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Burning Down the Country to Save Himself: the Götterdämmerung of Trump’s Final Days

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

President-Elect Biden is continuing to prepare to assume the office he has been elected while President Trump refuses to concede and endangering national security, our economy, our lives, and our entire system of government in a desperate effort to retain power.

Today he “terminated” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper who refused to allow Trump to use Federal Troops under the Insurrection Act to attack demonstrators following the murder of George Floyd, and supports renaming Army Forts named after Confederate leaders.

Trump continues to utter falsehoods about the election process in order to undermine it and our faith in that process, sending out teams to create chaos in ever state that flipped to Biden.

He continues to flaunt the reality of the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, and even with nearly a quarter of a million Americans dead from it holds parties and rallies, and conducts business so slovenly that many of his own closest supporters, cabinet members and staff are becoming infected.

In this campaign to burn down the United States in order to save himself he is being supported by Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and a host of other elected Republicans and his cult like army of illegal militias, White Nationalist paramilitary groups, Christian theocrats, the QAnon cult, and more than likely with the help  Russian agents.

Vigilance is the watchword today for Trump’s Götterdämmerung, his Twilight of the Gods is upon us. Volker Ullrich in his second volume of his biography of Adolf Hitler wrote:

“I know the war is lost,” admitted a deeply depressed Hitler in early January 1945. “The [enemies’] superiority is too great…I would like to put a bullet in my head.” But he immediately pulled himself together: “We will not surrender, never ever. We may go down but we will take a world with us.”

Today Trump aide Jason Miller said “The word concede is not in our dictionary.” I think that they will hold onto that as long as they can. It is possible that eventually Trump will issue a grudging concession, but then it is possible that in his last days he will do everything he can to destroy the country on his way out.

Anyway, as another reminder, something I wrote on 18 May 2017 about Trump, his followers, and enablers in the GOP. It was originally given the title Trump’s True Believers: Why Removing Trump will be Harder than it Seems. 

On to working on the book,

Until next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Trump’s True Believers: Why Removing Trump will be Harder than it Seems 18 May 2017 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For those rejoicing in the continued revelations of President Trump’s malfeasance and incompetence hoping that this will soon trigger his removal either by impeachment or the use of the 25th Amendment be assured that unless something totally unexpected occurs that this will not end soon, nor well.

Dona;d Trump is a unique creature in American politics, he has succeeded in establishing himself as the center of a political cult that has taken over the Republican Party. Despite his overall approval ratings consistently being below 40% with terrible numbers pertaining to his basic character and trustworthiness, well over 80% of Republicans in every poll continue to support him. They reject any fact that is contrary to what they believe about their leader, and they tend to support the most unconstitutional aspects of his ill-defined political ideology, which more resembles the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip than anything from the American political tradition. They abhor those who raise objections of any kind based on fact so much that they have gone resorted to repeating what they sometimes refer to as alternative facts or alternative truths.

Guided by an uncompromising propaganda network of talk radio and television hosts as well as internet based organizations they have little loyalty to anyone but the President. This mass movement supported by such propaganda is well described by the great American philosopher Eric Hoffer who wrote:

“All mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

This is the world of alternative facts, and the prelude to dictatorship if the trend is allowed to continue. Likewise the true believers, those who follow the President as if he were some sort of Messiah intent on destroying the old order and establishing a new will not stand easily aside. Their support for the President is much deeper than normal political attachment, he is an extension of them who gives voice to their innermost fears, passions, and insecurity. They are defiant in their stand against those that he is against. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote of how the language of their leader and his propaganda works in the minds of the followers:

“Victor Klemperer, a literary scholar of Jewish origin, turned his philological training against Nazi propaganda. He noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition: The people always meant some people and not others (the president uses the word in this way), encounters were always struggles (the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the world in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).”  

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Thus they cannot be convinced by normal argument or fact. Hoffer noted:

“The leader personifies the certitude of the creed and the defiance and grandeur of power. He articulates and justifies the resentment damned up in the souls of the frustrated. He kindles the vision of a breath-taking future so as to justify the sacrifice of a transitory present. He stages a world of make-believe so indispensable for the realization of self-sacrifice and united action.”

Even when everything comes apart around them and their leader collapses they cannot admit that he was deceiving them. At the end of the war a German soldier told Victor Klemperer that “Hitler has never lied, I believe the Fuhrer.” Snyder writes: “The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant.”

With that kind of following in the GOP it will take a while before this is finished as most GOP leaders, even those who distrust or oppose Trump on some issues are too afraid of the Trump supporters who now control their party to attempt to remove him unless those supporters turn on him. This is unlikely at least in the near future, and there is always the possibility that early some morning Trump will tweet them into committing acts of violence to crush dissent, even against Republican leaders who have the courage to jump ship and turn on the President.

The man is not normal, he is not stable, and he knows nothing but conflict. His followers believe in him almost as a Messiah figure who cannot be wrong and must be defended to the last and experience has shown us that some of would resort to violence to silence his critics.

Like Hitler and his most loyal followers, he sees this as a fight to the finish which Trump which he must win or be defeated. It is a zero sum conflict, and I do not expect it to end well, even if Trump is eventually removed by impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under authoritarian government, civil rights, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, crimes against humanity, ethics, History, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, White nationalism

Suddenly it Threatens to Start all Over Again” The Bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church and the Death of Four Little Girls at 56 Years

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on 16 September, 1964. I have spent much of the past couple of weeks writing about the Crimes of Nazi Germany, add will continue to do so. However tonight I will re-publish an article that sadly is as pertinent now as when the events described in it first happened.

But Racism, Slavery, and violence committed against Blacks is not an outlying event in our history, it is central to it, and deeply embedded in our White Christian culture. Many whites, like me, what to believe that we have gotten over this and that since we have had a Black President that there is nothing left to say or do, so we sit  back and watch violence being perpetrated against Blacks in real time and say nothing. Now I do think that younger whites, including some Christians are getting the message that we cannot sit back and let this happen, which seems to be the case in many of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. But still, I don’t think that the reality of our complicity in these crimes by our silence shows that we have come that far.

In Star Trek the Next Generation, Captain Jean Luc Picard told his Klingon Chief of Security, Lieutenant Worf: “We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Until the murder of George Floyd I really don’t think that most of White Americans paid little attention to years of violence committed against Blacks: the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, the massacre at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by Dylan Roof, the amount of times police across the country have used deadly force against unarmed blacks, usually for misdemeanors that whites would get a warning or a court summons, or for no reason at all like the Louisville Police who killed Brianna Taylor, Then there are the self-appointed vigilante’s like the men who ran down and then shot and killed Ahmaud Aubrey in South Georgia in May, and so much more.

I hope that we will turn a corner on racism in this country, the sooner the better, but from the response of some readers I figure that we still have a way to go. So please bear with me as I share the events of what happened in Birmingham 56 years ago, because 56 years in history is often like yesterday.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

On September 16th 1963 a young Southern White lawyer in Birmingham Alabama spoke these words after a black church was bombed and the police attacked peaceful protesters:

“from anger and despair, from frustration and empathy. And from years of hopes, hopes that were shattered and crumbled with the steps of that Negro Baptist Church.”

Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 52 years ago today. At 10:22 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was one of the most brazen attacks against a church in the modern era, and men who claimed to be “Christians” committed it.

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Four young girls, three 14 year olds and one 13 year old were killed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives that day. Twenty-two other church members were wounded in an attack, which was carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Why were they killed and why were the others wounded? For the crime of being black and the crime of their church serving as a focal point of the Civil Rights movement.

Likewise, most people, including many blacks do not know that before that beginning in 1955 there had been 19 other bombings of black churches and the homes of black leaders in Birmingham before this one. But even before that outbreak of violence, Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham”because over 50 bombing attacks against blacks, black churches and black institutions in the years after the First World War.

The church had served as a focal point of the Freedom Summer where Civil Rights activists and students from around the country had met, trained and organized to register blacks to vote. This made it a prominent target for violence.

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Early in the morning of September 15th four members of the United Klans of America, Frank Bobby Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash and Robert Chambliss placed a box of 10 sticks of dynamite under the church steps near the basement. A time delay detonator was set o ensure that the church was filled when the bomb went off. The blast occurred as children were entering the to listen to a sermon, ironically entitled “The Love that Forgives.”

The attack was a heinous crime and an act of cold-blooded premeditated murder that maybe a number of years before might not have made the news in much of the country. But this was 1963 and over the preceding months of the Freedom Summer opened the eyes of people across the nation to what was happening in the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers during that time raised the profile of the Civil Rights Movement and shown the ugly hatred towards blacks held by many Southerners hidden underneath the veneer of polite Southern hospitality.

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Blacks protested and were met with a massive police response coordinated by Governor Wallace that brought about more violence, and more dead blacks. A day later a young white lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr.; a true Southerner by right and heritage spoke to the White Businessman’s club of Birmingham. His words were forceful and to the point. Instead of simply asking why, the young man began his speech with this poignant remark:

“Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.”

He continued, A short time later, white policemen kill a Negro and wound another. A few hours later, two young men on a motorbike shoot and kill a Negro child. Fires break out, and, in Montgomery, white youths assault Negroes. And all across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say they wonder, “Why?” “Who?” Everyone then “deplores” the “dastardly” act. But you know the “who” of “Who did it” is really rather simple.”

Not only was the attack heinous, but, the response of many in law enforcement at the local level and even at the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was criminal. Hoover refused to investigate, and although a witness identified Chambliss, he was not charged with the bombing; instead he was charged for having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six-month jail sentence.

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Thought FBI agents had investigated the crime and discovered evidence against all four men, Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. So for eight years the crime was covered up.

However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. Baxley re-opened the case and requested the FBI files, which had been suppressed by Hoover, who had died in 1972. In 1977 Chambliss was indicted and convicted of first degree murder, he died in prison. Blanton was tried in 2001, convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 without ever having been charged with a crime, and Cherry was convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison and died in 2004.

The attack and the deaths of the four girls served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act in 1965. However it did not end the fight for equality, and others would die in its aftermath, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who died at the hands of an assassin’s bullet four years later.

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965 many blacks have been elected to local, state and federal offices or served in some of the highest ranks of the military, judiciary, and at the Cabinet level. Two, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have served as Secretary of State, two, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, as Attorney General of the United States; Susan Rice who serve as Ambassador to the United Nations and National Security Advisor; and one, Clarence Thomas, as a Justice of the Supreme Court; and finally, Barak Obama elected as President of the United States. Black sports stars, actors and singers are celebrated as heroes among much of society.

But despite these advances, racism is still quite prevalent and getting worse as its proponents, unleashed and unhindered with a supportive President in the White House. One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a white Southern Baptist minister and retired military chaplain noted that many whites may not be explicitly racists in interpersonal relationships with blacks, but have an attitude that blacks still need “to stay in their place.” He noted that he thinks that quite a few believe that many whites believe that this is a large part of the reason that President Obama is opposed and even hated by so many whites. It is not just politics or ideology. While politics may play a role the root of the hatred is racism because I cannot for the life of me imagining any white Democrat, including Hilary Clinton getting this kind of treatment.

But the sad truth is there still is an undercurrent of unrepentant racism and institutional racism in the country and not just the South. Conspiracy theory minded White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, Ku Klux Klan, Atomwaffen Division, the Aryan Nation, and many others can be found in the North, the West, and the Midwest and have no personal connection to the Confederacy or even a Confederate veteran, they are simply violent racists and authoritarians. In fact many places in the South have seen greater advances in racial relations than other parts of the country. That is not to say that there are those who would attempt to disenfranchise blacks, some of the voting laws recently passed are designed to ensure that significant parts of the black population, specifically the elderly and students living away from home have greater difficulty voting. It is actually a more insidious method than past Jim Crow laws because the drafters of these laws hope to keep just enough black and other poor or minority voters from voting to ensure that they maintain power. Some of those who drafted or supported these state laws designed to disenfranchise voters have openly admitted that fact.

Not only is racial prejudice experienced by blacks, it is experienced by many Americans of Hispanic origins, some of Asian descent but also by those of Middle Eastern, Iranian, Pakistani or Indian descent. And yes, people of all races, including racial, ethnic and religious minorities can be as racist and violent as the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church 56 years ago. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter whom it is targeted against, and who does the targeting, it is wrong and needs to be fought.

The Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org lists 940 active hate groups of all types operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. (See the Hate Map herehttps://www.splcenter.org/hate-map) The number is down from recent because a number of more the virulent White Supremacist and militia groups have gone underground, shut down websites and social media pages.

Too many people have died in this struggle to stop now. If today you read this before or after going to church, remember those four little girls who died at the hands of four murdering, racist Klansmen. Likewise remember that there are others out there full of hate who would not hesitate to do the same again and others who would actively support those efforts. Sometimes even in the name of God.

As for me I will fight it no matter whom it is against.

Charles Morgan Jr. closed the speech which brought about death threats against him and his family and forced him to leave Birmingham with these words.

“And who is really guilty? Each of us. Each citizen who has not consciously attempted to bring about peaceful compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, every citizen who has ever said “they ought to kill that nigger,” every citizen who votes for the candidate with the bloody flag, every citizen and every school board member and schoolteacher and principal and businessman and judge and lawyer who has corrupted the minds of our youth; every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.”

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                                                  Charles Morgan Jr.

Charles Morgan died in 2009, but after he left Birmingham he went on to lead a remarkable life, especially in his commitment to Civil Rights and Justice. The New York Times obituary noted:

“Among his many cases as a civil rights lawyer, Mr. Morgan sued to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Alabama; forced a new election in Greene County, Ala., that led to the election of six black candidates for local offices in 1969; and successfully challenged racially segregated juries and prisons. After the civil rights movement began to subside, Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War.

He represented Muhammad Ali in his successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented the civil rights activist Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views. And he defended an officer when he was court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.”

We cannot ever let ourselves forget that it was supposedly Christian men who bombed a church and killed those four little girls, and that as long as all of us fail to live up to our responsibilities such things will happen again. If we do not, we are as guilty as those who throw the bombs, shoot the bullets, and those preachers, pundits and politicians who deny the fact that these things are still commonplace. This is especially true in the Trump era.

Yes, my friends, we will be at least as guilty as the brazen killers who continue to try to kill the dreams of those who are not like them. As for me, I hope that I will be as committed to stand for the rights of the oppressed and for justice as did Charles Morgan.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, crime, ethics, faith, History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, White nationalism

Our Heart of Darkness and Failure to Understand rather than Just Condemn Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

As I struggle to understand President Trump and his criminal administration and cult followers in regard to the epic disaster of Coronavirus 19 in the United States, his unabashed authoritarian actions in destroying the guardrails of the Constitution and our Institutions, his open and flagrant disregard for law and the unwritten norms that have helped preserve and protect our resilient yet fragile system of government which depends on the constitutional separation of powers and the need for compromise in order to keep us from falling in into an authoritarian and yes, Fascist dictatorship. He has so corrupted the institutions charged with preserving the rights and liberties of our people, regardless of their political party, race, ethnicity, religion or lack thereof, and turned the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security into instruments of domestic terror that it boggles the mind. Despite all Trump has done to corrupt and poison the American political system, he has done little to take his terror abroad, although he seldom speaks up when other authoritarian rulers use their power to kill and imprison their opposition.

The fact is that the current American President is a serial liar, adulterer, business failure, deceiver, swindler and grifter who has no respect for our ideals as written in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the laws enacted by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. But those are just the surface issues, for honestly he is an evil man who could care less about the life of any American, even his followers. The fact is that President Trump is a malignant narcissistic sociopath and open racist who only cares about himself, his power, and his wealth that the lives of people don’t matter to him. Property and businesses yes, but victims of racism and violence committed by Police officers, or right wing racist and fascist individuals or groups don’t matter to him, because they are sub-human criminals who don’t deserve to live as equals in this country. That was never more on display than several times this year after Numerous Black men including George Floyd of Minneapolis who had a police officer who happened to work with him as a club bouncer, kneeled with his knee across Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, despite Floyd’s plea that he couldn’t breathe before he died. Before that there was Brianna Taylor, a paramedic and EMT in Louisville who had her home invaded by Louisville Police and was dunned down. Last week it was the turn of another Black Man, this time Jacob Blake who was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer who was holding on to his shirt as Blake attempted to get in his car with his three young children. Blake survived but will most likely be crippled for life. There are hundreds of other incidents of police brutality and killings of Blacks and other minorities over the past several decades. Then there are the killings committed by White Supremacists at Black churches, Jewish Synagogues, Islamic Mosques, Sikh Temples, people protesting Confederate monuments and other locations which do not seem to even register in President Trump’s perverted soul. It seems to me that many, if not most Americans do not want to believe that any American President is capable of the commission of gross and unspeakable crimes or approve of them. Trump may not be the first of such men, as we can go back much father, but as President he is the worst, even topping Andrew Johnson in that category of racist criminals, and yes both were impeached, but not removed from office. 

So how did we as Americans get to such a place where such a criminal, scofflaw, and unrepentant racist could not only be elected to office, but could based on inflaming the fears of white people could be re-elected. I find that interesting because of something that Gustave Gilbert, an American Army Psychologist assigned to watch over the Major Nazi War Crimes Defendant’s at Nuremberg came to see. He wrote about a truth that we cannot see in President Trump and his cohort of racist cult followers. 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.”

That absence of empathy is common to Trump and the vast majority of his White Christian supporters. The evidence is show in almost every poll, 80-90% of them see nothing wrong in what he is doing and has done. Personally, after having been a Republican for more than half of my life I cannot imagine just how low the GOP has sunk under Trump’s authoritarian leadership. When I left the GOP in 2008 after returning from Iraq, I refused to belief that the party could abandon all principle and support a man with no moral center, no integrity, and no loyalty to family, wives, children, his employees, his investors, or the country.

I honestly believe that one of our greatest problems in the United States is to believe the myths of our nation being a light to the world, our manifest destiny, as well as the twin myths that have shaped us since Reconstruction, the myth of the Noble South, and the myth of the Lost Cause. Likewise the racist crimes committed against committed against almost every immigrant group going back to the Irish and Germans, Then the southern and Eastern Europeans, the Jews, the Japanese, the Chinese, Filipinos, those of Mexican or Latin American Descent, and yes Arabs regardless of their religious beliefs, and last but not least the genocide committed by our English ancestors and our own genocide and confinement to reservations of the descendants of America’s First Nation, more commonly called Native Americans, tend to be minimized by almost all of White America, as well as by other minorities who simply don’t know about the crimes committed by our nation against every Original Nation since the English landed at Jamestown in 1607. We tend to show little empathy for others, especially those darker than us.

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

One of our chief problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people, especially the leaders of enemy nations, because we cannot abide the reflection that we see when we look in the mirror and see our own crimes committed at home and abroad, once again proving that for much of our national existence we have had little empathy for the victims of slavery, the wars against our First Nations, which included biological warfare, and the forced marches of them from their ancestral homelands to desolate lands, which once we found contained gold, silver, or oil, we took back from them, despite our treaty obligations. I could go on to our conquests and geographical expansion against weaker opponents like Mexico, Spain, and the relatively newly independent nations of Central American and the Caribbean. It was no wonder that Ulysses Grant in his memoirs wrote of the conquest of Mexico:

“Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day, regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.

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, because we cannot see ourselves in them. This is often  because we We look abroad we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and proclaim that  “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 was not able to do so this year because of Europe’s well reasoned travel ban on Americans due to the incomprehensible

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who incompetence and insipid evil  of the Trump Regime regarding COVID19 share the immoral 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

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.

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                       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.

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                                                            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.

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                                      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.

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Southern Justice at 56 Years: It Continues All Over the U.S. Today

normanrockwellsouthernjustice-2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fifty-Six years ago, on June 21st, three young men working to register blacks to vote as part of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Among the Klansmen were Sheriff Cecil Price and deputies of the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Department. As  a historian I am troubled as I see an increase in racially motivated hate crimes and displays of nooses left as threats at historically black institutions or places dedicated to remembering the Civil Rights movement. I am even more troubled by the numbers of Black men being murdered, shot or otherwise assaulted by police across the nation on a regular basis.

But even now I see a lack of empathy, coming from White people in authority, including the President, police officers and officials, and even Evangelical Christians,  I wonder if we are sinking back into the abyss of Jim Crow. I am glad that the massive protests in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd are continuing and include a significant number of Whites, Latinos, and others. I hope that this continues and that the violence committed by Whites against blacks, and that change begins because we as a nation cannot allow it to continue.

I have dealt with Holocaust deniers many times and also plenty of people who find nothing wrong with American slavery, Jim Crow, and racism. I find it troubling that despite the forensic, and historical evidence that people can either deny, minimize, or rationalize such behavior.

The fact that the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination had to struggle with the issue of civil rights and the race hatred of the Alt-Right over recent years, that me that the toxin of racism has not yet been purged from the Convention, many other White churches, or for that matter in of America at large.

Trayvon Martin and his Killer, George Zimmerman, Zimmerman went Free

The fact that not that long a man who was active in White Supremacist movements murdered two men and wounded a third as they defended Muslim women on a Portland Oregon commuter train was disturbing. Likewise, the murder of a newly commissioned African American Army Lieutenant by a White Supremacist on the campus of the University of Maryland, last month the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Sadly we can go back to the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012, and the mass murder of parishioners at the Mt. Zion AME Church, in Charleston, SC in 2014. Those were all attributed to White Supremacists or Whites acting as vigilantes. Then there there are the deaths of George Floyd, Dreasjon Reed, Brianna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Derek Scott, Eric Garner, and most recently Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, all at the hands of police. We haven’t really grasped the depth of the problem yet. It is systematic and it will not be solved until every American is willing to confront it.

But, then there are the overt threats that harken back to our history of lynchings. Over the past several years there have been a spate of nooses being placed on college campuses, historically Black institutions, Civil Rights sites, and at the offices or residences of people who support civil rights, including professors. Those continue, and not just threats by killings. Last week two men were found hanging from trees in Victorville and Palmdale, California. I found this odd. Local officials were quicke to call them suicides, but two Black men hanging themselves from trees in heavily White cities in California’s High Desert within days of each other doesn’t seem like a coincidence. One was found not far from the Victorville Public Library, and the other near Palmdale City Hall. Since the area has its share of White Supremacist groups, I hope that police, prosecutors, and coroners check their conclusions and maybe even call for assistance from the State Attorneys General Office, and possibly the FBI.

southern justice 4

These troubling incidents have again reminded me of the events of June 21st 1964 when three men, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen. Twenty year old Andrew Goodman was from New York City. He was a progressive activist and Anthropology student at Queens College. Twenty-four year old Mickey Schwerner was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish and had come South to work with others for Civil Rights in Mississippi. The third man, James Cheney, was a twenty-one year old Black Mississippian. Chaney was from Meridian Mississippi and was a volunteer with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equity. All three men were there to assist community leaders with voter registration and education in conjunction with local churches.

On June 21st 1964 the three men were in Philadelphia, Mississippi where they were investigating the burning of  Mount Zion Methodist Church. The church had been working with CORE’s voter registration and education programs. In the wake of the church being burned, many black citizens and church members were beaten by whites, rumored to be aided by members of the local Sheriff’s office. They specifically accused Sheriff’s Deputy Cecil Price of abuse.

Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were marked men from the moment they arrived in Philadelphia. As they left the town the three were arrested for an alleged traffic violation. They were briefly jailed and released that evening, but were not allowed to make any phone calls. On the way back to Meridian, two carloads of Klan members forced their car off the road and then abducted them and murdered them. The bodies were not discovered for 44 days. Their disappearance brought national attention and a major investigation to the town. Eventually seven men, including Deputy Price were convicted of the murders. The murders and the investigation became the subject of the movie Mississippi Burning.

MississippiBurningPressRelease

Iconic American artist Norman Rockwell who was well known for his portraits of American life as well as his support for the Civil Rights movement, painted “Southern Justice” which is sometimes known as “Murder in Mississippi” in 1965. This was not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which over the past two decades has been under attack in many southern states, and key provisions were gutted by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Fifty-six years ago the murders of these three young men brought national attention to the pervasive racism and discrimination in the country. Before this event most murders, lynchings, as well as the burnings of homes businesses were left uncovered by the media, their victims forgotten and the perpetrators unpunished.

I do hope and pray that we never go back to those days, but there are a number of troubling issues for us in the United States today. The first is that there have been quite a few laws passed to limit voting rights in various states. Some of these were successfully challenged in the courts the until the Supreme Court gutted the Voters Rights Act, the consequences of which are acutely felt now.

Then there are the rapidly growing number of racially motivated hate crimes against Blacks and other minorities as well as the threat of nooses being placed in trees around historic sites and museums dedicated to minorities or civil rights. I discussed these earlier. The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors the activities of hate groups across the political, religious, and racial spectrum and has noted a sharp increase in attacks over since the election of Donald Trump. Heavily armed and militant racist and anti-Semitic groups proudly march hand in hand with Trump supporters, allegedly to protect them from “leftists.”

I wonder if we will see a return to the commonplace violence and silence that characterized the nation’s treatment of minorities before the Civil Rights Movement. You think that we have moved the chains so far and that it cannot happen again when before our very eyes it rises like an undead specter to claim new victims. Eternal vigilance is the guardian of freedom; we cannot allow the thousands who died before, and those who have died since these three young men to be forgotten. Too much is at stake, and their blood cries out for justice.

In memory of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner, the others of the Freedom Summer, the Civil Rights movement, and today who died or suffered and died to peacefully bring about change to our society, I leave you until tomorrow. Sadly, I believe that these kinds of killings will not only continue, but increase in the days to come as the racism of some Whites and which is pervasive in many institutions, especially Law Enforcement remains.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

Those  words are terrifying when you think of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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