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The Yuck Factor of American Religion – Getting Worse all the Time

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This has been a hard week for us as we lost our oldest (just 8 1/2 year old) Papillon Minnie on Monday. I wrote a couple of articles about our loss. Thursday was our 37th anniversary and while we went out, it was rather subdued. I haven’t posted anything of my own since Tuesday because of this, and because I have been working overtime to finish the revisions to my book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War and Afterwards, and Why they Matter Today”  so My Agent can market it here, and a German friend can begin publishing parts of it in the large German newspaper Die Zeit with the intention of getting a German publisher to publish it as well. I think that by the end of the week it will be done.

Likewise, we have been doing a lot of work getting the house ready for a new puppy that a good friend bought us when she found our Minnie had died, and doing some belated spring cleaning and downsizing. We are making arrangements to pick the puppy up from the breeder this week.

So today is a rerun that seems timeless because the toxicity of much of  what passes for religion, especially conservative Christianity has only continued to get shockingly worse than when I first published this article years ago. So on to the article.

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I fully agree with him based on my knowledge of human history and behavior. I strongly support religious freedom, so long as it is not abused by people to harm others. I get sick of religious liberty hyperbole when it is used by theocrats of all religious stripes. I am kind of like James Spader’s character, Alan Shore in Boston Legal; but then, maybe there is a valid reason that my seminary classmates at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary asked me why I wasn’t in law school. They did not mean it as a compliment.

During one episode dealing with a case regarding religious liberties Spader’s character (Whose God is it Anyway, Season Three Episode 5) said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

At this time though I am doing my best to fight budget cuts that could harm the rights of Navy and Marine Corps personnel of their rights to practice their religion in base chapels, cuts that will harm the religious rights of the most vulnerable service members and their families. I don’t have to agree with their religion, politics or theology, but I follow the Constitution, and legal precedent, not my own opinions on faith.

Let me explain.

Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed. Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, I have faith in a God I cannot see. I have faith in a God who clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed as a state criminal.

That being said I see many of my fellow Christians, not to mention those of other faiths who attempt to use their interpretation of what they believe are absolute truths and attempt to impose them on others. Using their houses of worship they indoctrinate believers into believing the “truth” including the judgment on non-believers.

I remember going through classes in my previous denomination which were entitled “The Government of God” and utilized Robert Bork’s book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline as its primary text. Obviously the class had little to do with faith, but was a tool by which we were indoctrinated to believe the political-religious ideology of our church leaders. There were several more texts, which basically echoed Bork’s thought, but they were taught in a manner is if they were as important as the often contradictory Biblical tests or the writings of the church Fathers, the great saints, scholastics or Protestant Reformers. It was an exercise in political indoctrination based on religious ideology. At the time I had no idea that what the church leaders were appealing to was nothing more than a variation on Christian Dominionism. I will not mention it’s name because most of those who taught this are not alive to defend themselves, and one, though I disagreed with his theology, I knew that he really did love people.

However, such ideology is incredibly dangerous, even when it is taught by well meaning people, because when people in power take it to heart and act upon it, all pretense of fairness, justice and integrity is lost. Those who are simply different are persecuted, those who do not tow a particular party or religious line are suspect, and the innocent are presumed guilty. It has happened throughout human history in every corner of the world, and it still goes on today.

I ended up rejecting that view of faith and life after coming home from Iraq, and for voicing my disagreement on a number of issues was asked to leave that denomination in 2010.

I believe again, but my doubts are real. But even more I have a belief in justice, and I believe that that justice itself cannot be built on absolutes. As Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found that as Picard said, “that life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with those who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that are built on faith and treat them as fact, despite the fact that they are not provable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted the problem well when he talked of this problem and described the dilemma of so many believers:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”

Even so believers of all faiths wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that at best are humanity’s best attempts to describe a God that is infinitely bigger and more complex than they believe. The contest then becomes not about God himself, but the manner that the human being who interprets God espouses as incontrovertible doctrine. Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

That certitude and the belief that we absolutely know the mind of a God who claims that we cannot know is the height of arrogance and it ensures that when we speak in terms of absolutes that we do not understand God, nor do we believe in justice, because as Captain Picard so wisely noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” Even the most devout of believers make exceptions, simply because they are human and can’t avoid it, unless they are sociopaths.

Henri Nouwen wrote something very profound that all who claim to know God’s absolute will or truth need to consider. Nouwen wrote: “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

The fact is that no one can be competent in God, and that those who claim to are either hopelessly deluded b their ignorance, or worse, are evil men masquerading as good. Those who pro port to know absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, posed by Commander Riker to Captain Picard when he talked about absolutes and life: “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” 

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

Thus our human justice, as feeble as it often is must take this into account: It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided and if based on emotion, hatred, racism or vengeance all clothed in the language of righteousness can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct.

Does it matter if we are doing it the sake of law and order, or for love of country, or to defend the faith; if at the heart of it what we call justice, or moral absolutes is nothing more than the implementation of an agenda to crush the powerless under our heel and promote even more injustice? If we lean toward the view that we are implementing the absolute law and will of God then we had better be sure, as Nouwen so well noted we can be competent in many things, but we cannot, as much as we deceive ourselves, be competent in God.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. As Patrick Stewart playing Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

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)

MOBILE, AL- AUGUST 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters after his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. The Trump campaign moved tonight’s rally to a larger stadium to accommodate demand. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

Donald Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, Ill., argues with protesters outside the UIC Pavilion after the cancelled rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Believe me, American religious theocrats, who have the ear of President Trump are using those rights to persecute and restrict the liberties of fellow citizens. That I cannot abide, because last year I was on the receiving end of it. I try not to go there because it brings up so many unpleasant memories, but I was reminded of them as I wrote this post. I will not revisit them as I wrote about them last July after I had been exonerated of the false charges.

But I will not stop fighting for the religious liberties of all, including the rights of non-believers. I admire the work of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Despite how they are characterized by many Christian theocrats, they supported me when I was under attack and well over 90% of their clients are Christians.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Nazi Doctors and Charité at War: Some Things Never Really find their Way into the Ash Heap of History

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I decided rewatch the German medical mini-series Charité at War. It is about the famous Charité hospital in Berlin, which along with the Robert Koch Institute is one of the most important hospitals and medical research centers in the world. It had begun as a hospital for patients infected with the plague in 1710. When the plague bypassed Berlin, it became a charity hospital for the poor and destitute and named by the order of Friedrich of Prussia.  In 1727 King Frederick Wilhelm I when he named it Charité and its mission became threefold, to care for the poor and indigent, a state hospital, and as a training center for military physicians. It would also become a teaching hospital associated with Humboldt University and the University of Berlin and it became a hub where some of the premier physicians, researchers, and clinicians in the world practiced. These included Dr. Rudolf Virchow, the founder of modern pathology, Dr. Robert Koch one of the founders of modern Bacteriology whose discoveries included the causative agents of anthrax, cholera, and tuberculosis and experimental support for the study of infectious disease. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his research on tuberculosis. It also hosted Dr. Otto Binswanger who decried a condition defined as subcortical dementia characterized by loss of memory and intellectual faculties, which is now known as Binswanger’s Disease. He also authored numerous works on Epilepsy, Dr. Emil von Behring who developed a vaccine for Diphtheria antitoxin for which he won a Nobel Prize, and Dr. Paul Erlich who who worked in the fields of hematology, immunology, and antimicrobial chemotherapy. He is credited with finding a cure for syphilis in 1909. He invented the precursor technique to Gram staining bacteria. The methods he developed for staining tissue made it possible to distinguish between different types of blood cells, which led to the capability to diagnose numerous blood diseases. Over half of German Nobel Prize winners have worked at or with Charité.

Now Charité is one of the world’s finest medical centers, schools, and research centers in the world, but things were different in the 1930s and 1940s during the reign of Hitler and the Nazis. while much of its good work would continue, members of its staff would participate in the T-4 Euthanasia program and others that would follow.

In my studies of the Third Reich and the Holocaust I have read a number of volumes dealing with Nazi medicine, eugenics, human experimentation, and the murder of those deemed “life unworthy of life.” I have read The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation, edited by George Annas and Michael Gordon, and previously read The Nazi Doctors by Robert J. Lifton, The Nazi War on Cancer, by Robert Proctor, the Nuremberg transcripts of the Doctors Trial, Hitler’s American Model: the United States and the Making Of Nazi Race Law, by James Whitman, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism by Stefan Kühl and made  visits to Dachau, Buchenwald, and the Hadamar T-4 Euthanasia Center.

In my career I have served as a member, or the head of ethics committees at major civilian and military medical centers. As such I have also had to read and study much about medicine, disease, and medical ethics. Much of my hospital time was done in ICUs and dealing with end of life matters, consulting with physicians and nursing staff. So I don’t take the subjects involved lightly, and I found the German television series Charité at War, which is available on Netflix to be fascinating.

My life has been deeply involved with history, Ministry, Medicine, and Ethics for decades. The series which is set in Berlin’s Charité hospital, a leading research center and major medical center is so interesting. It shows how even the most decent and idealistic people can be compromised in a medical system of an authoritarian and racist state.

The characters in the series are all based on real people. They are not composites, or factionalized versions. They include the true believers like SS Colonel and Psychiatrist Max de Crinis, who helped write the euthanasia laws of the Reich and used his position as Professor Of Psychiatry at Charité to turn wounded soldiers over to Court Martial as deserters, and to persecute homosexuals. He took cyanide to escape capture by the Soviets. Then there was Doctor and Professor Ferdinand von Sauerbruch, Professor Of Surgery at Charité who walked a thin line but publicly opposed the T-4 Euthanasia program and attempted to protect members of the German resistance. Sauerbach remained at the hospital treating patients until the Red Army captured it. He was known for his work with, tuberculosis, prosthetics, and the diagnosis of Graves Disease. He died in 1951. Then there was Professor Artur Waldhäusen, a pediatrician who became head of pediatrics at Charité who attempted to have his own daughter sent to a Euthanasia center, only to be found out by his wife who saved her daughter with the help of her brother. But of all the characters was the nurse Christel, who was so devoted to the Nazi message that she turned over nurses, physicians, and patients who she deemed traitorous to Professor de Crinis and the Gestapo, including Hans Dohnanyi, Brother in law of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The series is interesting because it shows ordinary people, even brilliant people can compromise their ethics and reputations serving an unjust regime. Some of these medical professionals were completely utilitarian in their ethics and had no empathy for those that they treated or sent to their deaths. Sadly, they are no different from people today. Bureaucrats, Physicians, Nurses, and yes even ministers can surrender their ethics, faith, and simple human decency, even those who claim to be Pro-life to serve regimes which are bent on the extermination of life unworthy of life and those that they consider to be subhuman.

Dr. Robert J. Lifton, the author of The Nazi Doctors wrote:

“In all fundamentalisms, and they are usually religious or political, there is the sense of profound threat to what are considered fundamental beliefs and symbols, and a compensatory invocation of a sacred text (the Bible, the Koran, Mein Kampf) as a literal guide to every form of action. History stops so that murderous therapy can be applied. While medicine does not provide the sacred text, one can revert to ancient practices of shamans, witch doctors, and tricksters who could be expected to kill in order to heal. For physicians as well as charismatic spiritual physicians, there is a release from Hippocratic restraint.”

That happened in Nazi Germany and other authoritarian states, as well as in our country around the same time of the Nazis. In our case the effort was led by Eugenicists whose ideas the German Eugenicists of Weimar promoted and which some of them and their students during the Nazi period would take to their logical extreme.  In the Nazi era German physicians engaged in some of the most criminal and unethical experiments and behaviors in history. Their examples were the American Eugenicists, and physicians who their experiments on living human beings at the Tuskegee Institute and other facilities. Since human nature is the one constant in history, do not be surprised if ideologically motivated physicians and scientists do the same thing the Nazi Doctors and the American Eugenicists did a century ago. Syphilis

The series Charité at War is as brilliant as it is disturbing. I recommend it highly, and if you watch it before going to bed I suggest that you start drinking heavily.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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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“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here…” America at the Tipping Point of Dictatorship and Democracy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I started this article last night but could not finish it because of how upset I was after seeing President Trump’s speech last night where he threatened the use of active duty military forces against protestors, declared an unorganized amorphous group known as Antifa, as a terrorist organization on the order of Al Qaida, and launched into a tirade worthy of Hitler in a teleconference with the nation’s governors.

But what got me was what happened during his speech. He promised the use of dominating protestors, as he ended his speech tear gas was launched and a line of unarmed peaceful protestors near St John’s Episcopal Church were suddenly assaulted by heavily armed police in riot gear and officers mounted on horseback. An aid station was overrun and two priests handing out water assaulted. I do not know if National Guard personnel were involved in the attack, which was ordered personally by Attorney General Bob Barr, so the President could walk from the White House, through Lafayette Square, and have a photo op holding a Bible in front of the church. It was  an act of absolute violence just to take a propaganda photo.

The Episcopal Bishop for Washington DC, Bishop Mariann Budde almost immediately after the incident:

“ I am outraged. The President did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor as you just articulated, did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now,” Budde told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360.”

“And in particular, that of the people of color in our nation, who wonder if anyone ever — anyone in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred words. And who are rightfully demanding an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country. And I just want the world to know, that we in the diocese of Washington, following Jesus and his way of love … we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this President. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love.”

While we were in Berlin a bit under two years ago I visited the German Resistance Memorial Center. The museum is located in what was the headquarters of the German Army in World War One, the Weimar Republic, and during the Nazi Era. On July 20th 1944, German Army officers attempted to kill Adolf Hitler, overthrow the Nazi regime, and end the war. Sadly, they failed in their attempt and most of those involved were tried and executed for what their criminal government considered treason.

Of course by the law of their times their act was treasonous, but morally it was all that men and women committed to the rule of law and human rights could do. Our founders even understood and enunciated that concept of liberty in their time.

One of the conspirators in the anti-Hitler plot was Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was well aware of how their actions would be categorized under current German law. The man who planted a bomb and attempted to assassinate and overthrow Hitler noted:

“I know that he who will act will go down in German history as a traitor; but he who can and does not, will be a traitor to his own conscience.” 

He was correct by the law of the times. All of the officers involved had all sworn a personal oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler as the Führer and Reichskanzler of Germany in 1934. At the time most of the men who swore that oath did not anticipate what would come, as many of us who took our oaths the the Constitution could imagine ever having to possibly disobey criminal orders, lawfully issued by the President? Today, actually yesterday evening, President Trump threatened states and cities which could not control protests with military intervention.

Many of the older officers had served in the Imperial Army and sworn an oath to the Kaiser and their dynasties of the lands where they entered service. That changed in 1918 when the Weimar Republic came into existence and military officers as well as civil servants swore an oath to the constitution rather than a person. We don’t have that excuse, our military officers have always sworn our oath to the Constitution and not any President or political party.

However, one year after Hitler came to power as Reichskanzler, President Hindenburg died. Hitler, seized the opportunity used the occasion to swear the military, as well as the civil service to a new oath. This oath was not to the Constitution, or to Office of thePresidency or Chancellor, but to him personally as the Führer and Reichskanzler. Though there have been no changes to our oaths of office, the President acts as he is the law, and the law is his word, and overrides the Constitution, it’s prescribed checks and balances between the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch, and the powers given under the Constitution to the States. Like Hitler, Trump has surrounded himself with yes men committed to serving him and ignoring the Constitution and law of the land.

Most German officers and civil servants, even those uncomfortable with Hitler’s policies, obeyed their oaths and simply stayed in their lanes and did their jobs, even when they had incontrovertible evidence of Nazi atrocities. They stood by as bystanders. Yehuda Bauer, Israeli historian and chronicler of the Holocaust, who with his family escaped Czechoslovakia on the day Hitler invaded it, and made their way to Palestine wrote these immortal lines: Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

Yet there were others who for a number of reasons, in some cases noble, and in others pragmatic, or even base, decided to break the oath they had sworn to Hitler in 1934. Among these men was General Ludwig Beck. Beck noted:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

Beck also wrote something that is all to important to any military officer, intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as diplomats in such times as we live today:

“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.” 

With the rise of legally elected authoritarian rulers in Europe and the Americas should concern men and women who have sworn to uphold the constitutions of their countries. These leaders campaigning against democratic institutions, and upon gaining power purge those institutions of opponents and use them to solidify their own power. The veneer of democracy is maintained while the soul of it is crushed, as it seems to be this very day as President Trump threatens and verbally insults governors, and uses the most heavy handed methods to crush mostly peace protests.  Almost all the Constitutional and institutional guardrails designed to prevent a President from assuming dictatorial powers have be rolled over and crushed. Too often those charged with guarding it are willing participants in its death, soldiers, civil servants, judges, and legislators. Such was the case in the Third Reich, and could well be the case here.

The problem is that President Trump as a malignant narcissistic sociopath who has no empathy for anyone, no respect for the Constitution or law, despite calling himself a “law and order president.” He has no scruples and there is no line he will not cause. His policies have been racist, homophobic, misogynistic, one sided to enrich the richest and impoverish everyone else. Though he bills himself as a defender of the Christian faith, he blasphemies its most sacred doctrines, scorns its command to love, carries a Bible for show, all to gain the allegiance of his most politically naive, theologically insipid, morally bankrupt, ethically challenged, and power hungry voting block in the nation, Conservative Christians. Russian dissident Gary Kasparov stated something that is burned into the DNA of President Trump:

“dictators & would be autocrats do not ask “Why?” when it comes to using power for their advantage. They ask “why not?”

With the COVID 19 pandemic still raging that he cannot control, and has simply abdicated his position to do anything constructive to solve; much less actually help the states with over 106,000 Americans now dead, over 40 million Americans are newly unemployed, businesses large and small are failing, and he does nothing. Even so the stock market is booming, even as he and the Republican Senate refuse to pass anymore aid to help those without jobs, small business owners who have lost everything, and those who will be soon evicted from their rental properties or have their homes foreclosed on in the next month or two. There is an obvious disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. And finally, we have massive civil unrest which could have been prevent had President Trump simply been civil and decent, rather that rude, crass, and unfeeling. Rather than addressing the truth of what was going on he retreated into his cloud-cuckoo-nest of acting tough while hiding in a bunker. Kasparov was completely right about him.

That is what Beck understood as well. Beck was certainly not perfect. He longed for the return of the monarchy and had the same cultural anti-semitism of most German conservatives, but he did not act on it. Instead, resigned his office as Chief of Staff of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia, became a member of the anti-Hitler resistance and died in the failed attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20th 1944. He was a career Army officer and a conservative, but he realized that there are limits to obedience in the face of evil.

Another officer, Colonel, later Major General Henning Von Tresckow noted: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.”  We can now just substitute Trump’s name in that quote, for in the case of many supposed conservative Evangelical Christians, Trump has become a Messiah figure.

Tresckow also noted: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” Again you can substitute Trump’s name in that quote. Tresckow also said: “It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?” The same is true in our day.

How harshly will history judge the American people if we allow this by our action, or inaction to keep going even as thousands of people a day continue to die of COVID19, more and more people losing their jobs, businesses and houses, and heavy handed police tactics claim the lives of more and more people, mostly Blacks and other people of color? Answer that question.

The more Trump says and does the more the world, and especially our oldest and most reliable allies wonder about us, and will seek ways to separate themselves from us if Trump remains in power. At the same time all of our real enemies like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran salivate as we self destruct. In fact they willingly participate in our destruction by doing things that help Trump stay in power by playing Americans off against one another through malicious use of the internet and social media.

Historian 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.”

Over the past couple of decades we have seem American police officers, state troopers, and sheriffs kill unarmed people in cold blood, many times their actions being recorded on video, only to be acquitted or sentenced to little in the way of incarceration or punishment. Last week a Minneapolis police officer with a long history of misconduct charges killed George Floyd after arresting him for a non-violent misdemeanor. Three other officers assisted. They were filmed by multiple witnesses, and Mr. Floyd died six minutes into his killer’s knee cutting off his ability to breath, as he reportedly  told the officers “I can’t breath” as witnesses said the same. None of the officers paid any heed and it wasn’t until nearly the eight and a half minute mark, the officer finally removed his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck, and Mr. Floyd was already dead. If that had been the only occasion of police brutality and over reaction, which now seems to be the standard operating procedure for many police departments, the application of the maximum use of force for any infraction, unless you are a heavily armed white man, in which case you get the benefit of the doubt.

This is not to say that probably the vast majority of law enforcement officers take their jobs seriously and are impartial dispensers of the law who go out of their way not to harm suspects. Sadly, there are a lot that do go out of their way to harm suspects, and with the support of political action committees and police unions laws are written to protect the bad actors from any repercussions from their misconduct.

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, for Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote in The Atlantic today:

While no one should ever condone the violence, vandalism, and looting that has exploded across our city streets, neither should anyone lose sight of the larger and deeper concerns about institutional racism that have ignited this rage.

As a white man, I cannot claim perfect understanding of the fear and anger that African Americans feel today. But as someone who has been around for a while, I know enough—and I’ve seen enough—to understand that those feelings are real and that they are all too painfully founded.

We must, as citizens, address head-on the issue of police brutality and sustained injustices against the African American community. We must, as citizens, support and defend the right—indeed, the solemn obligation—to peacefully assemble and to be heard. These are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

And neither of these pursuits will be made easier or safer by an overly aggressive use of our military, active duty or National Guard. The United States has a long and, to be fair, sometimes troubled history of using the armed forces to enforce domestic laws. The issue for us today is not whether this authority exists, but whether it will be wisely administered…

I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.

Furthermore, I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.

Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods. They are not “battle spaces” to be dominated, and must never become so.

We must ensure that African Americans—indeed, all Americans—are given the same rights under the Constitution, the same justice under the law, and the same consideration we give to members of our own family. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so.

Too many foreign and domestic policy choices have become militarized; too many military missions have become politicized.

This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership.

Admiral Mullen, though retired is a voice of conscience who understands the dangers of what the President, Attorney General Bob Barr, and their Congressional and media surrogates are doing. He is standing for all Americans, and though a White man who as he admits cannot fully understand the experience of Black Americans, he speaks truth. He is speaking prophetically to a President and Administration who though they attempt to appear to support the law of the land and represent themselves as the modern defenders of the Christian faith, even though all they do is antithetical to the Gospel.

Now, let’s say the active duty military, which is not trained in crowd control or riot control is unleashed on civilian protestors. I am sure that many soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen would refuse to follow unlawful orders, but then there are others who would shoot to kill with no reservations, especially since a President who has pardoned convicted war criminals gave the orders. This could fracture the military, and endanger national security. But it does not seem that this matters to the President, or most of his advisers and supporters. The SECDEF’s reference to the cities of the United States being battle space can easily lead to disaster. It doesn’t take a senior officer to order killings, just a nervous young squad leader, who after being told that he is in a combat situation and that anyone could be a terrorist, panics and orders his squad to fire on protestors. In that moment that squad could kill more Americans in minutes than the military killed terrorists in the last few years.

If the active duty military is committed to dominate the battle space, and kills people, the blood shed would forever stain the honor and reputation of the American military. We would be no different than the Wehrmacht soldiers who aided the SS Einsatzgruppen in the extermination of Jews in Poland and the Soviet Union during World War II, and we would be worthy of every condemnation, for even Hitler Refused to use the military for domestic police missions in Germany, he left that to the SS and the Ordungspolizei, which after Heinrich Himmler took over all internal police functions, fell under the command and control of the SS. 

I hate to put in those terms, but I have to ask this question. Will our military become an oppressor of our people when even Hitler forbade his to be?

The German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who ended up dying for his connection to the Herman conspirators against Hitler wrote:

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”

Bonhoeffer’s words are timeless and should send a chill through anyone who claims the Name of Christ, and supports what Trump is doing.

I leave you with that very disturbing thought for the evening.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

P.S. For the next few days I will be republishing articles on the Battle of Midway and D-Day in order to catch up on work for my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era and Beyond. 

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Filed under authoritarian government, civil rights, civil war, faith, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, ministry, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion

America’s Original Sin Revealed Again: The Malignant Open Wound of American Racism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Joseph Conrad wrote in his book Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” 

Those  words are terrifying when you think of them.

Since the first  African slaves arrived at Jamestown in 1619 the American experiment has not been without its flaws, mistakes, crimes, and to use the often frowned upon, its sins. There have been many sins in that experiment; the long term genocide committed against the original inhabitants of the country, the Native American tribes, which now reside in reservations with little economic opportunity and as the COVID 19 pandemic have shown, little access to healthcare and many other disadvantages built into treaties they signed with the government of the United States.

Then there are others as well, the treatment of almost every immigrant group at the hands of English, Scottish, and Welsh Protestants who dominated the political, economic, cultural, and sociological hierarchy of the new republic. That included the Irish and German immigrants who had their churches burned and treated as second class citizens by the Know Nothings of the 1830s to 1860s. Then there were Southern and Eastern Europeans, Jews from many countries, Japanese and Chinese, and then the Mexicans, who we robbed of 40% of of their country’s land by a war that Ulysses Grant said: “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.”

But all these aside, America’s original sin was the enslavement of millions of Blacks which sadly only ended in name with emancipation, Reconstruction, the XIII, XIV, and XV Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Instead of real freedom African Americans saw those rights wiped away by State Legislatures, beginning in the South but throughout much of the nation, enacted Black Codes, Voter Suppression programs, such as Poll Taxes and Voting Tests, and Segregation laws. These were backed up by White Nationalist and Racist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, and the White League. up to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Courts, going up to Supreme Court of the United States, which upheld voter suppression laws, Poll Taxes, and Segregation under the guise of separate but equal in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896. Of course while Plessy legalized segregation in all walks of life, it did nothing for equality, which for Blacks was ruthlessly destroyed. The courts also looked the other way when Black townships were attacked and massacred by the well armed Paramilitaries of the KKK, White Leagues, and Red Shirts, or the lynchings of Blacks that claimed thousands of lives.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Harlan, a former slave owner and in his dissent with the Plessy decision wrote:

“The destinies of two races, in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all should not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.”

Justice Harlan’s words were prophetic and directly address what is happening today.

Such crimes are still happening even today, sometimes by those that claim the mantle of the original lynching as in the case of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota which was captured on video from several sources, which showed an officer putting his full body weight on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes, 8 minutes in which Mr. Floyd begged for his life saying “I can’t breath,”  but by the time the officer now accused of his murder assist by three other officers, was dead. This was despite the presence of many witnesses who tried to persuade them not to keep killing him.

Mr. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill by a store owner. The crime was a non-violent misdemeanor, but the police responded as if Mr. Floyd had committed an armed robbery or murder. In fact he was unarmed and otherwise non-violently protest his arrest, he was killed. Though the mayor of Minneapolis called it murder and demanded that prosecutors act quickly, they demurred and delayed until protests broke out, which spun out of control. They have now spread  country, some peaceful, some that became violent, and some peaceful protests which were met with police spraying pepper spray and launching Tear Gas, into peaceful protestors, including at least one member of Congress.

Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.” 

President Trump embodies the words of Atticus Finch in that book. He has only fanned the flames with his tweets, and retweets which only incited supporters to help commit destructive acts, and provoked the protestors to respond in kind. The actual truth and facts of what happened in each case, beginning with the murder of George Floyd, will not be determined until all the forensic, video, and audio evidence provided by legitimate news organizations, ordinary citizens, and police records is examined to determine what happened in each demonstration following his murder. But after several days of inaction by prosecutors to change the police involved the anger burst into protests.

Malcom X said something very appropriate, and which if you have not experienced poverty, and discrimination, you may find it hard to empathize with the plight of American Blacks. The often  misunderstood Civil Rights leader said: “The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites.” What we tend to forget is that such treatment in Europe brought many English, Scots, Irish, Germans, and others to the United States, where their descendants emulated the behaviors of their ancestor’s oppressors, especially towards Blacks who many believed were sub-human, the same term used by the Nazis to describe the Jews. Think about if you or I were the products of such longstanding, pervasive, and institutionalized discrimination, how would you feel or what would you do? If you cannot answer the same as Malcom X, then you will never understand.

Sadly, this is nothing new to American Blacks, and who of us, if we were in their shoes would not protest, even in anger if their local, state, and Federal governments actually pursued policies of justice rather than passing laws that they refuse to enforce, and meaningless rhetoric promising better times, voting rights, civil rights, and equality. The last President to do this, at great political cost to himself as a Southern Democrat, who against his party’s wishes pushed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, as well as the promise of the Great Society. Had Johnson not gotten derailed by Vietnam he might have accomplished much more.

But what would White’s do if their civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcom X, as well as allies like Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, while lynchings continued. What would White America do if their churches, like the 16th Street Baptist Church, of Birmingham Alabama were bombed, or the parishioners Charleston, South Carolina’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church gunned down at a Bible Study by a hate filled murdering racist in 2015. What would we say if people fighting for our right to vote as were murdered in cold blood by on and off duty law enforcement officers and members of the Ku Klux Klan, as were Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney near Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964.

Today American Blacks are most impacted by the economic crisis and medical crisis caused by COVID 19 harder than the Black Community harder than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. If one were to be fair, who could not blame them for ceasing to believe the rhetoric of political leaders. Who could not blame the majority who protest peacefully, but who are demonized, and set up by others intent on inciting violence, be they angry Blacks, or White Nationalists following  social media posts designed by their developers, be they American supporters of racists groups or President Trump, or foreign actors, like Vladimir Putin’s Russian, or Premier Xi’s Chinese intelligence units attempting to exploit the divisions In the American electorate as they did in the 2016 Election which President Trump lost by one of the largest majorities of popular votes, while winning three states by slim majorities which gave him win in the Electoral College.

I won’t go into details of the various “news” and opinion articles I have seen over the past few days, because so much disinformation has been published That it is hard to wade through, and it will take time. I would rather be right on specific cases than engage in generalities, and right now the only thing I can be sure about is the historic precedent and the murder of George Floyd. As far as the individual protests, I cannot comment more until I see more evidence, especially when so much disinformation is being reported about the protests, and the President continues to throw gasoline on the fire by his out of control tweets, as do his supporters. Likewise he continues to use this as a Political weapon to attack Democratic Mayors, Governors, and his Democratic rival for the Presidency, Joe Biden, as well as the free press which tries to report the events honestly on the ground, which had left several reporters, and innocent bystanders injured by rubber bullets fired by police while covering the riots.

That being said I honestly believe that outside agitators, mostly from the political right if you believe the local leaders and not White House propaganda, including off duty police officers are inciting much of the violence and looting. That does not mean that there might not be some left wing agitators, but the left has nothing to gain from inciting violence, it would only make the lives of Blacks harder, and encourage more violence against them.

No American is benefitted by the actions of Donald Trump, who can play on the the imagined fears Whites of Black people by simply playing one off against the other. He learned well from his KKK member father, it’s only when it costs you money when it becomes important, but despite court judgments against him and his corporation, he continues. That makes it obvious that his hatred of Blacks is what really is driving his response, and he will pay the political price, even as the nation suffers as a whole suffers for his actions and words. To this end we must fight for justice and not be silent in the face of evil.

One cannot look on as a bystander when innocent and non violent people are being assaulted and killed by police. As Yehuda Bauer said:

“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.”

I have no idea how this is going to play out, but a coming economic depression, an unending pandemic which had killed over 105,000 Americans as of today, and now massive riots provoked by unnecessary police violence and the incredible inequality brought about by America’s Original Sin are a perfect storm to make things a lot worse.

The wounds caused by America’s original sin are so deep, gangrenous, and malignant that they cannot be healed simply applying a bandage and hope that they will heal. That’s pretty much what we always do, even when well intentioned pass laws that are ultimately ignored, gutted, or overturned by their opponents. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed on April 9th 1945 on the direct order of Adolf Hitler wrote these words:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

That is all of our task today, if we are silent, we are complicit in that original sin, and it becomes our personal sin as well. America’s Original Sin needs complete disinfecting, and major surgery to cut out and excise it from our identity. Evil is the absence of empathy, which is the mark of a malignant sociopath. If you can turn away from the plight of African Americans and America’s Original sin, then there is little hope for you, and our country. But like Nelson Mandela I believe:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

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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Fighting for the Lives of Others Against those that Value Money over People in a Pandemic

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today, or yesterday as it is now was a difficult day. I didn’t sleep well because of reading about an ER physician who served on the frontline against COVID 19, contracted and recovered from the virus, killed herself. She was the head of an ER Department in the Presbyterian Health Care system in New York. Reading about her death kept me awake thinking about all the other physicians, nurses, other hospital personnel and first responders are seeing things that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. They will be suffering from severe and chronic PTSD, as well as Moral Injury, and many, like Dr. Lorna Breen will end their lives by their own hand. They will commit suicide.

My lack of sleep left me listless and tired for much of the day, even when dealing with serious counseling cases, but thankfully I was able to listen well enough to ensure that I was alert enough to stay focused and remain with these people even though my mind kept trying to drift and my body wanted to simply pass out. What was harder was to go back to my email and to input analytic data on my activity to keep up with what the Navy wants; to quantify the unquantifiable aspects of what Chaplains, or therapists do when they care for others. I feel asleep more than once doing that. I should have got off my ass and the damned analytic tool and gone out and walked around the shipyard and interacted with people. So now, I still am awake, unable to go to sleep.

I don’t get on social media for the most part until after we have dinner. Over the past few days I have had a man who I served with server all years ago doing all he could to attack and discredit me on Facebook. I didn’t break total contact, but I had to block him from seeing my posts. His agenda was not about public health or trying to contain the rates of infection and number of deaths, than it was to defend political positions that put more value on profit than human beings. His attacks on my reliance on history, data, science, and the fact that I cannot put a monetary value on the lives of the people most likely to be infected or die from COVID-19.  I have used the term of the proponents of Euthanasia and the Nazi Regime: “Life Unworthy of Life,” to describe that belief currently.

Then out of the blue a former classmate of mine at the Joint Forces Staff College came after me because I made a sarcasm laced comment about a lady in North Carolina who led a Facebook group devoted to opposing that state’s social distancing and stay at home regulations, who over the weekend announced that she had tested positive for the virus but would still oppose those public health rules. My comment on the article stated that I found it ironic, but that I would find it more ironic if Darwin won and she died. I didn’t mean that I wanted to see her die, it just meant that I saw the irony in her being infected. For that I was condemned. The same was true for my comments about Vice President Mike Pence when he visited the Mayo Clinic without observing their PPE requirements while visiting patients. I criticized him for ignoring hospital policy and endangering the lives of imuunocomprized patients. In both cases I was accused of not representing the grace of God. The conversation continued for more time that I wanted to give it. However, God’s grace and mercy also have to tempered by justice.

When dealing with such people I have to remember the words of Sophie Scholl:

The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.

Sadly, both men used their fealty to President Trump to completely misrepresent what I said and try to twist my arguments by for all intents and purposes calling me a hypocrite motivated by politics. But truthfully I hold national leaders regardless of their political, religious, or ideological standards to the same standards when it comes to matters of public safety and public health. I insist that they set a personal example, and do all they can to protect life. Those who study, those who read, and those who take the time to think about the human, social, and economic effects of a pandemic, including Presidents Bush and Obama, who are both hated by Trump Cultists, are condemned.

I will put my life on the line for others, and even sacrifice things that give me pleasure to protect the lives of others. However, that is not the case with the cult. The dead, who now in under three months exceed our military deaths in over 10 years of the Vietnam War, and over a million infections, which total more than a quarter of all the deaths from COVID 19 worldwide and over a third of total infections  are inexcusable, especially because Trump and his Administration did all they could to deny, deflect, and blame others for the virus while they take no blame at all. As the President has said multiple times “I take no responsibility…” 

But since I was a young Army Officer I have insisted on higher standards of conduct from leaders. Even as a young officer I have had no problem confronting authorities who shirked responsibility or blame others for their policy or moral failures regardless of their party. That has been a key part of my identity since I was first commissioned in 1983. Since them I have been criticized and condemned for my candor and honesty. After Iraq I don’t fear death. In fact those who condemn me today, really do not know me. Otherwise they would know that my basic instinct to to chose fight over flight, and march to the sound of the guns, regardless of personal consequence. I would rather die with honor knowing my actions have saved lives than expose others to possible death. Jesus said: No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Truthfully, that is 180 degrees opposite of what Trump’s supposedly Christian Cult advocates. For them the whole thing is about their personal loyalty to a serial liar and narcissistic sociopath who has no regard for the Constitution, the institutions, and laws of our country than he has for the lives of its citizens, so long as they get to be power players. My friends, that is not the Gospel, it is the heresy of anti-Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“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.”

Sadly, the cultish enablers of Trump have forgotten the responsibility that comes with discipleship. I cannot do that. I have seen too much needless death in peace from pandemics, and in war from illegal and irresponsible actions, to to protest that the real complaining party the bar of justice is civilization itself. No country can survive a philosophy that devalues human life in a life and death crisis for the bottom line of the economy, as well as  personal and corporate profit that only sentences the least, the lost, and the lonely to death, so we can go back to enjoying the good times of uninhibited gratuitousness and great. Who cares if the restaurant worker, or grocery clerk making a subsistence living dies because we open up the economy without adequate personnel protective equipment, adequate health insurance, or having effective drugs to save lives, or a vaccine to parent infection in place, even as less than 2% of the total population has been tested? Honestly, I don’t see any of the government or church leaders advocating for the immediate opening of the economy and tossing aside the only means to prevent further mass death, taking a stand against a suicidal policy, that will end up killing too many more and damn our country forever.

Yes, the true complainant at the bar of justice itself is humanity and civilization itself, and the accused are those who would sacrifice all for their financial bottom line, or position of political power.

As long as I have breath I will fight against that kind of regime. To paraphrase General Henning von Tresckow, a leading figure in the attempt to overthrow Hitler: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Trump’s America.”

Until tomorrow,

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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Going Forward into the Past: Coronavirus-19 Easter 2020 and Going Back to Our Roots

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This kind of returns to the theme of the article I wrote on Good Friday. On the first Good Friday the followers of Jesus fled the scene and hid. The same was true on the first Holy Saturday, and yes, even the first Easter Sunday. If it had not been for the appearance of Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and a woman named Salome coming to anoint his body according to Luke, Mary Magdalene alone according to John,  or Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus according to Matthew and Mark just to visit the tomb we can remain assured that the male followers would have remained in their spider holes until they were sure that it was safe to come out. Regardless of the account it was one or all of these women who found Peter and John, who ran to the tomb to find it empty. Then they returned to discuss the matter with whoever of the disciples they could find, except Judas Iscariot who was simply hanging around and rotting, but I digress.

What is important is that they pretty much remained in hiding until Jesus made his first port-Resurrection visits to them. Even then, they didn’t do much in public and were not engaged in preaching or knocking on doors to share their faith. One of the disciples, a man named Thomas expressed his doubts until he met Jesus face to face when Jesus made one of his appearances. During the encounter challenged by Jesus to put his hands in the wounds on his hands and side. Personally, I think it would be good for all Christians to experience doubt, or even what Saint John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul, or the total absence of any feeling of the presence of God. However, in our Americanized profit before prophet materialistic and success absorbed church, that message is a hard sell. Perhaps the Coronavirus 19 pandemic will change that, but only time will tell.

I think that what is happening now with the Coronavirus-19 pandemic has shaken our faith in the illusionary comforts and successes of this life. I think that this illusion of control needs to be shaken to the core, especially for the Christian, regardless of tradition, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, or Pentecostal/ Charismatic. German theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote:

“In a civilization that glorifies success and happiness and is blind to the sufferings of others, people’s eyes can be opened to the truth if they remember that at the centre of the Christian faith stands an unsuccessful, tormented Christ, dying in forsakenness.”

This is not a denial of the resurrection, but a realization that while Christ is risen, that we still live in a world that is afflicted by the actions of human beings to exploit it, destroy it, and exploit and dehumanize other human beings in quest of power and profit. It is the obligation of the Christian and other people of faith to stand up against respond to the plight of suffering people, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Tonight I read the story of a Pentecostal Church in Beckley West Virginia devoting its Easter weekend to using 3D printers to manufacture face masks and shields to CDC and FDA specifications for local hospital workers who are desperately short of PPE. I was blown away. They understood that the mission of Christian, the Church as well as other believers in such as situation is not just simply praying or gathering, but rather doing what they could to act, to do something more than gathering, praising, praying, or celebrating while others suffer and die.

I have learned and still am learning what Bonhoeffer so eloquently wrote not before he was killed by SS at Flossenburg on the personal order of Hitler:

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

I truly believe that this pandemic is an opportunity to re-learn what our ancestors in faith knew from experience: That faith is most real when there is little worldly to hope for, when our illusions of worldly power, and with it the power, and exclusivity of the Church are broken down by something smaller yet more disruptive and deadly than the leaders of our greatest cathedrals, or most massive megachurch stadiums could ever imagine, because what we worship is not spiritual, but material treasures. We, and I mean me as well, have often found our worth in our possessions, those things that we think we own or or think we possess.

This horrible pandemic is by no means over. It will most likely continue to wash over our planet like tsunami waves disrupting our lives and killing many. Between each wave there intervals of comparative quiet, until the next wave hits. This will continue until a vaccine is developed and provided around the world. That could take a year to eighteen months. During that time our lives will be changed in ways that none of us can imagine.

But in the midst of this, when ways out seem so fraught with danger, on Easter we have to remember hope. As Moltmann wrote:

“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.”

That is the task now, not just of Christian, but of all people of faith as well as those who do not believe in God or any higher power. We have to focus on the redemption of the real world, and doing everything we can to alleviate the suffering of others and not abandoning them, as we hope that others will not abandon us in the hour of our need. As Bonhoeffer noted we have to see the world through the eyes of Jesus in Gethsemane.

If people of faith, Christian or not, respond by loving and caring for those who before we didn’t think were worthy of the love of God, or probably more accurately believed were unworthy of associating with us, then maybe people will believe our message again.

When I was a teenager growing up in the middle of the Jesus movement in the 1970s there was a Christian Rock Group out of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa named Daniel Amos. Written by Terry Scott Taylor, the Song, Losers and Winners  https://genius.com/Daniel-amos-losers-and-winners-lyrics  reminds us that being a Christian, or for that matter any member of any faith, that God cares for everyone, regardless of who we are or our status in life, and we should too.

I ain’t namin’ names
But I sense that some pride remains
And I do not want to exclude myself
But I had to take a look
In the light of God’s own Book
So see if this sin ain’t yours as well
Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose
Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you
Do you give the highest place
To someone ’cause you like his face
And turn aside those you deem less than yourself?
Well, love that is natural
Can be less than satisfactual
For we all are one, no less than anyone else,
Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you
So until tomorrow, let that sink in. The Jesus I believe in loves and cares for everyone, and his command is that his followers do the same.
So in this unusual for our age Easter and Easter season let us remember that it is not about us and our superiority, prosperity, privilege, pride, or worldly possessions or honor that we live. Nor is about our theology or who we believe God, is, or what our doctrine teaches about the Deity Himself or Herself, but it is for others, regardless of our faith, their faith, or lack of it, for we all are human beings on the Big Blue Marble that we call Earth. We live or die together.
Until tomorrow or whenever,
Peace,
Padre Steve+

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