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Sophie Scholl and the White Rose at 75: “Long Live Freedom!”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-five years ago today a young German woman stepped up the the guillotine at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. She had been tried and convicted of treason for distributing a series of anti-Nazi leaflets by the Nazi Volksgericht or “People’s Court” under the direction of the notorious Judge Roland Freisler who gained further infamy in his show trials of those suspected of participating in or supporting the July 20th Bomb Plot against Hitler.

The woman was Sophie Scholl, a student at the University of Munich she was just 22 years old. Her story and the story of the resistance group that she was at the center of is remarkable for the moral clarity that she and her friends displayed in an era where most people were willing to look the other way, if not unreservedly served Hitler’s Third Reich.

 

 


The story of Sophie and the White Rose is a remarkable story because stories like this are often buried by the propaganda machines of totalitarian regimes; but the shock of what these young people did was so great that the Nazi propaganda machine had to publicly confront it with the goal of instilling such fear that no one else’s would dare repeat it. What politicians, generals, and others could not do to shake the Nazi regime a handful of university students accomplished.

There are a number of monuments scattered around Munich to the White Rose movement, but the most remarkable is the monument in front of the university where they studied and where they distributed their leaflets.  Facsimiles of their publications and letters are part of the pavement, looking as if they have been dropped on the ground for someone to pick up.

Scholl, as well as her friends were students, some who in the course of their time of study who had been drafted into the Wehrmacht as medics, serving on the Russian front before returning to the University. There were five of them, Sophie, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorrel, Hans Scholl, and Christoph Probst, plus one of their professors, Professor Dr. Kurt Huber who began a resistance cell that focused on telling the truth about the crimes of the Nazi regime, and the lies of Hitler.

Telling the truth in a dictatorship is dangerous and although Sophie and her companions could have remained silent they had consciences that were guided by reason and human rights, as well as by their Christian faith, a faith which remained despite their aversion to the institutional church for its complicity with the Nazis. As she stood before Freisler and the Volksgericht she was recorded as saying:

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

Too many people lacked the courage to speak as Sophie did in her day as all too many do today. It is far easier to take the path of least resistance. Laurence Rees in his history of Auschwitz wrote:

“…human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.”

Sophie and her circle of friends in the White Rose chose how courageous people behave in such abominable conditions. They published a series of six leaflets which they printed themselves and distributed around the university, the city, and to like minded people in a number of other cities. They asked those who got them to make as many copies as they could and distribute them. They were in the process of drafting a seventh when Scholl was spotted distributing them at the university by a maintenance man who was a member of the Nazi Party. She and her friends were arrested on February 21st 1943 by the notorious Nazi People’s Court under the direction of Roland Freisler on the 22nd, and executed by beheading at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison on the 23rd.


The members of the White Rose were bold and defiant in the face of evil, of course those that have that kind of courage usually have short life expectancies in a totalitarian state, but they did not back down. Their pamphlets and graffiti criticizing Hitler garnered the attention of the Gestapo and when they were caught they were brutally tortured, but none backed down.

Their criticisms of Hitler and his Third Reich were hard hitting. Since all of the students had spent much of their childhood teenage years in Nazi organizations which were designed to make loyal little Nazis, their resistance came as a shock to many. All were children who could have easily due to their family background taken the easy road, but chose the more honorable and dangerous road.


Their pamphlets are striking, and each focused on a different part or aspect of the Nazi regime. In their first leaflet they wrote:

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.” They urged their readers “Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself as best he can at this late hour, he must work against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism.” And to “Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure!”

Such was their beginning, but they went on to attack the Nazi, leaders, the Nazi system, and especially the silence of their countrymen over the extermination of the Jews and Polish intellectuals. They asked in the second leaflet:

“Why do German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so…. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this “government” which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!”

In each of the letters they asked their readers to offer some form of resistance to Hitler and the Nazi State but urged passive resistance, but in the third missive they went into more detail, including something that anyone who thinks that they are loyal to their country need to appreciate:

“The meaning and the goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from any course, any action, whatever its nature. At all points we must oppose National Socialism, wherever it is open to attack. We must soon bring this monster of a state to an end. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences. The military victory over Bolshevism dare not become the primary concern of the Germans. The defeat of the Nazis must unconditionally be the first order of business… And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present “state” in the most effective way, how he can strike it the most telling blows. Through passive resistance, without a doubt…”

Eventually their tracts became more biting, and in fourth the metaphysical linking Hitler to Satan and Anti-Christ.


They wrote:

“Every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed…. I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defence? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? We must attack evil where it is strongest, and it is strongest in the power of Hitler.”

In the fifth leaflet they spoke of where the Nazi war effort would end and the responsibility of not only Hitler but the German people for it:

“It has become a mathematical certainty that Hitler is leading the German people into the abyss. Hitler cannot win the war; he can only prolong it. The guilt of Hitler and his minions goes beyond all measure. Retribution comes closer and closer. But what are the German people doing? They will not see and will not listen. Blindly they follow their seducers into ruin. Victory at any price! is inscribed on their banner. “I will fight to the last man,” says Hitler-but in the meantime the war has already been lost…. Do not believe that Germany’s welfare is linked to the victory of national Socialism for good or ill. A criminal regime cannot achieve a German victory. Separate yourselves in time from everything connected with National Socialism. In the aftermath a terrible but just judgment will be meted out to those who stayed in hiding, who were cowardly and hesitant.”

In the aftermath of the disaster at Stalingrad they published their sixth and last issue before being caught. In it they urged Germans to fight against the Nazi Party and regime, and confronted the way that since its inception Hitler and the Party corrupted the meaning of honor and freedom:

“Freedom and honor! For ten long years Hitler and his coadjutor have manhandled, squeezed, twisted, and debased these two splendid German words to the point of nausea, as only dilettantes can, casting the highest values of a nation before swine. They have sufficiently demonstrated in the ten years of destruction of all material and intellectual freedom, of all moral substance among the German people, what they understand by freedom and honor. The frightful bloodbath has opened the eyes of even the stupidest German – it is a slaughter which they arranged in the name of “freedom and honor of the German nation” throughout Europe, and which they daily start anew.”

Just over two weeks later they were caught and in Freisler’s People’s Court convicted and executed. During their trial, if it can be called that, Freisler and others expressed their shock that young Germans could commit treason. Sophie had no problem confronting her accusers:

Her last words before going to the guillotine were unapologetic: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” On the back of the order condemning her to death she wrote the word Freedom.


There are leaders in many nations today intent on destroying freedom and in many places the people and the country’d institutions fall in behind them, usually by painting pictures of threats so imminent that people willingly trade real freedom for a false security. It is a dangerous world and all of us must be alert to changes in society and question what comes out of the mouths of leaders, and even more so their true believer followers.

Sophie Scholl and her companions understood the risk, but they got their message heard at the highest level of government, and most were killed. But their example of courage and belief in freedom and human rights is still stronger that they mightiest despot, and unlike their mighty yet evil rulers, they are the ones that Germany remembers.

 

I think that there is a lesson for us as well, and I think that it is a lesson that many of our young people will understand better than their elders. That my friends gives me hope for the future.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Stalingrad At 75

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Wednesday the 31st of January marks the 75th anniversary of  the surrender of the remnants of the German 6th Army to the Soviets at Stalingrad. The focus of this article is on how the Germans and Russians fought the Stalingrad campaign. In particular it is an analysis of the way the governments and military’s of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union planned and executed strategy during the course of the campaign adjusted to the situation and how the campaign ended. It is also a reminder of the price that ordinary soldiers can pay when a country commits them to war. In all nearly two million Axis and Soviet personnel, including civilians were killed, wounded, or captured during the campaign.

That being said, it is a reminder to all of us of the consequences of how xenophobic and racist politics of self-anointed leaders, and their followers can lead nations into disaster.

Peace 

Padre Steve+

Stalingrad: Primary or Secondary Objective

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The mistakes began early in the planning and conduct of the operation

Following the Soviet winter offensive and the near disaster in front of Moscow the German High Command was faced with the strategic decision of what to do in the 1942 campaign.  Several options were considered and it was decided to seize the Caucasus oilfields and capture or neutralize the city of Stalingrad on the Volga.  However, the German High Command was divided on the actual objective of the campaign.

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The Oberkommando des Heer or the OKH (Army High Command) under the guidance of General Franz Halder assumed that Stalingrad was the objective and the advance into the Caucasus was a blocking effort.[i] Hitler and Oberkommando des Wehrmacht or the OKW planned to capture the Caucasus oil fields and capture or neutralize Stalingrad to secure the left flank.[ii] Both OKH and OKW considered Stalingrad significant but “German commanders initially regarded it as a weigh station en route to the Caucasus oil fields.” [iii] The conflict echoed in the ambiguity of Directive No. 41, which “included the ‘seizure of the oil region of the Caucasus’ in the preamble concerning the general aim of the campaign, yet made no mention of this in the main plan of operations.” [iv] At the planning conference held at Army Group South in early June “Hitler hardly mentioned Stalingrad. As far as his Generals were concerned it was little more than a name on the map. His obsession was with the oil fields of the Caucasus.” [v] Manstein noted, “Hitler’s strategic objectives were governed chiefly by the needs of his war economy….” [vi] Historian Anthony Beevor noted that at this stage of planning “the only interest in Stalingrad was to eliminate the armaments factories there and secure a position on the Volga. The capture of the city was not considered necessary.” [vii] German planners “expected that the Soviets would again accept decisive battle to defend these regions.” [viii]

In Moscow Stalin and his Generals attempted to guess the direction of the impending German offensive.  “Stalin was convinced that Moscow remained the principle German objective…Most of the Red Army’s strategic reserves…were therefore held in the Moscow region.” [ix]The Soviet High Command, Stavka attempted to disrupt the German offensive and to recover Kharkov by launching three offensives three offensives of their own. The largest of these, an attack on Kharkov was defeated by the Germans between the 12th to the 22nd of May, with the loss of most of the armor in southern Russia. This disaster was accompanied by an equally disastrous defeat of Red Army forces in Crimea by Erich Von Manstein’s 11th Army, and the combination meant that the Red Army would face the Germans in a severely weakened condition. [x]

Operation Blau: Opening Moves and Divergent Objectives

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Panzers cross the Don

The German offensive began on 28 June under the command of Field Marshal Fedor von Bock. Von Bock’s command included two separate army groups, Army Group B under General Maximilian Von Weichs with 2nd Army, 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army operated in the northern part of the operational area. Army Group A under Field Marshall Wilhelm List was to the south with 17th Army and 1st Panzer Army, with the goal of driving into the Caucasus. [xi] Army Group B provided the main effort for the offensive and its forces quickly smashed through the defending Soviet armies and by the 20th Hitler believed that “the Russian is finished.” [xii] One reason for the German success in the south was that until July 7th Stalin believed that Moscow was still the primary objective for any German summer offensive. [xiii] Despite his success, Hitler prevented Von Bock from destroying the Soviet formations that had been left behind and was relieved of command by Hitler. This enabled many of those units to escape the German onslaught. For his trouble Von Bock was replaced by Von Weichs, which created a difficult command and control problem.  Manstein noted that this created a “grotesque chain of command on the German southern wing” with the result that Army Group A had “no commander of its own whatever”and Army Group B had “no few than seven armies under command including four allied ones.” [xiv]

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Destroyed Soviet T-34s

This decisions made next proved fateful.  Hitler’s decided to redirect the advance of the 4th Panzer Army to support an early passage of the lower Don, diverting it from its drive on Stalingrad.  Additionally the army groups became independent of each other when Bock was relieved of command.  They were “assigned independent-and diverging-objectives” under the terms of Directive No.45. [xv] This combination of events had a decisive impact on the campaign.  Hitler’s decision prevented a quick seizure of Stalingrad by 4th Panzer Army followed by a hand over to 6th Army to establish the “block” as described by Directive No.41.  Kleist noted that he didn’t need 4th Panzer Army’s help to accomplish his objectives and that it could have “taken Stalingrad without a fight at the end of July….” [xvi]

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Field Marshall Von Paulus

The result was damning. The Luftwaffe air support and fuel needed by Army Group A was transferred to 6th Army, denuding Army Group A of the resources that it needed to conclude its conquest of the Caucasus. [xvii] At the same time it denied Army Group B of the Panzer Army that could have seized Stalingrad when it was still possible to do so.  Anthony Beevor called Hitler’s decision a disastrous compromise, [xviii] while Halder believed that Hitler’s decision underestimated the enemy and was “both ludicrous and dangerous.” [xix]

Focus on Stalingrad

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Sturmgeschutz Battalion Advancing toward Stalingrad

On July 22nd as the Wehrmacht ran short on fuel and divisions to commit to the Caucasus, and 6th Army fought for control of Voronezh the Soviets created the Stalingrad Front. Stavka moved an NKVD Division to the city [xx] and rapidly filled the new front with formations transferred from the Moscow Front. [xxi]Stalin then issued Stavka Order 227, better known as “No Step Back” on July 28th. The order mandated that commanders and political officers who retreated would be assigned to Penal battalions[xxii] and each field army was to form three to five special units of about 200 men each as a second line “to shoot any man who ran away.” [xxiii] Russian resistance west of the Don slowed the German advance. German commanders were astonished “at the profligacy of Russian commanders with their men’s lives.” [xxiv] Von Kleist compared the stubbornness of Russians in his area to those of the previous year and wrote that they were local troops who fought more stubbornly because they were fighting to defend their homes.” [xxv]Additionally, Stalin changed his commanders frequently in the “vain hope that a ruthless new leader could galvanize resistance and transform the situation.” [xxvi] General Chuikov brought the 64th Army into the Stalingrad Front in mid-July to hold the Germans west of the Don.[xxvii]

The OKW further weakened the German offensive by transferring several key SS Panzer Divisions and the Grossdeutschland Panzer Division to France. The Hungarian, Italian and Romanian armies that were part of the army group lacked motorization; modern armored and anti-tank units, and were unable to fulfill the gaps left by the loss of the experienced German divisions that had been transferred and the expectations of Hitler. [xxviii] The German 6th Army was virtually immobilized for 10 days due to lack of supplies allowing the Russians to establish a defense on the Don Bend. [xxix]

To the south the Germans were held up by lack of fuel and increased Soviet resistance including the introduction of a force of 800 bombers, which took away the total domination of the air that the Germans had previously enjoyed.[xxx] David Glantz and House note that after the fall of Rostov on July 23rd “Hitler abruptly focused on the industrial and symbolic value of Stalingrad.” [xxxi] Hitler was undeterred by warnings from Halder that fresh Russian formations were massing east of the Volga and those of Quartermaster General Erich Wagner, who guaranteed that he could supply either the thrust to the Caucasus or Stalingrad but not both operations simultaneously. [xxxii] Again frustrated by the slow progress to take Stalingrad, Hitler reverted to the original plan for the 4th Panzer Army to assist the 6th Army at Stalingrad, but the cost in time and fuel to move that army from the Caucasus to Stalingrad were significant to the operation and the question was whether “they could make up for Hitler’s changes in plan.” [xxxiii]

Strategic Implications

The changes in the German plan had distinct ramifications for both sides.  Friedrich Von Mellenthin wrote, “the diversion of effort between the Caucasus and Stalingrad ruined our whole campaign.” [xxxiv] The Germans could not secure the Caucasus oil fields that Hitler considered vital to the German war effort.  The Germans advanced deep into the region and captured the Maikop oil fields, though the drilling and refining facilities were almost completely destroyed by the retreating Russians when they withdrew.[xxxv] Due to the lack of fuel and increased Soviet resistance Army Group A was halted along the crests of the Caucasus on August 28th[xxxvi] This setback left Hitler deeply “dissatisfied with the situation of Army Group A.” [xxxvii]Kleist and others attributed much of the failure to a lack of fuel [xxxviii] while Gunther Blumentritt observed that Mountain divisions that could have made the breakthrough were employed along the Black Sea coast in secondary operations. [xxxix]

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JU-87 Stuka over Stalingrad

Meanwhile on the Stalingrad front, fuel and supply shortages hampered 6thArmy’s advance while Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army was needlessly shuttled between Rostov and Stalingrad. By the time the 4th Panzer Army resumed its advance the Russian forces around Stalingrad “had sufficiently recovered to check its advance.” [xl] As the 6th Army advanced into Stalingrad the “protection of Army Group B’s ever-extending northern flank was taken over by the 3rd Rumanian, the 2nd Hungarian and the newly formed 8th Italian Army.” [xli] The allied armies had to occupy overextended fronts, and these formations were neither trained equipped for the Russian campaign, nor well motivated to die for Germany. [xlii] The supply shortage in both German army groups was not helped by a logistics bottleneck. All supplies for both army groups had to transit over a single crossing on the Dnieper River, which Manstein noted, also prevented swift movement of troops from one area to another. [xliii]

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Reconnaissance Battalion of 24th Panzer Division near Stalingrad

Von Paulus’ 6th Army attempted to capture Stalingrad with a swift attack between the 25th and 29th of July, even as Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army milled about on the lower Don.  However, Paulus’s piecemeal commitment of his divisions and failure to concentrate in the face of unexpectedly strong Soviet resistance caused the attacks to fail.  Paulus then halted the 6th Army on the Don so it could concentrate its forces and build its logistics base, [xliv] and to allow Hoth’s army to come up from the south. This further delay allowed the Russians to build up even more forces west of Stalingrad, to reinforce the Stalingrad front, and to strengthen the defenses of the city. [xlv] Likewise, due to the distances involved it now was easier for the Russians to reinforce the Stalingrad front than it was for the Germans. [xlvi] As they strengthened their positions, the Soviets filled a number of key leadership positions with competent and tough Generals who would skillfully fight the coming battle for the city.[xlvii]

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Hitler now focused on the capture of Stalingrad despite the fact that “as a city Stalingrad was of no strategic importance.” [xlviii] Strategically, its capture would cut Soviet supply lines to the Caucasus, [xlix] but this could be achieved without its capture. The check of the German advance in the Caucasus “began to give Stalingrad a moral importance-enhanced by its name-which came to outweigh its strategic value.” [l] To Hitler Stalingrad would gain “a mystic significance” [li] and along with Leningrad became “not only military but also psychological objectives.” [lii]

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Red Army Armored troops using Lend-Lease American M3 Stuart and M3 Grant tanks

Despite the risks the Germans now mounted a frontal assault using the 6th Army and elements of 4th Panzer Army despite having intelligence reports supported by airiel reconnaissance that “the Russians are throwing forces from all directions at Stalingrad.” [liii] Friedrich von Paulus as the senior General was in charge of the advance, with Hoth subordinated to him, but the attack had to wait until Hoth’s army could fight its way up from the south. [liv] Von Mellenthin comments rightly, “when Stalingrad was not taken on the first rush, it would have been better to mask it….” [lv] Such a decision would have enabled the Germans to strengthen their lines and prepare for the inevitable Soviet counter-offensive. In retrospect it is clear that the German advance had actually reached its culminating point with the failure of the advance into the Caucasus and Paulus’s initial setback on the Don, but it was not yet apparent to many involved. [lvi] The proper course of action would have been to halt and build up the front and create mobile reserve to parry any Russian offensive along northern flank while reinforcing success in the Caucasus. Manstein wrote, “by failing to take appropriate action after his offensive had petered out without achieving anything definite, he [Hitler] paved the way to the tragedy of Stalingrad!” [lvii]

Transfixed by Stalingrad

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German Stug III at Stalingrad

On August 19th Paulus launched a concentric attack against the Russian 62ndand 64th Armies.  The attack ran into problems, especially in Hoth’s sector. [lviii]Yet, on the 22nd the 14th Panzer Corps of 6th Army “forced a very narrow breach in the Russian perimeter at Vertyachi and fought their way across the northern suburbs of Stalingrad,” [lix] reaching the Volga on the 23rd. That day 4th Air Fleet launched some 1600 sorties against the city dropping over 1,000 tons of bombs. [lx] The breakthrough by the 6th Army imperiled the Soviet position as they had concentrated their strongest forces against Hoth. [lxi] For the moment the Germans held air superiority and continued heavy bombing attacks.  During the last days of August 6th Army “moved steadily forward into the suburbs of the city, setting the stage for battle.” [lxii] As the Soviets reacted to Paulus, Hoth’s army achieved a breakthrough in the south that threatened the Russian position.  However the 6th Army was unable to disengage its mobile forces from inside Stalingrad to link up with the 4th Panzer Army and another opportunity to defeat major Soviet forces in the area and secure the city was missed. [lxiii]

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German unit crossing the Don

As the 6th Army moved into the city General Yeremenko ordered attacks against General Hube’s 16th Panzer Division. Soviet resistance increased as more formations arrived the Germans suffered one of their heaviest casualty rates. [lxiv] Though unsuccessful the Soviet counterattacks “managed to deflect Paulus’s reserves at the most critical moment.” [lxv] The Germans remained confident the first week of September as 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army linked up, but Yeremenko saved his forces by withdrawing and avoided encirclement west of the city, retiring to an improvised line closer to the Stalingrad. [lxvi] On September 12th Vasily Chuikov was appointed to command 62nd Army in Stalingrad.  Chuikov understood that for the Soviets in Stalingrad there “was only one way to hold on. They had to pay in lives. ‘Time is blood,’ as Chuikov put it later.” [lxvii] Stalin sent Nikita Khrushchev to the front “with orders to inspire the Armies and civilian population to fight to the end.” [lxviii] In the next few days the 13th Guards Rifle Division arrived and saved the Volga landings, which allowed the Soviets to continue to resupply Stalingrad, but the division last 30% of its troops as casualties in its first 24 hours of combat. [lxix]

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T-34 in Stalingrad

An NKVD regiment and other units held the strategically sited Mamaev Kurgan, keeping German guns from controlling the Volga.[lxx] The defenders contucted a house to house and block by block fight, and the Red Army and NKVD units were reinforced by Naval Infantry.  Chuikov conducted the defense with a brutal ferocity, relieving senior commanders who showed a lack of fight and by sending many officers to penal units.  Chuikov’s defensive plan was masterful; he funneled German attacks into “breakwaters” where the panzers and infantry could be separated from each other causing heavy German casualties. [lxxi]

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Now for Hitler the “city became a prestige item, its capture ‘urgently necessary for psychological reasons,’ as Hitler declared on October 2. A week later he declared that Communism must be ‘deprived of its shrine.’” [lxxii] The Germans continued to gain ground in the city, but slowly and at great cost, especially among their infantry, so much so that decimated companies had to be combined to form combat effective units.

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Chuikov used his artillery to interdict the Germans from the far side of the Volga while assault squads with incredible ferocity fought the fight in the city.   The close-quarters combat in the city was dubbed, “Rattenkrieg by German soldiers.” [lxxiii] Paulus continued to bring more units into the city, further thinning his flanks, but his troops continued to slowly drive the Russians back against the river, and by early October Chuikov wondered if he would be able to hold. [lxxiv] It appeared that the Germans might finally capture Stalingrad, and by November Chuikov “was altogether holding only one-tenth of Stalingrad – a few factory buildings and a few miles of river bank.”[lxxv] Paulus now expected “to capture the entire city by 10 November,”[lxxvi] despite the fact that many of his units were fought out. The causalities had been massive; an analysis by 6th Army determined that 42% of the battalions of 51st Corps were fought out. [lxxvii] Even so on November 9th, a confident Hitler declared “No power on earth will force us out of Stalingrad again!” [lxxviii] However, that boast was misplaced.

Soviet Counteroffensive: Disaster on the Flanks

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Soviet Forces Advancing

As 6th Army fought its way into Stalingrad some officers in the German High Command attempted to warn Hitler of the danger. Hitler now tolerated no interference, and on September 24th he relieved Halder for persisting to explain, “what would happen when new Russian reserve armies attacked the over-extended flank that ran out to Stalingrad.” [lxxix] Many on others the German side recognized the danger. Blumentritt said, “The danger to the long-stretched flank of our advance developed gradually, but it became clear early enough for anyone to perceive it who was not willfully blind.” [lxxx] Rumanian Marshall Antonescu, and the staffs of both Army Group B and Paulus’s 6th Army warned Hitler too, [lxxxi] but Hitler was transfixed on Stalingrad.  By their sole focus on Stalingrad the Germans gave up the advantage of uncertainty and once the German “aim became obvious…the Russian Command could commit its reserves with assurance.”[lxxxii]

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Chuikov and his staff

Despite Stalin’s concern about Stalingrad the Stavka planners never lost sight of their goal to resume large-scale offensive operations and destroy at least one German Army Group. [lxxxiii] Unlike Hitler, the ever suspicious Stalin had begun to trust his Generals and Stavka under the direction of Marshal Vasilevsky produced a concept in September to cut off the “German spearhead at Stalingrad by attacking the weak Rumanian forces on its flanks.” [lxxxiv] At first Stalin “showed little enthusiasm” for the attack, fearing that Stalingrad might be lost, but on 13 September he gave his full backing to the proposal [lxxxv] which Marshals Zhukov, Vasilevsky and Vatutin developed into a plan involving three operations; Operation Uranus, to destroy the German and allied forces at Stalingrad, and Operation Saturn to destroy all the German forces in the south, and a supporting attack to fix German forces in the north, Operation Mars aimed at Army Group Center. [lxxxvi]

Russian-Ground-Mount-Rocket

Soviet Katusha Rockets

To accomplish the destruction of 6th Army and at least a part of 4th Panzer Army around Stalingrad the Stavka planners employed over 60% of the “whole tank strength of the Red Army.” [lxxxvii] Strict secrecy combined with numerous acts of deception was used by the Red Army to disguise the operation. [lxxxviii]The plan involved an attack against 3rd Romanian Army on the northern flank by the Soviet 5th Tank Army and two infantry armies and their supporting units. [lxxxix] In the south another force of over 160,000 men and 430 tanks were deployed against 4th Rumanian Army and weak element of 4th Panzer Army. [xc]Despite warnings from his Intelligence Officer, Paulus did not expect a deep offensive into his flanks and rear and made no plans to prepare to face the threat. [xci] Other senior officers believed that the attack would take place against Army Group Center. [xcii] Walter Warlimont who served at OKW noted that there was a “deceptive confidence in German Supreme Headquarters.” [xciii]

 ju-52 stalingrad

Luftwaffe JU-52s made many resupply runs into the pocket but suffered great losses

The storm broke on 19 November as Soviet forces attacked rapidly crushing Romanian armies to the north and the south of Stalingrad [xciv] linking up to encircle the Germans in the city on the 23rd[xcv] The German 48th Panzer Corps supporting the Romanians was weakened by the exhausting campaign and had few operational tanks. [xcvi] It attempted a counterattack but was “cut to pieces” in an engagement against the 5th Tank Army. [xcvii] A promising attempt by the German 29th Motorized division against the flank of the southern Russian pincer was halted by the Army Group and the division was ordered to defensive positions south of Stalingrad. [xcviii] To compound German problems the Luftwaffe was neutralized by bad weather. [xcix] Inside the city Paulus continued to do nothing as since the attacks were outside of his area of responsibility and rather than taking the initiative to extricate his forces, waited for instructions. [c] As a result the 6th Army’s 16th and 24th Panzer Divisions that could have assisted matters to the west remained “bogged down in street-fighting in Stalingrad.” [ci] Without support of the army’s Panzer formations, the 6th Army units west of Stalingrad were forced back in horrific conditions.  By the 23rd of November the 6th Army was cut off along with one corps of the 4th Panzer Army and assorted Romanian units, over 330,000 men.  Though they had the Germans surrounded, the entrapped force would require the Soviets to use seven rifle armies and much staff attention to eliminate. [cii]

von Paulus surrenders to the Soviets

Paulus Surrenders

Hitler ordered Von Manstein to form a new, composite, Army Group Don, to relieve Stalingrad. Hitler would not countenance a break out by the encircled forces and wanted Manstein to break through and relieve the 6th Army.[ciii]Hitler refused a request by Paulus on 23 November to move troops to prepare for a possible a break out attempt, and assured him that he would be relieved. [civ]Albert Speer noted that General Kurt Zeitzler who replaced Halder at OKW insisted that the Sixth Army “must break out to the west.” [cv] Hitler, completely obsessed with capturing Stalingrad told Zeitzler, “We should under no circumstances give this up. We won’t get it back once it’s lost.” [cvi] The ever boastful Herman Goering promised that his Luftwaffe would be able to meet the re-supply needs of 6th Army by air, even though his own Generals knew that it was impossible with the number of transport aircraft available. [cvii] However, Hitler took his Luftwaffe chief at his word and exclaimed “Stalingrad can be held! It is foolish to go on talking any more about a breakout by Sixth Army…” [cviii] Hitler then issued a Führer decree ordering that the front be held at all costs. [cix] Walter Goerlitz stated, “Hitler was incapable of conceiving that the 6th Army should do anything but fight where it stood.” [cx] Likewise Manstein had precious few troops with which to counterattack, as he also had to protect the flank of Army Group A, which was still deep in the Caucasus.

hungarian withdraw

hungarian dead stalingrad

Hungarian Dead and Wounded

Manstein’s “army group” was only corps strength and was spread across a 200 mile front. [cxi] Any relief attempt had to wait for more troops, especially Panzers.  Manstein believed that the best chance for a breakout had passed and that it was a serious error for Paulus to put the request to withdraw through to Hitler rather than the Army Group or act on his own [cxii] and many soldiers, long conditioned to believe in the promises of their Hitler were optimistic that Hitler would get them out of the caldron. [cxiii] Other German generals like Guderian, Reichenau, Heinrici, Hoeppner, or even the Waffen SS General Sepp Dietrich might have acted to save their army, but Paulus, surrounded in the city, was knew nothing but obedience.[cxiv]

pows stalingrad

German POWs only 5000 of some 90,000 would see home again

Operation Saturn began on 7 December destroying the Italian 8th Army and forcing the Germans to parry the threat.[cxv] A relief attempt by 57th Panzer Corps under Hoth on 12 December made some headway until a massive Soviet counterattack on 24 December drove it back.[cxvi] This attack was hampered by OKW’s refusal to allocate the 17th Panzer and 16th Motorized divisions to Manstein,[cxvii] and by 6th Army not attacking out to link with the relief force.[cxviii]By 6 January Paulus signaled OKW: Army starving and frozen, have no ammunition and cannot move tanks anymore.”[cxix] On 10 January the Soviets launched Operation Ring to eliminate the pocket and despite all odds German troops fought on. On the 16th Paulus requested that battle worthy units be allowed to break out, but the request was not replied to.[cxx] On the 22nd the last airfield had been overrun and on 31 January Paulus surrendered.[cxxi]

Analysis: What Went Wrong

Stalingrad had drawn the attention Hitler and Stalin and the lives of their soldiers into a giant vortex of death. However, the Soviet Stavka, even when facing disaster never lost sight of their primary objectives during the campaign. The Germans on the other hand committed numerous unforced errors mostly caused by Hitler and or von Paulus. The German mistakes began early in their planning process and continued throughout the campaign. Overconfident, they failed to follow up success, and allowed the Soviets to regroup and then smash their forces at Stalingrad.

Russland-Nord, Erich von Manstein, Brandenberger

Von Manstein

After the fall of Stalingrad as the Soviets attempted to follow up their success by attempting to cut off Army Group “A.” Manstein, with the meager forces at hand was permitted by Hitler to wage a mobile defense while Von Kleist managed to withdraw his army group with few losses. [cxxii] The superior generalship of Manstein and Von Kleist prevented the wholesale destruction of German forces in southern Russia and Manstein’s counter offensive inflicted a severe defeat on the Soviets, showing them that the German army, though wounded was not without the power to fight back.

But the German Army had suffered a massive defeat.  The seeds of defeat were laid early, the failure to destroy bypassed Soviet formations in July, the diversion of 4th Panzer Army from Stalingrad, and the divergent objectives of trying to capture the Caucasus and Stalingrad at the same time.  This diluted both offensives ensuring that neither succeeded.  Likewise the failure to recognize the culminating point when it was reached and to adjust operations accordingly was disastrous for the Germans. The failure create a mobile reserve to meet possible Russian counter offensives, and the fixation on Stalingrad took the German focus off of the critical yet weakly held flanks.

The hubris of Hitler and OKW to believe that the Russians were incapable of conducting major mobile operations even as Stavka commenced massive offensive operations on the thinly held flanks all contributed to the defeat.  Alan Clark notes these facts but adds that the Germans “were simply attempting too much.” [cxxiii] Likewise, the Soviet advantage in numbers allowed them to wear down the Germans even early in the campaign when they were suffering defeat after defeat. [cxxiv] Stalin, whose decisions had nearly lost the war in 1941 gave his commanders a chance to revive the mobile doctrine of deep operations with mechanized and shock armies that he had discredited in the 1930s. [cxxv]All through the campaign Zhukov and other commanders maintained both their nerve even when it appeared that Stalingrad was all but lost. They never lost sight of their goal of destroying major German formations though they failed to entrap Army Group A with 6th Army.

Notes

[i] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict: 1941-45. Perennial Books, An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965. p.191

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995. p.111

[iv] Ibid. Clark. p.191

[v] Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. Penguin Books, New York NY 1998. p.69

[vi] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General.Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company. p.291 This opinion is not isolated, Beevor Quotes Paulus “If we don’t take Maikop and Gronzy…then I must put an end to the war.” (Beevor pp. 69-70)  Halder on the other hand believed that Hitler emphasized that the objective was “the River Volga at Stalingrad. (Clark. p.190)

[vii] Ibid. Beevor. p.70.

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.106

[ix] Ibid. p.105-106

[x] Ibid. Clark. p.203.  The offensive did impose a delay on the German offensive.

[xi] Ibid. Clark. p.191 Each group also contained allied armies.

[xii] Ibid. p.209.

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.119

[xiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.292.

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.209

[xvi] Ibid. Clark.  p.211

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.120. There is a good discussion of the impact of this decision here as 6th Army’s advance was given priority for both air support and fuel.

[xviii] Ibid. Beevor. p.74

[xix] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.249

[xx] Ibid. Beevor. p.75 This was the 10th NKVD Division and it took control of all local militia, NKVD, and river traffic, and established armored trains and armor training schools.

[xxi] Ibid. Clark. p.212

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.121

[xxiii] Ibid. Beevor. p.85

[xxiv] Ibid. p.89

[xxv] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1979. Originally published by the author in 1948. p.202

[xxvi] Ibid. Beevor. p.88

[xxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.90

[xxviii] Ibid. Beevor. p.81

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.121

[xxx] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.202

[xxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.120

[xxxii] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. Westview Press, Frederick A. Praeger Publisher, Boulder, CO. 1985 p.416

[xxxiii] Ibid. Beevor. pp.95-96.

[xxxiv] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated H. Betzler, Edited by L.C.F. Turner. Oklahoma University Press 1956, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1971. p.193

[xxxv] Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960. p.914

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.122

[xxxvii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.256

[xxxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.203

[xxxix] Ibid. p.204

[xl] Ibid. Shirer. p.914

[xli] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.416

[xlii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.416

[xliii] Ibid. Manstein. p.293

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.214

[xlv] Ibid. Beevor. pp.97-99. The mobilization included military, political, civilian and industrial elements.

[xlvi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.250

[xlvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.99.  Two key commanders arrived during this time frame, Colonel General Andrei Yeremenko, who would command the Stalingrad Front  and General Chuikov commander of 64th Army who would conduct the defense of the city.

[xlviii] Carell, Paul Hitler Moves East: 1941-1943. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, German Edition published 1963. p.581

[xlix] Ibid. Shirer.  p.909.

[l] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Strategy. p.250

[li] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954.  p.531

[lii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.531

[liii] Ibid. Beevor. p.96

[liv] Ibid. Clark. p.216.

[lv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. P.193

[lvi] See Von Mellinthin pp.193-194.  Von Mellinthin quotes Colonel Dinger, the Operations Officer of 3rd Motorized Division at Stalingrad until a few days before its fall. Dingler noted that the Germans on reaching Stalingrad “had reached the end of their power. Their offensive strength was inadequate to complete the victory, nor could they replace the losses they had suffered.” (p.193) He believed that the facts were sufficient “not only to justify a withdrawal, but compel a retreat.” (p.194)

[lvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.294

[lviii] Ibid. Clark. p.216

[lix] Ibid. Clark. p.217

[lx] Ibid. Beevor. p.107

[lxi] Ibid. Beevor. p.107

[lxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.122

[lxiii] Ibid. Carell. P.601

[lxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.118

[lxv] Ibid. Beevor. p.118

[lxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.602

[lxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.128

[lxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.603

[lxix] Ibid. Beevor. p.134

[lxx] Ibid. Beevor. pp.136-137

[lxxi] Ibid. Beevor. p.149

[lxxii] Fest, Joachim. Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London. 1974. p.661

[lxxiii] Ibid. Beevor. pp. 149-150

[lxxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.164

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.618

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.123

[lxxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.218

[lxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.623

[lxxix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.418

[lxxx] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.207

[lxxxi] Ibid. Manstein. p292

[lxxxii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. History of the Second World War. p.258

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.129

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[lxxxv] Ibid. Beevor. pp.221-222 Glantz and House say that Stalin gave his backing in mid-October but this seems less likely due to the amount of planning and movement of troops involved to begin the operation in November.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.226

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.132

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[xc] Ibid. Beevor. p.227

[xci] Ibid. Beevor. p.228

[xcii] Ibid. Clark. p.235

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.274

[xciv] Ibid, Carell. p.627 3rd Rumanian Army lost 75,000 men in three days.

[xcv] Ibid. Clark.pp.247-248

[xcvi] The condition of the few German Panzer Divisions in position to support the flanks was very poor, the 22nd had suffered from a lack of fuel and maintenance and this many of its tanks were inoperative. Most of the armor strength of the 48th Panzer Corps was provided by a Rumanian armored division equipped with obsolete Czech 38t tanks provided by the Germans.

[xcvii] Ibid. Clark. pp.251-252. The designation of 2nd Guards Tank Army by Clark has to be wrong and it is the 5th Tank Army as 2nd Guards Tank was not involved in Operation Uranus.  Carell, Beevor and Glantz properly identify the unit.

[xcviii] Ibid. Carell. p.630

[xcix] Ibid. Beevor. p.244

[c] Ibid. Beevor. p.247

[ci] Ibid. Beevor. p.245

[cii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.134

[ciii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.134

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.256

[cv] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.248

[cvi] Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M. Editors. Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. Enigma Books, New York, NY 2002-2003.  Originally published as Hitlers Lagebsprechungen: Die Protokollfragmente seiner militärischen Konferenzen 1942-1945. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, 1962. p.27

[cvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.135 Glantz and House note that the amount of aircraft estimated to successfully carry out the re-supply operation in the operational conditions was over 1,000.  The amount needed daily was over 600 tons of which the daily reached only 300 tons only one occasion.

[cviii] Ibid. Speer. p.249

[cix] Ibid. Carell. p.636

[cx] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.426

[cxi] Ibid. Clark. p.252

[cxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.303

[cxiii] Ibid. Beevor. p.276

[cxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.640

[cxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.140

[cxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.140

[cxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.264

[cxviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.337

[cxix] Ibid. Beevor. p320

[cxx] Ibid. Beevor. p.365

[cxxi] Of the approximately 330,000 in the pocket about 91,000 surrendered, another 45,000 had been evacuated.  22 German divisions were destroyed.

[cxxii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.211

[cxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.250

[cxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.124

[cxxv] Ibid. Beevor. p.221

 

Bibliography

Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. Penguin Books, New York NY 1998

Carell, Paul Hitler Moves East: 1941-1943. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, German Edition published 1963.

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict:1941-45. Perennial Books, An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965.

Fest, Joachim. Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London. 1974

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995.

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. Westview Press, Frederick A. Praeger Publisher, Boulder, CO. 1985

Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M. Editors. Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. Enigma Books, New York, NY 2002-2003.  Originally published as Hitlers Lagebsprechungen: Die Protokollfragmente seiner militärischen Konferenzen 1942-1945. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, 1962.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published by the author in 1948.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General.Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company

Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970.

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated H. Betzler, Edited by L.C.F. Turner. Oklahoma University Press 1956, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1971.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964.

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954

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The State of the Union, the Surrender of Principal, and a Historical Coincidence: Trump, Nunes, Schacht, Hungenberg, and Von Papen

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is a curious day for a minor historian like me.hopefully someday I will be considered a major historian but that aside I love the study of history and its connections to the present day, but I digress…

Today is the day that President Trump will deliver his State of the Union Address reading from a teleprompter, talking about bipartisanship, and how great he has made America. Until he begins his Twitter Storm tomorrow morning his speech will be hailed by members of the mainstream media as being “Presidential,”  in the same kind of language that Fahreed Zakaria praised the tele-Trumpter speech the President made at Davos. For eight hours tonight the mainstream media will be lost in Presidential  praises even as the Fox News Pundits break into chants of “Seig Heil!,” but I digress, because by noon Wednesday things will be back to normal.

But it is also a day where Congressman Devin Nunes will release a report attacking the veracity and motivations of FBI and Justice Department officials involved in the investigation of the President and his advisors attempts to collude with a hostile foreign power and obstruct justice before and after the 2016 election. This is actually very remarkable because it is something that has never happened in the history of the House of Representatives regarding a case involving national security. Personally, back during my 32 years as a Republican I always thought that House or Senate Democrats might do something like this but they disappointed me by never stooping to release information that might obstruct justice while at the same time kneecapping Federal law enforcement agencies. Honestly I used to think that undermining national security was something that Democrats did, I never, even after I left the GOP in 2008 thought it was something that Republicans would do; but Congressman Nunes and is compatriots are determined to ruin my fantasy that the GOP was really a pro-law and order and national security party. I mean really, even after I left the GOP their arguments about being strong on national security and pro-law enforcement gave me a hard on, but even with the blue pill I don’t think that I could get it up again after Mr. Nunes’s antics.

Coincidently today is the 85th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s accession to power, something that happened quite to the surprise of Hitler as well as the leaders of the non-Nazi political parties on the German Right and Left. The non-Nazi German conservatives thought that they could control him, just like GOP stalwarts thought that they could control then Candidate Trump in 2016.

You see I don’t think of the GOP as a new version of the Nazi Party. No, they aren’t that clever. I see them as more akin to the German conservative parties who less than six months after they helped Hitler become Chancellor, dissolved themselves in hope of keeping a place at the table in the New Germany. They are the Von Papen’s, the Hindenburg’s; they are Alfred Hugenberg, Hjalmar Schacht, and the other leaders of the DVNP (German People’s Nationalist Party), the Catholic Center Party, and others who sacrificed their honor, integrity, and self-respect to gain a place at the table of Hitler. By and large Nunes and the other members of the GOP who engage in what they are doing doom their party and very likely the country.

So today go out and lift a glass and maybe even light a tiki torch to men like the President, Congressman Nunes, his committee, and their supporters at Fox News. Let Nunes and other be like Hjalmar Schacht who proclaimed his loyalty to and defended Hitler’s Third Reich internationally, but who in the words of Supreme court Justice and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson was “The most dangerous and reprehensible type of all opportunists, someone who would use a Hitler for his own ends, and then claim, after Hitler was defeated, to have been against him all the time. He was part of a movement that he knew was wrong, but was in it just because he saw it was winning.”

Be assured; tonight I will raise a glass and I will drink, maybe until I will am legally drunk; but it will be to bolster myself for the struggle for the Constitution and country that lay ahead. I can do no less.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Most Evil is Done by People who Never Make up Their Minds to be Good or Evil.”

rolfeFriends of Padre Steve’s World,

I read and write a lot about Weimar and Nazi Germany as well as the Holocaust. They were the focus of my undergraduate major working under Dr. Helmut Heussler who served as a translator and interrogator at Nuremberg while I was a student at California State University at Northridge and later in my Masters of Arts in Military History. I read the documents, the histories, the narratives, and the reports both in English and German. I study the perpetrators, the victims, and yes the bystanders as well and there is not enough time in one man’s life to read all of them, but I will try.

Likewise I visit the sites where things happened in Germany, and every time that I make a trip to those places I learn more and believe me it is not comfortable.  When I visited the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg I saw a picture of Dr. Heussler doing his work. Back then he was very young and it would be a number of years before he finished college and went on to his doctorate. When I saw his picture I remembered just how important he was in opening my eyes to the dark side of humanity; even those people that are not truly evil; those like most of us who exist between the shades of gray between sainthood and the devil.

The histories, the documents, the narratives paint a dark picture of humanity and the fallibility of people. The portrait that they paint a disturbing picture of the true nature of what is in all of us. When I look at the pictures and see the films I can see that the lessons of that time have not been learned. Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

In the age where men who admire tyrants and authoritarians like Trump, Putin, Farage, Erdrogan, Assad, and so many others it is important that we try to learn the lessons lest we fall into the same trap as our ancestors and become perpetrators, victims, or bystanders. The fact is that totalitarian regimes and events like the Holocaust are all too common in human 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.”

The fact is that there are very few true saints and likewise very few truly evil people. Quite obviously Adolf Hitler and many of his associates fell in the latter category. The rest of us, and for that matter most of the people on all sides during from the Nazi seizure of power until the Gotterdammerung of the Third Reich in in the flames of Berlin in 1945 fell somewhere in the gray area between the truly evil and the saints and truthfully all of us given the right conditions are capable of becoming perpetrators, victims, or the worst, bystanders who turn their backs on evil because it doesn’t seem to affect us; but it does.

Admittedly this is a dark subject and as I always reminded my students “the one constant in history are fallible human beings.” 

During our recent blizzard and snow event my wife Judy was away, so one of the nights that I was alone I re-watched the film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film is profoundly disturbing not only because of the subjects that it deals with but also when we look at the great uncertainty time that we live and how similar it is to the world of the late 1920s and early 1930s. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film, Maximillian Schell, who played Hans Rolfe, the defense counsel for Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster gives a summation in the final defense of his client who has already admitted his guilt which is remarkable because he tells the truth about the guilt of everyone.

Rolfe’s summation of his defense following his client’s admission of guilt is damning. It is something that almost all of us do. It is how we look at the atrocities of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, the willful starvation of millions by criminal regimes; and then stand by saying little or nothing and doing nothing, sometimes even supporting the leaders or the regimes that commit these actions.

So please, no matter what your political point of view, take the time to watch clip or the whole film, and read the transcript of Schell’s speech below. It’s far easier than trying to do all the reading, study, and research that I have done.

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

The Problem of Scruples

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have written a lot about the dehumanization of people and genocide, and some of the things that create a climate where such events take place, and how political and religious leaders stir the primal passions of otherwise good, decent and law abiding citizens. I have written much over the course of the past year my fears of what is going on in our country, especially in regard to the unabashed lies, falsehoods, and violence being sanctioned and even promoted by President Donald Trump.

Back in 2015 I read a book by World War II German Luftwaffe ace Johannes Steinhoff. Steinhoff was unlike many of the German officers who wrote memoirs following the war, memoirs that historian Williamson Murray wrote “fell generally into two categories; generals writing in the genre of “if the fuhrer had only listened to me!” and fighter pilots or tank busters writing about their heroics against the productive flood from America or the primitively masses of the Soviet Union.” His book, The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goering should be essential reading for any currently serving officer.

steinhoff6General Johannes Steinhof (above) as a Bundeswehr and NATO officer, showing his burns and before his crash (below)

steinhoff WW IIIn his books, Steinhoff does something that you do not see authors do in most military or political memoirs, he actually does serious self reflection on his role in supporting an evil regime. In his introduction to his book The Final Hours the legendary fighter ace who was horribly disfigured when his Me-262 jet fighter crashed and burned two weeks prior to the end of the war wrote:

“In recalling these events, which had been long buried in my memory, it has not been my intention to make excuses. Our unconditional self-sacrifice in the service of the Third Reich is too well documented for that….

So it is because of what is happening today—with freedom threatened in virtually every respect by its own abuse—that I offer this contribution, in the form of an episode in which I was myself involved, to the history of the soldier in the twentieth century. Soldiers have always, in every century of their existence, been victims of the ruthless misuse of power; indeed, given the opportunity, they have joined in the power game themselves. But it fell to our own century to accomplish, with the aid of a whole technology of mass extermination, the most atrocious massacres in the history of mankind. This fact alone makes pacifism a philosophy worthy of respect, and I have a great deal of sympathy with those who profess it. 

The figure of the soldier in all his manifestations is thus symptomatic of the century now nearing its close, and it is to the history of that figure that I wish to contribute by describing what happened to me. I have tried to show what it is possible to do to men, how insidiously they can be manipulated by education, how they can be hoisted onto a pedestal as “heroes,” how they can be so corrupted as even to enjoy the experience—and how they can be dropped and denounced as mutineers when they discover that they have scruples. The complete lack of scruples that such treatment implies is peculiar to rulers who believe that the problems of their own and other peoples can be solved by imposing, through the use of military force, peace on their, the rulers’, terms—in our case a pax germanica, but the second Latin word is readily interchangeable.” from “The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goring (Aviation Classics)” by Johannes Steinhoff

Since I am a historian and and a career military officer with service in the Iraq War, a war that was illegal and unjust by all measure I can understand Steinhof’s words. Because much of my undergraduate and graduate work focused on German history, particularly that of Imperial Germany after the unification, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Reich, I draw a lot of lessons from the period. I also understand how people in this country can fall for the same kind of vitriolic propaganda that the Germans of that era did. I can understand because for years I fell for the lies and propaganda being put out by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the American political right.

10665323_10154041610267059_5277331492232210946_nA picture of me (on left) in Iraq 2007 with my assistant and bodyguard RP1 Nelson Lebron

One of those lessons is that in times of crisis, that people, no matter what their race, culture, religious belief system, educational, or economic background are still human. Humanity is the one constant in all of history, our prejudices are often ingrained in us during childhood and reinforced by the words of politicians, pundits, and preachers. In times of stress, crisis, and societal change or upheaval even good people, moral people, people of great intellectual, scientific abilities can fall prey to demagogues who preach hate and blame others, usually racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, as well as civil libertarians who champion the rights of those minorities for the problems of the nation.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews, Slavs, Socialists and Communists; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

But that being said, there are a lot of people who from childhood believe the lies about others without question. In good times such people continue on with life as normal, but in crisis those hatreds and prejudices come to the fore. Rudolf Höss, the notorious sociopath who commanded Auschwitz told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about his reaction when ordered to turn the camp into an extermination center. He said that the order “fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years,” and “at the same time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.” 

Eugene Davidson in his book on the Nuremberg Trials wrote:

“Every society has in it at all times negative, criminal, sadistic, asocial forces. What holds them in check more than law and police is the consensus of the society – a general belief that despite everything wrong and stupid and muddleheaded in politics, the state is a going concern that will somehow make its way into the future.” (Davidson, The Trial of the Germans p.581)

But when things do not go well, when people do not feel that things will be okay, that the future will be better, and that they have a purpose they look for answers. However, they tend to find their answers in the rantings of demagogues, race baiters, conspiracy theorists, and others who they would tend to dismiss out of hand in good times. In Germany it was the loss of the First World War, the humiliation of Versailles and the economic chaos and social change of the Weimar period which allowed Hitler to gain an audience, then a following, then political power. The demagogues played to what was already in the hearts and minds of the disaffected masses, without that fertile soil, the rantings of Hitler and his propagandists would have never succeeded. Albert Speer wrote:

“As I see it today, Hitler and Goebbels were in fact molded by the mob itself, guided by its yearnings and its daydreams. Of course, Goebbels and Hitler knew how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audiences; but in the deeper sense they derived their whole existence from these audiences. Certainly the masses roared to the beat set by Hitler’s and Goebbels’ baton; yet they were not the true conductors. The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

In a sense a similar thing has happened in the United States which has experienced a series of wars beginning with Vietnam, the shock of the 9-11-2001 attacks, the economic crash of 2007 and 2008 which devastated the savings, home ownership, and investments of many Americans while at the same time benefiting the banking and brokerage houses whose government assisted policies brought about the crash. Of course there are other issues, many religious conservatives hate the progress made by the Women’s and Gay Rights movements, and their leaders play to their fears in apocalyptic terms. I could go on, but I am sure that my readers can identify other issues which demagogues and others use to spread fear and hate to further their goals. The fact is that without the the fertile soil that lays in the hearts of their most fervent followers they would never have a following.

In Weimar Germany hate mongers like Julius Streicher and propagandist Josef Goebbels stuck a chord with disenchanted people who felt that they had lost their country. They were fearful, angry, and desired a leader who would “make Germany great again.” Hitler and his Nazi media sycophants played to that fear, and took advantage of their anger at the existing order. Davidson wrote such people “exist everywhere and in a sick society they can flourish.” 

For decades the way has been prepared for true extremists to take advantage of the fears and doubts of people as modern American versions of Streicher and Goebbels have been at work for years. Rush Limbaugh was a modern pioneer of this in the United States, and he has been joined by so many who are even more extreme in their rantings that it is hard to name them all. Likewise, whole media corporations, websites, and political networks spread such fear every minute of the day, claiming that they, and they alone are real Americans. They actively support politicians who condemn, and sometimes even threaten people who oppose them, and all the while claim that “make America great again.”

When I was younger I devoured that propaganda, despite all of my learning I followed the rantings of men who I realize today are propagandists who promote the basest of lies, and hatred, often in the name of God. I was changed when I was at war, and when I returned home from Iraq in 2008 I realized through hard experience that I had been lied to, and that as a result that thousands of my brothers and sisters were dead, and tens of thousands shattered in body, mind, and spirit. Likewise I saw the massive destruction levied on Iraq and realized how terrible war really is. That was my epiphany, that is what it took to see how much I had been lied to, and it called me to question everything else that I had so willingly believed, things which had been fed to me by years of indoctrination in church, through the media, and by politicians who I believed were truly Christian. I can understand now how Martin Niemoller felt after the Nazi seizure of power when he said, “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

There was a time that I hated people who espouse the views that I hold today, the views that I write about so often here on this site. I can remember how angry I would get as I listened to the propaganda being put out by Limbaugh, Hannity, the Fox News Channel and all of the others that I listened to every time that I had the chance. But when I changed after Iraq, I felt the sting of that hatred in very real ways. I remember the day I was called by my bishop in my former church, who told me that I had to leave because my views on women, gays, and Moslems were to use his words were now “too liberal.” After that, many men who I considered to be the best of friends turned their backs on me, some in the most bitter and vindictive of ways.

But I realize now that what they did was because I had in a sense left the cult, and had to be ostracized. I can understand that now, because when I was under the spell I too turned my back on people who had fallen out of favor, or people who had rejected the tenants of the church or the political movement, and those are things that I can never undo. But at the time it made sense, it fitted in with all I had been taught for decades, as Albert Speer wrote of Hitler, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.”

What happened to Steinhoff’s generation is threatening to happen again, in our country, an authoritarian movement is threatening to destroy our democracy and republic. In it soldiers are esteemed, until they realize what is going on and speak out, but by then it is usually too late. I am understanding that fact more and more every day, and having had people troll this blog and call me a traitor and worse, I understand just a bit of what happened to Steinhoff and his fellow officers when they protested to the highest levels what was happening to Germany in early 1945.

I don’t know when it will happen, but sometime I expect that know we will how military professionals react to being labeled as traitors. President Trump and his followers have been demonizing the personnel of the nation’s intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic communities since before the election and have increased that since his inauguration, especially against the FBI and Justice Department. In fact those attacks by the President and his sycophants have become much more shrill as the Mueller probe turns more and more Trump associates into witnesses against him.

The President has lambasted his critics on his Twitter feed which occasionally results in them receiving death threats from his followers.  Like a religious cult they have no capacity to tolerate dissent, loyalty to the man will supersede loyalty to the country or the Constitution. When that happens to a senior military officer, or perhaps even Secretary of Defense Mattis, it will be interesting to see the legion of people in the military and outside of it who support the President make the choice to impugn and punish men and women who have spent their lives in defense of their country.

Their’s will be a conscious decision. My opinion is that the Constitution and the country will always come first. When he was elected and inaugurated I gave the President Elect the benefit of the doubt and honestly prayed that he would do the right thing for the country, but since then I have become much more concerned for the country and the world because of his behavior before and since his inauguration has demonstrated that his only loyalty is to himself. General Ludwig Beck, who resigned rather than obey Hitler’s order to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938 and died in the anti-Hitler coup attempt in 1944 said:

“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.” 

I have no doubt that many military officers and Secretary of Defense Mattis understand that and will courageously speak his mind, even if he is condemned for doing so. Sadly I have many doubts about other leaders: military, political, business, or religious. There are many people who will sell their souls for their personal advancement, the advancement of their agenda, or an increase in their bottom line. It is after all human nature.

But the question is: will we see true men and women of courage who will stand when it appears there is no chance of success? As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” 

That will be what is demanded in the coming months as tensions in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe continue to escalate.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Steady Diet of Falsifications and Distortions: The World of “Alternative Truth” and “Fake News”

hannah-arendt

Hannah Arendt 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The day after President Trump’s inauguration Presidential spokesperson Kellyanne Conway who defended a number of outright lies posited by then Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his first press conference as alternative truth. The statement was astounding and was met with much criticism and ridicule, but it reflected a key tenant of the administration  that facts as they are, are unimportant, that truth itself is malleable.

In the year since the inauguration the nation has been subjected to a propaganda campaign by the administration, the right wing media led by Fox News, certain members of Congress, and a host of flacks including prominent pastors. This campaign, often led by the President’s early morning Twitter storms labels any opposing news or facts as “fake news” while often demonizing and sometimes threatening those making the reports or conducting investigations of the administration.

In the past year we have entered a world that our founders never expected to happen but warned us about. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, that the fiercest enemies of the republic were those men who begin “by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.” 

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”

The world that most of us grew up with is changing before our eyes and it is happening around the world and it is hard to say what is going to happen. I started re-reading Hannah Arendt’s book last night. It was one of my texts as an undergraduate when studying Hitler’s Germany. The book deals with both Naziism and Stalinism which makes it in some sense like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. While the latter focuses more on how Hitler and Stalin used their power on their own people as well as the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Belorussians, and others who happened to find themselves swallowed up by the two totalitarian states; Arendt’s book more at the underlying social conditions. In a time when populist politicians around the world are speaking in the the language of authoritarians, and promising to deliver their people from various political, racial, and religious enemies, it is important to remember where such talk almost always ends, totalitarian states.

But the fact is based on numerous polls in this country and around the world going back two decades show a rise in people of all ages and ideologies who are willing to accept authoritarian government and to abandon democracy. Well before President Trump ever announced his run for the presidency in 2015 the stage was set for an authoritarian leader to arise in the United States just as many are doing in Europe. Whether President Trump actually ends up ruling as an authoritarian is not yet clear, but the signs keep pointing that he may be heading in that direction, and that his followers will have no problem with it. His inaugural address was marked by his distain for both political parties and the political establishment and linking himself with the people. It was loaded with populism and nationalism, as are the messages of  Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, and others in Europe.

William Shirer who served as a correspondent in Berlin from 1934 to 1941 wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich about the corrosive power of repeated lies by the leaders of the Third Reich and its propaganda organs on people who in every other way were completely ordinary.

“I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.”

I have had similar experiences sitting and talking with people are much like the Germans that Shirer was speaking and I shake my head.

I often wonder how did we got to this point as I watch and read the President’s tweets, speeches, interviews, and the comments of members of the administration and his allies.  I am perplexed about how we did got to the point that a presidential spokesperson, as well as once respectable Republican members of Congress, and former administrations  can defend outright lies and refer to them as alternative facts. 

I think that this incessant barrage of propaganda and demonization by the administration and their media supporters is designed designed to bypass the intellect and appeal to the raw passions of followers who have ceased to think critically. I have written about this trend for several years using different historical examples but today I am just going to leave you with one other thing that Arendt wrote:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

I will discuss that passage in depth at another time but I think it is good just to let it sink in.

Have a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Highest Responsibility: Ludwig Beck, Loyalty, and Leadership in a Time of Crisis

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am dipping into the archives today because the article is exceptionally relevant, at least to me with the distressing actions of President Trump which seem to me to be based on his lack of character, his bellicose threats against civil liberties as well as the actions of his administrational against the norms of our republican form of government, his disregard for the Constitution, his exceptional narcissism and what I believe is a terrible psychological instability which may be based on an onset of some form of dementia, which could lead us into multiple wars the likes that have not been seen since the Second World War, frighten the hell out of me.

Most of my undergraduate and non-theological graduate studies focused on the conundrum faced by German military officers during the rise of Hitler. Did those not immediately cashiered or murdered after Hitler’s assumption of power resign, retire, or continue to serve, either supporting the new regime, or attempting to mitigate he evil. Sadly, most ended up giving their support to the Nazi regime as Hitler, but some did attempt to mitigate the evil of the Hitler regime. One was General Ludwig Beck, and his legacy is an uncomfortable one for anyone who has sworn an oath as an officer.  Beck said: 

“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.” 

It is with that in mind that I repost this article.

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C13564,_Ludwig_BeckGeneral Ludwig Beck

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.

me at sonthofen

Me at Ludwig Beck Kasserne in December 2006 

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.

Christmas on the Syrian border

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. This is important now more than ever as the President makes multiple assaults on the judiciary, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA, and in a less direct matter against the military, its leaders, and its members, especially when he insinuates that before he came to office the military were “losers.” I can only imagine what will happen when the President launches a depleted military into war on multiple fronts especially against North Korea. I am certain that he will blame the military and its leadership for the failures of his policies.

I just wonder if there are any leaders today with the courage of Ludwig Beck. As for me I remain in service simply to care for sailors, marines, soldiers, airmen and their families, knowing that very bad times are coming. Likewise I hope to be an example and mentor to the chaplains, religious program specialists, and the others that I serve with knowing that no matter what happens I am coming to the end of my career. I have been serving continuously in the Army and Navy since 1981. I have been to war and expect that I will see war again before my career is over. My loyalty is to the Constitution and the men and women who I have the privilege of serving alongside.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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