recoveries, 36% resulted in death. The worldwide death rate has gone up to 20%, up from 16% at the end of last week.

I believe in God, faith and prayer, but without the actions of responsible human beings in leadership positions, elected, appointed, or commissioned, we are headed to a human, economic, sociological, and eventually war based solution, regardless of whatever nation starts it,

So until tomorrow I wish you all the best. Please be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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