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Statues With Limitations: Time to Take Them Down

The Confederate Monument in Portsmouth, Virginia in 2017 and on June 11th 2020

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to apologize for the delay in getting this out. I have been working on most of the week. In fact, I thought I would have it ready on Wednesday night, but I was not happy with my revisions and the situation kept changing. So I kept editing, redoing, adding and deleting. That consumed Thursday night and Friday night as well as I tried to include the bases named for former Confederates is well. I quit last night and decided enough, that I would use what I had written about them in a separate article.  

This is a heavily edited and revised consolidation three articles that I wrote in 2017 following the White Nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, that the violence inflicted on the counter-protestors by the White Nationalists.  Of course that was when President said that “there were very good people on both sides.” I shuddered when I heard his words. Since then the President doesn’t even try to hide his massive amount of racism and admiration for the republic built on the foundation of slavery, whose descendants and supporters through the south and even in the north, erected monuments which were for the most part to perpetuate the memories of traitors, and to remind Blacks that they were not equal.

Over the past two weeks this topic, which was shut down pretty quickly after Charlottesville, has risen again with good reason. The brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a White police officer, which was followed by protests with a militarized police response, causing additional violence against unarmed and mostly peaceful protestors. The President Trump ordered an attack on peaceful protestors by heavily armed federal police and National Guardsmen, firing tear gas, firing rubber bullets, and brutalizing people indiscriminately following a speech from the Rose Garden to the Nation. He did it for a photo op outside St. John’s Church where he held up a Bible like a weapon. I never felt more afraid of an American President than I did at that moment. Overwhelming numbers of people agreed, and some of the finest, most honorable, and distinguished military leaders this nation has produced since Vietnam began to speak out, former Secretary of Defense and Marine Corps General James Mattis compared Trump’s actions to those of Hitler and the Nazis. And still Trump tweeted, but military commanders and governors took action.

Admiral Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations set about the process of banning the official or unofficial display of the Confederate flag on Naval Bases. The Commandant of the Marine Corps extended his ban on it to bumper stickers, and flags on cars, clothing, or displayed in barracks rooms. Governors, Mayors, and City Councils began to order or debate the removal of statues on public grounds. The Army announced that it would consider renaming bases named in honor of former Confederate Generals, only to have Trump defend names of the bases and state that they would not be renamed. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted that the bases should be renamed and included that in the National Defense Authorization Act, which the President has promised to veto if the amendment was included.

But last night at least two important Confederate Monuments were toppled or so heavily damaged before authorities could have them removed. The first was the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Richmond’s Monuments Boulevard, which was toppled from its base. The other was Portsmouth, Virginia’s monument to “Our Confederate Dead.” The city council had taken up a discussion about removing the monument, but demonstrators accompanied by a brass band with no police intervention, heavily damaged it amid a party like atmosphere.

Truthfully, it reminded me of when East Germans tore down the wall, and other Easter European nations topped statues of Stalin and other Communist leaders in 1989 as they overthrew their Communist governments. Sadly, it was marred when one man trying to clear people out of the way of a statue that was being pulled down was pinned under it and seriously injured.

Context is Everything

Why they Fought: Willing Volunteers or Draftees

The context of the placement of the Confederate Monuments is paramount as I will explain, and my comments are not meant to impugn the lives of people’s ancestors. However, what motivated these men to fight is part of the context. Many, who were not professional soldiers, especially early in the war were eager and willing volunteers with dreams of glory, speedy victory, and return to normal life after the Confederacy achieved independence. While many did not own slaves, and were poor, the fact that they were White, meant that they were at least not at the bottom of the social ladder. Likewise, some slave owners, some who held many and others just a few felt strong enough to join up.

My family on both my paternal and maternal sides fought as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry on the side of the Confederacy, despite their part of Virginia officially siding with the Union and becoming the state of West Virginia. One of them, the family patriarch on my paternal side was a slave holder who after the war refused to swear his allegiance to the United States and quite possibly was a member of White Supremacist groups after the war. There is no doubt of what he fought for, and the fact that he was a traitor and remained a traitor to our country.

I don’t know as many details about the maternal side except they were part of the same regiment, none were subject to conscription and as such all volunteered willingly to fight against the United States. For me that is a problem, I find it hard to honor their military service because it was against the United States. There are no records that I know of, no letters that they wrote which say what they thought, and they are not “mentioned in dispatches” (the manner in which the Confederate Army honored soldiers) for any particular gallantry, in fact the history of the regiment mentions that my paternal family patriarch, an officer, deserted in February of 1865.

I also have draw a distinction between the kinds of men that served in the Confederate Army. In particular I make a distinction between those that were eager volunteers for the Confederacy, like my ancestors, and those who were unwilling conscripted in the Confederate Draft beginning in early 1862. Interestingly enough the Confederates resorted to a draft before the Union because the Confederate Army could not get enough willing volunteers. These men were drafted, often against their will, and the Confederate draft had exemptions for the rich, and slave owners, who could pay for substitutes, and go on with their life running plantations. However, a few notable slave owners, like Wade Hampton of South Carolina not only did  not take advantage of that privilege, to volunteer, but Hampton went beyond volunteering, but actually armed and equipped what was in effect a combined arms regiment of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. He was a volunteer, who had never served in the U.S. Army and he served throughout the war, serving with distinction, and went home to nothing.

Most of the soldiers drafted had no means to pay for a substitute or did not have the political connections to escape it. Interestingly one of the notable exemptions to the Confederate Draft were the men who were exempted because they owned more than ten slaves or worked for someone that owned more than 20 slaves. This was known as the Twenty Slave Rule, which was modified in Draft Law of 1864 to 15 slaves. As you can imagine many poor Whites who owned no slaves found the rule to be quite unjust, but this kind of privilege is just that, quite unjust.

As a result the conscripts were frequently abused by the willing volunteers and their commanders, and frequently deserted. When found, most were summarily executed following a Drumhead Trial. As the war became more desperate, deserters were summarily executed without any trial. Hundreds of deserters from the Army of Northern Virginia were executed in the last months of the war by the direct order of Robert E. Lee simply because they were trying to go home to their families who had been displaced by the advance of Sherman’s army in Georgia and the Carolinas. These men were victims of the war and secessionist leaders as much as anyone. If you read some of their letters they are heartbreaking.

All of those who volunteered to serve the Confederate cause were traitors. But the men who had previously been officers in the United States Army or Navy, or in high Federal office, were far worse, because they broke their oath of office. No-matter their reason for serving the Confederacy, none of their their gallantry as soldiers, battlefield heroics, leadership skills, or tactical brilliance matters because they were traitors to the United States. Yes they were Americans, and many had served honorably before the Civil War, but that makes them no less traitors.

After the war a some of the survivors reconciled with the Union, and openly opposed the growing myth of the Lost Cause, and took no part in subsequent violence or in implementing discriminatory measures against the now free Blacks. Among the most prominent of these men were Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, John Mosby, and Billy Mahone. I have little doubt that A.P. Hill would have joined them had he not been killed in action at the end of the war. Following the war Hill’s widow opposed Jubal Early and other proponents of the Lost Cause.

Longstreet, received a pardon and his citizenship with the help of the Radical Republicans who were most vocal in terms of Reconstruction, and he announced his support for the election of Ulysses S. Grant in the 1868 election. For this he was condemned by many former Confederates. He received an appointment as Surveyor of Customs New Orleans. In 1872 he was appointed as head of the Louisiana Militia, by the Republican Governor. In 1873 he sent troops to stop the threat of an attack on the majority Black town of Colfax, but they arrived a day after several hundred members of the White League committed what is now known as the Colfax Massacre. In 1874 he led the New Orleans Police, and local militia, including Blacks to defend the temporary capital against a force of more than 8,400 members of the White League, which outnumbered his force by more than two to one. The action became known as the Battle of Liberty Place by opponents of Reconstruction and White Supremacists. During the action he was wounded, his men defeated and Grant sent in Federal troops to restore order. The supporters of the Lost Cause despised him because he told the truth when they claimed that States Rights, not Slavery. Longstreet on hearing this, said “I never heard of any other cause of the quarrel than slavery.” Longstreet in word and deed proved his loyalty. Despite the fact he was one of the corps commanders in American history, and stood for what was right after the war he did not get a Fort named after him.

Robert E. Lee himself did reconcile and opposed the use of the Confederate flags, uniforms, and monuments, after the war, but still held very racist views and never apologized for his actions. I will explore Lee’s actions during the secession crisis, during, and after the war the at a later time because for the most part they are neither honorable or noble.

Interestingly, very few monuments, except those on battlefields are dedicated to these men in the South, except for Robert E. Lee who ironically wanted no part of them. Nor are there monuments in the South to Southern officers who remained loyal to the Union during the war including Generals Winfield Scott, George Thomas, John Buford, John Gibbon, Montgomery Miegs, and Admiral David Farragut.

Likewise there is another class of men who have to be considered when dealing with the Monument Controversy. These were the political leaders whose actions led directly to the deaths of three quarters of a million men, including hundreds of thousands of Southern men, and the destruction of much of the South. How even the most devoted Southerner who wants to honor their soldiers can tolerate monuments to these political leaders who got so many of them killed  in their back yards is beyond me. These were also the men who ensured that primary reason for secession given in their various articles of secession for each state was preserving and expanding slavery, while maintaining white superiority. As Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens noted in his Cornerstone Speech:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

There is a final group that needs to be considered. These were Confederate veterans, including notables like General Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as men who did not serve in the war who joined paramilitaries such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, and the White Leagues, that terrorized and killed newly free blacks, sometimes destroying whole towns or neighborhoods in the process.  There were others politicians, turned soldiers, and went into politics again who established the Black Codes. These were pre-Jim Crow laws that placed many former slaves into a form of slavery by other means, imprisoning them and making them forced laborers on plantations, and businesses, many owned by Northerners.

Racism and slavery was at the heart of the war, and it proved to be not just a Southern problem. Many Northern businesses and banks had a strong financial interest in slavery, and there was a strong anti-war, pro-Confederate movement, known as the Copperheads in the North that fully approved of slavery, the post-war Black Codes, and Jim Crow. Likewise there were many Northerners who were just as racist as any Southerner, before, during and after the war. There were and are still are some  Sundown Towns, though they don’t openly say so, in the North and states that were never a part of the Confederacy. In no way can all Northerners be fully excused from the crime of slavery, nor can many be absolved of being as racist any pro-slavery Confederate or Jim Crow proponent. Some of these men have monuments built in their honor which likewise should be examined if we are going to talk about the Confederate monuments.

As to the monuments themselves, the vast majority were erected after the Plessy v. Ferguson case that legalized the Jim Crow Laws and empowered the movement to disenfranchise blacks, to fire them from positions in Federal and State governments, and to use violence against Blacks to keep them in line. Almost all of the monuments which were erected between 1895 and 1930 were put up not to honor the men who served but to remind Blacks of their status. The same is true of the next major surge of monument building which occurred during the Civil Rights movement, again to demonstrate to Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, and many of these monuments were erected in places where no Confederate soldiers came from, and others which commemorate men who committed terrorist acts and murder against Blacks in the years after the war. In many case these monuments are located in cities and towns that are heavily African American. Two of these are no far from where I live in Norfolk and Portsmouth Virginia. They have different histories which I think leads to a discussion about their context.

Context and Placement Matter

Alexander Pope wrote “Monuments, like men, submit to fate.” 

Instead of going directly into what I think should be done with these monuments but think that a little bit more background and context is necessary. That context is best put in the difference between history and memory. History, is made by people because it has real world effects cannot be erased because for good or bad its effects always are with us. Memory on the other hand is often selective and tends toward sentimentally, or our sense of anger, or grief  over over past losses or the loss of a mythological past.  Because of that, memory often leads to the preservation of things that provide us with a certain sense of comfort, or things that buttress our innate sense of superiority and desire for revenge.

Statues and monuments themselves have to be taken in their historical context: especially what they meant to the people that erected them and the era in which they were constructed. From time immemorial people and nations have erected statues and monuments to dieties, empowers, kings, generals, and yes, even philosophers and historians. They have also sought to commemorate the lives of soldiers who died in various wars, in part to honor their dead, as did the ancient Athenians at Kerameikos, but more often to build upon a sense of national myth and purpose, to link the sacrifices of yesterday’s leaders, or soldiers to their current generation’s political, social, and even spiritual urges.

Some religions like Judaism and Islam have traditionally frowned upon the erection of statues and images that represented their dieties, their saints, or their leaders, fearing that such images could lead to idolatry. There was even a constroversy in the Christian Church, the Iconoclast Controversywhich dealt with the issues of statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or Saints which took more than a hundred years to resolve.

In Western society, especially since the Romans there has been a conscious attempt by nations to built statues and monuments to their leaders and other men, as women seldom rated such honor, whether the men actually deserved honor or not. As such there are monuments across Europe in prominent places to honor men with political, social, hereditary, or economic connections. Often when compared to their contemporaries, or others, before or after them, did little to be heirs to such honor. This does not mean that they were necessarily bad people, or even unworthy of the honor of their time, but rather that they are undeserving of perpetual honor in the most public of locations, or in places unconnected with where they made their name.

Cemeteries and museums are the best places for statues which have past their effective life in the public square. Removing them from places of honor does nothing to harm history, nor does it write them out of history. I like how the Old Testament writers of the books of the Kings and Chronicles end their discussions of the kings of Israel and Judah. They note that these men’s lives and deeds, good and evil, are written about and where they were buried to be with their ancestors. An example of the is Jehu, one of the kings of Israel in the book of Second Kings: “Now the rest of the acts of Jehu, all that he did, and all his power, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?”

Since the Jews of the Old Testament did not build statues to their leaders for fear of idolatry, they ensured through the oral, and later the written tradition that these leaders, the good and the bad, were remembered for their work and contributions, as well as their failures. The Islamic tradition is quite similar.

The ancient Greeks, particularly those of Athens chose to use the cemetery as a place to remember their dead. In dedicating the Mount Auburn Cemetery during the Greek revival, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.”

Cemeteries are always places where the dead can be honored or remembered, and where their descendants can find comfort and even sense the presence of their departed ancestors.

But the public square is another matter. Times change, societies change, governments and systems of governmental change. The statues that the early colonists of the British American colonies erected to King George III after the French and Indian War, had no place in the new republic and were removed. Monuments to Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin where removed from their places of prominence in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania once those countries escaped Soviet domination. After the Second World War, the new Federal Republic of Germany banned any monuments to Nazi Leaders as well as the use or display of Nazi paraphernalia. Instead, resisters to the Nazis, as well as the victims of the Nazis have been honored and remembered, especially those killed in the Holocaust. Since reunification Germany has continued to honor the victims and resistors much to the new generation of Germans born in the former East who know little about the evil of the Nazis and seek to follow their example.

However, when a monument is located in prominent place it makes a statement about the values and character of the people who put it there and the times in which they lived. But as I said, times changes, as do societal values, and in the case of the cause of the Civil War, so do views on race and the value of other human beings.

Statues in public places dedicated to specific individuals or events tend to have a shelf life, which means that they regardless of who they are dedicated, to need to be periodically re-examined in the light of history to see if they should remain in their current place of honor or be moved to a different location.

But, the United States is a comparatively young country, our oldest monuments are likewise comparatively new, and many pale in comparison to those of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In those areas multiple civilizations and empire have risen and fallen, massive monuments have been erected, toppled, or faded away. Many surviving monuments now are in museums, in collections of antiquity representing fallen civilizations, or have been moved from places of honor and replaced by ones that more appropriately represent the current national culture and experience.

As we approach the first quarter millenium of our experiment as a republic it is a good time to look at what we have commemorated with monuments and make considered decisions about each of them, and not just Confederate monuments.

Obviously many, especially those that deal with our founding as a nation and our founders need to stay, but others should be replaced, or removed to more appropriate venues. In cases of monuments that memorialize the most shameful parts of our history, and men whose actions subjected others to inhuman treatment, and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands we do have options of what to do with them which now have to be exercised.

One option could be to leave them where they are and place other monuments and markers to explain the historical context and promote truthful history versus myth, as we have with men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  In both cases we honor the good but we own up to other things about them.

Another option is to remove them, but what replaces them should be well thought out. This actually goes beyond the monuments themselves. Our actions have to do with history, historical preservation, and the narrative that a community wants to communicate about its history, its values, and yes, even its future. Whatever replaces the monuments we replaced, for good or bad in the long run, are part of what bind generations together, or drives them apart.

A third option is destroying them,  especially those dedicated to men who were evil, or represented evil causes. In the case of many of the relatively generic mass produced monuments to Confederates during the Plessy v. Ferguson and Civil Rights Era, the monuments were not placed to honor long dead soldiers but to stick a finger in the eyes of Blacks, and defy those who called for more than emancipation, but true equality.

It think in the case of truly evil men that their statues and monuments should be placed in poorly kept parks, at eye level with other statues like them. This allows people to view them not as exalted figures, but as for their littleness and evil.  A number of Eastern European countries have done this with statues of Stalin, Lenin, and others from the Soviet era.

But the generic mass produced ones are another matter. They are of no particular quality, their value only in reminding Blacks that they are despised.They should be removed, and if someone wants them as a backyard ornament, or if someone wants them to stand guard over the graves of Confederate dead as they lay in repose. That may be the best option, but there are so many of them.

The placement or monuments is of more importance than their existence, and their contexts matter. Honore De Balzac noted: “With monuments as with men, position means everything.

Removal, Relocation, Preservation, or Destruction: What Now?

It is interesting to see how memory and myth cloud history when it comes to monuments, especially those to the Southern Confederacy. This confederacy that was described by its Vice President, former US Senator Alexander Stephens in these words:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” 

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who so many monuments are dedicated was not happy with his Vice President’s remarks. This was not because he didn’t believe them himself,  but because Stephens honesty could hurt the cause of the Confederacy abroad. Davis knew that France and Britain had to recognize and support the Confederacy was to survive.  He noted:

“That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.” 

How President Trump’s closest advisors, who tend to be better read than him, cannot understand the purely Machiavellian words of Jefferson Davis is beyond me. How they think that openly proclaiming racism is harmful to their policies and political goals is beyond me. Likewise how the President can tweet it or repeat them can only be described in three ways: he is no political genius, he is completely ignorant of history, or that he really is the embodiment of evil. I don’t see any other choices.

The sad fact is that the vast majority of the Confederate monuments, wherever located, were not built to honor the several hundred thousand Confederate dead; but rather to remind Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, wherever the were erected. They are monuments to White Supremacy, racism, and to intimidate Blacks in the public square.

This is most evident by looking the periods during which they were constructed, eras in which discrimination, intimidation, and violence against Blacks was predominant. Very few were built in the first two decades following the war, but the first big surge in construction came in the aftermath of Plessy v. Ferguson in the 1890s the although some of those, including the monument which was for the most part destroyed in Portsmouth, Virginia last night were funded  by the wives, mothers, and children of the fallen; were not erected until the 1890s as every right of Blacks was stripped away, not just in the South, but in the entire United States.

Honestly I cannot understand why any of these monuments remain where they are some 155  years later, unless the context of their construction and monuments or historical narratives to the victims of the Confederacy and the institution of Souther Slavery are placed alongside. I am hard pressed to explain why they remain in places of honor. Instead if displayed they should be displayed as symbols of shame next to monuments dedicated to the victims of slavery, and those who fought to destroy it, along with historical exhibits that show the depth of the evil of the era and the suffering or the victims, as otherwise good people watched everything and did nothing.

But most memorials to the Confederate dead memorials, the very few that were built other than expressions of White Supremacy are a tiny minority. Most of the Confederate monuments that spark such freak show of White grievance today were erected anywhere from 30 to 150 years after the war.

The periods that they were built are interesting of themselves. The biggest spike in construction began in the immediate aftermath of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that legalized Jim Crow and the second during the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement beginning around 1948. The chart below provides a good representation of when the Confederate monuments were built.

As I mentioned I think that each monument should be examined based on its historical merit. Since the vast majority of these monuments happen to be from the days of the Confederate resurgence after Plessy and at the height of the Dixiecrat response to the Civil Rights movement beginning after Brown v. Board of Education which overturned Plessy in 1954, there is nothing redeeming in the vast majority of them.

So I am going to use the example of the monuments in Hampton Roads area as a teaching point.

In the Commonwealth Virginia where I live, there were 223 Confederate monuments standing at the time of Charlottesville, the most of any state. That is in a sense understandable due to it being the largest state in the Confederacy as well as the site of its capital. There are three major public monuments located in South Hampton Roads as well as a number of monuments in local cemeteries throughout the area.

The one located in Portsmouth is the oldest and the most interesting from a historical point of view. Planning and fund raising for it began in the late 1860s shortly after the war and it was dedicated on the site where slaves were whipped and punished in the town square. It was dedicated in 1893. The head of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter say that it was placed there when a church where it was planned to be located backed out. I do not know the veracity of that claim. That being said the location is still problematic, especially since Portsmouth has been a large Black population,  and many of the Black families in Portsmouth trace their roots to the slaves of the city’s ante-bellum times.

The monument itself was, before its destruction last night most interesting monuments that I have seen. It is an imposing sight in the old court square. At its center is an obelisk on which is inscribed To Our Confederate Dead. The obelisk is surrounded by four statues representing an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artillleryman, and a sailor. It was one of the most impressive Confederate monuments I have seen, but despite the fact that it was funded by war widows and their families, it could not remain in place. It stood in the place where slaves were auctioned and a block from where they were held in deplorable conditions until they were auctioned off like cattle.

Three years ago I thought it be would fitting if the monument was moved in its entirety to a cemetery in the city where Confederate war dead are buried. It could be replaced by any number of monuments, perhaps one to the Portsmouth’s war dead from the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and the current wars which have been going on since 2001, or maybe even better a monument to the victims of slavery, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow with an adjoining historical and research center. The Germans do this with concentration camps. However after it was shattered on June 10th, I think that it it is time for it to be removed. I think that if its supporters want they can pay for it to have dismantled, removed,  and restored so it can be displayed in a private location out of public view, they can. However, I think that maybe the city to move it to a less prominent position and leave it the way it is as a reminder to future generations, with an explanation of where it stood and why it stood there. It would kind of be like the preserved remnants of the Berlin Wall.


Norfolk’s monument is another case in point. After Portsmouth’s monument was destroyed, Norfolk’s Mayor announced that the statue crowning it would be removed in 24 hours weather permitting, and that the monument it stood on would be removed within two weeks. I wish that Portsmouth had the sense to do that in 2017, or even two weeks ago. The statue was removed today and the rest of the monument will follow.

Norfolk’s monument, where is, or is soon to be was, located within a block of where Norfolk’s slave auctions took place, the slave jail, and  slave infirmary  were located, and but a few blocks from the docks where slaves were shipped to other destinations in the South. This is important because Norfolk was the leading port in the slave trade from about the 1830s until the outbreak of the Civil War, and that was not because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but to the trafficking of slaves already born in the United States.

The monument was over 80 feet tall. When it was built it towered over the city. In the years since it still occupied a prominent position in the center of the city, but now has been dwarfed by massive towers representing banks, businesses, and hotels. It was capped by the figure of a defiant Confederate soldier holding a sword and the Confederate flag, nicknamed Johnny Reb. At its base are engravings of the Confederate Battle Flag and a dedication to Our Confederate Dead. It was lake the others aWhite Supremacy. The city should make a prudent and well informed decision of what to do with it.


In Virginia Beach the Confederate Monument is outside the old Princess Anne County Courthouse where slave auctions were held, and which is on the grounds of the current Virginia Beach Municipal complex. In older times it would have been seen by all entering the city hall or courts for any reason. It is over 20 feet tall and topped by the statue of a Confederate infantryman. Unlike the other monuments simply dedicated to the dead. Instead this one is dedicated to Our Confederate Heroes.

Now compared to the Norfolk or Portsmouth memorials it is in a distinctly less visible location and one has to go out of their way to find it. I think it could remain where it is but only if there was monument to the victims of slavery who were bought and sold there. That would provide appropriate context for it. However, there is something about being dedicated to Confederate Heroes which has no appropriate place in the public square. Its design is unremarkable. It was dedicated not long after Plessy v. Ferguson. Likewise, it was located where slave auctions were held in a county that provided very few soldiers to the Confederate cause. This it can only be interpreted one way, to remind people that Blacks are inferior. I think that it should be removed and destroyed as there is nothing that it commemorates, that is worth preserving, even in a museum or cemetery.

There is one other located in our area. It is in the Denbeigh section of Newport News, at site of the old Warwick County Courthouse. Denbeigh was named after the Denbeigh Plantation. When the county seat was moved to Newport News when Denbeigh and Warwick county were consolidated as the independent city of Newport News in 1958.

The courthouse is now a museum. The monument, which was dedicated in 1909 to the men of Company H, 32nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, stands outside the museum. The regiment, recruited from the Peninsula in early 1861 had a number of companies farmed out to the artillery was reconstituted as a small, 7 company regiment in 1862. It was decimated at Antietam and served to the end of the war with the Army of Northern Virginia where just five officers and forty-two enlisted men surrendered with Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9th 1865. Since this monument is dedicated to a specific unit which distinguished itself in numerous engagements, including Antietam, and Petersburg I think that relocating it to one of those battlefields where it fought would be completely appropriate. Leaving it in place is more problematic. The Newport News City Council decided to cover it until they could decide what to do and requests have been made for its removal.

All of these monuments served a twofold purpose. In the case of Portsmouth, it began with monetary donations from war widows and for a monument was to honor the fallen. By the time it was built that purpose was also mixed with the political desire of many whites to re-establish White Supremacy. As to monuments located in cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are interred it is only fitting that they remain where they are, those are the places of their repose. My only objection would be to displays of the Confederate Battle Flag in those cemeteries.

As to what should be done with each monument there are options, but what can actually be done with them are dictated by State Laws which stipulates that localities can erect monuments like the former law of Virginia which stipulated that the state cannot “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.” That was problem for the Virginia legislature finally changed the law. Last week Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam ordered the monument to Robert E. Lee on Richmond’s Monument Boulevard be removed. His order was temporarily stayed by a Federal District Judge after objections by a avowed Confederate sympathizer currently running for office in Northern Virginia.

As a historian I think that all of these monuments can serve as teaching points. Likewise,  whatever is done with them has to be the to context of the context of when and why they were erected in relation to slavery, and White Supremacy. Additionally, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow needs to be clarified as part of teaching history and in the process of expunging the myths of the Lost Cause and the Noble South from the historical narrative.

I want to make a couple of points. First I do not think it is wrong for the relatives and descendants of those who fell in any war to want to remember them, but that should not be these memorials. I have traveled throughout Europe and I have seen the monuments in city squares Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany. These monuments list the names of the war dead of those towns in wars dating back to the Napoleonic era and before and many are in churchyard cemeteries.  Even if I disagree wth the cause that they fought for I will not forbid their descendants to honor their memory, even if I for reasons of conscience refuse to honor the military service of my ancestors who rebelled against the United States in 1861. I may carry their blood and DNA, and they will remain part of my heritage, but I cannot honor or memorialize the cause for which they fought.

I think that the remaining Confederate monuments serve no purpose where they are. I have described what I think would be best done with the ones in our local era. But they have to be replaced. I would suggest that they be replaced by monuments to victims of slavery, the unwilling conscripts pressed into service of an immoral and inhuman cause, and those who opposed that cause, before, during, and after the war, and learning centers staffed by trained historians and archivists who are not out to promote the Noble South and Lost Cause myths.

Norfolk’s monument is in the process of being removed, Portsmouth’s, now mostly destroyed, should be removed. I have already discussed the Virginia Beach and Newport News monuments, the fates of which are yet to be decided. The same is true for many other of the Confederate monuments throughout the South. In the last two weeks But, at the same time we have to address the monuments to Confederate leaders which built during the same time period as these generic representations of Confederate soldiers. The fact is that the leaders of the Confederate rebellion against the United States are much more responsible for the deaths of three quarters of a million soldiers and the devastation of the South than any ordinary soldier. These leaders include the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, secessionist politicians like Henry Benning and military leaders like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Braxton Bragg. I see little reason for monuments to men who were responsible for such great suffering to remain in places of honor.

But honestly even this is not enough. We have to remove the the monuments or do something to explain their presence. Likewise, in order to do justice, we have to fully tell the story of the victims of slavery, the Black Codes, and “Southern Justice.” Likewise, we have to also honor the Southern Unionists like George Thomas, Montgomery Meigs and Winfield Scott who did not forsake their oaths the the country, and remember men like Robert E. Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, Billy Mahone, and John Mosby who fully reconciled to the Union, supported the rights of Blacks, and who were deomonized and then written out of Southern history by the proponents of the Lost Cause.

So anyway, monuments to the Confederacy, its leaders, and those in other parts of the country dedicated to others of questionable merit, must be held to the bar of history, otherwise we mock all of their victims by keeping them in the public square long after their time is up. We will also really look hard at schools, highways, streets, named after the leaders of the Confederacy.

I will deal with the Forts tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, historic preservation, History, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, war crimes

“But Your Friends are Fewer Now” Milton Meyer’s “They Thought They Were Free” and 2020 America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This article is basically a rerun because I thought it was pertinent and instead of doing much online I was catching up on correspondence with a number of people including friends in Germany and and trying my best to write in the best German that I could. Today was a remarkable day at our shipyard as our commander dealt directly with the dual disasters, COVID19 and the murder of George Floyd. It was inspiring. I had a part to play, but it was behind the scenes, and that is totally okay with me.

The article tonight is a chapter from Milton Mayer’s “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945.” Mayer was a visiting professor at the University of Frankfurt in the 1950s and lived in a small Hessian town near the city. The book is about the relationships that he built with ten ordinary citizens in the town and how they lived under Nazism and how most saw little wrong with it in the end.

The book is well worth the read, and is very timely when one compares the attitudes of the men who became Mayer’s friends and many people, especially followers of President Trump in the United States today. The last few chapters of the book are a reflection of the author’s opinions of the future of Germany at the time of his writing. That being said he was was mistaken on how the Germans would eventually become a society that embraced democracy and rejected authoritarianism (at the time he felt that it was very possible that democracy would fail in Germany) they do not take away anything from the heart of the book and its message about how people adjust to authoritarian rule. I was talking to a German friend over the weekend who wondered when Germany was going to have to save the United States as the United States helped save Germany after the Second World War.

One chapter in particular struck me, it was a conversion that Mayer had with a colleague at the University. The man reflected what it was like to live in the Third Reich, and how in doing so he compromised himself and thereby lost the opportunity to resist when resistance might have changed the course of events in Germany as it proceeded down the road to dictatorship and destruction. The chapter is particularly painful to read as the man that Meyer was talking to understood that he should have known better. However, he didn’t recognize the warning signs of how gradually the nature of life in Germany was changing with each new law or dictate from the Fuhrer.

In reading the chapter I see parallels in American society today. There are the Trump loyalists, many of who openly call for restrictions of liberty and crushing opposition to the President’s policies using extra-constitutional means including violence. This was seen over the past two weeks, although the impenetrable wall presented by the 35-40% of his supporters appears to be showing cracks.

Many are quite extreme and willing to march or even do violence to his opponents, but they are a minority. But others, persuaded by years of right-wing talk radio, politically charged sermons by their pastors, and the daily dose of Fox News or One America News believe everything said by the President even when confronted by facts, and remain fairly passive yet committed. Then there are Trump’s opponents, but many of his opponents, like Hitler’s opponents were divided in 2016, and have had a hard time gaining unity. However, that appears to be changing as a wave of opposition to Trump and his policies in regard to the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and his reaction to peaceful protests. I just wonder what will Trump’s supporters be saying about themselves and their decisions a decade from now?

So I invite you to read this and draw your own conclusions, as this gives me no joy to share. Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Chapter 13: But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.

“I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”

“And the judge?”

“Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”

I said nothing.

“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

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True Leadership and Responsibly: Eisenhower’s Letter in Case D-Day Failed

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz noted: “It is now quite clear how greatly the objective of war makes it a matter of assessing probabilities. Only one more element is needed to make war a gamble – chance: the very last thing that war lacks. No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance. And through through the element of guesswork and luck come to play a great part in war…. If we now consider briefly the subjective nature of war – the means by which war has to be fought – it will look more like a gamble. The highest of all moral qualities in time of danger is certainly courage.”

For a year General Dwight D. Eisenhower had worked to marshal the largest force possible to launch the long awaited invasion of Nazi Occupied France. Eisenhower surrounded himself with an exceptional staff, but had to fight for what he would need for the coming invasion. He had to struggle with Admiral Ernest King for the landing ships and crafts he needed, against the competing needs of Admiral Nimitz, and General MacArthur’s Forces in the Pacific Theatre of operations. He had to battle the Allied bomber commands, Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris’s British Bomber Command, and 8th Air Force and Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, Commander of Strategic Air Forces for bombers to support the invasion. This meant taking them away from the strategic bombing command against the heart of German industry; and finally he had to battle Winston Churchill to be in overall command of the multi-national force being assembled to attack.

The invasion was his baby. He had the ultimate responsibility for its success or failure. He knew the dangers. In 1942 the British launched a raid using Canadian troops on the English Channel port of Dieppe. It was a disaster. With all the work he had done to get his forces ready for the invasion, Eisenhower knew that he owned the result regardless of the outcome.

Eisenhower understood that everything in war is a gamble and that success is not guaranteed. The weather conditions of the English Channel are unpredictable. They only  offer a few month window of opportunity to successfully mount a cross channel invasion. The Germans found that out in 1940 when after their failure to clear the skies of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain by early September, that the a favorable opportunity for Operation Sea Lion had passed and would never come again.

The Allied invasion required a full moon for a massive three division nighttime paratroop drop, and favorable weather for the landing craft to get ashore. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. High winds, seas, and rain forced a cancellation of the planned June 5th invasion, the open question was whether conditions would be on the 6th would be favorable. If not the next opportunity would not be for at least two more weeks, in which the Germans would continue to strengthen their defensive positions along the Atlantic Wall. 

The German weather forecasters, had lost lost the ability to observe weather in the western and mid-Atlantic due to the allies sweeping the ships that relayed weather information from the Atlantic. Blind to oncoming weather systems, the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe meteorologists anticipated that the bad weather would continue to be unfavorable for an invasion. With this in mind, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B which had operational control over the potential landing beaches, decided to make a visit to his wife for her birthday and a trip to Berlin to plead for more resources. Other Senior German Commanders departed to inland areas to conduct war games and were not with their units on the night of June 5th.

Meanwhile, the forecasters at Eisenhower’s headquarters had access to weather data from the mid-Atlantic unavailable to the Germans, predicted a brief lull in the storm, not perfect weather, but acceptable. Eisenhower met with his staff and made the decision to go ahead with the invasion in the night of June 5th and June 6th with the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and the British 6th Airborne Division landing behind the German coastal fortifications.

But the weather was just one factor, the Allies did not know the latest German deployments, including the movement of the crack 352nd Infantry Division to Omaha Beach. Likewise, a prompt German response with heavy Panzer units could throw the invaders back into the sea if they moved fast enough. One threat was already deployed, but the other was a real probability knowing German doctrine.

However, neither Eisenhower or his staff knew of the conflict in the German High Command and Hitler regarding the deployment of the Panzer Divisions in France. Rommel argued that the Panzer Divisions should be deployed near the potential invasion beaches. However, traditionalists in the German command and Hitler decided that most of the Panzer Divisions should be held back awaiting a point that they could make a massive and decisive counterattack that would drive the Allies out of Europe. However, most of these men had commanded Panzers in Poland in 1939, France and the Low Countries in 1940, and the Soviet Union. In all of those campaigns the Germans always enjoyed air superiority or parity. But Rommel, a veteran of Africa and the West knew the power of allied tactical air assets, and the havoc they could inflict on the Panzers. Rommel believed that the invasion had to be defeated on the beachheads and the allies not given the chance to advance inland, in which case he knew that there would be no chance of defeating the invasion.

Eisenhower also knew that the success of the invasion depended on the success of the landings. A disaster at any of the landing beaches could doom the it. In light of this and so many other ways that could cause the invasion to fail, Eisenhower, wrote a letter to his troops and the world when the invasion commenced. It read:

“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.

The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.

In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944. Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations1 have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory.

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory.

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

However, prepared for any eventuality he also also wrote a letter in case the invasion failed, as it nearly did on Omaha Beach. That letter noted:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches the attempt it is mine alone.”

It was dated July 5th, not June 5th, the mistake obviously due to the pressure of what he was feeling for his soldiers, and the mission. Likewise, there was very real threat to his own career if the mission failed. He knew that his adversaries in the United States military and in Britain would have seen that would see that he was relieved and sent back to the United States in disgrace. As Eisenhower’s successor as President, John F. Kennedy said: “Victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan.”

Likewise, defeat could embolden those in the United States and Britain willing to make peace with Germany at any price. Such an outcome could have destroyed the allied alliance that ended up defeating Germany, rebuilding a democratic Western Europe, establishing NATO, the United Nations, and many other international organizations that have done much good for America and the world.

In a sense Eisenhower was in a similar situation to Grant and Sherman in the Summer of 1864, if they failed, Abraham Lincoln could have been defeated by the anti-war pro-Confederacy Copperheads, who would have settled leaving the South independent, the country divided, and slavery in place. Defeat would have ended the American experiment. Defeat in Normandy could easily have destroyed the Allied alliance, and given the Germans  the time they needed to turn defeat into victory. The whole course of the war and history could have changed, for the worse, with Hitler’s Nazi Regime controlling most of Europe, continuing its genocidal policies, and developing weapons far in advance of the Allies.

Eisenhower would not make excuses if the invasion failed. He was ready to take full responsibility if Overlord failed, regardless of how it happened. The buck stopped with him.

Likewise, he knew that the failure of the invasion would have made it possible for the Nazis to divert needed forces to the Eastern Front, where they might have been able to turn back the Soviet Operation Bagration which destroyed the German Army Group Center. Likewise, the success of the invasion opened the way for the Soviets to drive the Nazis from Soviet territory, advance to Warsaw, and knock key German allies out of the war. Before long, Hungary, Romania, and Finland had abandoned the Germans.

The fact that the invasion succeeded was as much as luck as it was the careful planning, and the exceptional courage, and dogged determination of the Allied troops. The American 4th Infantry Division landed on the wrong beach. Had they landed on the correct beach they could have faced slaughter. The Allied Airborne Divisions were scattered over much of Normandy and had to improvise to capture the targets needed to assist the invasion forces. Had Hitler’s lackeys the courage to wake him when the invasion was in its early stages , he might have released Panzer Divisions sooner than he did. Had Rommel not gone back to Germany for his wife’s birthday and to plead with Hitler for more troops, and been on the ground to coordinate the German response; or the number of realistic “might have beens” that could of defeated the the invasion, and Eisenhower was well aware of them.

Eisenhower’s willingness to take responsibility for defeat as well as give his troops credit for the eventual victory over the Nazis sets him apart from so many others then, and now who would deflect blame for a failed operation to their subordinates and lie about the results achieved.

In the age where the American President blatantly refuses to take responsibility for his actions, blames subordinates and allies for his failures, and who abdicates the duties of his office on an hourly basis, the ability for Eisenhower to be ready to acceptance of failure is an example that we must emulate. Donald Trump would have surrendered to Germany, given Hitler a platform to proclaim his defiance of human rights and international law, and the rights of American citizens at home. Interestingly enough over the past week many highly respected Generals and Admirals, active and retired, have warned against the dangers posed by President Trump.

History and humanity are always the product of character, integrity, and responsibility, or their opposites. All qualities Eisenhower had, and Trump does not, and as many well respected American military commanders are now speaking out about. But I was doing this as early as 2015 and 2016.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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When the President Calls Military Officers Traitors: Trump, LTC Vindman, and the Testimony of Colonel Johannes Steinhoff

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday, the Commander in Chief, after removing Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from his post in the National Security Council, and having him escorted out of the White House, something designed to humiliate the combat wounded officer, made an announcement that Vindman should be prosecuted by the military for obeying his oath of office, also known as not giving absolute personal loyalty to the President. The action by the President is unprecedented in American history. It is the act of an man unleashed from the law, the the Constitution, and the institutional guardrails placed by the Founders to prevent an authoritarian regime from taking control of the country.

I have written a lot about the dehumanization of people and genocide, and some of the things that create a climate where such events take place, and how political and religious leaders stir the primal passions of otherwise good, decent and law abiding citizens. I have written about some of my favorite resistance figures in history. But that being said writing about the anti-Nazi resistors caused me to go back are re-read a book by World War II German Luftwaffe ace Johannes Steinhoff.

Steinhoff was unlike many of the German officers who wrote memoirs following the war, memoirs that historian Williamson Murray wrote “fell generally into two categories; generals writing in the genre of “if the fuhrer had only listened to me!” and fighter pilots or tank busters writing about their heroics against the productive flood from America or the primitively masses of the Soviet Union.”

Steinhoff’s book, The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goering should be essential reading for any currently serving officer, diplomat, Federal law enforcement, intelligence, or Department of Justice official  as the Trump administration becomes more established and capricious.

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General Johannes Steinhof (above) as a Bundeswehr and NATO officer, showing his burns and before his crash (below)

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In his books, Steinhoff does something that you do not see authors do in most military or political memoirs, he actually does serious self reflection on his role in supporting an evil regime. In his introduction to his book The Final Hours the legendary fighter ace who was horribly disfigured when his Me-262 jet fighter crashed and burned two weeks prior to the end of the war wrote:

“In recalling these events, which had been long buried in my memory, it has not been my intention to make excuses. Our unconditional self-sacrifice in the service of the Third Reich is too well documented for that….

So it is because of what is happening today—with freedom threatened in virtually every respect by its own abuse—that I offer this contribution, in the form of an episode in which I was myself involved, to the history of the soldier in the twentieth century. Soldiers have always, in every century of their existence, been victims of the ruthless misuse of power; indeed, given the opportunity, they have joined in the power game themselves. But it fell to our own century to accomplish, with the aid of a whole technology of mass extermination, the most atrocious massacres in the history of mankind. This fact alone makes pacifism a philosophy worthy of respect, and I have a great deal of sympathy with those who profess it. 

The figure of the soldier in all his manifestations is thus symptomatic of the century now nearing its close, and it is to the history of that figure that I wish to contribute by describing what happened to me. I have tried to show what it is possible to do to men, how insidiously they can be manipulated by education, how they can be hoisted onto a pedestal as “heroes,” how they can be so corrupted as even to enjoy the experience—and how they can be dropped and denounced as mutineers when they discover that they have scruples. The complete lack of scruples that such treatment implies is peculiar to rulers who believe that the problems of their own and other peoples can be solved by imposing, through the use of military force, peace on their, the rulers’, terms—in our case a pax germanica, but the second Latin word is readily interchangeable.” from “The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goring (Aviation Classics)” by Johannes Steinhoff

Since I am a historian and and a career military officer with service in the Iraq War, a war that was illegal and unjust by all measure I can understand Steinhof’s words. Because much of my undergraduate and graduate work focused on German history, particularly that of Imperial Germany after the unification, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Reich, I draw a lot of lessons from the period. I also understand how people in this country can fall for the same kind of vitriolic propaganda that the Germans of that era did. I can understand because for years I fell for the lies and propaganda being put out by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the American political right.

In fact I wrote about an incident that happened to me in my own chapel where a dedicated Trump supporter attempted to have me charged with Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Contempt for the President.  He did this because I used biblical preaching backed by sound theology and history to condemn the President’s comparison of immigrants of darker skin colors as “animals” and an “infestation.” I compared those words with the way Hitler and other totalitarian leaders used such terminology to dehumanize their victims. As I mentioned I was completely cleared by the preliminary inquiry but it sends a chill through my spine.

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A picture of me (on left) in Iraq 2007 with my assistant and bodyguard RP1 Nelson Lebron

One of those lessons is that in times of crisis, that people, no matter what their race, culture, religious belief system, educational, or economic background are still human. Humanity is the one constant in all of history, our prejudices are often ingrained in us during childhood and reinforced by the words of politicians, pundits, and preachers. In times of stress, crisis, and societal change or upheaval even good people, moral people, people of great intellectual, scientific abilities can fall prey to demagogues who preach hate and blame others, usually racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, as well as civil libertarians who champion the rights of those minorities for the problems of the nation.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews, Slavs, Socialists and Communists; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

But that being said, there are a lot of people who from childhood believe the lies about others without question. In good times such people continue on with life as normal, but in crisis those hatreds and prejudices come to the fore. Rudolf Höss, the notorious sociopath who commanded Auschwitz told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about his reaction when ordered to turn the camp into an extermination center. He said that the order “fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years,” and “at the same time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.” 

Eugene Davidson in his book on the Nuremberg Trials wrote:

“Every society has in it at all times negative, criminal, sadistic, asocial forces. What holds them in check more than law and police is the consensus of the society – a general belief that despite everything wrong and stupid and muddleheaded in politics, the state is a going concern that will somehow make its way into the future.” (Davidson, The Trial of the Germans p.581)

But when things do not go well, when people do not feel that things will be okay, that the future will be better, and that they have a purpose they look for answers. However, they tend to find their answers in the rantings of demagogues, race baiters, conspiracy theorists, and others who they would tend to dismiss out of hand in good times. In Germany it was the loss of the First World War, the humiliation of Versailles and the economic chaos and social change of the Weimar period which allowed Hitler to gain an audience, then a following, then political power. The demagogues played to what was already in the hearts and minds of the disaffected masses, without that fertile soil, the rantings of Hitler and his propagandists would have never succeeded. Albert Speer wrote:

“As I see it today, Hitler and Goebbels were in fact molded by the mob itself, guided by its yearnings and its daydreams. Of course, Goebbels and Hitler knew how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audiences; but in the deeper sense they derived their whole existence from these audiences. Certainly the masses roared to the beat set by Hitler’s and Goebbels’ baton; yet they were not the true conductors. The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

In a sense a similar thing has happened in the United States which has experienced a series of wars beginning with Vietnam, the shock of the 9-11-2001 attacks, the economic crash of 2007 and 2008 which devastated the savings, home ownership, and investments of many Americans while at the same time benefiting the banking and brokerage houses whose government assisted policies brought about the crash. Of course there are other issues, many religious conservatives hate the progress made by the Women’s and Gay Rights movements, and their leaders play to their fears in apocalyptic terms. I could go on, but I am sure that my readers can identify other issues which demagogues and others use to spread fear and hate to further their goals. The fact is that without the the fertile soil that lays in the hearts of their most fervent followers they would never have a following.

In Weimar Germany hate mongers like Julius Streicher and propagandist Josef Goebbels stuck a chord with disenchanted people who felt that they had lost their country. They were fearful, angry, and desired a leader who would “make Germany great again.” Hitler and his Nazi media sycophants played to that fear, and took advantage of their anger at the existing order. Davidson wrote such people “exist everywhere and in a sick society they can flourish.” 

For decades the way has been prepared for true extremists to take advantage of the fears and doubts of people as modern American versions of Streicher and Goebbels have been at work for years. Rush Limbaugh was a modern pioneer of this in the United States, and he has been joined by so many who are even more extreme in their rantings that it is hard to name them all. Likewise, whole media corporations especially Fox News, websites, and political networks spread such fear every minute of the day, claiming that they, and they alone are real Americans. They actively support politicians who condemn, and sometimes even threaten people who oppose them, and all the while claim that “make America great again.”

When I was younger I devoured that propaganda, despite all of my learning I followed the rantings of men who I realize today are propagandists who promote the basest of lies, and hatred, often in the name of God. I was changed when I was at war, and when I returned home from Iraq in 2008 I realized through hard experience that I had been lied to, and that as a result that thousands of my brothers and sisters were dead, and tens of thousands shattered in body, mind, and spirit. Likewise I saw the massive destruction levied on Iraq and realized how terrible war really is. That was my epiphany, that is what it took to see how much I had been lied to, and it called me to question everything else that I had so willingly believed, things which had been fed to me by years of indoctrination in church, through the media, and by politicians who I believed were truly Christian. I can understand now how Martin Niemoller felt after the Nazi seizure of power when he said, “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

There was a time that I hated people who espouse the views that I hold today, the views that I write about so often here on this site. I can remember how angry I would get as I listened to the propaganda being put out by Limbaugh, Hannity, the Fox News Channel and all of the others that I listened to every time that I had the chance. But when I changed after Iraq, I felt the sting of that hatred in very real ways. I remember the day I was called by my bishop in my former church, who told me that I had to leave because my views on women, gays, and Moslems were to use his words were now “too liberal.” After that, many men who I considered to be the best of friends turned their backs on me, some in the most bitter and vindictive of ways.

But I realize now that what they did was because I had in a sense left the cult, and had to be ostracized. I can understand that now, because when I was under the spell I too turned my back on people who had fallen out of favor, or people who had rejected the tenants of the church or the political movement, and those are things that I can never undo. But at the time it made sense, it fitted in with all I had been taught for decades, as Albert Speer wrote of Hitler, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.”

What happened to Steinhoff’s generation is threatening to happen again, in our country, an authoritarian movement is threatening to destroy our democracy and republic. In it soldiers are esteemed, until they realize what is going on and speak out, but by then it is usually too late. I am understanding that fact more and more every day, and having had people troll this blog and call me a traitor and worse, I understand just a bit of what happened to Steinhoff and his fellow officers when they protested to the highest levels what was happening to Germany in early 1945.

In 1944 he and other fighter pilots were subjected to a political indoctrination session and realized that in the Nazi state loyalty and doctrinal purity to Naziism was more important than either combat service or competence. He wrote:

“Now, however, we realized to our horror that a group of officers had decided, after five years of war, to conduct a purge among the troops with the object of eliminating all those “whose past life and present conduct were not consonant with the National-Socialist type” and who did not “stand firm on National-Socialist principles.” We sat there petrified, but some of those present appeared hugely to enjoy the ensuing discussion of what they called “National-Socialist guidelines.” Perhaps, though, for many it was simply an attempt to escape into a less concrete area of discussion than the desperate military situation—and then there was the added satisfaction of being able to censure others. Fanaticism took the place of hopelessness, and phrases like “faith in the Führer,” “rootedness in National-Socialist ideology,” and “irreproachability of character” fell without hesitation from people’s lips. The Luftwaffe leadership, it was said, must be “combed” from top to bottom, and then someone even came out with the “National-Socialist soul…”

We will soon know how military professionals react to being labeled as traitors. President Trump and his followers have been demonizing the personnel of the nation’s intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic communities since before the election. The President lambasts critics of any station on his Twitter feed which results in them receiving death threats from his followers. I expect that when Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks his mind and tells the truth that we will find out.

Personally I expect that when he does that Trump and his most strident supporters will label him as a traitor for doing so. Like a religious cult they have no capacity to tolerate dissent, loyalty to the man will supersede loyalty to the country or the Constitution. When that happens it will be interesting to see the throngs of people in the military and outside of it who make the choice to throw one of the most courageous, selfless, and intellectual soldiers ever produced by our nation under the bus.

Their’s will be a conscious decision. My opinion is that the Constitution and the country will always come first. I wanted to give the President the benefit of the doubt and prayed that he world do the right thing for the country. But I was wrong. I am concerned because of his past and current behavior that his only loyalty is to himself. General Ludwig Beck, who resigned rather than obey Hitler’s order to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938 and died in the anti-Hitler coup attempt in 1944 said:

“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.” 

With all the firings, resignations and shuffling done by the President at the Defense Department, I am less sure than ever of senior officers and civilian leaders in the Pentagon will due with the direct threat directed by the President at Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. Over the past three years I have have many doubts about many of our leaders: be they military, political, business, or religious, than I have ever had in my life and military career. It seems that there are many people who will sell their souls for their personal advancement, the advancement of their agenda, or an increase in their bottom line. It is after all human nature.

At Nuremberg, Hermann Goering was asked by Gustave Gilbert as to “why he and the others had been such abject “yes men,” Goering replied: “Please show me a ‘no man’ in Germany who is not six feet under the ground today.” Goering, who was exceptionally intelligent and talented subordinated himself to Hitler and while not completely correct in regards to the fate of all the “no men” completely understand the principle of unconditional personal loyalty to his leader, which makes the actions of men like Johannes Steinhoff much more remarkable.

But the question is: will we see true men and women of courage who will stand when it appears there is no chance of success? As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” 

That will be what is demanded in the coming months and years.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, us army, world war two in europe

Silence Buys You Nothing: The Boogeymen Will Eventually Come After You Too

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last year on the I spoke on the last day of Passover at Norfolk’s Temple Israel on the topic of bearing witness to the Holocaust even as its last survivors pass away from their earthly journey. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

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

President Trump repeatedly dehumanizes and threatens minority groups, immigrants, both legal and undocumented, LGBTQ people, religious minorities (including liberal Jewish) women, the disabled, and even professional military officers. The same with the leaders and members of the opposition Democratic Party, as well as the few former or current Republicans bold enough to oppose him. Right wing pundits, politicians, and preachers often do the same, and the bulk of the Republican Party, mostly made up of White Evangelical Christians say nothing or even echo his comments. Most of these people do not readily admit their prejudice, though some, including members of Congress openly support White Nationalist policies and groups.

Little or no condemnation is ever made by them against killings and mass murder, let us call it Domestic Terrorism. In return such groups are growing and being emboldened and the President and his compatriots spin lies as history. A couple of nights ago I wrote about a nationally known Jewish friend of mine being threatened by an alleged Christian, making very Anti-Semitic comments and using the language of the Nazis to describe him and other Jews, who do not

How does one prevent yet another genocide from happening? I don’t know, but I think that there is some wisdom in the answer a German University Colleague of Milton Mayer said when Mayer was questioning him about the subject.

In his book They Thought they Were Free Mayer wrote of his conversation with that professor:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

Like Mayer’s friend, must people are content to play it safe and hope that the boogeyman won’t come after them. But history shows that such thinking is a pipe dream. Trump’s Republican and Christian supporters need to realize that one day, they they will become the victims of his version of the Night of the Long Knives. Every authoritarian eventually goes after his supporters who are neither completely on board or have become inconvenient or unprofitable. Ask Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or any of the authoritarians of the past four millennia. Study history for lessons in the present to prevent it’s reputation in the future.

Sophie Scholl expressed this well:

“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.”

So, two days before the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I leave you with this, resist the beginning, remember the end, because in spite of your silence the bogeyman will eventually come after you too.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events

Wannsee: The Men, Their Mission, and the Implications Today

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Reinhard Heydrich

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer once wrote, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

Hatred is an amazing emotion. In the final scene of the movie Conspiracy which is about the Wansee Conference, at which fifteen officials of the Nazi government met to coordinate what became the Holocaust, the “Final Solution” of what the Nazis called, “the Jewish problem.” The movie is troubling because the men in the room were well-educated, high to mid-level officials from a variety of agencies who were called together to ensure that their respective agencies worked together.

At beginning of the movie, Kenneth Branagh who plays SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich describes the “problem to be solved”

“To begin, we have a storage problem in Germany with these Jews…. The laws enacted at Nuremberg, and we should drink a toast to Dr. Stuckart for devising them….They established the fundamental legality for the creation of a Jew-free society, a Jew-free economy for the world to see. And we, indeed, have eliminated the Jew from our national life. Now, more than that, the Jew himself must be physically eradicated from our living space…

Then, in acquiring Poland, we acquired two and a half million more. By last July, we were met with a new situation, we would, in very short order, be acquiring some five million Jews as we conquered Russia. The dimensions of this problem have magnified astoundingly. Five million…

At that time, last July, confronting this new situation, Reichsmarshal Goering prepared a directive, you have a copy. The operative words, if you’ll permit me to read:

“I hereby charge you with making all preparations.in regard to organizational and financial matters for bringing about a complete solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe.”

Now, for that, I read the cleansing of the entire continent of Europe.…in the second paragraph: “Wherever other governmental agencies

are involved these are to cooperate with you.” I hope. So on, so on… “as necessary for the accomplishment of the desired solution of the Jewish question.” This is our mandate, all of us.

Donald Trump has talked about expelling and deporting over 11 million Mexicans and other South or Central Americans from this country. True, many are here illegally, but at the same time most are working and paying taxes, doing the things that many Americans consider themselves too good to do. He has mentioned similar things in regard to Muslims, as well as banning any Muslim from coming to the country. He has talked about going along with the desire of the Christian Right to roll back the hard earned rights of Homosexuals, and he has no regard for African Americans and their rights, with the possible exception of Ben Carson, but I digress…

At the close of the meeting the decision to exterminate the Jews was agreed to by the assembled officials who pledged to work with each other, once they had been told of how the logistics of the operation would take place. Not all were happy, some were shocked, but all rolled over and agreed to cooperate with Heydrich.

At the end of the movie Heydrich is asked to share an allegorical story that one of the less enthusiastic conference participants, Reich Chancellery State Secretary, Dr. Wilhelm Kritzinger, told him about hatred of the Jews. Heydrich recalled the story to SS Major General Heinrich Müller and SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann.ueller and SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann:

“Yes, he told me a story about a man he’d known all his life, a boyhood friend. This man hated his father. Loved his mother fiercely. The mother was devoted to him……but the father beat him, demeaned him, disinherited him. Anyway, this boy grew to manhood and was still in his 30s when the mother died…this mother who had nurtured and protected him.She died. The man stood as they lowered her casket and tried to cry…but no tears came. The man’s father lived to old age, died when the son was in his 50s. At the father’s funeral, much to his son’s surprise…he could not control his tears. He was wailing, sobbing. He was apparently inconsolable. Lost, even. That was the story Kritzinger told me.

Eichmann said, “I don’t understand.”

Heydrich answered: “No? The man had been driven his whole life by hatred of his father. When the mother died, that was a loss. When the father died…when the hate had lost its object…then the man’s life was empty. Over.

Eichmann replied: “Interesting. That was Kritzinger’s warning. What? That we should not hate the Israelites?”

To which Heydrich said, “No, that it should not so fill our lives…that when they are gone, we have nothing left to live for. So says the story. I will not miss them”

I used to show the film as the final class in the ethics elective that I taught at the Joint Forces Staff College. After the film was over it never failed that at least one of the students would bring up pertinent comments about hate in our current political climate. Again I cannot go into details, but I can assure you that the conversation was always subdued and sobering. I think that all of us left better for it, for such men and women know that there is a Rubicon that cannot be crossed. In the troubling times that we live, that gives me some comfort.

The story is pertinent when one looks at what Donald Trump is doing right now. I really have to wonder how deep hatred such as his runs in this country, because unlike love, hatred is easy to conjure up. It is kind of like what you need to build a fire; fuel, oxygen and heat. To generate hatred on a massive scale all you need is a disaffected populace, a convenient target, and an agent to ignite the mixture.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. Donald Trump is showing himself to be a master of this. He, and others like him, and not just American politicians, pundits or preachers, mind you, demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow.

Leaders who are consumed with hate need a disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. For Trump it is Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, liberals, and sometimes, even Jews.

Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

Snyder is quite correct, demonizing a people and making them some kind of “other”, “they”, or “them”, is a wonderful way to blame a group of people for the ills of society. It is also a good way to deflect the blame for the corporate failures of societies and governments onto a convenient scapegoat; and to blame others for the personal failures and petty jealousies of the people doing the demonizing. It also allows people to abandon ethics and the simple notion of the Golden Rule an engage in genocide.

Mass movements and their leaders; of which Trump is such a leader, are masters of hatred and demonizing any opponents. The technique Trump is using is not at all new, it has been used from antiquity but has become much more dangerous in the modern era with the spread of instant communications technology. History shows us all too clearly how it has happened and how easily it can happen again. Witch hunts, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of the Native Americans which inspired Hitler in his campaign of genocide and the Holocaust; the Soviet gulags and ethnic cleansings, the Rape of Nanking, the Chinese Communist “Cultural Revolution” the Rwandan genocide, Srebrenica, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, and the current crimes against humanity of the so called Islamic State. Sadly, the list can go on and on.

All of these events simply required the elements of a disaffected population, a devil or scapegoat to blame, and a leader or leaders to ignite the volatile mixture; fuel, oxygen and heat. Hoffer was quite correct that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” The really successful leaders of such movements understand this. For Hitler it was the Jews and other untermenschen; for American Southerners after the Civil it was the Blacks and their white supporters. For the American “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 1850s it was immigrants, especially Irish and Germans who were Catholic; for Stalin it was non-Russian ethnic minorities. For the leaders of the Islamic State, it is Jews, Shi’ite Moslems, less than “faithful” Sunnis, Christians and well for that matter anyone who does not line up one hundred percent with them on every issue. The examples are so plentiful to support this fact that it is almost overwhelming.

The problem is that when any society, or government begins to label or stigmatize a race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, or political ideology, and then in the process demonize those people to the point that they become less than human we have reached a tipping point. We reach the point where we are just one crisis away from all of those crimes against humanity that we believe that we are no longer capable of doing. But sadly, we human beings are not nearly as evolved as we think and I think that the tipping point in the United States may be far closer than we could ever imagine.

I really do not think that we are too far from some tipping point where the politicians, pundits and preachers; especially those of the political right and the media whores who are more concerned about market share than truth, decide that their “devils” must be exterminated. Of course when they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose; or perhaps use the language of Manifest Destiny, the Lost Cause, or the Stab in the Back or some other historical myth that suffices to justify their actions.

In response to Trump and those who stoke the same kind of fear and hatred, I wonder just how many men that there are like Heydrich, who would execute the orders of someone like Trump that there are in our country this very minute. I shudder to think of it, and when I do, I am reminded of the closing words of Spencer Tracy when he pronounces judgement on the Nazi judges in the film Judgment 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 through the 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.”

I do hope that we follow a saner and less horrifying path, despite the election and past three years of the Trump Administration. I cannot abandon hope, nor can I be one that turns his eyes away from actions that range from separating immigrant and refugee families and placing children in cages on our southern border; assassinating members of nations that we are not at war with, regardless of how bad they are, while pardoning members of our military who were judged to be war criminals under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Of course that does not even mention how the President has undermined the institutions and laws of our country.

But I cannot lose hope or give up. In the words of Major General Henning von Tresckow, who died following multiple attempts to rid Germany of Hitler:

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

For me I am not comparing Trump to Hitler, but I believe he will be just as deadly to the United States as Hitler was to Germany. It all comes down to character, and as different as our President or the former Nazi Fuhrer are, neither had, or in the case of President Trump, have any character, nor did or do their enablers, and supporters; they are the perpetrators. Of course we know the victims, but then there are those  who decide to look the other way, the bystanders who prefer survival to freedom. As Yehuda Bauer wrote:

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under germany, History, holocaust, nazi germany

Study the Past, Fight, and Live for the Future: Advice Entering the 4th Year of Trump

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Friends at Padre Steve’s World

I tend to become somewhat reflective as the New Year approaches. I am reminded of Peter Benchley, who wrote, “The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future.” Likewise, St Augustine of Hippo once asked “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet?”

Augustine’s question is interesting, but I think that his question is flawed. I think that the past lives in the present much more than we would like to think and that our future, though unwritten can unfold in a multitude of ways and possibilities.

Many of us live in the past as if it were today. We, individually and collectively, as individuals and nations live in the past and look to it much more fondly than when it was our present. I think that historian Will Durant possibly said it the best: “The past is not dead. Indeed, it is often not even past.”

As a historian myself I value the past and seek answers and wisdom from it to use in the present because what we do in the present does, for better or worse defines our future. Confucius said “study the past if you would define the future.” He was quite wise, he said to study the past, did he did not say to live in it.

That is something that I have been learning for over 20 years now when my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, used a Star Trek Next Generation metaphor from the episode A Matter Of Time in order to teach me how my past was influencing the way I was living my life.In the episode a shadowy visitor who claimed to be from the future refuses to help the crew of the Enterprise save an endangered world, claiming that if he were to help them, that his “history – would unfold in a way other than it already has.”

Finally, after other all other possibilities were exhausted, Captain Picard was forced to make a decision and confronted the visitor, who as it turned out to be a thief from the past, using time travel to collect technology to enrich himself by bringing it back in time. Picard makes a comment which I think is pertinent in a time like ours.

“A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices! Now, you ask me to believe that if I make a choice other than the one that appears in your history books, then your past will be irrevocably altered. Well… you know, Professor, perhaps I don’t give a damn about your past, because your past is my future, and as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been written yet!”

When my supervisor told me that my past did not have to be my future, it opened a door of life and faith that I had never experienced before and which showed me that life was to be boldly lived in the present. While it meant a lot then, it means more now for the past according to William Shakespeare “is prologue.”

We cannot help being influenced by the past. We should indeed learn from it, but we cannot remain in it or try to return to it. Kierkegaard said that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Since I am a Christian, at least by profession, my faith in that future is in the God who is eternal, the God of love. Victor Hugo in Les Miserables said “Love is the only future God offers.” That is the future that I want to envision.

Unfortunently there are many people who claim the same Christian faith that I claim who attempt to return to an imaginary past and to try to legislate that past onto others who do not share their beliefs, if necessarily using the police powers of the state to do so. Such is neither honest because it attempts to enforce a mythologized past on others, nor Christian, because ultimately the Christian hope is focused on the yet to be realized future and not the past, it has nothing to do with establishing some kind of theocratic Christian state that denies rights and a future to all but like minded Christians.

Living is making choices and the future hinges on thousands of them. Many of these choices we make automatically without thought simply because we have always done them that way, or because that is how it was done in the past. However, if we want to break the cycle, if we want to live in and envision that future of the God of love then we have to live in the present though the past lives in us.

T.S. Elliot penned this verse:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

The coming year promises to be challenging, and the tensions between those who want to return to the past, especially the predominantly Christian cult  devoted to President Trump and making America great again and those who believe in an inclusive hope and future for all will be on full display.

As for me, I choose the path of Picard; because my future, and our future, hasn’t been written yet. Likewise I cannot surrender to those who want to return us to a mythologized past that never existed in history, except in authoritarian States. But the Trump Cult, led by those in elected or appointed office at every level of government are attempting to create an authoritarian state, appealing to a mythological past to write the future. If that is the future they imagine, and want to legislate, I will fight.

I am reminded of the words of the late British military historian B.H. Liddell-Hart who wrote in his final book Why Don’t We Learn From History, wrote something that is quite descriptive of the actions of President Trump and his Cult.

“We learn from history that self-made despotic rulers follow a standard pattern. In gaining power: They exploit, consciously or unconsciously, a state of popular dissatisfaction with the existing regime or of hostility between different sections of the people. They attack the existing regime violently and combine their appeal to discontent with unlimited promises (which, if successful, they fulfil only to a limited extent). They claim that they want absolute power for only a short time (but “find” subsequently that the time to relinquish it never comes). They excite popular sympathy by presenting the picture of a conspiracy against them and use this as a lever to gain a firmer hold at some crucial stage.” 

My choice in our time is to resist, and to fight for a future that includes everyone.  I close with the words of Sophie Scholl, a leader of the anti-Nazi White Rose resistance:

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.

Such a course is not safe because the fact is, that too many ordinary people who have sold their souls to the Cult of Trump and who would if given the choice, would, just like the janitor at Munich University who identified and turned Sophie and her brother to the Gestapo and death at the hands of Roland Freisler and the extra-judicial Volksgericht (People’s Court).

So, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“You Went Along With it All…” A Warning to Those Who Claim “Gott Mit Uns” in Terms of Nationalism and Criminal Wars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

I’ll write about that battle again around Christmas and on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believed in God and the officially Atheistic Soviet Union and its people did not. In his exhortation the Chaplain calls attentional the belt buckles worn by every soldier in the Wehrmacht, which were embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us.

In light of President Trump first pardoning and then appearing with convicted war criminals at a campaign dinner, I have a hard time believing that God can be with a nation which with each passing day becomes less and less free, and where the Church by and large has fallen in line with a lawless and Godless President, a man who sincerely believes that as President he is above the law and that his words trump the law, even the laws of God.

Likewise, in the reports released today, American Administrations, not just Trump’s, but the Bush and Obama administrations as well as the Defense Department have been lying about the Afghanistan campaign for years; claiming success while the reality on the ground was far different. If we had a public that actually cared about the truth, as well as the troops, this scandal would burn as bright as the release of the Pentagon Papers during Vietnam.

I am a a military Chaplain. I have been one since 1992, and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film. Back in the Cold War while serving as an officer before I became a Chaplain I used to talk about the Godless Communists.

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

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

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

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

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

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

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

That is something that bothers me even today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003 I had my own misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there.

I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for John Kerry in 2004, but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site, but I supported that initial invasion.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war, to the extent of appointing one of the most strident proponents of the invasion of Iraq as his National Security Advisor, before firing him a year later.

Likewise, the President holds the professional military, and State Department in contempt appears to be angling for war in the Middle East against Iran even as he excuses the criminal actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen and against American residents, as was demonstrated in his wholehearted defense of Saudis after one of their officers killed three American military personnel at Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday.

I have no doubt that unless something changes that a terrible war is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it. But for the next eight and a half months before I retire, I will remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die.

The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all too many Christian nationalists have done in the past.

I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in regards to advocating war in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that way when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th, 2001.

Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant! and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war. Sadly, I trusted my leaders too much, especially when Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke before the United Nations to prove the case against Iraq just before the invasion.

Supreme Justice Robert Jackson, who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg stated in the London Agreement:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders, while praising and tacitly supporting authoritarian and Fascist rulers around the world. Honestly, I dread what may befall us if he remains in power, or if someone worse follows him, backed of course by those who believe that God is with them. They of course are the true believers and as Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self bred pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Most of the German troops at Stalingrad marched into that battle believing a similar creed. I would dare say that many, if not most of the Trump followers, inside and outside the military believe the same. A recent poll conducted of the military indicated that the military is divided in terms of Trump. Younger white and more junior officers, as well as enlisted personnel support Trump, while Well educated and experienced senior officers, women, and minorities Of both officer and enlisted ranks do not. That is not a good situation, years of right wing propaganda have had a huge effect on many in the military. It took my experience in Iraq to cure me of nearly two decades of exposure to it.

The question today, is will we do the same. I cannot. I have to echo the words of German General Henning von Tresckow, one of the men who died in the conspiracy to kill Hitler wrote a number of observations of his time that are quite applicable to our own:

“I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” And “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Personally, I cannot abide this being forever regarded as Trump’s America. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, film, germany, History, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion, war crimes, War on Terrorism, world war two in europe

Civilization Is Tissue Thin Because of the Evil Directed and Committed by Sociopaths, People Without Empathy: Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and War Crimes, then and Now, How Do You Choose to Burn?

 

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The Rape of Nanking

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

This week I finished a series of articles on American Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s opening and closing arguments at Nuremberg, followed by one last night asking the question “Who Were the Victims? Does Anyone Care? The Holocaust and War Crimes Today.” For me the article was difficult to write because I have served in wars that under the rules of the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg and the subsequent U.S. trials in the same courtroom could be rule as wars of aggression, and in which American servicemen and women committed crimes that can easily be classified as war crimes, and even crimes against humanity. Likewise I have taught military ethics at Major American military Staff College.

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg text and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Doing that brought me to do much more study of war crimes and the Holocaust. Since then I have visited Nazi Concentration Camps, Euthanasia Centers, the Wannsee House, where the coordination of the Final Solution was conducted, as well as memorials to the German resistance at the Bendlerstraße headquarters from which the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944 was launched; the Sophie Scholl and White Rose Resistance Memorial and Museum in Munich, and the National Socialist Documentation Center, also in Munich.

As I wrote my articles I have been binge reading books about the Japanese War Crimes from the “China Incident” to the end of the Second World War. I started those at the behest of a reader of this blog. While I knew the wave tops of those crimes and was vaguely familiar with the Tokyo Trial I was not as well informed about the complexity of those crimes and the participation of Japanese officials at every level of government in them.

That leads me to today, not long after the American President pardoned convicted war criminals and the fired his own Secretary of the Navy to keep one of those men from losing his SEAL Trident at a peer review conducted by other SEALS.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany and Japan in the Second World War, as well as other war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide committed by other nations and people’s, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

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Lynching in the American South

My original series of articles several years ago which dealt with the Nazi Eunsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. That was about five years ago. I will have to take a look at the current numbers, but I believe that the numbers wills only get worse as younger people are far more likely to believe that the Holocaust is a myth or or exaggerated.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

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Einsatzgruppen

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo. When I think about the men and women who were the perpetrators of those crimes as well as those who were bystanders, who knew about those crimes and did nothing to stop them I am reminded of Captain Gustave Gilbert, an American Psychologist who interviewed and got to know the major German War Criminals at Nuremberg. Gilbert wrote:

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

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

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Nanking

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

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Soviet Genocide in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at EOD Group Two remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

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The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

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The Islamic State

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity. Historian Timothy Snyder in his book On Tyranny 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.”


Sophie Scholl, the 22 year old leader of the White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany I think gives those who still retain a sense of empathy, ethics, and self-decency a plumb-line of what the real issues are.

Sophie wrote:

“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.”

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Heap Of Swords Piled as Delicately as Jackstraws: One Cannot Be Pulled Out Without Moving the Others: The Middle East 2019

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been watching the events unfolding in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East with a fair amount of apprehension. Seldom has a region been so similar to Barbara Tuchman’s words in her epic work The Guns Of August:

Europe was a heap of swords piled as delicately as jackstraws; one could not be pulled out without moving the others.

Armed to the teeth the militaries of Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Israel, vast numbers of powerful Sunni and Shia militias: the Islamic State, Hezbollah, Houthi, and so many more, scattered from Yemen, to Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza, and Syria, not to mention the vast power of the United States, its now somewhat recalcitrant allies, as well as elements of Russian, Turkish, and even Chinese military power prowl the region on the land, sea and air.

Ancient hatreds and rivalries, Sunni versus Shia, Persian versus Arab, Muslim versus Christian, Jew versus Muslim, Turk versus Arab, and even Christian versus Jew. Ancient hatreds that go beyond mere religious quarrels; not to say that wars of religion have been some of the most bloody and malevolent in history.

These ancient hatreds and rivalries have been aided directly by the United States and Europe following the World Wars. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, the triumph of the British Indian Office over the British Foreign Ministry which allowed the House Of Saud to conquer most of the Arabian Peninsula and drive out the House Of Faisal Hussein which were relegated to Jordan and Iraq after helping the British defeat the Ottoman Turks in the Middle East.

I fear that the President Trump’s unjustified and highly questionable support of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman bin Saud, who ordered the murder of an Saudi Arabian Journalist and resident of the United States, Jamal  Khashoggi, and for who all purposes seems to be of a business partner of, than the President of the United States.

T.E. Lawrence wrote during the early phases of the British occupation of Mesopotamia (Iraq) less than two years after the war:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

Lawrence’s words could be applied to the United States since 1990 and thereafter, especially beginning in 2003 during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Now we have a President threatening to go to war by Tweet with Iran at the behest and on the word of his Saudi business partner without consulting Congress. At least the administration’s Of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton worked within the confines of the United Nations and Congressional authorizations before committing the military in Harm’s way. Even George W. Bush when rebuffed by the U.N. in Iraq, got Congressional authorization for his actions, but we now have a President threatening a major war that could result in catastrophic harm to the world, including the men and women of the U.S. Military, by tweet.

Please don’t get me wrong. I no longer trust the words of any of the players involved, including the Iranians, Saudis, Israelis, Turks, Russians, and everyone else involved, and yes, even the Trump administration. What is scary is that many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are all in favor or bringing on the apocalypse.

I fear that war is coming, and there are too many players with swords in the pile to avoid it. Including an impulsive, unstable, habitual liar. Even if he doesn’t want war he may well lead us into it. Let the reader understand.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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