Tag Archives: evil

Fear, Paranoia, Trump, Evil, and the Absence Of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every day that I see a tweet or hear President Donald Trump go into incoherent

streams of banal blathering I am reminded that the man has no ability to empathize with any other human being, even his family. It does not matter whether it is people suffering in a hurricane, people who have seen mass numbers of family and friends murdered by domestic terrorists, labeling racial and religious minorities as terrorists, criminals, animals, or vermin; or encouraging violence against political opponents and the press at his rallies, he always makes things about him, and plays to the fears of his base.

His lies are often whoppers and those he has been proven by many organizations to have lied or distorted the truth well over 10,000 times during his presidency, often to the detriment of his policies and programs, and which subvert the alliances and treaties that help to keep America great.

I cannot imagine any other American President with such an absence of empathy. He displays all the traits of a narcissistic sociopath, devoid of empathy or the capacity to love anyone other than himself. Everything else is fungible to him. He has no real friends, only temporary partners, and that includes his multiple wives and paramours.

Yet for some reason the bulk of the Republican establishment and its conservative Christian base not only supports him but make up theological jibber-jabber to justify their support on the thinnest Biblical support, usually biblical verses or stories taken completely out of context. But he appeals to their fears, and I doubt that they will abandon him unless the economy completely collapses leaving them destitute, in which case they will likely blame whoever he blames and still support him, just like so many religious people who in other nations have tied their religion to despots.

Believe me, religious people of any faith can live to the highest and most commendable humanitarian deeds as a result of their faith, while others can sink to depravity which only true believers can sink.

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

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

Whitehead was right, and the latter will follow the President into the abyss. The American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

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

Sadly, such people are capable of anything. Historian Timothy Snyder reminded us shortly after President Trump’s Election reminded us in his book On Tyranny: 

“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.”

Last night I wrote about the uncomfortable necessity of trying to understand evil, its causes and those who perpetuate and encourage it, including the current American President, a man incapable of feeling for others, or taking responsibility for his words and actions. The same is true of many of his supporters. Gustave Gilbert who served as a psychologist to the major war crimes defendants at Nuremberg noted:

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

The President has a dark Charisma which his devout followers find irresistible, and since he is not a fringe character, but the leader of one of the most powerful countries on the planet, this is not something that we can easily dismiss. Nor can we dismiss the ever increasing power of the Executive branch of the government,  the specialization and distancing of bureaucrats from the policies they implement, and the pressure of pastors, employers, family, church members, and party officials on people who would normally not harm a fly. However, as Conservative columnist and former Bush Administration staffer Michael Gerson wrote in July of 2017: “The president and his men are incapable of feeling shame about shameful things.”

While President Trump is a catalyst for many of the things happening in the country and the world, he is not the cause. The seeds have been planted for decades by preachers, pundits, and politicians that specialize in promoting fear and paranoia in their followers.

The late American historian, Richard Hofstadter wrote:

“The idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

This is important at a time of increasing economic uncertainly, a world where the old stable democratic orders are under attack, the paranoia increases, along with it fear, racism, and war across the spectrum. A leader who encourages violence and turns every issue into a personal animus only emboldens his followers.

Historian Christopher Browning wrote of this in his book Ordinary Men:

“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.”

Holocaust survivor and philosopher Primo Levi warned us of them, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Whether President Trump wins re-election or doesn’t the danger will not decrease. Many of his followers, and many Trump himself may refuse to stand aside if he loses. some threatening civil war if he loses. But, if he wins he has the power to further dismantle the Constitutional guardrails that have been the protectors of our political system, as well as turn all the instruments of power into his personal weapons. He is already doing so. This is the practice of tyrants throughout history.

Anyway, I’m done for the night as we wait for Hurricane Dorian to reach us sometime overnight. Having been through quite a number of hurricanes in North Carolina and Virginia I know how dangerous they are. My heart is with all of Dorian’s victims in Bermuda and in the Southeastern United States. I have many friends in harm’s way. I cannot ignore their suffering, unlike the President, and many of his minion.

So until tomorrow, as long as we weather the storm without major power outages, flooding, or storm damage, I will write again.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, holocaust, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, weather

“Nothing is Easier than to Denounce an Evil Doer; Nothing is more Important than to Understand Him” The Uncomfortable Necessity of Understanding Evil

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.”

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 studies and writing 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. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I will be doing more of that in the next few weeks as we go back to Germany for an eighteen day visit.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, 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.”

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

                                    Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the majority of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

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 in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

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.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

                       Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

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.

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.

nankino-masakra-1

                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

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.

tzd8ftsn-1390907543

                                      Soviet Mass Killings 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 my last duty station recently 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.

CambodiaExhibitMassgrave-x1

                                                  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.”

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide

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.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

In fact in trying to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville the President first equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked and under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said that was an admission that he was almost an admission that he was wrong.” The President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

 

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 and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, nazi germany, Political Commentary, racism, world war two in europe

“He’s Not Hurting the People He’s Supposed to Be Hurting” The Malevolence of the Trump Base

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I would have to say that for pure malevolence sake that President Trump, notwithstanding the fact that he is undoubtedly a petulant child, and a narcissistic sociopath with delusions of Godhood who is incapable of empathy, that many of his followers are just as bad and quite possibly worse. However, none of them have an iota of the power that Trump wields as President. That is a good thing, but it is also quite troubling, because such people may be your neighbors, your coworkers, or God forbid, family members.

Gustave Gilbert, an American Army Psychologist at the Nuremberg Trials 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.”

An example of such a evil was displayed this week when a women in the Florida Panhandle, who while complaining about the effect that the Trump Shutdown is having on her family told a New York Times reporter “he isn’t hurting the people he’s supposed to be hurting.”

Now let that sink in a moment. Think about it. Someone voted for and supported President Trump because he would hurt people. Now, when reality hits and the person is confronted with the fact that Trump doesn’t care if he is hurting his followers, she now complains that “he’s not hurting the right people.” In other words it’s okay for the leader you support to harm others so long as it doesn’t hurt you.

Trump, as horrible as he is, is not the cause of this. The preparation for him has been going on for decades, and people like the woman in Florida are prima facia evidence of a moral and ethical rot that has turned otherwise normal, decent people into fear driven narcissistic sociopaths incapable of having feelings for anyone but themselves. Trump is not the cause, he is the symptom of something far worse than he could ever be.

Unlike his most faithful followers, the people who he understood would follow him even if “shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue,” Trump never claimed to be a moral man, or for that matter someone who followed the teachings of Christ, but his most faithful followers do.

Now, those people are finding out that Trump for all of his bluster doesn’t really give a damn about them are lost. Like the woman in Florida, they are angry because they are suffering because of his policies, but unlike people who have not sold their souls, they cry out in disbelief, “he isn’t hurting the people he’s supposed to be hurting.” They cannot believe that he lied to them, that he used them, and that his policies are harming them, but rather that he isn’t hurting the right people.

My friends, please tell me how such an attitude is anything less than evil. Please tell me how it is different from the men of the SS Totenkopfverbande who profited from the mass murder and genocide of others, but when called to account for their crimes, cried out that they were victims because they had believed Hitler? The difference is simply a matter of degree. These disappointed Trump followers would still follow him and do anything he says, but they are suffering and cannot believe that he is letting making them suffer, without comprehending that they mean nothing to him.

Deluded by decades of propaganda, such people are finding out that they don’t matter to Trump, or the GOP. Maybe someday they will realize that they have been complicit through their tacit support, agreement, and help in crimes against humanity, crimes against the Constitution of the United States, and attitudes that but I doubt it. They have no empathy for people,they despise, only self-pity when they find that the man that they sold their souls to support and defend despises them as much as the people they think they should be punished.

The irony is that they are not being punished by those that they despise, but by the man who they treat as a savior, a secular Messiah.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, leadership, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany, Political Commentary

Civilization is Tissue Thin: The Uncomfortable Necessity of Understanding Evil

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.”

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 studies and writing 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. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I will be doing more of that in the next few weeks as we go back to Germany for an eighteen day visit.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, 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.”

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the majority of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

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 in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

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.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

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.

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.

nankino-masakra-1

Nankingnanking_massacre_1

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.

tzd8ftsn-1390907543

Soviet Mass Killings 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 my last duty station recently 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.

CambodiaExhibitMassgrave-x1

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.”

isis3-840x550

The Islamic State

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide 

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.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

In fact in trying to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville the President first equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked and under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said that was an admission that he was almost an admission that he was wrong.” The President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

 

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 and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under crime, culture, ethics, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Reflections on Life as an Authoritarian State Arises

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are visiting friends in the Washington DC area as we get ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary Monday. It is nice to be relaxing with each other, another friend who is down from Pennsylvania and combined flock of 12 Papillon dogs, three of which are ours. Everyone but me has now gone to their bedrooms while I sip a glass of McClelland’s Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskey with my little boy Pierre at my side, all 4.8 pounds of him. That’s a good thing.

Since tomorrow’s weather forecast is for continued rain I will probably watch World Cup games, read and spend time with Judy, our friends and the Papillons. If the weather is good Sunday Monday hope to take Judy to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Monday night we will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary with our friends. Depending on the weather I hope to get some decent runs and walks in along the Potomac River.

Likewise, despite all that is going on try to take a break from the incessant pounding of crises manufactured by the President and the chaos that he uses to increase his personal power over his administration, the Congress, the media, and yes all of us. Sadly, none of this is going away anytime soon and it will likely become much worse before it gets better; such is the nature of fledgling dictatorships. Even today he demonized all immigrants as criminals and their supporters as being against the rule of law and his supporters applaud as the leaders of his political party cower before him. Eric Hoffer wrote:

Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.

The words and actions of the President and his supporters bear this out, they claim to be making America great again but they are destroying the very fabric of the ideals on which the nation was founded.

He did this as his administration and immigration agencies imprisons thousands of children, refuses to reunite them with their families, makes plans for camps on military bases to house nearly 150,000 immigrants, sets up checkpoints on American highways demanding that travelers have proof of citizenship, details military JAG officers with no experience in immigration law to serve as Acting US Attorneys to prosecute immigrants.

At a publicity stunt Friday the President compared all immigrants from south of the border to criminals by parading the survivors of people killed by illegals and spouting absolute lies about the number of crimes committed by immigrants, legal and illegal alike. He then took the time to sign his name on the pictures of the victims of those crimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for the victims of any violent crime. I have stood over the bodies of men, women, and children killed by the bullets of criminals and tried to console their survivors. I did that so many times that I have lost count of the number.

Likewise I have been the victim of violent crime. I was held up at gunpoint with my wife and her family when we were dating and had a pistol pointed at my head as I sat in the back seat of a car unable to go after the gunman without risking the lives of Judy and her parents. I have also had my liefe threatened by White Supremacist for things that I have written, one that was so specific that I reported it to both the local police and the FBI. But in all cases the people who attacked or threatened me were native born Americans.

In the President’s view if you are killed by a dark skinned immigrant your families are called “Angel Families” but if you are killed by an American you and your family do not exist because you serve no political purpose. That my friends is a fact and the statistics show that far more violent crimes are committed by Americans than all immigrants and most actual cases of domestic terrorism in the United States are committed by White Supremacists, and mass murders including those at schools, businesses, entertainment venues, churches or other places of worship are committed by White people, not immigrants. But those go largely unheralded by the President, except for incidental tweets that express thoughts and prayers and praise of law enforcement.

But that is how incipient dictatorships behave. Certain groups are targets, demonized and compared to the worst examples. In the parlance of Trump they are all murderers, rapists, terrorists, gang members, and drug dealers. This behavior runs rampant in dictatorships and authoritarian states. The President has persistently and insidiously invoked that immigrants are evil. Hoffer 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.” 

That has been happening since the day that President Trump announced his candidacy for President and it is no secret. Mexicans were the first devil of his campaign, and he called them criminals, murderers and rapists on the day that he announced his candidacy. The videos of his speeches, his manifold number of Tweets, and the actions of his administration are all too widely available not to be found by anyone seeking the truth about him, but for his most fervent supporters all of those facts are fake, even if he said them in front of millions of people.

Now, events in the United States and at our borders have shown that the President was absolutely correct about his followers when he said that they would continue “to follow him even if he shot somebody on 5th Avenue.”

My friends, it is not going to get any better and we better be ready for what comes next or we will be swept away in the flood of lies and evil to come. Despite his buffoonery, one cannot underestimate the potential evil of the President and his followers. Likewise do not assume that a Blue Wave will happen in November because there may be events that occur which will allow the President to use executive orders enacted by his predecessors during the height of the Cold War and the potential of nuclear war to postpone elections or rule by decree. I refer to this as a Reichstag Fire moment.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”

We live in a very perilous time where the vision of our founders could be overturned in the blink of an eye and our Republic, as flawed as it is, but always has embraced the ideal of building a more perfect union will perish from the face of the earth. The nation and people may remain, but the ideal will be gone and with it the Republic.

So until tomorrow or the next post, have a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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With Malice Towards All and Charity Towards None: President’s Day and the Absence of Empathy in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After four devastating years of Civil War Abraham Lincoln ended his Second Inaugural Address with these words:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Today is the second President’s Day that the United States has observed during the Trump Era. A year ago I really did hope that things would be different than they are today. and I do not think that President Trump could ever say or mean the words that Lincoln spoke on that day in March 1865, in fact he seems in his life, words, and actions to filled with malice towards all and charity towards none.

I had spent the year and a half before Mr. Trump’s election, even before most people considered him a serious candidate for the Republican nomination warning about the danger that he posed to the Constitution and to the Republic whose course it guides. But less than a month after his inauguration I expressed hopes that the man who I believed was a self-absorbed bully, a narcissist, and sociopath could somehow rise above all of that to be a man who could grow into the office.

I wrote:

“I would wish that Mr. Trump would have a sense of empathy for others. I don’t doubt his business acumen, or his ability to read weakness in others, nor his ability to demean, threaten, and humiliate people. He has wealth, celebrity, and now he is in reality the President of the most powerful country in the world. He seems to have everything, and at the same time he seems to have nothing, his life seems empty of almost everything that makes us human. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?… I really do hope that he finds friendship, comes to know fraternity, gains prudence and wisdom, and develops a sense of empathy, if not for the country, for him, his wife, and young son….”

I really wanted to be proven wrong in my assessment of him, but the past year has shown that he is incapable of transcending his pathological narcissism and basic hatred of humanity. Every speech, every interview, every tweet of the past year has driven that home. Even this week as the nation mourned the deaths of seventeen people in a mass murder at Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, Mr. Trump made the event all about himself as he attacked the FBI blaming their failure to stop the attack on the investigation into the now proven Russian interference in the 2016 election; an investigation that is getting ever closer to him.

The list of scandals involving Mr. Trump, including affairs with porn stars and Playboy models: coupled with attacks on individual Americans, political opponents regardless of their party affiliation, the press, and long standing allies while embracing dictators and authoritarians around the world, all the while threatening war, even nuclear war in Korea and against Iran. Then there are his attacks on Congress, the judiciary, the Justice Department, Federal Law enforcement personnel and agencies, and American intelligence services.

If that was all it would be damning enough, but Mr. Trump demonstrates in his words and actions that he has no empathy for the victims of abuse, racism, or even the wife of an American soldier killed in action in Niger. However he can defend Nazis and White Supremacists after Charlottesville as “very fine people” and former White House aide and serial spouse abuser Rob Porter as “having done a very good job” and defended him against the allegations. Even last week he appeared to blame the victims of the Florida shooting for not doing enough to stop the shooter before they were killed.

I do not know why Mr Trump is incapable of empathy. As I speculated last year I think it may be how he was brought up. Whatever the reason for his actions and behavior he exhibits enough of the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as Sociopathic Personality Disorder to be truly scary and disturbing.

When I watch the President in action I am reminded of the words of Dr. Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist who was detailed to the major war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials wrote in his book Nuremberg Diary: 

“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.” 

I think that is what bothers me the most about President Trump; he has the genuine incapacity to feel with with his fellow men. Because of his position that portends bad things for all of us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Indifference: the Epitome of All Evil

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week we finished our first class of the year at the Staff College where I teach. In my ethics elective we touched on a number of very difficult subjects, my students gave presentations about the American internment of Japanese Americans in World War Two, the War with Mexico, where the United States according to Ulysses Grant was “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation;” as well as several other deeply uncomfortable subjects which due to our academic non-attribution policy I do not even mention here.

The class was probably the best that I have taught in my two years at the college, the students were amazing, and all showed a tremendous capacity for wrestling with difficult subjects and were capable of deep self-reflection, something that should encourage anyone when they think about the future of our military leadership. Our final class was spend watching a very disconcerting movie called Conspiracy which is about the Wansee Conference which coordinated the Nazi Final Solution against the Jews. It is actually one of the most terrifying movies I have ever seen, mainly because it deals government officials meeting in a very businesslike fashion to condemn millions to death around a conference table while eating the finest food and drink.

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

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?”

Last week 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.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, 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.”

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen 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. 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.

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.

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. The traces of evil that are on display in those places are present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

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 of awareness about, or even the 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.

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 my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathetic 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.

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.”

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin; and I believe that the indifference of so many people, especially those of great power and influence to crimes against humanity, to the suffering of people, epitomizes the evil of our day even more than the overt acts of the terrorists and governments committing them. 

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.

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. Nor can we allow ourselves to be indifferent to them.

That is why that I must continue to write and teach.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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