Category Archives: nazi germany

Humanizing Inhuman Humanity

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the movie Judgement at Nuremberg, Spencer Tracy’s character makes tis comment:

“If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe…”

This is true, and why I am continuing what I wrote yesterday today.

Yesterday I wrote about the dangers of ignoring what evils that people are capable of committing or standing by and let happen. For me it was a painful article to write as a historian and ethicist who knows history and can see the same kinds of attitudes that allowed the commission of vast and heinous crimes that beggar the imagination, being posted on social media, on blogs, and by political and religious leaders on a daily basis.

But I am sure that many if not most people seldom give what is happening a second look. Even people who read about the crimes of the Nazis, Stalin, or other genocidal regimes find the perpetrators to be beyond understanding, as if they were monsters, or had no human character. In a way that is comforting, because if they were somehow not like us, then we could never become like them.

But if we are to understand what happened Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, or any other place where mass murder and genocide were a daily occurrence, where dissenters, political opponents, and minorities were whisked off to prison, concentration camps, and gulags in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard from again; we must understand the perpetrators as well as the bystanders who allowed things to happen.

If we fail to do this, if we yield to the temptation to deny the humanity of the perpetrators, to deny that they were human and had access to ethics and morality as we do is to as Timothy Snyder says, “is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history.”

Snyder argues that “To dismiss the Nazis or the Soviets as beyond human concern or historical understanding is to fall into their moral trap. The safer route is to realize that their motives for mass killing, however revolting to us, made sense to them…” They had a faith in their leaders or their ideology, they were devoted to their cause. In the case of the Germans, their “devotion and faith did not make them good…, but they do make them human, Like everyone else, they had access to ethical thinking, even if their own was dreadfully misguided.”

The danger that we face today is that when people in our country speak in the language of the Nazis or other totalitarians, when we see the acts committed against religious, ethnic and other minorities, when we hear the language of genocide being used, we tend to treat those doing such things as barbarians or animals, and not human beings like us, and we rob them of their humanity. If we do this we help set the conditions for what happened under Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and in so many other places to happen again.

Holocaust Historian Yehuda Bauer noted:

“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.” 

Until Tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under ethics, History, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The World’s Guilt: The Flaw in Character that Allows us to Look the Other Way

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

rolfe

Today just a short follow up to my last few posts about the Holocaust and the other crimes of the Nazi state. A couple of those dealt with the film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film is profoundly disturbing when one looks at the time that we live. This is one of the more disturbing sections because in it, Maximillian Schell who played Hans Rolfe, the defense counsel for Burt Lancaster.

His summation of the defense following his client’s admission of guilt is damning. It is something that when we, and by we I mean people around the world, look at the atrocities of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, the willful starvation of millions by criminal regimes; and then stand by saying little or nothing and doing nothing, sometimes even supporting the regimes that commit these actions.

Please, no matter what your political point of view, take the time to watch the film, and read the transcript of Schell’s speech below:

“Your Honor, it is my duty to defend Ernst Janning, and yet Ernst Janning has said he is guilty. There’s no doubt, he feels his guilt. He made a great error in going along with the Nazi movement, hoping it would be good for his country. But, if he is to be found guilty, there are others who also went along, who also must be found guilty. Ernst Janning said, “We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Why did we succeed, Your Honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcast all over the world? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf, published in every corner of the world? Where’s the responsibility of the Soviet Union, who signed in 1939 the pact with Hitler, enabled him to make war? Are we not to find Russia guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the Vatican, who signed in 1933 the Concordat with Hitler, giving him his first tremendous prestige? Are we not to find the Vatican guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the world leader, Winston Churchill, who said in an open letter to the London Times in 1938 – 1938! Your Honor – “were England to suffer national disaster should pray to God to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler!” Are we not to find Winston Churchill guilty? Where is the responsibility of those American industrialists, who helped Hitler to rebuild his armaments and profited by that rebuilding? Are we not to find the American industrialists guilty? No, Your Honor. No! Germany alone is not guilty: The whole world is as responsible for Hitler’s Germany. It is an easy thing to condemn one man in the dock. It is easy to condemn the German people to speak of the basic flaw in the German character that allowed Hitler to rise to power and at the same time positively ignore the basic flaw of character that made the Russians sign pacts with him, Winston Churchill praise him, American industrialists profit by him! Ernst Janning said he is guilty. If he is, Ernst Janning’s guilt is the world’s guilt – no more and no less.”

Sadly, little has changed in the character of humanity. If we do or say nothing, if we support those who do such things, if we close our eyes and pretend that it is not our problem, then we are the guilty party.  As Hannah Arendt wrote: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under ethics, film, Foreign Policy, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Holocaust Remembrance 2017: “Most evil is done by People who never make up their minds to be Good or Evil”

1483285_10152114931522059_1612934841_n

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I normally don’t post twice in a day but this I thought was important, for I believe that we are at a point in world history where the not so distant specter of a horrifying past is is rising before our eyes and all too many people cannot see it.

Friday, January 27th 2017 was Holocaust Remembrance Day. On that day seventy-two years ago the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the centerpiece of the Nazi Death Camp machine. To be sure, in his panic to save his neck, in late 1944 Heinrich Himmler had begun to switch from his tactic of extermination to using the Jews as bargaining chips., but by then most of the Jews under Nazi control were dead. Those that remained, emaciated and dying by the thousands to starvation, and unchecked disease, as they were marched in ghastly conditions to camps deeper inside Nazi controlled areas.

On Friday two things happened in the United States that caused me to shake my head and wonder if we are becoming a place that will turn its eyes away from current atrocities, genocide, ethnic and religious cleansing, and walk away. President Trump issued a proclamation to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, a statement that did not mention the Jews. How one remembers the Holocaust without mentioning the Jews is beyond me, but some of the President’s closest advisers, including Steve Bannon, are closely connected to the self-proclaimed Alt-Right, a movement of white supremacists and neo-Nazis looking for respectability. The second thing the President did was to issue an Executive Order halting the immigration of refugees from certain Muslim majority countries, and to cap the number entering. I’m not going to go into details about that but it is not the first time that the United States stopped refugees from entering the country on national security grounds, as in the 1930s and 1940s one of the reasons used to keep German Jewish refugees out of the country was exactly that, they might be Nazi spies and saboteurs, but I digress…

However, this is a day that we should never forget. The horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime, all in the name of “race purity” and the extermination of the Jews and others deemed by the Nazis to be “sub-human” or untermenschen is something that is hard for most to imagine. Last year about this time I finished reading Bettina Stangneth’s book, Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer. While I am very well informed and educated on the lives, writings, actions, and statements of many of the Nazi war criminals, this new book on Eichmann is the most troubling that I have ever read. In particular it is the accounts of his writings and interviews with other pro-Nazi, or former Nazis in Argentina, particularly the Sassen Interviews, which span hundreds of hours of tape and thousands of pages of transcripts.

I am a Christian, a gentile, and a historian, as well as a thirty-five year military who served alongside our advisors and the Iraqis who fought alongside of us. I have lived in Germany, read, speak and write German and have many friends in that country, including members of the German military, retired and active duty.  My study and association with Holocaust survivors goes back to my college days at California State University Northridge when as an undergraduate history major I spent much of my time studying Germany from the first unification and the Kaiser Reich, the First World War, Versailles, Weimar and the Hitler Regime. My professor, Dr. Helmut Heussler, whose family left Germany in the late 1920s, served in the U.S. Army in World War II and was an interrogator at Nuremberg. I took a number of classes from Dr. Heussler, including Hitler’s Germany and the Holocaust. In the latter I had the chance to meet Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein, who was later played by Leonard Nimoy in the TV movie Never Forget. 

Since my college days I have continued to read and study, and to get a second Masters Degree in History in which much of my work dealt with the Nazi regime. I have visited the sites of former concentration camps including Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I have been to the sites of the Nazi Party rallies in Nuremberg, as well as to the courtroom where the Nuremberg Trails were conducted. One day, God willing I will get to Auschwitz.

The Nazis had begun their persecution of the Jews shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. Later in the year the Enabling Act gave Hitler and his henchmen the legal means to begin their persecution of the Jews and others. These were followed by the Nuremberg Laws and other laws that targeted the Jews. Persecution increased throughout the 1930s, and sadly most countries refused to accommodate increased Jewish immigration. Then came Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, when on 9-10 November 1938, a series of orchestrated attacks on Jewish businesses, Synagogues, institutions and individuals. On that night close to 200 synagogues, 7000 Jewish businesses and 29 major department stores were destroyed or damaged. Over 30,000 Jews, mostly men, were arrested and sent to concentration camps, 91 people were killed outright, and several thousand died in the aftermath.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

When the Nazis invaded Poland, its Jews were rounded up and placed into ghettos where many died of starvation and abuse even before the ghettos were liquidated and the people who lived in them were deported to the extermination camps. In 1941 as the German military seemed to be assured of victory in the Soviet Union the Nazis decided to exterminate the Jews of Europe. In the Soviet Union four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. Over a million and a half Soviet Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei battalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units.

At the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 the specifics of the “Final Solution” were mapped out by Himmler’s number two man, SS General Reinhard Heydrich. What followed is beyond the comprehension of most people, but the perpetrators were for the most part men and women who were terrifyingly normal.

The truly terrifying thing about the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust to me is that most of the men at Wansee, men that commanded the Concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen were very ordinary men who simply believed that they were doing their jobs. Very few could be described as psychopathic killers by nature. They were lawyers, doctors, career police officials, businessmen, and bureaucrats who carried out an extermination campaign that killed by their own numbers between 5.5 and 6 million Jews, not to mention others deemed to be subhuman including the handicapped, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and other non-Jewish minorities like the Gypsies not to mention the wide variety of those considered political enemies. But it was the Jews that bore the most tragic fate.

When you read their writings, listen to them when they were interviewed, or watch footage of them during or after the war, you find that they had absolutely no empathy for their victims. When confronted about the evil that they engineered they invariably blamed their victims, just as many like them do today.

Most of the men who coordinated the massive effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe following the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 approached their jobs dispassionately. This was a common attitude among the civil service, military and police officials that oversaw the Holocaust. They simply did their jobs and followed the law, and for most of them, their victims meant nothing.

ChildrenBirkenau

Hungarian Jews being sent to Extermination Camps

Adolf Eichmann summed up the attitude of many when he said regarding his work to deport hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in in just a few weeks during the fall of 1944, “Whether they were bank directors or mental cases, the people who were loaded on those trains meant nothing to me.” Speaking to Willem Sassen in 1957 Eichmann reveled in that accomplishment, “It was an achievement that was never matched before or since.” Eichmann also enjoyed leading his victims on, pretending that he might listen, and they might change his mind. Eichmann was proud of what he did. He told his staff, “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”

Hannah Arendt wrote of Eichmann:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

This was what made the Holocaust committed against the Jews of Europe by Nazi Germany a phenomenon different than other genocides. Many of the perpetrators were not driven by centuries old hate as in the Balkans, tribal blood lust as occurred in Rwanda, or the products of Soviet Communism or Communist Chines Maoist regimes.

dachaumorgue1945

It was the racial ideology of the Nazis which deemed the Jews and other non-Aryans to be sub-human. That ideology undergirded the German treatment of the Jews, and the conduct of the war, especially in the East. But the execution of the plan required the bureaucratic, administrative, technical and legal skills brought to the table by ordinary men. Men who sought promotion, advancement and economic security for their families. Individually many would have never killed, but in their positions they ran the rail network, the factories, the banking and finance industries and supported the war effort, most not thinking much about the evil that they abetted or if they did finding a way, be it social, scientific, religious, patriotic, legal or simply in the name of efficiency.

Survivors of Auschwitz

That is what makes the evil committed by them so terrifying. It is the product of “normal” people in an advanced Western nation. Make no bones about it, their actions were evil. They aided and abetted the genocide of the Jews, the disabled, other “sub-human” races, particularly Slavs, as well as those that they deemed less than suitable.

I think that the most chilling thing about the Holocaust was that the greatest atrocities were committed by ordinary men, sometimes well educated, decent family men. These were men who simply executed orders and often went home at night. Arendt wrote that “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” She was right, there was an ordinariness to the evil perpetrated by the Nazis, at the same time there are those who consciously decide to participate in evil.

It is important that we do not forget the Holocaust. It is also important to recognize that the instruments of that horror were on the whole “ordinary” men who as they saw it were simply doing their job. It is something that everyone needs to remember. Bettina Stangneth wrote “Systematic mass murder is not just the sum of isolated instances of sadism but the result of a political thinking that is perverted from the ground up.”

So many of the perpetrators saw nothing wrong in what they were doing, in fact at his trial in Jerusalem Eichmann said, “To sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing.”

They believed that their victims were less than human and like so many people even today, they had no empathy. Gustave Gilbert, an American Army Psychologist at the major War Criminal Trials at Nuremberg said it so well: “Evil is the absence of empathy.”

It is important that we never forget, especially now when we could be watching it begin all over again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under civil rights, ethics, Foreign Policy, History, holocaust, iraq,afghanistan, laws and legislation, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Truth, Justice, and the Value of a Single Human Life: What Americans Should Stand For

img_0333-1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about a segment of the classic film Judgment at Nuremberg. Today I am following that up with another, albeit, short post regarding one of the most riveting monologues in film from the same film. Since yesterday was also Holocaust Remembrance Day it is appropriate to take the time, and never forget, for while we may not want to admit it, as human beings we are capable of the same inhumanity.

The segment, in which Spencer Tracy plays the role of Chief Judge Dan Heywood gives his verdict is one of the most telling sequences in cinema regarding what it is to be an American. I always show it in the first session of my military ethics class at the Staff College and since the majority of my students have never seen the film, it usually leaves them in silence. So I am just going to leave it with you to watch, read, and contemplate. Who are we, and what do we stand for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it…

Have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under film, History, laws and legislation, nazi germany, Political Commentary

“Because we Loved our Country!” Why People Believe the Lies

seanspicer_brownsuit

Press Secretary Sean Spicer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I couple of days ago I asked the question “how did we get here?” when I was discussing drumbeat of lies, which are now called alternate truth by the President and members of his administration. As the past few days have unfolded I have asked the question to myself a number of times as the statements continue, along with the admonitions from Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway to “always believe” what is being said by the President and for the media and other critics to “shut up.” The media of course now is always lying so it goes, and sadly some journalists have added fuel to the flame by misreporting, that doesn’t mean that journalists or the press as a whole are lying, but it sets up straw men for the President and his advisors to attack. Opposition is considered treason, and opponents must be silenced because it is the patriotic thing to do.

Likewise there is the silencing of Federal workers, and even agencies who simply report the truth, and the quashing of dissent by removing officials who may be troublesome later on. His foreign policy seems like it is going to be a go it alone, aggressive hyper-nationalism, forsaking longstanding and faithful allies to ally himself with the Russian dictator, and to threaten military action, trade wars, and to bring back torture. Yet, those are actions that in the long run are bound to destroy the United States, but there is no push back from the GOP majority in Congress.

Then of course are the executive orders which are being issued daily. President Trump is doing exactly what he promised to do during the campaign when we were told not to take what he said literally. Before his inauguration the President said that he may issue 200 executive orders in his first month in office. Such is to rule by fiat, to bypass Congress, the Courts, and ultimately the people, yet it is entirely legal and at the same time if unchecked by the Congress or the Courts will lead to a totalitarian state.

Yet the President’s supporters and the the vast majority of the Republican Congress say nothing and some are calling him brilliant. So I ask myself why? What is going on when people, people who are basically good, turn a blind eye to emerging tyranny. Why is it that otherwise decent, and even brilliant people will allow such things to happen, and even more, to wholeheartedly support the policies.

Then I began to think of the classic film, Judgment at Nuremberg. The question of how many Germans, who should have known better abandoned all sense and supported Hitler seems to me to be quite similar to what is going on with many Trump supporters. They are afraid of the future, they are frustrated, and their fear of the past, present, and future is such that they are willing to cast aside logic and blindly support a man who can only be called a madman. They are doing it out of “love for country.”

In the movie, Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning. As the trial dragged on he was content to allow his defense attorney to use whatever means necessary, even re-victimizing the people who were in fact the victims of his own judgments in support of his government’s policy. When he went to the witness stand his conscience finally got the best of him and he explained his guilt and how he and so many people like him abandoned all sense and morality in supporting Hitler. I could imagine when all of what we are just beginning to see happen before our eyes is done, and our world has crashed in about us, I wonder if some of those who supported the President and asked no questions will have the courage to say like Janning:

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

I do not know what is going to happen, I still hope and pray that the President will do good things for the country and the world; but every word, and every action coming from him and his spokespeople serve to dampen any measure of hope that I have for this very young administration. Thankfully, there are people who are using legal means to resist and to speak out, but I wonder if that will be enough.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under ethics, film, History, laws and legislation, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Ideologues and Ideologically Empty Pragmatists: The Key to an Authoritarian State

werner-best

Dr. Werner Best

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been looking at some of the nominees to various cabinet posts in the incoming Trump administration. Trump is a known quality, since his lack of character, integrity, narcissism, and thin skin are well known I was thinking about his picks. Trump has no ideology other than his own power and ego which makes him both dangerous and unpredictable, and this is not just to those who are his current lot of “enemies,” but even people who campaigned at his side like obedient lap dogs, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie comes to mind, but I digress because believe me there will be a lot more of his supposed friends and allies who make that list.

Some of them are hopeless right wing ideologues. They too are known qualities and actually fairly easy to predict and to defend against and many so so incompetent, divisive, and intolerable, that even people who agree with them will throw them under the bus.

But there are others, like Trump himself devoid of ideology, but even more dangerous because they are much more careful. In fact they can move from administration to administration, campaign to campaign. One can see a number of them in Trump’s entourage, including people who advised his GOP primary opponents and then abandoned them when they saw a winner. They are in it for their own personal achievement and whatever power they can gain.

Such people can be found in any government, any business, any military, and any church. One of the interesting things about history is that you can see them weave their way in and out of the picture, outmaneuvering and undercutting rivals, even selling out their bosses.

My regular readers know that I have spent a large amount of my life and academic study dealing wth the transition from Imperial Germany, to the Weimar Republic, and to the National Socialist or Nazi state of Adolf Hitler. The interesting thing is to see how many professional men, business leaders, bureaucrats, police officials, and military officers, many men; a good number of whom had opposed Hitler and never were Nazis until it became convenient served the Nazi State, especially in the ranks of Heinrich Himmler’s SS. One of the books that has been part of my study since college is Heinz Hohne’s The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The book which came out in 1966 was one of the first to confront the myths about the SS which allowed many Germans after the war to use the SS as their alibi, all that was wrong with Germany could be blamed on the SS. While the SS was certainly culpable of many crimes it was just one part of the Nazi state, a state as contradictory as it was totalitarian.

In his book Hohne discusses the types of men who found their way into the SS, which included the true believers as well as the pragmatists who had no ideology. One of these men was Dr. Werner Best who had been an official in the Gestapo. A gifted intriguer he maneuvered himself between various party factions and leaders and was promoted to SS Obergruppenfuhrer. Then, later as the head of the Nazi government in Denmark went against the final solution in that county by helping the Jews of that country escape to Sweden.

Best adapted the philosophy of Ernst Junger, the writer of the classic novel of the First World War Storm of Steel who wrote: “The important part is not what we fight for but how we fight.” Best transformed Junger’s philosophy into one of the pillars of the SS leadership, the ideal of “heroic realism.” Best wrote: “The fight itself is essential and permanent; the aims of the fight are temporary and interchangeable. There can therefore be no question of success in our fight… the yardstick of the new code of morality, therefore, is not its content – not ‘what’ but ‘how’.” 

Hohne noted that the ethic “with no specific aim, opened the door door to concentration on achievement for achievement’s sake.” Himmler put it succinctly, “The word ‘impossible’ must never be heard in the SS.”  The result was that even non-Nazis were attracted to the SS and because of their abilities or connections were brought in to the organization.

This is where it really gets interesting when one thinks of today’s opportunistic yet ethically deprived pragmatists of so many professions who have jumped aboard the Trump train.

Hohne wrote: “The call to energy and efficiency, the ceaseless challenge to action and trial, launched SS men into a primitive competitive struggle in which all normally accepted rules of conduct were forgotten.” Some believed that they were still were still only responsible to themselves but because they were subject to orders became prisoners “of an ethic linked to no purpose, an ethic which, ostensibly for purposes of political necessity, could suddenly order the commission of crimes and present them as goals of human technological efficiency.”  

Hohne quoted historian Hans Buchheim who wrote in his book The Anatomy of the SS State:

“If a man is concerned not with what he is fighting for but only with how he fights, he is conditioned to heroic action in a criminal cause. Although such a heroic fighter imagines that he must rely on himself alone… he can be swept into the service of an organization claiming complete totalitarian authority – and he will perceive that this has happened not at all or too late.”

Werner Best learned late and he tried to make up for his early activities in the Nazi State, even so he was convicted as a war criminal though he escaped the death sentence. Sadly there were a lot more men like him, non-Nazis who became part of the SS and conducted some of the worst crimes in human history.

So when you hear the man who will be President in just over a week’s time threaten reporters, denigrate intelligence officials, and conduct Twitter tirades against anyone who criticizes him, and then shamelessly lies about all of it you need to be concerned regardless of your political affiliation. Many of the men and women who are selling their souls to serve in the incoming administration are completely without any moral center, ethic, or guiding ideology; and it is them that all of us should be really concerned about. This is because they are the ones who will get things done, morality or convention be damned. Authoritarians or totalitarians cannot succeed without them.

Have a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: I do recommend Hohne’s book from which I drew much of this article. Sadly, it is still in print but not available in a digital format. You have to purchase and read it the old fashioned way. It’s actually kind of cool to read a book that smells like a book.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under ethics, History, nazi germany, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

Criminal Propagandists: Then and Now

jonesshow3

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few weeks we have seen heinous acts of terrorism committed by people who believed that what they were doing was the will of God. They believed that their killing of innocent people was justified by their religious beliefs and their belief that they were the instruments of God to bring about God’s justice on sinners. But these are just the latest in a long series of such events in this country and around the world.

The people who commit the acts are certainly guilty of them, of this there is no doubt, but what about those from whom they draw their inspiration? Why are they not in the dock as well?

In the movie Judgement at Nuremberg, Spencer Tracy’s character, Judge Dan Heywood said, “The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime. Any person who is an accessory to the crime, is guilty.”

November1931Number46

At the trial of the major war criminals the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher was condemned to death for crimes against humanity. He had never killed a Jew, nor was he active in planning the war. However, it was the incessant propaganda that Streicher published week after week for twenty-five years which made him an accessory to the deaths of millions of people. A generation of Germans who had been brought up on Streicher’s anti-Semitic hate speech committed acts “so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.”

The tribunal said of Streicher:

“For his 25 years of speaking, writing, and preaching hatred of the Jews, Streicher was widely known as ‘Jew-baiter Number 1.’ In his speeches and articles, week after week, month after month, he infected the German people with the virus of anti-Semitism, and incited the German people to active persecution… Streicher had charge of the Jewish boycott of April 1, 1933. He advocated the Nuremberg decrees of 1935. He was responsible for the demolition on August 10, 1938, of the synagogue in Nuremberg. And on November 10, 1938, he spoke publically in support of the Jewish pogroms which were taking place at that time. But it was not only in Germany that this defendant advocated his doctrines. As early as 1935 he began to call for the annihilation of the Jewish race… With knowledge of the extermination of the Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, this defendant continued to write and publish the propaganda of death… Streciher’s incitement to murder and extermination at the time when the Jews of the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitutes persecution on racial grounds in connection with war crimes, as defined in the charter, and constitutes a crime against humanity.”

“The defendant Streicher is an accessory to the persecution of the Jews within Germany and in occupied territories which culminated in mass murder of an estimated six million men, women, and children. The propaganda in Der Stürmer and other Streicher publications, for which he had admitted responsibility, was of a character calculated to stir up fanatic fear and hatred of the Jewish people and to incite to murder…Through propaganda designed to incite hatred and fear, defendant Streicher devoted himself, over a period of twenty-five years, to creating the psychological basis essential to carrying through a program of mass murder. This alone would suffice to establish his guilt as an accessory to the criminal program of extermination.”

There are propagandists like Streicher at work in our own country and around the world today, who have for years advocated the exclusion, persecution, and even the execution of people whose lifestyles, religion, faith, or race, in this country and in others and we have seen the results. However, when a crime is committed against the targets of these propagandists they are seldom held accountable, in fact I cannot recall a time in recent memory where those who planted and nurtured the seeds of hate in the hearts and minds of terrorists have been brought to court. Why are not the propagandists who the Muslim terrorists who killed over 130 people in Paris and 14 in San Bernardino, the Tsarnaev brothers who attacked the Boston Marathon, the 9-11 attackers brought to trial? Why are those who inspired the Christian terrorists who killed and wounded a dozen people at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, or Eric Rudolph to bomb the Olympic Park in Atlanta not brought up on charges? What about those that inspired Dylann Storm Roof, the young white supremacist/neo-Confederate terrorist who killed nine people at the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston brought to justice? There are those who also attack, vandalize, burn, or desecrate churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious shrines or schools, of course in the name of God. But I think that one of the most terrifying comments by a terrorist were those of Frazier Glenn Cross, a former KKK leader and militant white supremacist that killed three people near a Jewish Community center in Overland Park Kansas on the Eve of Passover, 2014. He claimed, “I had no criminal intent, I had a patriotic intent to stop genocide against my people,” and “I hate Jews…. They are the ones who destroy us.” He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death.

I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but I know that in the United States that propagandists of all kinds, often hide behind our most cherished freedoms; those of freedom of speech, religion, and association, to proclaim their message of violence and murder in the name of God or their own perverted ideologies. We may never bring these people to trial, but they are by definition as guilty as the men and women who follow their words and commit these terrible crimes.

randall terry

The scary thing is that what we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg the hatred is flowing, and as Randall Terry, the former head of Operation Rescue once exhorted his followers in 1993, “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.”  [Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, from The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Aug 15, 1993]

The scary thing is that I went to the same church that Randall Terry attended for a while when I was stationed in Jacksonville Florida. The church of my former denomination, was a bastion of the “pro-life” movement. To be honest many of the people in the church were good people, but they were taken along by the propaganda of men like Randall Terry and others. I got to know Randall when I was there. He is a very smart and affable person, that being said, he had no empathy for any opponents, including his adopted son Jamiel who came out as Gay in 2004, or his two adopted daughters who became pregnant outside of marriage who he threw out of his home, with no-one in the pro-life movement to support them. He remains virulent in his bombastic statements about murdering abortion providers, punishing gays, and making blatantly racist political advertisements, and anti-Muslim videos.

I guess the thing that troubles me most about this now is how my former church embraced a man who was a well known extremist, a man who had left his wife for his secretary and then married her with no serious questions asked because they too were “pro-life.” It was as if Terry was some kind of folk hero to them. Interestingly enough Terry converted to Roman Catholicism a few years later and has had no problem attacking the leaders of that church when they fail to heed his uncompromising views, even so the leaders of that church not only welcomed him, but have not dared to discipline hi, even after his wife committed acts of vandalism on church property. But then, like them, Terry is “pro-life.”

When I was going to that church I found Terry’s methods and words to be extreme and they troubled me, but I said nothing to oppose or contradict them. If I had spoken out I would have been punished by the local bishop, and having been censured for my earlier writings in a theological journal which were considered “too Catholic” by another bishop of that church, I kept my mouth shut.

It was not until I came back from Iraq having seen the real world implications of what happens when religious fanatics inflict violence on their neighbors that I really understood and took a stand against such words and actions. It was only after I began to speak up against the church’s positions on rights for Gays and the LGBTQ community, the ordination of women, respect for Muslims, and the need to protect the legality of abortion that I was forced out of that church for being “too liberal.” You should have read some of the things that people said about me when I started speaking out after being thrown out of the church. It was amazing, I shake my head now, but then when I was still in the midst of post-Iraq PTSD crash the comments were very hurtful and destructive, and sadly the people who said them, many who knew me, didn’t seem to care.

Randall Terry and so many others like him, be they Christian, Muslim, or any other religion or ideology are no different than Julius Streicher. What they are preaching is nothing more than hate, masked in the words of faith, which has been, and will continue to be used by terrorists.

ann_coulter_rect

Sadly, Terry is not the only one out there doing this, in fact he is now minor league compared with the propagandists of the current day including Alex Jones, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and so many others, including those of the self-proclaimed Alt-Right, who are nothing more than Nazis.

yes my friends there are thousands of others like him, and many with much more of a following than Terry will ever command, and they are for more dangerous for their words will be the ones that terrorists will follow, and for which death squads will kill. They, like the tribunal said of Streicher create “the psychological basis essential to carrying through a program of mass murder.” For this reason, and every murder their followers commit they should be held accountable.

At Nuremberg an unrepentant Streicher was asked by a prosecutor, “And do you think to call them “blood-suckers,” “a nation of blood-suckers and extortioners– do you think that’s preaching hatred?” Streicher replied, “No, it is not preaching hatred; it is just a statement of facts.” Sadly, this is the same attitude shared by the vast majority of the current propagandists. It does not matter who they demonize, gays, women, Christians, Jews. Muslims, immigrants, the targets of hate may differ for each of these propagandists, but the message is the same, it is hatred pure and simple.

With the election of Donald Trump as the next President expect these propagandists to expand their influence and ratchet up the conspiracy theories and hatred against minorities, Women, the LGBTQ community, as well as Liberals and Progressives in general.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, faith, History, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary