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The First Rule: Above All Thou Shall Not Be a Bystander

Jewish Men being Rounded Up in Baden with Citizens looking on  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”  These words from his book Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 serve as a warning to members of a society where various minority groups are being labeled as enemies of the state and often less than human.

Two years ado we have watched as a rabid Trump supported sent pipe bombs to a dozen men and women who the President has personally attacked in speeches, interviews, or on his Twitter account. We have watched as a White man gun down two Black senior citizens in a Louisville, Kentucky Kroger store after failing to gain access into a Black Baptist Church. Last year have watched as a hate filled anti-Semite kill eleven Jews, mostly senior citizens in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Likewise we watch as the President turns a caravan of Honduran refugees, mostly women and children, nearly 1,000 miles from the US border into a terrorist caravan full of MS-13 and ISIS killers, something that he reprises at nearly every rally that he headlines.

The President has blamed the intended victims for the actions of a very real terrorist who happened to be one of his most stalwart supporters. He ignored the racially motivated murder of Black senior citizens. He made jokes about having a “bad hair day” within hours of the massacre at Tree of Life on his way to a political rally where he again excoriated the press and his political opponents blaming them for the violent acts of his supporters or men who have fully bought in to the President’s racial conspiracy theories.

Many people wonder how this can happen, but it happens all too easily. All that is needed is a population that has been conditioned by propaganda, based on historical myth, untruth, a prevailing climate of fear, and in which the threat of crisis, real or imagined, can delude even good, able, and even extraordinary people to commit crimes that if they were not real, would be incomprehensible to the mind.

In such times decisions have to be made, difficult decisions, the decision to stand for what is right, even if the country’s leaders, and their most vocal followers threaten violence and the use of government force against those who dissent.

Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

The excuse of just following orders has been shown to be no excuse. Men and women who follow such orders under a thin veneer of technical legality will be condemned by history. The men of the Wehrmacht who gave logistic, communication, and security support to the Einsatzgruppen that were committing genocide in the Soviet Union were as guilty as the trigger pullers.

Genocide begins when those who know better turn their backs on crimes committed against a few. The last lines of the classic film Judgement at Nuremberg are illuminating when it comes to understanding men and women who do just that. In the film, Burt Lancaster playin the convicted Nazi judge Janning asks Judge Heywood played by Spencer Tracy to visit him. In that closing scene Janning implored Heywood to understand that he never believed that things would go so far.

Ernst Janning: “Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!”

Judge Dan Haywood: “Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

Being a perpetrator is one thing, but being a bystander is worse. As Hannah Arendt noted: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil. 

Until Tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, nazi germany, Political Commentary

The Dystopian Darkness Of Trump’s World: The Lights are Going Out…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are in Munich and after a nice day out with Judy decided to catch up on the news. So I go to bed tonight with a sense of foreboding for our country and the world and I cannot shake it. I feel darkness enveloping the United States as the President creates the dystopian world that he enunciated in his inaugural address. As I observe events on I am reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s description of Sir Edward Gray on the eve of the First World War, “Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.”

Jews and other minorities are being targeted and killed by Right Wing domestic terrorists, the President himself says that the free ree press is the enemy of the people, bombs are being sent to political opponents that he has targeted in his Twitter storms, and even a U.S. Army soldier was arrested and charged with violent political threats aimed at Democratic Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, and suggesting the truck bombing of a major news network headquarters, and discussing plans for IEDs that could be used against military or civilian targets. All this, coupled with the President’s admission that he had been trying to force the President of the Ukraine to provide information that could damage the campaign of Democratic Candidate Joe Biden by threatening to withhold military aid to that county which was already approved by Congress unless they complied. I to believe that the latter rises to the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors, but I digress. There was much else to shake my head about in the news after several days of just skimming the wave tops.

I cannot shake the deep sense of foreboding I have regarding the country and the world as President Trump’s continues to attack the character of all that oppose him or simply want to ferret out the truth plethora of allegations concerning what appears to be treasonous activities by his closest advisers and his apparent attempts quashed with the acquiescence of a large number of Republican members of Congress.  There is something very wrong going on and it almost feels that I can see the disaster unfolding before it happens.

Hannah Arendt wrote: “When evil is allowed to compete with good, evil has an emotional populist appeal that wins out unless good men and women stand as a vanguard against abuse.

She was right. We are seeing a populist appeal that is embracing evil around the world and it is happening before our very eyes.

I am not the only one to notice, leading conservative writers, foreign policy experts, and constitutional scholars have pointed out the same things that I have been saying for over two years. I do try to be positive and to believe that things will work out for the best, but the more I observe the more my confidence in our leaders and for that purpose many of our people to do the right thing is diminished.

That being said I do not give in to the feelings of foreboding or intend give up without a fight. I want my country to live up to its ideals and I am concerned about the real world, our alliances, our environment, and especially the real threat to freedom posed by the unrestrained words and actions of our 45th President. He has proven that he has no regard for the Constitution, our laws, or simple human decency. With every tweet and remark he demonstrates that he believes that he is above the law. He demonstrates every trait of a sociopath incapable of empathy and capable of the greatest evil.

With every new day I become more convinced than ever that Mr. Trump will find a way to seize power absolute power and that he will get away with it. This may come in a Reichstag Fire moment where he, during a “national emergency” uses the powers given to the executive through standing Executive Orders, or legislated in the Patriot Act. Conversely he might do it with the help of his current GOP majority in the Senate, especially if Democrats in the House cannot find the backbone to unite and stand together, even if it means that they doom themselves to irrelevance as a co-equal branch of government.

But even if that doesn’t happen, the poisonous and corrosive aspect of the President’s repeated lies, distortions, falsifications, and attacks on the Constitution, our laws, institutions, the free press, and individuals will doom us.

The President not only uses his spokespeople and twitter account to stoke fear and hatred, but he uses the pundits of Fox News to do so. As such Fox has become nothing more than Trump’s personal propaganda ministry indoctrinating millions of gullible and desperate people to do his bidding. Arendt wrote about such behavior and its effect on people:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

I believe in a particular universal ideal enunciated in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that All men are created equal. Likewise I believe the words of the Constitution matter and that it is all of our obligation to labor to build “a more perfect union.” As such that I must continually stand for what is right, what is true, and what is enduring for that is the oath that I swore and have re-affirmed for over 37 years of military service.

I am more worried than ever about our democracy and I agree with Timothy Snyder who wrote:

“Democracy failed in Europe in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, and it is failing not only in much of Europe but in many parts of the world today. It is that history and experience that reveals to us the dark range of our possible futures. A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”  

We Americans do not like to think that what has happened to so many other countries can happen here; and in fact I never used to believe that it could. I believed that our system of checks and balances and the nature of our institutions could weather any threat. Today I question if they will hold. I agree with Russian exile and Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov who wrote:

“First of all, people here should understand that nothing is for granted. There were many warnings in the past, you know, but every time, Americans and Europeans—they believe that it’s like bad weather. It comes and goes. But the danger is real. I always want to quote Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Now, probably, it’s not even one generation. Things can happen very quickly, because there’s so much power that comes in the hands of people who have very little affection for the values that make up the core of liberal democracy and the free world.” 

Because of that I believe that we must stand for principle and work for a new birth of freedom even as it seems that freedom itself is in danger due to the actions of the American President. We must stand or we will lose everything that generations of Americans as well as others have fought so hard to preserve, but it is difficult. As Max Boot wrote back in March of last year:

“Trump is sucking a substantial portion of America into his Orwellian universe. The rest of us have to struggle simply to remember that war isn’t peace, freedom isn’t slavery, ignorance isn’t strength.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Nature Of Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty years ago when I was in seminary my Philosophy Of Religion Professor, Dr. Yandall Woodfin told our class that until we had death with the realities of evil, death, and suffering we had not yet done Christian theology. He was right, but I have not learned that by wrestling with theology per say, but rather human experience as recorded by history, especially my studies of the Holocaust, and American Slavery, as well as what the and as observed in my life as a trauma and surgery department chaplain in a number of large and medium sized hospitals, including Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Since that time I have witnessed hundreds of violent deaths. Most in the United States but some in Iraq. I have seen cruelty, committed by human beings that only can be described as evil. I have also spoken directly with men who killed in cold blood, including an assassination type hit on a man and his son who owed him fifty dollars. That man was a Navy Hospital Corpsmen with a wife and a child, his victims a couple of locals. When I looked in his eyes there was no feeling, it didn’t matter what he had did, he was a classic sociopath. He had no empathy for the men he killed or the devastation he left in the lives of his wife and child. The state he committed the murder in does have the death penalty, but he received two back to back life sentences. The Navy discharged him and that cut off my attempts to communicate with him.

But the question always comes back to the nature of evil itself, and the willing ignorance of many people of it. Having come face to face with this man and others like him, I have to agree with the comments of Captain and psychologist Gustave Gilbert about the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg:

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

I have to admit that the amount of ignorance in the defense of evil that I see daily is simply mind blowing. It makes me shake my head. But then I cannot be surprised anymore. About two years ago I saw a poll in which nine percent of Americans said that holding White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi views and ideology was okay. 

Now nine percent doesn’t sound like a big number or anything to worry about until you extrapolate that percentage into the numbers of people who hold that view. Based on the population of the United States that nine percent equals about thirty million individuals. Now I’m sure that many of these patriotic Americans are not card carrying Klansmen or Nazis, but the fact that they would turn a blind eye to the evil of both in the name of some incomprehensible moral equivalence as did President Trump after Charlottesville is quite disturbing. Perhaps it is his example that enables them to be so open about their acceptance of evil. 

A while back on my Facebook page a friend of a friend commented on an article which discussed new research that indicates that the Nazis in their occupation of the Ukraine killed perhaps a half million more Jews than previously believed. That woman made the comment that there were others, and yes that is true. Had the Nazis won the war tens of millions more of the Jews as well as the Slavs who they referred to as Untermenschen or subhumans would have been killed, either directly or through a policy of intentional starvation. But make no bones about it, from the months that Hitler spent in Landsberg prison for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 writing Mein Kampf until the end of the war as the Red Army closed in on his bunker in Berlin, the Jews above all were the object of his personal hatred. 

Close to six million Jews and millions of others were killed by the Nazis. Millions of Africans were enslaved in the United States and even after emancipation were by law treated as less than full citizens. Under Jim Crow they were discriminated against at every level of government including states that were neither a part of the Confederacy or not even States when the Civil War was fought, they were impressed as forced labor under the Black Codes and thousands were murdered, often in public by people who brought their children to watch Black men die. 

But these people were not just numbers. It’s all to easy to blur them into a mass of dehumanized humanity by talking about the millions, when every single one was a human being, yes, I believe created in the image of God. We have to see their faces and we have to recognize their essential humanity as men and women, children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, whose lives were in the case of the Jews obliterated as if they never existed, and others like African slaves who were simply property.

I explained that in quite a few fewer words and told her that she shouldn’t challenge me on the subject, which of course she did. So I went into more detail and shot her argument down in flames, to the cheers of other commentators on the post. When you have spent much of your academic life studying a subject it really gets old hearing people make excuse for evil by trying to minimize that evil, especially against the targeted people. 

It’s like Confederate apologists saying that the institution of slavery which enslaved millions of Africans was actually worse for White people. Yes it is true that many poor whites benefited little from slavery, but they were not bought and sold as chattel, sold away from their wives and children, whipped, and marched across country in chains to new owners, or yes even killed simply because they were not considered human beings but property. 

Sadly, as Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote “The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.” 

So there are about 30 million Americans who believe that holding Nazi and White Supremacist beliefs is okay. A few years ago I would believed that the number was lower, but after seven months of living in Trump’s America I believe that it might be even higher than the poll indicated. I only say this based on the postings I see on various social media platforms, news comment pages, the proliferation of websites that cater to these beliefs, and the lack of real condemnation of such individuals by the majority of the GOP Senate and House majorities, and the outright defense of them by other GOP representatives at the Federal and State level. These people have not learned the lessons of the Holocaust, nor American slavery. 

Again I don’t believe that the majority of these people are real card carrying Nazis or Klansmen. Most would probably be considered great citizens: they work, they raise families, they go to church, and many would claim that they have “a Black or Jewish friend” so obviously they cannot be racists. But that being said they turn a blind eye to the evil of race hatred and White supremacy, and sometimes join in on social media meme wars where they mock the victims. But no matter what, not condemning the purveyors of White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi ideology, or by using the arguments of moral equivalence to minimize those crimes against humanity makes these people as complicit in the past, present, and future crimes of Naziism as if they were. 

They may be ordinary people, as seemingly normal as anyone else, but as Hannah Arendt noted about Adolf Eichmann and other Nazis who advanced the destruction of the Jews was that they were so normal. She wrote: 

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.” 

That my friends is as true as the day she wrote it after Eichmann’s trial, as it is today, and why we must constantly educate people in every forum possible that it is all too easy to become either a perpetrator or evil or a bystander. As Snyder wrote: “It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander. It is tempting to say that a Nazi murderer is beyond the pale of understanding. …Yet to deny a human being his human character is to render ethics impossible. To yield to this temptation, to find other people inhuman, is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history.” 

Since they were human beings the Nazis were not unique to history. In every era of history human beings have committed atrocities, many in the name of some kind of ethnic, religious, or nationalist ideology of supremacy that held other people to be less than human. That may sound harsh, but it is all too true based on history.

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

In the movie Judgment at Nuremberg the judge played by Spencer Tracy noted something important about the defendants in the trial. His words need to be heard today as well:

Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

It is high time that we learn that again and that we make up our minds to oppose the ideologies that made the Holocaust and Slavery possible. As Hannah Arendt observed: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

But then there are those who have no problem with it, sociopaths who have an extreme absence of empathy.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, ER's and Trauma, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, Military, ministry, nazi germany, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

The Unending Reality Of Endlösung: The Legacy of Adolf Eichmann and those Who Embrace Race Hatred

Eichmann1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On June 1st 1962 Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel for his crimes of mass murder and genocide. His appearance in the court where he portrayed himself as a functionary and bureaucrat who was repulsed by bloodshed and only following orders. So convincing was his act that Hannah Arendt wrote of him:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani, commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.”

Unfortunately there are people such as Arendt described, but Eichmann was not one of them. She wrote her commentary having only attended parts of the trial, but what she saw convinced her that Eichmann was ordinary and normal. She was convinced by his appearance and presentation at the trial that he was not the man who ran roughshod over Jews as well as German officials in order to execute the Final Solution. That phrase, “the banality of evil” has often been used to provide an alibi for men and women who wholeheartedly participated in the extermination of the Jews and others deemed to be less than human regardless of whether they were desk bound bureaucrats in Berlin, managers of the extermination camps, or the members of the Einsatzgruppen, the Ordungspolizei, or the Wehrmacht who systematically exterminated millions of people up close and personal.

Eichamnn was a true believer in the Nazi system and its desire to exterminate the Jews from the earth and he enjoyed what he did. He not only acted on orders but he anticipated them, as he told William Sassen in an interview while living undercover in Argentina in the 1950s:

“If we would have killed 10.3 million Jews, then I would be satisfied and would say, good, we annihilated an enemy. … I wasn’t only issued orders, in this case I’d have been a moron, but I rather anticipated, I was an idealist.”

Eichmann began his career by persecuting the Jews of Vienna but following the Wansee Conference he was entrusted by Reinhard Heydrich with overseeing the mechanics of implementing the Final Solution. He was only an SS Lieutenant Colonel but he wielded his power with such effect that he could ensure that Nazi functionaries senior to him did his bidding in regard to the Jews, He told Sassen:

“They knew me wherever I went. Through the press, the name Eichmann had emerged as a symbol…. In any case, the word Jew … was irreversibly linked with the word Eichmann. Much more power … was attributed to me than I actually had.”

Eichmann summed up the attitude of many when he said regarding his work to deport hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in in just a few weeks during the fall of 1944, “Whether they were bank directors or mental cases, the people who were loaded on those trains meant nothing to me.” Speaking to Willem Sassen in 1957 Eichmann reveled in that accomplishment, “It was an achievement that was never matched before or since.” Eichmann also enjoyed leading his victims on, pretending that he might listen, and they might change his mind. Eichmann was proud of what he did. He told his staff, “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”

Some of the 437,000 Hungarian Jews Being Sent to Auschwitz

His greatest accomplishment of genocide was in Hungary between March and May of 1944 when he orchestrated the “evacuation” of 437,000 Jews to Auschwitz, of which nearly 400,000 were exterminated in that camps massive gas chambers. His greatest regret was that Himmler and others, realizing that the war was lost were now trying to find ways to deal with the Allies using the Jews as bargaining chips. They put an end to his campaign leaving half of Hungary’s Jews alive, something that he detested to the end of his life for his superiors had taken away his reason for being.

Eichmann twisted language in a perverse manner to both glorify and justify his inhumanity. Bettina Stangneth, wrote in her book Eichmann Before Jerusalem:

“The language becomes entirely perverted where Eichmann turns metaphors on their heads, talking about expulsion and murder using gentle images of life. An institution for forced emigration was his “first child,” where he was able to “be creative in my work.” All the individual acts of robbery and expulsion that took place in Austria were committed to “provide [the country] with injections of Jewish solutions.” Even exterminations and deportations were “born”. This was why he felt so superfluous in Budapest, when he was forced to stop deporting people to Auschwitz: “As far as I know, I couldn’t have done anything fruitful anymore” … In Eichmann’s language, he didn’t send people to the death camps; the camps were “fed with material”.

Adolf Eichmann went to his death unrepentant and there is nothing to be mourned on this anniversary of his death, other than the fact that there are people who are much like him today. That is the terrifying reality. Some may be those faceless bureaucrats, but too many others would easily become killers. As Timothy Snyder noted:

“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.”

Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Holocaust in Poland:

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

In such a world it is all too important that we never forget, especially now when we could be watching it begin all over again. Eichmann may be dead but he lives on and we must always remain vigilant, or the specter of the Holocaust will rise again, quite possibly in countries that are considered civilized and freedom loving, like the United States.

Never forget,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, world war two in europe

Despite the Foreboding Feelings I Have, I Will Fight “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Hannah Arendt wrote: “When evil is allowed to compete with good, evil has an emotional populist appeal that wins out unless good men and women stand as a vanguard against abuse.”

She was right. We are seeing a populist appeal that is embracing evil and it is happening before our very eyes.

I cannot shake the deep sense of foreboding I have regarding the country and the world after President Trump’s repeated attacks on NATO, his shredding of the Paris Climate accord, and the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula are enough to concern any right thinking person. Likewise, the swirl of allegations concerning what appears to be treasonous activities by his closest advisers and his apparent attempts to have them covered up by the FBI and various intelligence agencies. There is something very wrong going on and it almost feels that I can see the disaster unfolding before it happens.

If it was Trump alone it would be an anomaly, but most of the Republican Party has decided to support his unconstitutional abuses of power and his base, which is made up mainly of Evangelical or other Conservative Christians have anointed Trump’s Presidency as ordained by God, and opponents as not only opponents of Trump, but also of God. That my friends is as toxic of political combination as is humanly possible.

I am not the only one to notice, leading conservative writers, foreign policy experts, and constitutional scholars have pointed out the same things that I have been saying for over a year. I do try to be positive and to believe that things will work out for the best, but the more I observe the more my confidence in our leaders and for that purpose many of our people to do the right thing is diminished.

That being said I do not give in to the feelings of foreboding or intend give up without a fight. I want my country to live up to its ideals, I am concerned about the real world, our alliances, our environment, and the real threat to freedom.  I believe in a particular universal ideal enunciated in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that All men are created equal, and as such that I must continually stand for what is right, what is true, and what is enduring.

I am worried about our democracy and I agree with Timothy Snyder who wrote:

“Democracy failed in Europe in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, and it is failing not only in much of Europe but in many parts of the world today. It is that history and experience that reveals to us the dark range of our possible futures. A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”  

It can happen here, and if we are patriots and not simply nationalists we must stand for principle and work for a new birth of freedom even as it seems that freedom itself is in danger. So as I write about some of the notable events of our history that we commemorate over the coming days please know that I take inspiration from them as I hope you will.  I am a patriot, and in my heart I believe we must stop it. As the German General and resistance leader against Hitler said:

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

We must stand together, or this will always be Trump’s America, and we will hang separately. A word of warning to dissident Republicans, and Democrats or Progressives who if their candidate is not the Democratic Nominee threaten to sit out the election or vote third party. Such a choice is suicidal, it only helps Trump. If he is re-elected Civil rights and free speech will be rolled back, the Constitution itself be trampled, and the United States, however imperfectly imagined by our founders will pass into the dustbin of history, to be replaced with a racist and authoritarian theocracy, which will last than the 12 years of Hitler’s 1000 year Reich.

That my friends is the hard Cold truth, from a historian, military combat veteran, and a man who spent 32 years supporting the Republican Party and its candidates.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, holocaust, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Stuff Of Dictators: More Threats Of Violence From the President

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1989 Donald Trump wrote in a full page advertisement in the New York Daily News “civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins.” He said that in relation to the Central Park Five, five teenagers who were falsely accused and convicted of the rape of a jogger in Central Park. In 2002 after the real assailant confessed and his crime verified by DNA evidence. Despite the reality Mr. Trump has continued to speak to that issue and claim that the five falsely convicted and imprisoned men are guilty.

Mr Trump repeated expressed his anger that they did not receive the death penalty, something that by the way is not part of the law in any state. Since becoming President the Mr Trump has suggested all sorts of extrajudicial and unconstitutional remedies to crime. Today he suggested doing that to gun owners who could be considered potential mass murderers. He told a group of Congressmen and Senators, as well as his own Vice President Mike Pence: “You could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Now personally I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but it still is unconstitutional. Earlier in the week the President proposed the death penalty to all convicted drug dealers. Again, no love for drug dealers but the President doesn’t get to impose sentences, but the President praised the extermination methods that Philippine President Duterte uses not just to kill suspected drug dealers but political opponents and members of the press. Of course the President has long suggested the political opponents should be jailed and the Press is an “an enemy of the people.” 

As I have written over the past few days in discussing the Reichstag Fire I am very concerned that as the walls close in on the Trump Presidency, that as the Muller investigation implicates more and more of his advisors and quite possibly family members, that as members of his administration like Hope Hicks admit that they lied for him, that the danger to our Republic only rises. I am afraid that there will be a Reichstag Fire moment that will allow the President to through already existing Executive orders and laws to scrap constitutional liberties and establish an authoritarian state. It’s not so much that he has to be popular to do so, the fact is that under threat of attack that most Americans will surrender liberty for the illusion of security. That was demonstrated in 2002 when the Patriot Act, an act so revoltingly un-American and totalitarian in its implications was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress with hardly any resistance.

Today the President again made violent threats against his political opponents. He said:

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”

That is what concerns me. For a President claim that the Army and Police are his personal protection force, for him to equate them to motorcycle gangs, for him to say that Nazis are fine people is extraordinarily evil and in complete defiance of the oath that he swore when he became President. In the past he has said similar things and during his campaign offered to pay the legal fees of anyone charged with attacking his opponents at his rallies.

Should a war break out, should there be a major terrorist attack, or anything that severely disrupts the country the mechanisms are in place for the President to declare the situation extraordinary and to take power. The thing is that no President has acted in such a way, but President Trump has repeatedly suggested violating the Constitution and praised foreign leaders like Dutarte, Putin, and Erdogan, men who all use such circumstances and laws to their advantage.

Timothy Snyder wrote:

“For tyrants, the lesson of the Reichstag fire is that one moment of shock enables an eternity of submission. For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions. Courage does not mean not fearing, or not grieving. It does mean recognizing and resisting terror management right away, from the moment of the attack, precisely when it seems most difficult to do so. After the Reichstag fire, Hannah Arendt wrote that “I was no longer of the opinion that one can simply be a bystander.”

Of course Mr Trump has a hard core of loyal supporters who in his words would remain loyal to him “even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Some are actually quite frightening, but in truth I am more frightened by the vast number of people in this country of every part of the political spectrum cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction or true and false, people how simply go along with the flow, especially in times of crisis.  Hannah Arendt, who saw the Nazi takeover of Germany in the beginning wrote:

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

In a world such as the one that we live today it is those who simply go with the flow or are easily persuaded into accepting what in normal times they would not accept because the times are exceptional, or in a crisis believe what they are told and regardless of what happens to fellow citizens or neighbors turn their backs on injustice. Most are totally ordinary and unremarkable and are no different than so many others who committed terrible crimes against humanity and too part in genocide.

British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

When people feel that a crisis makes a situation exceptional to the point that normal codes of conduct, social mores, laws, and ethics are Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men:

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

My question is: when the crisis finally comes, what will Americans do?

I want to be hopeful. I am not a fatalist. I believe that we can all given the opportunity rise to greatness and defend our Constitution, civil liberties, and embody the principles of the Declaration of Independence. It has happened before. But that being said human history, especially the history of the past century shows us that more often than not that most people do not rise to the occasion. 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.”

In our time that is the most important consideration. With the complete Trumpification of the Republican Party that day is today. he has for all intents and purposes given political cover for his supporters to commit violence on his behalf. The peril is mounting.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Moment that Freedom Of Thought Becomes Impossible: Hatred Of the Other and Blind Ideology

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Salman Rushdie one wrote: “The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

We seem to be at another crossroads in Western civilization, a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  An ideology protects the believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

My favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

As for me I consider myself to be a left-leaning progressive. I am pro LGBTQ rights, and despite being against abortion in principle,  I believe that Roe v. Wade and the right of a woman to have an abortion must be upheld. I believe in equality for women and believe that women are held to a much higher standard than men, especially in politics. Likewise I believe that women face far greater discrimination in the workplace, academia, and the military than do men.

I believe that racial prejudice, especially against blacks is still a major problem, but it is not confined to blacks, but Hispanics, Arabs, and Asians. These are mostly the provence of the political Right, the but then there is classic Anti-Semitism, a prejudice and hatred of Jews, and it spans the political and ideological spectrum. I can say that as a historian of the Holocaust and as a gentile Christian.

That being said, to offer criticism of the Government of Israel in its dealings with its Arab and Druse minorities that happen to be Israeli citizens, and to Palestinians who have been the victims of the Pan Arab nationalism of the 1950-1970s, to find themselves abandoned by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Gulf States is not being anti-Semitic, it is observing something that is the victimization of a people caught in the middle of a greater political-military struggle.

In 2007 I came across a Palestinian refugee camp at the border of Iraq ans Syria at Al Waleed. Thousands of Palestinian Arabs were marooned there, dependent on th U.N. for food and shelter, and the good graces of Americans and Iraqis for security as they had no place left to go. The new Iraqi government didn’t want people who were allies of Saddam Hussein in their country and drove them to their farthest reaches. Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States didn’t want them either. Likewise, the government that should accept them, the Palestinian Authority didn’t want them and they were not welcome anywhere else in the Arab world. Of course, the Israeli government didn’t want them either. This is an irefruable fact. They were abandoned by all.

As far as Anti-Semitism goes, you don’t have to look hard to find it. Neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers have cottage industries that attemp to disprove or minimize the Holocaust. Most reside on the political Right, such as in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and in some parts of the German political spectrum. But some too make their home of the Left, the Labour Party in Britain has come under the spell of Jeremy Corbin, a Left Wing anti-Semitic leader if one existed at all. Much of the current anti-Jewish and and Israel propaganda from both the Right and Left is often lifted straight out of The Protoclals Of the Elders Of Zion, not that the polcies of the Netanyahu government are helping anyone.

I happen to be a liberal and progressive realist, but I cannot be an ideologue. That being said I think that the Presdency and policies of the Trump administration exemplify the worst of American racism and exceptualism. Barely educated racist demagogues hold power over a President whose supporters would support him even if he murdered someone on 5th Avenue. Likewise, I think that there are some progressives who are incapable of seeing both sides of an argument and who are as historically as blind, deprived, and ignorant as the most myth bound Christian Conservatives, or other Right Wing anti-Semites. I truly must be a progressive realist in wonderland.

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge. That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today.

Quite obviously, a lot of ideologues from across the spectrum will disagree.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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