Tag Archives: cold war

Der Schicksalstag: November 9th, Germany’s Day of Fate

Hitler-Putsch, M¸nchen, Marienplatz

Schicksalstag: The Fateful Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some days in history that are crammed full world changing events, and sometimes those events occur, for good or bad and sometimes good and bad in different countries. In the United States July 4th is not only Independence Day, but eighty-seven years later marked the surrender of Vicksburg and the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army from Gettysburg. Likewise it was the day that the Louisiana Purchase was announced in 1803 and that in 1826 the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died.

Since 1918 November 9th has been a day in German history that has impacted both Germany and the world in many ways. In a sense it is almost hard to believe that so much occurred on that day. It is known by many as Der Schicksalstag (the fateful day).

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Robert Blum

In 1848 a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, Robert Blum was arrested and executed executed for traveling to Vienna to support the 1848 democracy uprising there. A liberal, humanist and democrat Blum advocated German unification without Prussian dominance, protested Prussian oppression of Poles, stood against anti-Semitism and for the rights of Catholics in heavily Protestant German kingdoms. Blum’s dream remained unfulfilled for over a century after his death. Many of the men and women who took part in the failed revolution of 1848 would come to the United States where during the American Civil War they would fight for the emancipation of slaves and later the Civil rights of freed blacks. Among them was Carl Schurz.

<img src=”https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/30005075_abdication1.jpg?w=300&h=224″ class=”wp-image-15669 size-medium aligncenter” width=”300″ height=”224″ data-permalink=”https://padresteve.com/2014/11/09/der-schicksaltag-an-execution-an-abdication-a-beer-hall-putsch-kristallnacht-and-the-fall-of-the-wall/wilhelm-ii-4-v-l-geht-am-tag-der-unterzeichnung-seiner-abdankung-uber-die-grenze-in-das-hollandische-exil-2/” data-image-meta=”{“aperture”:”0″,”credit”:”bpk”,”camera”:””,”caption”:”(Aufnahme eines unbekannten holl\u00e4ndischen Studenten)
Aufnahmedatum: 10.11.1918
Systematik:
Geschichte \/ Deutschland \/ 20. Jh. \/ Weimarer Republik \/ 8.\/9.November 1918 \/ Abdankung Wilhelms II.”,”created_timestamp”:”0″,”copyright”:”bpk”,”focal_length”:”0″,”iso”:”0″,”shutter_speed”:”0″,”title”:”Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung \u00fcber die Grenze in das holl\u00e4ndische Exil”,”orientation”:”1″}” sizes=”(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px” style=”height: auto; max-width: 100%; border: 0px; margin-bottom: 2px” data-medium-file=”https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/30005075_abdication1.jpg?w=300&h=224″ data-attachment-id=”15669″ srcset=”https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/30005075_abdication1.jpg?w=300&h=224 300w, https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/30005075_abdication1.jpg?w=150&h=112 150w, https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/30005075_abdication1.jpg 590w” data-large-file=”https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/30005075_abdication1.jpg?w=500″ data-orig-file=”https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/30005075_abdication1.jpg” alt=”Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung über die Grenze in das holländische Exil” data-comments-opened=”1″ data-image-title=”Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung über die Grenze in das holländische Exil” data-orig-size=”590,442″ data-image-description=”

(Aufnahme eines unbekannten holländischen Studenten)
Aufnahmedatum: 10.11.1918
Systematik:
Geschichte / Deutschland / 20. Jh. / Weimarer Republik / 8./9.November 1918 / Abdankung Wilhelms II.

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Kaiser Wilhelm II Crosses the Dutch Border Following his Abdication

November 9th, 1918 was gloomy day at the military headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II. General Wilhelm Groener, Quartermaster General of the Army looked his sovereign in the eye and told Kaiser Wilhelm that the war was lost, and that he no longer had the support of the Army. The Kaiser, reeling from battlefield defeats and the mutiny of his precious High Seas Fleet, was stunned. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who had for all practical intents had headed a military dictatorship with General Erich Ludendorff since 1916, meekly nodded his concurrence with Groener. The Kaiser abdicated the throne and departed in his private train to the Netherlands the next day.

ausrufung-der-republik-in-berlin-preview-image_900x510

Phillip Scheidemann Proclaims the Republic 

Meanwhile in Berlin, Majority Socialist parliament member Philip Scheidemann proclaimed the Republic to prevent a Soviet takeover. Unfortunately, Scheidemann’s bold move upset a plan for a smooth transition of power between Friedrich Ebert and the outgoing Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. Chaos ensued and the Republic, known as the Weimar Republic struggled for its existence in the face of a Soviet Revolution and Conservative reaction.

However, the promise of democracy was soured by events that the leaders of the Republic were blamed: a continued allied blockade, a humiliating peace treaty, the loss of territory, the occupation of the industrial areas of the Ruhr and Saar by France and Belgium, heavy war reparations, and the war guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles. This was compounded by civil war between various right and left wing factions and major economic problems including massive hyper-inflation of 1920-21 and the Great Depression doomed the young Republic.

Beer Hall Putsch

Five years to the day following Scheidemann’s proclamation a charismatic Austrian in Munich who had fought and been wounded fighting for Germany in the First World War gathered with his political sympathizes and para-military street thugs to attempt a putsch. The man was Adolf Hitler, the head of the small and radical National Socialist Deutches Arbeiter Partei, or National Socialist German Workers Party. Hitler hoped that his putsch would result in a popular uprising against the German government in Berlin. The putsch was a failure and ended in bloodshed at the Feldherrnhalle monument on Munich’s Odeonsplatz.

Hitler fled the scene but arrested and put on trial. The case was tried in Munich rather than Berlin and convicted of treason. He was given a light sentence and jailed for nine months at the Landesberg prison where he wrote his book Mein Kampf. In prison he continued to recruit others to his cause. Less than ten years later Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. Hitler quickly banned political opposition and began his persecution of Jews and others that he believed to be sub-human and upon Hindenburg’s death in 1934 merged the office of Chancellor and President become the leader of Nazi Germany.

In November 1938 Hitler and his henchmen were looking for a reason to openly begin persecuting the Jews. They had been doing so since the seizure of power, but 1938 marked a turning point. Instead of unofficial pogroms launched by his undisciplined Stormtroopers, this was orchestrated by the top men in the Nazi regime.

One of the chief reasons for this was to seize the property and financial resources of German Jews. This coincided with the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. A reason for the action was furnished when a young Polish man, Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents were expelled from Germany on November 3rd went to the German embassy in Paris and shot and mortally wounded Ernst von Rath, a young diplomat, who reportedly had some anti-Nazi sentiments. When Von Rath died the the Nazis unleashed their fury.

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Joseph Goebbels unleashed the storm troopers and others in civilian clothes on the night of November 9th. They were supposedly spontaneous demonstrations, but the Police and Fire Departments were ordered not to intervene except to save German property. Stormtroopers ransacked Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues causing hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks in damage, destroying over 200 synagogues and 7000 businesses. About 100 Jews were killed during the rampage, which went unchecked by police. Another 2000-3000 subsequently died either by suicide or in concentration camps in which 30,000 Jewish men were incarcerated.

To add to the insult to injury Jews were charged for the damage done to their property and insurance payments that should have gone to them were collected by the state. The night became known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass and marked a major turn in the open Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany, which would extend throughout Europe and end in the Final Solution and the systematic murder of nearly six million Jews. World War Two ended with the total defeat of Germany and the Nazi regime.

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Following Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, it was occupied by the Allied powers. Germany was split in two, the East under the domination of the Soviet Union which became the German Democratic Republic, and the West which supported by the United States and Britain became the Federal Republic of Germany.

The divided country became the focal point of what became the Cold War, the fortified border became infamous as the Iron Curtain. The Berlin was blockaded by the Soviets in 1948 and the subsequent airlift kept West Berlin Free. However in August 1961 as the Cold War escalated the leaders of East Germany erected a fence which became the Berlin Wall, a wall which was effectively a means to imprison the population. It seemed to be a fixture that would never come down.

berlin-wall_1412605c

But in the late 1980s the Cold War began to thaw. Mikhail Gorbachev took power in the economically strapped Soviet Union which was bogged down in a costly war in Afghanistan, and a struggle against a Polish democratic movement. Premier Gorbachev sought to relieve the situation with a policy of openness. It backfired, and throughout Eastern Europe, pro-democracy and pro-freedom groups began to protest the status quo.

The once feared Warsaw Pact began to disintegrate. As borders were opened hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans including thousands of East Germans went west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. East Germans began to gather at the Berlin Wall and on November 9th 1989 the tottering East German government decided to open border crossing points with restrictions. On hearing the news hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the six crossings demanding to be let through, and finally, ignoring orders, Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jäger who commanded the Bornholmer Strasse crossing opened the gates. The Berlin Wall had fallen and 339 days later East Germany was dissolved. On October 3rd 1990, Germany was reunited.

The new Germany is the economic heart of the European Union and has become a champion of human rights and social progress. But that could be in danger with the splintering of the major political parties that guided Germany to its position and the rise of a new nationalistic, racist, and anti-Semitic movement built around the AfD, or Alternative for Germany Party. Some leaders and members of this party express admiration for the Third Reich.

It has now been twenty-nine years since the Berlin Wall fell, eighty years since Kristallnacht, ninety-five years since the Beer Hall Putsch, and one hundred years since the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

These are all important events, and our challenge as citizens of the world is never to forget just how important and fateful each was, and why November 9th is indeed the “fateful day.” One wonders if a future November 9th will become another Schicksalstag that will again shake Germany to its foundations.

But then, maybe what is going on in the United States is much more threatening than anything going on in Germany.

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany

The True Harbinger of Spring: Baseball and America in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Nine days ago Punxsutawney Phil predicted another six weeks of Winter, but on Wednesday spring begins. Not the actual season of Spring but real spring, as pitchers and catchers begin to report to Baseball Spring Training. My long winter of dealing with the monotony of Up Armored Slowed Paced Rugby, also known as American Football is over. Thankfully during that period I did have European Football, particularly Bayern Munich of the German Bundesliga to help me through the winter.

Spring is a good thing unless you like me are very concerned with what happens on the Korean Peninsula following the Olympic Games in particular what is a very real possibility of war that easily through intent or miscalculation on the part of the North Korean, or maybe more so the Trump administration could escalate to to something that none of us want to contemplate; thus I can agree with Sharon Olds who wrote during the height of the Cold War, “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

This week is the true beginning of spring. I know that spring does not actually begin until March, but even so amid the continuing winter, spring is showing its first sign of dawning as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. As Bill Veeck once said, “That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”

I grew up with a love for baseball that was cultivated by my late father, we didn’t always agree on much, but he imparted to me a love for the game that knows no bounds.

For me that is true. From the day the World Series ends I wait in anticipation for the beginning of Spring Training and I can agree with the great Rogers Hornsby who said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Now don’t get me wrong I really love Soccer, I like Hockey, and American Football is just a diversion to hang out with friends over a beer, but in the end they are merely sports, were Baseball is a refuge with profoundly religious meaning to me. As Bryant Gumbel once said, “The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love.”

I think that unlike so many other sports and entertainment that baseball has a healing quality that is good for society. Walt Whitman wrote, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

In a time like ours when the United States is wracked by the chaos of the daily Twitter rampages of President Trump and his defiance of all the norms of society, his disrespect for the Constitution, law, and simple human decency it is nice to remember that as Bill Veeck noted: “Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.” I wish that was the case in Washington D.C. where the President and his gang of supporters in Congress and the Right Wing media is doing their best to re-write both American history as well as every political and society norm that has held the country together during even the most perilous times. They would be called cheaters in baseball, they are worse that baseball’s PED users because they are not just cheating they are trying to re-write the rules of the game to cover their misdeeds.

Conservative and former Republican commentator George Will wrote:

“(Barry) Bonds’ records must remain part of baseball’s history. His hits happened. Erase them and there will be discrepancies in baseball’s bookkeeping about the records of the pitchers who gave them up. George Orwell said that in totalitarian societies, yesterday’s weather could be changed by decree. Baseball, indeed America, is not like that…”

The only problem is that Will wrote that before Donald Trump. I just wonder if indeed Trump will succeed in changing the very fabric of the American experiment.

When I came back from Iraq the ballpark was one of the very few places that I could go and feel absolutely safe. There is something comforting in looking out over that beautiful diamond, smelling the freshly cut grass, the carefully manicured infield, and taking it all in. In fact for me tit still is one of my few truly safe refuges where war, terrorism, political and religious hatred, and the endless ideological battles of conservative and liberal pundits and politicians take a back seat, even those of Donald Trump. As the concerns of the moment fade away as I take in the beauty of that beautiful green diamond I find a peace that I seldom find anywhere else; and yes, that includes most churches where I find neither peace, nor God. Maybe that’s why I believe in the Church of Baseball. Unlike church there’s no guilt and it’s seldom boring.

I guess that is why it baseball matters so much to me, and why in spite of all the terror that the President triggers within my soul, that the seemingly insignificant act of pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training means so much. For me it is a symbol of hope.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, Political Commentary, PTSD

The Rape of Nanking at 80

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Eighty years ago Japanese Army troops under the command of Lieutenant General Asaka Yasuhiko launched an attack on the Nationalist Chinese defenders of the city of Nanking. That attack and the subsequent occupation led to one of the most heinous displays of inhumanity and war crimes in modern history. As a single event it ranks as high or higher than any single event directed at one city during the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

Not long after I started this blog I wrote an article on the Rape of Nanking. The event which occurred in 1937 was one of the most extensively documented war crimes in modern history. But despite that there are many, especially those of Japanese political right who deny that the event ever occurred and if if atrocities happened in Nanking it was the Chinese government which carried them out. It is amazing that I still get comments from such people on that original article. The critics are war crime deniers who are no better than Holocaust deniers.

Since many of my newer readers might have never seen that article I am re-posting it today.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The historical controversy regarding the Rape of Nanking in 1937 by the Japanese Army is hotly debated.[1] The massacres occurred in the initial occupation of the city and the two months following in mid December 1937.  The initial reaction to the actions of the Japanese was reported by western journalists and even a German Nazi Party member by the name of John Rabe who assisted in protecting Chinese during the massacre and reported it on his return to Germany. The actions of the Japanese Army shocked many in the west and helped cement the image of the Japanese being a brutal race in the west.

Massacre Victims at Nanking

The controversy’s visibility was raised since the 1997 publication of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking. However, with few exceptions the incident had received little attention by Western historians until Chang’s book was published. The reason for this was  that  China was a sideshow for for the United States and Britain throughout much of the war. When Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists were overthrown by the Communists in 1948 the incident disappeared from view in the United States. The  United States government  reacted to the overthrow of Chaing by helping to rebuild Japan and rehabilitate the Japanese while opposing the Chinese Communists.  In fact it was only “after the Cold War was the Rape of Nanking Openly discussed.”[2]

Bodies of Children Killed by the Japanese at Nanking

Chang’s book was instrumental as it brought new attention to the actions of the Japanese Army in the slaughter of Prisoners of War and civilians following the occupation of the city.  Even as Chang’s work was published “revisionist” works began to appear in the 1980s which have either denied the atrocities, sought to minimize numbers killed by Japanese Forces or rationalized the them began to appear in Japan. The revisionists were led by Masaaki Tanaka who had served as an aide to General Matsui Iwane the commander of Japanese forces at Nanking.  Tanaka denied the atrocities outright calling them “fabrications” casting doubt upon numbers in the trial as “propaganda.” He eventually joined in a lawsuit against the Japanese Ministry of Education to remove the words “aggression” and “Nanjing massacre” from textbooks, a lawsuit which was dismissed but was influential to other revisionists and Japanese nationalist politicians and publishers.[3]

Japanese Officer Preparing to Execute Man in Hospital

Most early accounts of the occupation and war crimes have used a number of 200,000 to 300,000 victims based upon the numbers provided during the War Crimes Trials of 1946.[4] Unlike the numbers of victims of the Nazi Holocaust the numbers are less accurate.  Authors who maintain the massacres such as Chang and others such as Japanese military historian Mashario Yamamoto who admits Japanese wrongdoing and excess but challenges the numbers use the same statistical sources to make their arguments.  Chang not only affirms the original numbers but extrapolates that even more may have been killed as a result of the disposal of bodies in the Yangtze River rather than in mass graves away from the city as well as the failure of survivors to report family member deaths to the Chinese authorities.[5] She also notes contemporary Chinese scholars who suggest even higher numbers.

Prince Asaka, Granduncle of Emperor Hirohito Commanded Troops at Nanking

Herbert Bix discussed Japanese knowledge of the atrocities in detail up and down the chain of command including Prince Asaka, granduncle of Emperor Hirohito who commanded troops in Nanking, the military and Foreign Office, and likely even Hirohito himself.[6]

German National and Nazi Party Member John Rabe Protected Chinese at Nanking and Reported His

Experience to the German Government.  He is known as “The Good Man of Nanking”

The publication of German citizen and witness to the massacres John Rabe’s diaries in 2000, The Good Man of Nanking, provided an additional first hand account by a westerner who had the unique perspective of being from Japan’s ally Nazi Germany.  His accounts buttress the arguments of those like Chang who seek to inform the world about the size and scope of Japanese atrocities in Nanking.

A Field of Skulls at Nanking

Yamamoto who is a military historian by trade and is viewed as a “centrist” in the debate, places the massacres in the context of Japanese military operations beginning with the fall of Shanghai up to the capture of Nanking. Yamamoto criticizes those who deny the massacres but settles on a far lower number of deaths, questioning the numbers used at the War Crimes Trials. He blames some on the Chinese Army[7] and explains many others away in the context of operations to eliminate resistance by Chinese soldiers and police who had remained in the city in civilian clothes. He  claims that  “the Japanese military leadership decided to launch the campaign to hunt down Chinese soldiers in the suburban areas because a substantial number of Chinese soldiers were still hiding in such areas and posing a constant threat to the Japanese.”[8] David Barrett in his review of the Yamamoto’s work notes that Yamamoto believes that “there were numerous atrocities, but no massacre….”[9] Yoshihisa Tak Mastusaka notes that while a centrist Yamamoto’s work’s “emphasis on precedents in the history of warfare reflects an underlying apologist tone that informs much of the book.”[10] Revisionist work also criticizes the trials surrounding Nanking and other Japanese atrocities.  An example of such a work is Tim Maga’s Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials which is critiqued by historian Richard Minear as “having a weak grasp of legal issues” and “factual errors too numerous to list.”[11] Such is a recurrent theme in revisionist scholarship, the attempt to mitigate or minimize the scale of the atrocities, to cast doubt upon sources and motivations of their proponents or sources, to use questionable sources themselves or to attribute them to out of control soldiers, the fog of war and minimize command knowledge as does Yamamoto. Politics is often a key motivating factor behind revisionist work.

Iris Chang Would Later Commit Suicide

Chang would never be the same after researching and writing the Rape of Nanking. Traumatized by what she had learned and burdened by the weight of what she had taken on she killed herself on November 9th 2004.

Iconic Photo of Japanese Acts in China: A Wounded Child at Shanghai Station

“Revisionist” history will almost certainly remain with us, so long as people study the past.  However one has to be careful in labeling a divergent view of a historical subject as necessarily revisionist.  There are occasions when new evidence arises and a “new” or “revisionist” work may actually disprove previous conclusions regarding historic events or persons.  This might occur when what we know about a subject comes from a single or limited number of sources who themselves were limited in what they had available for research and new evidence comes to light. At the same time where numerous sources from diverse points of view attest to the genuineness of an event, the revisionist’s theses should be themselves scrutinized based on evidence presented as well as their political, ideological or racial motivations.  While one does not want to silence voices of opposition to prevailing beliefs one has to be careful in examining their claims, especially when they arise in the context of political or ideological conflicts.

Notes

[1] Bix, Herbert P. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2000. pp.333-334. Bix does a good job explaining the number of victims of the incident drawing on Chinese and Japanese sources.

[2] Kreuter, Gretchen. The Forgotten Holocaust in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March-April 1998 p.66

[3] Fogel, Joshua A. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, University of California Press, Berkley CA 2000, pp.87-89

[4] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-45. Random House, New York, NY 1970 pp. 50-51. Toland in his brief discussion of the massacres notes both the civilian casualty figures and figures for male citizens of military age who were slaughtered.  Toland also notes the large numbers of women raped by Japanese soldiers.

[5] Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II Penguin Books, New York, NY 1997 pp.102-103. Chang has been criticized by some historians in a number of ways including that she was not a historian, that she compares the atrocities to the Nazi Holocaust and her emotional attachment to the subject which may have been a contributing factor in her 2004 suicide.

[6] Bix. p.336

[7] Yamamoto, Masahiro. The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity. Praeger Publishers an imprint of the Greenwood Group, Westport, CT 2000. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/docDetail.action?docID=10018001&p00=nanking  p.83

[8] Ibid. p.92.

[9] Barrett, David P.  Review of The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity by Masashiro Yamamoto Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’Histoire XXXVIII, April/Avril 2003 p.170

[10] Mastusaka, Yoshihisa Tak.  Review of The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity by Masashiro Yamamoto American Historical Review, April 2002 p.525

[11] Minear, Richard. Review of Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials by Tim Mata  American Historical Review. April 2002 p.526

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Filed under ethics, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, world war two in the pacific

Stalingrad and Responsibility: God is Not Always With Us

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tomorrow I will be taking part in a commemoration of the seventy-sixth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It will be a special occasion and I will write about it tomorrow evening.

However tonight I took the time to watch the German film Stalingrad. Released in 1993 it is the story of four soldiers of a platoon of soldiers of the 336th Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers were the equivalent of American Combat Engineers. It is a sobering film to watch. In a way it is much like the film Platoon. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made the battle and the human suffering come alive with realism. There is no happy ending and there are few if any heroes. The men see, protest, are punished, and then are ordered to participate in war crimes.

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the turning points of the Second World War, over a million Russian, German, Romanian, and Italian Soldiers died in the battle. Of the 260,000 soldiers of the German Sixth Army which led the attack in Stalingrad and then were surrounded by the Soviet counter-offensive, very few survived. Some escaped because they were evacuated by transport planes, but most perished. Of the approximately 91,000 German soldiers that surrendered only about 6,000 returned home.

I’ll write about that battle again on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believe in God and the Soviets do not, and he calls attentional their belt buckles which are embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us. I am a Chaplain and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film.

The second one is also difficult. I have been in the military for about thirty-six and a half years. Truthfully I am a dinosaur. I am the third most senior and the oldest sailor on my base. I have served during the Cold War as a company commander, was mobilized as a chaplain to support the Bosnia operation in 1996, I have served in the Korean DMZ, at sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch, and with American advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police, and Border troops in Al Anbar Province. I have seen too much of war but even though I could retire from the military today I still believe that I am called to serve and care for the men and women who will go into harm’s way.

That being said those who have read my writings on this site for years know just how anti-war I have become and why this dialogue hits so hard. Some of the members of the platoon are accused of cowardice and sent to a penal company in order to redeem themselves. The commander of the unit, a Captain who hold the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is confronted by one of the men.

Otto: You know we don’t stand a chance. Why not surrender?

Capt. Hermann Musk: You know what would happen if we do.

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

Capt. Hermann Musk: Otto, I’m not a Nazi.

Otto: No, you’re worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

That is something that bothers me today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003I had misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there. I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for someone else in 2006 but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war even as he holds the professional military in contempt seems to be angling for war in both the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. I have no doubt that War is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it, but I have to remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die. The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all to many nationalists have done in the past. I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that manner when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th 2001. Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war.

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders. Honestly, I dread what may befall us.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, film, Loose thoughts and musings, world war two in europe

Thoughts on the Sum Total of Life Amid Hurricanes and the Anniversary of 9-11-2001

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is hard too believe that in just a couple of weeks that the United States has been impacted by two category four hurricanes, Harvey in southeast Texas and Irma in Florida and Georgia. Of course the remnants of both storms will also end up dumping a lot of rain on much of the American South and in some places causing flooding. The cost of both storms will be in the billions and it will take months to years for the towns, counties, cities, most affected by these killer storms, and most importantly, the people who call those places home to recover.

While these things have been going on it is hard to imagine that the Korean Peninsula sits on the razor’s edge of a potential war, possibly a nuclear, the likes that has not been seen since the Second World War, or imagined since the tense days of the Cold War. Likewise, the fact that today is the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But I have been thinking about both even as we deal with Harvey and Irma.

I have served on the Korean DMZ, I was there just seven months before the attacks of September 11th 2001, but that was during the reign of Kim Jung Un’s father, Kim Jung Il. In retrospect the elder Kim, while a maniacal despot who starved millions of his own people, didn’t seem to have the same need to prove his manhood by testing missiles and nuclear devices as Chubby Son Number One does. In my view both are bad, but Kim Jung Un seems to be serious bent on provoking our own American wannabe despot into shooting first, but I digress…

But today I will be taking part at a remembrance at our base commemorating the attacks and resembling the victims of the 9-11 attacks. I remember the day well and I will never forget the nondescript memo on the Yahoo News homepage that morning as I logged off my computer to go to the gym at Camp Lejeune that stated “plane crashes into World Trade Center.” I saw that and thought that some dumb ass in a private plane had goofed up or had a medical emergency. Then I heard a radio talk show host screaming “oh my God, an airliner just crashed into the other tower.” I rushed to the gym to see what was on their televisions and saw Marines and Sailors standing and watching the burning towers. I went back to my office, showered, got my uniform on and went to my battalion headquarters. After twenty years in the military my war had begun, and it hasn’t ended yet. In fact I doubt that it will end before I retire, and I think that there is a strong chance that Korean, and maybe the Persian Gulf will blow up before my time of service ends.

Last night I watch Bridge on the River Kwai. In it, Sir Alec Guinness, playing Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, the commander of a battalion surrendered at Singapore, in a reflective moment looking at the bridge that his soldiers built, tells his Japanese, captor, Colonel Saito, played by Sessue Hayakawa:

I’ve been thinking. Tomorrow it will be 28 years to the day that I’ve been in the service. 28 years in peace and war. I don’t suppose I’ve been at home more than 10 months in all that time. Still, it’s been a good life. I loved India. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything. Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men’s careers. I don’t know whether that kind of thinking’s very healthy, but I must admit I’ve had some thoughts on those lines from time to time. But tonight… tonight!

Regardless of what happens over the remaining part of my now 36 year long military career, the fact is I am nearer to the end than the beginning of it, and I over the past few years I have asked myself the same questions that Nicholson poses to Saito.

So here I am, after 36 years my career is stalled and I believe that I am serving in my last billet before I retire. There are certainly others who have gone father than me, but I think I’ve had great career, and truthfully I am happy and regardless of what the last few years of my career bring, I hope that those who have served alongside of me in peace and war will be able to say that I made a difference. I don’t think that is for me to decide what the sum total of my life will represent, that is for others, their memory of me, and history.

But even so, as I finish this article and schedule it to post, my thoughts and prayers are with the people in Florida and elsewhere, especially my friends whose pieces are being disrupted by Irma, and those who are trying to recover their lives in Texas.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Unfolding of Miscalculations” With Fire and Fury…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

While I have been on leave I have been re-reading Barbara Tuchman’s classic work on the outbreak of the First World War, The Guns of August. I find a a fitting read for our time, not because there are exact parallels between that era and today, but because human beings are remarkably consistent in times of crisis. 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.”

Yesterday after I got back to our friends house after taking Izzy on a four mile walk through Huntington’s Ritter Park I learned that President Trump had warned North Korea, following an announcement that it had now produced nuclear weapons small enough to be mounted on a missile, that if it did not stop threatening the United States that it would be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before…” 

Not long afterward the North Koreans announced that they were examine a plan to attack the American territory of Guam and the bases, which house some of the long ranger bombers used by the United States to buttress its defense of the Pacific it with ballistic missiles. 

The rhetoric and preparations on both sides are continuing to mount and there is a real possibility that either Trump or his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jung Un could miscalculate the will of the other and provoke a regional, and maybe World War. Threats of preemptive strikes, which the North Koreans habitually make, and President Trump alluded to yesterday can easily cause on side or the other to want to strike first and precipitate a war that no-one can really win. As Kathy Gilsinin wrote in The Atlantic in April: “When two leaders each habitually bluster and exaggerate, there’s a higher likelihood of making a catastrophic mistake based on a bad guess.” 

Most Americans are clueless as to what that would mean and I don’t think that the understand how many millions of people would die, and how much the country would be devastated by such a war, especially if it involved nuclear weapons. Secretary of Defense James Mattis understands. He told CBS’s John Dickerson, “A conflict in North Korea would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.” In June he told the House Appropriations Committee: “It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953… It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” but “we would win at great cost.” 

Of course people from across the political, and even the religious spectrum are weighing in on the situation, especially the President’s words to meet future North Korean threats with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Of course some of his supporters like Trump’s de-facto Reichsbischof, Pastor Robert Jeffress are all in favor of war. Jeffrey’s said when asked about Trump’s remarks “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.” It is always comforting to know that prominent Christians like Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals are the cheerleaders of any war party. 

Many others on both sides of the political divide including Senator John McCain, have pointed to the danger that the Presidents comments pose. McCain said:  “I don’t know what he’s saying and I’ve long ago given up trying to interpret what he says.” He added, “That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure how it helps.” He observed, “I take exception to the president’s words because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do.”

In an interview the discredited Trump advisor, Sebastian Gorka, who has ties to Hungarian Fascist organizations, did what all good servants of totalitarian leaders do, paint the opposition as unpatriotic and disloyal to the country:

“It saddens me,” Gorka said. “We need to come together. And anybody, whether they’re a member of Congress, whether they’re a journalist, if you think that your party politics, your ideology, trumps the national security of America, that’s an indictment of you, and you need to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what’s more important: my political party or America. There’s only one correct answer.”

Of course the opponents of what the President said were not arguing against our national security but for it. The President’s words were dangerous, not because he drew a line in the sand, but because of the parameters of his threat. Instead of being specific and saying if the North Koreans conducted another nuclear test, tested another long range missile, or made a specific kind of military action, he threatened fire and fury if North Korea issued a threat to the United States, which they did a few hours later against the American forces on Guam, a threat that was not met with fire and fury. 


By threatening fire and fury the President continues to remind people that he is prone to speaking loudly and making great exaggerations, but doing little of substance. Throughout his business career and public life often makes bad “gut” decisions because he prefers to go with his gut rather than hard data or facts. His four corporate bankruptcies demonstrate that all too well. Likewise, his habitual tendencies to lie and exaggerate have already proven detrimental to U.S. foreign policy because world leaders do not believe that he can be trusted. 

Deterrence only works if people believe that a leader or country will do what it says. That was a hallmark of the Cold War, despite their threats both the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union understood each other. That understanding was instrumental in defusing the threat of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and on a number of other occasions when computer or radar systems gave false alerts which could have resulted in missile launches and war had both sides not understood each other. 

The problem is that the Kim Jung Un and President Trump appear to be very similar in temperament. They bluster and exaggerate, they demand absolute loyalty, and they are paranoid and narcissistic. They are are not deep thinkers, their closest advisers tend to be sycophants who praise their greatness and refuse to give them bad news or present contrary views. History shows us that such tendencies does not bode well for peace. When I see them act out their drama I am reminded of Tuchman’s descriptions of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in the years leading up to World War I. Of Nicholas Tuchman wrote:

“The regime was ruled from the top by a sovereign who had but one idea of government—to preserve intact the absolute monarchy bequeathed to him by his father—and who, lacking the intellect, energy, or training for his job, fell back on personal favorites, whim, simple mulishness, and other devices of the empty-headed autocrat.”

Of Wilhelm she noted how he told 300 visitors at a State banquet in Berlin, that his uncle, English King Edward VII was: “He is Satan. You cannot imagine what a Satan he is!” As Tuchman wrote: “The Kaiser, possessor of the least inhibited tongue in Europe, had worked himself into a frenzy ending in another of those comments that had periodically over the past twenty years of his reign shattered the nerves of diplomats.” 

Character and temperament matter more than anything when nations teeter on the brink of war. Neither Trump, nor Kim Jung Un possess an ounce of character and their mercurial temperaments only add to the danger of war. On the American side we have to hope that some of the President’s more level headed advisers can reign him in, as far as the North Koreans, one doesn’t know what to hope for or expect. Tuchman wrote in her biography of General Joseph Stillwell that “History is the unfolding of miscalculations.” 

I only wonder what miscalculation will be next. 

Until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+


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Filed under Foreign Policy, Korean Conflicts, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants: Do Dodging the Hard Alternatives

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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