Tag Archives: COVID-19

Silence In the Face of Evil Itself: A Dark Meditation of Resistance in Trump’s America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I have written about that a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, though I hoped for a different outcome. In the past three and a half years the President has gone from bad to worse.

He cannot tell the truth about anything, so his staff and supporters invented something they called alternative truth, or alternative facts. Within months of his inauguration he was overturning civil rights protections for many Americans, those who had little power to resist. He went after the voting rights of Black Americans, the elderly, and the poor. He went after LGBTQ people’s basic civil rights, many of which were only recently won. He went after the human rights of immigrants, and refugees, even the children of people who came here decades ago, the Dreamers who were raised as Americans, who served in the military, and how had become contributors to the American way of life, though they were deprived of citizenship. He promised to build a wall to keep out Latin American refugees, though not completed he took actions that separated families and locked children in cages on concrete floors as he enriched the most wealthy with tax cuts, but in the process blew the budget deficit into realms never dreamed about before. He attacked patriotic Americans, including members of the military calling them traitors because they respected the Constitution more than worshipping him. He went after long time American allies and made himself a de facto ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He made his presidency one of White Supremacy and the economy, but his Presidency was built upon smoke mirrors and lies. When the novel Coronavirus 19 was identified as an epidemic in China and then as a pandemic he ignored it and then minimized it time after time again. Then everything came apart on him with dire results for the country at large.

When COVID 19 finally began to hit the United States and kill people he finally acted, but far too late. Now over 118,000 Americans are dead, and that is the official count, which is certainly a large undercount, with two million more being infected and half of those still at risk of death. But it wasn’t until the economy began to tank and Wall Street crashed that he did anything. The virus is still here, with tens of thousands a day being infected, as he continues to push to reopen the economy to go back to a normal that cannot be restored, regardless of the number of lives lost.

Then there were a spate of targeted killings of Black men by Whites acting as vigilantes, and police brutality and excessive force. The men, and a woman who happened to be an EMT for the City of Louisville, can only be classed as murder. The straw that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds until he was dead. When massive protests broke out all over the nation he ordered maximum force to be used and tried to co-opt the military into becoming involved into his political fight for survival. In doing that he attacked peaceful protestors in Lafayette Park and at St John’s Episcopal Church. The assault, launched as he was speaking from the Rose Garden was brutal. Tear gas, pepper spray grenades, rubber bullets were followed rolled by an all out assault by Federal Police and National Guardsmen, including mounted units. When the square was cleared the President marched out for a photo-op displaying the Bible as a weapon. Military leaders reacted in horror and refused to support any more such actions.

Sadly, I could keep listing abuse after abuse of the law and Constitution by President Trump, but don’t think that I need to continue.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To the soon to be former GOP Congressman, Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him seem to want blood flowing in the streets, they want a new Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that Congressman King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns, including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.”


The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while former Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her successors deny that the President’s words and actions, and vilify anyone that bothers to disagree with the President or their blatant lies. So when Huckabee Sander is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or former DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.


Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my old chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

In fact two years ago Wednesday, in my former Chapel, a parishioner, a retired Navy Officer attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for preaching basic Catholic and Christian social justice teaching that goes back to the Old Testament where the Psalmists cry out for justice against oppressors and the Kings, Priests, and rich who the Prophets condemned, and which at least in the Catholic tradition still remains. The man blatantly lied about what I said. He said that in the sermon I called the President Hitler, and the Border Patrol the Gestapo.

It was all a lie, but an investigation was launched. Instead of trusting my life and career to a brand new Navy lawyer, I reached out to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who found me an experienced former military lawyer who had taken on high profile cases before. The investigating officer wanted to interview me, but I refused without legal counsel. So he interviewed half of the congregation that was present that day. None would corroborate the accusations but some said that they disagreed with my sermon because of their political views. I was exonerated and the investigation stopped there, but if I had retired out of that assignment, I would have probably never darkened the door of a church again. That experience confirmed the worst thoughts that I had about the Conservative Christians who make up the majority of President Trump’s Cult. They no longer care about Christ, the teachings of the Christian faith, but only care about establishing a Christian theocracy on the order of the modern Taliban, Calvin’s Geneva, or Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. In 1945 Captain Gustave Gilbert, a US Army Psychologist assigned room the major Nazi War Criminals noted that one thing tied all of them together, the absence of empathy. He would remark, that he had come to the conclusion that “evil is the absence of empathy.”

As I conclude this article I am reminded of the words of the German General Henning Von Tresckow, who died in the attempt to kill Hitler and destroy the Nazi State:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

I think we could easily substitute the United States for Prussia in his words. We have lost that balance that Tresckow described, and it will destroy us if we are not careful.

Sadly, the absence of empathy all too well describes the malignant narcissistic sociopath that is President Trump, his family, his inner circle, and his most faithful supporters appear to be. I could be wrong, but I know that I am not. I expect that things will get worse much worse before they get better. I say this because I truly believe that since they don’t believe in the promise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or the rights laid out in the Constitution including its amendments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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What Kind of People Are We in the COVID19 Pandemic: Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, or People of Courage

trump-flames-iran-protests

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of my favorite World War II movies is Downfall, which is the account of the last months of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Tonight I imagine the coming Götterdämmerung that awaits the United States under President Trump. I do not know when it is coming or exactly how it will happen. But I believe that unless something happens to curb his power, which at the present time is unrestrained by his political party, I expect that the rule of law and the rights enumerated in the Constitution will end, unless something interrupts that process before it can reach its fulfillment.

If the worst happens the President and his allies in his propaganda services, which include the right wing media, and church pastors, the country will plunge into wars without allies that it cannot win, unless winning is defined by obliterating enemies in a nuclear holocaust. If that happens there are no winners, and the only thing named after him will be a pile of rubble.

Somehow when the final cataclysm occurs I expect that the President and his most devoted followers will in the midst of the flames consuming them, will blame the very people who helped them to power for the downfall. And they do so without any feeling or remorse because they are sociopaths who really do not care about the lives of others, so long as they either gain and hold absolute power, or destroy everything they pretend to want to make or keep great.

When the Red Army was entering Berlin, SS General Wilhelm Mohnke who was in charge of the defense of the area around the Reich Chancellory begged Josef Goebbels to convince Hitler to surrender Berlin in order to allow the people of the city to live, Goebbels responded:

“I feel no sympathy. I repeat, I feel no sympathy! The German people chose their fate. That may surprise some people. Don’t fool yourself. We didn’t force the German people. They gave us a mandate, and now their little throats are being cut!”

Neither the President, the Vice President, nor their propagandists have any sense of compassion or empathy. In the days before he killed himself Hitler ranted to those who supposedly betrayed him in his bunker to an audience that including Albert Speer, who wrote of it:

“Everyone has lied to me, everyone has deceived me, non[sic] one has told me the truth. The armed forces have lied to me and now the SS have left me in the lurch. The German people has not fought heroically, it deserves to perish. It is not I who have lost the war, but the German people.”

Believe me, however the Trump administration meets its end, it will not be good as Trump trusts no one, even his family, or closest associates. I don’t know how the end of the Trump era will happen. I don’t know if it will be it a war that he stumbles into during the midst of the COVID19 Pandemic, maybe one that he wants to use to distract from the pandemic and his incompetence in dealing with it. It could a direct result of the massive number of lives lost to it and his incompetence in dealing with it, as well as the economic depression that will very likely near his name and his subsequent rejection at the ballot box in November. Either of those options could bring about chaos and draw Trump’s heavily armed supporters into the street.

Or of course through their staggering arrogance and lack of taking any social distancing precautions Trump and Vice President Pence could themselves fall victim to the virus, leaving Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as President. Admittedly the last is unlikely, but at least remotely possible, especially since during the past three White House Staff members, one President Trump’s Navy valet’s, Katie Miller, wife of senior Trump Aide Stephen Miller, who is Vice President Pence’s Press Secretary, and Ivanka Trump’s Personal Assistant have tested positive for the virus. Although Trump and Pence were test for the virus and announced that they were negative, it is possible that they still might be infected, if not through contact with the people diagnosed, but through others who had contact with them who have not been tested and may be asymptotic.

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, FL – APRIL 17: People crowded the beaches in its first open hour on April 17, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Fl. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry opened the beaches to residents for limited activities for the first time in weeks since closing them to the public due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Jacksonville Beach became the first beach in the country to reopen. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Because of possible exposure the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, all members of the Coronavirus Task Force are under self-quarantine and teleworking for the next 14 days. Even though the White House sent others home and is attempting to contract trace the sources of the infections, while claiming that social distancing was being observed, it is clear that there it is not. On Saturday the President hosted over 20 GOP Senators and Representatives, at the White House in which no one was wearing masks, and no social distancing was evident while the event was taking place. Earlier today Vice President Pence said that he was going to self-quarantine due to possible expulsion from Katie Miller, and later in the evening said that he would be back at work Monday. The virus has the potential of decapitating the Executive Branch and at least part of the Legislative Branch.

Katie Miller answering Reporters Questions Outside Nursing Home on 7 May

When Trump was informed of the infection of his valet he reportedly became “Lava Level mad” and blamed his staff for not protecting him.”  I find that ironic because so many who have been infected, suffered, and died from COVID 19 or has lost their employment, perhaps for months or years he is finally having to deal with actual reality, and not the conjured fantasies of his dark and uncaring soul. With Coronavirus now inside his White House fortress, he has discovered that he is not immune, and his fear shows in his actions and tweets. This crisis within the crisis has exposed his innate cowardice and lack of responsibility during a pandemic he could have done much to mitigate.

It’s the same thought that the graduate of a high school military academy realized just as he understood that military service in Vietnam could get him killed or wounded. Thus he used his family, business, and political connections to get multiple deferments from the draft, including one that he used a conjured medical excuse of having bone spurs even as he played college level baseball and was being scouted by major league teams. A coward will writhe in fear about the same danger they allow others to face, without the lack of protections afforded to them. By the way those are my words, not lifted or attributed to someone else. Everyone fears something, but only cowards force others to die for conditions that they help foment. As Stephen King said: “A coward judges all he sees by what he is.” 

In every previous crisis, the President, his political, media, and religious sycophants were be quite similar to Goebbels and Hitler in the Final days. The crisis is everyone else’s fault, including those who believed in them, and faithfully supported their policies, and followed them into the abyss.

But, even then some of the closest and longest loyal supporters of Hitler including Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler abandoned their Fuhrer in order to save themselves, not because they are brave or heroes. but because they decided to face the reality of Germany’s defeat, in order to save themselves, because they were cowards who were so morally blind that did not understand their complicity in Hitler’s rule, the war, or their own personal responsibility in it. Hitler found out about their disloyalty, excommunicated them from the Nazi Party and condemned them to death. Himmler only lived until he was discovered by the British while masquerading as an ordinary soldier, and then committed suicided. Goering surrendered before Hitler’s loyalists could catch him. He was convicted on all four counts at the Major War Criminal Trials at Nuremberg, sentenced to death, but killed himself prior to his execution.

President Trump and his inner circle are not Nazis. Trump is not another Hitler, but he and his loyalists demonstrate the same lack of concern and empathy for the people who followed them into the abyss that they created, as did the the Nazis. Right now, we are not technically at war, though Trump could easily lead us into one simply because he needs a diversion that will somehow aid in keeping him in power. However, the crisis he and his cultists have brought upon us, is a crisis greater danger than any war or crisis the nation has faced since the World Wars, the Great Influenza, and the Great Depression. Sadly, they are incapable of mastering it, and I sincerely doubt that anything but a massive electoral loss in November will change anything.

I do pray that I am wrong but I cannot see how this will end in anything less than a disaster, even with a loss in the November election. These people are apocalyptic in their ideology and would rather destroy everything than to allow any opponent to take power, even if it means them bringing on the Boogaloo, their code name for civil war and the extermination of their opponents.

Again I pray that I am wrong, but my study of history and human nature shows that I tend to be more right than I want to be in my analysis to be. That being said Hannah Arendt wrote:

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” 

Yes there are people who will commit evil even against their followers, they are perpetrators. Likewise, there will be others that never say a word or lift a hand against what their heart, soul, faith, ethics, morality say is wrong. To preserve themselves they remain silent, they are bystanders, then there are the victims. Human nature is the one constant in human history, and to understand the reactions of world leaders, and especially our own, as well as ordinary people in times of crisis. Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Bauer also wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

Those words are more important now than they have been since the crimes and genocide of the Nazis against the Jews. This time it is all of humanity that is at risk, and even then the penchant for people to insist on their own freedom, prosperity, and social irresponsibility, even if it means the needless sacrifice of others is incomprehensible.

So I have to ask what role each of us will play in a global pandemic that has infected over four million people, killed close to 300,000, including more than 80,000 Americans. Will we be perpetrators who through our actions and words are responsible for the deaths of others? Will we be victims, devoured by the disease and the actions of government leaders and fellow citizens that do little to stop it, or actually encourage it’s spread? Or will we be bystanders who turn our backs and look away as the perpetrators commit their crimes and more victims die?

That is the question that all of us have to ask ourselves. But there is one more choice. We can decide to rise above the fear for our own lives, sacrifice certain liberties, and give our lives to help alleviate the suffering and death of others. Likewise we can protest the inhuman and fetid policies that allow people to suffer and die when there were earlier options that could have mitigated this, or which even now, late in the game could help stop the rampage of the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic. Of course we could also confront those who are using displays of force to try to coerce officials to abandon policies that save lives so they don’t have to be inconvenienced.

The German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in April 1945 on the direct order of Adolf Hitler wrote:

If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

He also wrote: “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Those are our choices. We can be perpetrators, victims, or bystanders, but we can also speak out, protest, and resist in order to save lives. That is the harder and more dangerous choice, especially when heavily armed and lawless men under no authority threaten those who do so, be they government officials, medical personnel, or citizens actual practicing social distancing and masking. Online and personal intimidation and threats are growing, and being encouraged by the President, and members of the Right Wing Media.

This requires courage which General William Tecumseh Sherman defined: “Courage – a perfect sensibility of the measure of danger, and a mental willingness to endure it.”  We also have to be able to face down our fears. As Nelson Mandela wrote: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” 

If we are to stand a chance against the dual threats of the novel Coronavirus 19 and the incredibly stupid people who care nothing but their own convenience and nothing for the lives of others, we must overcome our fears and display moral, spiritual, and physical courage in the face of a deadly virus and violent people who live by apocalyptic ideologies, are motivated by conspiracy theories, despise experts of any kind, and will do what the man they idolize like a god will tell them to do. When that man is the President, who has a long history of inciting his followers to violence there is no telling how far they will go.

Until tomorrow, please be safe,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, healthcare, History, leadership, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Coronavirus Pandemic: Leadership and the Ability to Admit the Hard Truth and Inspire them to Greater Things during an Existential Crisis

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Winston Churchill said:

“There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.” 

I think that Americans, once we strip away the veneers we have laid over our society, and tear down the walls that ideologues have tried to divide us will realize this, probably sooner rather than later.

As we approach an total 80,000 deaths attributable to the novel Coronavirus 19 I am reflecting on it and the 1918-1919 Great Influenza. I am not so much thinking about similarities in the viruses, but both were, or are highly infectious, airborne, and could be spread through touching droplets of it from tables, chairs, doorknobs and then wiping one’s face without having thoroughly washed their hands.

Likewise, since no vaccine existed for either. It was not until the 1940s that one was developed for the H1N1 Great Influenza, and still none today for COVID 19. While virologists and researchers are working around the world to find one, most experts believe that one will not be available for a year to eighteen months, not including the manufacturing and distribution time should one be developed.

Like 1918-1919, which actually continued through 1920, the only defense was what we call non-pharmacological interventions. It is like going forward into the past, and unsurprisingly many of these interventions are as unpopular today as they were in the Great Influenza pandemic.

The interventions included then, and now are well known. They include what we now call Social distancing; the prevention of the spreading or inhaling of infected droplets from coughing, sneezing, or being in the close proximity to an infected by the virus by wearing face masks; as well as frequent hand washing, wearing protective gloves when needed, and sanitizing work stations, and common areas where people gather. Some states and cities even criminalized spitting in public places.

In 1918-1919 these measures were all taken by local or state authorities businesses were closed, sporting events, including the NHL Stanley Cup were postponed or cancelled. In some municipalities mayors, like that of St. Louis shut down church services, and did not cave in to immensely powerful clergymen, like the Archbishop of St. Louis. Cities that took these measures in 1918-1920 and didn’t let up even in the face of public pressure minimized their deaths and ensured that hospitals were not overwhelmed. As a result, even with the restrictions life began to resume at a normal pace.

In the cities that eased up, or eliminated their non pharmacological interventions in the face of public pressure, the influenza returned with a vengeance because there were still far too many people who had no immunity to the virus. Of course the pressure was do to business leaders, politicians, and religious leaders. One group even called itself an “anti-mask league.” But even though there was public opposition to these measures, even some protests, which by and large used the same rational as today’s protestors, there is no instance of protestors invading state capital buildings, or city halls. Nor did they resort to violence or threats against local leaders. Likewise, unlike now, they did not have the active support of the President, or nationwide television and internet media outlets to spread their message and threaten state and local government officials.

Likewise, there is the difference in the attitudes of the Presidents during each pandemic, Woodrow Wilson during the 1918-1919 pandemic, and Donald J. Trump today. The two were very different, Wilson was a native of Virginia, a Democrat, an academic, and a former university professor and President of Princeton University when drafted to campaign for the governorship of New Jersey, which he one in 1910. His policies as governor propelled him into being nominated as the Democratic candidate for President in 1912. He won the election, mostly because the Republicans were divided by the candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt running as a third party candidate and the incumbent, William Howard Taft. They split the conservative vote and had just over 50% of the vote between them. Wilson lost progressive votes to Socialist Eugene Debs, who garnered 6% of the vote. Wilson’s 42% was enough to garner a majority in the Electoral College.

Wilson’s policies were more progressive than most Democrats of his era, but not nearly as progressive as Teddy Roosevelt or Eugene Debs. Though he championed and helped establish the Federal Reserve and anti-trust laws, Women’s Rights, and those of workers, he remained a Southern Racist and segregationist at heart. His actions as President set back the civil rights of Blacks, in the military and civil service, and his premier of D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation legitimatized the rise of the second birth of the KKK. However, they were enough to ensure that he barely won re-election in 1916.

Wilson led the effort to have Congress declare war on Germany and its allies in April 1917, and once war began he became completely focused on it, and it was only. Nothing else mattered. In regard to the Great Influenza he made no public statements about the pandemic, and when the war ended he went to Europe and remained completely engaged in fighting for his 14 Points and the establishment of the League of Nations. He was unsuccessful at Versailles which his points were swept aside by Britain and France, and defeated at home when Congress refused to ratify the treaty establishing the League of Nations. He was a believer in internationalism and not nationalism or isolationism. He suffered a stroke which left him incapacitated for most of his remaining year and a half in office. All that being said he never sought to undermine physicians and scientists, or state and local governments doing their best to contain the virus, even as they searched for a cure.

I won’t go into his differences with President Trump other to say that Trump would have supported his racist policies, and opposed Wilson’s progressive policies. Likewise he would have been an isolationist and not an internationalist.

The big difference in the men is in how they chose to deal with pandemics that where killing tens of thousands of Americans. Wilson remained silent and focused on prosecuting the war at whatever cost. That being said he did not interfere with the efforts of the newly established National Health Service, or the heads of the Army and Navy Medical Departments, the American Red Cross, or the states to fight the virus and save lives.

While Wilson remained unengaged, he didn’t interfere with efforts of others to to fight it, however, he could have done much more. That is very different from President Trump who has tried to discredit scientists and doctors, creditable intelligence reports, going back to December of 2019, issued conflicting, contradictory, and completely false statements about the virus. He is now doing his best to undermine the only effective measures outside a vaccine to stop the spread of the virus, even when his administration published a report that if the guidelines were not strictly adhered to, would result in a doubling or tripling of death from COVID19 by this summer.

Unlike Wilson who was so focused on winning the war as well as the peace, Trump is only focused on his power, authority, and self-image, without any concern for how many Americans might die. He has a fantasy that he can make things go back to they way they were a few months ago, and in that world facts, science, and history, have no importance. Nor do human lives. He insists on the testing of anyone near him, and to be tested regularly, inside a tightly sealed location, even as he disparages the importance and efficacy of testing for the general population. When he is exposed to the virus he goes into a volcanic rage that his staff is not doing enough to protect him. I guess he is experiencing what many Americans have felt since March.

A members of ReOpen Maryland wearing a custom face mask listens to a speaker during a road rally procession calling for the re-opening for the state of Maryland amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sailsbury, Maryland, U.S., May 2, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Even so he allows his Attorney General, Bob Barr, to threaten States and cities with lawsuits or penalties that he believes are excessive “draconian” measures to maintain public health and safety. This is nothing but an authoritarian or dictatorial measure. If successful it will forever destroy the separation of powers between the states and the Federal government established by our founders in the Constitution.

I’m sorry, but that is not a leadership trait. It is the trait of a pathologically, narcissistic, sociopath, who has no concern for anyone but himself. No American President has ever behaved in this kind of manner. That being said he is preying on those who believe conspiracy theories. He is stoking their distrust the government, and encouraging them to have less empathy than they already have for other human beings that they believe to be weak, or whose lives are expendable. To use the terms of the Euthanasia proponents of to 1920s and 1930s, and the actions of Hitler’s SS medical and euthanasia experts, such people, the weak, the by the chronically ill or those possibly afflicted with terminal disease, the mentally ill, the elderly, the poor, or anyone else considered to be Life unworthy of life.

The focus of this President is his political survival and it does not matter how many people have to die to revive his personal myth of creating the greatest economy in history. So he has countermanded his own directives, and undercut and discredit the scientists and experts who know how to best deal with a pandemic and it’s human and economic effects,  in order to attempt to recreate a mythical past that any worthwhile scientist, economist, or historian, would not expressly condemn as a myth, fantasy, and ravings of a man who created nothing, and who was a failure in almost every enterprise he undertook. The numerous corporate bankruptcies, the multiple failed marriages, the unfulfilled promises of his campaign and presidency, as well as the tens of thousands of fact checked lies and distortions, that he has told during his campaign and throughout his Presidency bear this out in lurid detail. Dwight Eisenhower noted: “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” It is something that President Trump has never understood.

Now in the middle of the COVID 19 Pandemic, he has ensured that a pandemic which would have killed many people, and harmed the economy regardless of who was serving as President, was made worse by his words and actions. When it was first identified and there was a chance to prepare with a unified whole of government response, he ignored it. He denied it would come to the United States. He minimized it once it arrived. Then he declared himself to be a wartime President, but made unfulfilled promise after promise, and ignored actionable intelligence going back to January, if not before. Likewise, he abandoned responsibilities which are normally those of the Federal government, and pushed them off on the states. It would have been like Franklin Roosevelt telling the governors that fighting the Second World War was their job.

I do not want to sound harsh but I value truth and competence in a public office holder above allegiance to any political party. But the President’s actions have made both the public health and economy more than they should have been.

As of now there have been over 78,000 deaths in the United States and over 1.3 million infections, of which over a million are still active cases. Around 2,000 people are dying per day, and the daily infections are creeping back up to 30,000 a day, even as deaths and infections in New York and New Jersey, for long the epicenter of the virus have sharply declined. At the same time the states most resistant to the non pharmacological interventions, those with massive protests, are starting to increase by large numbers since their state governments started ignoring public health guidelines, and opening up their states to business with limited regard to public health and safety.

As a side note, my wife Judy and I both tested negative to COVID19 following a possible exposure of her that resulted in a fever. I had not symptoms, but since we live together I felt being tested was the right thing to do.  I could not take a chance that We spent the last three days under quarantine waiting for the results, and no matter what we do we always wear masks, social distance, and minimize our public exposure, and take no chances that if we got infected we would not infect anyone else. It’s called being a responsible human being.

By the way the doctor at the clinic where we were tested said the masks that Judy makes are the best that he has seen and probably as effective as an N-95 because of the number of layers of fabric, the removable polypropylene layer, the adjustable nose piece, the adjustable straps and the excellent seal.

But before I close let me talk about masks. They take a while to get used to wearing if you never have worn them before. Some people find them to cause claustrophobia, and some people hyperventilate. The key is to find a comfortable clothe mask that is more than one layer thick that has an adjustable nose piece, and provides a tight seal around your nose and mouth. If you find yourself hyperventilating, calm done and take a few deep breaths. Then when you are wearing it in public make sure that you are wearing it correctly. Make sure you have a good seal and ensure that both you mouth and nose are covered. This serves a twofold purpose, to protect others in case you have the virus, and to protect yourself from getting it. Back in my Army days in Cold War Germany we had to learn to live wearing an M-17A1 protective mask, as well as a protective suit, heavy rubber gloves, and  rubber overshoes to wear over our boots for up to twelve hours at a time. Trust me, none of the cloth protective masks, or medical masks being used today are nearly as claustrophobia inducing as one of them.

If you one of the fools that protests social distancing and wearing masks as attacks on your freedom, including your religious freedom, please don’t call yourself “pro-life.” Your words and actions show that you are not, and that you do not care about the lives of others, especially their right to life, which among the three unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, is first, ahead of liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Likewise, attacking state houses and city halls while assaulting police, while outfitted in body armor, helmets, and carrying assault type weapons, high powered rifles, and semiautomatic handguns with large magazine capacities is not patriotic, but criminal. I have served this country in peace and war for coming up on 39 years, and I don’t see such actions patriotism but terrorism. The interesting thing is that most of these rallies are being led and financed by anti-government White Nationalist, and Neo-Nazi groups who want to start a civil war.

Honestly, when I see politicians, pundits, and preachers trying to push for trying to go back to how things were a few months ago with the virus still rages is beyond me. If they succeed they will ensure that the number of infections and deaths spike higher than previously, and do far more damage to the economy, especially if people ignore the non pharmacological interventions, which are our only defense right now until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed.

Despite this I am not a pessimist or fear monger, but a realist who believes that we can beat this and eventually be better off than we were. Like Winston Churchill in the dark days of the Blitz said to the beleaguered but not defeated British people:

“We shall go forward together. The road upwards is stony. There are upon our journey dark and dangerous valleys through which we have to make and fight our way. But it is sure and certain that if we persevere – and we shall persevere – we shall come through these dark and dangerous valleys into a sunlight broader and more genial and more lasting than mankind has ever known.” 

I wish that President Trump were so inspiring and realistic. We would be better off today had he been more like Churchill, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said during the dark days of the depression with the clouds of war building in Europe and Asia:

“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

In our battle to overcome the novel Coronavirus 19 we must never lose sight of what our fellow citizens suffer in order to simply try to jumpstart an economy that where unemployment has jumped to 14.7%, a number not seen since the Great Depression and where another quarter of negative economic growth will officially confirm we be in another depression. Since neither the Coronavirus or our massive economic problems will not disappear with the waving of a magic wand, we need face the reality as did men like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. We need what we need now from our leaders is the brutal honesty to tell the truth as unpleasant as it may be, who will still inspire us to pull together as Americans, and human being and overcome this scourge, for we are not merely dealing with a pandemic and economic collapse, but every day we see the storm clouds of war gathering around the world.

We need leaders at the Federal, State and local level who are willing to speak truth rather than pleasantries designed to tickle itching ears and in the process avoid scrutiny. When he became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940, Britain and France were facing disaster. Nazi Panzer Divisions had broken through the French lines and were spreading behind the allied lines like a virus without a cure. Churchill told the members of Parliament, the people of Britain, and the world the truth, as unpleasant as it was. He said:

“I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terrors — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival…

I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

That is what we need. We don’t need a man who calls himself a wartime President and then on multiple opportunities denies all responsibility for his actions on multiple occasions. We need leaders at every level who are willing to tell the truth and say, the buck stops here.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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Dien Bien Phu, Bad Strategy, Bad Assumptions, & Defeat: COVID 19 and Worse than Bad Outcomes

Dien Bien Phu War Remnants

Dien Bien Phu Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sixty-six years ago the ragged and starving remnants of a French expeditionary Force was dying an excruciating death at Dien Bien Phu. They were the victims of a wrong war, a failed strategy, and the arrogance of their high command. They were sacrificed on the false belief that if they defeated the Main Force of the Viet Minh in a conventional battle, that they would win the war and dictate the terms of peace. But it was a battle in which they chose bad ground, and could not receive the full benefit of their more advanced weaponry because they were sent to fight in an area too far from their supporting forces. Likewise they were fighting a far more resourceful and better led adversary, that was not fighting for empire, but independence. Something that Americans who really know our history should understand.

Dien Bien Phu was an epic battle in a tragic war. Sadly, most people today neither know or care what happened in the valley where the small border post named Dien Bien Phu became synonymous with futile and forgotten sacrifice.

Over the years fewer and fewer remembrances took place. Some are in Vietnam and others in France.  In 2018, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe laid a wreath at the French Monument at Dien Bien Phu, accompanied by several elderly veterans of the battle. The French veterans were met with kindness by their former opponents.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe at Dien Bien Phu’s French Memorial

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General Vo Nguyen Giap in 2011

Years before, on May 7th 2011 in Hanoi a small remembrance was held to mark the fall of Dien Bien Phu and honor the victor, 101 year old General Vo Nguyen Giap at his home. Giap was the last senior commander on either side at that time, and he died a year and a half later at the age of 102.

That 2011 ceremony was one of the few remembrances held anywhere marking that battle which was one of the watersheds of the 20th Century. A half a world away in Houston Texas a small group of French veterans, expatriates and historians laid a wreath at the Vietnam War Memorial.  In Paris an ever shrinking number of French survivors used to gather each year on May 7th at 1815 hours for a religious service at the Church of Saint Louis des Invalides to remember the dead and missing of the French Expeditionary Corps who were lost in Indochina. A small number of other small ceremonies were held as late as 2014. There appear to be no services to honor their memory this year, especially since COVID 19 has ensured that no significant public memorials are possible, but even before this year the ranks of few men left from the battle pretty much have doomed such ceremonies,

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Legionnaires of the Second Foreign Legion Parachute Battalion at Dien Bien Phu 

This battle is nearly forgotten by time even though it and the war that it symbolized is probably the one that we need to learn. We didn’t learn them in Iraq, or Afghanistan.

 

Captured French soldiers are marched through the fields after their surrender at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. More than 10,000 French troops were captured after a 55 day siege . The French defeat ended nearly a century of French occupation of Indochina. (AP Photo/Vietnam News Agency)

French Prisoners

On May 8th 1954 the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu surrendered to the Viet Minh.  It was the end of the ill-fated Operation Castor in which the French had planned to lure the Viet Minh Regulars into open battle and use superior firepower to decimate them.  The strategy which had been used on a smaller scale the previous year at Na Son.

The French had thought they had come up with a template for victory based on their battle at Na Son in how to engage and destroy the Viet Minh. The plan was based on what the French called the “Air-land base.”  It involved placing strong forces in an easily defensible position deep behind enemy lines supplied by air.

At Na Son the plan worked as intended. The French were on high ground, had superior artillery, and air Support close at hand. Likewise they were blessed by General Giap using human wave assaults against their fortress, which made the Viet Minh troops cannon fodder for the French defenders. Despite that, Na Son was a near run thing for the French and had almost no effect on Viet Minh operations elsewhere while tying down a light division equivalent and a large portion of French air power.

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Viet Minh Regulars

The French took away the wrong lesson from Na-Son and attempted to repeat what they thought was success at Dien Bien Phu.  The French desired to use Dien Bien Phu as a base of operations against the Viet Minh.  Unfortunately the French chose badly. Instead of high ground that they chose at Na Son, they elected to occupy a marshy valley surrounded by hills covered in dense jungle. They went into the battle light on artillery, and the air head they established was at the far end of the range of French aircraft, especially tactical air forces which were in short supply.  To make matters worse, General Navarre, commander of French forces in Indochina was informed that the French government was going to begin peace talks and that he would receive no further reinforcements. Nevertheless,  he elected to continue the operation.

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French Paras Drop into Dien Bien Phu

Once on the ground French logistics needs were greater than the French Air Force and their American contractors could supply.  French positions at Dien Bien Phu were exposed to an an enemy who held the high ground, and had more powerful artillery. They also placed their units in defensive positions that were not mutually supporting, and were under constant surveillance by the Viet Minh. The terrain was so poor that French units were incapable of any meaningful offensive operations against the Viet Minh. As such they could only dig in and wait for battle. Despite this, many of their positions were not adequately fortified, and their artillery was in emplaced positions that were easily targeted by Viet Minh artillery, which were not hardened against artillery fire, and were completely exposed to the enemy once they opened fire.

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Major Marcel Bigeard 

The French garrison was a good quality military force composed of veteran units. It was comprised of French and Vietnamese paratroopers, known as Paras, Foreign Legion parachute and infantry units, French Colonials (Marines), North Africans and Vietnamese troops. Ordinarily in a pitched battle on a better choice of battle, these forces would have done well. But this was no ordinary battle and their Viet Minh opponents were equally combat hardened, well led and well supplied and fighting for their independence.

Many of the French officers including Lieutenant Colonel Langlais and Major Marcel Bigeard commander of the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion were among the best leaders in the French Army. Others who served in Indochina including David Galula and Roger Trinquier would write books and develop counter-insurgency tactics which would help Americans in Iraq. Unfortunately the French High Command badly underestimated the capabilities and wherewithal of General Giap and his crack divisions on such a battlefield. This was not a counterinsurgency campaign, but a conventional battle in which the French discovered that they were in no position to win.

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Viet Minh Supply Column

Giap rapidly concentrated his forces and built excellent logistics support.  He placed his artillery in well concealed and fortified positions which could use direct fire on French positions. Giap also had more and heavier artillery than the French believed him to have.  Additionally he brought in a large number of anti-aircraft batteries whose firepower, effectively used from well concealed positions enabled the Viet Minh to take a heavy toll among the French aircraft that attempted to supply the base.

Unlike at Na-Son, Giap did not throw his men away in human assaults.  Instead he used his Sappers (combat engineers) to build protective trenches leading up to the very wire of French defensive positions. These trenches provided both concealment and protection from the French. In time these trenches came to resemble a spider web that enveloped the French base.

Without belaboring my point, the French fought hard as did the Viet Minh. However, one after another French positions were overwhelmed by accurate artillery and well planned attacks.  The French vainly hoped for U.S. air intervention, even to the possibility of the United States would uses nuclear weapons against the Viet Minh. President Dwight Eisenhower was a realist, and despite the advice of men like General Curtis LeMay refused to exercise either a conventional or nuclear response to rescue the French from a debacle of their own making. Eisenhower understood that the American people were not about to enter another Asian war so soon after the armistice in Korea.

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French Wounded Awaiting Medivac 

Relief forces were unable to get through the Viet Minh and the severer terrain which limited their movements and prevented the use of armored and mechanized units. Thus, the garrison at Dien Bien Phu died, despite the bravery of the Paratroops. Colonials and Legionaries.

The French garrison was let down by their high command and their government and lost the battle due to inadequate logistics and air power. The survivors endured a brutal forced march of nearly 400 miles on foot to POW camps in which many died. Many soldiers who survived the hell of Dien Bien Phu were subjected to torture, including a practice that we call “water boarding.”

General Georges Catroux who presided over the official inquiry into the debacle at Dien Bien Phu wrote in his memoirs: “It is obvious that there was, on the part of our commanding structure, an excess of confidence in the merit of our troops and in the superiority of our material means.”

Despite the torture they endured, few French troops caved to the Viet Minh interrogations and torture but some would come away with the belief that one had to use such means to fight the revolutionaries.  Some French leaders, units and their Algerian comrades would apply these lessons against each other within a year of their release from Viet Minh Captivity. French soldiers and officers were shipped directly from Indochina to Algeria to wage another protracted counterinsurgency often against Algerians that they had served alongside in Indochina. The Algerian campaign proved to be even more brutal and it was lost politically before it even began. The film Lost Command, and the novel The Centurions by Jean Lartenguy exposed this brutal truth, as did Alistair Horne’s Classic A Savage War of Peace did as well.

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The March to Captivity

The wars in Indochina and Algeria tore the heart out of the French Army. The defeats inflicted a terrible toll. In Indochina many French career soldiers felt that the government’s “lack of interest in the fate of both thousands of missing French prisoners and loyal North Vietnamese…as dishonorable.” Divisions arose between those who served and those who remained serving NATO in France or Germany. This created bitter enmity between soldiers who had already endured the aftermath of the First World War, the defeat of 1940 by Germany, the division of Free French Forces, and those of the Nazi allied Vichy government.

Those divisions in the French military and society remained well after the war and those divisions were fully on display in Indochina and Algeria. 

As a result France would endure a failed military coup which involved many who had fought in Vietnam and Algeria. Having militarily won that war these men called “The Centurions” by Jean Lartenguy had been turned into liars by their government. By military Standards they had successful used counterinsurgency tactics to win the war in a military sense, although their opponents still remained.  These men were forced to abandon those who they had fought for and when President De Gaulle declared that Algeria would be granted independence, the men who had sacrificed so much mutinied against their government.

But the mutiny had little popular support, the people rallied around De Gaulle, and it failed. Many of the leaders, including senior generals and admirals who took part in, supported, or knew about the mutiny were tried, imprisoned, exiled or disgraced. The Colonial troops from Indochina, or North Africa who remained loyal to France were left without homes in their now “independent” nations. many Algerians fled to France as they were French citizens. Those from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fled to wherever they could find refugee.

The French and their colonial ally survivors of Dien Bien Phu saw the battle as a defining Moment in their lives. . “They responded with that terrible cry of pain which pretends to free a man from his sworn duty, and promises such chaos to come: ‘Nous sommes trahis!’-‘We are betrayed.’

The effects of the wars in French Indochina, Algeria and Vietnam on the French military establishment were long lasting and often tragic. The acceptance of torture as a means to an end sullied even the hardest French officers. Men like Galula and Marcel Bigeard refused to countenance it, while others like General Paul Aussaresses never recanted.

One of the most heart rending parts of the Dien Bien Phu story for me is that of Easter 1954 which fell just prior to the end for the French:

“In all Christendom, in Hanoi Cathedral as in the churches of Europe the first hallelujahs were being sung. At Dienbeinphu, where the men went to confession and communion in little groups, Chaplain Trinquant, who was celebrating Mass in a shelter near the hospital, uttered that cry of liturgical joy with a heart steeped in sadness; it was not victory that was approaching but death.” A battalion commander went to another priest and told him “we are heading toward disaster.” (The Battle of Dienbeinphu, Jules Roy, Carroll and Graf Publishers, New York, 1984 p.239)

Like many American veterans of Vietnam, many of the survivors of Dien Bien Phu made peace and reconciled with the Vietnamese soldiers who opposed them. While many still regretted losing they respected their Vietnamese opponents and questioned the leadership of their country and army. Colonel Jacques Allaire, who served as a lieutenant in a battalion under the command of Major Marcel Bigeard reflected on his thoughts to a Vietnamese correspondent in 2014:

“I am now 92 years old and not a single day has gone by since the Dien Bien Phu loss that I haven’t wondered to myself about why the French army lost…Victory was impossible and too far away from us. The aircrafts were not able to give us relief. The French Government changed 19 times in nine years and that messed everything up. General Navarre did not know anything about the battlefield in Vietnam. After the Na San battle, the French commanders thought they could win and decided to attack at Dien Bien Phu, but they were wrong. It was Vietnamese soldiers who owned the hills, because it was their country… I respect my own enemies, who fought hard for national independence…Vietnam Minh soldiers were true soldiers with the will, courage and morality…” 

As a veteran of Iraq whose father served in Vietnam I feel an almost a spiritual link to our American and French brothers in arms who fought at Dien Bien Phu, the Street Without Joy, Algiers and places like Khe Sanh, Hue City, the Ia Drang and the Mekong. When it comes to this time of year I always have a sense of melancholy and dread as I think of the unlearned lessons and future sacrifices that we may be asked to make, and not just military when it comes to the novel Coronavirus Pandemic. 

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Legionairs on the Street Without Joy

The lessons of the French at Dien Bien Phu and in Indochina were not learned by the United States as it entered Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor were the lessons of The French Algeria. It was an arrogance for which Americans paid dearly. I do not think that many in our political, media and pundits or military have entirely learned or that we in the military have completely shaken ourselves. We lost 54,000 dead in Vietnam, nearly 4500 in Iraq and so far over 2400 in Afghanistan, and 20,000 wounded which does not count many of the PTSD or TBI cases. Add the casualties suffered by our NATO allies the number of allied dead is now over 3500. Some 36,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and Police officers have been killed. Afghan civilian deaths are estimated between 100,000 and 400,000, not counting the wounded or those killed in Pakistan. In January 2018 the Pentagon classified data on Afghan military, police, and civilian casualties.

The Afghan debacle has spanned three Presidential administrations, so there accountability for it must be shared between Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, their administrations, the military high command, the Congress, and the civilian population of the United States which remained for the most part in a state of peace, despite a few inconveniences in domestic and international air travel. President Trump has shifted gears from the time he was a candidate when he pronounced the war “lost” to when addressed it as President on August 21st 2017. In his speech at fort Myer Virginia he said:

“When I became President, I was given a bad and very complex hand, but I fully knew what I was getting into:  big and intricate problems.  But, one way or another, these problems will be solved — I’m a problem solver — and, in the end, we will win.” 

But he also said:

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen…” 

There are those even as we have been at war for almost 19 years in Afghanistan who advocate even more interventions in places that there is no good potential outcome, only variations on bad outcomes.  I do not know how the President who calls himself a “Problem solver” or ”Wartime President” who will define winning, in war, or in the midst of a pandemic which has killed more Americans than were lost in combat in every military operation since the 1958 Lebanon Intervention. Bur now, in 2020, how many more American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen will need die  for a “victory” that we cannot even define? Likewise, how many Americans will have to die from a virus because their President and many other leaders minimize its potential for mass death, social and economic disruption, and division?

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French Navy F-8 Bearcat at Dien Bien Phu

Like the French our troops who returned from Vietnam were forgotten.The U.S. Army left Vietnam and returned to a country deeply divided by the war. Vietnam veterans remained ostracized by the society until the 1980s. As Lieutenant General Harold Moore  who commanded the battalion at the Ia Drang immortalized in the film We Were Soldiers recounted “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publicly questioned.”

I think that will be the case for those of us who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria. Americans love to say they support the troops and are overwhelmingly polite and even kind when they encounter veterans. But that being said even as they do that they don’t are ignorant about our campaigns, battles, and sacrifices; and even worse fail to hold the government regardless of administration accountable for sending American troops into wars that they cannot win. That being said the Trump administration is talking up and ramping up for a possible showdown with Iran.

I guess that is why I identify so much with the men of Dien Bien Phu. The survivors of that battle are now in their nineties and dissolved their Veterans of Dien Bien Phu association in 2014 due to the difficulties most had in traveling.

For those interested in the French campaign in Indochina it has much to teach us. Good books on the subject include The Last Valley by Martin Windrow, Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall; The Battle of Dien Bien Phu by Jules Roy; and The Battle of Dien Bien Phu – The Battle America Forgot by Howard Simpson. For a history of the whole campaign, read Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. A novel that has some really good insights into the battle and the French Paras and Legionnaires who fought in Indochina and Algeria is Jean Larteguy’s  The Centurions. 

I always find Fall’s work poignant.  The French journalist served as a member of the French Resistance in the Second World War and soldier later and then became a journalist covering the Nuremberg Trials and both the French and American wars in Vietnam. He was killed on February 21st 1967 near Hue by what was then known as a “booby-trap” and what would now be called an IED while covering a platoon of U.S. Marines.

Sadly, most of the leaders in the Trump Administration, Congress, business, the greater civil population, and even some in the military ignore about COVID 19. The battle is not a conventional war. It is a battle against an unseen enemy that is not fighting a conventional war. We haven’t even understood how to wage such a war over the long term, much less how to deal with a non ideological, non religious, or non nationalistic enemy, such as a virus during a pandemic.

Now humanity is waging an asymmetrical conflict between an inhuman virus which adapts, infects, and kills without thinking, while human beings are divided between their desire to preserve life and those who do not care how many people die so long as their way of life is preserved, in the way that they knew it. However, the keys to defeating the virus, are similar to counterinsurgency doctrine. The Virus has to be identified, its victims quarantined, their contacts tracked, effective treatments developed, especially a vaccine that will protect people, and allow the resumption of normal life.

This isn’t rocket science. Until virologists and epidemiologists can develop effective vaccines and medicines to alleviate and mitigate the worst symptoms, governments and citizens must be willing to do practice non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) such as social distancing and wearing face masks, which are proven by history and science to slow rates of  infection and death, whether compliance is voluntary or mandated by criminal law. No person has the right to prioritize their personal freedoms over the lives of others. This is part of the social contract developed in the earliest of human civilizations, and in the teachings of Jesus the Christ who told his disciples This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

If the Trump Administration choses to ignore science and history regarding the COVID 19 pandemic, it will experience the same humiliation that France encountered in Indochina and Algeria, as well as the American experience in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. If it does so for purely economic reasons, being willing to sacrifice people for comics and profits, than its immorality and vice is too great to reconcile with any human understanding of the sacred value of all human life.

I do pray that we will learn the lessons before we enter yet another hell somewhere else, but then we already have doe so, since COVID 19 has already claimed as many American lives as were lost in every conflict since the 1958 intervention in Lebanon and every war, conflict, incident, or operation since.

Whether you understand it or not, the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu isn’t something that we cannot learn from today. One can never underestimate one’s enemy, or overestimate their ability to defeat it. Nor can they ignore the advice of historians, scientists, sociologists, physicians, and military leaders. Sadly, it seems to me that Donald Trump and his Administration and followers are more than willing to follow in the footsteps of all who in their interest willing to sacrifice the lives of the innocent, be they soldiers, Medical personnel, civilians, or others deemed life unworthy of life. So why not lead more people to death in order to maintain power and profits.

I won’t say anything else tonight, as Imam tired but anxious about the results of a COVID 19 test that Judy and I took late Monday afternoon as a result of a possible exposure Judy might have had last Friday. While I do not think that either of us will test positive, the current situation where so many Americans do not seem to give a damn about the lives of others in the midst of a highly infectious and deadly pandemic are now personal. As are the histories of those who promote their stupidity:  leaders who dodged the draft, or never served at all, either on the front lines of combat or in the battle against infectious diseases decide that human lives are worth less than short term profits of their corporations or economic interests.

I am not a man of violence, but I agree with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote: “If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Likewise I believe like General Ludwig Beck who died in the attempt to kill Hitler and seize control of Germany from the Nazi regime that those entrusted with high office must live up to it. Beck said:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.” 

For me the testimony of both men is relevant today.

How can I be silent and retain any sense of morality today? My heart goes out to all the French, and their Colonials, and Foreign Legion Troops who died for an awful cause in Indochina, including those who fought for South Vietnam and lost everything by doing so, as well as the Americans sent their to prop up a regime that had little popular support, and was based on power religious and economic elites more than its own people.

Now we are faced with a pandemic that kills without discrimination. A pandemic that kills without remorse because it is not human, and which adepts itself to killing  more people. This is especially true when human beings and their governments ignore or willingly break the basics of non pharmaceutical interventions, such as social distancing and face masks because they value their personal convenience over the life of others.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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When Certain Unalienable Rights Conflict: Life and Its Sanctity vs. Freedom and the Pursuit of Happiness


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When Thomas Jefferson wrote, and members of the Continental Congress edited and published the Declaration of Independence they included this in the preface:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”

Today we now have a situation that is not unknown in the history of the United States, where the right to life is threatened by people exercising their freedom and insisting on their pursuit of happiness. Since the United States became independent the country has known many bacteriological, and virological epidemics, and pandemics. They include Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever, Tuberculosis, Polio, Diphtheria, Measles, Rubella, Smallpox, Anthrax, the Great Influenza (Spanish Flu or H1N1), the Asian Flu of 1958 (H2N2), the Honk Kong Flun of 1968 (H2N3), HIV/AIDS, Ebola, the 2008-2009 H1N1, and the most recent that we are living through today, the novel Coronavirus 19, or COVID 19.

In each case local governments were forced to make choices that balanced these conflicting unalienable rights. In most of the early outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics the onus was on the local governments to act in the best interests of their people. But of course that was well before hundreds of thousands of people were making daily intercontinental airplane flights, and millions more making interstate or non-intercontinental, yet international flights. Likewise, the scientists, physicians, and government officials during the pandemics of earlier times had at best delayed access to information, lacked our technology, and typically saw such events through the lens of local experience, unless they were members of the international medical community who studied in other countries, and built relationships with others like them around the world.

The best practices those pioneers tried to convince government officials of, until effective vaccines and treatments were developed, included what we now call social distancing and personal protective equipment, such as face masks. They also recommended shutdowns of mass gatherings, the shutdown of non-essential business, facilities, and even religious services. In some cases local and state governments took their advice. During the 1918-1919 Great Influenza, President Wilson made no comment on it, even before the stroke that kept him from actually being the Chief Executive, as a result, Federal agencies were not able to coordinate a national response to a national and international pandemic which by tha time it was over had killed between 20 and 50 million people around the world and some 660,000 in the United States.

However, the Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson vs. Massachusetts in 1905 that local and state governments did have the right to exercise their power to order people to obey vaccination, and other public health laws. Likewise there is the precarious balance between the rights of the community versus the rights of individuals during a public health emergency which are too numerous, detailed, and sometimes conflicting that I cannot deal with them in this rather brief article. That being said I hold to the right to life, above absolute liberty or the pursuit of our own gratuitous happiness.

I live in one of the strongest, if not the most heavily Republican dominated cities in Virginia. Last year a lone gunman killed and wounded dozens of our citizens at the Virginia Beach Government Center, yet under a year later the city declared itself to be a Second Amendment Sanctuary City, in effect the city surrendered itself to people who believe that their rights to bear the most lethal weapons possible and more important than the lives of government employees health care workers, first responders, and the police and sheriff’s departments, or other public institutions, their customers, and the general public are endangered.

In our local area, Judy and I saw large numbers of white people, who include people with college degrees, active duty, retired, or military veterans, and others who should know better based on the education and practical experience, to follow public health regulations completely disregard them at the Target store at the Virginia Beach Pembroke Mall, near the upscale Town Center area, and the Kroger Super Store on Holland Road go into the store without masking, or taking any care to practice any form of social distancing. Instead they crowded in disregarding all medical and public health recommended advice. Likewise, many employees who are now required to wear face masks either left their noses uncovered or wore their masks around their necks. It was a clear failure of local managers to implement corporate policy to safeguard the lives of their employees and customers.

This is not about the restriction of individual liberty but rather the exaltation of individual responsible and freedom to sacrifice momentary indulgences for the heath, safety, and life of their neighbors. Sadly, I saw little of that. If the only people endangering their lives were those arrogant and ignorant enough to care about the lives of their neighbors, I would simply say that they deserved whatever punishment Darwin awards them. However, it is about all of those other people who through no fault of their own are exposed to, become infected by, and either get sick or die, because of their selfish,  indulgent, and narcissistic sociopathic behavior. Their actions prove that Trump’s sociopathic lack of empathy has tricked down into the lives and actions of people who once prized personal responsibility and adherence to the rule of law, at whatever level. I was reminded of the words of the late Eric Hoffer:

“The hardest thing to cope with is not selfishness or vanity or deceitfulness, but sheer stupidity.”

These actions are not the actions of responsible citizens, but the selfish, irresponsible, sociopathic views, and lack of empathy of the members of the Trump Cult, who as shown by their armed protests at various state capitals have no respect for law, local government, or responsibility to fellow citizens; even when the President encourages them to break the rules and recommendations of his own administration.

Call my views whatever you want, but please don’t call them politically motivated. President George W. Bush who I voted for twice, but lost complete trust in him and the GOP after returning from Iraq in 2018,  warned about such a pandemic and what would be necessary to combat it when I was in Iraq, as well as the scientists, epidemiologists, and virologists of the CDC and other Federal agencies under Republican and Democratic administrations since have advocated. Instead the Trump Administration cut the funding for and existence of overseas branches of the CDC in China and other countries that could have given early warnings about COVID 19 were eliminated. Intelligence reports from December 2019 and on were ignored by the President and his closest advisers, until the stock markets crashed at the beginning of March 2020. Then after a long period of denials, delays, minimization of a real pandemic, blaming others, and then saying they are not responsible for anything related to the virus. That is not the action of a President, Administration, or Senate committed to personal responsibility and rule of law, regardless of party.

At some point there comes a reckoning when the followers and government officials of an administration have to heed the words of the German General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office in protest of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and who died attempting to overthrow and kill Hitler on July 20th 1944. Beck said:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.” 

That is true today as much as it was in 1944. A failure to act in accordance with their specialist political, military, or scientific, medical, ethical, historical, and public health knowledge ensures that those that refuse to to act in accordance with their knowledge, are guilty of the blood guilt  of those sacrificed to their cause, no matter what the cost.

Eric Hoffer wrote: “I can never forget that one of the most gifted, best educated nations in the world, of its own free will, surrendered its fate into the hands of a maniac.”
COVID 19
is that test for all of us, regardless of faith, political ideology, and party. If we cannot see the threat to both our individual rights, and responsibility as citizens and weigh them as our founders did, then we are not worthy of national survival. The American Experiment will have died, and none of us will escape the blood guilt  of its demise and all who have and will die over the next 18 to 24 months of the Coronavirus 19, regardless of our party, ideology, or religious beliefs.

The fact of the matter is that in regard to whatever we do or fail to to today, we all assume the bloodguilt of President Trump, his administration, his personal cult, and the GOP Senate.

As Otto Wels, the leader of the German Social Democrats who refused the Nazi order to disband and voted against Hitler’s Enabling act said:

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

Those words of Otto Wels should inspire terror in the heart of the members of the Trump Cult, because whether they understand them or not, they know that their lives are meaningless to the President.

So until tomorrow I wish you all the best.

Please be careful and stay safe,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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And So It Goes… COVID 19 Continues It’s Deadly Swath, With the Help of the Uncaring


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

in his book Slaughterhouse Five, the late Kurt Vonnegut repeated the words “and so it goes” many times to emphasize his experience of war, being a prisoner of war, and being targeted by bombing campaigns against a defenseless and military insignificant city by the air forces of the country he served and its allies.

By official count the Novel Coronavirus 19 has now killed more Americans than during the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, Beirut 1983, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Operation Provide Comfort, Invasion of Panama, Persian Gulf tanker escorts, the Bombing of Libya 1985, Invasion of Grenada, El Salvador Civil War, Iran 1980, USS Liberty Incident, Dominican Republic Intervention, Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1958 Lebanon Crisis, and official Cold War killed combined. Those wars, incidents, actions, operations, invasions and interventions the official count of US Military dead was 65,752. And so it goes….

The official number of 65,766 COVID 19 dead is most certainly an undercount as in February, March, and April the number of deaths not ascribed to COVID 19 spiked far higher than seasonal averages with no other explanations. despite the fact that New York, which leads the nation in the number of COVID 19 infections and deaths has seen its daily infections fall from an average of 7,000 to 10,000 to under 3,000 a day in the past week. At the same time even as the rates of infection and death are falling in New York and New Jersey, the epicenter of the virus, they are now increasing in much of the rest of the country, especially in the states that loosened their stay at home and social distancing rules last week, specifically Georgia and Texas. But they are not alone. Other states with poorer and older populations with pre-existing conditions such as obesity, lung diseases, and diabetes, as well as younger populations at risk because of underlying conditions from the use of drugs, alcohol, and smoking. To make matters worse, in many of these states rural hospitals and clinics are woefully equipped to handle the disease.

President Trump is pushing the governors of every state to reopen business, schools, and everything they can to somehow revitalize the economy. Of course it was the economy was what he was hanging his hopes for re-election. But the fragility of his economic achievements were demonstrated in the last few months. The United States has added over 30 million newly unemployed, with the unemployment rate jumping from just over 3% to well over 10% within a few weeks. Then there are the massive hits to the economy, the loss of taxable income, and the ever growing  budget deficit and national debt. The latter are unavoidable if one wants to preserve the nation, its workers and economic base, but are horrifying to the limited government conservatives and libertarians who cut the social, medical, and unemployment benefits to most of their constituents over a nearly 40 year period. If the President and his allies succeed they will doomed countless Americans to poverty and death, including those who helped elect him to office in 1916.

Of course neither they or President Trump never counted on a pandemic that had already been predicted and warned about by experts as well as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But the Trump Administration cut vital preventive health, biological and viral investigative units throughout the government. The actions of the Trump Administration and the Congress which had been controlled by GOP majorities until the 2018 elections gutted many of the best and most proven infectious disease units to defend the country from the assault of biological or viral pandemics. It was also ignored  as the warnings of multiple U.S. Intelligence agencies from December 2019 until early March 2020 of the pandemic brewing in China. The President said that the virus “posed no threat,” only had “infected 15 people and that the number would go to zero,” or that it would miraculously “go away” as it infected 15 people and that the number would go to zero,” ” or disappear with warm weather. None happened.

Despite this the Administration, including Attorney General Bob Barr have prodded, pushend, and threatened state governors who did not comply with Trumps wishes to reopen their states with economic reprisal. Additionally the President has encouraged so called “militias” to take action against their state governments, and for governors to negotiate with them.” 

On Thursday a group of these fat, heavily armed, and equipped men and women armed with combat weapons and protective  gear assaulted the Michigan State Capitol, nearly taking control of it had it not been for actions of police and the governor to defuse the situation without bloodshed. Today thousands of people in the GOP stronghold of Huntington Beach California rioted against the closure of beaches, of course none were social distancing, and most wore no PPE, endangering themselves and others. Frankly, I believe that these people are narcissistic sociopaths who could not care if others live or die, even if they are family members or friends. All that matters is their loyalty to their cult leader. In this case, President Donald Trump.

It is a cult like relationship. To quote the current Trump cheerleader and cultist Pat Robertson:

“Cults teach that salvation comes through Christ, plus their little unique way. Some cults do not acknowledge Christ at all. They may make Him coequal with their religious teachers or with certain great men of history. The quickest way to recognize a cult is by its treatment of Jesus.

Second, cults frequently attempt to instill fear into their followers. The followers are taught constantly that salvation comes only through the cult. “If you leave us, you will lose your salvation,” they say.

“The third area has to do with the exaltation of the leader of the cult. Cults often center around a man or woman who is trying to gain power, money, or influence from manipulating people.” https://www1.cbn.com/questions/church-or-cult 

Likewise, a man who would have been 180 degrees opposite of Robertson, Eric Hoffer noted: “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”

Both are on display today in the actions of the President and his so-called militia movement fowllowers who are both subverting the efforts of Federal Government Scientists and State governors and legislators to mitigate the effects of the COVID 19 in their states, even if it means the deaths of thousands or millions more. For the Cult Leader and his followers these deaths are nothing. The President said on Friday that if the death toll was under 100,000 that it would be a victory. That number is less than 34,000 from today’s tally, which if the number of dead grows by 2,000 or more a day will be eclipsed by the middle of the month. Now with the rates of infection slowing in New York and New Jersey, the infection rates are moving rapidly up in the “Red States” of the American South and Midwest. Some of which have quickly abandoned any social distancing, as well as those on the fence or stay at home directives their state governors might have attempted in order to regain the trust and support of a sociopath President, who does not care how many people die, so long as their deaths do not interfere with his re-election and path to unlimited dictatorial power.

For me that is too much. I have to echo and paraphrase the words of General Henning Von Tresckow, a practicing Christian, who killed himself on the Russian Front after the plot he helped to attempt to kill Hitler several times failed, said:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Trump’s America.”

I cannot say any less. The President and his cult-like followers are bent on the death of millions of our fellow citizens, and only care if the number remains below a bar that they set which ensures they retain owner. I cannot do that, even if that skylines me to his supporters. Hell a decade ago I had death threats from Neo-Nazis for articles I posted back then. Now, I don’t give a damn. I will speak the truth. I have to. My sacred oath that I have taken many times to the Constitution demands that I can do nothing else, regardless of who is President, or the political party, ideology, or personal gain they have to keep by remaining in power.

Sinclair Lewis, the author of It Can Happen Here, wrote:

“A country that tolerates evil means—evil manners, standards of ethics—for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end.”

The truly sad fact of the matter is that our country is nearly at that generational point I’d one measures it from the rise of the Religious Right in the mid 1970s and the seizure of power during the Reagan Administration, and the rise to power of Newt Gingrich’s campaign to take back America, and the Tea Party movement that began in 2009. All of these were underwritten by the money and airtime of supposedly Christian pundits, television and radio hosts, as well as elected officials and political action groups, many funded by the corporate wealth of the Koch Brothers and their allies.

So until tomorrow, be careful and stay safe by protecting you, your family, and all of us by maintaining stay at home policies and social distancing until a vaccine, effective testing, tracing and treatments are developed and available to all, otherwise we will endure this scourge for the next 18 to 30 months. That is what happened during the Great Influenza of 1918-1920, and COVID 19 had proven to be much more infectious and deadly than any influence outbreak since 1918-1920.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Babi Yar’s Relevance Today

babi yar

Massacre at Babi Yar

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Anyone who follows my writing know I write a lot about the Holocaust and the war crimes perpetuated by the Nazi State. I began studying this as an undergraduate and graduate level history student at California State University at Northridge under Dr. Helmut Heussler, who served as a wartime interrogator for the 82nd Airborne Division during the Second World War and then as an interpreter at the Major War Crime trials at Nuremberg.  I studied under him for three years dealing with the end of Imperial Germany, the German Civil War, the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era. He gave me a lot of freedom to explore and research the subject and allowed me to do that research in undergraduate and graduate level independent study projects. I continued that study personally as well as during seminary and my second Master’s Degree in Military History.

Since I read, speak and write German well and can often pass myself off as German in Germany because of my lack of an American accent when speaking the language. I speak German with a blend of a Bavarian and Hessen dialect and that helps when I visit various Holocaust sites, museums, and research centers in Germany. I will be doing some of that again this fall when I make another trip to Munich, Hessen, and Baden-Wurttemberg. A few years ago I spent five hours at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. contemplating things that I mostly already knew while exploring details of the Holocaust that made it more real and personal.

As part of my academic work at the Joint Forces Staff College I taught military ethics as related to the Just War Theory. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I dealt with the implication of participating in war crimes. It is a serious subject and in the class I attempted to make my students, all relatively senior officers from the United States and allied nations as uncomfortable as possible. I used a number of examples from the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg as well as the Generals Trial and I used the film Conspiracy, which is about the Wannsee Conference where mostly mid-level officers and bureaucrats hashed out the coordination of the Endlosung or Final Solution to what Nazis euphemistically called “the Jewish Question.” 


In the 1930s and 1940s the Nazis created the euphemism the Jewish Question in order to remove the aspect of humanity from their policy. It wasn’t about human beings, it was about people that they considered sub-human minority that they were able to demonize to expedite their elimination. the late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

In Europe and the United States there are people in different governments, political parties, and fringe groups that are beginning to go mainstream, in some cases actually controlling governments after first having been elected into office destroy the institutions that safeguard democracy, oppress political opponents, shut down the free press, and determine that some racial, religious, or ethnic group is a question or problem. Questions need resolution, and problems need solutions.

Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Bauer’s words are truth.

When I was teaching at the Staff College I would go through previous notes and research to teach my students. Whenever I did this I felt a tenseness and revulsion for the actions of those that ordered, committed or condoned these crimes; many of whom were like me, professional military officers, historians, and theologians. So I realize how easily it is for normal, rational, and even basically decent people to succumb to either participating in or turning a blind eye to crimes against others, even on a massive scale.  In fact the bigger those crimes are they seem easier for some people to dismiss, because the victims cease be human, and simply a statistic. Sadly, Josef Stalin probably got human nature right when he said “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

That comment causes great revulsion in my soul. But I have to admit it seems to be the way that many people deal with such great crimes, or today when a pandemic that has killed over 60,000 Americans. Now people are demanding that the elderly, crippled, or people with chronic illnesses be sacrificed so they can go back to normal life. The terrifying fact is that many are White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, and anti-government extremists being encouraged and funded by powerful families and organizations connected to the political right.

Today a heavily armed group of these people attempted to take over the capital building of Michigan and threaten legislatures, and the governor. Some of their fellow protestors blamed the Jews for the shutdown of businesses and stay at home orders. Some of the vigilantes stood screaming at police officers that stood blocking their way into the floor of the legislative chamber or into the governor’s office. On a stage outside two young girls danced, one wearing an ape like version of a mask representing African Americans. Police ended the attempt without violence, but what happens when such people start shooting. how far will they go? Who are the problems that they demand a solution?

September 29th 2019 was the 78th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. It was committed by members of the SS Einsatzgruppen C near Kiev shortly after the German Army captured that city. 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as members of a number of Ordungspolizei, police battalions supported by the logistics and protection of the German Army. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. It was the largest killing action by the various Einsatzgruppen in the war. The killings were done up close and personal. The men who conducted the operation either believed that the people that they were killing were sub-human, or did not have the courage to stand up and say no.

These issues are still with us and as I watch the rise of Right Wing and other Fascist movements in Russia, Europe, and the United States I get very concerned. But even more concerning are the large number of people who are content to dismiss their threats and violence, often because while too respectable to utter their words themselves they secretly condone their race hatred. Hannah Arendt made the comment that “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Of course these are uncomfortable subjects. When I tell friends of the places that I have visited and studies I have done quite a few openly tell me that they find the subject so uncomfortable hat they could not visit those places. These friends span the political spectrum, just as did the people who said nothing or willingly followed orders to commit genocide in Nazi Germany.

We like to say that the Nazis were different than us or others. To some extent this is true, but the real truth is that most of the Christian Western European countries, and I include the United States have also committed gross crimes against humanity against peoples that we believed were less than human and not afforded human rights or protections.

In the movie Judgement at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy makes a comment that should send chills through any of us. He spoke concerning one of the judges on trial, “Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination….”

What happened at Babi Yar is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists, insurgents, or other enemies of the state. The same is true with adults who have gone through some kind of massive disruption in their lives, such are easy prey for propagandists who need people to support their call that nefarious others, are to blame for their problems, not the men or women they elected to govern. Dr Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”


Today, in the midst of pandemics, racism, and anti-Semitism rising again we must understand why otherwise ordinary people do commit such crimes against their fellow human beings. Tomorrow begins Holocaust Remembrance Month in the United States. If there ever was a time to not just mouth the words Never Again but take action to prevent such atrocities from happening again.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Liberation of Dachau “Model Camp” at 75 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, the model concentration camp of the the Nazi SS State.

 

On March 20th 1933, barely a month and a half after the Nazi takeover of the German government and three days before the passage of the Enabling Act the Police President Of Munich, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler ordered the establishment of the Dachau Concentration Camp. He appointed SS Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle as Commandant and the first 200 political prisoners from Munich’s Stadelheim prison arrived at Dachau on March 22nd.

The first SS guards assigned to Dachau were given the following instruction:

“Comrades of the SS!
You all know what the Fuehrer has called us to do. We have not come here for human encounters with those pigs in there. We do not consider them human beings, as we are, but as second-class people. For years they have been able to continue their criminal existence. But now we are in power. If those pigs had come to power, they would have cut off all our heads. Therefore we have no room for sentimentalism. If anyone here cannot bear to see the blood of comrades, he does not belong and had better leave. The more of these pig dogs we strike down, the fewer we need to feed.”

Wäckerle’s brief tenure as Commandant was marked by extraordinary brutality on the part of his staff, so much so that charges were brought against him by the Munich courts which resulted in his relief by SS Gruppenführer Theodore Eicke in July 1933. Eicke would establish the regulations which governed all the later Concentration Camps, and make Dachau the model camp for all others.

Theodore Eiche

Theodore Eicke

Among the later SS killers of the Holocaust who served at Dachau were Adolf Eichmann, and the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rüdolf Höss. It became a training ground for other Concentration Camp commanders and staff. Others would become leaders in the Waffen SS and the Einsatzgruppen death squads.

The announcement of Dachau’s Opening was reported by the German press in this release:

On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5000 people. ‘All Communists and—where necessary—Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated here, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons, and on the other hand these people cannot be released because attempts have shown that they persist in their efforts to agitate and organize as soon as they are released.

Dachau began as a political prisoner camp for the Nazis to imprison Socialists, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Jews, and other dissidents. It wasn’t a “death camp” designed to exterminate people even though tens of thousands of people died or were executed there. It was designed to terrorize, dehumanize, and destroy the souls of its inmates.

It was a place of inhuman medical experiments, a place of terror, and the administrative center of a network of over 30 large and 100 small sub-Camps which were used as sources of slave labor for the German armaments industry. But one has to remember that the SS was not simply an instrument of terror, but an institution also devoted to profit. Prisoners were valued in what their lives equated in profits. A prisoner was valued in what he or her could produce versus the expenses of keeping them alive for a period of 6 to 12 months. Under Himmler and his assistant for production and profits, ObergrüppenfuhrerOswold Pöhl the Concentration Camps, as well as the death camps became centers of profit for the SS in collaboration with German industrial concerns and industries owned by the SS itself.

Dachau was not one of the Death Camps, although it was a place of incredible cruelty, extraordinary suffering, brutality, and death. While not a “death camp” per say, an estimated 40,000 or more  prisoners were murdered there. For tens of thousands of others it served as a transit camp from which they were sent to the death factories in Poland, including Auschwitz, or other work camps, where many died of being worked to death, malnutrition, disease, or the simple cruelty and maltreatment inflicted on them by the guards.

Holocaust survivor Yehuda Bauer wrote: “The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The picture that you see above is the memorial to the Unknown Prisoner at Dachau. The words: “Den Toten zur Ehr, den Lebenden zur Mahnung” [To Honor the Dead, to Warn the Living] are engraved at its base.

I have been to Dachau at least a half dozen times beginning back in 1996. For me as a historian of the period the trip is both for learning and for meditation, for beyond its historical significance this is a holy place, a place made holy by the blood of tens of thousands of victims of one of the most evil regimes in history. The crimes committed by the staff of Totenkopfverbande SS guards from it’s inception were intended to terrorize and dehumanize the inmates who included political prisoners, religious objectors, Jews, and homosexuals. The inmates were not there because they were convicted of any crimes, in fact many had actually been exonerated by courts. In the case of those who had been convicted by courts, all had served what ever sentence they had been convicted of, but upon their release from prison were picked up by the SS and taken to Dachau where they were imprisoned without being charged with a crime, and an indefinite period and no date of release. Sometimes prisoners would suddenly and without warning be released, but they remained under observation by the local police and Gestapo. If they talked about their experience they were quite often sent back.

Prisoners were told on arrival:

Here you are, and you’re not in a sanatorium! You’ll have got that already. Anyone who hasn’t grasped that will soon be made to. You can rely on that . . . You’re not prison inmates here, serving a sentence imposed by the courts, you’re just ‘prisoners’ pure and simple, and if you don’t know what that means, you’ll soon find out. You’re dishonourable and defenceless! You’re without rights! Your fate is a slave’s fate! Amen.

In the Camp the prisoners were subject to punishment for even the most minor or perceived infractions, beatings, and whippings. Other punishments were meted out by guards who themselves were punished if they showed any mercy or human kindness to a prisoner. “While an offender sentenced to a term in prison knew when he was going to get out, release for the concentration camp inmate was determined by the whim of a quarterly review board, and could be delayed by the malice of any of the SS guards.”

Theodore Eicke, the commandant who systematized the Concentration Camp system created a world that his subordinate, and the later Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess described:

“It was Eicke’s intention that his SS-men, by means of continuous instruction and suitable orders concerning the dangerous criminality of the inmates, should be made basically ill-disposed towards the prisoners. They were to ‘treat them rough’, and to root out once and for all any sympathy they might feel for them. By such means, he succeeded in engendering in simple-natured men a hatred and antipathy for the prisoners which an outsider will find hard to imagine.”

Even a brutal man like Hoess found the brutality hard to watch, he recalled the:

“malicious evil-minded, basically bad, brutal, inferior, common creatures’ amongst the guards, who compensated for their sense of inferiority by venting their anger on the prisoners. The atmosphere of hatred was total.”

In the twelve years of its existence the staff of Dachau, through mistreatment, execution by bullet, gallows, through being used as subjects in grotesque medical experiments, by “execution by work,” or untreated illness and disease, murdered 41,566 prisoners. The point to be remembered is that despite this incredible number of murders that Dachau was not an extermination camp.

As the Third Reich crumbled the Nazis attempted to hide their crimes. Many inmates from Dachau were sent to other camps, by train or forced marched hundreds of miles. During these transits many, already shells of humanity due to maltreatment, disease and malnourishment. Even as this was happening trains from other camps were arriving at Dachau.



On 29 April 1945 units of the U.S. Army 45th and 42nd Infantry Divisions liberated Dachau, which was surrendered by its senior remaining officer, a mere SS 1st Lieutenant, as the commandant and   o ther senior officer had already fled. Most to be captured within days or weeks. The liberators were shocked by what they saw, the piles of dead, the bones in the crematoria, the emaciated prisoners,  and a train car full of dead, and some soldiers took their revenge on some of the guards, and massacred an estimated 20-50 of the surrendered SS men. Although charges were preferred, they were dropped.

The Execution of SS Guards at Dachau 

Regardless of the actions of the American liberators, even those who took justice into their own hands, the fact is that the Dachau guards all knew what was going on and had each to some degree participated in the atrocities at Dachau and in some cases other camps, or on the Eastern Front.

You may wonder why I took the time to go into such detail about my visits to Dachau and its terrible legacy. The answer is the same why I choose to walk American Civil War battlefields, it is to being to try to understand what the people there were seeing and experiencing.

Of course there were the prisoners who were so savagely treated by their jailers. Then there were the bystanders, the citizens of Dachau and other German cities who watched as Jews, political enemies, and others were marched to the camp, which was not a secret installation. Finally, there were the perpetrators, very few of whom were punished for their actions.

But another reason is that the survivors, be they victims, perpetrators, or bystanders are rapidly passing away

Soon none will be left. When that happens it is up to us the living to ensure that this is not forgotten and that those murdered at Dachau, the other Concentration Camps, the extermination camps, and those killed by the murder squads that went from one end of Europe to the other in a systematic attempt to wipe every Jew that they could find off of the face of the earth. Yes, there were other victims, but the Nazi crusade against the Jews knew no boundaries, physical or time included. Unlike every other genocide it extended beyond national borders, or time; it was an eschatological crusade that by the will of Hitler was limited by only one factor, the complete military defeat that was inflicted on Nazi Germany by those who she attacked.


Finally, the story must be told because there are those who either claim it didn’t happen, or are tired of talking about it. In Germany those include leaders of the new-Nazi AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party. In the United States, Britain, and other nations there are members of many new-Nazi and Alt-Right groups who desire very much the same thing. But if decent people decide not to speak out, if we remain silent, there is nothing anywhere that will keep these ideological descendants of Hitler from beginning it again, if not to the Jews, to other despised racial, religious, ethnic, or ideological groups. We live in a world where demagogues take advantage of people’s legitimate anxieties and deeply ingrained prejudices to stir up ungodly anger and hatred in order to both gain new followers and to incite those followers to a campaign of violence.

Doctor Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

But I know why, there are some people who are sociopaths, who though they seem ordinary have no empathy for others, and they are more numerous than we might ever suspect. Captain Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist assigned to the major war crime defendants at the Nuremberg war crimes trials noted:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

That absence of empathy runs strong among Trump supporters and others of the religious and political right today. For the rest of my life I will fight them and expose them.

So until tomorrow I wish you all the best and ask that no matter what the leaders of your state say, to obey common sense and facts and be as careful as you can, as the COVID 19 pandemic is far from over.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Value of a Single Human Life: Personal Responsibility during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have grown tired of the deniers of science and those who when occupying high positions in the Federal and State governments prepare to add to the death and economic disaster we are already experiencing in the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise I have grown very tired of trying to confront their cultish followers with history, science, and facts, especially those who should know better. The sad thing is that I can certainly determine that they have left their conscience, and medical knowledge behind simply to support the policies of President Trump which began with denial, deflection, and outright lies between December 2019 and now.

I have a unique perspective to offer on what is going on now. I am a historian, an ethicist, as well as a Priest and Navy Chaplain. I have served in the military for over thirty eight and a half years, as a Medical Service Corps Officer and Chaplain. I have served in combat, and as an ICU, ER, and Critical Care Chaplain during the height of the AIDS pandemic when there were no drugs to even mitigate the symptoms of HIV, and the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

As a historian I have studied pandemics, eugenics, and the sterilization, or extermination of people whose lives were considered Life Unworthy of Life, a condition more influenced by eugenics to purify the race, and the economic costs of keeping such people alive. Sadly, many American Christians who lean toward Libertarianism, and Conservatism, even those who claim to be Pro-Life, which should be more accurately termed anti-abortion because once a child is born into this world they couldn’t give a damn if it lives or dies. By their budgets you shall know them. The poor, the disabled, or those with chronic medical conditions are not worth spending tax dollars on, especially if that money keeps the rich from getting richer. As Alfred W. Crosby wrote in his book America’s Forgotten Pandemic, the Influenza of 1918 about the businesses leaders that pressured San Francisco’s board of supervisors to lighten up on Medical and public health and restrictions that had led to a decline of infections and deaths: “The dollar sign is exalted above the health sign,” said Hassler, referring to the influence of the merchants on the supervisors’”

As a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army while commanding a Medical Ambulance Company stationed in Germany during the height of the Cold War I was school trained as a Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Warfare Defense officer. I can describe in detail what radiation poisoning at different amounts will do to a human being, as well as what kind of shelters provide the greatest protection from radiation exposure.  I can tell you what various chemical agents, blood, choking, and nerve will do to a person if they are not properly equipped, or fail to use their provided protective gear as they were trained to do, the same is true of militarized biological agents. Unlike, chemical agents, there is little defense against a biological agent. I was also trained in combat triage in a contaminated environment. I have written about that in the last month so I won’t go into detail here, but it turns normal triage upside down.

Finally, as a young Medical Service Corps Captain helped write the Army’s regulation on personnel policies for HIV infected soldiers, and then because officers senior to me, I had to counsel all of our HIV infected personnel on their career options, and legal restrictions if they violated the commanders order which closely corresponded to the Physicians Medical order, but had the authority of the Uniform Code of Military Justice behind it, if the soldier failed to warn a sexual partner that he or she was HIV positive or did anything else to intentionally spread the virus. That was back in 1987. At that time I met and talked with then Major Robert Redfield, now head of the CDC about how HIV could spread and that it would enter the general population. Before effective policies and treatments to mitigate its effects HIV spread like a fire around the country and the world. While we do not yet have a vaccine for it, education, preventive measures, and effective drugs to mitigate its lethal effects have blunted its spread. That being said, HIV is far harder to spread than airborne viruses like influenza and Coronavirus. HIV has to be spread by direct contact and intermixing of bodily fluids, like blood, semen, or other bodily excretions.

At of the time of the writing of this article, the Coronavirus 19 has now killed over 55,000 Americans and infected almost a million according to official tallies, which are probably low since very few health agencies were testing for it before March. Testing in the United States has continued to lag on a per capita basis with only about 1.5% of the population tested. Currently there are over 813,000 active cases in the United States. The United States government leadership knew of the threat through reliable intelligence sources that the virus was raging in China In December 2019  long before the Chinese Communist leadership admitted it, or took action to contain it. Instead the President did nothing until he instituted a travel ban from China at the end of January. However, by then, it was too little and too late. The virus was already spreading and killing in the United States.

The lack of  any action defied the warning of President George W. Bush in a speech to the National Institute of Health on 1 November 2005:

“A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire: if caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage; if allowed to smolder undetected, it can grow to an inferno that spreads quickly beyond our ability to control it.” 

However, President Trump, a man who prides himself in not reading, and despises the counsel of experts in any field, could not heed the warnings of President Bush or any other responsible member of his administration, or the medical and scientific community at large. Instead he denied the threat, blamed others, and took no decisive action to protect the people of the country or economy from it. instead of being like Harry Truman who had a sign on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here,” the President refused to take any responsibility for the earlier lack of action or distribution of public warnings, and said “I take no responsibility at all.” But that is no exception to anything he has done in his life. He loves to claim credit when times are good, but when his decisions result in multiple failed divorces, failed businesses, and serial corporate bankruptcies, he refuses to take any blame. But still, his cultish followers refuse to abandon him even as he abandons them to poverty and death.

in 1918 and 1919 before he suffered a stroke that left him incapacitated and unable to lead the country, President Woodrow Wilson said nothing about the pandemic that was then killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, and threw the responsibility to respond on under funded and unready state and local authorities. As Albert Marrin wrote in his book Very, Very, Very, Dreadful The Influenza of 1918:

“Throughout the pandemic, the nation lacked a uniform policy about gathering places, and there was no central authority with the power to make and enforce rules that everyone had to obey. Each community acted on its own, doing as its elected officials thought best.”

As a result over 667,000 Americans died, the economy was hit hard, and the stage was set for policies that help bring about the Great Depression a decade later, and would take the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt to overcome. John Barry wrote in his book The Great Influenza:

“So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lessen the panic that can alienate all within a society. Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization cannot survive that. Those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.” 

Unfortunately, that has been the case today. For every responsible citizen there are those who would preserve their lives and fortunes even if they had to sacrifice the lives of others to do so. They are little different in their morality to the Germans who turned away from Nazi atrocities to maintain or enrich themselves without ever lifting a finger to kill or help anyone. The issue reminds me of an episode of Dr. Who where the leader of a colony on Mars tells the doctor that he would do anything to protect his people and family. The Doctor asks “even if that meant killing innocent men?” Unmoved, the leader reiterated his point, to which the Doctor replied:

“Well then, that’s the difference between us. I’d give up my ownlife without hesitation; it’s mine to give. Just don’t ask me to give up anybody else’s. … This is how evil starts: With the belief that the ends justify the means. But once you start down that road, there’s no turning back. What if you can save a million lives, but you have to let ten people die? Or a hundred? Or a hundred thousand? Where do you stop?”

Truthfully we have to ask the question posed by the Doctor. But for many committed to the dollar, their position, and their loyalty to a President that shoes no loyalty to them the current crisis has proved that they are selfish and more interested in their creature comforts and lifestyle than they are of the deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. I am reminded of the words spoken in the film Judgment at Nuremberg by Judge Haygood played by Spencer Tracy in the fictionalized account of the Judges Trials at Nuremberg:

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat.  Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.” 

So, that being said, what do we stand for in 2020? It is something that all of us all have to answer for, not just political, or business  leaders, but all of us.

If we are nor willing to protect and care for the least, the lost, and the lonely, what use are we? As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

As a Christian and humanitarian I cannot speak otherwise. If I cannot stand up for truth regardless of the cost, I am not worth the powder to blow me to Hell.

Think about that. Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A New Thread in the Tapestry of My Life: Serving People in the Age of COVID-19


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It is interesting to think about life, what has transpired, and what might have been if only…

Like anyone I wonder about all of the “what ifs” and “might have been” parts of my life. Of course there are many, going back to things that I could not control, such as the choices that my parents made regarding their lives, career, family, and home. Then there are my own choices, choices that I made, some for better, and some maybe for worse. Then there were the choices of men and women in my life and career that impacted my life and the decisions that I made, again for better or worse.

Some of my dreams, and nightmares too, involve those decisions, particularly the ones that I could not control; but then there were those decisions, particularly regarding my military career choices, that come back to haunt my dreams. Those can be troubling; the things that I volunteered to do and the costs of those to Judy as a result of those decisions. Many of those decisions, particularly my decisions to volunteer for certain deployments and operations have come at a great cost to both of us, the struggle with the effects of PTSD even ten years after my return from Iraq is still very real.

But then I am reminded that none of us have a crystal ball that allows us to see what the result of our decisions will be; none of us are God, or some other omniscient being. We make our decisions based on what we know, and what we think might be the outcome of our decisions.

If only my knees hadn’t been too badly injured and slow to recover I would have been out of the Navy, probably teaching history (now online) at the college level while relegating my calling as a priest to the background. But after that I  couldn’t retire, but due to a administrative error in calculating my statutory retirement date as I expected in April. I am now scheduled to retire in August, but with Coronavirus there is even uncertainty about that, and frankly I couldn’t care less, because I would rather serve and be in the thick of the fight than sitting on my ass or doing something that provides for me and Judy, but does not help in the time of crisis.

Between last spring when I first put in my voluntary retirement  paperwork working in the most miserable tour of all my time in the military, and doubting my call as a Priest, something miraculous happened. The screwed up knees and administrative mistakes ended up renewing my call and ministry among people I would never have expected to be serving. But even with that I never expected that I would still be serving on active duty at the age of 60, providing needed and valued ministry to people of all faiths, including atheists, in the midst of the novel Coronavirus 19 pandemic that is infecting some of them, or infecting and killing their family members, friends, or others that they know. Of course I take all of the guidance seriously to protect those I serve as well as Judy and me, but a new thread has been woven into the tapestry of my life. I felt the renewed call not long after I arrived, but this has solidified it.

I love the television series Star Trek the Next Generation. One of my favorite episodes is called Tapestry. In the episode Captain Picard is killed. He is then met by the being known as Q, played by John De Lancie for a do-over, a second chance to reverse a choice that he made as a young officer.

On Q’s promise that his choice will not alter history Picard takes the chance and he ends up regretting it. In his second chance to avoid the incident that allowed him to be killed he alienates himself from his friends, and turns him in to a different person, unwilling to take chances and doomed to insignificance. When he returns to his new present he finds himself alive but a different person. Instead of a starship captain is a nondescript lieutenant junior grade doing a job that he hates as an assistant astrophysics officer.

tapestry2

Distraught Picard complains to Q:

Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?

Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?

Picard: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion… and imagination! That is not who I am!

Q: Au contraire. He’s the person you wanted to be: one who was less arrogant and undisciplined in his youth, one who was less like me… The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. He never led the away team on Milika III to save the Ambassador; or take charge of the Stargazer’s bridge when its captain was killed. And no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe – and he never, ever, got noticed by anyone.

It is a fascinating exchange and one that when I wonder about the choices that I have made that I think about; because when all is said and done, my life, like all of ours is a tapestry. On reflection Picard tells Counselor Troi, “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I… pulled on one of those threads – it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.”

I think that I can agree with that. All the things in my life, the good things and the bad, as well as the paths not taken have all been a part of the tapestry of my life. I would not be who I am without them; and that I cannot comprehend. I would rather be the flawed me that is me, than the perfect me that never existed. Thus, all of those threads of my tapestry are in a sense, precious and even holy.

I’ll keep all of them, but of all I will remember this thread, as well as my combat tours, and life and death in ICUs and ERs the most. Suddenly at the age of 60 life has begun again. As the late great Sid Caesar once said:

“A great NOW will be a great WAS! A bad NOW will always be a bad WAS, and all you can hope for is a Great GONNA BE!”

As old as I am and as long as I have served, my future is yet to be written, and the tapestry of my life continues, even as new threads are woven into it. Every experience in my life has helped make me the person that I am. A friend of mine from my high school years sent me an email after I explained the experiences behind my writings, and noted “maybe all of that prepared you for such a time as this.” It was an affirmation by someone who doesn’t always share my political, social, or interpretation of the Christian faith that I am doing what I need to be, in such a time as this.

Value the tapestry of your life, and always find something good to life for and work towards.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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