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“You Can Take Our Lives and Freedom, but You Cannot Take Our Honor” Life is Not a Cabaret

Otto Wels

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am going to address something of critical importance today, even though it occurred over 87 years ago, which in the scope of history is not that long, despite the fact that the average American, regardless of their political beliefs and ideology are ignorant of past events, even those of just a few years ago. Thus, when one discusses events of 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 years ago, one typically receives blank stares, or appeals to historical myths and fabrications that they learned in school, church, or from the media, both news and entertainment. As a historian it drives me crazy, our society, including our political, business, and media elites, has become a new generation of Know Nothings, of whom none other than the President and cult like followers supply some of the worst, but certainly not the only examples.

in 1932 the Communist Party of Germany KPD, refused to ally itself with the Social Democratic Party, SDP because they viewed the Socialists as sell-outs who refused to embrace a Soviet State in 1918 and 1919. At that time they called themselves Independent Socialists, but though a minority unleashed a left wing reign of terror that pushed German Conservatives further to the extreme right, and left the Social Democrats working with the German Army to try to hold the center. In the end, it was the extreme right that finally won a thirteen year struggle to overthrow the Weimar Republic, and after abortive coup attempts, including the Kapp Putsch in Berlin, which was crushed by a nationwide strike of labor groups, and the Nazi led Bier Hall Putsch, which was crushed due to the duplicity of Hitler’s coerced allies, and the refusal of Munich’s police to withdraw in the face of the Nazi advance at Odeonsplatz.

However, the Nazis learned from their failures at violent revolution, and instead, despite being outlawed for a number of years, worked within the democratic model to slowly gain regional, and eventually a national following. By 1932 the Nazi Party, as well as the KPD were at the height of their support. The traditional conservative German right was divided and its leaders thought they could control the Nazi movement. The left was divided between the moderate SPD and the militant KPD. An alliance of the two left parties in 1932 and 1933 would have created a parliamentary majority and stopped the Nazi movement in its tracks, but the KPD, which had split from the SPD in 1919 hated the SPD more than they did the Nazis, even though the Nazis were an existential threat to the German left. 

As a historian I think that this is one of the of the most relevant examples as the United States and other democratic nations lurch toward legally elected right wing authoritarian governments.

A few months after he gained power, Hitler’s Nazi majority Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, or by its full title Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (“Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich”). The came on the heels of the Reichstag Fire Decree and had tremendous repercussions for the German Republic and in effect made Hitler and his administration a dictatorship. The legislative branch, the Reichstag was limited to nothing more than a rubber stamp for the executive, as was the judicial branch, the Reichsrat. It supposedly protected the rights of the President, the Reichstag, and judiciary, but it made Hitler the the sole decider of domestic and social laws, as well as all foreign policy decisions.

The law stated:

The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:

Article One

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich. This includes the laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the constitution. (Article 85 and 87 dealt with the budgetary process and allocation of funds for advertisement.)

Article Two

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain unaffected.

Article Three:

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette. They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date. Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government. (These Articles dealt with the legislative process in which the Reichstag, Government, Reichsrat, and President all had specific responsibilities which limited the power of the government to rush laws into force without due process and deliberation, and if needed the approval of the electorate)

Article Four

Treaties of the Reich with foreign states, which relate to matters of Reich legislation, shall for the duration of the validity of these laws not require the consent of the legislative authorities. The Reich government shall enact the legislation necessary to implement these agreements. (This removed the requirement of the Reichstag to approve treaties)

Article Five

This law enters into force on the day of its proclamation. It expires on April 1, 1937; it expires furthermore if the present Reich government is replaced by another.

When the legislation was introduced the debate was muted. While the Communist Party was yet to be banned, deputies of the Communist Party could not attend the session, many had already been arrested and many more were in hiding or had fled the country. Hermann Goering adjusted the rules for a quorum in order to compensate for the lack of members in attendance. Deputies of the Social Democratic Party were also terrorized, hounded, and some arrested, but 94 attended, outnumbered they did not buckle under the Nazi threats, which included the chamber being ringed by armed members of the SA and SS.

The non-Nazi Protestant based conservative parties provided no resistance, but the Catholic Center Party was torn by concerns that the legislation could limit the rights of the Catholic Church. However, they had been outmaneuvered by Hitler who had already negotiated a Concordant with the Vatican. The result was to ensure that the Catholic Center Party would vote for the measure, which passed with a mere 94 deputies opposing it, all members of the Social Democratic Party.

The only member of the Reichstag to speak against the measure was the head of the Social Democrats, Otto Wels. In defiance of Hitler, Goering, the Nazi Deputies, and the threatening SA and SS men uttered words that every resistor in every country threatened by authoritarian leaders who despise the rule of law and the Constitutions that they used to gain power need to hear and proclaim, because the truth can never be silenced:

“You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenseless but not honourless.”

Shortly after the Enabling Act, every non-Nazi Conservative party voluntarily dissolved, their organizations, youth, and veterans organizations being absorbed into the SA or Hitlerjugend. Many rank and file KPD members readily embraced the Nazis, even if their leaders were killed, jailed, or exiled. That was not the case with the SPD. Because of their stance and the courage of Otto Wels, they became the most hated and persecuted German political parties.

Otto Wels died as an exile in France. Many Social Democrats were placed in Concentration Camps and died, likewise some Communists. The Catholic Center Party would find itself betrayed, and many of its leaders would be killed, jailed, or placed in Concentration Camps, and Hitler would persecute opposition members of the Catholic Church as if no Concordat had ever been negotiated. A few members of the Protestant conservative parties, would join the German resistance, and some would be jailed, placed in Concentration Camps, or after the failed Military Coup of July 20th 1944, would be executed for their resistance, but they were a distinct minority, and few had any misgivings as long as it looked like Germany would win the war.

But eventually the Nazis would be driven from power. Their descendants today, whether in Germany, the United States, or other countries must be confronted at all costs. Democracy, and the American Constitutional Democracy, based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes that all men are created equal, and the Constitution of the United States which was the first to checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government, must be upheld. The Executive Branch, cannot, regardless of which party is in power be allowed to overthrow that democracy.

We have reached a point in the history of the United States where the Executive Branch, over a period of decades has assumed the powers of dictatorship as the Legislative branch over the corresponding time has surrendered its prerogatives and powers, while the judicial branch had become the domain of politically appointed judges and justices. Donald Trump and the GOP Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, have been the leaders of that, but should by some chance Bernie win, I have no doubt that some of his supporters secure his power by similar means. Yesterday, the President declared himself to be the Chief Law Enforcement Official in the country, in effect above all law. The Founders attempted to ensure that would not happen by placing Congress above the Executive Branch in the Constitution, but they assumed that no Chief Executive would do such a thing.

One does not know what will happen next, especially after the Senate acquitted the President in his impeachment trial, and the President’s subsequent retribution on those whose did not support him completely, or obeyed their oaths of office.

However, it is my opinion, that anyone who truly values the primary principles of the Declaration and the Constitution, and not just be a compliant tool of any political leader, must ne willing to take a stand; like the one Otto Wels made when confronted with a dictatorship in the making. Even if the President unleashes the power of the police and his own heavily armed supporters against opponents, we must remember like Otto Wels, they can “take our lives and freedom, but they cannot take our honor…”

This is something that anyone committed to the principles of the Declaration and Constitution must take seriously over the next eight and a half months leading to the next Presidential election. If we fail, the effects will be felt for at least a generation, and the institutions of our government will be transformed in ways that the founders could only imagine in their worst dreams.

Democrats and Never Trump conservatives must keep this in mind. Nothing is guaranteed right now, it is quite possible that Trump and his cult like supporters in Congress, before the election, or if he is re-elected, with their now majority in the courts could enact something like the Enabling Act if we are not careful. We must be careful to watch for the major terrorist attack, or war that could lead to the implementation of already legislated laws, such as the Patriot Act, or executive orders that give near dictatorial powers to the executive, and which would, if they occurred, be supported by a majority of Americans.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

”The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”

Trump has said he would do that and his supporters are committed to what he says, but until now most Americans have refused to believe him, and them. Sadly, most still don’t. After all, once one ceases to resist what more is there to do, just go to the Cabaret.

As Joel Gray, the Master of Ceremonies in the musical and film Cabartet sang:

Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so!
We have no troubles here
Here, life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.

Yes, ignore everything and immerse yourself in our entertainment and sports culture, as if nothing else matters. What does freedom matter if you have no troubles?

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenseless but not honourless.” Remembering the Resistors to the Enabling Act Of 1933

Otto Wels

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I will not be talking about the Mueller report until we know what is actually contained in it. So I will continue to discuss historical events that are relevant in our time.

One of the most relevant as this country and others lurch toward legally elected authoritarian governments is the example of the Hitler’s Enabling Act, or by its full title Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (“Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich”) came on the heels of the Reichstag Fire Decree and though very short had tremendous repercussions for the German Republic and in effect made Hitler and his administration a dictatorship. The legislative branch, the Reichstag was limited to nothing more than a rubber stamp for the executive, as was the judicial branch, the Reichsrat. It supposedly protected the rights of the President, the Reichstag, and judiciary, but it made Hitler the the sole decider of domestic and social laws, as well as all foreign policy decisions.

The law stated:

The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:

Article One

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich. This includes the laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the constitution. (Article 85 and 87 dealt with the budgetary process and allocation of funds for advertisement.)

Article Two

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain unaffected.

Article Three:

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette. They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date. Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government. (These Articles dealt with the legislative process in which the Reichstag, Government, Reichsrat, and President all had specific responsibilities which limited the power of the government to rush laws into force without due process and deliberation, and if needed the approval of the electorate)

Article Four

Treaties of the Reich with foreign states, which relate to matters of Reich legislation, shall for the duration of the validity of these laws not require the consent of the legislative authorities. The Reich government shall enact the legislation necessary to implement these agreements. (This removed the requirement of the Reichstag to approve treaties)

Article Five

This law enters into force on the day of its proclamation. It expires on April 1, 1937; it expires furthermore if the present Reich government is replaced by another.

When the legislation was introduced the debate was muted. While the Communist Party was yet to be banned, deputies of the Communist Party could not attend the session, many had already been arrested and many more were in hiding or had fled the country. Hermann Goering adjusted the rules for a quorum in order to compensate for the lack of members in attendance. Deputies of the Social Democratic Party were also terrorized, hounded, and some arrested, but 94 attended, outnumbered they did not buckle under the Nazi threats, which included the chamber being ringed by armed members of the SA and SS.

The non-Nazi Protestant based conservative parties provided no resistance, but the Catholic Center Party was torn by concerns that the legislation could limit the rights of the Catholic Church. However, they had been outmaneuvered by Hitler who had already negotiated a Concordant with the Vatican. The result was to ensure that the Catholic Center Party would vote for the measure, which passed with a mere 94 deputies opposing it, all members of the Social Democratic Party.

The only member of the Reichstag to speak against the measure was the head of the Social Democrats, Otto Wels. In defiance of Hitler, Goering, the Nazi Deputies, and the threatening SA and SS men uttered words that every resistor in every country threatened by authoritarian leaders who despise the rule of law and the Constitutions that they used to gain power need to hear and proclaim, because the truth can never be silenced:

“You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenseless but not honourless.”

Otto Wels died as an exile in France. Many Social Democrats were placed in Concentration Camps and died, likewise some Communists. The Catholic Center Party would find itself betrayed, and many of its leaders would be killed, jailed, or placed in Concentration Camps, and Hitler would persecute opposition members of the Catholic Church as if no Concordat had ever been negotiated.

But eventually the Nazis would be driven from power. Their descendants today must be confronted at all costs. Democracy, and Constitutional republics based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes that all men are created equal, and the Constitution of the United States which was the first to checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government in which the Legislative branch was assumed to be the most important.

We have reached a point in the history of the United States where the Executive Branch, over a period of decades has assumed the powers of dictatorship as the Legislative branch over the corresponding time has surrendered its prerogatives and powers, while the judicial branch had become the domain of politically appointed judges and justices,

One does not know what will happen next, but anyone who values the primary principles of the Declaration and the Constitution must ne willing to take a stand like Otto Wels when confronted with a dictatorship in the making. Even if the President unleashes the power of the police and his own heavily armed supporters against opponents, we must remember like Otto Wels, they can “take our lives and freedom, but they cannot take our honor…”

This is something that anyone committed to the principles of the Declaration and Constitution must take seriously over the next 19 months leading to the next Presidential election. If we fail, the effects will be felt for at least a generation, and the institutions of our government will be transformed in ways that the founders could only imagine in their worst dreams.

Democrats and Never Trump conservatives must keep this in mind. Nothing is guaranteed right now, it is quite possible that Trump and his cult like supporters in Congress and the courts could enact something like the Enabling Act if we are not careful, regardless of the findings of the Mueller investigation or anything else, and we must be careful to watch for the major terrorist attack, or war that could lead to the implementation of already legislated laws, or executive orders that give nearly dictatorial powers to the executive, and which would be supported by a majority of Americans.

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Danger of Right Wing and Left Wing Extremism

“Let everyone regulate his conduct… by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.”  William Wilberforce

The past two weeks have been a watershed in modern American History.  For the first time in memory we have had a series of ideological, political and religious murders committed by men who believed that their actions were justifiable homicide.  The first was the murder of a physician who had a fair amount of his practice devoted to abortions including late term abortions.  George Teller was killed by Scott Roeder a militant anti-government member of the Freemen and a fringe player in anti-abortion groups who was influenced by the militant anti-abortion group The Army of God which believes in justifiable homicide.  The murder was in Tiller’s church.  The clinic which Tiller operated is being shut down by his family.  Roeder believes it a victory but many in the pro-life movement are concerned that it will lead to crackdown on mainstream pro-lifers, and also that the closing of the Tiller clinic could lead to similar attacks by those emboldened by Roeder’s action.

The second killing was that of Army Pvt. William Long outside of a recruiting station in Little Rock.  The confessed murderer used an assault rifle to kill Pvt. Long and wound another soldier serving as home town recruiters prior to reporting to their unit following their initial entry training.  The suspects, an American convert to Islam named Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he didn’t consider the killing a murder because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified.  “I don’t think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason.”  Mujahid Muhammad warned soldiers and their families in the US that they were also targets: “The battlefield is not just in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Muhammad says.  “A battlefield is anywhere we see you at.  And those people in the Army and those families of the people in the Army and the military and personnel all over the country, if you don’t want to die or get shot for this so called war on terrorism, war on Islam, then get out of the Army.  Get out of the Army and don’t walk, run.” This attack followed other attacks on recruiting stations including the bombing of the Armed Forces Recruiting station in Times Square last year.

The most recent attack occurred today as an 88 year old White Supremacist and Holocaust denier James Von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum killing a guard.  Von Brunn’s sites as well as other Neo-Nazi websites such as Stormfront prominently spew Von Brunn’s hatred toward minorities in the United States.   His book, “Kill The Best Gentiles,” embraces Adolf Hitler’s view that Jews concocted World War I as part of a scheme to stab Germany in the back — a myth the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust. He is called an “independent investigator by some and has issued statements on the citizenship controversy pushed by some on the far Right about President Obama’s eligibility to serve as President  and comments about the religion of then CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks.

All three of these men evidently believe in justifiable homicide and are willing to kill for their ideological or religious beliefs.  What makes this sudden spike in assassination for ideological reasons significant is that the nation is polarized by the extreme Right and extreme Left which both see the world and their causes no matter what they are in black and white terms.  There is no intent by any extreme group to dialogue or find compromise with their opponents, even if such compromise would gain them at least part of what they want.  Instead, the rhetoric of the extremes has continued to increase and find airtime on supposedly “mainstream” media outlets both liberal and conservative.  This provides some manner of legitimacy to the extremist groups even as their more boisterous political and media supporters ratchet up the rhetoric.  This makes for an incredibly volatile situation which is fraught with danger for all as more and more people see violence, including justifiable homicide as a legitimate option to push their agenda.  In our country we cannot forget that John Brown, though right in his desire to end slavery engaged in tactics which helped push the country to civil war, a war that while freeing African-Americans from the yoke of slavery imposed a yoke nearly as heavy on them, know as Jim Crow laws that lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King and the Voting Rights Act of 1964.  Even still racism is still a reality for many blacks and other minorities.  Brown’s desire to end slavery may have been righteous but he destroyed the political center which could have ended it peacefully in time just as William Wilberforce and his allies in Parliament had done in England.

The perilous situation that exists now is that which erodes the center on which all depend on to hold.  Neither Left Wing or Right Wing extremists give a damn about the majority who are somewhere in between.  As a passionate moderate I see this as a dangerous trend.  In Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s both the Communists and Nazis polarized the nation.  The more moderate Social Democrats, Catholic Center Party and other smaller middle of the road parties were marginalized as time went on.  Eventually the Nazis won that power struggle with dire consequences which extended far beyond Germany.  As the rhetoric rises and those who justify violence be it against people, institutions or property are emboldened to act it will further fracture the middle.  It is imperative that the Center to hold, as Edmund Burke said: “All it needs for evil to prosper is for people of goodwill to do nothing.”

These actions could well be harbingers of things to come.  What is even more concerning as they take place at a time of worldwide economic crisis when we have hundreds of thousands of troops deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Additionally, North Korea rattling sabers and several critical nations, some with nuclear weapons on the brink of collapse, failure or civil war.  I pray that men and women of goodwill and courage arise in the center and passionately advocate not for a particular party or cause, but the good of all.  People of faith need to pray not for a particular political resolution favorable to them, but for God’s peace and healing in our country.

Peace, Steve+

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