Category Archives: News and current events

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick: Words Of Wisdom too often Ignored

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a frequent critic of President Trump, but last Friday when I awoke to the news that he had called off military strikes on Iran at the last minute, I was pleased. His closest cabinet level advisors, including John Bolton, one of the principle authors of the invasion of Iraq were pushing him to launch. There is controversy as to when the President learned the potential casualties of the initial strike, but I am less concerned about that than that he did the right thing, and at the same time began to quiet his language toward the Islamic Republic.

Whether this is enough to take us off the path the war is yet unseen. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, does not seem to be deterred or encouraged by anything Trump does. Much of this is due to the fact that the previous actions of the President and his administration have backed Iran and the United States into a corner that it will take overwhelming political and moral courage to avoid war. The pressure on both men is pushing them towards war, and Trump has the additional pressure of the Saudis and Israelis to do their dirty work regarding Iran for them, much as Israel and many of the same advisors did to President Bush during the run up to the attack on Iraq in 2003. For the moment, President Trump has resisted pulling the trigger that very probably would unleashed a devastating regional war with world wide ramifications. I hope that he continues to do so but he is not the only actor in this play, too many other actors, including Khamenei, the leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Saudi Leadership, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the Gulf States, the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, as well as various Sunni and Shia surrogates all have a hand in this Hexenkessel of potential war and death.

I have too many friends and shipmates currently stationed in the Gulf to want war there. Likewise, I am still on active duty and my nephew is graduating from Marine Corps Boot Camp this week are still on active duty. A war would be very personal for me and my family. I hope that the President is graced with the moral fortitude, something he has not demonstrated much during his life in order to both preserve peace and American/Western interests in the region. The world cannot endure a war of the kind that will certainly escalate in ways that will engulf the region and possibly the world.

President Trump’s bluster combined with his inaction and accommodation with leaders such as Putin and Kim Jong Un, his unfulfilled rhetoric of regime change in Venezuela, and his continued attacks on American allies do not help his situation right now. He suffers a distinct lack of credibility both domestically and internationally, mostly because of his words, tweets, and outright lies. That does not mean that I want him to fail. In fact I hope that he exceeds my expectations of him. The stakes are too great for him to screw this up.

That does not mean that I will excuse his domestic policies or resist when I see him overreaching his Constitutional authority, or attempt to silence his political, media, or social opponents. But, as Commander in Chief in this volatile and dangerous situation I pray that he doesn’t fuck it up. Of course, the President acts on instinct more than logic, and the adulation of his Cult-like followers over reason. Everything he does is a gamble, I hope that since he is a gambler he knows to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. If he doesn’t tens of thousands, maybe millions of lives may be lost and a true world war begun. An attack an Iran could bring Russian action against American NATO allies in Europe, North Korean actions, or Chinese actions in the South China Sea. That doesn’t include Hezbollah attacks on Israel, or Iranian sleeper agent attacks in the United States.

I pray that the President has the sense to find a way to make a real deal with Iran. For me this is not partisan politics, it is about the country, our institutions, and our future as a nation. A war with Iran will destroy all of those institutions, we will become an autocracy, and Trump might be a tool of others far worse than him.

It is something to think about. Whether I am right or wrong, true patriotism can be complicated and extend to agreements and disagreements on policies and actions.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.

Regardless I choose to tell the truth. War with Iran would would be disastrous. Our nation is neither prepared for it or unified, likewise the state of readiness of the U.S. military is abyssal, despite all of the defense budget increases. Most of those are not increasing the readiness of deplorable units or the base structures that support them. The are benefiting defense contractors and their shareholders. Marine Corps General and two time awardee Of the Medal Of Honor wrote in his book War is a Racket:

War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

The President would be wise to heed Theodore Roosevelt’s warning, in word, deed, and tweet. Speak Softly and carry a big stick.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

Götterdämmerung in the Pacific: The Okinawa Campaign

USMC-M-Okinawa-2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saturday, June 22nd is 74th anniversary  of the end of the Okinawa Campaign, one of the longest and bloodiest campaigns waged by United States Forces in the Pacific during the Second World War. I have resurrected this article from the archives because even today Okinawa is a key strategic location, and the base of thousands of U.S. military personnel, mostly Marines and Air Force personnel, along with Navy and Army personnel. In the event of a military conflict with with North Korea or China, Okinawa would be at the center of the conflagration.

Today, many Okinawans do not consider themselves Japanese, though the United States returned control of Okinawa to Japan in 1972. They are culturally more Chinese than Japanese and during the battle over a third of the civilian population died. Many are opposed to the continued presence of over 26,000 American troops, and also desire independence from Japan. So as you can see the conflict over Okinawa is not yet finished.

The Okinawa Campaign 

The United States decided to invade Okinawa in the fall of 1944 following the seizure of Peleliu and the Philippine landings.  The planned invasion of Formosa was cancelled after General Simon Bolivar Buckner objected.[i] Buckner argued that the Japanese army on it was “much too strong to be attacked by the forces by American Forces then available in the Pacific.”[ii] The strategic rationale behind the decision to invade Okinawa included Okinawa’s proximity to Japan as a staging base for a future invasion of the Japanese mainland.  Likewise taking the island would severe Japan’s lines of communication and commerce with Southeast Asia and to serve as base for strategic bombers.[iii] Planning began in October 1944 and the detailed plan for OPERATION ICEBERG was issued 9 February 1945.[iv] The campaign was not planned in isolation but “was bound up strategically with the operations against Luzon and Iwo Jima; they were all calculated to maintain unremitting pressure against Japan and to effect the attrition of its military forces.”[v]

LIEUTENANT_GENERAL_SIMON_B._BUCKNER_in_Okinawa     Lt General Simon Bolivar Buckner Commander of US 10th Army

The War Department insisted that Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner command the newly formed 10th US Army.[vi] .  Buckner was chosen to command based on his taking of the Aleutians, displacing the veteran Marine Holland M. Smith. One critical history noted that “compared to his subordinates, Buckner was hardly fit to command a corps, let alone a field army.”[vii]

The 10th Army consisted of the 3rd Amphibious Corps (1st, 2nd and 6th Marine Divisions) under Major General Roy Geiger and the XXIV Army Corps (7th, 27th, 77th and 96th Divisions) under Major General John Hodge.[viii] 2nd Marine Division was designated as a diversionary force, and the 77th Division was assigned to take the nearby island of Kerama Retto prior to the landings to provide the Navy a safe anchorage and as an artillery platform to shell Okinawa. The 27th Division was in corps reserve.  All were veteran units and had it was believed they would be “more than enough to overwhelm the estimated 70,000 Japanese on Okinawa.”[ix] However, much of XXIV Corps had only been engaged in hard combat on Leyte and was not relieved of their duties on Leyte on 1 March 1945.  This provided these units with no time to rest and refit.[x] More importantly badly needed troop replacements had been diverted to Europe due to the crisis in infantry strength there during the battle of the Bulge.[xi] The operation was very large and “mounted on a scale that matched the previous year’s Allied landing in Normandy.”[xii]

                                      The Japanese Preparations

Mitsuru_UshijimaJapanese Commander Lt General Ushijima

American intelligence underestimated the number of Japanese on the island, with an estimate of 55,000 with the expectation of 66,000 by 1 April.[xiii] However by the time of the invasion the Japanese defenders numbered over 100,000.[xiv] The defense of Okinawa was entrusted to the 32nd Army was activated in 1 April 1944 commanded by Lieutenant General Ushijima.  In addition to Okinawa the 32nd Army was responsible for the entire Ryukyu chain.[xv] General Ushijima had commanded an infantry group in Burma and was commander of the military academy when appointed to command 32nd Army and ordered to Okinawa.  His Chief of Staff, General Cho was a firebrand.  Cho had served in China and had participated in a number of attempted military coups in the 1930s as a member of the “Cherry Group.”[xvi] Another key officer though relatively junior was Colonel Yahara the Operations Officer. He had served as an exchange officer in the United States and was intellectual and a modern soldier. He viewed war as a science, won by “superior tactics adjusted to terrain, weapons and troops…not Banzai charges.”[xvii] He was “widely recognized as an expert in his field,”[xviii] and devised the Japanese defensive plan for Okinawa.

Yahara_Hiromichi          Colonel Yahara Architect of the Japanese Defensive Plan

Until 32nd Army was activated Okinawa was garrisoned by a mere 600 troops,[xix] and until major units arrived these soldiers concentrated on airfield construction.[xx] Eventually the 9th, 24thand 62nd Infantry Divisions, the 44th Mixed Brigade along with a light tank regiment and significant artillery came to Okinawa. Additional forces were alloted to outlying islands.  The 24th Division was a triangular division of 3 infantry regiments of 3 battalions each and supporting arms. The 62nd Division was a “brigaded” division activated in 1943 was formed from the veteran 63rd and 64thbrigades each with 4 infantry battalions and supporting arms. It had no organic artillery.  Both of the brigades of this division received an additional infantry battalion in January 1945 giving the division ten maneuver battalions.[xxi] Okinawa’s defenses were significantly weakened when 9th Division was transferred to Formosa by the 10thArea Army in late 1944. To compensate General Ushijima converted Naval and service troops on the island into front line troops. Additionally he called the Okinawan Boeitai volunteers and conscripts into service.[xxii] The Boeitai numbered 20,000 and burned “with ardor to serve their emperor.”[xxiii] Seven sea raiding units were converted into infantry battalions.[xxiv] The major units, with the exception of 24th Division which had been transferred from Manchuria had combat experience.[xxv]

BB-43-LVT-okinawaUSS Tennessee Provides Naval Gunfire Support while LVTs Advance toward the Beaches

Ushijima’s plans to concentrate his forces in the south were delayed by Tokyo.[xxvi] Likewise the number and disposition of troops in the Ryukyu’s were decided by Imperial Headquarters.[xxvii] Colonel Yahara wrote that had Imperial Headquarters “been able to give us an overall plan with specific unit names and arrival dates, we would have been able to follow a consistent policy, disposing units in an efficient manner rather than moving them left and right.”[xxviii] He noted how the 44th Mixed Brigade had to change location and thus its defensive preparations “seven times during the ten months before the actual battle….”[xxix]

XXIV_Corps_turns_south                                     XXIV Corps Advancing South

The loss of the 9th Division and its 25,000 soldiers forced Ushijima to change his initial plan to defend the beaches and then launch a major counterattack to drive the Americans into the sea.[xxx]Ushijima decided to defend the south end of the island. This was the most defensible area, with a network of fortifications and underground caves centered on the ancient citadel of Shuri Castle. “Troop disposition would conform to local terrain; troop strength would be concentrated; and an extensive system of subterranean fortifications constructed.”[xxxi] The defenses were “anchored in natural and artificial caves which dotted the mountainous regions around Shuri.”[xxxii] “Terrain features were incorporated into the defense and weapons were well sited with excellent fields of fire.”[xxxiii] General Ushijima left Colonel Udo’s 2nd Infantry Unit to fight a delaying action in the north,[xxxiv] having decided that the area was of “little military value.”[xxxv] Likewise Ushijima decided not to contest the landings or to defend the airfields at Kadena and Yontan.[xxxvi] He planned to use Boeitai units to demolish the airfields when the Americans approached.[xxxvii]

Okinawa_flamethrowerFlamethrowers were Widely Employed their Operators were Targeted by the Japanese

Ushijima’s defensive scheme laid out by Yahara involved concentric defensive lines, tunnels and bunker systems and even the Chinese tombs which dotted the island were converted to pillboxes over the objections of Okinawan elders.[xxxviii] Yahara and Ushijima planned a battle of attrition with all artillery in the army concentrated on the southern end of Okinawa.  Yahara believed the battle would be a “bitter yard-by-yard” defense of the island,[xxxix]with a focus on defense in depth with preparations for anti-tank warfare. There were to be no Banzai charges.[xl] Ushijima turned Bushido “inside out” and urged his soldiers to “Devise combat method [sic] based on mathematical precision, then think about displaying your spiritual power.”[xli] The defenders would be assisted by suicide boat squadrons based on Okinawa and Kerama Retto and over 4000 aircraft, conventional and Kamikaze and a naval force built around the super battleship Yamato.[xlii]

                                                      The Landings

Attack_on_bloody_ridgeWrecked Tanks on Skyline Ridge

The assault on Okinawa began with landings by 77th Division on Kerama Retto on 26 March.   The landings were met with little opposition as most of the combat troops on the islands had been moved to Okinawa leaving only base and service troops and members of a Sea Raiding Unit and Korean laborers to defend the small island.[xliii] By the 29th of March the islands were taken, along with numerous prisoners.  Over 350 of the fast “Suicide Boats” that were to attack US transports and landing craft were destroyed at Kerama Retto and long range artillery was emplaced were it could support the Okinawa landings.[xliv] More importantly Kerama Retto provided the Navy a safe anchorage, and Service Squadron 10 arrived on 27 March to support naval forces around the island.[xlv]The naval bombardment was led by Admiral Deyo’s battleships and Admiral Blandy’s escort carriers[xlvi] and culminated on 1 April when 10th Army went ashore. By the time of the landing 10 battleships and 11 cruisers would join the attack.[xlvii] Over 13,000 large caliber shells were fired and a total of 5,162 tons of ammunition were expended on ground targets and 3,095 air sorties were flown by L Day.[xlviii] Fortunately for the Japanese Ushijima had listened to Colonel Yahara and elected not to defend the beach, and thus most of the shells fell on empty positions and terrain.[xlix]

The Americans landed on the Hagushi beaches adjacent to Kadena and Yontan air bases.  No organized resistance was encountered and in the first hour 16,000 troops landed.[l] There was little disorganization and all units landed on time on the planned beaches.[li] The beaches were bisected by the Bishi River which served as the Corps boundary.  The 1st and 6th Marine Divisions landed north of it and the 7th and 96th to the south.  The Marines chopped up the “Bimbo Butai” in their area many of whom melted back into the civilian population.[lii] The Americans moved rapidly inland and by nightfall over 60,000 Marines and Soldiers were ashore.[liii] As the landings were made the 2nd Marine Division conducted a demonstration off Minatoga on the east side of the Okinawa actually launching several waves of landing craft.[liv] On 2 April the operation was repeated which helped divert some Japanese attention off of the actual landings. Ushijima reported that the attempt “was complete foiled, with heavy losses to the enemy.”[lv] Some Marine veterans of Peleliu were jubilant at not having to land and some wondered what the Japanese were up to.[lvi]

US_Flag_raised_over_Shuri_castle_on_Okinawa     Marine Battalion Commander Raising Flag over Shuri Castle

In the following days the two Marine divisions would race north and east while Army troops advanced cautiously to the south first encountering light opposition.[lvii] The 1st Marine Division cut the island in two on April 3rd and was allowed to clear the Katchin Peninsula which it took without opposition.[lviii] The 6th Marine Division moved north and by the 7th it had had taken Nago.  Colonel Udo’s troops of the 2nd infantry Unit defended the Motubu with great skill[lix] but the Marines took the center of resistance on April 18th.[lx] They then cleared the remainder of the peninsula and the rest of the northern end of the island by the 20th.[lxi] The Marines had advanced 84 miles and killed 2,500 Japanese at the cost of 261 killed and 1,061 wounded. The Japanese survivors according to the plan of Colonel Udo afterward retreated into the hills and engaged in guerilla warfare.[lxii]

                                                  The Ordeal Begins

Corkscrew-demolition_team                                      Demolition Team Advancing

As the Soldiers of the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions felt their way south, they began to encounter resistance from Japanese outposts.  On 4 April 96th Division’s advanced elements including the 96thRecon Troop and 763rd Tank Battalion encountered the first Japanese anti-tank defenses, losing 3 tanks to well concealed 47mm anti-tank guns.[lxiii] The following day both the 7th and 96thdivisions encountered more resistance and were held to minimal gains as they drove the Japanese out of their outpost positions. On the 6th and 7th they captured “the Pinnacle” and “Cactus ridge” from elements of 3 independent infantry battalions which put up stiff resistance.[lxiv] By the end of 8 April against strong opposition XXIV Corps had suffered 1,510 battle casualties and was virtually halted.[lxv] Savage hand to hand fighting took place as the defenders worked to separate the American tanks from their infantry. They held the Americans outside the Shuri zone for 8 days.[lxvi]

USMC-C-Okinawa burialThe Human Cost of War: Marine Colonel Fenton prays for his Fallen Son

The 96th Division attacked the heavily defended Kakazu Ridge and Tombstone Ridge and was repulsed.  The 7th Division was halted at Hill 178.  The Japanese fought at close quarters and desperate hand to hand fighting “would characterize the Okinawa land battle.” While the Japanese infantry contested every yard “carefully concealed anti-tank guns seemed anchored into the terrain.”[lxvii]The deployment and concealment of the anti-tank guns helped nullify the American advantages in armor. The Japanese also employed 320mm spigot mortars[lxviii] and well sited machine guns and artillery sited on reverse slopes took a heavy toll of the attacking Americans. Of one company of 89 men which attacked Kakazu on 9 April “only three returned unwounded.”[lxix] Assisted by monsoon rains, “the Japanese turned every hill, every ridge into a bloody deathtrap.[lxx] On the 10th two regiments of 96th Division attempted a power drive with battalions advancing on line and were thrown back.[lxxi] The two divisions suffered 2.890 casualties in their abortive attacks while the Japanese lost close to 4,000, mainly to artillery fire.[lxxii] Ushijima’s defense planned by Yahara was “chillingly professional and efficient. Within a week the Japanese had stopped two very good Army divisions in their tracks.”[lxxiii]General Buckner paused sent for the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions and brought the 27th and 77th Divisions ashore to strengthen XXIV Corps.[lxxiv]

                                                  Counterattack

475px-USS_Bunker_Hill_burningThe War at Sea: Kamikaze Attack on USS Bunker Hill

It was at this point when “Yahara’s war of attrition was working well” that a division arose in the 32nd Army Staff, when General Cho; Ushijima’s Chief of Staff had “his first outburst of samurai offensive fever.”[lxxv] Cho noted the failure of the American attacks and believed reports that the American Navy had been heavily damaged by Japanese air power and by the reported success of Operation Ten-Go, the sortie of the Yamato and her escorts on their suicide mission.  He based his optimism on a telegraph from Imperial Navy headquarters “claiming that Ten-go had been “very successful”[lxxvi] when in fact the Yamato and her escorts had been dispatched in hours by carrier aircraft with few American losses.  Cho also assumed a reduction in the number of ships in the Hagushi anchorage and in the number of air sorties as signs of American weakness.[lxxvii] Cho persuaded Ushijima to launch a counterattack over the protestations of Yahara who argued that “it would waste men.”[lxxviii] The attack by four battalions of the 62nd and 24thDivisions began the night of 12-13 April. Based on infiltration tactics and supported by artillery the attack was badly planned and coordinated. One attack almost overran American positions on the draw on Kakazu Ridge, but the Japanese return to “bamboo spear tactics” exposing them to the “overwhelmingly superior America artillery fire….”[lxxix] The attack was a “total failure.”[lxxx]The Japanese lost nearly 1,600 men, half their force in an “operation ill conceived, understrength, misdirected, haphazard and uncoordinated.”[lxxxi]

                                     Cracking the Outer Line

Reinforced by the 27th Division XXIV Corps prepared for another attack against the outlying Shuri defenses. In the interval between the Japanese attack and the new offensive the 77th Division landed on Ie Shima on 16 April and secured it on the 24th amid very heavy fighting killing over 4,700 Japanese, many armed civilians against the loss of 172 killed and 902 wounded Americans.[lxxxii] Among the American dead was legendary reporter Ernie Pyle.

The Americans aimed to penetrate the defenses and “seize the low valley linking Yonabaru on the east coast with the capital of Naha on the west.”[lxxxiii] The attack was supported by 27 battalions of artillery[lxxxiv] including 9 Marine artillery battalions.[lxxxv]Additional Naval gunfire support in the form of 6 battleships, 6 cruisers and 9 destroyers added to the rain of steel unleashed on the Japanese.[lxxxvi] Morison notes that Army historians stated that “Naval gunfire…was employed in greater quantities in the battle for Okinawa than in any other in history.”[lxxxvii] The 7th Division was to take Hill 178 and drive south to the Naha Yonabaru road. 96thDivision minus the 383rd Infantry was to “drive straight through the heart of the Shuri defenses seizing the town of Shuri and the highway beyond.”  27th Division attacking 50 minutes later to take advantage of artillery was to take Kakazu ridge and the coast plain north of Naha.[lxxxviii]

The attack began on April 19th and was preceded by a 19,000 shell bombardment.[lxxxix] Ushijima wisely ordered his men to remain in their caves.  The Corps Artillery commander “doubted as many as 190 Japanese…had been killed in the bombardment.”[xc] The attack was immediately halted all along the line, gains, where there were any were measured in yards. Over 750 casualties were inflicted by the Japanese on the corps and 27th Division’s tank battalion lost 22 of 30 tanks to well positioned 47mm anti-tank guns.[xci] Buckner rejected the requests of the Corps commander Hodge and the Marine divisional commanders,[xcii] to launch a flanking amphibious operation at Minatoga with the 2nd Marine Division, and continued the frontal attacks.  John Toland writing of the rejection of the amphibious operation noted that Ushijima “feared such a maneuver (“It would bring a prompt end to the fighting”) and had already been forced to move his “rear guard division north to beef up the Shuri line.”[xciii] Thus the three divisions continued to press their attacks, suffering heavy casualties.  Eventually the Americans forced the Japanese off Skyline ridge[xciv] though the Japanese still held Kakazu.[xcv] When the 27th Division attacked again it found Kakazu abandoned by the Japanese.[xcvi] By the 24th Ushijima’s line was “pierced in so many places that it was in danger of collapsing….So General Ushijima withdrew to his next chain of defenses.”[xcvii] On April 30th the 1st Marine Division relieved the battered 27th Division which had suffered 2,661 casualties in less than two weeks.”[xcviii] The 1st Marine Regiment launched an attack on 1 May and was driven back with heavy causalities.[xcix]

                                    General Cho’s Final Offensive

General Cho supported by 62nd Division’s commander, General Fujioka persuaded Ushijima over the strenuous objections of Yahara to launch a counter-offensive with the intention of isolating and annihilating the 1st Marine Division and “rolling up” XXIV Corps.[c]The attack was to occur along the entire line and include an amphibious landing behind American lines.[ci] The 62nd Division would take the lead as it had been less heavily engaged than 24thDivision.[cii] Yahara argued his case strongly and warned the Ushijima that to attack “is reckless and will lead to an early defeat.”[ciii] The attack began on the night of 3 May and the forces making the amphibious landing were annihilated by the Marines.[civ] The Japanese made little headway during the main attack; one battalion achieved a small penetration of American lines at Tanabaru but was eliminated the next day.[cv] The Japanese 27thTank Regiment lost most of its tanks and those remaining were used as “stationary artillery and pillboxes.”[cvi] The Japanese lost about 5,000 troops in the offensive.[cvii] Ushijima halted it and told Yahara “as you predicted this offensive has been a total failure.  Your judgment was correct….”  He ordered Yahara “to do whatever you feel is necessary.”[cviii] Cho saw “no hope at all”[cix] and asked Yahara jokingly “when will it be okay for me to commit hari-kari?” [cx]

                                               Göttdammerung

The American offensive resumed on 11 May and amid stubborn Japanese defense and heavy rains which hindered movement. The 1st and 6th Marine Divisions[cxi] and the 77th and the 96th infantry divisions attacked along the line but the primary objective was Shuri.[cxii] The Americans continued to apply pressure and make small gains against strong Japanese resistance put up by the 44thMixed Brigade.  The defense was particularly strong on Sugar Loaf Hill[cxiii] which cost 6th Marine Division nearly 4,000 total casualties before it was cleared out on 21 May.[cxiv] The 96thDivision turned the Japanese east flank at Conical Hill on the 13th  [cxv] while the First Marine Division cracked through the Japanese lines at Dakeshi Ridge.  It fought through Wana Ridge[cxvi] and engaged the Japanese in a costly battle in the Wana Draw. The 2ndBattalion 5th Marines supported by 30 tanks blasted their way through the draw, again against brutal Japanese resistance.[cxvii]On the 22nd Yahara persuaded Ushijima to withdraw from Shuri to the Kiyan Peninsula.[cxviii] The 1st Battalion 5th Marines crossed the divisional boundary of 77th Division to capture Shuri Castle on 24May.[cxix] The Company commander, from South Carolina who took it did not have an American flag so he “substituted the flag of the Confederacy, a banner that he…carried in his helmet.” [cxx] Two days later the American flag was raised along with the standard of the 1st Marine Division in full view of the Japanese.[cxxi]

Following the Japanese withdraw from Shuri the battle continued with heavy rains hampering both sides, especially the more vehicle dependant Americans.[cxxii] The 6th Marine Division cleared the Oruku Peninsula south of Naha the first two weeks of June[cxxiii]killing 5,000 of the Japanese Navy defenders at a cost of 1,608 Marines. The Japanese resistance crumbled when Admiral Ota committed suicide and many defenders fled while others surrendered.[cxxiv] 7th Division pushed onto the Chinen Peninsula and 1st Marine and both 77th and 96th Infantry Divisions pushed steadily south against Japanese rear-guards.[cxxv] The 8th Marines from 2nd Marine Division were brought to the island to reinforce the depleted 3rd Amphibious Corps[cxxvi] A hard fight was fought along the Kunishi-Yuza-Yaeju escarpment where the Japanese conducted their last organized defense.[cxxvii] By the 17th the “32nd Army was dazed and shattered. Discipline had evaporated.”[cxxviii] The 32ndArmy’s discipline and morale collapsed, and it “degenerated into a mob.”[cxxix] Yahara noted that “naturally, morale is low at the end of a battle, but we had never experienced anything like this.”[cxxx]

Last_picture_of_LtGen._Buckner_at_OkinawaLt General Buckner (Right) Observing 8th Marines Assault minutes before Being Killed

General Buckner was killed while observing 8th Marines attack Kunishi on the 18th and was succeeded by General Geiger of the Marine amphibious corps.[cxxxi] A final message from Tokyo congratulated 32nd Army on its achievements on the 20th.[cxxxii]General Ushijima and General Cho committed Hari-Kari early on the 23rd after ordering Yahara not to do so. Cho told Yahara “to bear witness as to how I died.”[cxxxiii]

American battle casualties totaled 49,151 including 12,520 dead.[cxxxiv] The Japanese lost over 110,000 killed and 7,400 taken prisoner by the Americans.[cxxxv] About 75,000 Okinawan civilians were killed.[cxxxvi] Small numbers of Japanese renegades and Okinawan rebels conducted low-level guerilla operations until 1947.[cxxxvii]

                                                         Analysis

The key Japanese mistake occurred at the strategic level when 9thDivision was transferred off the island[cxxxviii] and no further reinforcements were sent.  With these forces Ushijima might have been able to hold out until the end of hostilities. Yahara criticized Imperial Headquarters which panicked when the landings occurred and ordered a counterattack which “left our army in utter confusion.”[cxxxix] General Ushijima’s major mistakes during the battle were the two costly offensives urged by General Cho against the protest of Colonel Yahara. These attacks sacrificed of some of his best troops for no effect and significantly weakened the 32nd Army’s defensive posture.  Yahara objected to both of these offensives. According to the American intelligence debriefing Yahara considered the May 4th offensive “as the decisive action of the campaign.”[cxl] Gordon Rottman simply called that attack a “blunder.”[cxli]

On the American side Buckner fought an unimaginative and uninspired battle, much like Mark Clark’s Italian campaign or Courtney Hodges at the Huertgen Forrest.  Murray and Millett, note that Buckner’s “flawed generalship contributed to the slaughter.”[cxlii] Buckner’s decision not to land the 2nd Marine Division or the 77th Division at Minatoga surrendered his one opportunity to maneuver against the Japanese to force them out of their prepared positions.[cxliii] Ronald Spector notes that “in retrospect Buckner ought to have given more consideration to an amphibious attack[cxliv] while Murray and Millett state that Buckner “did not have the experience to make such a critical decision.”[cxlv] Nimitz wondered if “the Army was using slow, methodical tactics to save the lives of soldiers at the expense of the Navy”[cxlvi] which was exposed to Kamikaze attacks as they had to continue to provide the close in support to 10th Army. Buckner’s rejection of this opportunity left him with the straight ahead attack.   Another option which was available to Buckner was to seal off the Japanese and let them wither on the vine. Such an action in effect would have bypasses the Japanese defenders and force them to make Banzai attacks against dug in Americans.[cxlvii] The Americans had the airfields on day one and most of the key facilities needed for future operations and there was little to gain by continuing offensive operations in the south.  Sealing off the Japanese would have certainly caused the Americans fewer casualties than the strategy which Buckner employed.[cxlviii]

Buckner’s leadership was poor his strategy and tactics both unimaginative and foolish bordering on incompetent.  In a time when American infantry replacements were tapped out and no new Infantry divisions were available for action he decimated good formations by throwing them into frontal attacks against well prepared fortified positions manned by experienced troops.  Had Ushijima not followed General Cho’s advice squandering is own troops the battle would have cost even more American lives with the invasion of Japan looming.  The War Department in its attempt to wrest control of an operation that should have remained under the control of the Navy and Marine Corps put the wrong man in the job when other more competent corps commanders such as General “Lighting Joe” Collins who had finished off the Japanese at Guadalcanal were available with European hostilities winding down.  Why Buckner was chosen despite his incredibly limited command experience serving in the relatively inactive Aleutians and not even commanding a company in World War One had to be due to Army politics and in the end it cost nearly 50,000 American casualties on the land alone, not counting Navy casualties which totaled almost 10,000 including over 4,900 dead. The capture of Okinawa provided the Americans with valuable anchorages and airfields close to Japan had there been an invasion of the home islands, but they were obtained at great cost.

Notes


[i] Appleman, Roy, E., Burns, James M., Gugeler, Russell A., and Stevens, John. The United States Army in World War II, The War In the Pacific. Okinawa: The Last Battle, Center of Military History, United States Army. Washington DC. 1948.  p.4

[ii] Leckie, Robert. Okinawa: the Last Battle in the Pacific Penguin Books, New York NY 1996. p.2.  Although not mentioned by Leckie this shortage of forces was due to the American decision to limit the Army to 90 Divisions with dire consequences in Europe and Asia especially in the number of infantry available.  For a good account of the impact of this see Russell Weigley’s Eisenhower’s Lieutenants.

[iii] Willmont, H.P. The Second World War in the Far East. John Keegan General Editor. Cassell Books, London, 1999. p.186.

[iv] Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, Boston MA 1963. p.525

[v] Ibid. Appleman. p.4

[vi] Costello, John. The Pacific War: 1941-1945 Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1981. p.554.

[vii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.515

[viii] Ibid. Leckie. pp. 53-54.  Note Costello misidentifies both of these corps calling them 3rd Marine Corps and XIV Army Corps.   He also does not count the 77th Division in his figures.

[ix] Ibid. Costello. pp. 554-555.  Costello’s figures are slightly above the official estimates listed below.

[x] Ibid. Leckie. p.56

[xi] Ibid. Leckie. p.57 An important point to note is that the Army had reached a critical point in its ability to conduct the war.  The steady drain on infantry strength that began in Normandy was heightened in the Huertgen Forrest and the Bulge.

[xii] Ibid. Costello. p.556

[xiii] Ibid. Appleman. p.15

[xiv] Ibid. Costello. p.555

[xv] Yahara, Hiromichi. The Battle for Okinawa. Introduction and Forward by Frank Gibney. Translated by Frank Pineau and Masatoshi Uehara. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY. 1995. p.3

[xvi] Rottman, Gordon R. Okinawa 1945: The Last Battle. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2002. p.35

[xvii] Ibid. Leckie. pp.31-32

[xviii] Ibid. Rottman. p.37

[xix] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945. Random House, New York, NY 1970. p.683.

[xx] Ibid. Yahara. p.7

[xxi] Ibid. Rottman. Pp.47-48

[xxii] Ibid. Toland. pp.683-684.  Yahara also notes the arrival of the 15th Mixed Brigade and the fact that the Japanese considered the 44th Mixed Brigade “one of our Army’s prized units.” (p.12)

[xxiii] Ibid. Toland. p.683.  Leckie comments on the low opinion of many Japanese soldiers about the Boeitai calling them Bimbo Butai(Poor Detachment), as the most of the Japanese had come to loathe Okinawa and all things Okinawan. A comment from my own service in Okinawa in 2000-2001 is that this loathing of Okinawa by Japanese is still common, Japanese tend to look down on Okinawans and the Okinawans now tend to resent the Japanese.

[xxiv] Ibid. Appleman. p.87

[xxv] Ibid. Yahara. p.31 All sources note that the 24th was a “well trained” division.

[xxvi] Ibid. Costello. p.555

[xxvii] Ibid. Yahara. p.15

[xxviii] Ibid. Yahara. pp. 14-15

[xxix] Ibid. Yahara. p.15

[xxx] Ibid. Yahara. pp. 20-22 and 32.  Yahara details the initial plan and the changes necessitated by the departure of 9th Division.  Rottman gives 9th Division a strength of 17,000. (Rottman p.46)

[xxxi] Ibid. Yahara. p.20

[xxxii] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan. The Free Press and Division of MacMillan, Inc. New York, NY 1985. p.533

[xxxiii] Ibid. Rottman. p.25

[xxxiv] Ibid. Leckie p.32 and Costello. p.555. The unit was between 3000 and 3500 strong. Leckie simply identifies the force as the 2ndInfantry Unit while Costello identifies them as a Special Naval Landing Force. Appleman identifies Colonel Udo and the approximate number of troops but does not identify the unit. There appears to be confusion about the Japanese units, Appleman says that the 2nd Infantry Unit was constituted from survivors of 44thMixed Brigade (which had lost most of its troops when their ship was sunk by an American submarine) and 15th Independent Mixed Regiment which was brought in to bolster it, but Yahara consistently places the reconstituted 44th in the south as part of the main defense. (see Appleman p.87) I will relay on Yahara as he was the 32nd Army Operations Officer and in a position to have first hand knowledge.

[xxxv] Ibid. Yahara. pp.22-23

[xxxvi] Ibid. Leckie. p.32

[xxxvii] Ibid. Leckie. pp.32-33

[xxxviii] Ibid. Toland. p.684

[xxxix] Ibid. Yahara. p.32

[xl] Ibid. Yahara. p.25

[xli] Ibid. Leckie. p.35

[xlii] Ibid. Leckie. p.19

[xliii] Ibid. Appleman. pp.52-58

[xliv] Ibid. Appleman. p.60

[xlv] Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press. Annapolis, MD. 1976. p.369

[xlvi] Ibid. Costello. p. 556 and Morison p.530.

[xlvii] Ibid. Appleman. p.64. Leckie (pp. 67-68) names only 9 battleships: Arkansas, New York, Texas, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Tennessee and West Virginia. Of these ships all were built before the war and four were in commission before the US entered the First World War.  Three had been at Pearl Harbor and with the exception of their engines the Tennessee and West Virginia had been completely rebuilt and modernized to the standards of the fast new battleships of the South Dakota class.

[xlviii] Ibid. Appleman. p.64

[xlix] Ibid. Leckie. p.69.

[l] Ibid. Leckie. p.72

[li] Ibid. Appleman. p.74

[lii] Ibid. Leckie. p.73

[liii] Ibid. Appleman. p.75

[liv] Ibid. Appleman. p.74

[lv] Ibid. Leckie. p.72  A point to note is that the “Demonstration” is still one of the Amphibious Operations in the USMC Amphibious doctrine.

[lvi] Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Presidio Press. Novato, CA. 1981. Oxford University Press Paperback, New York, NY 1990. pp. 187-188  William Manchester in Goodbye Darkness talks about the first few days as his 6th Marine Division moved up North.  He talks of the minimal resistance and the beauty of the island. Manchester, William, Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War Little Brown and Company, New York NY, 1979.pp.356-357

[lvii] Ibid. Potter. pp.370-371

[lviii] Ibid. Leckie. p.78

[lix] Ibid. Manchester. p.357.  Manchester notes that the fight in the north was like “French and Indian Warfare.”

[lx] Ibid. Appleman. p.148

[lxi] Ibid. Leckie. p.83

[lxii] Ibid. Appleman. p.148

[lxiii] Ibid. Appleman. p.104

[lxiv] Ibid. Appleman. pp.107-110

[lxv] Ibid. Appleman. pp.112-113.

[lxvi] Ibid. Appleman. p.112.

[lxvii] Ibid Yahara. p.35

[lxviii] Ibid. Leckie. p.104

[lxix] Ibid. Spector. p.534

[lxx] Ibid. Murray and Millet. p.514

[lxxi] Ibid. Appleman. pp. 126-127

[lxxii] Ibid. Leckie. pp.104-105

[lxxiii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.514

[lxxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.514

[lxxv] Ibid. Yahara. p.36

[lxxvi] Ibid. Leckie. p.108

[lxxvii] Ibid. Leckie. p.108

[lxxviii] Ibid. Yahara. p.36  The battle for a counter-offensive began on 6 April but was rejected. (Appleman. p.130)  Yahara actually went to the commanders of the 24th and 62nd divisions and persuaded them not to use 3 battalions each but only two. (Leckie. pp.107-108)

[lxxix] Ibid. Leckie. p.113

[lxxx] Ibid. Appleman. p.137

[lxxxi] Ibid. Leckie. p.113.

[lxxxii] Ibid. Appleman. p.182. Leckie gives the total of 258 killed and 879 wounded. (Leckie. p.125) and estimates that most might have been uniformed civilians.  Appleman citing Army figures estimates about 1,500 civilians.  Even adding the American MIA totals the differences between Appleman and Leckie’s count of US casualties is puzzling.

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Leckie. p.126

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Leckie. p.127

[lxxxv] Ibid. Appleman. p.185

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Leckie. p.127

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Morison. p.553

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Appleman. pp.184-185

[lxxxix] Ibid. Leckie. p.128

[xc] Ibid. Leckie. p.128

[xci] Ibid. Leckie. p.131 It is interesting to note the vulnerability of the Sherman tanks to the obsolescent 47mm anti-tank guns used by the Japanese.  By this stage of the war comparable German and Russian tanks would not be stopped by such weapons, baring a luck shot.

[xcii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.515

[xciii] Ibid. Toland. p.706

[xciv] Ibid. Toland. pp.708-709

[xcv] Ibid. Leckie. p.138

[xcvi] Ibid. Appleman. pp. 243 and 247

[xcvii] Ibid. Leckie. p.139

[xcviii] Ibid. Toland. p.709

[xcix] McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in World War Two. The Infantry Journal Inc., Washington DC. 1949. p.375

[c] Ibid. Leckie. pp.148-149

[ci] Ibid. McMillan. p.377

[cii] Ibid. Yahara. p.37

[ciii] Ibid. Toland. p.710

[civ] Ibid. Toland. p.710

[cv] Ibid. Appleman. p.299

[cvi] Ibid. Appleman. p.302

[cvii] Ibid. Appleman. p.302.  Rottman states 7,000 and Leckie 6,000.

[cviii] Ibid. Yahara. p.41

[cix] Ibid. Toland. p.712

[cx] Ibid. Yahara. p.42

[cxi] Ibid. Manchester. pp. 358-359. Manchester notes the distain that the Marines felt toward 27th Division which both they and 1stMarine Division had relieved in the south.  Manchester comments that they felt that “the dogfaces lacked our spirit.”

[cxii] Ibid. Rottman. p.80

[cxiii] See Manchester pp.363-378 for a chilling description of the battle for Sugar Loaf.

[cxiv] Ibid. Leckie. pp.172-173

[cxv] Ibid. Appleman. pp.355-356

[cxvi] Ibid. McMillan. pp.385-395. 7th Marine Regiment suffered 1,249 casualties in this fight.

[cxvii] Ibid. Sledge. p.243

[cxviii] Ibid. Yahara. pp.67-73.  Yahara has an interesting account both listing the military options available and the interaction between him and the other officers leading tom the withdraw.  Among those he had to persuade were the divisional commanders of 24th and 62nd Divisions.

[cxix] Ibid. McMillan. p.401

[cxx] Ibid. McMillan. p.401

[cxxi] Ibid. Leckie. p.186

[cxxii] Ibid. Rottman. p.81

[cxxiii] Ibid. Rottman. p. 82  This included an amphibious landing by two regiments to flank the position which was the last opposed amphibious landing in the war.

[cxxiv] Ibid. Leckie. pp.199-200

[cxxv] Ibid. Rottman. p.83

[cxxvi] Ibid. Leckie. p.197  Leckie notes that the 2nd Marine Division had been transported back to Saipan rather than remain at sea as a target for Kamikazes.  As a result the Marines had no reserve on the island.

[cxxvii] Ibid. Sledge. p.301

[cxxviii] Ibid. Toland p.721

[cxxix] Ibid. Appleman. p.456

[cxxx] Ibid. Yahara. p.133

[cxxxi] Ibid. Rottman. p.83

[cxxxii] Ibid. Yahara. p.144

[cxxxiii] Ibid. Yahara. pp.154-156.  Yahara would hide among refugees hoping that he might escape to Japan but was discovered by an interrogation panel and identified on 26 July. (Yahara pp.189-191)

[cxxxiv] Ibid. Appleman. p. 473 This includes Navy losses of 4,907 killed and 4,824 wounded, mostly to Kamikaze strikes on ships supporting the operation. 10th Army lost 7,613 killed and 31,800 wounded. (Morison. p.556)

[cxxxv] Ibid. Appleman. pp473-474.  Other sources report Japanese losses at 65,000 to 70,000.  This may be from listing military civilians like those in the Naval Force and Okinawan militia as civilian casualties and only counting actually Japanese Army and Navy troops in this tally.  Costello gives a count of 10,755 prisoners; this could again be a tally including these civilians and auxiliaries. (Costello. p.578)  Rottman spends some time analyzing the discrepancies in the Japanese casualty numbers and comes to the same conclusion. (Rottman pp.84-85)

[cxxxvi] Ibid. Toland. p.726

[cxxxvii] Ibid. Rottman. p.85

[cxxxviii] Ibid. Yahara. p.31

[cxxxix] Ibid. Yahara. p.196.

[cxl] Ibid. Yahara. p.214

[cxli] Ibid. Rottman. p.73

[cxlii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.514

[cxliii] Ibid. Leckie. p.162

[cxliv] Ibid. Spector. p.535

[cxlv] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.515

[cxlvi] Ibid. Potter. p.373

[cxlvii] Ibid. Leckie. p.162  Leckie does not know if this was considered by Buckner though the tactic was used throughout the “island hopping” campaign where Japanese strong points were bypassed and isolated to whither on the vine.

[cxlviii] Ibid. Leckie. p.162

 

                                                Bibliography

 

Appleman, Roy, E., Burns, James M., Gugeler, Russell A., and Stevens, John. The United States Army in World War II, The War In the Pacific. Okinawa: The Last Battle, Center of Military History, United States Army. Washington DC. 1948

Costello, John. The Pacific War: 1941-1945 Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1981

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa: the Last Battle in the Pacific Penguin Books, New York NY 1996.

McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in World War Two. The Infantry Journal Inc., Washington DC. 1949.

Manchester, William, Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War Little Brown and Company, New York NY, 1979

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, Boston MA 1963

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000.

Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press. Annapolis, MD. 1976.

Rottman, Gordon R. Okinawa 1945: The Last Battle. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2002.

Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Presidio Press. Novato, CA. 1981. Oxford University Press Paperback, New York, NY 1990.

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan. The Free Press and Division of MacMillan, Inc. New York, NY 1985.

Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945. Random House, New York, NY 1970.

Willmont, H.P. The Second World War in the Far East. John Keegan General Editor. Cassell Books, London, 1999.

Yahara, Hiromichi. The Battle for Okinawa. Introduction and Forward by Frank Gibney. Translated by Frank Pineau and Masatoshi Uehara. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY. 1995

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Southern Justice at 55 Years: Why Must it be Denied and Forgotten?

normanrockwellsouthernjustice-2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fifty-Five years ago three young men working to register blacks to vote as part of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. As a historian I am troubled as I see an increase in racially motivated hate crimes and displays of nooses left as threats at historically black institutions or places dedicated to remembering the Civil Rights movement. When I see the lack of empathy and the lack of concern shown for these crimes by white people, especially Evangelical Christians I wonder if we are sinking back into the abyss of Jim Crow.

I have dealt with Holocaust deniers many times and also plenty of people who find nothing wrong with American slavery, Jim Crow, and racism. I find it troubling that despite the forensic, and historical evidence that people can either deny, minimize, or rationalize such behavior.

The fact that the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination had to struggle with the issue of civil rights and the race hatred of the Alt-Right last week showed me that the toxin has not been purged from the Convention, or for that matter much of America. The fact that a man who is active in White Supremacist movements murdered two men and wounded a third as they defended Muslim women on a Portland Oregon commuter train was disturbing, as was the murder of a newly commissioned African American Army Lieutenant by a White Supremacist on the campus of the University of Maryland. Likewise there has been a spate of nooses being placed on college campuses, historically Black institutions, Civil Rights sites, and at the offices or residences of people who support civil rights, including professors.

southern justice 4

These troubling incidents have again reminded me of the events of June 21st 1964 when three men, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen. Twenty year old Andrew Goodman was from New York City. He was a progressive activist and Anthropology student at Queens College. Twenty-four year old Mickey Schwerner was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish and had come South to work with others for Civil Rights in Mississippi. The third man, James Cheney, was a twenty-one year old Black Mississippian. Chaney was from Meridian Mississippi and was a volunteer with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equity. All three men were there to assist community leaders with voter registration and education in conjunction with local churches.

On June 21st 1964 the three men were in Philadelphia Mississippi where they were investigating the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church. The church had been working with CORE’s voter registration and education programs. In the wake of the church being burned, many black citizens and church members were beaten by whites, rumored to be aided by members of the local Sheriff’s office. They specifically accused Sheriff’s Deputy Cecil Price of abuse.

When Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were marked men from the moment they arrived. As they left the town the three were arrested for an alleged traffic violation. They were briefly jailed and released that evening, but were not allowed to make any phone calls. On the way back to Meridian, two carloads of Klan members forced their car off the road and then abducted them and murdered them. The bodies were not discovered for 44 days. Their disappearance brought national attention and a major investigation to the town. Eventually seven men, including Deputy Price were convicted of the murders. The murders and the investigation became the subject of the movie Mississippi Burning.

MississippiBurningPressRelease

Iconic American artist Norman Rockwell who was well known for his portraits of American life as well as his support for the Civil Rights movement, painted “Southern Justice” which is sometimes known as “Murder in Mississippi” in 1965. This was not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which over the past decade has been under attack in many southern states and a key provision on racial gerrymandering was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Fifty-three years ago the murders of these three young men brought national attention to the pervasive racism and discrimination in the country. Before this event most murders, lynchings, as well as the burnings of homes businesses were left uncovered by the media, the victims forgotten and the perpetrators unpunished.

I do hope and pray that we never go back to those days, but there are a number of troubling issues for us in the United States today. The first is that there have been quite a few laws passed to limit voting rights in various states. Some of these have been successfully challenged in the courts and eventually one may make its way to the Supreme Court. Then there is the rapidly growing number of racially motivated hate crimes against Blacks and other minorities as well as the threat of nooses being placed in trees around historic sites and museums dedicated to minorities or civil rights. The Southern Poverty Law Commission monitors the activities of hate groups across the political, religious, and racial spectrum and has noted a sharp increase in attacks over the past two years, coinciding with the election of Donald Trump as President. Heavily armed and militant racist and anti-Semitic groups proudly march hand in hand with Trump supporters, allegedly to protect them from “leftists.”

I wonder if we will see a return to the commonplace violence and silence that characterized the nation’s treatment of minorities before the Civil Rights movement. You think that we have moved the chains so far and that it cannot happen again when before our very eyes it rises like an undead specter to claim new victims. Eternal vigilance is the guardian of freedom; we cannot allow the thousands who died before, and those who have died since these three young men to be forgotten. Too much is at stake.

In memory of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner and others of the Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights movement who died or suffered to peacefully bring about change to our society, I leave you until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Why this, Why now? The Attacks on Tankers in the Gulf of Oman

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few weeks I have been watching the situation building in the Persian Gulf, between Iran and its allies, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the various Gulf States, and Israel.

The situation has grown more tense through the threats of the Trump Administration, its increasingly punishing sanctions on Iran, and its deployment of additional Naval and Air Force units. Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse, and over the past few weeks there have been attacks on tankers in the waters in the Gulf of Oman, which lays just outside the Straits of Hormuz, the vital passage through which passes much of the oil produced in the Middle East for the world markets, especially Asian markets.

I am a naturally suspicious person. When things like this happen I ask “why this, why these people, and why now?” Or in the cases when someone is telling me a story, “why this, why me, why now?” People lie to preachers and priests all,the time, nations and leaders of nations lie all the time. All the characters involved in this drama spin events and intelligence to shape the narrative they want others to believe. That includes the Mullahs of Iran, the Saudi Royal Family, the leaders of the Gulf States, Benjamin Netanyahu Of Israel, and President Trump, and his often conflicted and contradictory administration.

The United States has accused Iran of the attacks on these tankers, there is some evidence that points that way. The Iranians are protesting that their Gulf rivals are conducting these operations in order to frame them. Either, or both explanations are possible. The first two attacks involved very small explosive charges which did minor damage to the first two tankers, most likely placed by divers on the hills of the ships while at anchor. The second set of attacks did significant damage to two tankers. The United States Central Command produced a video of what might be an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Naval Corps boat removing something from one of the recently attacked ships.

But the theory offered by the United States, that these two ships were approached by Iranian craft which placed limpet mines on them, without reporting close encounters with Iranian craft. That would be highly unusual. The explanation by CENTCOM that the craft on the video was removing an unexplored limpet mine from the ship also seems unlikely. The Iranians knew that U.S. warships, equipped with helicopters were near the ships, such a move would be unusual for the Iranians, even the Revolutionary Guards, especially since one of the ships was Japanese owned and the head of the shipping line that owned the ship said that the crew reported an object flying at it. That could have been a rocket, missile, or even an armed drone.

Of course the Iranians could have done any of those things, as could have the Saudis, the Gulf States, the Israelis, or even the Americans.

The rapidity that Secretary of State Pompeo and President Trump labeled the Iranians as the attackers under such opaque circumstances has inadvertently backed the United States into a corner. We now have to prove our allegations. Regardless of who actually conducted the attacks, the refusal of the United States to wait for more forensic evidence of who committed the attack, the quick finger pointing at Iran was unwise. The release of a video which cannot actually identify what was removed from the tanker further obfuscates the situation.

The fact is that in the current situation, it is better to wait for conclusive evidence rather than further ratcheting up the tensions with yet unprovable allegations. There are other parties quite willing to drag the United States and Iran into war to suit their strategic aims.

When I see something like this I think of the Gulf of Tonkin incident which led to a massive escalation of the United States military involvement in Vietnam. But my question is, who is behind it?

I cannot answer that question, however, I can predict that this situation will escalate with very unpredictable and probably tragic consequences. I do hope that I am wrong, but on thing that I know from history, is that leaders in trouble at home, frequently instigate crisis abroad to divert attention from their domestic problems. If that is the case all of the possible subjects, with the possible exception of the Iranians have something to gain from this.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the Iranians couldn’t be behind these attacks, but they would be low on my motivational index, unless the Revolutionary Guard has chosen to act independently of the Iranian government.

Right now I see more questions than answers, and a war brewing that shouldn’t happen. A war that will bring many changes to our world, and very likely to the life we now know in the United States.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Nature Of Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty years ago when I was in seminary my Philosophy Of Religion Professor, Dr. Yandall Woodfin told our class that until we had death with the realities of evil, death, and suffering we had not yet done Christian theology. He was right, but I have not learned that by wrestling with theology per say, but rather human experience as recorded by history, especially my studies of the Holocaust, and American Slavery, as well as what the and as observed in my life as a trauma and surgery department chaplain in a number of large and medium sized hospitals, including Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Since that time I have witnessed hundreds of violent deaths. Most in the United States but some in Iraq. I have seen cruelty, committed by human beings that only can be described as evil. I have also spoken directly with men who killed in cold blood, including an assassination type hit on a man and his son who owed him fifty dollars. That man was a Navy Hospital Corpsmen with a wife and a child, his victims a couple of locals. When I looked in his eyes there was no feeling, it didn’t matter what he had did, he was a classic sociopath. He had no empathy for the men he killed or the devastation he left in the lives of his wife and child. The state he committed the murder in does have the death penalty, but he received two back to back life sentences. The Navy discharged him and that cut off my attempts to communicate with him.

But the question always comes back to the nature of evil itself, and the willing ignorance of many people of it. Having come face to face with this man and others like him, I have to agree with the comments of Captain and psychologist Gustave Gilbert about the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

I have to admit that the amount of ignorance in the defense of evil that I see daily is simply mind blowing. It makes me shake my head. But then I cannot be surprised anymore. About two years ago I saw a poll in which nine percent of Americans said that holding White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi views and ideology was okay. 

Now nine percent doesn’t sound like a big number or anything to worry about until you extrapolate that percentage into the numbers of people who hold that view. Based on the population of the United States that nine percent equals about thirty million individuals. Now I’m sure that many of these patriotic Americans are not card carrying Klansmen or Nazis, but the fact that they would turn a blind eye to the evil of both in the name of some incomprehensible moral equivalence as did President Trump after Charlottesville is quite disturbing. Perhaps it is his example that enables them to be so open about their acceptance of evil. 

A while back on my Facebook page a friend of a friend commented on an article which discussed new research that indicates that the Nazis in their occupation of the Ukraine killed perhaps a half million more Jews than previously believed. That woman made the comment that there were others, and yes that is true. Had the Nazis won the war tens of millions more of the Jews as well as the Slavs who they referred to as Untermenschen or subhumans would have been killed, either directly or through a policy of intentional starvation. But make no bones about it, from the months that Hitler spent in Landsberg prison for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 writing Mein Kampf until the end of the war as the Red Army closed in on his bunker in Berlin, the Jews above all were the object of his personal hatred. 

Close to six million Jews and millions of others were killed by the Nazis. Millions of Africans were enslaved in the United States and even after emancipation were by law treated as less than full citizens. Under Jim Crow they were discriminated against at every level of government including states that were neither a part of the Confederacy or not even States when the Civil War was fought, they were impressed as forced labor under the Black Codes and thousands were murdered, often in public by people who brought their children to watch Black men die. 

But these people were not just numbers. It’s all to easy to blur them into a mass of dehumanized humanity by talking about the millions, when every single one was a human being, yes, I believe created in the image of God. We have to see their faces and we have to recognize their essential humanity as men and women, children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, whose lives were in the case of the Jews obliterated as if they never existed, and others like African slaves who were simply property.

I explained that in quite a few fewer words and told her that she shouldn’t challenge me on the subject, which of course she did. So I went into more detail and shot her argument down in flames, to the cheers of other commentators on the post. When you have spent much of your academic life studying a subject it really gets old hearing people make excuse for evil by trying to minimize that evil, especially against the targeted people. 

It’s like Confederate apologists saying that the institution of slavery which enslaved millions of Africans was actually worse for White people. Yes it is true that many poor whites benefited little from slavery, but they were not bought and sold as chattel, sold away from their wives and children, whipped, and marched across country in chains to new owners, or yes even killed simply because they were not considered human beings but property. 

Sadly, as Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote “The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.” 

So there are about 30 million Americans who believe that holding Nazi and White Supremacist beliefs is okay. A few years ago I would believed that the number was lower, but after seven months of living in Trump’s America I believe that it might be even higher than the poll indicated. I only say this based on the postings I see on various social media platforms, news comment pages, the proliferation of websites that cater to these beliefs, and the lack of real condemnation of such individuals by the majority of the GOP Senate and House majorities, and the outright defense of them by other GOP representatives at the Federal and State level. These people have not learned the lessons of the Holocaust, nor American slavery. 

Again I don’t believe that the majority of these people are real card carrying Nazis or Klansmen. Most would probably be considered great citizens: they work, they raise families, they go to church, and many would claim that they have “a Black or Jewish friend” so obviously they cannot be racists. But that being said they turn a blind eye to the evil of race hatred and White supremacy, and sometimes join in on social media meme wars where they mock the victims. But no matter what, not condemning the purveyors of White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi ideology, or by using the arguments of moral equivalence to minimize those crimes against humanity makes these people as complicit in the past, present, and future crimes of Naziism as if they were. 

They may be ordinary people, as seemingly normal as anyone else, but as Hannah Arendt noted about Adolf Eichmann and other Nazis who advanced the destruction of the Jews was that they were so normal. She wrote: 

“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.” 

That my friends is as true as the day she wrote it after Eichmann’s trial, as it is today, and why we must constantly educate people in every forum possible that it is all too easy to become either a perpetrator or evil or a bystander. As Snyder wrote: “It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander. It is tempting to say that a Nazi murderer is beyond the pale of understanding. …Yet to deny a human being his human character is to render ethics impossible. To yield to this temptation, to find other people inhuman, 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.” 

Since they were human beings the Nazis were not unique to history. In every era of history human beings have committed atrocities, many in the name of some kind of ethnic, religious, or nationalist ideology of supremacy that held other people to be less than human. That may sound harsh, but it is all too true based on history.

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

In the movie Judgment at Nuremberg the judge played by Spencer Tracy noted something important about the defendants in the trial. His words need to be heard today as well:

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 through the 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.

It is high time that we learn that again and that we make up our minds to oppose the ideologies that made the Holocaust and Slavery possible. As Hannah Arendt observed: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

But then there are those who have no problem with it, sociopaths who have an extreme absence of empathy.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, ER's and Trauma, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, Military, ministry, nazi germany, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

Silence in the Face Of Evil is Evil Itself

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

Today I blocked and deleted a former friend from a church I went to decades ago because of his attitude towards me and what I post on Facebook. I get tired of the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be patriotic when in fact they openly support a President who openly denies his oath when he said today that he would accept “dirt” on his political opponents from foreign sources.

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

I have written about that subject a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, although I hoped for a different outcome. Trust me, as an American with a profound respect for the office of the President that is what I wanted, but it didn’t happen.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him want bloodshed, they want Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.” 

The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies and denies the President’s words and vilifies anyone that dares to question her. So when she is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.

Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“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.” 

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. I will live and die as a Christian who believes those sacred words of secular scripture found in the Declaration.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

D-Day at 75 Years: “We Have to do Our Best to Uphold in Our own Lives the Values that They we’re Prepared to Die For”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find the days around Memorial Day and the anniversaries of the Battle of Midway and the D-Day landings to be a time when I become quite reflective about what it means to be a career American military officer, combat veteran, and the son of a Navy Chief who was also a combat veteran. I am also an uncle to a young man who likely will be enlisting in the Army in the coming weeks.

When he spoke on Omaha Beach during the ceremony marking the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings President Barak Obama said:

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.” 

All of my adult life I have strived to uphold those values that those men were prepared to die for, and for almost 38 years of Army and Navy service that I have been prepared to do so at a moment’s notice.

Seventy-five years ago the liberation of France began on the beaches of Normandy.  Soldiers from 6 Allied Infantry and 3 Airborne Divisions supported by an Armada of over 5000 ships and landing craft and several thousand aircraft braved weather, heavy seas and in places fierce German resistance to gain the foothold on beaches named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno.  Over the next seven weeks the Allied soldiers advanced yard by yard through the hedgerows and villages of Normandy against ferocious German resistance before they were able to break out of the lodgment area and begin the drive across France. In his D-Day message to his troops General Dwight Eisenhower reminded them that their mission was “the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.” There are still those in the world who subject their people to tyranny and attempt to destabilize and overthrow the governments of liberty loving peoples, likewise Eisenhower knew that security for ourselves meant close alliances with those who have our values and not isolating ourselves from the world.

The fighting was bloody, most American, British and Canadian infantry battalions and regiments suffered nearly 100% casualty rates in Normandy.  Replacements were fed in at a cyclic rate to make up the losses even as fresh divisions flowed ashore, but the losses were terrible.  By the time the landings took place, the British having been at war for nearly five years were bled out.  They had little left to replace their losses.  From Normandy on the British were losing combat power at a rate that they could not make up.

For the Americans there was another problem.  The US High command decided to limit the Army to 90 Divisions.  Many of these were committed to the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.   Likewise, American Infantry units were generally made up of the lowest caliber of recruits, led often by the poorest officers; the best went to either the Air Corps or technical branches of the Army.

Now this is not to criticize veterans, but it is a factor in the campaign.  Most US Infantry Divisions with the exceptions of those previously blooded in North Africa and Sicily often performed badly in action.  Some, after being manhandled by the Germans had their leadership replaced and became excellent combat units.  However, every new division that arrived in France after D-Day always got the worst of their initial engagement against German forces.

While performance suffered there was another problem for the Americans.  With the limitation in number of divisions, they stopped building infantry divisions, upon whom the bulk of the campaign depended. Thus they had little in the way of trained infantry replacements to make up heavy losses in Normandy.  By late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge the American infantry crisis was so bad that 30,000 Air Corps candidates were trained as infantry and soldiers from support units such as Ant-Aircraft battalions were used to bolster infantry units.

Had the Germans been able to hold out and had they not been bled white by the Red Army on the Easter Front, had they not lost the nearly their entire Army Group Center in the Red Army offensive of 1944 it is conceivable that the British and American offensive in the West would have ground to a halt for lank of infantry in 1945.  In spite of this there was no lack of individual courage among the troops engaged; the courage and sacrifice of all who fought there should not be forgotten.

The human toll among the combatants both Allied and German, as well as the local populace was especially traumatic.  While the American, Canadian and British people are keen to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers we often forget the toll among the French civilian population of Normandy as well as the German soldiers, mostly conscripts, sacrificed by the Nazi regime.  Normandy suffered more than any part of France during the liberation.  In the months leading up to D-Day Allied Air Forces unleashed hell on Normandy to attempt to lessen potential German resistance.  The Allied Naval bombardment added to the carnage ashore and once the campaign began the combined fires of both Allied and German forces devastated the region.  Whole cites such as Caen were destroyed by Allied Air forces and an estimated 30,000 French civilians were killed during the Normandy campaign, 3000 on D-Day alone.  I think it can be said that the blood of the civilians of Normandy was shed for the freedom of all of France.

The campaign in Normandy was one of the most viciously contested in western military history.  German forces, especially Paratroops of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Fallschirmjager Divisions, German Army Panzer Divisions such as the 2nd, 21st, 116th and Panzer Lehr and those of the Waffen-SS, especially the 1st, 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions held the line against ever increasing Allied forces.  As they sacrificed themselves Hitler refused to commit more forces to Normandy and insisted that his Army contest every meter of ground.  He forbade his commanders to withdraw to more defensible positions along the Seine.

Hitler’s decisions actually shortened the campaign.  Whatever the crimes of the Hitler Regime and Nazism, which were among the most heinous in history, one can never question the valor, courage and sacrifice of ordinary German soldiers.  For those Americans who lump all Germans who fought in World War II with the evil of the Nazi regime, please do not forget this fact:  There are those today, even in this country that make the same charge against Americans who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and those at home and abroad who have labeled the US as an aggressor nation. As President Trump continues to go his own way to make the United States a pariah nation, including pardoning convicted war criminals, we have to be very aware of the costs of it and also remember that the Americans who went ashore on D-Day did so to help defeat a pariah nation that had flaunted every standard of justice in attempting to make Germany Great Again. When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday and it is possible that our day may come sooner than we think. It is as Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal wrote:

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

Normandy was a near run thing for the Allies.  First the weather almost delayed it by 2 to 4 weeks.  Had that happened the Germans might have been even better prepared to meet the invasion.  Likewise, the Red Army’s devastating offensive which annihilated Army Group Center in June kept the Germans from transferring additional forces from the Russian Front to Normandy.  On D-Day itself there were a number of times where Lady Luck, or maybe the Deity Herself, saved the Allies from disaster.

Any person who has seen Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day or Band of Brothers knows a little bit about how close Overlord came to failure.  Allied Airborne units were dispersed throughout the region after they drooped.  Many units were not fully operational for more than a day as they sought to organize themselves and gather their troops.  At Omaha Beach the Americans had not counted on the presence of the first rate German 352nd Infantry Division.  This division, despite being pounded by naval and air forces almost cause General Bradley to withdraw from Omaha.  At Utah the soldiers of the 4th Infantry division escaped a similar mauling by landing on the wrong beach.  Had they landed at the planned beaches they would have ran into the same kind of resistance from well dug in German forces.  At Gold Juno and Sword British forces benefited from confusion in the German command which kept the 21st Panzer Division from descending on the British forces and quite possibly splitting the British zones.

The Allies benefited from the absence of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B who because of the ad weather assumed no invasion was possible and traveled to German to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  Finally, and perhaps most important they benefited by Hitler’s refusal to immediately commit forces, including his Panzer reserve to defeat the invasion at the beachhead.

For those who fought in Normandy and those civilians who lived through it the memories are still vivid. Many suffer the effects of PTSD, grief and other wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual.  When one is exposed to the danger and destruction of war, the smell of death, the sight of burned out cities, vehicles and the suffering of the wounded and dying, it makes for a lifetime of often painful memories.

For some of the German, British and American veterans, the struggle in Normandy has given way to long lasting friendships.  Many of those who fought against the Allied onslaught became fast friends after the war. Those who fought against each other were soon allies as part of NATO and soldiers of nations which were once bitter enemies serve together in harm’s way in Afghanistan.  The generation that fought at Normandy is rapidly passing away, their numbers ever dwindling they remain a witness to courage, sacrifice and reconciliation.

In the end it is reconciliation and healing that matters. Some scars of war never pass away; some memories are far too painful to release.  Yet we who serve often strive to reconcile.  In 2002 while deployed at sea for Operation Enduring Freedom I was an advisor to a boarding team from my ship.  It was our job to make sure that impounded ships which were breaking the UN embargo on Iraq were not in danger of sinking, and that their crews had food, water and medical care.  Since many of these ships remained at anchor for 2-4 weeks in the heat of the Arabian Gulf, this was important.

The delays imposed by UN rules sometimes meant that the sailors of these ships grew resentful.  It was my job to spend time with the Masters of these ships to keep things calm and work out any issues that arose.  On one of these ships I met an Iraqi merchant skipper.  The man was well traveled, educated in the U.K. in the 1960s and in his career a frequent visitor to the US. In 1990 he was the senior captain of the Kuwaiti shipping line.  Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As a result of this when Kuwait was liberated he lost his job.  His nation was an international pariah.  Since his life was the sea he took up the only job possible to support his family, what he knew best, captaining ships.  He was most apologetic for the trouble that he and others like him caused us.  We shared much during those visits.   One of his daughters was in medical school and other children in university.  He longed for the day when Iraq would be free.  On our last talk before his ship was released he remarked to me “I hope one day we will meet again.  Maybe someday like the American, British and German soldiers after the war, we can meet in a pub, share a drink and be friends.” 

Symbols of Reconciliation at the German Cemetery in Normandy

I too pray for that, especially after my tour in Al Anbar five years after I encountered that Iraqi Merchant Captain.  Maybe someday we will. I thought of him almost every day that I was in Iraq. I only hope that he and his family have survived the war, the continuing violence in Iraq and are doing well. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of this man or the Iraqis that I had the honor of serving alongside in Al Anbar in 2007 and 2008.

President Obama remarked in Normandy last week about the veterans of the 9-11 Generation of service members, of which I and so many others like me are part:

“And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of service members — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.”

The survivors of the D-Day landings and those on the other side of the hill are continuing to pass from the bonds of this earth and into eternity. The youngest of the living are now in their early to mid 90s, some are over 100. We owe it to them and to the world to make what they sacrificed themselves to do into reality, battling tyranny and striving for peace and security.

Their generation built the pillars of peace and economic security that President Trump often mocks, criticizes, or condemns. D-Day was just part of their story. The burden is now on we the living to carry the torch of freedom that they once held. My military career of 38 years will come to an end early next year, but my nephew Darren will be completing Marine Corps Basic Training in a few weeks. He wants to become an infantryman and maybe serve with Marine Security Forces or Special Operations. I am proud of him.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe