Category Archives: nazi germany

The Dangers of Political Violence: The Lesson of the Reichstag Fire


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday a man named James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on members of the Congressional Republican baseball team as they practiced for their annual game against the Congressional Democrats which is a charitable event that helps a number of local agencies that help children. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was critically wounded and several police officers were wounded during the exchange of fire in which Hodgkinson was killed. I was shocked and infuriated by his actions. Political violence and the attempted assassination of any elected official in a democracy where we still have the ability to remove people or parties from office at the ballot box is never justified. I would call his act an act of terrorism just as I have other acts by so many others. 

But unlike other times when a white shooter killed or wounded multiple people based on their race, religion, or politics I was joined by many GOP leaders. Sadly, some like Newt Gingrich, Repreantive Steve King and a host of Right Wing pundits blamed it on “typical left wing violence” while ignoring the constant attacks and threats from Right Wing extremists including members of the militia movement, the KKK, and various new-Nazi and Alt Right groups and individuals. 

At least President Trump, for the first time in his presidency urged unity and extolled the best part of Americans working together. I was pleased to here his words which I think were genuine, and I hope that this will be a moment that defines his presidency in a positive way for all Americans. That being said I have reasons to doubt, not that I want to but because of his past actions which I will mention later in the article. 

From was we know Hodgkinson was very active politically and quite angry at the GOP and President Trump but until today no one, even friends who knew him well would have expected him to cross the line to commit political violence. The congressman from his district from Illinois said that Hodgkinson was angry in his communications about issues but never crossed a line for the office to think that he was potentially dangerous. However, he had a history of domestic violence, destruction of property and a number of other issues. One of Hodgkinson’s Facebook posts from 2015 was a editorial cartoon criticizing Scalise. Hodkinson had been in the D.C. area a couple of weeks and had been spending time at the YMCA near the ball field where the shooting occurred. The former Mayor of Alexandria saw him a number of times and reported that he appeared to be living out of a gym bag and had offered to help Hodgkinson get a job.

I’m sure that there will be more information about Hodgkinson coming out so I will not go into any more detail or speculate why he committed this act, but I will discuss the very real dangers to civil liberty and legitimate peaceful political dissent that his act could lead.

Despite my initial optimism about how the President Trump responded today and many of his advisors have shown spoken in very authoritarian language about political dissent, demonizing their opponents, first during their GOP opponents in the primaries, then all who opposed them during the general election and afterwards. The president even blessed violent acts committed by his supporters during the campaign. Any time a protester physically responded to bullying or intimidation at Trump rallies they were set upon and then were blamed for the resulting violence even if they were the victims.

But what I am afraid is that acts such as Hodgkinson’s will result in draconian measures to limit dissent. People forget that it was the action of a single Dutch Communist acting on his own to burn down the Reichstag that gave Hitler the ability to pass the Enabling Act in March of 1933. That act gave his government unprecedented authority to arrest and detail opponents without due process rights, as well as to shut down opposition newspapers. It was followed up by other laws during the course of the Third Reich which further restricted political opposition. Often people arrested in the round ups would be acquitted of any crime but then upon release would be taken by the SA or SS to concentration camps.

Another incident was the assassination of a junior German diplomat at the German embassy in Paris in November 1938. When he died Hitler gave Josef Goebbels permission to launch a pogrom against the Jews now known as Kristallnacht. Hundreds of synagogues were burned, thousands of Jewish businesses looted, and hundreds of Jews killed, with thousands rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

The problem is that individual acts of violence against leaders who are predisposed to authoritarian responses give those leaders license to suspend laws and civil liberties on what are called exceptional circumstances. The attack by Hodgkinson could easily be construed as an act of political terrorism. As Timothy Snyder noted in his book On Tyranny:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”

That is a warning to all who think that individual acts of political violence can be excused or tolerated, they end up threatening the liberties of all. While I do not think this particular attack is a Reichstag Fire moment, the next one might be and anyone who thinks that their act of violence will help the country is sadly mistaken. For that matter it is also possible that a group or individual sympathetic to Trump could create a false flag incident in order to prompt him to suppress legitimate dissent. 

Like I said we will find out more as the days go by about the shooter, the attack, and the possible executive or legislative responses to it, not to mention possible violence against protestors or politicians committed by armed Trump supporters who have often threatened to respond violently to any attack against Trump or the GOP.

This is a very dangerous moment. I do pray that Representative Scalise will recover from his wounds and hope that I will not see progressives rejoice regarding the crime committed by Hodgkinson. Likewise as I mentioned earlier in the article I am heartened by President Trump’s response yesterday and I pray that it will be something that defines the rest of his presidency. I may oppose many, if not most of his policies and actions, as well as hoping that the investigation of his advisers interactions with the Russians goes forward; but I will never continue to hope and pray for the best for our country and yes even for him. That being said I am very wary based on his past words and actions and will never give up my right as an American to speak openly and honestly. I learned that lesson from many great American military men including General Smedley Butler and Colonel David Hackworth. Dissent is still an act of patriotism no matter what some people claim. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Resist the Beginning and Consider the End

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have followed my writings here know that I have been sounding the alarm about the Trump Presidency since well before he even became the GOP nominee last year. In fact on March 14th of last year I wrote of candidate Trump:

“I am afraid. Over the past few weeks violence has become commonplace at the campaign rallies of Donald Trump. In the past week a reporter from the Breitbart News service, an organization that is solidly behind Trump was assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager, and Breitbart threw her under the bus for him. Protesters have been assaulted, reporters threatened, Trump not only condones the actions, he encourages them, threatening to use the law and courts to ruin people’s lives, and offering to pay the legal bills of his supporters who have been charged with crimes. He labels any opponents as “bad people” who need to be punished. The ultimate cruelty is that though he is the one inciting the violence, he and his supporters blame that violence on the victims, be they Democrats or Republicans, protestors or media, pundits, politicians or preachers. He is creating a frenzy among his most violent supporters that demands victims to satiate their new found bloodlust…

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, and to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible…”

As President Donald Trump has not strayed a bit from the words, actions, and demeanor of candidate Trump. He still bullies and threatens his opponents and then whines about how “unfairly” he is being treated. He is following through on his promises to demolish the foundations of the American democracy even as he destroys long standing alliances and praises dictatorships just as he promised on the campaign trail.

This has surprised many people, including those who study presidential campaigns and presidencies for a living, who somehow despite his incredibly bad track record, his known propensity to lie, and his all-consuming narcissism, paranoia, and self-pity believed that he would become a different man once in office. That did not and will not happen because he has no capacity for self-reflection and suffers from an incredible absence of empathy and delusions about his greatness.

While I did not expect Trump to become President I always believed that it was possible and that if it happened it would fundamentally change the United States for the worse. Milton Mayer wrote of a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

I have to say as I have said many times that I never wanted to be right about my intuition regarding a Trump Presidency, but with every passing day I see what I feared taking shape before my very eyes. I have tried to see though all the fog and deception and be true to the maxims that the German professor pondered as he examined his own guilt and shame for his inaction when resistance might have made a difference. “Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’”

In the course of this I have had to balance my learned feelings with reality and at every stage I have attempted to warn people while hoping for the best. I remember discussing the tension with a senior Navy officer who agreed with my concern that Trump is a danger and when it was appropriate for people to sound a warning; as he noted “we cannot yet see the end.”

There are many Trump opponents who are hoping that the vast amount of evidence connecting him and his closest advisers to Russia’s undermining of the 2016 elections will result in his impeachment. Others are hoping that some act of lunacy on his part will be enough to convince Vice President Pence and a majority of the cabinet to remove him from office through the process of the 25th Amendment.

However, I do not count on those happening soon enough to keep him from gaining complete control of the government using the pretext of war or terrorism to curtail civil liberties, political opposition, and Constitutional rights. Believe me I want more than anything to be wrong but I am sensing that this is where we are heading.

The President has called the Constitution “archaic” and suggested that it should be changed to grant the executive more power.  He has repeatedly acted to undermine the judiciary and turning Congress into nothing more than a compliant vassal. The structure would remain the same, but while the change would be striking most people wouldn’t notice until it was too late. Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote about this after World War Two:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

We are in a precarious situation and it would not take much for our nation to slide into a totalitarian dictatorship, and if the circumstance were right, if the crisis large enough, most people would probably surrender their freedom for the supposed security offered by a dictator. As Timothy Snyder wrote:

“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.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

A Bridge Too Far: History, Dissent, and North Korea

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Major General Urquhart: I took 10,000 of our finest troops to Arnhem; I’ve come back with less than 2,000. I don’t feel much like sleeping.

Lt. General Frederick “Boy” Browning: I’ve just been on to Monty. He’s very proud, and pleased.

Major General Urquhart: [incredulous] PLEASED!

Lt. General Frederick “Boy” Browning: According to himself, technically, Market Garden was 90% successful.

Major General Urquhart: But what do YOU think?

Lt. General Frederick “Boy” Browning: Well, as you know, I always felt we tried to go a bridge too far…

Yesterday was our first full day back after our Memorial Day outing to Bethany Beach, a day of work as well as catching up. After our day of taking care of business we went and spent time with our friends at Gordon Biersch and then adoring our Papillon pups, I put on the classic film A Bridge too Far as a belated Memorial Day remembrance. For me as a veteran of Iraq the film conjures up images of heroic sacrifices of men and women who died or became victims of a plan gone wrong.

The film if you haven’t seen it depicts the failed Allied attempt of September 1994 to liberate the Netherlands, cross the Rhine and end World War Two by Christmas. It was a plan that depended much on luck, and ignored the capabilities of the Germans, who the Allies for the most part already believed had been beaten following the campaign in Normandy and the dash across France.

Despite the weakness of the Germans he Allied plan came close to succeeding yet failed and in doing so prolonged the war and inflicted much more suffering on the people of the Netherlands who were not liberated until the end of the war. The failure was one of a failed operational plan that had strategic consequences.

In the past few days I have been become even more concerned about the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the risks of a war that could have worldwide implications, and none of them good. Secretary of Defense Mattis warned of a potential catastrophe, even as the USS Nimitz departed the West Coast to join the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan in the operational area while the North Koreans launched more missiles. The concentration of three carrier battle groups, even for a short time provides the President a massive amount of military power in the region should he decide to launch a preemptive strike as he has more than once spoken about. The fact is that if war breaks out that the casualties will be in the hundreds of thousands if not millions, and that is if the war stays contained to the Korean Peninsula.

I am also concerned that a war with North Korea could be the pretext for the Trump administration to sharply curtail civil liberties at home including the freedom of speech and of political opposition. Be assured that if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula that these rights will be suppressed and that anyone who opposes the government in  any way whatsoever will be labeled as a defeatist, traitor, or worse. We have seen the same pathology after the 9/11 attacks when those who were not opposed to actions agains Al Qaida were condemned because they opposed the expansion of the war into Iraq. I know this because I was one of those people who condemned these people; and sadly in retrospect in their condemnation of the invasion of Iraq they they were more patriotic than me because I supported it, knowing the dangers.

As far as the Allies were concerned Operation Market Garden was a delay in their plans to invade Germany proper, but for the Germans it was a pyrrhic victory which doomed more of their soldiers, civilians, and their victims to death. The Allied efforts were considered a part of a more righteous cause, while for the most part the German people remained under the spell of Hitler until the end, and even then those who opposed or even were thought to be “defeatists” in Germany were considered to be as bad or worse than the enemies of the Third Reich.

Milton Mayer who wrote the book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945 described the thoughts of a German academic colleague in 1955. Mayer’s friend said:

“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

That is something I worry about every day here as the Trump administration, facing failure on so many fronts, and under investigation of things that if any of the rest of us had even been accused of them would be considered treasonous, may embark on a war to save itself and at the same time use the extraordinary nature of such a conflict to consolidate power and crush dissent. That may sound far fetched, but all of his actions and words, as a candidate for President, as the President-Elect, and as President point in that direction and his most faithful followers show that they will even commitment treasonous acts and in some cases even resort to violence and murder to support him.

Trust me I want to be wrong about this more than anyone can imagine, but I cannot get rid of the feeling I have in my gut nor the terrible nightmares I have about this several times a week. I wonder if the Trump administration will gamble on an easy victory to end a very real North Korean threat to the region. If they do there will be no good outcome and we may lose freedoms that we never dreamt possible to lose.

If such an action does not succeed will the President then as he always does that his failure was a success? Will he pronounce like Field Marshal Montgomery that the failed attack was 90% successful or even more? And what of his military advisors? I dare not even attempt to answer that question anymore.

So until tomorrow I must ponder the words of General John Buford played by Sam Elliott in the film Gettysburg: 

“Devin, I’ve led a soldier’s life, and I’ve never seen anything as brutally clear as this. It’s as if I can actually see the blue troops in one long, bloody moment, goin’ up the long slope to the stony top. As if it were already done… already a memory. An odd… set… stony quality to it. As if tomorrow has already happened and there’s nothin’ you can do about it. The way you sometimes feel before an ill-considered attack, knowin’ it’ll fail, but you cannot stop it. You must even take part, and help it fail.”

Like I said, I want more than anything to be wrong about all of this but I fear that I am not and I cannot shake that feeling. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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But Then It Was Too Late: An Excerpt from “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This weekend we took a break from regular life and spent time relaxing with friends and our all of our 10 Papillon dogs. I spent very little time online and had pre-posted all of my articles for the weekend. It was wonderful to spend time with people, and of course enjoy the dogs as the played and cuddled and barked at anything walking down the street. But it was also nice to have little in the way of a scheduled agenda, which gave me some time to really do some reading.

One book that I took with me and finished while on the trip was Milton Mayer’s “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945.” Mayer was a visiting professor at the University of Frankfurt in the 1950s and lived in a small Hessian town near the city. The book is about the relationships that he built with ten ordinary citizens in the town and how they lived under Nazism and how most saw little wrong with it in the end.

The book is well worth the read and very timely when one compares the attitudes of the men who became Mayer’s friends and many people in the United States today. The last few chapters of the book are a reflection of the author’s opinions of the future of Germany at the time of his writing and he was mistaken on how the Germans would eventually become a society that embraced democracy and rejected authoritarianism (at the time he felt that it was very possible that democracy would fail in Germany,) they do not take away anything from the heart of the book and its message about how people adjust to authoritarian rule.

One chapter in particular struck me, it was a conversion that Mayer had with a colleague at the University who also reflected what it was like to live in the Third Reich and how in doing so he compromised himself and lost the opportunity to resist when resistance might have changed the course of events as Germany proceeded down the road to dictatorship and destruction. The chapter is particularly painful to read as the man understood that he should have known better but didn’t recognize the warning signs of the gradual nature of how life was changing with each new law or dictate from the Fuhrer.

In reading the chapter I see parallels in American society today. There are the Trump loyalists, many of who openly call for restrictions of liberty and crushing opposition to the President’s policies using extra-constitutional means including violence. Many are quite extreme while others, persuaded by years of right-wing talk radio, politically charged sermons by their pastors, and the daily dose of Fox News believe everything said by the President even when confronted by facts. Then there are Trump’s opponents, but many of the opponents are divided and cannot get along with each other. Some of these opponents actually helped Trump into office by circulating the Russian anti-Clinton conspiracy theories and falsehoods throughout the campaign. Each of these groups probably composes about 25-30% of the electorate each. The remaining segment are the people who simply go with the flow because life is too busy and crisis laden to get too deeply enmeshed in the political debate, and many have become so cynical that they see no difference in either side and are much more concerned about making it in a still uncertain economy.

So I invite you to read this and draw your own conclusions. Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Chapter 13: But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.

“I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”

“And the judge?”

“Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”

I said nothing.

“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

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Trump’s Hatchet Men: Christian Pastors Who Should Know Better

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a brief thought to start out the week. Since the beginning of the Trump Campaign his most vocal supporters other that the Alt-Right crowd and people like Roger Stone have been Christian pastors. This really bothered me all weekend so I need to get it off my chest early so I can go on to better things.

To me this has been one of the most perplexing things of the past two years. I wonder how men and women who castigated Democrats, and even some moderate Republicans with epithets often too vile to print ended up supporting a man who exhibits no trace at all of a genuine Christian faith. How they not only support but defend a man whose life if nothing else epitomizes everything that Jesus preached against, even threatening the wrath of God on Trump’s opponents.

I am not alone. Conservative columnist Erick Erickson, who is a Christian by the way noted in a column last week:

“Watergate may have turned Charles Colson from hatchet man to pastor, but defense of President Trump is turning a lot of pastors into hatchet men. Few people come away from Trump’s orbit without compromising their characters.”

Admittedly some of Trump’s big time clerical supports had little in the way of character to begin with, fleecing their flocks and often being caught doing so by law enforcement, some like Jim Bakker even going to jail. However, it is scary that quite a few who even if you disagreed with their politics, theology, or social views, still showed a modicum of Christian character have thrown it away to defend the indefensible. These hatchet men are truly dangerous because they poison the souls of their flocks and in the process demean the entirety of the Gospel message of reconciliation and peace.

But this is nothing new. Ever since Constantine various clerics and preachers have cozied up to rulers in order to gain temporal power for their part of the church. These American preachers today do not believe in the equality of human beings, they delight in condemning people, and frequently use the legislative process to impinge upon or limit the rights of others. Although they said they loved the Constitution when Barak Obama was in office their actions show that they despise it as well as the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence. Their attitudes towards the heart of American democracy are much like the Southern planters and slaveowners. One of them, George Fitzhugh of Virginia wrote in 1850:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.”

Southern preachers condemned opponents of slavery in the abolition movement, including fellow evangelicals as “atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, Bible-haters, and anti-Christian levelers.”  Like the Southern preachers of the ante-bellum era the political pastors of today stand against the weak, the outcast, the poor, and the alien. Instead of standing for the weak, these preachers lead their congregations to despise them as they accommodate themselves to the service of the powerful represented by President Trump. Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed it up well when wrote about the “German Christians” who followed Hitler:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

The sad thing is that the so-called Christianity of our day is not far removed from that of the ante-bellum South or that of Nazi Germany. It worships power and riches and the only rights that it desires to protect are its own. Led by the hatchet men in the pulpits this church have soiled themselves with a stain that they will never shed, and they will stand condemned even more than the man that they support, because unlike him, they know better, or at least they should. 

Conservative scion Barry Goldwater warned us about them in 1994: 

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

But Goldwater also knew that the leaders of the Christian Right who now are solidly behind Trump were easily manipulated by the hard right. In 1981 he told an interviewer:

“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

Donald Trump is manipulating the hell out of them, speaking to their deepest fears and promising them that they will be the ones that come out on top in his America. He has cultivated that by signing executive orders designed to cater to their every desire in exchange for their fealty which they readily give him. He is a nearly cult like messiah figure to many of them and their preachers bask in the favor he shows them without thinking twice about the true cost both to their faith, and the freedom of all people in the United States. 

Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham Alabama wrote after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by Ku Klux Klansmen who claimed to be Christians and by the Christian preachers who over the course of decades had given them sanction:

“It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.”

He was right, as was Bonhoeffer.  So anyway, that’s a hell of a way to start the week.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations: Reflections on the Ignorance and Incompetence of the President and his Enablers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Our President is a businessman, a man who claims all sorts of achievements but never owns up to his repeated failures, whether they be business, moral, personal, or now his often demonstrated gross incompetence as President.

We have long known that the President both narcissistic and paranoid character traits. Anyone who has observed his antics over the years has seen them displayed time and time again; but he has covered those character flaws with his self-promotion of his business acumen and superior leadership that make him the ultimate deal-maker, and he did such a great job of marketing that myth that many people actually believed it to be true. This certainly was a factor in his election.

As a businessman at the helm of his family owned empire it was easy for him to promote the myth, but now he is attempting to run the government of the most powerful nation on earth as if it were that business, rules seemingly do not apply to him, he behaves as if he is above the law, and many of his followers treat him as if he is the law. Trump and his followers are acting out the Fuhrer Prinzip or leader principle of Adolf Hitler before our eyes and people who should know better are allowing it to happen.

Rudolf Hess said of Hitler something I have heard repeated by Trump propagandists and Evangelical preachers who support Trump: “Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler. Whatever he does is necessary. Whatever he does is successful. Clearly the Führer has divine blessing.” I have lost count of the number of times I have seen and heard people say similar things about the President. Even members of Republican Congressional leaders seem willing to surrender their branch to the whim of the Trump’s executive, as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said just a week ago that Congress “serves at the pleasure of the President.”  I’m sorry but the Congress is not the Reichstag of 1933 but rather a co-equal branch of government as founders in their wisdom made it in the Constitution. But many other Republicans in Congress, in statehouses, in the right wing propaganda machine and on the street seem willing to concede Hess’s understanding of Hitler’s rule to Trump. What Trump does is necessary, it is right, and for many of his Evangelical Christian followers it has the blessing of God.

And Trump himself approves of this adulation, and he believes it; in fact he revels in it with every tweet and every interview that he gives. There is nothing that he does in his mind that is not the best, the greatest, or whatever superlative he decides to attach to his action of the moment. He had no capacity of reflection, no tolerance for dissent, and no ability to even receive constructive criticism from his advisers. He demonstrates that he is incompetent when it comes to governance, that he is ignorant of the Constitution, of history, and of policy; and he is too arrogant and ignorant to recognize this fact. The latest exposure of classified information to the Russians, intelligence which reportedly came from Israel regarding the Islamic State, shows how reckless and incompetent that he is. It may not have been illegal, but it certainly wasn’t smart, and the act probably violated his Oath of Office. I honestly don’t think that he set out to do that but he has no impulse control, he needs to show that he is important, and he needs to show off that importance by bragging about what he knows, and now that he has done it and has been exposed he rushes to justify the action and send out his aides to defend it because he cannot be wrong, the Fuhrer must always be right. Those who do his bidding will one day find out like members of the German military, civil service, police, and even the SS that ultimately that their loyalty to the Fuhrer cannot and will not be repaid, and that their reputation and honor will forever be soiled.

Back in August 50 Republican National Security experts wrote this public letter to express their concern about the President.

In our experience, a President must be willing to listen to his advisers and department heads; must encourage consideration of conflicting views; and must acknowledge errors and learn from them. A President must be disciplined, control emotions, and act only after reflection and careful deliberation. A President must maintain cordial relationships with leaders of countries of different backgrounds and must have their respect and trust. In our judgment, Mr. Trump has none of these critical qualities. He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The President has so deceived himself over the course of his life that he honestly believes that he understands everything better than anyone while failing to recognize his own limitations. As “Dirty Harry Callahan” once said, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” Our President neither knows his nor cares, and will continue to do so until his incompetence destroys him or possibly our nation as well.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Politics of National Destruction 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I’m on my way back home from Houston today, a very early flight so I wrote this last night in my hotel room. Yesterday I wrote about how many people since the beginnings of totalitarian mass movements in the 20th Century are easily led by demagogues and manipulated by propaganda, so much so that they will deny objective truth and facts to believe the lie, and defend the lies. 

We are at a dangerous point in history. Much of the western world is in the midst of a political crisis the likes have not been seen with the collapse of the old order after the First World War. It is a time made for demagogues, right and left wing ideologues, and others intent on overthrowing the existing order. President Trump’s advisor Steven Bannon is typical in his view. Far from being a traditional conservative, or populist, Brannon told Ronald Radosh in 2013 that he was a Leninist. Radish was shocked and asked him what he meant, to which Bannon replied: “Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  When Radosh questioned Bannon about the criticism of Tea Party tactics of government shutdown by conservative commentator Thomas Sowell in National Review Online, Bannon told Radosh, “National Review and The Weekly Standard are both left-wing magazines, and I want to destroy them also.” 

President Trump has announced his intentions to destroy what he calls “the administrative state” while at the same time increasing police powers at all levels of government by reducing judicial and administrative oversight of police agencies. If one looks at history this is very similar to policies used in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, where in both cases police organizations became the most powerful agencies in their respective states. The result was that the state was able to use police power as an instrument of terror against their own citizens as well as in nations that they occupied. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism: 

“To Stalin constant growth and development of police cadres were incomparably more important than the oil in Baku, the coal and ore in the Urals, the granaries in the Ukraine, or the potential treasures of Siberia—in short the development of Russia’s full power arsenal. The same mentality led Hitler to sacrifice all Germany to the cadres of the SS; he did not consider the war lost when German cities lay in rubble and industrial capacity was destroyed, but only when he learned that the SS troops were no longer reliable.” 

While Trump does not, at least yet, to enjoy the power of a State controlled by a single party with unlimited power to control the police and to fully limit the judiciary; his words and the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to this point indicate that that is the end state that they desire. This is only possible by destroying the power of the institutions of the constitutional state, and then by co-opting the structure of the state to fulfill the will of their ideological ends. 

At present this is not yet fully possible, but the potential of a Reichstag Fire incident to use to take over the full powers of the state through emergency decrees cannot be discounted when the stated goal is to destroy the state. One cannot give short shrift to President Trump’s statements on the campaign trail, nor his unending stream of tweet storms when estimating what he is capable of doing if given the chance. For my friends who doubt Trump’s competence to govern, it is not about competence, but rather the ruthlessness that he would be willing to employ to achieve his ends. Those who simply excuse his more extreme statements, his deliberate untruths, as hyperbole and his lack of loyalty to trusted advisers, and his willingness to shred the leaders of the party when he leads them to legislative defeat as normal political actions are sadly mistaken. If there is a crisis, one actually committed by an external enemy, or a false flag incident, this President will use his power to take control. Our President has routinely praised the actions anti-democratic dictators As Timothy Snyder wrote: “For tyrants, the lesson of the Reichstag fire is that one moment of shock enables an eternity of submission. For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions.”

For those people who I talked about yesterday who are willing to excuse the outright falsehoods of the President, this is not an issue. The fact is that for many of them they have been waiting for the chance to take vengeance on those who they perceive as their enemies, both real and imagined. That is why the Christian Right overwhelmingly supported Trump more than they have any previous Republican candidate for President. 

These are dangerous times. Our constitutional system is not nearly as resilient as we assume that it is in such a crisis. We cannot forget that shortly after Franklin Roosevelt became President that some on the political Right attempted to get retired Marine Corps General Smedley Butler to lead a coup against the President. Butler would have nothing of it and revealed their plot. But how many others would be willing to defend the institutions of a State that they wish to destroy? The Generals of the German Reichswehr rolled over to support Hitler to overthrow the hated Weimar Republic, just as conservative French politicians, industrialists, and military leaders were willing to allow Hitler to defeat France in 1940 in order to destroy the Third Republic. 

The words and actions of the President and his advisers concerning the American political system be discounted when estimating what they are capable of doing. Their apparent collusion with Putin’s a Russia before and after the campaign is being revealed more and more each day. If they did in fact collude with the Russians that is called treason. There is no other word for it, and no matter how wide and deep this is it seams to be of no importance to Trump’s followers, especially those of the supposedly Christian Right. They are willing to excuse it so long as it serves their political need for revenge against those they believe to be their political, ideological, and religious enemies. As Snyder wrote: 

“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.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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