Tag Archives: hannah arendt

The Encouragement of Violence by the President and the Absence of Empathy in His Supporters

img_8062

Monument to the Men of the German Resistance Executed at the Bendlerstrasse Headquarters of the German Army on the Night of July 20th 1944

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been writing a lot of late about the ordinary men who helped carry out Hitler’s genocide as well as those who opposed the Hitler regime and very often paid with their lives. Having been to the sites where some were executed and others exterminated the reality of how this happens, how ordinary men and women can become become perpetrators of violence is all too real.

I was reminded of the importance of why I write after I read conservative columnist Michael Gerson’s article in the Washington Post yesterday.

Gerson wrote:

“Fascism may not describe what Trump has done, as opposed to what he says. But what he says matters and can create its own dangerous dynamic. It is possible for a leader to be incompetent and still profoundly corrupt the people who follow him, undermining the virtues — tolerance, civility and compromise — that make democratic self-government work. It is possible for a foolish leader to leave the imprint of fascism on a portion of his followers. And the language used by Trump — particularly a certain racially tinged nostalgia and a tribal resentment for the other — strikes me as at a higher level of prominence and acceptance than at any time I can remember. So maybe, rather than fearing a fascist dictator, we should fear the legitimacy of fascist modes of thought in the Republican Party.

This is a more complex danger than most talk of fascism generally suggests. But it is a danger nonetheless.”

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a psychologist to the major Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg noted that in his observation and discussions with them he had to deal with the nature of evil. He had to find the common thread among them that allowed them to take part in the most horrific crimes against humanity conducted by an allegedly civilians, western and Christian country. He noted that in his dealings with them they had one thing in common, they had no empathy for their victims. He said, “evil is the absence of empathy.” The common psychological term for a person who cannot empathize with other people is a sociopath. That is what are President is. It is a trait that he shares with the vilest criminals of the Twentieth Century. Many of his followers seem to share that attribute. You can see it in their words and in their actions.

At a campaign rally the President praised a Congressman from Montana who assaulted a reporter just before the 2016 elections and the crowd cheered its approval. As they cheered Trump said: “Any guy that can do a body slam … he’s my guy.” Then he acted out a motion of a person violently throwing someone to the ground, and the crowd continued to cheer. Though he has repeatedly attacked and mocked the press, it was the first time that he praised and openly condoned the attack on a reporter, and it came at a time when he has not condemned the brutal murder of the Saudi Arabian journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Turkey last week.

Trump being who he is I expect that, but for the crowd to applaud it showed the deep moral rot in the Republican Party. It is troubling because it reflects something far more dangerous which could actually bring about a Fascist type takeover of the U.S. Government.

Gerson wrote:

And one event in particular could quickly heighten that danger. Consider what American politics would look like if Republicans — against all odds and expectations — were to keep the Senate and House. There might be many explanations for such a result — exceptional economic conditions, bad Democratic strategy, the rallying effect of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh among Republicans — but we know how the president would interpret it. He would regard such a victory as the complete vindication — the stamp of national approval — on his entire approach to politics.

All the last remaining opposition in the GOP would melt, and many of his supporters would be calling for retribution against enemies and traitors. The whole leadership of the FBI and Justice Department — anyone who ever displeased him — would be at immediate risk of replacement. Trump would take his victory as permission for even more brutal treatment of migrants. More generally, a leader with no commitment to the separation of powers, with no respect for the traditional self-restraints of the presidency, with savage disdain for the free press, with an admiration for authoritarians, with a history of menacing individuals and companies by name, and with a talent for division and dehumanization would feel unbound.

The boor, the bluffer, the bully would be a political colossus. Then the language of fascism might become less theoretical. Then alarmism would be realism.

As I thought of these things last night I was reminded of the words of Hannah Arendt: “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.”

Now honestly I don’t think that the majority of Trump supporters are themselves evil or even bad people. But that being said I do believe that quite a few of the, perhaps a majority of them have surrendered to taking the path of least resistance and looking out for what they think are their interests first, even if the result of their decisions hurt people who are much like them.

As Arendt said, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

That is what we are watching happen before our very eyes. Some might claim ignorance, or claim that they are non-political and are in no position to judge the morality of this President and his administration, but that is the refuge of the coward. Karl Popper noted “Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind.”

The fact is that today, like in Germany between 1933 and 1945 no one can claim ignorance about the nature and character of our President, but if they don’t know it is simply cause they do not want to know, and for those in positions of authority who turn a blind eye, what Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and later armaments minister wrote “…being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences…”

It is lack of empathy, an active aversion to truth, shunning knowledge, and perhaps worse, a refusal to know when in a position to know which allow people to look the other way in the face of evil and injustice.

Until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under History, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Recommended Readings from My Reading Rainbow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think that it important to read, and read, and did I say read?

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Since I write about a lot of topics and because I am a historian as well as a stand up theologian, I read a lot and I frequently quote from other people in anything that I write. Sometimes I find that those who have gone before me have said things I want to say much better than I could on my own. Thus I am not afraid or ashamed to give attribution to them, after all, it is only fair.

But today I want to share some of the books that I think are important for anyone seeking to understand our world. In a sense, this is a part of my Reading Rainbow.

Most of my picks deal with history, military, diplomacy, civil rights, politics, as well as baseball, and there are some novels on the list, most of which fall into the categories listed above.

Despite the fact that I am a priest I don’t have many books on theology, religion, or faith on my list, but then the fact is that I don’t see a lot, including many of the so called classics that hold up over time.

In the same manner I do not list any contemporary political biographies or autobiographies, nor books on current events. The fact is that none of them has yet stood the test of history.

So today here are just some of the books that I recommend from my reading rainbow.

They are listed in alphabetical order by author:

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War by Andrew J. Bacevich

The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Scandal of Christianity by Emil Brunner

War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

The Nanking Massacre by Iris Chang

On War by Carl Von Clausewitz

Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire

Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD by Roméo Dallaire

The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 by Lucy Dawidowicz

The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall

This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust

Hitler by Joachim Fest

Forever Free: the Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner

Nuremberg Diary by Gustave Gilbert

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant

A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico by Amy S. Greenberg

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman

Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction by Allen Guelzo

The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam

The Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam

October 1964 by David Halberstam

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944 by Max Hastings

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Perpetrators Victims Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 by Raul Hilberg

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter

The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter

A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious American Civil,War General, Daniel Sickles by Thomas Keneally

Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

Hero: A Life of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda

On Being a Christian by Hans Kung

The Catholic Church a Short History by Hans Kung

Why I am Still a Christian by Hans Kung

The Centurions by Jean Larteguy

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence

To Kill an Mockingbird by Harper Lee

In the Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore

Perpetrators: The World of the Holocaust Killers by Guenter Lewy

Why Don’t We Learn from History? By B.H. Liddell-Hart

The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton

Denial: Holocaust History on Trial by Deborah Lipstadt

Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory by Deborah Lipstadt

The Past that Would Not Die by Walter Lord

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

Incredible Victory by Walter Lord

The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” by James Loewen and Edward Sebesta

Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow

They Thought they Were Free by Milton Mayer

The Mystery of the Cross by Alister McGrath

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution by James McPherson

The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters by James McPherson

War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941 by Geoffrey Megargee

Once an Eagle by Anton Meyer

The Crucified God by Juergen Moltmann

Theology of Hope by Juergen Moltmann

The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation by Juergen Moltmann

We Were Soldiers Once… and Young by Hal Moore

A Soldier Once… and Always by Hal Moore

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

1984 by George Orwell

Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial by Joseph Perisco

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

Lincoln’s Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac by Stephen Sears

Gettysburg by Stephen Sears

A Bright and Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts

Berlin Diary by William L. Shirer

The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940 by William L. Shirer

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality by Wolfram Wette

The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy by Russell Weigley

Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany, 1944-45 by Russell Weigley

Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball by George Will

Lincoln at Gettysburg by Gary Wills

Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whitman

What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars by David Wood

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

Sorry, no descriptions or intros included, but trust me. They are all worth the read. Anyway, those are just some of my favorites on from my Reading Rainbow. Yes, there are plenty more, but that’s all for now.

Have a great day and as always,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under books, History

Reflections on Life as an Authoritarian State Arises

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

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

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

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

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under civil rights, crime, dogs, ER's and Trauma, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, leadership, marriage and relationships, News and current events, Political Commentary

Eichmann, and the Ever Present Reality of Endlösung

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.”

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+

1 Comment

Filed under ethics, History, holocaust, News and current events, Political Commentary, war crimes, world war two in europe

“Incapable of Feeling Shame” The Moral Bankruptcy of the Trump Administration

trump-cpac-1519415653-article-header

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I have just a short thought for us to ponder. Hannah Arendt wrote: “The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error.”

This statement is undeniably true. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, the Ayatollahs, and Pol Pot are just some examples. More troubling is that such personalities are not absent today, Vladimir Putin, Marianne LePen, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, Viktor Orbán our own President Trump display this tendency, and their most devoted followers embrace it as well.

In the case of President Trump, presidential power means never having to say your sorry, or made a mistake. Failures are blamed on others, Congressional leaders, former President’s Obama and Bush, journalists, and even advisors who have outlasted their usefulness, case in point, Michael Flynn, James Comey, Steve Bannon, H. R. McMaster, Reince Priebus, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, Tom Price, Sebastian Gorka, and so many more. Conservative columnist and former Bush Administration staffer Michael Gerson wrote in July of 2017: “The president and his men are incapable of feeling shame about shameful things.”

The inability to admit error is dangerous, but it also points to other potentially severe psychological issues. It is one of the characteristics of a paranoid personality, as well as a narcissistic personality. Richard Hofstadter wrote:

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

Likewise, even if those characteristics do not reach the point of becoming an actual psychological disorder, they can be severe enough to impair sound judgment as a leader, and lead to potentially terrible decisions including criminal acts so vast that they beggar the imagination. History shows us this all too often. These kinds of leaders see the world as a threatening place, full of enemies, real and imagined. Ethics and law are irrelevant to them so long as they win. The destruction of their enemies is of the first importance to such leaders, even when it is detrimental to the nations that they lead, even Hitler turned on Germany at the end of the Second World War because he lost the war and then blamed it on his people.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under ethics, leadership, mental health, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Past is a Foreign Country: they do Things Differently There”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

British novelist L.P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there…”

That is true. When we look at or study history it is often hard for us in our time to comprehend how others committed or allowed acts that we find reprehensibly criminal and evil. Since my primary areas of expertise include the American Civil War, including the ante-bellum period and Reconstruction, as Germany from about 1848 through 1945, including Weimar and the Nazi era, I find that I am confronted with these questions almost daily.

One of the hard things for any of us, even historians who want to present a relatively objective view of events, is to try to avoid the assumption that the people who made those decisions operated under our world-view; to assume that they should have known what we know now. But that is not the case.

The historian Richard Evans wrote in his book The Coming of the Third Reich:

“People make their own history, as Karl Marx once memorably observed, but not under conditions of their own choosing. These conditions included not only the historical context in which they lived, but also the way in which they thought, the assumptions they acted upon, and the principles and beliefs that informed their behavior.”

Yet the fact is that these contexts don’t make their history correct. Quite a few people, especially those who subordinate history to ideology and thus pretend to have a key to understanding history. Hannah Arendt noted:

“Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.” 

Such is also our contemporary problem, and future historians and lay-people alike will ask the same questions about us, just as we ask them about those who went before us.

Dr. Timothy Snyder discusses how mythologized history leads to dangerous understandings of politics, which posit theories of inevitability or eternity. According to Snyder inevitability assumes “a sense that the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done.” Such was the view of many Americans and Western Europeans when Communism fell.

Snyder wrote:

“Whereas inevitability promises a better future for everyone, eternity places one nation at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past. Within inevitability, no one is responsible because we all know that the details will sort themselves out for the better; within eternity, no one is responsible because we all know that the enemy is coming no matter what we do. Eternity politicians spread the conviction that government cannot aid society as a whole, but can only guard against threats. Progress gives way to doom.”

That is what makes the past so different, and it is why that when I read, study, and write that I try to understand the world-view of those that I study. I try to discover what made them who they were; to see the good and the bad, and attempt to be as fair as possible without falling into the trap of writing history as either inevitable or eternal. I try to emulate Barbara Tuchman who noted:

“What his imagination is to the poet, facts are to the historian. His exercise of judgment comes in their selection, his art in their arrangement.”

Even so I exercise a fair amount of caution when researching and writing about the past, because it truly is a different country.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary

“The Coexistence of Normality and Bottomless Cruelty” Timothy McVeigh and the Terrorist Next Door

murrah bombing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short note to close out the work week. Amid all the political drama surrounding President Trump, James Comey, and the release of the Comey memos this week, one thing that was overlooked by most people was the anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in 1995.

I don’t think that I could ever forget the day. I was working as a hospital ER department chaplain where I worked a 3:00-11:00 shift and usually didn’t get to bed until one or two in the morning. I was also a Chaplain in the Army National Guard. Not long after I got up I turned on the news and was drinking my coffee when the news about the bombing flashed across the screen. I was stunned, especially when I found out that the bombers were Americans, and both former soldiers. I could not imagine American soldiers turning their hatred agains the government into an act of terrorism.

They killed 168 people, including babies and young children in the day care center were killed, hundreds of others wounded. McVeigh and Nichols were part of the anti-government so-called “militia” movement that still exists in parts of this country, of which the Bundy family, which occupied a Federal Wildlife Sanctuary in 2016 in order to bring about a revolt against the government is part.

Sadly, there are such people who would do the same today if given the chance. As this attack shows, most of them are not Islamic terrorists, but some are plain old Americans, people you might see in the grocery store or at the gas station. Some belong to the White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi Alt-Right, others to heavily armed self-appointed “militia” groups, and still others simply deluded followers of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Members of all of these groups or movements have committed violent acts or have been stopped from doing so by the work of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

What is scary is that almost all of them repeat the same words, thoughts and ideology that McVeigh wrote about before and after the attack. In the end McVeigh rationalized his violence and defended his actions, never showing any hint of remorse for his victims, they were simply collateral damage, and the children he killed, a distraction from his message. Those that interviewed him said that he seemed completely normal and it was hard for them to reconcile his normalcy with what he did and his attitude toward his victims.

Reading his words and what others observed about him reminded me of what the Israeli court psychologist who interviewed Adolf Eichmann noted about Eichmann. Hannah Arendt recounted it:

“The Israeli court psychiatrist who examined Eichmann found him a “completely normal man, more normal, at any rate, than I am after examining him,” the implication being that the coexistence of normality and bottomless cruelty explodes our ordinary conceptions and present the true enigma of the trial.” 

I find it sad to see others like McVeigh doing their damnedest to impugn the character, honor and work of the men and women of the FBI. Unfortunately they have found a friend in President Trump who impugns the honor, decency, and loyalty of the FBI, members of the Justice Department, and Federal Judges; not to mention his political enemies and the free press.

So let’s never forget the events of that terrible morning and remember that to paraphrase Arendt using McVeigh instead of Eichmann:

The trouble with McVeigh was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted or sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. 

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under crime, History, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism