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When Military Forces Become Criminal Institution’s: The WWII Wehrmacht and the Attempt of Trump to Turn the Military into His Instrument of Terror

Hitler and His Commanders Planning Operation Barbarossa 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am continuing on with my series on Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s closing arguments while serving as the Chief American Prosecutor at the Major War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg. These crimes are not without relevance today, thus it is important for us to revisit them, for as I noted yesterday, quoting Yehuda Bauer, the Holocaust did not deviate from human norms.

For me it is a difficult subject, for I served in and supported a war that by any standard of legal and moral judgement would have met the criteria that we prosecuted the Nazis for in 1945. I should have known better because I had studied the Nazi crimes and had been the student of a professor who served as an interrogator and interpreter during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. But in the moment of hysteria after the attacks of September 11th 2001 and my belief in the integrity of Secretary of State Colin Powell, I allowed my good sense to be persuaded that an act of aggressive war that resulted in war crimes, and might even include crimes against humanity was perfectly legal.

I went to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. I worked with advisors to Iraqi Army, Border Troops, Police, Port of Entry, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams In Al Anbar Province. I came back from Iraq a very different man. I saw the lies. I came to love and appreciate the Iraqis and what they had suffered under both Saddam Hussein and our invasion and occupation. I can still see the maimed bodies, the destroyed cities and hamlets, the crippled children, as well as the wounded Marines in my mind. I pray and hope that the Iraqis that I served alongside did not become victims of ISIS after I left the country.

I am haunted by it to this day, and I no longer trust the supposedly good intentions of the American government, and in the age of Donald Trump fear for our nation and the world. Since he took office he has attempted to use military units in operations both on the Mexican Border, in Washington D.C., and has pardoned convicted U.S. Army and Navy War Criminals.

After Border Patrol agents, in full combat gear and body armor fired tear gas across across the Mexican border against Mexicans throwing rocks at them,  President Trump said that he authorized U. S. Military personnel to use deadly force against rock throwers. His former Chief of Staff, and now opponent, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly issued a “cabinet order” something never heard of before, allowing U. S. Military personnel to engage refugees believed to be endangering Border Control agents, in what appears to be a direct violation of Posse Comitatus. Add to those issues the use of drone strikes, by the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations, both DOD and CIA, against often insignificant targets that that more often than not have many women and children in them, and finally the pardoning of convicted war criminals by President Trump, and firing the only administration who stood in his way, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.

Since then the President attempted to use the Army against peaceful protestors in Lafayette Part outside the White House on 1 June 2020, their use was not authorized by the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, the President used U.S. Park Police, a mixture of other Federal Police, and D.C. National Guardsmen launched a violent attack on the protestors in order to allow the President unimpeded access to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a disastrous photo-op. But the optics for the military were bad, both Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and General Mark Miley apologized for their presence. Subsequently, they have taken actions following it directly opposing the President’s most racist and pro-Confederate, and White Nationalist words and tweets, while the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chief of Naval Operations, and other Service Chiefs banned Confederate and other racist symbols on military bases. They also ordered investigations into racial incidents and at least in the case of the Navy have moved to initiate a climate of command that takes the issues of racism, gender bias, sexual assault, religious prejudice and other actions harm anyone serving in the Navy.

But I digress. When I read these accounts my mind is taken back to the subject of war crimes, and based on my expertise and study of the crimes of the Nazis, not to mention the Japanese in the Second World War, I automatically default to those settings.

So, I will stop with my words and go back to those of Robert Jackson at Nuremberg, because they are so pertinent today, and because I have been writing about Justice Jackson and the Major War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg. There will be a time that I write about the subsequent Generals Trial, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Immediately after the seizure of power the Nazis went to work to implement these aggressive intentions by preparing for war. They first enlisted German industrialists in a secret rearmament programme. Twenty days after the seizure of power Schacht was host to Hitler, Goering and some twenty leading industrialists. Among them were Krupp von Bohlen of the great Krupp armament works and representatives of I. G. Farben and other Ruhr heavy industries. Hitler and Goering explained their programme to the industrialists, who became so enthusiastic that they set about to raise three million Reichsmarks to strengthen and confirm the Nazi Party in power. Two months later Krupp was working to bring a reorganised association of German industry into agreement with the political aims of the Nazi Government. Krupp later boasted of the success in keeping the German war industries secretly alive and in readiness despite the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty, and recalled the industrialists’ enthusiastic acceptance of “the great intentions of the Fuehrer in the rearmament period of 1933-1939”.

Some two months after Schacht had sponsored his first meeting to gain the support of the industrialists, the Nazis moved to harness industrial labour to their aggressive plans. In April, 1933, Hitler ordered Dr. Ley “to take over the trade unions”, numbering some 6 million members. By Party directive Ley seized the unions, their property and their funds. Union leaders, taken into “protective custody” by the SS and SA, were put into concentration camps. The free labour unions were then replaced by a Nazi organization known as the German Labour Front, with Dr. Ley at its head. It was expanded until it controlled over 23 million members. Collective bargaining was eliminated, the voice of labour could no longer be heard as to working conditions, and the labour contract was prescribed by “trustees of labour” appointed by Hitler. The war purpose of this labour programme was clearly acknowledged by Robert Ley five days after war broke out, when he declared in a speech that:

“We National Socialists have monopolised all resources and all our energies during the past seven years so as to be able to be equipped for the supreme effort of battle.”

The Nazis also proceeded at once to adapt the Government to the needs of war. In April, 1933, the Cabinet formed a Defence Council, the working committee of which met frequently thereafter. In the meeting of 22nd May, 1933, at which defendant Keitel presided, the members were instructed that:

“No document must be lost since otherwise the enemy propaganda would make use of it. Matters communicated orally cannot be proven; they can be denied by us in Geneva.”

In February, 1934 -and, your Honours, dates in this connection are important -with defendant Jodl present, the Council planned a mobilization calendar and mobilization order for some 240,000 industrial plants. Again it was agreed that nothing should be in writing so that “the military purpose may not be traceable”.

Hjalmar Schacht

 

On 21st May, 1935, the top secret Reich Defence Law was enacted. Defendant Schacht was appointed Plenipotentiary General for War Economy with the task of secretly preparing all economic forces for war and, in the event of mobilization, of financing the war.

Schacht’s secret efforts were supplemented in October, 1936, by the appointment of defendant Goering as Commissioner of the Four-Year Plan, with the duty of putting the entire economy in a state of readiness for war within four years.

A secret programme for the accumulation of the raw materials and foreign credits necessary for extensive rearmament was also set on foot immediately upon seizure of power. In September of 1934, the Minister of Economics was already complaining that:

“The task of stock-piling is being hampered by the lack of foreign currency; the need for secrecy and camouflage also is a retarding influence.”

Foreign currency controls were at once established. Financing was delegated to the wizard Schacht, who conjured up the MEFO bill to serve the dual objectives of tapping the short-term money market for rearmament purposes while concealing the amount of these expenditures.

The spirit of the whole Nazi administration was summed up by Goering at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, which included Schacht, on 27th May, 1936, when he said: “All measures are to be considered from the standpoint of an assured waging of war.” The General Staff, of course, also had to be enlisted in the war plan. Most of the generals, attracted by the prospect of rebuilding their armies, became willing accomplices. The Minister of War von Blomberg and the Chief of Staff General von Fritsch, however, were not cordial to the increasingly belligerent policy of the Hitler regime, and by vicious and obscene plotting they were discredited and removed in January, 1938. Thereupon, Hitler assumed for himself supreme command of the armed forces and the positions of von Blomberg and of von Fritsch were filled by others who became, as Blomberg said of Keitel, “a willing tool in Hitler’s hands for every one of his decisions”. The generals did not confine their participation to merely military matters. They participated in all major diplomatic and political manoeuvres, such as the Obersalzberg meeting where Hitler, flanked by Keitel and other top generals, issued his virtual ultimatum to Schuschnigg.

As early as 5th November, 1937, the plan to attack had begun to take definiteness as to time and victim. In a meeting which included the defendants Raeder, Goering and von Neurath, Hitler stated the cynical objective:

“The question for Germany is where the greatest possible conquest could be made at the lowest possible cost.”

He discussed various plans for the invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia, indicating clearly that he was thinking of these territories not as ends in themselves, but as means for further conquest. He pointed out that considerable military and political assistance could be afforded by possession of these lands, and discussed the possibility of constituting from them new armies up to a strength of about 12 divisions. The aim he stated boldly and baldly as the acquisition of additional living-space in Europe, and recognized that “The German question can be solved only by way of force.” Six months later, emboldened by the bloodless Austrian conquest, Hitler, in a secret directive to Keitel, stated his “unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future”.

On the same day, Jodl noted in his diary that the Fuehrer had stated his final decision to destroy Czechoslovakia soon and had initiated military preparations all along the line. By April the plan had been perfected to attack Czechoslovakia “with lightning swift action as the result of an ‘incident’”.

All along the line preparations became more definite for a war of expansion, on the assumption that it would result in a world-wide conflict. In September, 1938, Admiral Carls officially commented on a “Draft Study of Naval Warfare against England”:

“There is full agreement with the main theme of the study.

1. If, according to the Fuehrer’s decision, Germany is to acquire a position as a world power, she needs not only sufficient colonial possessions but also secure naval communications and secure access to the ocean.

2. Both requirements can only be fulfilled in opposition to Anglo-French interests and will limit their positions as world powers. It is unlikely that they can be achieved by peaceful means. The decision to make Germany a world power therefore forces upon us the necessity of making the corresponding preparations for war.

3. War against England means at the same time war against the Empire, against France, probably against Russia as well, and a large number of countries overseas; in fact, against one-third to one-half of the whole world.

It can only be justified and have a chance of success if it is prepared economically as well as politically and militarily and waged with the aim of conquering for Germany an outlet to the ocean.”

This Tribunal knows what categorical assurances were given to an alarmed world after the Anschluss, after Munich, after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, that German ambitions were realised and that Hitler had “no further territorial demands to make in Europe.” The record of this trial shows that those promises were calculated deceptions and that those high in the bloody brotherhood of Nazidom knew it.

As early as 15th April, 1938, Goering pointed out to Mussolini and Ciano that the possession of those territories would make possible an attack on Poland. Ribbentrop’s Ministry wrote on 26th August, 1938:

“After the liquidation of the Czechoslovakian question, it will be generally assumed that Poland will be next in turn.”

Hitler, after the Polish invasion, boasted that it was the Austrian and Czechoslovakian triumphs by which “the basis for the action against Poland was laid”. Goering suited the act to the purpose and gave immediate instructions to exploit, for the further strengthening of the German war potential, first the Sudetenland, and then the whole Protectorate.

By May of 1939 the Nazi preparations had ripened to the point that Hitler confided to the defendants Goering, Raeder, Keitel, and others, his readiness “to attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity”, even though he recognized that “further successes cannot be attained without the shedding of blood”. The larcenous motives behind this decision he made plain in words that echoed the covetous theme of Mein Kampf:

“Circumstances must be adapted to aims. This is impossible without invasion of foreign States or attacks upon foreign property. Living-space in proportion to the magnitude of the State is the basis of all power -further successes cannot be attained without expanding our living-space in the East ….”

While a credulous world slumbered, snugly blanketed with perfidious assurances of peaceful intentions, the Nazis prepared not as before for a war but now for the war. The defendants Goering, Keitel, Raeder, Frick and Funk, with others, met as the Reich Defence Council in June of 1939. The minutes, authenticated by Goering, are revealing evidence of the way in which each step of Nazi planning dovetailed with every other. These five key defendants, three months before the first panzer unit had knifed into Poland, were laying plans for “employment of the population in wartime”, and had gone so far as to classify industry for priority in labour supply after “five million servicemen had been called up”. They decided upon measures to avoid “confusion when mobilization takes place”, and declared a purpose “to gain and maintain the lead in the decisive initial weeks of war”. They then planned to use in production prisoners of war, criminal prisoners, and concentration camp inmates. They then decided on “compulsory work for women in war time”. They had already passed on applications from 1,172,000 specialist workmen for classification as indispensable, and had approved 727,000 of them. They boasted that orders to workers to report for duty “are ready and tied up in bundles at the labour offices”. And they resolved to increase the industrial manpower supply by bringing into Germany “hundreds of thousands of workers” from the Protectorate to be “housed together in hutments”.

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder

It is the minutes of this significant conclave of many key defendants which disclose how the plan to start the war was coupled with the plan to wage the war through the use of illegal sources of labour to maintain production. Hitler, in announcing his plan to attack Poland, had already foreshadowed the slave labour programme as one of its corollaries when he cryptically pointed out to the defendants Goering, Raeder, Keitel, and others that the Polish population “will be available as a source of labour”. This was part of the plan made good by Frank, who as Governor-General notified Goering, that he would supply “at least one million male and female agricultural and industrial workers to the Reich”, and by Sauckel, whose impressments throughout occupied territory aggregated numbers equal to the total population of some of the smaller nations of Europe.

Colonel General Alfred Jodl 


Here also comes to the surface the link between war labour and concentration camps, a manpower source that was increasingly used and with increasing cruelty. An agreement between Himmler and the Minister of Justice, Thierack, in 1942 provided for “the delivery of anti-social elements from the execution of their sentence to the Reichsfuehrer SS to be worked to death”. An SS directive provided that bedridden prisoners be drafted for work to be performed in bed. The Gestapo ordered 46,000 Jews arrested to increase the “recruitment of manpower into the concentration camps”. One hundred thousand Jews were brought from Hungary to augment the camps’ manpower. On the initiative of the defendant Donitz concentration camp labour was used in the construction of submarines. Concentration camps were thus geared into war production on the one hand, and into the administration of justice and the political aims of the Nazis on the other. The use of prisoner-of-war labour, as then planned in that meeting, also grew with German needs. At a time when every German soldier was needed at the front and forces were not available at home, Russian prisoners of war were forced to man anti-aircraft guns against Allied planes. Field-Marshal Milch reflected the Nazi merriment at this flagrant violation of International Law, saying: “… This is an amusing thing, that the Russians must work the guns.”

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Executed on the order of Adolf Hitler 9 April 1945 


The orders for the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war were so ruthless that Admiral Canaris, pointing out that they would “result in arbitrary mistreatments and killing”,  protested to the OKW against them as breaches of International Law. The reply of Keitel was unambiguous. He said:

“The objections arise from the military conception of chivalrous warfare! This is the destruction of an ideology! Therefore I approve and back the measures”.

The Geneva Convention would have been thrown overboard openly, except that Jodl objected because he wanted the benefits of Allied observance of it while it was not being allowed to hamper the Germans in any way.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel

Other crimes in the conduct of warfare were planned with equal thoroughness as a means of ensuring victory of German arms: In October, 1938, almost a year before the start of the war, the large-scale violation of the established rules of warfare was contemplated as a policy, and the Supreme Command circulated a most secret list of devious explanations to be given by the Propaganda Minister in such cases. Even before this time commanders of the armed forces were instructed to employ any methods of warfare so long as they facilitated victory. During the progress of the war the orders increased in savagery. A typical Keitel order, demanding the use of the “most brutal means”, provided that .

“… It is the duty of the troops to use all means without restriction, even against women and children, so long as they ensure success.”

Grand Admiral Karl Donitz

The German naval forces were no more immune from the infection than the land forces. Raeder ordered violations of the accepted rules of warfare wherever necessary to gain strategic successes. Donitz urged his submarine crews not to rescue survivors of torpedoed enemy ships, in order to cripple merchant shipping of the Allied Nations by decimating their crews.

Thus, the WAR CRIMES against Allied forces and the CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY committed in occupied territories are incontestably part of the programme for making the war because, in the German calculations, they were indispensable to its hope of success.

Similarly, the whole group of pre-war crimes, including the persecutions within Germany, fall into place around the plan for aggressive war like stones in a finely wrought mosaic. Nowhere is the whole catalogue of crimes of Nazi oppression and terrorism within Germany so well integrated with the crime of war as in that strange mixture of wind and wisdom which makes up the testimony of Hermann Goering. In describing the aims of the Nazi programme before the seizure of power, Goering stated that the first question was to achieve and establish a different political structure for Germany, which would enable Germany to object against the Dictate (of Versailles), and to make not only a protest, but an objection of such a nature that it would actually be considered.

With these purposes, Goering, admitted that the plan was made to overthrow the Weimar Republic, to seize power, and to carry out the Nazi programme by whatever means were necessary, whether legal or illegal.

Reichsmarschal Hermann Goering 

From Goering’s cross-examination we learn how necessarily the whole programme of crime followed. Because they considered a strong State necessary to get rid of the Versailles Treaty, they adopted the Fuehrerprinzip. Having seized power, the Nazis thought it necessary to protect it by abolishing parliamentary government, and suppressing all organized opposition from political parties. This was reflected in the philosophy of Goering that the opera was more important than the Reichstag. Even the “opposition of each individual was not tolerated unless it was a matter of unimportance”. To insure the suppression of opposition a secret police force was necessary. In order to eliminate incorrigible opponents, it was necessary to establish concentration camps and to resort to the device of protective custody. Protective custody, Goering, testified, meant that:

“People were arrested arid taken into protective custody who had not yet committed any crime but who could be expected to do so if they remained free.”

The same war purpose was dominant in the persecution of the Jews. In the beginning, fanaticism and political opportunism played a principal part, for anti-Semitism and its allied scapegoat, mythology, were the vehicle on which the Nazis rode to power. It was for this reason that the filthy Streicher and the blasphemous Rosenberg were welcomed at Party rallies and made leaders and officials of the State or Party. But the Nazis soon regarded the Jews as foremost amongst the opposition to the police State with which they schemed to put forward their plans of military aggression. Fear of their pacifism and their opposition to strident nationalism was given as the reason that the Jews had to be driven from the political and economic life of Germany. Accordingly, they were transported like cattle to the concentration camps, where they were utilised as a source of forced labour for war purposes.

At a meeting held on 12th November, 1938, two days after the violent anti-Jewish pogroms instigated by Goebbels and carried out by the Party Leadership Corps and the SA, the programme for the elimination of Jews from the German economy was mapped out by Goering, Funk, Heydrich, Goebbels, and the other top Nazis. The measures adopted included confinement of the Jews in ghettoes, cutting off their food supply, “aryanizing” their shops, and restricting their freedom of movement. Here another purpose behind the Jewish persecutions crept in, for it was the wholesale confiscation of their property which helped to finance German rearmament. Although Schacht’s plan to use foreign money to ransom the entire race within Germany was not adopted, the Jews were stripped to the point where Goering was able to advise the Reich Defence Council that the critical situation of the Reich exchequer, due to rearmament, had been relieved “through the billion Reichsmark fine imposed on Jewry, and through profits accrued to the Reich in the aryanization of Jewish enterprises”.

A glance over the dock will show that, despite quarrels among themselves, each defendant played a part which fitted in with every other, and that all advanced the Common Plan. It contradicts experience that men of such diverse backgrounds and talents should so forward each other’s aims by coincidence. The large and varied role of Goering was half militarist and half gangster. He stuck his pudgy finger in every pie. He used his SA bullies to help bring the gang into power. In order to entrench that power he contrived to have the Reichstag burned, established the Gestapo, and created the concentration camps. He was equally adept at massacring opponents and at framing scandals to get rid of stubborn generals. He built up the Luftwaffe and hurled it at his defenceless neighbours. He was among the foremost in harrying Jews out of the land. By mobilising the total economic resources of Germany he made possible the waging of the war which he had taken a large part in planning. He was, next to Hitler, the man who tied the activities of all the defendants together in a common effort.

The parts played by the other, defendants, although less comprehensive and less spectacular than that of the Reichsmarschall, were nevertheless integral and necessary contributions to the joint undertaking, without any one of which the success of the common enterprise would have been in jeopardy. There are many specific deeds of which these men have been proven guilty. No purpose would be served -nor indeed is time available -to review all the crimes which the evidence has charged against their names. Nevertheless, in viewing the conspiracy as a whole and as an operating mechanism, it may be well to recall briefly the outstanding services which each of the men in the dock rendered to the common cause.

To be continued…

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Filed under ethics, germany, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, war crimes trials, White nationalism, world war two in europe

If Liberty Dies in Our Hearts, no Constitution Law or Court Can Save It: A Meditation on Independence Day in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been contemplating the ideas of liberty and freedom this week. I intentionally did not watch the President’s speech at Mount Rushmore for after what he did at Lafayette Park and in front of St. John’s Church on June 2nd showed me that when he speaks of freedom, he speaks of his own, and when he speaks of liberty it is for the few, and servitude for the masses, and yes those masses include the bulk of the men and women that blindly follow him. So instead I read the official transcript today and look at images and videos as well.

Nothing I read in it surprised me. It was as scripted as Leni Reifenstahl’s Film of the Nuremberg rallies, right to Trump making a flyover in Air Force One. After a series of platitudes invoking the President’s whose images are carved on that mountain, and a brief mention of American greatness, which he promised would “soon be greater.”  He made a perfunctory reference to the Declaration’s words that “all men are created equal,” words that only serve to camouflage a life and presidency that denies them, the protections of the Bill of Rights, and the guardrails of the Constitution and our institutions that curb the ability of one man to violate the Constitution and our laws, and surrender our nation into the hands of an avowed enemy, Russia, in word, thought, and deed.

He then went into a diatribe against attacking statues and memorials around the country, without mentioning that the primary memorials were those to Confederates, Slave Owners, traders, as well as those that helped exterminate the vast majority of indigenous, or native peoples of this land including the ancestors of the people who protested outside the park, for the land had been ceded to their ancestors in the Treaty of Laramie of 1868, and was considered sacred to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Sioux, and Arapahoe tribes that agreed to that treaty with the United States. .I will come back to that later.

Interestingly, he mentioned the Battle of Gettysburg and other Civil War battles without mentioning why they were fought, at was as if the rebellion of the Confederacy a nation founded “upon the cornerstone of slavery,”  In Trump’s speech it was was if the cause of the Confederate rebellion never existed, and the lives shed to preserve the Union and in turn emancipate Black slaves didn’t matter. Like everything else in  his speech it was designed to camouflage and obscure his actions to disenfranchise Blacks, and to treat them as less than citizens, because for him the understanding is that Black Rights do not matter, and the rallying cry of many “Black Lives Matter” is uniquely anti-American and anti-freedom, that is his understanding that it is his freedom, and the liberty of the few that matter. No one else.

Of course  slavery, its continued existence where it was already legal as well is expansion by whatever means into new territories, reintroducing it to the Free States, and invading Cuba, and Central American nations to expand it, was the first reason cited in every Confederate State’s ordinance of Secession, and in Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’  Cornerstone Speech. 

In his speech, Trump never mentioned slavery, emancipation, of for that matter the evils committed in the name of racism against newly freed Blacks, Jim Crow, the thousands of Lynchings, the massacre of whole towns, or sections of cities by the terrorist paramilitaries of the White Leagues, Red Shirts, White Liners, and of course the Ku Klux Klan, of which Trump’s father was a member of, even being arrested at a Klan demonstration in New York in the 1920s.

He made no distinctions, but lumped anyone who disagreed with him into people who hated the United States and it’s history and were determined to overthrow America. It was a speech as vilifying as any made by Senator Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare of the 1950s. This should not be surprising, because Trump’s mentor was none other than McCarthy’s counsel when he was shot down in his crusade to accuse Army leaders of being communists, or supporting communism, Roy Cohn, in 1954.

In effect Trump declared over 60% of Americans were revolutionaries and traitors, with the implication that only he could stop them. It was about his authoritarian vision of Law and Order. It was Orwellian in structure. Based on his actions at Lafayette Park, I know what he will do if he feels threatened. His speech at Mount Rushmore was a prelude to what he will do if he gets the chance, and if the military follows his orders. As a historian I wanted to throw up.

But, back to that mountain and the land around it. As I mentioned, that land was ceded by treaty to the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Sioux, and the Arapaho in 1868. The treaty was to be observed by all parties. Instead in less than years, the treaty was revoked with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills  in 1877, though incidents of U.S. citizens violating the treaty went unpunished by the U.S. Government which also hamstrung and prevented the Sioux from punishing offenders. For Americans guided by Manifest Destiny it was only the latest action in a century of American crimes against humanity in the continued genocide of the indigenous tribes that began when Europeans colonized the Americas beginning in the 1500s, but in the British colonies beginning beginning at Jamestown in 1607, and the Plymouth Bay, later the Massachusetts Bay Colony a Little over a decade later.

Judge Learned Hand 

I will finish this article with an excerpt of Judge Learned Hand, of the 2nd Appeals Court, considered by many to be the greatest American jurist never appointed to the Supreme Court. In his I am an American Speech of May 21st 1944 in New York’s Central Park he addressed nearly a million and a half people, in a speech given at a naturalization ceremony for new immigrant citizens. In it he stressed that all Americans were immigrants who had come to America in search of liberty. Liberty, he said, was not located in America’s constitutions, laws, and courts, but in the hearts of the people.

In the most frequently cited section of the speech he said:

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it… What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

The interesting thing is that while Hand referenced Jesus in the speech, is that he had abandoned the Christian Faith while at Harvard, and became an agnostic and skeptic, that he at least hoped for some kind of cosmic justice where the least would be equal to the greatest. Likewise, his words as to what freedom really is stand in stark contrast to everything Trump and his loyal supporters who consider everyone else an enemy and traitor, as Hand so rightly predicted:

What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

Sadly, we have seen that happen before our very eyes and it will continue for as long as Trump is in power or people who follow his  totalitarian beliefs, and perversions of history, overt racism, and denial of civil, voting, economic and religious rights of his opponents is practiced, be it at the Federal, state, or local level. Trump and his most committed followers are savage, with no understanding, appreciation, or respect of the culture, laws, and freedoms, they presume to defend.

Tonight, I watched the film Gettysburg. It is one of my favorites, even though it can cut though its errors, and somewhat mythologized depiction of some of the leaders portrayed in the movie. But in it there is an exchange between Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and an old Irish former Regular Army soldier named Buster Kilrain, who is more of a composite character than an actual historical character, but it is worth mentioning, because it contradicts everything that Trump shows in thought, word and deed on a daily basis. I can identify with Kilrain. As someone who is roughly 43% Irish by my DNA, and the son of a Navy Chief, educated in desegregated public schools and universities, I could not be considered a part of Trump’s sheltered rich, white elite. Likewise, as a Priest, career military officer and seminary graduate, there is much I can identify with in Chamberlain. The dialogue between the men is fascinating because it reveals my own inner struggle as a human being.

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: Tell me something, Buster. What do you think of Negroes?

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Well, if you mean the race, I don’t really know. This is not a thing to be ashamed of. The thing is, you cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time.

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: To me, there was never any difference.

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: None at all?

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: None at all. Of course, I haven’t known that many freed men, but those I knew in Bangor, Portland, you look in the eye, there was a man. There was a “divine spark,” as my mother used to call it. That is all there is to it. Races are men. “What a piece of work is man. How infinite in faculties, in form and moving. How express and admirable. In action, how like an angel.”

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel. Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a great vast difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel, there is no “divine spark.” There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country. Equality? What I’m fighting for is the right to prove I’m a better man than many of them. Where have you seen this “divine spark” in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance. Not a leaf, not a tree. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel, is  justice. Which is why I’m here. I’ll be treated as I deserve. Not as my father deserved. I’m Kilrain, and I damn all gentlemen. There is only one aristocracy, and that is right here. [taps his temple]And that’s why we’ve got to win this war.

Today, I find myself agreeing with them and Judge Learned Hand. President Trump has declared war on a majority of American citizens, including me. On June 2nd for the first time in my life I felt like a President of the United States was threatening me, as a Priest, a citizen, and Naval Officer. I felt that again in his Mount Rushmore speech. I will respect his office and obey lawful orders, but my oath is to the Constitution of the United States, and not political leader or party. I will not remain silent when he attacks the very foundations of the United States to protect the racist monuments of the Confederacy and the other sordid actions of Americans, and other people who enslaved and committed genocide in the name of race and religion.

Donald Trump is an existential threat to every American who values liberty and freedom, and a man who would destroy his country in order to enrich and save himself, although I wonder if there can be salvation for anyone like him.

So, don’t forget why Independence Day matters, what our history really teaches, and that those who oppose Trump do not want to overthrow the United States, but seek to uphold and advance its highest ideals while being absolutely honest as to where we have failed as individuals and a nation to do so. That is patriotism. What Trump proclaims is a toxic nationalism. Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.

Trump is a nationalist in the tradition of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Putin, the Kims of North Korea, Erdogan, and so many other nationalists only concerned about their power over a state that can make their wishes come true.

So until tomorrow, with thoughts of true freedom, independence and the protections of basic human rights for all,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Uncomfortable Legacy of Colonel General Ludwig Beck

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” Ludwig Beck

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C13564,_Ludwig_BeckLudwig Beck  Bundesarchiv Foto

This is one of those uncomfortable posts to write partially because I know that some people will take it completely wrong or ascribe meaning to it that I do not intend. I by training am a military historian, probably better at that than I am theology.  One thing that fascinates me in the study of military history is the actions of men in the face of evil and the meetings of such people at the intersections of where military and government policy intersect.  It is a timeless theme. The bulk of my study until the past few years was the German Army, particularly that of the Weimar Republic and the Wehrmacht to include policies, leaders, political attitudes and behavior in war and peace. Thus it makes sense for me to look at Colonel General Ludwig Beck who held the post of Chief of the German General Staff during the early part of the Nazi era.

Ludwig Beck is one of those characters in military history that makes professional military officers uncomfortable.  Beck is not the perfect example of righteousness nor was he always correct in things that he supported.  As an artillery regiment commander he defended the rights of soldiers and officers to be Nazi Party members though he himself was not one.  He, like many military officers was a conservative military officer by nature and became Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht in 1935 two years after Hitler’s ascension to power.  Taking office Beck was troubled by some Nazi policies but not by the need for Germany to expand to areas that it had once controlled, he opposed the plan to attack Czechoslovakia not because of any love for the Czech state which he desired to be eliminated, but rather it being a war that Germany could not win. He resigned from his position a Chief of Staff in 1938 when he could not persuade the rest of the General Staff to resign in protest over Hitler’s plan which he felt would be disastrous for Germany.  Had the western powers led by Neville Chamberlain not caved at Munich it is likely that the Germans would have suffered badly against the Czech army and fortifications and with the entry of France into the war would have suffered a defeat that would have ended the Hitler regime.  In fact German officers who saw the extent of Czech preparations on the frontier following the Munich deal were greatly relieved that they did not have to fight their way into the Czech state.

After his resignation Beck played a key role in the resistance movement. He was involved in the planning for a number of attempts on Hitler’s life. Yet it was his leadership in the July 20th 1944 attempt on the life of Hitler that ensured his place in history.  With Colonel Klaus Von Stauffenberg and others in the General Staff at the Front and in Germany he acted to avert further destruction in Europe and the certain destruction of Germany.  The plot, Operation Valkyrie was marred by poor execution and failed to kill Hitler of seize power but for a few hours. The planners had left too much to chance and once Hitler had restored communications the coup attempted ended swiftly.  Had the attempt succeeded Beck was in line to become either the leader of Germany or the Head of the Army.  Instead while being interrogated after his capture he took his own life depriving Nazi leaders of the ability to put him up for a public trial at which he would have been humiliated and then executed.  The Kasserne in Sonthofen where the Bundeswehr MP School and Staff School as well as NATO and EU military schools are located is named for him.  It is there, ironically a former Adolf Hitler School that his memory and sacrifice is honored by the nation which emerged from the rubble of World War Two.  He is honored in a small museum and with a plaque recognizing his sacrifice.

492Ludwig Beck Kasserne Sonthofen

The reason that General Beck makes many of us in uniform uncomfortable (and I do include myself) is that he recognized that senior officers, especially those in high command who help set and execute policy cannot isolate themselves in the purely military aspects of the operations.  Instead he believed that officers have a higher duty to the constitution and people and not just the military mission that they have been assigned.  When he realized that he could not stop Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia he resigned and worked in the obscurity of a small and often divided resistance movement against Hitler.  The bulk of the German high command, including many officers idolized in the United States did not recognize the higher duty. Many of these men were consummate professionals who did not support the evil of the Nazi regime and who conducted themselves honorably. Yet they effectively abetted its crimes by not opposing actions of their government that were against international law and morality as well as dangerous from purely a pragmatic military standpoint.

The problem is that military officers in any nation, including ours can face situations such as Beck faced.  A military’s character is demonstrated in how leaders deal with such situations.  Beck recognized the situation early, the bulk of his fellow officers did not recognize a problem until Germany was embroiled in a war that it could no longer win.  Even then most could not mount an opposition to Hitler because they did not want to be considered to be mutineers and violate their oath.  The potential to abet evil when military professionals bury their heads by planning and executing purely military aspects of a campaign is great.  If they ignore questionable policy or even policies that they know that have been judged by the international community to be illegal or immoral, such as torture of prisoners or waging wars of aggression against countries that have not attacked their nation they become complicit in their nations crimes.  This was the case with German Officers who may not have committed any personal crime and even tried to mitigate the evils of the Nazi regime were morally complicit in that evil.

In the United States the military shows its fidelity by remembering our oath to the Constitution and being faithful to it and the people that we serve.  As officers we represent all Americans and not just those of our political party, religious faith or social or economic interests, nor any political leader, faction or interest group within the nation. The Constitution, our military regulations, traditions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice are the standard by which we operate and by which we conduct ourselves and tools that protect us when policies or actions taken by the government or people within it violate those codes or international law.  The UCMJ makes it clear those officers who take part in, plan or a complicit in illegal actions in war are committing crimes.

When a nation become involved in wars which are non-traditional, revolutionary wars or insurgencies that barriers to professional conduct can be broken down. The Mai Lai massacre committed by 2LT William Calley’s platoon with the certain knowledge and maybe even approval of individuals in the chain of command is one example as were the uncontrolled chaos of prisoner abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib.

Times are difficult and we do not know what the future brings.  Stress in societies caused by economic conditions, natural disasters, lawlessness on the streets and divided and ineffective governments sometimes remove the moral restraints of the society and even affect the military.  One sees this in Weimar Germany as well as the 4th Republic in France which had to deal with post World War II economic difficulties, exacerbated by recriminations of political opponents for actions the others did during the war while France was occupied by Germany as well as the wars in Indo-China and Algeria which further divided the nation and the military.

It is in stressful and uncertain times that officers have to be men and women of principle who always uphold the highest traditions of their military as well as be the voice of conscience when governments, political parties, special interests or leaders begin to violate international norms in the conduct of war. Beck was not a perfect officer. He supported some of Hitler’s policies until after his resignation but like much of the resistance believed that the Nazi regime could only end up destroying Germany.  It is important to remember that like Ludwig Beck that officers do not need to sacrifice their honor to be faithful to their oath.

Peace, Steve+

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