Tag Archives: barbara tuchman

Nothing Seemed Simple Anymore: COVID 19 and How it Will Change our Lives

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“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.

Her words are as true as when she wrote the in her book The Guns of August, published over a half century ago. The fact is, that historically speaking all that we thought true about the world we live in has been changed in a historical nanosecond. Walter Lord, one of my favorite narrative historians wrote in his book The Good Years 1900-1914:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

That being said, yesterday was a good but exhausting day. The CDC and the military, including the Navy, came to their senses over the weekend and decided to recommend that all Americans were face masks to prevent more infections from the novel Coronavirus 19. They decided that as a minimum that even improvised masks could reduce the spread of the virus, even though the masks might not be fully effective. However, I was recommending that to my chain of command every time that I could over the past month, only to be told that the Navy was following CDC guidelines.

I have served as an ICU and ER Chaplain during two pandemics and I have to say that some protection, any protection, is better than none. So I went to work yesterday with the mask that Judy made for me and began my walk-about ministry for the the day. it is amazing how serious most people are taking things now versus a week or two ago. I guess we are finally waking up to the fact that the novel Coronavirus 19 is like nothing we have dealt with in our lifetimes, and it is changing the world that we live in before our very eyes. What we thought was true just a few weeks ago, and our supposed invulnerability to disaster or disease, has been shattered.

I lost count of the number of people I spent time with and checked on throughout the day. Tomorrow I will do more of the same with other across the shipyard. One of my jobs as a Chaplain is to help advise the Commander and other leaders of the pulse of the command, without breaking anyone’s confidentiality. I can say that morale among our sailors and civilian workers is pretty good, although there is a lot of anxiety about the COVID 19 pandemic, and all the economic, social, and family impacts that it is causing.

The fact is that people matter. I will do video, phone, email, or other types of non-face to face ministry, in fact I advertise that fact, but where I really belong is doing face to face ministry, within the confines of social distancing, with my face mask and gloves on, is walking, listening, talking, caring, sharing, and praying for our people. My God, the burdens that they are carrying are immense, as I am sure that yours are at this time.

Thankfully, where I work, we have a caring chain of command, and I am blessed to be serving where I am now. Not everyone can say that about their workplace, military or civilian. Our people, military and civilian alike make me proud, and it is an honor to serve them in a time of crisis. A longtime friend, and reader of my writings here had misunderstood some things I said. He wrote me a long and thoughtful private email. I have known him since I was a sophomore in high school, and his dad, a pastor played an important part in my life and ministry, until he unexpectedly died on an operating table at the hospital where he served as a chaplain.

Instead of being offended I took the time to write my friend back, to both thank him for his thoughts, express my continued thoughts and appreciation of him, and let him know that he and his family were never out of my prayers. I then took the time to explain things in my life that led me to where and who I am today, that he might have misinterpreted. He replied, that my explanation really helped understand why I write the way that I do, and he said, “it looks like all that you have been through before have been preparing you for today.”  I agree with that assessment, without all the things that I have been through, experienced, learned, and sometimes painfully grown from, all have helped prepare me for today.

Let’s face it, it is really hard to completely convey one’s story unless you occasionally share a meal, visit, or drink together. The virtual world of blogs, social media, texts, and instant messaging is helpful, but it is not the same as sitting alongside one another. This my preference, despite being an extreme introvert, to push out where my people are, and yes, social distancing is painful, but unfortunately necessary right now, but within the guidelines I still push myself out, when all the other institutional caregivers switch to non-face to face mediums. I do use them, but as a back up to face to face, mask and gloves, observing proper social distance visits to the places where my people work.

So with that being said I must lay down my head, say a few prayers and read myself to sleep with our oldest dog surprisingly snuggled at my feet.

Until tomorrow, stay safe and be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under books and literature, Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, History, natural disasters, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war one

The Continuum of History and Memory: The Example of the American Civil War Today

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”

Our present situation in the United States proves that. No quote could better describe our current President, his entourage, and his cult of true believers. When one sees the President continually making up lies aided by cabinet members, Congressmen, media propagandists, and political preachers, one cannot take that for granted, regardless of the subject; especially when they claim to say that lies are the truth. George Orwell’s words on this come to mind:

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

The President claims to love the military, but he claims a knowledge greater than his military leaders, commits war crimes and pardons war criminals, even talks about his military service though he didn’t serve and actually avoided serving while publicly disparaging those who did. But I digress, I got carried away simply because because the similarity of these individuals is so much like that of the leaders of the Confederacy, and it’s perpetual defenders who avoid facts and make up myths to prop up the legacy of the rebellion founded upon White Supremacy and African slavery, whose leaders destroyed the bulk of their states to defend that, even when they knew that they could not win. The only problem is that their ideology never died and has found new life. To the casual observer or one raised on the myths of The Noble South, and The Lost Cause, facts don’t matter.

That being said finite human beings find themselves bound by time and space, we live in the present, but not the present alone, but rather three worlds: one that is, one that was, and one that will be. The German historian Ernst Breisach wrote:

“In theory we know these three worlds as separate concepts but we experience as inextricably linked and influencing each other in many ways. Every new and important discovery about the past changes how we think about the present and what we expect of the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations of the future revises our perception of the past. In this complex context history is born ostensibly as reflection of the past; a reflection which is never isolated from the present and the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time.”

Richard Evans wrote something in the preface to his book The Third Reich in History and Memory that those who study military history often forget. He noted:

“Military history, as this volume shows, can be illuminating in itself, but also needs to be situated in a larger economic and cultural context. Wherever we look, at decision-making at the top, or at the inventiveness and enterprise of second rank figures, wider contextual factors remained vital.”

Thus while this work is an examination of the American Civil War it is important to understand the various issues that were formative for the men who directed and fought the battle, as well as the vast continuum of often distant and seemingly unrelated events that come together at one time in the lives of the participants in any historic event.

This is important and it goes to a broader view of history and education rather that many people are comfortable with. We live in an age where much of education, even higher educations has been transformed into training for a particular skill to gain, or with which to enter the workforce, rather than teaching us to think critically. The social sciences, the liberal arts, philosophy, history are often considered by politicians and business leaders as skills which do not help people get jobs and have been the subjects of cuts in many public university systems.

Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University wrote: “The prevailing argument is that students should study or major in something “employable,” something that is directly correlated to a job in a high paying career field. This view is espoused by many parents and national leaders, including politicians on both sides of the aisle. Many have called for additional STEM majors as well as eliminating funding for “softer” disciplines.” Like it or not such efforts impact the serious study of history and minimize the exsposure of students in the STEM disciplines to the broader aspects of intellectual study that happen provide them with a moral, ethical, and historic foundation for their disciplines. Giles Lauren in his introduction to B. H. Liddell-Hart’s classic Why Don’t We Learn from History?, wrote:

“Education, no longer liberal, has largely become a question of training in a skill for gain rather than teaching us how to think so as to find our own way. ‘It is strange how people assume that no training is needed in the pursuit of truth.’ We must learn to test and judge the information that comes before us. After all: ‘Whoever habitually suppresses the truth … will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.’”

Liddell-Hart expressed the importance of a wide view of history as well as the importance of being able to dig deep into particular aspects of it, bit of which are important if we want to come as close to the truth as we can. He wrote:

“The benefit of history depends, however, on a broad view. And that depends on a wide study of it. To dig deep into one patch is a valuable and necessary training. It is the only way to learn the method of historical research. But when digging deep, it is equally important to get one’s bearings by a wide survey. That is essential to appreciate the significance of what one finds, otherwise one is likely “to miss the forest for the trees.””

This can be a particular problem for those who write about specific aspects of the American Civil War, especially about particular battles, technical developments, or individuals. Many writers dig deep into a particular subject, but despite their good work, miss important aspects because they have not done the groundwork of trying to put those subjects into the broader historical, as well as sociological context.

One cannot understand the determination the determination of Robert E. Lee to maintain the offensive without understanding his devotion to Napoleon, or his view of the war and the battles his men fought without understanding and taking into account his view of Divine Providence which was a part of his religious experience. One cannot understand the dogged persistence of Joshua Chamberlain or Strong Vincent to hold Little Round Top, without understanding their patriotic idealism and the nearly spiritual significance of the Union to them. One cannot understand William Tecumseh Sherman without understanding the often cold realism that shaped his world view. The same is true for any of the men, and women, soldier or civilian, slave, or free, who had some part, great or small in the war.

Thus it is important when digging deep, to also attempt to understand the broader perspective of history, and how factors outside their direct military training and experience, such as culture, politics, economics, religion, sociology, ideology, life experience, and all of those factors shaped these men and their actions. By such means we get closer to the truth and by doing so avoid the myths which even after a century and a half, still clutter the works of many people who write about the Civil War.

Likewise, in order to understand the context of the battles of the Civil War, or for that matter the battles in any war, one has to understand the events, ever distant events which play a role in the battle. All too often those that delve into military history, or a particular battle see that as separate event, often disconnected from other historical events. But as historian Edward Steers Jr. correctly notes, history “does not exist in a series of isolated events like so many sound bites in a newscast. It is a continuum of seemingly unrelated and distant events that so often come together in one momentous collision of time.”

To explain this in a different way, let us look at the Battle of Gettysburg as a case in point, but needless to say that no-matter what battle we study there are other factors, that influence it. In the case of the Battle of Gettysburg events like Lincoln’s publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, are important, as it resets the political and diplomatic narrative of the war in a way that influences both domestic politics, and diplomacy.

Diplomacy is another aspect that must be considered, and the incompetence of Confederate diplomats was a major factor. These men were unsuccessful in bringing France or Great Britain into the war, nor could they persuade any European power to recognize the Confederacy. Both of these failures were brought about by their provincialism and by their lack of understanding of the domestic politics of France and England. Both nations had abolished slavery, banned the slave trade, and had populations that were overwhelmingly against slavery.

On the military front, the failures of the Confederate armies in the West to maintain their hold on the Mississippi River, played a crucial role in Robert E. Lee’s ill-advised decision to launch an invasion of Pennsylvania, as did the failing Confederate economy. None of these events can be disconnected from it without doing violence to the historical narrative and thereby misunderstanding why the battle was important.

Another element that must be connected in order to understand the American Civil War is the part that policy, strategy, war aims, as well as operational doctrine, tactics, and technology played in every campaign of the war. When we examine those dimensions of the war and of specific campaigns we go back to the human factor: the people whose ideas, character, and personalities, influenced the conduct of the war and how it was waged.

Finally, events such as the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Atlanta, or the Overland Campaign or Sherman’s March to the Sea cannot be looked at as a stand-alone events for their military value only. The clash at Gettysburg as the armies of the Confederacy battled the Army of the Potomac, and surged and then ebbed back from their “high water mark,” is important. What happened there influences the rest of the war. However, it does not take place in isolation from other battles and events. While the war would go on for nearly two more years, the Union victory at Gettysburg coupled with the victory of Grant at Vicksburg ensured that the Confederacy, no matter how hard it tried would not be able to gain its independence through military means. It was no longer the master of its fate, it needed the Northern “Peace” Democrats to successfully win the election of 1864, and it needed intervention from Europe, neither which was forthcoming.

Maybe even more importantly the story of the Civil War is its continued influence today. The American Civil War was America’s greatest crisis. It was a crisis that “has cast such a shadow over the relations between the North and the South that the nation’s identity and its subsequent history have been considerably influenced by it.”

One cannot underestimate the importance of the American Civil War, it was the completion of the American Revolution and the birth of a modern nation. The successes and failures, the victories and defeats, and the scars that remain resonate in American cultural, political, and social divide, be it in the minds and hearts of the descendants of freed slaves, Southerners weaned on the myth of the Lost Cause, or the progeny of the Irish and German immigrants who fought for a country where they were despised and discriminated against by the adherents of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement. The remains of three-quarters of a million Union and Confederate soldiers interred in cemeteries across the North and South, the monuments devoted to them in town squares, the preserved battlefields with their now silent cannon are a constant reminder of this war that made a nation.

Many people pore over the accounts of the battles of the war, while the legions of devoted Civil War historians, re-enactors, military history buffs, and members of organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans testify to the war’s continued hold on Americans and their fascination with it. The military struggle was important, but we always have to keep it in the context of why the war was fought and why so many of the issues that it was fought over remain issues today, as Ted Widmer noted; “What Lincoln called a “new birth of freedom” felt like a straitjacket to those who opposed it, and their legacy is still felt, in the many forms of opposition to the federal writ that we witness on a daily basis.”

It is important to understand how the war was fought, but it even more important to understand the relationship of how it was fought with why it was fought and in some ways is still being fought, as was evidenced by the vast numbers of Confederate battle flags proudly displayed outside of the historic Confederacy during much of the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Historian David Blight wrote:

“The boundaries of military history are fluid; they connect with a broader social, cultural, and political history in a myriad of ways. In the long run, the meanings embedded in those epic fights are what should command our greatest attention. The “war of ideas” as Douglass aptly called it, has never completely faded from our nation’s social condition or historical memory. Suppress it as we may, it still sits in our midst, an eternal postlude playing for all who deal seriously with America’s past and our enduring predicaments with race, pluralism and equality.”

The battles of the American Civil War are enshrined in American history and myth, and are woven deeply into the story of the nation. In this story the Battle of Gettysburg is often viewed different ways depending on one’s perspective. For many in the North the battle is viewed as a victory that helps brings an end to the institution of slavery, and with it freedom for enslaved African-Americans, and the preservation of the Union. In the South it is often part of the myth of the Noble Confederacy and the Lost Cause where the South was defeated by the Northern superiority in men and war making ability. At Gettysburg there is a certain irony that in the shadow of the cemetery where over 3,500 Union soldiers lay in hallowed repose and where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address that Confederate memorabilia vastly outsells that of the side that won the battle. People wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the image of the Confederate battle flag, and sayings like “I Will Not be Reconstructed” are bought at local gift shops, and their wearers parade past the graves of the Union soldiers who lie just a few hundred yards up the slope of West Cemetery Hill. For me, although members of both sides of my family owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry.

Yet in both cases, the truth is not so simple; in fact it is much more complex, and the truth is we are still in the process of learning from and interpreting the historical records of the events that led to the American Civil War, the war itself, and the aftermath. They are all connected and for that matter still influence Americans today more than any other era of our history. In fact James McPherson who is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the Civil War and Reconstruction wrote:

“I became convinced that I could not fully understand the issues of my own time unless I learned about their roots in the era of the Civil War: slavery and its abolition; the conflict between North and South; the struggle between state sovereignty and the federal government; the role of the government in social change and resistance to both government and social change. These issues are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s.”

The prolific American military historian Russell Weigley wrote of how the war, and in particular how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the American Republic.

“The Great No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”Civil War gave birth to a new and different American Republic, whose nature is to be discovered less in the Declaration of Independence than in the Address Delivered at the Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The powerful new Republic shaped by the bayonets of the Union Army of the Civil War wears a badge less benign aspect than the older, original American Republic. But it also carries a larger potential to do good for “the proposition that all men are created equal” both at home and around the world.”

Thus it is important for Americans to learn about the American Civil War, but not solely for its military significance, nor for clear-cut answers or solutions. The lessons go far deeper than that and span the spectrum of the world that we live in today. The fact is that “situations in history may resemble contemporary ones, but they are never exactly alike, and it is a foolish person who tries blindly to approach a purely historical solution to a contemporary problem. Wars resemble each other more than they resemble other human activities, but similarities can be exaggerated.”

British military historian Michael Howard warned. “the differences brought about between one war and another by social or technological changes are immense, and an unintelligent study of military history which does not take into account these changes may quite easily be more dangerous than no study at all. Like the statesman, the soldier has to steer between the dangers of repeating the errors of the past because his is ignorant that they have been made, and of remaining bound by theories deduced from past history although changes in conditions have rendered these theories obsolete.”

The ideal that we reach for is to understand the battles of the American Civil War in context, which includes understanding what led to the war as well as the period of Reconstruction, and the post-Reconstruction era and the continued reverberations today.

The American Civil War determined much of the history that followed, not only in the United State, but around the world both in its military advances which transformed war into a mechanized conflict that continues to grow more deadly, and in terms of politics, and social development.

The lessons of this period go far beyond military and leadership lessons gained in studying the battles themselves. They go to our understanding of who we are as a people. They are social, religious, political, economic, diplomatic, and informational. From a strategist’s perspective they certainly help inform the modern policy maker of the DIME, the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of national power, but they are even more than that; the period provides lessons that inform citizens as to the importance of liberty, responsibility, and the importance of both fighting for and defending the rights of the weak and the oppressed.

They also deal with the lives of people, and throughout this volume you will find biographical portraits of some of the key people woven into the story for without them, there really is no story. The one constant in human history are real human beings, some driven by passion, ideology, religion, wealth, or power. There are others who in their quest for knowledge discover things that change the world, invent machinery that alters history, and create weapons which make killing easier. There are men and women who fight for truth, and seek justice for the oppressed. There are the honest and the hucksters, those with character and those that are charlatans. Then to are those who live in fantasy words, cloud-cuckoo lands of unreality that cause them to believe in and pursue causes that can only end in tragedy for them and in many cases others, and finally there are the realists who recognize situations for what they are and are willing to do the hard thing, to speak truth and to act upon it.

All of these types of people can be found in this great war in what was undoubtedly a revolutionary age of change, an age which has influenced the life of this nation, our people, and the world for over a century and a half. Its ghosts haunt our laws and institutions, the sacrifices of soldiers, and the actions of men like Abraham Lincoln have inspired people in this country and around the world.
In writing this volume I attempt to draw lessons from the Civil War era and the people who helped create the world in which we live. Even so I try to do so without making the mistake of assuming that what we learn and know about them is immutable and thus not subject to change; for the past influences the present, even as the present and future will influence how we view and interpret the past.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books, civil rights, civil war, culture, Gettysburg, History, leadership

2020: Time For Reading, Reflecting, Writing, and Action to Help our Neighbors

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Welcome to 2019. I know, we’re all still a bit hung over from last night, but welcome to the New Year. Admittedly it doesn’t yet feel a lot different than 2018, but I really expect that 2019 will mark an epochal change in our history. Since I wrote about that yesterday I won’t go back for more.

That being said there is one resolution that I think that all people, the great and the small, should do, and that is not to cry boo who, but read like our lives depended on it, which in a sense they do. By reading, I don’t mean just the news, commentary, or opinion sections of print or online news services, but get real books, especially works of history, biography, philosophy, and the classics.

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.”

Likewise, the French philosopher Voltaire hit the nail on the head when he said:

“Despite the enormous quantity of books, how few people read! And if one reads profitably, one would realize how much stupid stuff the vulgar herd is content to swallow every day.”

That my friends is fact. If you want to be able to better distinguish fact from fake, read.

Last year I committed to read more, even as I stayed current on the news, analysis of it, and commentary, even as I continued to write. My office at work is crammed with books, as is much of our home. I think that we follow well the advice of Dr. Seuss who wrote:

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.”

So I read, and I read, until my eyes they turned red. I read with those eyes that had turned red, in bed and even in the head.

I read as I eat, and eat as I read, because somewhere in my soul I have this great need, which I ever did cede I would be a great deal poorer indeed.

The pages they turned and as my eyes burned I knew I could never be through so long as my fingers don’t turn blue. I read and read with voices sounding through my head I, but I will not stress even though I digress…

I continually read and I try to update my readers on the latest series of books that I have read and every few months try to let my readers know what I have been up to in my Reading Rainbow.

Since I have tried to keep my readers up with throughout the year I will concentrate on my most recent reads of the past few months. As usual many deal with human behavior in war, particularly in regard to to war crimes; perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. Most of my study of this field have focused on the Nazi Regime, its crimes, and the justice handed out to it, as well as American Slavery and racism. I have also read about crimes that Europeans enacted in their colonies, the Americans in the American West, Mexico, has Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the Armenian genocide, and the Rwandan genocide.

But one of my readers challenged me to look at the war crimes of the Japanese War Crimes in Asia. I have written about the Rape of Nanking, writing about it specifically and also in more generic articles about human nature, conduct, and genocide. But, other than that at some cursory reads about how the Japanese treated POWs, conquered people’s, and units such as Unit 731; but those were all wave top looks, I never took the deep dive until after we got back from Germany in October.

Since then I have made the deep dive. It has opened my eyes to myths that I believed about Emperor Hirohito and the actions of of his government, and those of the supposedly honorable Imperial Japanese Navy, whose war crimes at sea and ashore rate their own article. In fact one of the books I read was Slaughter at Sea: The Story of Japan’s Naval War Crimes by Mark Felton.

Likewise, I learned of the American complicity at the highest levels in rigging the Tokyo trials to ensure that the Emperor, the bankers, business leaders, most politicians, civil servants, police officials and organizations, the members of Unit 731, which was involved in biological warfare and human experimentation similar to that of the Nazis. This is well documented in Robert P. Bix’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan and The Other Nuremberg: the Untold Story of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials by Arnold Brackman.

Both books, in excoriating detail not only deal with the Japanese War Crimes and criminals, but deal with the inclusion of the actions of President Truman and General MacArthur to protect certain war criminals, including the Emperor, and deflect responsibility to others such as General and Prime Minister Tojo. The Tokyo Trials took more than twice the time of the Nuremberg Trials, and allowed most of the highest order of war criminals to go free, while unlike Nuremberg exempting lower order war criminals and functionaries off the hook, because of the Cold War. That too, is another article.

I also read Lord Russell of Liverpool’s classic The Knights of Bushido: a Short (Over 300 pages) History of Japanese War Crimes and Showa: Chronicles of a Fallen God by Paul-Yanic Lequerre, another biography of Hirohito. I also re-read War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War by John Dower, as well as John Toland’s Rising Sun: the Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945; Infamy: Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath; and But Not In Shame: The Six Months After Pearl Harbor, as well as Max Hastings Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945. Then I re-read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking and The Nanking Massacre: History Of China, Japan, and the Events Surrounding the Nanking Massacre by Mukuro Mori. Finally, For the first time I read Japan’s Infamous Unit 731: Firsthand Accounts of Japan’s Wartime Human Experimentation Program by Hal Gold.

All of these first or second time reads added a dimension to the Japanese atrocities that I had managed to cover with Cold War ideology and the myth that Emperor Hirohito was simply a figurehead leader with no responsibility for the war. He knew of the plans of his Army, he studied them, and criticized his military, but he always, even when military and civilian advisers urged him to seek peace, and that went on even after the atomic bombs were dropped. I’ll deal with that in another article.

I also re-read some of my Nazi War Crime books, but I won’t list them here and now. Likewise I have a good number of books to read in the coming weeks and months. As far as my writing I plan on blogging about the aspects of the Japanese War crimes and American complicity to cover them up after the war, as well as the book I started working on last year Lest We Forget: Walk, Remember, Bear Witness; Bearing Witness as the Last Witnesses to the Holocaust Pass Away.

So, I think that is enough for the day. However, our New Year’s Eve was nice. We went to our favorite German Restaurant for dinner, then went home, spent time with our dogs and binged watched episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine until about a half an hour before the new year, then we switched to CNN and Anderson Cooper counting down to 2020 in New York. We toasted with a German Rose Sekt (Champagne), stayed up a while longer then went to bed. We got up late, Judy and the dogs watched the Rose Parade, while between doing laundry and taking naps I spent the day until we went out to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant came home, and then help our next door neighbor who had collapsed on her porch from low blood sugar. Thanks to the prompt work of the EMS and our neighbor Larry she was able to treated in the ambulance. Judy and I helped with her dogs, and Judy helped her when the EMS released her and didn’t take her to the hospital once they got her blood sugar to a normal range. She stayed with her until she got her insulin and we will make sure she will be okay today. We care about our neighbors.

So, until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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“So the Old Life Slipped Away Never to Return Again.. .” The Coming Disorder of 2020

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is not even Christmas and I am beginning to write about the coming year. This was provoked in part by a discussion I had with a dear friend, who also happens to be an Evangelical Christian Trump Cultist. I attempted to talk of basic middle of the road stuff and be honest about history, especially because I was a Republican for 32 years, until I returned from Iraq in 2008 and realized that we had been lied into a war that would have fit three of the four charges leveled against the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg.

But there was no convincing my friend of anything, even when attempting to bridge the divide using facts. To him Trump is the greatest President ever, and Obama, the worst. Of course I live in one of the “reddest” areas of Virginia and while I have quite a few liberal or progressive friends here, quite a few of the people who are also long time friends have transformed themselves from traditional conservatives who could be reasoned with to part of the Trump Cult. Such was the case with this person, every response he gave came straight from a Trump tweet, or something off of Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh. But I digress, my friend is not a bad person, he has

Abraham Lincoln noted:

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

It is good to remember Lincoln’s words in times of turmoil. I do, and they bring me great motivation to work, believe, and fight for justice, truth, and the belief in a spark of goodness in humanity which enables me to believe the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The fact that those words come from a time of tumult, yet in a time where men were beginning to wrestle with and proclaim principles of the Enlightenment matters much to me, especially in times like we live today, where that principle is being attacked and undermined by the American President.

That being said, I believe that 2019 will be remembered in history as a time great turmoil, upheaval, and probably usher in a new epoch of war, economic, and ecological disaster. We are ending the year with the impeachment proceedings against President Trump, and threats of violence and civil war from his supporters if he is removed from office or loses the 2020 election.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as a historian I to look at the world through how human beings, governments, and businesses behave in times of crisis. In fact, human beings are the singular constant in history and in crisis human beings don’t always live up to our ideals.

When major powers and international systems of order break down, or collapse for whatever reason, instability, disorder, and primordial hatreds based on nationalism, religion, and racism rise. A vacuum is created, filled by other powers, but not without some element of travail. Edmond Taylor wrote in his classic “The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Order, 1905-1922:

“The collapse of the great supranational — or at least supraparochial — authorities and the dissolution of long-accepted Imperial bonds released upon Europe a fearsome flood of conflicting national ambitions, of inflamed minority particularisms, of historic (sometimes almost prehistoric) irredentisms, of irreconcilable social aspirations and of rival political fanaticisms.

The impending collapse of the old order today can be seen in a return to a more isolationist policy by the United States, rising populist, nationalist, and ethnocentric movements in Europe which are threatening the existence of the European Union. Those include Brexit, ethnic nationalism mixed with a bit of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Poland, and great strains in France and Germany between right and left wing populist movements, but no one has found a way to deal with these Right Wing  populist movements.

The common thread is the center which was the key to so much social progress, democracy, economic growth and stability, scientific advancement, and international security is giving way. In fact it has pretty much disappeared, There are many reasons for this, on the American side going back to the imperialist overreach of the George W. Bush administration, the inconsistent and detached method of the Obama administration towards the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, following that, the overtly populist, authoritarian, and isolationist policies of the Trump presidency, and his decidedly inconsistent, often irresponsible, and irreconcilable policies of isolationism on one hand, and militarism on the other.

Now a rejuvenated Russia is rushing to fill the void in the Middle East as well as working to destabilize its neighbors, Europe, and even the United States. The Chinese are attempting to make gains in other areas and to drive the United States out of Asia by using every element of national power: diplomacy, information, military might, and economics, while the United States following the Trump Administration’s withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and subsequent punishing tariffs that are hurting allies and Americans more than China the United States is now at a decided disadvantage in Asia.

I could go on, and could go into details on the causes of the current situation but they are many. What we are seeing now is the beginning of the collapse of an order that we have known most of our lives. While many people might be uneasy, most don’t view things in terms of history, in many cases because the events that led to the establishment of the current order are too distant and the witnesses to those times are few, and dying off. People today seldom study history, and even worse no longer know people, including family members who remember what happened to remind them of it.

That was quite similar to the situation in 1914. Europe had been at relative peace for a century. With the exception of the French Republic, most of Europe was still ruled by monarchies with rather limited democratic participation, if any. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The Proud Tower: A Portrait Of the World Before the War, 1890-1914:

“The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, “With emotion, to the man I used to be.”

I believe that 2020 will the a year of multiple crises and the further erosion, if not collapse of the old order, regardless of what happens with impeachment. What will come I do not know, but I expect that at the minimum it will be unsettling and disruptive, if not catastrophic. That doesn’t mean that I am a pessimist, it means that I study history. Provided that humanity does not find a way to destroy itself, we will recover. It may not be pretty and it certainly will not be the same as it was, but we will recover.

Walter Lord wrote about this his book on American in the early Twentieth Century The Good Years: 1900-1914. In the book he wrote about how things changed for Americans as Europe plunged into war. The effects of the war were soon felt in the United States though it would not enter the war until 1917. Lord wrote:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

The truth is, even in the midst of crises that the spark that enables people to believe, to hope, and to labor for a better future where the possibilities of peace, justice, freedom, and progress can be realized.

2019 was a very difficult year, a year of change and turbulence, and truthfully it will probably be just the beginning; but unless we find a way to destroy ourselves before the end of the year, it will not be the end, and 2020 may be one of the most important, yet tumultuous years in human history, and I cannot say if it will end well, for the United States, or the world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Armistice Day at 101 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Forty years after the guns went silent in on November 11th 1918, General Omar Bradley, spoke these words on the eve of Armistice Day, 1948:

Tomorrow is our day of conscience. For although it is a monument to victory, it is also a symbol of failure. Just as it honors the dead, so must it humble the living. Armistice Day is a constant reminder that we won a war and lost a peace…”

It was supposed to be the “War to end all war,” or so thought President Woodrow Wilson and other American idealists. However, the war to end all war birthed a series of wars which far exceeded the losses of the First World War as ideological wars, exponentially more powerful weapons, and systematized mass murder and genocide birthed new horrors.

Winston Churchill wrote:

“The Great War differed from all ancient wars in the immense power of the combatants and their fearful agencies of destruction, and from all modern wars in the utter ruthlessness with which it was fought. … Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa became one vast battlefield on which after years of struggle not armies but nations broke and ran. When all was over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves: and they were of doubtful utility.”

In the First World War there were over 22 million military casualties including over 8 million dead of which over 126,000 were Americans. Close to 20 million civilians also were casualties of the war.

President Woodrow Wilson established what we know now as Veteran’s Day as Armistice Day in November 1919, a year after the guns went silent.

Wilson wrote:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…

That initial proclamation was followed 45 years later by one of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower signed into law what we now know as Veteran’s Day in 1954.

In a sense I wish we had two holidays, one for Veterans from all wars in general and this one which we should never forget. It seems that in combining them we have lost some of the sacredness of the original. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.” 

Because of that, I will remember all who served tomorrow as we observe Veterans Day, but I will not forget Armistice Day.

It is important not to forget the horrors and results of the First World War because both it and the Second World War, have faded from memory. Most people today cannot fathom killing on such a large scale, the overthrow of powerful nations and dynasties, the creation of new nations built from diverse, and often rival ethnic and religious groups such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, or the re-establishment of ancient nations such as Poland.

Yet to those of us who have gone to war and studied past wars the end result is not so distant. It is a part of our lives even today. Edmond Taylor accurately noted in his book, The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922:

“The First World War killed fewer victims than the Second World War, destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions – but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe. The old world never recovered from the shock.”

The cost in human lives alone is incomprehensible. In the short time that United States forces went into action in late 1917 on the western front and the armistice, 126,000 Americans were killed, 234,000 wounded, and 4,500 missing; 8.2% of the force of 4,355,000 the nation mobilized for war. More Americans were killed in the First World War than Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined.

But American losses were small in comparison with the European nations who had for over four years bled themselves dry.  If one wonders why Europeans seem to have so little desire for involvement in war, one only needs to see how the concentrated killing of the First World War decimated the best and brightest of that generation. Out of the nearly 8.5 million Frenchmen mobilized lost 1,357,000 killed, 4,266,000 wounded and 537,000 missing, 6,160,000 casualties or 73.3% of its forces. The Russians also lost over 73% of 12 million, Romania 71% of 750,000, Germany 65% of 11 million, Serbia 47% of 707,000, tiny Montenegro 40% of 50,000, Italy 39.9% of 5.6 million, Great Britain 36% of almost 9 million, the Ottoman Empire 34% of 8.5 million. But the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary which began the war in response to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lost 90% of the 7.8 million men that it sent to war.

The human costs were horrifying. In all over over 65 million men served under arms in the war. Over 8.5 million were killed, over 21 million wounded, 7.75 million missing or prisoners or almost 37.5 million military casualties alone. That total would be roughly equivalent to every citizen of the 30 largest American cities being killed, wounded or missing.

Much of Europe was devastated and in the following months and years, mass numbers of refugees the dissolution of previously stable empires were displaced. A Civil War in Russia killed many more people and led to the establishment of the Soviet Union. Germany too was torn apart by civil war that left it bitterly divided and planted the seeds of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Border conflicts between new states with deep seated ethnic hatreds broke out. A flu pandemic spread around the world killing millions more. Economic disasters culminating in the Great Depression and social instability led to the rise of totalitarian regimes which spawned another, even more costly World War and a 40 year Cold War. The bitter results of the First World War are still felt today as conflicts in the Middle East in part fueled by the decisions of Britain and France at the end of the war rage on.

T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, who gained fame during the Arab revolt looked at the results of the war with a great deal of melancholy. He wrote:

“We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.”

The his epic war poem, In Flanders Fields, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea symbolized the cost of that war and the feelings of the warriors who endured its hell.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Yes there are always consequences to actions. This weekend as we remember what we Americans now call Veteran’s Day, and the British refer to as Remembrance Day let us blood shed by so on the battlefields of Verdun, Gallipoli, Caporetto, Passchendaele, the Marne, the Argonne, Tannenberg, the Somme, Galicia, the Balkans, Flanders Fields, at sea and in the air.

President John F. Kennedy said: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Kennedy was right, that our appreciation is not just to utter words, but to live by them. Sadly, the current American President has no understanding of such nuances. He continued thump his chest and spit in the face of allies while, courting nations hostile to the very ideals of the United States. Likewise, the President, a man who never served in the military, and spent the Vietnam War avoiding service and dodging the draft while later comparing avoiding sexuality transmitted diseases to combat again dishonored the men who spilt their blood in the First World War. Donald Trump does not understand anything about history, war, courage, or honor. Sadly, he is all too representative of a generation that neither knows or cares about those things. He and others like him will be the ones that lead the world into another disaster.

“Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.”

I write in the hope of peace and an end to war. I will write about Veteran’s Day later today.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Books The Window to My Soul and the Guard of my Conscience

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

George R.R. Martin wrote in his book A Dance With Dragons:  “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I constantly read and because I try to imagine what I am reading so that in a way I live it. I have been to places that have never traveled to before and on entering them I know exactly where everything is and what happened there. I remember leading a group from my Army chapel in Wurzburg Germany to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. As I led the group through the town a couple of people asked me how many times I had been there. I told them, “physically, never until today, but I have been here a thousand times before because of books. I saw Wittenberg in my minds eye before I ever saw the city.” They were surprised and both said that it seemed like I had been there many times.

I have had the same thing happen other places that I have visited, and again, it is because I read, and as I read, I imagine and occasionally dream.

I have a huge number of my books in my office most dealing with the history, especially the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the World Wars, and the insurgencies and counter-insurgency wars of the past seventy or so years. I have a lot of biographies, books on American history, military theory, sociology, philosophy, psychology related to war and PTSD, and a few theological works, though most of my theology books are at home because I don’t have room for them in the office.

Coupled with mementos of my military career, other militaria, artwork, and baseball memorabilia the sight and smell can be both overwhelming and comforting at the same time. I hear that a lot from my visitors, including those who come in for counseling, consolation, or just to know someone cares. They tell my visitors volumes about me without them ever asking a question or me telling them, and occasionally someone will ask to borrow a book, and most of the time I will lend them the book, or if I have multiple copies even give it to them.

In a sense my books are kind of a window to my soul, the topics, and even how I have them organized, and they are not for decoration. Many times while I am reflecting on a topic, a conversation, or something that I read in the news I peruse my books and pull one or more out to help me better understand it, or relate it to history. sometimes when in conversation something will come up and I can pull out a book. One of my Chaplains said that he should “apply for graduate credit” for what he learns in our often off the cuff talks. But, for me that is because I read so much and absorb it.

Likewise my memorabilia is there to remind me of all the people in my past who I have served with. I don’t have all my medals, honors, and diplomas up for everyone to see, instead I have pictures and collages, many signed by people who made a difference in my life. When I see the signatures and often all too kind words on them I am humbled, and in some cases a tear will come to my eye, but I digress…

I always try to read a decent amount everyday. I in the past couple of weeks I have finished reading a number of very good books dealing with different historical dramas. I have mentioned a number of my recent reads. Today I finished reading a very good book called Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes In World War II, by Yuki Tanaka. The book is primarily focused on Japanese War Crimes In the Southwest Pacific against Allied POWs, civilians, including German missionaries, and indigenous peoples. I will be referring to it in future articles as I deal with Japanese War Crimes In the Second World War. I am well versed in the Nazi War crimes and only somewhat familiar with Japanese war crimes, but the the takeaway from the book was that both the German War Crimes and Japanese War Crimes committed during the Second World War were committed by men who placed unconditional loyalty to a supreme leader, in the case of the Germans, Hitler’s Fuhrer cult, and in the case of the Japanese, Emperor worship, much like the present day Trump Cult. But I digress, I will go into that in a future article.

I love reading and writing about complex characters, people who may be heroes and at the same time scoundrels. I like the contradictions and the feet of clay of people, because I am filled with my own, and truthfully saints are pretty boring. Unfortunately I haven’t read any biographies of late, although most of my reading deals a lot with biography as the characters weave their way through history.

Last year we observed the Centenary of the end of World War One. As a result I re-read Edmond Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922 and Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Both of these are very important reads which should help us to reflect reflect on what is happening in our world today. There are many similarities and reading them causes me to wonder if world leaders will allow hubris, arrogance, greed, and pride to drag the world into another catastrophic war. Sadly President Trump, doesn’t read, and doesn’t learn from history. Unfortunately, his ignorance is very much a reflection of our twenty-first century media culture.

But to me, books are important, far more important than anything that is shouted at me on television. Unfortunately, the latter is how most people get information today. I often sit at the bar and on quiet days simply listen to those near me repeat ad-nauseam the bullshit echoed by badly educated and historically ignorant conservative pundits, usually from Fox News. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his little but profound book, On Tyranny:

“Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books. The characters in Orwell’s and Bradbury’s books could not do this—but we still can.”

Likewise, 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.”

But anyway, I signed in to my final duty station today where not only my Chaplain skills, but my historical knowledge will be appreciated. I immediately felt at home, far more than I did in my last assignment.

So have a great day and a better tomorrow, so pick up a book and read.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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History, Biography, and Organizing my Library at Home

 

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a very difficult day where I worked in the house, the storage space, and. helped Judy and some of her friends break down their wares at the end of a craft show. This evening I did some more work organizing books in my library here at home. This week while doing my transfer I also caught up with some reading since my orders didn’t actually show up until late Wednesday. I read Mark Rosen’s “The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: a Reconsideration”; “The Participants: the Men of the Wannsee Conference” edited by Hans Christian Jasch and Christopher Kreutzmuller; finished reading “Our Declaration: a Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” by Danielle Allen; and began reading Stefan Kühls “The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism.” While browsing my books I pulled out “Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II” by Yuki Tanaka.

In like of what I have been doing I am reposting an edited and expanded version of an older article emphasizing the connection between history and biography. This is something I try to do when I write. Tomorrow, I start my check-in process after having signed in to my new command, before they send me to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

English historian and military theorist Colin Gray noted that “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, but especially in the matter of war.

I think one of the sad things about history is that many authors, especially in military history, but other areas as well, seem to treat the participants as bit players in a series of events, rather than a prism from which to understand and view history.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had students, and even colleagues tell me that history is dry, boring and uninteresting to them. I will not condemn them, for certainly if it is that is case, it is not their fault, but rather those who write and teach history. If all history is, is arbitrary dates, lists of disconnected events and names of people, without any context to their lives, why should they care about it?

When I first began to study history I was much more concerned about events than people. However, over the past couple of years I have began to develop what I call my philosophy of history. That has come about through my study of the events leading to the American Civil War and in particular my study of the Battle of Gettysburg, but also in other historical events such as the Arab Revolt of 1917,  the French adventures in Indochina and Algeria, and the Holocaust.

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, to make the subjects appear saintlike, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. There are others who go to the opposite extreme and do all they can to demonize their subject. In either case the method is less than honest, but for many people, profit and propaganda value mean more than truth. Of course either type of writing appeals to the masses who do not care about nuance, or for that matter truth.

But such is not history. Neither are “histories” which are designed to support a particular ideology, be it political, religious, or economic. Such works are not history, but propaganda. When I see people, in this country forbidding the teaching of history because it is not patriotic enough I want to scream. It is like I am watching the propagandists of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, or any of many other nations that used ideology or religion to supress history that didn’t meet their definition of “patriotic.” But then I digress…

My gut feeling says that such artificial divisions between history and biography do a disservice to the reader. I take a tremendous pleasure in writing, and I like to try to communicate and interpret facts, which is indeed the vocation of the historian, in a manner that makes them interesting. What I am finding is that when telling the stories of events we must also tell the stories of the people who make these events.

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman who in her writings about events, never forgot importance of people, and refused to turn them in to one dimensional caricatures.

In my writing now I attempt to bring the prism of the biography into the events that I write about.

I had a fellow faculty member note that he liked what I wrote about Gettysburg because it was more than just the events, it was the personal connection he felt to the people.

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.In the next few days you will be seeing some of my Gettysburg work, and hopefully as you read it you will notice that I attempt to find that nuance in the various men, on both sides of the conflict, who are part of the story.

I found that the complexities and contradictions of the subjects of history, the people help me understand the events more than anything. I think my epiphanies came in reading about the lives, as well at writings of men like T.E. Lawrence and Gouvereur Warren whose triumphs, struggles, weaknesses and injuries mirror my own. In learning about these men as people, in the context of what they accomplished helps me to understand their history and the era that they lived far more than simply recounting how they influenced a battle.

Likewise, I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layers and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about more fascinating, because then I gain a holistic perspective and develop an empathy for them. Even good and honorable people who find themselves due to race, religion, or nationality fighting for an evil cause, or evil people fighting for a good cause. Both are troubling, I think that good and honorable men who submit themselves to criminal and evil causes are more troubling.

We are seeing much of that today in regard to various members of the Trump Administration. When I was reading the article on Friedrich Kritzinger, the State Secretary for the Reich Chancellery, a conservative Prussian Civil Servant who served under the Kaiser, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. In his position he made sure that the bureaucracy of the Reich ran efficiently, and also wrote legal justifications for the absorption of the rump of Czechoslovakia, and western Poland into the Reich. He also took part in the Wannsee Conference, for which he was the only participant to express remorse. Stefan Paul-Jacobs and Lore Kleiber, wrote about him in The Participants:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” (St. Augustine). This might not be a quote from Kritzinger, but it serves as a reminder that, by working as a lawyer for a regime, which he has known from the start to be criminal, he made himself a stooge.” (The Participants p.217”) 

The story of Kritzinger, is very pertinent for anyone trapped by ideological or religious constraints, or commitment to a leader that they know is corrupt, acting criminally, or undermining the law and Constitution. That may confuse or even offend you, but it is a part of the human condition. That my friends is history.

Barbara Tuchman noted “that if the historian needs to submit himself to his or her material instead of trying to impose himself on his material, then the material will ultimately speak to him and supply the answers.”

This is very important, because when we do this we discover the answers to the why questions, especially the why questions that are so very uncomfortable, are necessary if we want to discover truth.

I know that I can find connections in the strengths as well as their weaknesses of people that I admire. Thus when I see ordinary people taking part in events, for good or for evil,I can say that given the same set of circumstances that that could be me. Context matters, nuance matters, people matter. If we do not understand that, history becomes nothing more than a set of manipulated facts, devoid of context that can be used to buttress the most evil intentions.

I do plan on developing these thoughts over the coming weeks and months, but for now it will suffice to say that when I write about history, that people matter. That is why I write.

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