Tag Archives: barbara tuchman

Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants: Do Dodging the Hard Alternatives

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

General Omar Bradley once said: “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.”

As I hear President Trump rattling the saber in Asia and the Middle East, as I look at his incoherent and dangerous policy of “America First,” and his almost total disregard for the importance of diplomacy and soft power I began to think about the possibility of nuclear, chemical, or biological war. While the Sword of Damocles represented by the massive stocks of already existing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, has hung over our heads for decades, the current era seems more dangerous.

We have seen the persistent use of chemical weapons, including Sarin nerve agent in Syria by the regime of Bashir Al Assad, and the growing advancement of nuclear weapons technology, combined with bellicose rhetoric threatening the use of such weapons coming from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

The problem is with both of these situations is that there are no easy or even good answers. The branches and sequels to any military action, the possibilities of a limited military action escalating into a regional or even worldwide conflict are all too real. It is in times like these that one wishes for cool heads and steady leadership, especially among the great powers. But I fear that that might not be the case today. The saber rattling, and the quest for regional dominance by Russia in Eastern Europe, and China in Asia are unnerving their neighbors, and becoming more dangerous with every passing year. But even more important is the dangerous attitude of the Russians in backing the Assad regime and the Chinese not doing much to control North Korea that are very concerning, not to mention the Trump administration’s lack of any coherent foreign policy or military strategy.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were able to pull back from the brink of nuclear war. During the height of the Cold War President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev were able to begin the process of reducing nuclear weapons and the numbers of intermediate range nuclear missiles.

I don’t know if President Trump, President Putin, or Chinese President Xi Jinping are able to curb their own sense of nationalism, nor the actors using or threatening to use these terrible weapons. There are hard choices to be made, but all too often leaders throughout history have shown a decided inability to make them. As Barbara Tuchman noted:  “One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.” 

It feels as if we are sliding into an abyss, I just hope that one or all of these leaders acts with a measure of prudence and wisdom to keep us from sliding in to it.

The President’s decision to remove Steve Bannon from the NSC was a good start, and hopefully men like General McMasters and Secretary of Defense Mattis prove to be men like George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley, and Dwight Eisenhower, men who understand the precious nature of peace and the tragedy of war.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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War is the Unfolding of Miscalculations… Assad, Trump, Putin, and Syria 2017

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The die has been cast. Last week the Trump administration signaled that the regime of Bashir Al Assad was not a priority for American policy in the Middle East. The comment was perplexing as the Assad regime has worked with the Iranians, and Hezbollah, both enemies of the United States to crush a revolt against his regime that began during the Arab Spring. Assad’s methods included the use of Sarin nerve agent and relentless attacks on civilians and were condemned by much of the world. In 2013 President Obama attempted to gain political support for military action against the Assad regime but was rebuffed by congressional Republicans as well as anti-war Democrats. The Syrian rebels were joined by radical Sunni Muslims of various Al Qaeda affiliates and later joined by the so called Islamic State. The Syrian army was on the point of collapse when the Russians intervened in 2015.

From 2013 on President Trump constantly said that military action in Syria was against U.S. national interests, something that continued until last week. Then Assad, apparently emboldened by the Trump Administration’s statement that changing his regime was not a priority for the U.S. launched a aerial attack using chemical weapons against civilians. The images which were shown throughout the 24 hour cable news cycle evidently made an impression on the President. Within hours of suggesting that military action was possible it began.

From Mar-a-Largo where the President is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, the President said:

“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched… It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

I agree that it is the vital interests of the United States to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons, but why this and why now especially since it did not seem to be a priority less than a week ago?

Right now we know precious little about the action, except that it was sudden and done without any congressional consultation, and little consultation with allies. Will Congress do its duty and demand details before allowing the administration to commit us to another war that in no way is covered by the 2001 authorization for use of force that has been used for all the actions involving the war on terrorism conducted by the Bush and the Obama Administrations, or will Congress roll over and do nothing, thus allowing the executive branch to take the nation to war with no oversight?

The genie of war is now out of the bottle. We do not know what will happen next, the potential branches and sequels to this action are many, and few of them promise anything in the way of peace in Syria. There is now danger that the U.S. will become entangled in a complex war that has no good outcome.

The question, what will happen next is unknown. Can President Trump work with Russia’s President Putin, Turkey’s President Erdrogan, as well as well as other regional leaders to bring something resembling peace to the region? I hope that can happen but I wouldn’t bet on it as history shows that all too often that these things take on a life of their own.  As Barbara Tuchman noted: “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

I have a couple of articles that I will post soon about the dangerous nature of what we are witnessing. But for tonight I will pause and try to get some sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, US Navy

“I am not a tool of any President!” Will a Republican Emulate Stephen A. Douglas?

Stephen A. Douglas

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam something that we are observing up close and personal as President Trump and his administration flounder in a sea of make believe, a cloud cuckoo land of alternative facts, alternative truth, and alternative history:

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

To be true, the Trump administration is not the first in history, in fact not even in our own country to ignore facts when making decisions. However, it is remarkable in its ability not only to shun facts but to make up its own narrative that depends on denying reality while impugning the character, honesty, and decency of those who present facts and truth that is verifiable. To be sure, competence and prudence are not and probably will never be marks of President Trump, his closest advisors, or his enablers in Congress. My hope is that some Republican in either the House or Senate rises up to confront the ineptitude and folly being demonstrated on a daily basis.

President James Buchanan

In some ways the incompetence and refusal to deal with reality by the Trump administration reminds me of the administration of James Buchanan during the years before the American Civil War. Buchanan’s collusion with Chief Justice Roger Taney regarding the Dred Scott decision before his inauguration stained him from the beginning and poisoned his relationship with Congress by declaring that the Congress never had the right to limit slavery as it had in the Missouri Compromise. Buchanan’s presidency is considered by most historians to be the worst in American history, incompetent, arrogant, and ineffective.

Likewise, Buchanan’s attempt to jam the Lecompton Constitution through Congress as a reward to Southern Democrats blew up in his face. The Lecompton Constitution was a gerrymandered bill which ignored the will of the vast majority of Kansas’s settlers who were anti-slavery. The work of the pro-slavery element in Kansas was so onerous that it brought Republicans and Northern Democrats together for the first time as Southern Democrats threatened secession if Kansas was not admitted as a Slave State. Ignoring warnings that supporting a measure that would open the door to slavery in all the western territories would split his party, Buchanan pushed on. His intransigence on the matter brought Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois to the fore in opposing it. Nicknamed “the Little Giant,” Douglas was the odds on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. Douglas was not against the institution of slavery, and he was a racist, but he had no tolerance for those who would upend carefully crafted compromises to expand it through the whole country. Thus he  took his case to the floor of the Senate and to the President himself.

The Confrontation between the Senator and the President was unparalleled. Douglas recalled, “The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir!

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back, “Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.”  It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense.

Undeterred by facts, Buchanan and Southern Democrats fought for the bill’s passage. When Buchanan’s supporters pushed for Lecompton’s approval and the admission of Kansas as a Slave State, Douglas fired back, warning “You do,” I said, “and it will lead directly to civil war!” I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Under Douglas the Northern Democrats joined with Republicans for the first time to defeat the admission of Kansas as a Slave State. Douglas recalled the battle:

“After the Christmas recess, the Administration unleashed its heavy horsemen: Davis, Slidell, Hunter, Toombs, and Hammond, all southerners. They damned me as a traitor and demanded that I be stripped of my chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and read out of the Democratic party. Let the fucking bastards threaten, proscribe, and do their worst, I told my followers; it would not cause any honest man to falter. If my course divided the Democratic party, it would not be my fault. We were engaged in a great struggle for principle, I said, and we would defy the Administration to the bitter end.”

Douglas and his supporters did just that, Buchanan and his supporters were outfought and outmaneuvered by Douglas’s Democrats and their Republican allies. The bill was sent back to Kansas where in a new election the people of Kansas voted solidly against the Lecompton Constitution. In the following Congressional elections the thoroughly discredited Democrats lost their majority, their party now hopelessly divided with Southerners determined to destroy Douglas at any cost, even if it meant losing the presidency, the conflict opened the door for the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

I wonder if there will be a Republican in the Congress with the courage that Stephen A. Douglas displayed in confronting the incompetent and vindictive President Buchanan during the Lecompton Crisis. Will there be a Republican with enough courage to stop the insanity of the Trump administration even if it means in the short term to divide the party and doom their political future? Honestly I doubt it, but if Trump’s march of folly is to be stopped, someone in the Republican Senate or House will have to have the courage to stand up and defend the necessity of thinking for themselves, and doing what is right.

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dealing With the Reality of the Trump Presidency

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times in history when eras end and new ones begin. As a historian I think that we are on the verge of one of those moments in history and that is not necessarily a good thing. Barbara Tuchman wrote that as England declared war on Germany in 1914 of British Foreign Secretary Earl Edward Grey:

“Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.”

I believe that could well be the case in our country and the world in the not too distant future, the symbolism of the lamps going out may be all too real.

At 12:01 today Donald Trump will take the Oath of Office and become the President of the United States. That is a fact. We can argue about his legitimacy. Like it or not he is the legal and thus the legitimate President. Of course that is one definition of legitimate. But there is another definition that can be argued to say that he is not, and this one is quite important to our form of government. That definition is “conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.” This is something that no-one can claim that Mr. Trump has done in his long business life or in his short political life. The latter is incredibly important, but it does not take away the legality of his election. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next five and a half hours he will be the President, and if something were to happen the resulting chaos who likely be worse than the transition of power to a man who appears to have been elected with the help of a hostile foreign power, and who lost the popular vote by one of the widest margins ever for someone who won the electoral vote. The truth be told I wish I had never seen this day come, but it has.

That my friends, like it or lump it is reality, and as the masthead of this site reads, I am a “progressive realist in Wonderland.” 

Now we can say “Never Trump” all we want, but he will still be President. We can put hashtags saying “not my President,” but he will still be President. That is cold hard reality. We can talk about resistance, but if we resist we need to be smart in how we do it and apply reason, logic, and hard work.

Does that mean that his policies should not be opposed on principle of they harm people? Never. There are many of his stated policies which if implemented will be harmful to the country. Likewise, some of the things that he has said regarding foreign policy not only will make us weaker but could end up in an even chaotic world and the real possibility of war with nations that could do us great harm, militarily and economically. Of course we could find out that once in office he becomes more pragmatic, realistic, and flexible. I kind of doubt it but it is a possibility.

A lot depends on what he says tomorrow, if he conducts himself with humility, dignity, and shows respect for all Americans, he could change the tenor of the debate in the country and instead of having to crush those who question his legitimacy, he could earn their respect, even if it is grudging. Again, while this is possible, I am not hopeful that it will happen, but I could be wrong. Even so, no-matter how he conducts himself today, he will still be President.

So what are the realistic options?

Protest is always an option, but those who do so must be very careful and not allow themselves to be provoked into any action that could cause President Trump to enact measures that are written in the Constitution, in established law, and in executive orders that deal with civil unrest. We have to remember that there are “agent provocateurs” who do things to cause individuals to do things that puts them on the wrong side of the law. One stupid or violent action against the President could bring the whole house down. If we protest it must be peaceful and those who do cannot allow themselves to respond to violence and intimidation in kind. That is what we learned from men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis. The path has to be non-violent.

What else can we do?

Get involved. Write your state and Federal representatives and senators on all important issues. Don’t just tweet to your friends.

Revitalize the political party system in the country by participating at all levels.

Run for office, especially at the local and state level. That is where real change happens, if your don’t win there it doesn’t matter if you win the Presidency once in a while. Many offices around the country are won by people who run unopposed; don’t let that happen.

Donate money to political groups, parties, and those who represent what you believe.

Speak up for those who have no voice and who are demonized by Trump’s most radical followers as well as those in the Republican Party who have demonized them far longer than Mr. Trump has been a member of that party.

Speak truth to power and do not spread rumors or innuendo. Get away from spreading political memes that even if they are factual are not conducive to reasoned debate.

Read long articles in newspapers, and journals. Things that require thought and reflection. When you share them do what I do. Ask people to read them and then ask them if the want to comment pro or con to do so themselves and not on your social media timeline or to discuss things in personal messages or even better in person. Avoid Twitter wars and Facebook rants, be careful of what you say in e-mails and comment sections of public forums.

Gather together in person and discuss issues, even with people with whom you disagree. Do it over a meal, a drink, but do it respectfully and build bridges that break down the walls of division. It’s hard to hate people that you break bread with.

Remember, there are people who initially support authoritarian leaders who sooner or later realize that they were deceived by false promises and come around. One of those was the German Pastor Martin Niemoller who initially supported Hitler, then when he realized that he had been lied to, spoke up, and resisted. In a concentration camp he wrote these words:

“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.” 

Believe me, there will be a lot of people who voted for President Trump and his GOP allies who will be dealing with buyer’s remorse in the not too distant future. When that happens we need to be there for them.

Read. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Read real books on history, political science, law and the Constitution. Read how we got the Declaration of Independence and the story of how in the face of real rebellion and war, Abraham Lincoln began the quest for “a new birth of freedom.”

Read the biographies of statesmen and women, politicians, Presidents, and Prime Ministers, civil rights leaders, labor leaders, and even religious leaders. Read the classics, and even poetry. Learn about courage to face trying times and uncertain futures from those who went before us. Learn from their successes and also their failures. Most of them had feet of clay, but the good ones made a difference. We can too.

These are things that matter and in the long run can defeat the worst attempts of Trump, his cabinet officials, people he appoints as justices and judges, and GOP dominated legislatures.

Will you get instant gratification? No. This is hard work. It requires patience, humility, the ability to admit when we are wrong, and the courage to face reality. Part of that reality is that Donald Trump will be President at 12:01 today. I will not bury my head in the sand, and as painful and distasteful as it will probably be I will watch the inauguration today, if nothing else to show my respect to our outgoing President and his family, who I will miss as President.

I remember watching Barak Obama’s inauguration in 2009. When he took the Oath of Office, I was standing beside the bed of a critically ill African American woman in the ICU of the Medical center that I then worked. She was nearly 90 years old. Her late husband had been a military man back during Jim Crow and then the Civil Rights era, she remembered the hatred and discrimination that they both faced. I remember watching that moment with her, holding her hand, and listening to her joy in spite of her pain at seeing a moment that she never dreamed that she would live to see. It was a profound honor for me.

Truthfully, all of that being said, I am very afraid of what President Trump and his administration may do in a very short amount of time. It is much easier to destroy systems and crush dissent than to built bridges and renew the country. At the same time I will be a voice of reason and speak the truth the best I can given the limitations of my own office. I do want to be wrong, and I will pray for him and his family because if he screws up we are all screwed. That too is reality.

But that’s what we have to do. we cannot give up, but if we resist, we must do it smartly and effectively. Highly emotional outbursts that lead to less than wise actions will doom resistance. We must be to use the words of Jesus, “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under civil rights, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Useful Nostrum Against Despair: History and Future

edward-vii-funeral

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In two days we will have a new President. While his supporters see great things in his Presidency, many others, not just in this country do not. We can try to deduce how President Trump will govern in a number of ways, but the best is through the lens of the past. I am a historian and I am not hopeful of what the future has in store for us, but given that I will not give in to despair. Barbara Tuchman whose books covered many of greatest eras of change and crisis in world history wrote these words:

“The story and study of the past, both recent and distant, will not reveal the future, but it flashes beacon lights along the way and it is a useful nostrum against despair.”

That being said given my study of history and my observations of our soon to be President I am not optimistic. Many people more learned and informed than I have written volumes about what they think will happen in the coming weeks and months. I have read a lot of those analysis and most give me cause for concern. My one hope is that the in spite of his past, including his recent statements, that President Trump will listen to men like soon to be Secretary of defense James Mattis, who alone among our leaders I believe can stand up to Trump’s most unreasonable and problematic actions in regard to NATO, Russia, and China. He actually may be the man who will save the nation from disaster if President Trump makes good on his promises and threats worldwide.

Of course I hope things never reach that point and that some modicum of sanity will possess the President as well as Congress. Likewise I hope that our institutions will be able to survive.

Even so I expect that when President Trump departs the Capital building for the White House that our world will be irrevocably changed. Tuchman wrote of the gathering of leaders at the death of King Edward VII in 1910 in words that I think could easily be modified to 2017 Washington DC.

“The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

I believe that the world that we knew is never going to be the same. While I have no idea how our future will play out, I still look to the light of the past to keep from despair.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The First Duty: Speaking Truth in “Post-Truth” Trump Era

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For me the past month has been one of constant amazement. I am not speeaking about politics, but what matters more than any political ideology, the very idea of truth. Because of this I write using history and as best as I can objective and indisputable fact as my guide.

Most of my readers know that in addition to being a Priest and Navy Chaplain that I am a historian and teach both ethics and about Gettysburg as a faculty member at a Staff College. Many of the men and women that I teach will lead our military as commanders, planners and staff officers. I will transfer in the spring but even so, as a chaplain, officer, and educator I cannot be silent.

Thus it is my first duty, whether it is in teaching, writing or in ministry is to the truth, politicans and pundits be damned to hell. I believe the words spoken by Captain Jean Luc Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek the Next Generation: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…”

I am not a Starfleet Officer, but a Navy officer and I have always believed that the truth matters, but sadly, I, like so many of us have turned the other way and not spoken out too many times in my life. That changed during my combat tor in Iraq, and now the older I get the more I realize that I cannot be silent about subjects that at one time I turned a blind eye to because they were uncomfortable, unpopular or might hurt my career either in the church or in the military, so when I see people in power and who are close to power saying that truth and objective fact no longer matters I become fearful, because I know that the path that denying facts and truth leads.

Throughout the campaign Trump and his campaign surrogates not only twisted truth, but lied so many times that fact checkers could hardly keep up with their untruths. After the election, Trump surroget Scottie Nell Hughes told Diane Rehm of NRP: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she continued,“Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.”

Her words, as well as those of former Trump campaign director and CNN talking head, Corey Lewindowski, and Newt Gingrinch have maintained that truth does not matter, only what people believe does. The fact that so many of Trump’s supporters don’t seem to care about facts, bodes ill for our country.

As such I have continued to write about subjects that many people are controversial and as such many people are uncomfortable with those topics. Whether the issue is civil rights, racism, Gay rights and marriage equality, voting rights, religious freedom and religious intolerance, and even xenophobia, or the connection of symbols such as the Confederate Battle Flag to a heritage that goes to a hatred that extends far beyond the battlefields of the Civil War; I am speaking out.

I am fully aware of that many of these subjects are controversial and are now targeted by Trump’s supporters, Congressional Repiublicans, and GOP legislators in every state. I have been asked in comments on this site and on my various social media accounts, particularly Facebook, why I keep bringing up the uncomfortable past. But I have to, I have a duty to the truth, and as Oscar Wilde noted “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

The late Howard Zinn, a brilliant historian whose work at one time I discounted, said: “But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is… to tell the truth.” Who would think that telling the truth could or would be a revolutionary act? However, when one lives in a society where the truth is bent, run over and shredded by politicians, preachers and pundits, what I call the Trinity of Evil; when state school boards whitewash history and force their religious views on children in public schools; where corporations and advertisers use the most crass means to deceive customers; and where established science is not met with denial under the guise of “skepticism;” telling the truth is a revolutionary affair.

In 1943, George Orwell, wrote about the Spanish Civil War how the German and Italian propaganda about it had been accepted without question by most people in westren democracies. His words echo my feelings about the incoming administration:

“This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written? If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence. But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written? What kind of records will Franco have left behind him? Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable — even so, how is a true history of the war to be written? For, as I have pointed out already, the Government, also dealt extensively in lies. From the anti-Fascist angle one could write a broadly truthful history of the war, but it would be a partisan history, unreliable on every minor point. Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth. 

In spite of everything going on I will continue to speak the truth, which will likely will be called radical, revolutionary, and unpatriotic. That has happened over the past few years and I expect that it will happen on a more frequent basis, but I do not want the lie to become truth.

The honest truth is that I never expected to be a revolutionary in terms of defending civil rights. Truthfully, believing what authority figures, be they political, or religious say is much easier than asking the hard questions. Barbara Tuchman once wrote: “The reality of a question is inevitably more complicated than we would like to suppose.” I guess that is why so many people would rather be content with obvious lies than to ask the really hard questions; be they about history, religion, and science or for that matter anything. One of the must uncomfortable things to admit is that truth is always evolving as we learn more, it is dynamic, not static and to attempt to force people to live by the “truth” of our ancestors is disingenuous, dishonest and denies the reality of the universe that we live. Thomas Jefferson recognized this and wrote:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

So why I continue to write? I will write so that we never forget or push aside the great evils that human beings are capable of committing: The Holocaust, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of Native Americans by the millions in the name of God and Manifest Destiny, the enslavement, exploitation, and sometimes the extermination of whole peoples by colonialism; the witch trials, the religious wars of the Reformation, the Inquisition, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Stalin’s purges, the Tuskegee experiments, the Japanese barbarity in the Rape of Nanking and other places in Asia, the Srebrenica genocide and the Rwandan genocide, the inhumanity of the so-called Islamic State, just to name a few; and add to that whatever happens in the next few years that will be aided and abbetted by men and women who overthrow democracy by the democratic process, using people’s fear to establish authoritatian or totalitarian states.

All too often the perpetrators of those events and their descendants as all too willing to last the past lie dormant and allow present wrongs to persist and look the other way.

But at what cost do we do so? Do we sacrifice justice on the altar of prosperity and peace; do we sacrifice uncomfortable truth in order to remain undisturbed and comforted by myth? Do we condemn our descendants to live under the myths of our ancestors? Would we sacrifice the truth and justice in order to ensure obedience? Howard Zinn correctly observed, “Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.”

President John F. Kennedy spoke these words at Yale in 1962: “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Personally I would rather ask the questions and confront the past so we might have a better future, because though I am a realist, I also believe in my heart that humanity is capable of overcoming hatred, prejudice and ignorance. The problem is that times get difficult those attitudes can overcome our better nature. As Spencer Tracy’s character in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg said:

“But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

That my friends, is why I write: for justice, truth, and the value of a single human life, even if that means being considered unpatriotic.

Peace

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The Power of Folly

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are entering a dangerous time and while we hold out hope that our new President will be a wise and judicious executive, his words and actions after his election give us little hope of that.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, “Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government.” We are about to see just how those strong prejudices in the ill-formed mind of our President-Elect will do to our Republic, and the actions of his already powerful friends and lackeys jockeying for position in the incoming Trump administration. Tuchman wrote, “Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all passions.” One can already see how this is likely to play out over the coming months and years.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who openly opposed Hitler and his policies in an age when the bulk of German Christians either threw their wholehearted allegiance behind Hitler, or simply did nothing. Bonhoeffer wrote about the violence of Nazi power, and how it, like other brazen displays of power produces outbursts of folly. He noted:

“If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that certain human capacities, intellectual capacities for instance, become stunted of destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and…give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves.”

Our Republic and democracy is a brilliantly engineered system of government. It has a certain resiliency, but ultimately it is a fragile thing, one can look at our own history and the history of other republics with democratic institutions to see just how fragile it is.  To survive it depends on educated citizens to recognize the dangers of demagogues who rely on the folly others to gain power, but in this case we have failed to do that. If we are not careful we very well may see the institutions of our country used to destroy the foundations of our form of government.

We stand at a precipice and in the coming months and years it will be incumbent on people who value the proposition that of our Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that “all men are created equal” to do all that we can to hinder the march of folly that our newly elected President and Congress are about to embark upon. W.H. Auden penned the verse in his poem September 1, 1939:

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

 

We are going to be pummeled by an Orwellian disinformation campaign and it is terribly important that we continually speak the truth, for the truth may well be the only weapon that will remain at our side. As Winston Churchill wrote:

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police … yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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