Tag Archives: History

Now or Never the Choice Between Freedom and Tyranny in the Last Months of Trump’s Regime

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today will be another day of working around the house to get it ready for our new puppy, which is also mid-COVID 19 belated spring cleaning. It’s going to be a full day of work. 

This is an article about resisters and those that revisited the evil of the Nazi State. Many of these men and women sacrificed their lives in their efforts to resist Hitler. They included university students, military officers, civil servants, clerics, and ordinary citizens. This was part one of a series that I never completed. Over the next few weeks I will complete the series, after I finish my book. 

Let me make it clear, despite the President’s despotic and narcissistic actions which have been so harmful to so many Americans, and which threaten the stability of the world and could end up in war; we are not living in 1930s Germany, and Trump is not Hitler. At the same time there are many troubling parallels. In my opinion it would not take much to bring us to a similar point, especially as the President doubles down on intentionally racist, sexist, and simply inhuman and cruel words, policies, and actions in the midst of a pandemic, an economic meltdown, and crashing poll numbers leading up to the November elections.

One wonders because on March 14th 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,”  then during the protests of the death of George Floyd he attempted to do just that in Washington D.C.

These are very dangerous times. 

They are known and unknown but all resisted tyrants and all have become inspirational figures in my life. They are men and women, and many are soldiers or clergy, while others were civil rights leaders. Most were advocates of non-violence, but some due to the incredibly evil nature of the regime under which they lived and served resorted to violence. But all show me and I hope will show you that the path of resistance is not futile.

The problem is that far too many people become discouraged the longer the struggle lasts and end up accommodating themselves to the evil regimes under which they lived. That will probably be the experience of those who struggle against tyranny around the world today as authoritarianism under many guises becomes more entrenched. It is a world wide phenomena but if the classic understanding of democratic liberalism advocated by so many including the founders of the United States is to survive, authoritarians and their tyrannical worldview must be resisted.

Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich wrote:

“I’ve been thinking of a story from the Old Testament: Moses stood all day and all night with outstretched arms, praying to God for victory. And whenever he let down his arms, the enemy prevailed over the children of Israel. Are there still people today who never weary of directing all their thinking and all their energy, single-heartedly, to one cause?”

That my friends is important.

Yesterday, July 20th was the 74th anniversary of Operation Valkyrie, the attempt of conservative German military officers, diplomats, and others to kill Hitler and end the tyrannical and genocidal Nazi regime. Among the men who died in that attempt were Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, General Henning von Trescow, General Ludwig Beck, Lieutenant Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim, and General Friedrich Olbricht. Others were implicated and were murdered after kangaroo court proceedings at the hand of the Volksgericht, the “People’s Court” headed by Roland Freisler. Among them was Field Marshal Erich von Witzleben. While Freisler hounded and tried to humiliate him Witzleben remained calm and announced to the court:

“You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months’ time, the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!”

General Henning von Tresckow

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” He also wrote: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” When the attempt failed von Trescow was serving on the Russian front far away from Berlin. To avoid arrest and the possibility that under torture he could implicate others or cause harm to his wife and children von Trescow killed himself. Another participant wrote that before his death von Trescow said:

“The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about dying, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give his life in defense of his convictions.”

Ludwig Beck

General Ludwig Beck

Beck, who had resigned his post as commander of the German Army in protest of the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia wrote something that has become a key part of my military and personal ethic: “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.”

Tresckow, a committed Christian also noted of Hitler’s supposedly Christian supporters: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” 

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Admiral Wilhelm Canaris 

There were other Christian resisters of the Hitler regime. Hans Oster was the son of a pastor and one of the senior officers in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence. His boss, Admiral Wihelm Canaris was also a resister. Both would be executed on the personal order of Hitler in April 1945 along with Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all had been arrested for their involvement in anti-Hitler activities. For his part Canaris would note something that military, intelligence, or police officials who might be tempted to excuse the actions of modern day tyrants or would be authoritarians:

“One day the world will hold the Wehrmacht responsible for these methods since these things are taking place under its nose.”

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Pastor Bonhoeffer who died with Oster and Canaris at Flossenburg 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.”

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Hermann Maas 

Hermann Maas, another Lutheran pastor made his mark by speaking out in defense of Jews and Socialists. He angered the German political right including the Nazis by doing so. He aided Jews and other non-Aryans to escape Germany, and cared for the elderly Jews who could not. He was removed from his pastorate and imprisoned. He survived the war and would be the first German recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Maas discussed the responsibility of all Germans for the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis, something that Christians and others in nations like the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America that are threatened by authoritarian leaders and racist regimes:

“Every German bears responsibility for Germany no matter who he is or where he stands, in the homeland or abroad, in public and at home. No one can absolve him of this responsibility. He can transfer it to no one.” 

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Sophie Scholl

But these men were not the only opponents of the Nazi regime. A young woman, a student at the University of Munich named Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were at the center of an anti-Nazi resistance called the White Rose. They published and distributed a number of anti-Nazi leaflets and were caught doing so in early 1943.

One of those pamphlets noted:

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?

If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass – then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now – the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability – are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems – but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate.

Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.

Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.”

She wrote:

“It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I think of all of these people that I admire young Sophie Scholl the most. She had no power. She was not an officer, a government official, a businessman, or a pastor. She was simply a young woman who was informed by her faith and her concern for basic human morality and ethics.

While the Nazi State was consumed by the flames of Hitler’s Götterdämmerung, the lives and message of those few who resisted still redounds to us today. And yes, in comparison to the majority of Germans  of the Hitler era, they were a tiny minority, Of over 2000 German General and Flag officers a mere 22 were involved in anti-Nazi activities and the same is true for most professions in the Third Reich.

Milton Mayer wrote the words of a German University Professor and colleague after the war was over. The professor was reflecting on how people ended up going along with the Nazi regime. Mayer wrote his friends words:

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

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

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

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

I think this is something for every American to ponder in the age of Trump.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, germany, History, laws and legislation, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism

The Eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tomorrow is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It coincides with the date that the date that the Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated by the 100th Division of the Soviet Red Army. In the United States, Days of Remembrance runs from the Sunday before Yom Hashoah through the following Sunday, this year beginning on April 20th.

When the Red Army liberated Auschwitz during its drive to the Vistula River in preparation for the final assault on Berlin, few paid much attention to it, after all it was the Red Army. It wasn’t until Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Flossenbürg, and Buchenwald were liberated by the British (Bergen-Belsen) and the others by the Americans that the message of the Nazi atrocities finally got out. However, two months before the SS were ordered to destroy the gas chambers and crematoria and ten days before the liberation the SS began a forced march of all prisoners, except those deemed unable to make the journey, to the west, primarily Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. When General George Patton wrote about his visit to one of Buchenwald’s sub-camps he wrote:

“we drove to Ohrdruf and visited the first horror camp any of us had ever seen. It was the most appalling sight imaginable.

A man who said he was one of the former inmates acted as impresario and showed us first the gallows, where men were hanged for attempting to escape. The drop board was about two feet from the ground, and the cord used was piano wire which had an adjustment so that when the man dropped, his toes would just reach the ground and it would take about fifteen minutes for him to choke to death, since the fall was not sufficient to break his neck. The next two men to die had to kick the board out from under him. It was stated by some of the Germans present that the generals who were executed after the Hitler bomb incident were hanged in this manner.

Our guide then took us to the whipping table, which was about the height of the average man’s crotch. The feet were placed in stocks on the ground and the man was pulled over the table, which was slightly hollowed, and held by two guards, while he was beaten across the back and loins. The stick which they said had been used, and which had some blood on it, was bigger than the handle of a pick.

Our guide claimed that he himself had received twenty-five blows with this tool. It later developed that he was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners. General Eisenhower must have suspected it, because he asked the man very pointedly how he could be so fat. He was found dead next morning, killed by some of the inmates.

Just beyond the whipping table there was a pile of forty bodies, more or less naked. All of these had been shot in the back of the head at short range, and the blood was still cooling on the ground.

In a shed near-by was a pile of forty completely naked bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime – not, apparently, for the purpose of destroying them, but to reduce the smell. As a reducer of smell, lime is a very inefficient medium.

The total capacity of the shed looked to me to be about two hundred bodies. It was stated that bodies were left until the shed was full and then they were taken out and buried. The inmates said some three thousand people had been buried from this shed since January 1, 1945.

When our troops began to draw near, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes. They therefore used the inmates to exhume the recently buried bodies and to build a sort of mammoth griddle of 60 cm. railway tracks laid on a brick foundation. The bodies were piled on this and they attempted to burn them. The attempt was a bad failure. Actually, one could not help but think of some gigantic cannibalistic barbecue. In the pit itself were arms and legs and portions of bodies sticking out of the green water which partially filled it.

General Walker and General Middleton had wisely decided to have as many soldiers as possible visit the scene. This gave me the idea of having the inhabitants themselves visit the camp. I suggested this to Walker, and found that he had already had the mayor and his wife take a look at it. On going home those two committed suicide. We later used the same system in having the inhabitants of Weimar go through the even larger slave camp. (Buchenwald) north of that town.” (Excerpted for G. Patton War as I Knew It)

General Dwight Eisenhower, who was also present remarked:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

“I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.”

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, however, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime.

One of the reporters present was the great radio broadcaster, Edwin R. Murrow. He broadcast his message to to American public and said:

“There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing….

[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.

They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.

As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.

In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts….

We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man’s feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.

I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge….showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We’re very efficient here.”

We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.

I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn’t possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.

But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?

I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.I

If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry….” 

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, however, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime. The late Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian philosopher and survivor of Auschwitz wrote: “It happened, it can happen again.” 

I will now quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

“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.”

When I think of the world today, with its increase in Anti-Semitism, in many cases spearheaded by Christians in this and European nations I think of this. The Holocaust is not simply history, it could very well be our future.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, crime, ethics, faith, History, nazi germany, News and current events

The Continuum of History and Memory: The Example of the American Civil War Today

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”

Our present situation in the United States proves that. No quote could better describe our current President, his entourage, and his cult of true believers. When one sees the President continually making up lies aided by cabinet members, Congressmen, media propagandists, and political preachers, one cannot take that for granted, regardless of the subject; especially when they claim to say that lies are the truth. George Orwell’s words on this come to mind:

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

The President claims to love the military, but he claims a knowledge greater than his military leaders, commits war crimes and pardons war criminals, even talks about his military service though he didn’t serve and actually avoided serving while publicly disparaging those who did. But I digress, I got carried away simply because because the similarity of these individuals is so much like that of the leaders of the Confederacy, and it’s perpetual defenders who avoid facts and make up myths to prop up the legacy of the rebellion founded upon White Supremacy and African slavery, whose leaders destroyed the bulk of their states to defend that, even when they knew that they could not win. The only problem is that their ideology never died and has found new life. To the casual observer or one raised on the myths of The Noble South, and The Lost Cause, facts don’t matter.

That being said finite human beings find themselves bound by time and space, we live in the present, but not the present alone, but rather three worlds: one that is, one that was, and one that will be. The German historian Ernst Breisach wrote:

“In theory we know these three worlds as separate concepts but we experience as inextricably linked and influencing each other in many ways. Every new and important discovery about the past changes how we think about the present and what we expect of the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations of the future revises our perception of the past. In this complex context history is born ostensibly as reflection of the past; a reflection which is never isolated from the present and the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time.”

Richard Evans wrote something in the preface to his book The Third Reich in History and Memory that those who study military history often forget. He noted:

“Military history, as this volume shows, can be illuminating in itself, but also needs to be situated in a larger economic and cultural context. Wherever we look, at decision-making at the top, or at the inventiveness and enterprise of second rank figures, wider contextual factors remained vital.”

Thus while this work is an examination of the American Civil War it is important to understand the various issues that were formative for the men who directed and fought the battle, as well as the vast continuum of often distant and seemingly unrelated events that come together at one time in the lives of the participants in any historic event.

This is important and it goes to a broader view of history and education rather that many people are comfortable with. We live in an age where much of education, even higher educations has been transformed into training for a particular skill to gain, or with which to enter the workforce, rather than teaching us to think critically. The social sciences, the liberal arts, philosophy, history are often considered by politicians and business leaders as skills which do not help people get jobs and have been the subjects of cuts in many public university systems.

Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University wrote: “The prevailing argument is that students should study or major in something “employable,” something that is directly correlated to a job in a high paying career field. This view is espoused by many parents and national leaders, including politicians on both sides of the aisle. Many have called for additional STEM majors as well as eliminating funding for “softer” disciplines.” Like it or not such efforts impact the serious study of history and minimize the exsposure of students in the STEM disciplines to the broader aspects of intellectual study that happen provide them with a moral, ethical, and historic foundation for their disciplines. Giles Lauren in his introduction to B. H. Liddell-Hart’s classic Why Don’t We Learn from History?, wrote:

“Education, no longer liberal, has largely become a question of training in a skill for gain rather than teaching us how to think so as to find our own way. ‘It is strange how people assume that no training is needed in the pursuit of truth.’ We must learn to test and judge the information that comes before us. After all: ‘Whoever habitually suppresses the truth … will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.’”

Liddell-Hart expressed the importance of a wide view of history as well as the importance of being able to dig deep into particular aspects of it, bit of which are important if we want to come as close to the truth as we can. He wrote:

“The benefit of history depends, however, on a broad view. And that depends on a wide study of it. To dig deep into one patch is a valuable and necessary training. It is the only way to learn the method of historical research. But when digging deep, it is equally important to get one’s bearings by a wide survey. That is essential to appreciate the significance of what one finds, otherwise one is likely “to miss the forest for the trees.””

This can be a particular problem for those who write about specific aspects of the American Civil War, especially about particular battles, technical developments, or individuals. Many writers dig deep into a particular subject, but despite their good work, miss important aspects because they have not done the groundwork of trying to put those subjects into the broader historical, as well as sociological context.

One cannot understand the determination the determination of Robert E. Lee to maintain the offensive without understanding his devotion to Napoleon, or his view of the war and the battles his men fought without understanding and taking into account his view of Divine Providence which was a part of his religious experience. One cannot understand the dogged persistence of Joshua Chamberlain or Strong Vincent to hold Little Round Top, without understanding their patriotic idealism and the nearly spiritual significance of the Union to them. One cannot understand William Tecumseh Sherman without understanding the often cold realism that shaped his world view. The same is true for any of the men, and women, soldier or civilian, slave, or free, who had some part, great or small in the war.

Thus it is important when digging deep, to also attempt to understand the broader perspective of history, and how factors outside their direct military training and experience, such as culture, politics, economics, religion, sociology, ideology, life experience, and all of those factors shaped these men and their actions. By such means we get closer to the truth and by doing so avoid the myths which even after a century and a half, still clutter the works of many people who write about the Civil War.

Likewise, in order to understand the context of the battles of the Civil War, or for that matter the battles in any war, one has to understand the events, ever distant events which play a role in the battle. All too often those that delve into military history, or a particular battle see that as separate event, often disconnected from other historical events. But as historian Edward Steers Jr. correctly notes, history “does not exist in a series of isolated events like so many sound bites in a newscast. It is a continuum of seemingly unrelated and distant events that so often come together in one momentous collision of time.”

To explain this in a different way, let us look at the Battle of Gettysburg as a case in point, but needless to say that no-matter what battle we study there are other factors, that influence it. In the case of the Battle of Gettysburg events like Lincoln’s publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, are important, as it resets the political and diplomatic narrative of the war in a way that influences both domestic politics, and diplomacy.

Diplomacy is another aspect that must be considered, and the incompetence of Confederate diplomats was a major factor. These men were unsuccessful in bringing France or Great Britain into the war, nor could they persuade any European power to recognize the Confederacy. Both of these failures were brought about by their provincialism and by their lack of understanding of the domestic politics of France and England. Both nations had abolished slavery, banned the slave trade, and had populations that were overwhelmingly against slavery.

On the military front, the failures of the Confederate armies in the West to maintain their hold on the Mississippi River, played a crucial role in Robert E. Lee’s ill-advised decision to launch an invasion of Pennsylvania, as did the failing Confederate economy. None of these events can be disconnected from it without doing violence to the historical narrative and thereby misunderstanding why the battle was important.

Another element that must be connected in order to understand the American Civil War is the part that policy, strategy, war aims, as well as operational doctrine, tactics, and technology played in every campaign of the war. When we examine those dimensions of the war and of specific campaigns we go back to the human factor: the people whose ideas, character, and personalities, influenced the conduct of the war and how it was waged.

Finally, events such as the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Atlanta, or the Overland Campaign or Sherman’s March to the Sea cannot be looked at as a stand-alone events for their military value only. The clash at Gettysburg as the armies of the Confederacy battled the Army of the Potomac, and surged and then ebbed back from their “high water mark,” is important. What happened there influences the rest of the war. However, it does not take place in isolation from other battles and events. While the war would go on for nearly two more years, the Union victory at Gettysburg coupled with the victory of Grant at Vicksburg ensured that the Confederacy, no matter how hard it tried would not be able to gain its independence through military means. It was no longer the master of its fate, it needed the Northern “Peace” Democrats to successfully win the election of 1864, and it needed intervention from Europe, neither which was forthcoming.

Maybe even more importantly the story of the Civil War is its continued influence today. The American Civil War was America’s greatest crisis. It was a crisis that “has cast such a shadow over the relations between the North and the South that the nation’s identity and its subsequent history have been considerably influenced by it.”

One cannot underestimate the importance of the American Civil War, it was the completion of the American Revolution and the birth of a modern nation. The successes and failures, the victories and defeats, and the scars that remain resonate in American cultural, political, and social divide, be it in the minds and hearts of the descendants of freed slaves, Southerners weaned on the myth of the Lost Cause, or the progeny of the Irish and German immigrants who fought for a country where they were despised and discriminated against by the adherents of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement. The remains of three-quarters of a million Union and Confederate soldiers interred in cemeteries across the North and South, the monuments devoted to them in town squares, the preserved battlefields with their now silent cannon are a constant reminder of this war that made a nation.

Many people pore over the accounts of the battles of the war, while the legions of devoted Civil War historians, re-enactors, military history buffs, and members of organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans testify to the war’s continued hold on Americans and their fascination with it. The military struggle was important, but we always have to keep it in the context of why the war was fought and why so many of the issues that it was fought over remain issues today, as Ted Widmer noted; “What Lincoln called a “new birth of freedom” felt like a straitjacket to those who opposed it, and their legacy is still felt, in the many forms of opposition to the federal writ that we witness on a daily basis.”

It is important to understand how the war was fought, but it even more important to understand the relationship of how it was fought with why it was fought and in some ways is still being fought, as was evidenced by the vast numbers of Confederate battle flags proudly displayed outside of the historic Confederacy during much of the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Historian David Blight wrote:

“The boundaries of military history are fluid; they connect with a broader social, cultural, and political history in a myriad of ways. In the long run, the meanings embedded in those epic fights are what should command our greatest attention. The “war of ideas” as Douglass aptly called it, has never completely faded from our nation’s social condition or historical memory. Suppress it as we may, it still sits in our midst, an eternal postlude playing for all who deal seriously with America’s past and our enduring predicaments with race, pluralism and equality.”

The battles of the American Civil War are enshrined in American history and myth, and are woven deeply into the story of the nation. In this story the Battle of Gettysburg is often viewed different ways depending on one’s perspective. For many in the North the battle is viewed as a victory that helps brings an end to the institution of slavery, and with it freedom for enslaved African-Americans, and the preservation of the Union. In the South it is often part of the myth of the Noble Confederacy and the Lost Cause where the South was defeated by the Northern superiority in men and war making ability. At Gettysburg there is a certain irony that in the shadow of the cemetery where over 3,500 Union soldiers lay in hallowed repose and where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address that Confederate memorabilia vastly outsells that of the side that won the battle. People wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the image of the Confederate battle flag, and sayings like “I Will Not be Reconstructed” are bought at local gift shops, and their wearers parade past the graves of the Union soldiers who lie just a few hundred yards up the slope of West Cemetery Hill. For me, although members of both sides of my family owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry.

Yet in both cases, the truth is not so simple; in fact it is much more complex, and the truth is we are still in the process of learning from and interpreting the historical records of the events that led to the American Civil War, the war itself, and the aftermath. They are all connected and for that matter still influence Americans today more than any other era of our history. In fact James McPherson who is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the Civil War and Reconstruction wrote:

“I became convinced that I could not fully understand the issues of my own time unless I learned about their roots in the era of the Civil War: slavery and its abolition; the conflict between North and South; the struggle between state sovereignty and the federal government; the role of the government in social change and resistance to both government and social change. These issues are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s.”

The prolific American military historian Russell Weigley wrote of how the war, and in particular how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the American Republic.

“The Great No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”Civil War gave birth to a new and different American Republic, whose nature is to be discovered less in the Declaration of Independence than in the Address Delivered at the Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The powerful new Republic shaped by the bayonets of the Union Army of the Civil War wears a badge less benign aspect than the older, original American Republic. But it also carries a larger potential to do good for “the proposition that all men are created equal” both at home and around the world.”

Thus it is important for Americans to learn about the American Civil War, but not solely for its military significance, nor for clear-cut answers or solutions. The lessons go far deeper than that and span the spectrum of the world that we live in today. The fact is that “situations in history may resemble contemporary ones, but they are never exactly alike, and it is a foolish person who tries blindly to approach a purely historical solution to a contemporary problem. Wars resemble each other more than they resemble other human activities, but similarities can be exaggerated.”

British military historian Michael Howard warned. “the differences brought about between one war and another by social or technological changes are immense, and an unintelligent study of military history which does not take into account these changes may quite easily be more dangerous than no study at all. Like the statesman, the soldier has to steer between the dangers of repeating the errors of the past because his is ignorant that they have been made, and of remaining bound by theories deduced from past history although changes in conditions have rendered these theories obsolete.”

The ideal that we reach for is to understand the battles of the American Civil War in context, which includes understanding what led to the war as well as the period of Reconstruction, and the post-Reconstruction era and the continued reverberations today.

The American Civil War determined much of the history that followed, not only in the United State, but around the world both in its military advances which transformed war into a mechanized conflict that continues to grow more deadly, and in terms of politics, and social development.

The lessons of this period go far beyond military and leadership lessons gained in studying the battles themselves. They go to our understanding of who we are as a people. They are social, religious, political, economic, diplomatic, and informational. From a strategist’s perspective they certainly help inform the modern policy maker of the DIME, the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of national power, but they are even more than that; the period provides lessons that inform citizens as to the importance of liberty, responsibility, and the importance of both fighting for and defending the rights of the weak and the oppressed.

They also deal with the lives of people, and throughout this volume you will find biographical portraits of some of the key people woven into the story for without them, there really is no story. The one constant in human history are real human beings, some driven by passion, ideology, religion, wealth, or power. There are others who in their quest for knowledge discover things that change the world, invent machinery that alters history, and create weapons which make killing easier. There are men and women who fight for truth, and seek justice for the oppressed. There are the honest and the hucksters, those with character and those that are charlatans. Then to are those who live in fantasy words, cloud-cuckoo lands of unreality that cause them to believe in and pursue causes that can only end in tragedy for them and in many cases others, and finally there are the realists who recognize situations for what they are and are willing to do the hard thing, to speak truth and to act upon it.

All of these types of people can be found in this great war in what was undoubtedly a revolutionary age of change, an age which has influenced the life of this nation, our people, and the world for over a century and a half. Its ghosts haunt our laws and institutions, the sacrifices of soldiers, and the actions of men like Abraham Lincoln have inspired people in this country and around the world.
In writing this volume I attempt to draw lessons from the Civil War era and the people who helped create the world in which we live. Even so I try to do so without making the mistake of assuming that what we learn and know about them is immutable and thus not subject to change; for the past influences the present, even as the present and future will influence how we view and interpret the past.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books, civil rights, civil war, culture, Gettysburg, History, leadership

The Horror of Evil is that it Does Not Deviate from Human Norms: the Eternal Precedent of the Holocaust

rolfe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I read and write a lot about Weimar and Nazi Germany as well as the Holocaust. They were the focus of my undergraduate major working under Dr. Helmut Heussler who served as a translator and interrogator at Nuremberg while I was a student at California State University at Northridge and later in my Masters of Arts in Military History. I read the documents, the histories, the narratives, and the reports both in English and German. I study the perpetrators, the victims, and yes the bystanders as well and there is not enough time in one man’s life to read all of them, but I will try.

Likewise I visit the sites where things happened in Germany, and every time that I make a trip to those places I learn more and believe me it is not comfortable.  When I visited the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg a few years ago I saw a picture of Dr. Heussler doing his work. Back then he was very young and it would be a number of years before he finished college and went on to his doctorate. When I saw his picture I remembered just how important he was in opening my eyes to the dark side of humanity; even those people that are not truly evil; those like most of us who exist between the shades of gray between sainthood and the devil.

The histories, the documents, the narratives paint a dark picture of humanity and the fallibility of people. The portrait that they paint a disturbing picture of the true nature of what is in all of us. When I look at the pictures and see the films I can see that the lessons of that time have not been learned. Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

In the age where men who admire tyrants and authoritarians like Trump, Putin, Farage, Erdrogan, Assad, and so many others it is important that we try to learn the lessons lest we fall into the same trap as our ancestors and become perpetrators, victims, or bystanders. I often find myself wondering what will be said we Americans of our time in say fifty years or so. I have a feeling that it will not be favorable or sympathetic.

Such a fascination with the thoughts of others years after I am likely to be dead may seem unusually circumspect. But my call as a priest and a historian doesn’t allow me not to care about the future, or ignore present realities. The fact is that totalitarian regimes and events like the Holocaust are all too common in human history, one of those is the connection of humanity with its past and future, and that humanity being the constant in our 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.”

The fact is that there are very few true saints and likewise very few truly evil people. Quite obviously Adolf Hitler and many of his associates fell in the latter category. The rest of us, and for that matter most of the people on all sides during from the Nazi seizure of power until the Gotterdammerung of the Third Reich in in the flames of Berlin in 1945 fell somewhere in the gray area between the truly evil and the saints and truthfully all of us given the right conditions are capable of becoming perpetrators, victims, or the worst, bystanders who turn their backs on evil because it doesn’t seem to affect us; but it does.

Admittedly this is a dark subject and as I always reminded my students “the one constant in history are fallible human beings.” 

During our recent blizzard and snow event my wife Judy was away, so one of the nights that I was alone I re-watched the film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film is profoundly disturbing not only because of the subjects that it deals with but also when we look at the great uncertainty time that we live and how similar it is to the world of the late 1920s and early 1930s. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film, Maximillian Schell, who played Hans Rolfe, the defense counsel for Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster gives a summation in the final defense of his client who has already admitted his guilt which is remarkable because he tells the truth about the guilt of everyone.

Rolfe’s summation of his defense following his client’s admission of guilt is damning. It is something that almost all of us do. It is how we look at the atrocities of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, the willful starvation of millions by criminal regimes; and then stand by saying little or nothing and doing nothing, sometimes even supporting the leaders or the regimes that commit these actions.

So please, no matter what your political point of view, take the time to watch clip or the whole film, and read the transcript of Schell’s speech below. It’s far easier than trying to do all the reading, study, and research that I have done.

“Your Honor, it is my duty to defend Ernst Janning, and yet Ernst Janning has said he is guilty. There’s no doubt, he feels his guilt. He made a great error in going along with the Nazi movement, hoping it would be good for his country. But, if he is to be found guilty, there are others who also went along, who also must be found guilty. Ernst Janning said, “We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Why did we succeed, Your Honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcast all over the world? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf, published in every corner of the world? Where’s the responsibility of the Soviet Union, who signed in 1939 the pact with Hitler, enabled him to make war? Are we not to find Russia guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the Vatican, who signed in 1933 the Concordat with Hitler, giving him his first tremendous prestige? Are we not to find the Vatican guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the world leader, Winston Churchill, who said in an open letter to the London Times in 1938 – 1938! Your Honor – “were England to suffer national disaster should pray to God to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler!” Are we not to find Winston Churchill guilty? Where is the responsibility of those American industrialists, who helped Hitler to rebuild his armaments and profited by that rebuilding? Are we not to find the American industrialists guilty? No, Your Honor. No! Germany alone is not guilty: The whole world is as responsible for Hitler’s Germany. It is an easy thing to condemn one man in the dock. It is easy to condemn the German people to speak of the basic flaw in the German character that allowed Hitler to rise to power and at the same time positively ignore the basic flaw of character that made the Russians sign pacts with him, Winston Churchill praise him, American industrialists profit by him! Ernst Janning said he is guilty. If he is, Ernst Janning’s guilt is the world’s guilt – no more and no less.”

Sadly, little has changed in the character of humanity. If we do or say nothing, if we support those who do such things, if we close our eyes and pretend that it is not our problem, then we too are the guilty party.  As Hannah Arendt wrote: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Sophie Scholl, a young university student who died at the hands of the Nazis for daring to distribute leaflets telling the truth about Hitler’s regime wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Whether I live one day, or another fifty years, I do not want to be a person who wants to be remembered as one who “just wants to survive,” or “left in peace,” or as Arendt said one “who never makes up their mind to be good or evil.” Nor can I be one who just goes along with things as Janning did, carrying in Judgment at Nuremberg, or be one for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature.” 

That is the only way I know how to live. Life has taught me that.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books, civil rights, ethics, faith, film, History, holocaust, life, nazi germany, philosophy, Political Commentary

“So the Old Life Slipped Away Never to Return Again.. .” The Coming Disorder of 2020

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is not even Christmas and I am beginning to write about the coming year. This was provoked in part by a discussion I had with a dear friend, who also happens to be an Evangelical Christian Trump Cultist. I attempted to talk of basic middle of the road stuff and be honest about history, especially because I was a Republican for 32 years, until I returned from Iraq in 2008 and realized that we had been lied into a war that would have fit three of the four charges leveled against the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg.

But there was no convincing my friend of anything, even when attempting to bridge the divide using facts. To him Trump is the greatest President ever, and Obama, the worst. Of course I live in one of the “reddest” areas of Virginia and while I have quite a few liberal or progressive friends here, quite a few of the people who are also long time friends have transformed themselves from traditional conservatives who could be reasoned with to part of the Trump Cult. Such was the case with this person, every response he gave came straight from a Trump tweet, or something off of Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh. But I digress, my friend is not a bad person, he has

Abraham Lincoln noted:

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

It is good to remember Lincoln’s words in times of turmoil. I do, and they bring me great motivation to work, believe, and fight for justice, truth, and the belief in a spark of goodness in humanity which enables me to believe the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The fact that those words come from a time of tumult, yet in a time where men were beginning to wrestle with and proclaim principles of the Enlightenment matters much to me, especially in times like we live today, where that principle is being attacked and undermined by the American President.

That being said, I believe that 2019 will be remembered in history as a time great turmoil, upheaval, and probably usher in a new epoch of war, economic, and ecological disaster. We are ending the year with the impeachment proceedings against President Trump, and threats of violence and civil war from his supporters if he is removed from office or loses the 2020 election.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as a historian I to look at the world through how human beings, governments, and businesses behave in times of crisis. In fact, human beings are the singular constant in history and in crisis human beings don’t always live up to our ideals.

When major powers and international systems of order break down, or collapse for whatever reason, instability, disorder, and primordial hatreds based on nationalism, religion, and racism rise. A vacuum is created, filled by other powers, but not without some element of travail. Edmond Taylor wrote in his classic “The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Order, 1905-1922:

“The collapse of the great supranational — or at least supraparochial — authorities and the dissolution of long-accepted Imperial bonds released upon Europe a fearsome flood of conflicting national ambitions, of inflamed minority particularisms, of historic (sometimes almost prehistoric) irredentisms, of irreconcilable social aspirations and of rival political fanaticisms.

The impending collapse of the old order today can be seen in a return to a more isolationist policy by the United States, rising populist, nationalist, and ethnocentric movements in Europe which are threatening the existence of the European Union. Those include Brexit, ethnic nationalism mixed with a bit of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Poland, and great strains in France and Germany between right and left wing populist movements, but no one has found a way to deal with these Right Wing  populist movements.

The common thread is the center which was the key to so much social progress, democracy, economic growth and stability, scientific advancement, and international security is giving way. In fact it has pretty much disappeared, There are many reasons for this, on the American side going back to the imperialist overreach of the George W. Bush administration, the inconsistent and detached method of the Obama administration towards the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, following that, the overtly populist, authoritarian, and isolationist policies of the Trump presidency, and his decidedly inconsistent, often irresponsible, and irreconcilable policies of isolationism on one hand, and militarism on the other.

Now a rejuvenated Russia is rushing to fill the void in the Middle East as well as working to destabilize its neighbors, Europe, and even the United States. The Chinese are attempting to make gains in other areas and to drive the United States out of Asia by using every element of national power: diplomacy, information, military might, and economics, while the United States following the Trump Administration’s withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and subsequent punishing tariffs that are hurting allies and Americans more than China the United States is now at a decided disadvantage in Asia.

I could go on, and could go into details on the causes of the current situation but they are many. What we are seeing now is the beginning of the collapse of an order that we have known most of our lives. While many people might be uneasy, most don’t view things in terms of history, in many cases because the events that led to the establishment of the current order are too distant and the witnesses to those times are few, and dying off. People today seldom study history, and even worse no longer know people, including family members who remember what happened to remind them of it.

That was quite similar to the situation in 1914. Europe had been at relative peace for a century. With the exception of the French Republic, most of Europe was still ruled by monarchies with rather limited democratic participation, if any. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The Proud Tower: A Portrait Of the World Before the War, 1890-1914:

“The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, “With emotion, to the man I used to be.”

I believe that 2020 will the a year of multiple crises and the further erosion, if not collapse of the old order, regardless of what happens with impeachment. What will come I do not know, but I expect that at the minimum it will be unsettling and disruptive, if not catastrophic. That doesn’t mean that I am a pessimist, it means that I study history. Provided that humanity does not find a way to destroy itself, we will recover. It may not be pretty and it certainly will not be the same as it was, but we will recover.

Walter Lord wrote about this his book on American in the early Twentieth Century The Good Years: 1900-1914. In the book he wrote about how things changed for Americans as Europe plunged into war. The effects of the war were soon felt in the United States though it would not enter the war until 1917. Lord wrote:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

The truth is, even in the midst of crises that the spark that enables people to believe, to hope, and to labor for a better future where the possibilities of peace, justice, freedom, and progress can be realized.

2019 was a very difficult year, a year of change and turbulence, and truthfully it will probably be just the beginning; but unless we find a way to destroy ourselves before the end of the year, it will not be the end, and 2020 may be one of the most important, yet tumultuous years in human history, and I cannot say if it will end well, for the United States, or the world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

Robert Jackson’s Indictment of the Nazis, Trump, and Us: Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg in Light of Trump’s Pardon of Convicted War Criminals

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the the last section of my five part post dealing with the opening statement of American Chief Prosecutor, and Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson at the major Nuremberg War Crimes Trial. The first four segments of this series dealt with Jackson’s introduction, his dissection of the Nazi wars against free Labor Unions and the Churches; Hitler and his henchmen’s most heinous crimes, the genocide against the Jews, and finally the Nazi’s criminal conduct of war.

During the meetings to set the boundaries and rules of the international tribunal Jackson noted something that many American leaders have ignored for decades:

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

Jackson believed that the International Tribunal would serve as a model for future tribunals, unfortunately the Cold War shelved those plans. They were revived after the war crimes and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In 2002 the International Criminal Court was established under the authority of the Rome Statute. One hundred twenty three nations are signatories to the pact. Unfortunately, neither the United States, or Russia have refused to ratify the treaty.

Among the men most responsible or the refusal of the United States to ratify the statute and is current National Security Advisor, John Bolton. He was also deeply involved in the propaganda and false intelligence that lead to the Iraq War. In his first address after becoming National Security Advisor he launched a fierce criticism of the Court. Unfortunately, the Court, lacking the cooperation of the United States, Russia, Israel, and a number of influential middle eastern and African nations refuse to recognize the treaty or the Court.

Robert Jackson would have considered Bolton no better than Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. If Bolton and others had been in the dock at Nuremberg for crimes committed during the invasion of Iraq, they would have gone to the gallows.

The refusal of the United States to ratify the Rome Statute and recognize the authority of the ICC is a stain upon our honor and an affront to the civilization and an international community built on law that Jackson and his team of prosecutors hoped to build.

However, in the years since the United States refused to ratify the Rome Statute, things have gone downhill. Bolton of all people resisted the the insane action of a President bent on authoritarian rule and dictatorship. He was fired for his actions and now that President is undermining the good order and discipline of the military by pardoning convicted war criminals despite the opposition of the services and the firing the Secretary of the Navy for refusing one of his demands concerning a SEAL who was one of those war criminals.

The United States under President Trump has not not only followed past Republican administrations and Congresses in failing to ratify the Rome Statute, and the previously mentioned invasion of Iraq as well as countless military operations where innocent civilians died in attempts to kill alleged terrorists, often at weddings. Now the President is pardoning men convicted as war criminals by the U.S. Military, and then ordered the Secretary of Defense too to fire the Secretary of the Navy. In his letter of resignation the Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer wrote:

As Secretary of the Navy. one the most important responsibilities 1 have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business. The lives of our Sailors, Marines and civilian teammates quite literally depend on the professional execution of our many missions, and they also depend on the ongoing faith and support of the people we serve and the allies we serve alongside.

The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again, from Captain Lawrence’s famous order ‘Don’t Give up the Ship,’ to the discipline and determination that propelled our flag to the highest point on Iwo Jima. The Constitution, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, are the shields that set us apart and the beacons that protect us all. Through my Title Ten Authority, I have strived to ensure our proceedings are fair, transparent and consistent, from the newest recruit to the Flag and General Officer level.

Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect. I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The now former Secretary of the Navy sacrificed his office to tell the truth about the nature of President Trump and his administration. It is malignant and the malignancy is spreading to every institution of government designed to protect the Constitution and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

I am not a person who thinks that institutions alone can prevent war or war crimes, human nature being what it is. Nor do I blindly put my faith in treaties. I agree with British military historian B. H. Liddell-Hart who wrote: We must face the fact that international relations are governed by interests and not by moral principles.

Like Liddell-Hart, I understand that nations are often incredibly bent on their presumed interests. I recognize that the leaders of nations will attempt to evade responsibility for criminal acts committed by their military, polices forces, and intelligence services. I also know that nations often mythologize to the point of lying about their history, and enshrining war criminals and others who abetted genocide as national heroes. Name a country where this is not true, okay, maybe Andorra or Lichtenstein, but almost every nation with any real regional or world political, military, or economic power has done this at some point in their history, but I digress, for now we are doing it ourselves. This is an indictment not just of Donald Trump, but of our nation, whether we be perpetrators, victims, or bystanders.

Jackson’s words in this final part of his address should gave every American with a scintilla of ethics and conscience pause, especially after last weekend. If they don’t then we are truly lost.

Here again are Jackson’s words.

Even the most warlike of peoples have recognised in the name of humanity some limitations on the savagery of warfare. Rules to that end have been embodied in international conventions to which Germany became a party. This code had prescribed certain restraints as to the treatment of belligerents. The enemy was entitled to surrender and to receive quarter and good treatment as a prisoner of war. We will show by German documents that these rights were denied, that prisoners of war were given brutal treatment and often murdered. This was particularly true in the case of captured airmen, often my countrymen.

It was ordered that captured English and American airmen should no longer be granted the status of prisoners of war. They were to be treated as criminals and the Army was ordered to refrain from protecting them against lynching by the populace (R-118). The Nazi Government, through its police and propaganda agencies, took pains to incite the civilian population to attack and kill airmen who crash-landed. The order, given by the Reichsfuehrer S.S., Himmler, on 10th August, 1943, directed that:

“It is not the task of the police to interfere in clashes between German and English and American fliers who have bailed out.”

This order was transmitted on the same day by S.S. Obersturmbannfuehrer Brandof, Himmler’s Personal Staff to all Senior Executive S.S. and Police Officers, with these directions:

“I am sending you the enclosed order with the request that the Chief of the Regular Police and of the Security Police be informed. They are to make this instruction known to their subordinate officers verbally.” (R-110)

Similarly, we will show Hitler’s top secret order, dated 18th October, 1942, that Commandos, regardless of condition, were “to be slaughtered to the last man” after capture. (498-PS) We will show the circulation of secret orders, one of which was signed by Hess, to be passed orally to civilians, that enemy fliers or parachutists were to be arrested or liquidated. (062-PS). By such means were murders incited and directed.

This Nazi campaign of ruthless treatment of enemy forces assumed its greatest proportions in the fight against Russia. Eventually all prisoners of war were taken out of control of the Army and put in the hands of Himmler and the S.S. (058-PS.) In the East, the German fury spent itself. Russian prisoners of war were ordered to be branded. They were starved. I shall quote passages from a letter written 28th February, 1942, by defendant Rosenberg to defendant Keitel:

“The fate of the Soviet prisoners of war in Germany is, on the contrary, a tragedy of the greatest extent. Of 3,600,000 prisoners of war, only several hundred thousand are still able to work fully. A large part of them has starved, or died, because of the hazards of the weather. Thousands also died from spotted fever.

The camp commanders have forbidden the civilian population to put food at the disposal of the prisoners, and they have rather let them starve to death.

In many cases, when prisoners of war could no longer keep up on the march because of hunger and exhaustion, they were shot before the eyes of the horrified population, and the corpses were left.

In numerous camps, no shelter for the prisoners of war was provided at all. They lay under the open sky during rain or snow. Even tools were not made available to dig holes or caves.

Finally, the shooting of prisoners of war must be mentioned; for instance, in various camps, all the ‘Asiatics’ were shot.” (081-PS.)

Civilised usage and conventions, to which Germany was a party, had prescribed certain immunities for civilian populations unfortunate enough to dwell in lands overrun by hostile armies. The German occupation forces, controlled or commanded by men on trial before you, committed a long series of outrages against the inhabitants of occupied territory that would be incredible except for captured orders and captured reports which show the fidelity with which those orders were executed.

We deal here with a phase of common criminality designed by the conspirators as part of the Common Plan. We can appreciate why these crimes against their European enemies were not of a casual character but were planned and disciplined crimes when we get at the reason for them. Hitler told his officers on 22nd August, 1939, that “The main objective in Poland is the destruction of the enemy and not the reaching of a certain geographical line.” (1014-PS.) Those words were quoted. The project of deporting promising youth from occupied territories was approved by Rosenberg on the theory that “a desired weakening of the biological force of the conquered people is being achieved.” (03I-PS) To Germanise or to destroy was the programme. Himmler announced, “Either we win over any good blood that we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people, or, gentlemen -you may call this cruel, but nature is cruel -we destroy this blood.” As to “racially good types” Himmler further advised, “Therefore, I think that it is our duty to take their children with us, to remove them from their environment, if necessary, by robbing or stealing them.” (L-90.) He urged deportation of Slavic children to deprive potential enemies of future soldiers.

The Nazi purpose was to leave Germany’s neighbours so weakened that even if she should eventually lose the war, she would still be the most powerful nation in Europe. Against this background, we must view the plan for ruthless warfare, which means a plan for the commission of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity.

Hostages in large numbers were demanded and killed. Mass punishments were inflicted, so savage that whole communities were extinguished. Rosenberg was advised of the annihilation of three unidentified villages in Slovakia. In May of 1943, another village of about 40 farms and 220 inhabitants was ordered to be wiped out. The entire population was ordered to be shot, the cattle and property impounded, and the order required that “the village will be destroyed totally by fire.” A secret report from Rosenberg’s Reich Ministry of Eastern territory, where he was responsible reveals that:

“Food rations allowed to the Russian population are so low that they fail to secure their existence and provide only for minimum subsistence of limited duration. The population does not know if they will still live. They are faced with death by starvation.

The roads are clogged by hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes as many as one million according to the estimate of experts, who wander around in search of nourishment.

Sauckel’s action has caused great unrest among the civilians. Russian girls were deloused by men, nude photos in forced positions were taken, women doctors were locked into freight cars for the pleasure of the transport commanders, women in night shirts were fettered and forced through the Russian towns to the railroad station, etc. All this material has been sent to the OKH.”

Perhaps the deportation to slave-labour was the most horrible and extensive slaving operation in history. On few other subjects is our evidence so abundant and so damaging. In a speech made on 25th January, 1944, the defendant Frank, Governor-General of Poland, boasted: “I have sent 1,200,000 Polish workers into the Reich.” The defendant Sauckel reported that “out of the five million foreign workers who arrived in Germany, not even 200,000 came voluntarily.” This fact was reported to the Fuehrer and to the defendants Speer, Goering, and Keitel. (R-124) Children of 10 to 14 years were impressed into service by telegraphic order of Rosenberg’s Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories:

“The Command is further charged with the transferring of worthwhile Russian youth between 10-14 years of age, to the Reich. The authority is not affected by the changes connected with the evacuation and transportation to the reception camps of Bialystok, Krajewo, and Olitei, The Fuehrer wishes that this activity be increased even more. (200-PS.)

When enough labour was not forthcoming, prisoners of war were forced into war work in flagrant violation of international conventions. (016-PS.) Slave labour came from France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and the East. Methods of recruitment were violent. (R-124, 018-PS, 204-PS,) The treatment of these slave labourers was stated in general terms, not difficult to translate into concrete deprivations, in a letter to the defendant Rosenberg from the defendant Sauckel, which stated:

“All prisoners of war, from the territories of the West as well as of the East, actually in Germany, must be completely incorporated into the German armament and munition industries. Their production must be brought to the highest possible level.”

The complete employment of prisoners of war as well as the use of a gigantic number of new civilian workers, men and women, has become an undisputable necessity for the solution of the mobilisation of labour programme in this war.

All the men must be fed, sheltered and treated in such a way as to exploit them to the highest possible extent at the lowest conceivable degrees of expenditure..”( 016-PS.)

In pursuance of the Nazi plan permanently to reduce the living standards of their neighbours and to weaken them physically and economically, a long series of crimes were committed. There was extensive destruction, serving no military purpose, of the property of civilians. Dikes were thrown open in Holland almost at the close of the war, not to achieve military ends but to destroy the resources, and retard the economy, of the thrifty Netherlanders.

There was carefully planned economic siphoning off of the assets of occupied countries. An example of the planning is shown by a report on France dated 7th December, 1942, made by the Economic Research Department of the Reichsbank. The question arose whether French occupation costs should be increased from 15 million Reichsmarks per day to 25 million Reichsmarks per day. The Reichsbank analysed French economy to determine whether it could bear the burden. It pointed out that the armistice had burdened France to that date to the extent of 18 1/ 4 billion Reichsmarks, equalling 370 billion Francs. It pointed out that the burden of these payments within two and a half years equalled the aggregate French national income in the year 1940, and that the amount of payments handed over to Germany in the first six months of 1942 corresponded to the estimate for the total French revenue for that whole year. The report concluded, “In any case, the conclusion is inescapable that relatively heavier tributes have been imposed on France since the armistice in June, 1940, than upon Germany after the First World War. In this connection, it must be noted that the economic powers of France never equalled those of the German Reich, and that the vanquished France could not draw on foreign economic and financial resources in the same degree as Germany after the First World War.”

The defendant Funk was the Reich Minister of Economics and President of the Reichsbank; the defendant Ribbentrop was Foreign Minister; the defendant Goering was Plenipotentiary of the Four-Year Plan; all of them participated in the exchange of views of which this captured document is a part (2149-PS) Notwithstanding this analysis by the Reichsbank, they proceeded to increase the imposition on France from 15 million Reichsmarks to daily to 25 million per day.

It is small wonder that the bottom had been knocked out of French economy. The plan and purpose of the thing appears in a letter from General Stupnagel, head of the German Armistice Commission, to the defendant Jodl as early as 14th September, 1940, when he wrote: “The slogan ‘Systematic weakening of France’ has already been surpassed by far in reality.”

Not only was there a purpose to debilitate and demoralise the economy of Germany’s neighbours for the purpose of destroying their competitive position, but there was looting and pilfering on an unprecedented scale. We need not be hypocritical about this business Of looting. I recognise that no army moves through occupied territory without some pilfering as it goes. Usually the amount of pilfering increases as discipline wanes. If the evidence in this case showed no looting except of that sort, I certainly would ask no conviction of these defendants for it.

But we will show you that looting was not due to the lack of discipline or to the ordinary weaknesses of human nature. The German organised plundering, planned it, disciplined it, and made it official just as he organised everything else, and then he compiled the most meticulous records to show that he had done the best job of looting that was possible under the circumstances. And we have those records.

The defendant Rosenberg was put in charge of a systematic plundering of the objet d’art of Europe by direct order of Hitler dated 29th January 1940. (136-PS) On the 16th April, 1943, Rosenberg reported that up to the 7th April, ninety-two railway cars with 2,775 cases containing objets d’art had been sent to Germany; and that fifty-three pieces of art had been shipped to Hitler direct and 594 to the defendant Goering. (015-PS) The report mentioned something like 20,000 pieces of seized art and the main locations where they were stored.

Moreover, this looting was glorified by Rosenberg. Here we have thirty-nine leather-bound tabulated volumes of his inventory, which in due time we will offer in evidence. One cannot but admire the artistry of this Rosenberg report. The Nazi taste was cosmopolitan. Of the 9,455 articles inventories, there were included 5,255 paintings, 297 sculptures, 1,372 pieces of antique furniture, 307 textiles, and 2,224 small objects of art. Rosenberg observed that there were approximately 10,000 more objects still to be inventoried. (015-PS.) Rosenberg himself estimated that the values involved would come close to a billion dollars. (090-PS.)

I shall not go into further details of the War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity committed by the Nazi gangster ring whose leaders are before you. It is not the purpose in my part of this case to deal with the individual crimes. I am dealing with the Common Plan or design for crime and will not dwell on individual offences. My task is to show the scale on which those crimes occurred, and to show that these are the men who were in the responsible positions and who conceived the plan and design which renders them answerable, regardless of the fact that the plan was actually executed by others.

At length, this reckless and lawless course outraged the world. It recovered from the demoralisation of surprise attack, assembled its forces and stopped these men in their tracks. Once success deserted their banners, one by one the Nazi satellites fell away. Sawdust Caesar collapsed. Resistance forces in every occupied country arose to harry the invader. Even at home, Germans saw that Germany was being led to ruin by those mad men, and the attempt on 20th July, 1944, to assassinate Hitler, an attempt fostered by men of highest station, was a desperate effort by internal forces in Germany to stop short of ruin. Quarrels broke out among the failing conspirators, and the decline of the Nazi power was more swift than its ascendancy. German armed forces surrendered, its government disintegrated, its leaders committed suicide by the dozen, and by the fortunes of war these defendants fell into our hands. Although they are not, by any means, all the guilty ones, they are survivors among the most responsible. Their names appear over and over again in the documents and their faces grace the photographic evidence. We have here the surviving top politicians, militarists, financiers, diplomats, administrators, and propagandists, of the Nazi movement. Who was responsible for these crimes if they were not?

The end of the war and capture of these prisoners presented the victorious Allies with the question whether there is any legal responsibility on high-ranking men for acts which I have described. Must such wrongs either be ignored or redressed in hot blood? Is there no standard in the law for a deliberate and reasoned judgement on such conduct?

The Charter of this Tribunal evidences a faith that the law is not only to govern the conduct of little men, but that even rulers are, as Lord Chief Justice Coke it to King James, “under God and the law.” The United States believed that the law has long afforded standards by which a juridical hearing could be conducted to make sure that we punish only the right men and for the right reasons. Following the instructions of the late President Roosevelt and the decision of the Yalta Conference, President Truman directed representatives of the United States to formulate a proposed International Agreement, which was submitted during the San Francisco Conference to the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the Provisional Government of France. With many modifications, that proposal has become the Charter of this tribunal.

But the Agreement which sets up the standards by which these prisoners are to be judged does not express the views of the signatory nations alone. Other nations with diverse but highly respected systems of jurisprudence also have signified adherence to it. These are Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Luxembourg, Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, Australia, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, New Zealand, Venezuela and India. You judge, therefore, under an organic act which represents the wisdom, the sense of justice, and the will of twenty-one governments, representing an overwhelming majority of all civilised people.

The Charter by which this Tribunal has its being, embodies certain legal concepts which are inseparable from its jurisdiction and which must govern its decision. These, as I have said, also are conditions attached to the grant of any hearing to defendants. The validity of the provisions of the Charter is conclusive upon us all, whether we have accepted the duty of judging or of prosecuting under it, as well as upon the defendants, who can point to no other law which gives them a right to be heard at all. My able and experienced colleagues believe, as do I, that it will contribute to the expedition and clarity of this trial if I expound briefly the application of the legal philosophy of the Charter to the facts I have recited.

While this declaration of the law by the Charter is final, it may be contended that the prisoners on trial are entitled to have it applied to their conduct only most charitably if at all. It may be said that this is new law, not authoritatively declared at the time they did the acts it condemns, and that this declaration of the law has taken them by surprise.

I cannot, of course, deny that these men are surprised that this is the law; they really are surprised that there is any such thing as law. These defendants did not rely on any law at all. Their programme ignored and defied all law. That this is so will appear from many acts and statements, of which I cite but a few. In the Fuehrer’s speech to all military commanders on 23rd November, 1939, he reminded them that at the moment Germany had a pact with Russia, but declared “Agreements are to be kept only as long as they serve a certain purpose.” Later in the same speech he announced “A violation of the neutrality of Holland and Belgium will be of no importance.” (789-PS.) A Top Secret document, entitled ” Warfare as a Problem of Organisation,” dispatched by the Chief of the High Command to all Commanders on 19th April, 1938, declared that “the normal rules of war toward neutrals must be considered to apply on the basis whether operation of these rules will create greater advantages or disadvantages for the belligerents. (L-211.) And from the files of the German Navy Staff, we have a “Memorandum on Intensified Naval War,” dated 15th October, 1939, which begins by stating a desire to comply with International Law. “However,” it continues, “if decisive successes are expected from any measure considered as a war necessity, it must be carried through even if it is not in agreement with International Law.” (L-184) International Law, Natural Law, German Law, any law at all was to these men simply a propaganda device to be invoked when it helped and to be ignored when it would condemn what they wanted to do. That men may be protected in relying upon the law at the time they act is the reason we find laws of retrospective operation unjust. But these men cannot bring themselves within the reason of the rule which in some systems of jurisprudence prohibits ex post facto laws. They cannot show that they ever relied upon International Law in any state or paid it the slightest regard.

The Third Count of the Indictment is based on the definition of War Crimes contained in the Charter. I have outlined to you the systematic course of conduct toward civilian populations and combat forces which violates international conventions to which Germany was a party. Of the criminal nature of these acts at least, the defendants had, as we shall show, knowledge. Accordingly, they took pains to conceal their violations. It will appear that the defendants Keitel and Jodl were informed by official legal advisers that the orders to brand Russian prisoners of war, to shackle British prisoners of war, and to execute Commando prisoners were clear violations of International Law. Nevertheless, these orders were put into effect. The same is true of orders issued for the assassination of General Giraud and General Weygand, which failed to be executed only because of a ruse on the part of Admiral Canaris, who was himself later executed for his part in the plot to take Hitler’s life on 20th July, 1944.

The Fourth Count of the Indictment is based on Crimes against Humanity. Chief among these are mass killings of countless human beings in cold blood. Does it take these men by surprise that murder is treated as a crime?

The First and Second Counts of the Indictment add to these crimes the crime of plotting and waging wars of aggression and wars in violation of nine treaties to which Germany was a party. There was a time, in fact, I think, the time of the first World War, when it could not have been said that war inciting or war making was a crime in law, however reprehensible in morals.

Of course, it was, under the law of all civilised peoples, a crime for one man with his bare knuckles to assault another. How did it come about that multiplying this crime by a million, and adding fire-arms to bare knuckles, made it a legally innocent act? The doctrine was that one could not be regarded as criminal for committing the usual violent acts in the conduct of legitimate warfare. The age of imperialistic expansion during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries added the foul doctrine, contrary to the teachings of early Christian and International Law scholars such as Grotius, that all wars are to be regarded as legitimate wars. The sum of these two doctrines was to give war-making a complete immunity from accountability to law.

This was intolerable for an age that called itself civilised. Plain people, with their earthy common sense, revolted at such fictions and legalisms so contrary to ethical principles and demanded checks on war immunities. Statesmen and international lawyers at first cautiously responded by adopting rules of warfare designed to make the conduct of war more civilised. The effort was to set legal limits to the violence that could be done to civilian populations and to combatants as well.

The common sense of men after the First World War demanded, however, that the law’s condemnation of war reach deeper, and that the law condemn not merely uncivilised ways of waging war, but also the waging in any way of uncivilised wars -wars of aggression. The world’s statesmen again, went only as far as they were forced to go. Their efforts were timid and cautious and often less explicit than we might have hoped. But the 1920′ s did outlaw aggressive war.

The re-establishment of the principle that there are unjust wars and that unjust wars are illegal is traceable in many steps. One of the most significant is the Briand-Kellogg Pact of 1928, by which Germany, Italy and Japan, in common with practically all nations of the world, renounced war as an instrument national policy, bound themselves to seek the settlement of disputes only by pacific means, and condemned recourse to war for the solution of international controversies. This pact altered the legal status of a war of aggression. As Mr. Stimson, the United States Secretary of State put it in 1932, such a war “is no longer to be the source and subject of rights. It is no longer to be the principle around which the duties, the conduct, and the rights of nations revolve. It is an illegal thing… By that very act, we have made obsolete many legal precedents and have given the legal profession the task of re-examining many of its codes and treaties.”

The Geneva Protocol of 1924 for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, signed by the representatives of forty-eight governments, declared that “a war of aggression constitutes an international crime.” The Eighth Assembly of the League of Nations in 1927, on unanimous resolution of the representatives forty-eight member nations, including Germany, declared that a war of aggression constitutes an international crime. At the Sixth Pan-American Conference of 1928, the twenty-one American Republics unanimously adopted a resolution stating that “war of aggression constitutes an international crime against the human species.”

A failure of these Nazis to heed, or to understand the force and meaning of this evolution in the legal thought of the world, is not a defence or a mitigation. If anything, it aggravates their offence and makes it the more mandatory that the law they have flouted be vindicated by juridical application to their lawless conduct. Indeed, by their own law -had they heeded any law -these principle were binding on these defendants. Article 4 of the Weimar Constitution provided that ” The generally accepted rules of International Law are to be considered as binding integral parts of the law of the German Reich.” (2050-PS.) Can there be any that the outlawry of aggressive war was one of the “generally accepted rules of International Law” in 1939?

Any resort to war -to any kind of a war -is a resort to means that are inherently criminal. War inevitably is a course of killings, assaults, deprivations of liberty, and destruction of property. An honestly defensive war is, of course, legal and saves those lawfully conducting it from criminality. But inherently criminal acts cannot be defended by showing that those who committed them were engaged of in a war, when war itself is illegal. The very minimum legal consequence of the treaties making aggressive wars illegal is to strip those who incite or wage them of every defence the law ever gave, and to leave war-makers subject to judgement by the usually accepted principles of the law of crimes.

But if it be thought that the Charter, whose declarations concededly bind us all, does contain new Law I still do not shrink from demanding its strict application by this Tribunal. The rule of law in the world, flouted by the lawlessness incited by these defendants, had to be restored at the cost to my country of over a million casualties, not to mention those of other nations. I cannot subscribe to the perverted reasoning that society may advance and strengthen the rule of law by the expenditure of morally innocent lives, but that progress in the law may never be made at the price of morally guilty lives.

It is true, of course, that we have no judicial precedent for the Charter. But International Law is more than a scholarly collection of abstract and immutable principles. It is an outgrowth of treaties and agreements between nations and of accepted customs. Yet every custom has its origin in some single act, and every agreement has to be initiated by the action of some State. Unless we are prepared to abandon every principle of growth for International Law, we cannot deny that our own day has the right to institute customs and to conclude agreements that will themselves become sources of a newer and strengthened International Law. International Law is not capable of development by the normal processes of legislation, for there is no continuing international legislative authority. Innovations and revisions in International Law are brought about by the action of governments such as those I have cited, designed to meet a change in circumstances, It grows, as did the Common Law, through decisions reached from time to time in adapting settled principles new situations. The fact is that when the law evolves by the case method, as did the Common Law and as International Law must do if they are to advance at all, it advances at the expense of those who wrongly guessed the law and learned too late their error. The law, as far as International Law can be decreed, had been clearly pronounced when these acts took place. Hence we are not disturbed by the lack of judicial precedent for the inquiry it is proposed to conduct.

The events I have earlier recited clearly fall within the standards of crimes, set out in the Charter, whose perpetrators this Tribunal is convened to judge and to punish fittingly. The standards for War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity are too familiar to need comment. There are, however, certain novel problems in applying other precepts of the Charter which I should call to your attention.

A basic provision of the Charter is that to plan, prepare, initiate, or wage a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances, or to conspire or participate in a common plan to do so, is a crime.

It is perhaps a weakness in this Charter that it fails itself to define a war of aggression. Abstractly, the subject is full of difficult and all kinds of troublesome hypothetical cases can be conjured up. It is a subject which, if the defence should be permitted to go afield beyond the very narrow charge ion the Indictment, would prolong the trial and involve the Tribunal in insoluble political issues. But so far as the question can property be involved in this case, the issue is one of no novelty and is one on which legal opinion has well crystallised.

One of the most authoritative sources of International Law on this subject is the Convention for the Definition of Aggression signed at London on 3rd July, 1933, by Roumania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Turkey, the Soviet Union, Persia and Afghanistan. The subject has also been considered by international committees and by commentators whose views are entitled to the greatest respect. It had been little discussed prior to the First World War but has received much attention as International Law has evolved its outlawry of aggressive war. In the light of these materials of International Law, and so far as relevant to the evidence in this case, I suggest that an “aggressor ” is generally held to be that state which is the first to commit any of the following actions:

(1) Declaration of war upon another State;

(2) Invasion by its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State;

(3) Attack by its land, naval, or air forces, with or without a declaration of war, on the territory, vessels or aircraft of another State; and

(4) Provision of support to armed bands formed in the territory of another State, or refusal, notwithstanding the request of the invaded State, to take in its own territory, all the measures in its power to deprive those bands of all assistance or protection.

And I further suggest that it is the general view that no political, military, economic or other considerations shall serve as an excuse or justification for such actions but exercise of the right of legitimate self-defence -that is to say, resistance to an act of aggression, or action to assist a State which has been subjected to aggression, shall not constitute a war of aggression.

It is upon such an understanding of the law that our evidence of a conspiracy to provoke and wage an aggressive war is prepared and presented. By this test each of the series of wars begun by these Nazi leaders was unambiguously aggressive.

It is important to the duration and scope of this trial that we bear in mind the difference between our charge that this war was one of aggression and a position that Germany had no grievances. We are not inquiring into the conditions which contributed to causing this war. They are for history to unravel. It is no part of our task to vindicate the European status quo as of 1933, or as of any other date. The United States does not desire to enter into discussion of the complicated pre-war currents of European politics, and it hopes this trial will not be protracted by their consideration. The remote causations avowed are too insincere and inconsistent, too complicated and doctrinaire to be the subject of profitable inquiry in this trial. A familiar example is to be found in the “Lebensraum” slogan, which summarised the contention that Germany needed more living space as a justification for expansion. At the same time that the Nazis were demanding more space for the German people, they were demanding more German people to occupy space. Every known means to increase the birth rate, legitimate and illegitimate, was utilised. “Lebensraum” represented a vicious circle of demand-from neighbours more space, and from Germans more progeny. We need not investigate the verity of doctrines which led to constantly expanding circles of aggression. It is the plot and the act of aggression which we charge to be crimes.

Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is not a legal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions. It may be that the Germany of the 1920′ s and 1930′ s faced desperate problems, problems that would have warranted the boldest measures short of war. All other methods -persuasion, propaganda, economic competition, diplomacy-were open to an aggrieved country, but aggressive warfare was outlawed. These defendants did make aggressive war, a war in violation of treaties. They did attack and invade their neighbours in order to effectuate a foreign policy which they knew could not be accomplished by measures short of war. And that is as far as we accuse or propose to inquire.

The Charter also recognises individual responsibility on the part of those who commit acts defined as crimes, or who incite others to do so, or who join a common plan with other persons, groups or organisations to bring about their commission.

The principle of individual responsibility for piracy and brigandage, which have long been recognised as crimes punishable under International Law, is old and well established. That is what illegal warfare is. This principle of personal liability is a necessary as well as a logical one if International Law is to render real help to the maintenance of peace. An International Law which operates only on States can be enforced only by war because the most practicable method of coercing a State is warfare. Those familiar with American history know that one of the compelling reasons for adoption of our Constitution was that the laws of the Confederation, which operated only on constituent States, were found in-effective to maintain order among them. The only answer to recalcitrance was impotence or war. Only sanctions which reach individuals can peacefully and effectively be enforced. Hence, the principle of the criminality of aggressive is implemented by the Charter with the principle of personal responsibility.

Of course, the idea that a State, any more than a corporation, commits crimes, is a fiction. Crimes always are committed only by persons. While it is quite proper to employ the fiction of responsibility of a State or corporation for the purpose of imposing a collective liability, it is quite intolerable to let such a legalism become the basis of personal immunity.

The Charter recognises that one who has committed criminal acts may not take refuge in superior orders nor in the doctrine that his crimes were acts of States. These twin principles, working together, have heretofore resulted in immunity for practically everyone concerned in the really great crimes against peace and mankind. Those in lower ranks were protected against liability by the orders of their superiors. The superiors were protected because their orders were called acts of State. Under the Charter, no defence based on either of these doctrines can be entertained. Modern civilisation puts unlimited weapons of destruction in the hands of men. It cannot tolerate so vast an area of legal irresponsibility.

Even the German Military Code provides that:

“If the execution of a military order in the course of duty violates the criminal law, then the superior officer giving the order will bear the sole responsibility therefor. However, the obeying subordinate will share the punishment of the participant: (1) if he has exceeded the order given to him, or (2) if it was within his knowledge that the order of his superior officer concerned an act by which it was intended to commit a civil or military crime or transgression.” (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1926, No. 37, P. 278, Art. 47)

Of course, we do not argue that the circumstances under which one commits an act should be disregarded in judging its legal effect. A conscripted private on a firing squad cannot expect to hold an inquest on the validity of the execution. The Charter implies common sense limits to liability, just as it places common sense limits upon immunity. But none of these men before you acted in minor parts. Each of them was entrusted with broad discretion and exercised great power. Their responsibility is correspondingly great and may not be shifted to that fictional being, “the State,” which cannot be produced for trial, cannot testify, and cannot be sentenced.

The Charter also recognises a vicarious liability, which responsibility is recognised by most modern systems of law, for acts committed by others in carrying out a common plan or conspiracy to which the defendant has become a party. I need not discuss the familiar principles of such liability. Every day in the courts of countries associated in this prosecution, men are convicted for acts that they did not personally commit, but for which they were held responsible of membership in illegal combinations or plans or conspiracies.

Accused before this Tribunal as criminal organisations, are certain political police organisations which the evidence will show to have been instruments of cohesion in planning and executing the crimes I have detailed. Perhaps the worst of the movement were the Leadership Corps of the N.S.D.A.P., the Schutz-stappeln or “S.S.,” and the Sturmabteilung or “S.A.,” and the subsidiary formations which these include. These were the Nazi Party leadership, espionage, and policing groups. They were the real government, above and outside of any law. Also accused as organisations are the Reich Cabinet and the Secret Police, or Gestapo, which were fixtures of the Government but animated solely by the Party.

Except for a late period when some compulsory recruiting was done in the S.S. membership in all these militarised organisations was voluntary. The police organisations were recruited from ardent partisans who enlisted blindly to do the dirty work the leaders planned. The Reich Cabinet was the governmental facade for Nazi Party Government and in its members legal as well as actual responsibility was vested for the programme. Collectively they were responsiblefor the programme in general, individually they were especially reponsible for segments of it. The finding which we will ask you to make, that these are criminal organisations, will subject members to punishment to be hereafter determined by appropriate tribunals, unless some personal defence -such as becoming a member under threat to person or to family, or inducement by false respresentation, or the like be established. Every member will have a chance to be heard in the subsequent forum on his personal relation to the organisation, but your finding in this trial will conclusively establuish the criminal character of the organisation as a whole.

We have also accused as criminal organisations the High Command and the General Staff of the German Armed Forces. We recognise that to plan warfare is the business of professional soldiers in all countries. But it is one thing to plan strategic moves in the event of war coming, and it is another thing to plot and intrigue to bring on that war. We will prove the leaders of the German General Staff and of the High Command to have been guilty of just that. Military men are not before you because they served their country. They are here because they mastered it, and along with others, drove it to war. They are not here because they lost the war, but because they started it. Politicians may have thought of them as soldiers, but soldiers know they were politicians. We ask that the General Staff and the High Command, as defined in the Indictment, be condemned as a criminal group whose existence and tradition constitute a standing menace to the peace of the world.

These individual defendants did not stand alone in crime and will not stand alone in punishment. Your verdict of “guilty” against these organisations will render prima facie, as nearly as we can learn, thousands upon thousands of members now in custody of the United States and of other Armies. To apply the sanctions of the law for the programme in general, individually they were especially reponsible for segments of it. The finding which we will ask you to make, that these are criminal organizations, will subject members to punishment to be hereafter determined by appropriate tribunals, unless some personal defence -such as becoming a member under threat to person or to family, or inducement by false respresentation, or the like be established. Every member will have a chance to be heard in the subsequent forum on his personal relation to the organisation, but your finding in this trial will conclusively establuish the criminal character of the organisation as a whole.

We have also accused as criminal organisations the High Command and the General Staff of the German Armed Forces. We recognise that to plan warfare is the business of professional soldiers in all countries. But it is one thing to plan strategic moves in the event of war coming, and it is another thing to plot and intrigue to bring on that war. We will prove the leaders of the German General Staff and of the High Command to have been guilty of just that. Military men are not before you because they served their country. They are here because they mastered it, and along with others, drove it to war. They are not here because they lost the war, but because they started it. Politicians may have thought of them as soldiers, but soldiers know they were politicians. We ask that the General Staff and the High Command, as defined in the Indictment, be condemned as a criminal group whose existence and tradition constitute a standing menace to the peace of the world.

These individual defendants did not stand alone in crime and will not stand alone in punishment. Your verdict of “guilty” against these organisations will render prima facie, as nearly as we can learn, thousands upon thousands of members now in custody of the United States and of other Armies.

To apply the sanctions of the law to those whose conduct is found criminal by the standards I have outlined, is the responsibility committed to this Tribunal. It is the first court ever to undertake the difficult task of overcoming the confusion of many tongues the conflicting concepts of just procedure among divers systems of law, so as to reach a common judgement. The tasks of all of us are such as to make heavy demands on patience and good will. Although the need for prompt action has admittedly resulted in imperfect work on the part of the prosecution, our great nations bring you their hurriedly assembled contributions of evidence. What remains undiscovered we can only guess. We could, with testimony, prolong the recitals of crime for years -but to what avail? We shall rest the case when we have offered what seems convincing and adequate proof of the crimes charged without unnecessary cumulation of evidence. We doubt very much whether it will be seriously denied that the crimes I have outlined took place. The effort will undoubtedly be to mitigate or escape personal responsibility.

Among the nations which unite in accusing these defendants, the United States is perhaps in a position to be the most dispassionate, for having sustained the least injury, it is perhaps the least animated by vengeance. Our American cities have not been bombed by day and by night, by humans, and by robots. It is not our temples that have been laid in ruins. Our countrymen have not had their homes destroyed over their heads. The menace of Nazi aggression, except to those in actual service, has seemed less personal and immediate to us than to European peoples. But while the United States is not first in rancour, it is not second in determination that the forces of law and order be made equal to the task of dealing with such international lawlessness as I have recited here.

Twice in my lifetime, the United States has sent its Young manhood across the Atlantic, drained its resources, and burdened itself with debt to help defeat Germany. But the real hope and faith that has sustained the American people in these great efforts was that victory for ourselves and our Allies would lay the basis for an ordered international relationship in Europe and would end the centuries of strife on this embattled continent.

Twice we have held back in the early stages of European conflict in the belief that it might be confined to a purely European affair. In the United States, we have tried to build an economy without armament, a system of government without militarism, and a society where men are not regimented for war. This purpose, we know, now, can never be realised if the world periodically is to be embroiled in war. The United States cannot, generation after generation, throw its youth or its resources on to the battlefields of Europe to redress the lack of balance between Germany’s strength and that of her enemies, and to keep the battles from our shores.

The American dream of a peace and plenty economy, as well as the hopes of other nations, can never be fulfilled if these nations are involved in a war every generation, so vast and devastating as to crush the generation that fights and but burden the generation that follows. Experience has shown that wars are no longer local. All modem wars become world wars eventually. And none of the big nations at least can stay out. If we cannot stay out of wars, our only hope is to prevent wars.

I am too well aware of the weaknesses of juridical action alone to contend that in itself your decision under this Charter can prevent future wars. Judicial action always comes after the event. Wars are started only on the theory and in the confidence that they can be won. Personal punishment, to be suffered only in the event the war is lost, will probably not be a sufficient deterrent to prevent a war where the warmers feel the chances of defeat to be negligible.

But the ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in systems of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to law. And let me make clear that while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn, aggression by any other nations, including those who sit here in judgement. We are able to do away with domestic tyranny and violence and aggression by those in power against the rights of their own people when we make all men answerable to the law. This trial represents mankind’s desperate effort to apply the discipline of law who have used, their powers of state to attack the foundations of the world’s peace, and to commit aggression against The rights of their neighbors.

The usefulness of this effort to do justice is not to be measured by considering the law or your judgment in isolation. This trial is a part of the great effort to make peace more secure. One step in this is direction is the United Nations organization, which may take joint political action to prevent war if possible, and joint military action to insure that any nation which starts a war will lose it. This Charter and this trial, implementing the Kellogg-Briand Pact, constitute another step in the same direction – juridical action of a kind to ensure that those who start a war will pay for it personally.

While the defendants and the prosecutors stand before you as individuals, it is not the triumph of either group alone that is committed to your judgement. Above all personalities there are anonymous and impersonal forces whose conflict makes up much of human history. It is yours to throw the strength of the law behind either the one or the other of these forces for at least another generation. What are the forces that are contending before you?

No charity can disguise the fact that the forces which these defendants represent, the forces that would advantage and delight in their acquittal, are the darkest and most sinister forces in society-dictatorship and oppression, malevolence and passion, militarism and lawlessness. By their fruits we best know them. Their acts have bathed the world in blood and set civilisation back a century. They have subjected their European neighbours to every outrage and torture, every spoliation and deprivation that insolence, cruelty, and greed could inflict. They have brought the German people to the lowest pitch of wretchedness, from which they can entertain no hope of early deliverance. They have stirred hatreds and incited domestic violence on every continent. There are the things that stand in the dock shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners.

The real complaining party at your bar is Civilisation. In all our countries it is still a struggling and imperfect thing. It does not plead that the United States, or any other country, has been blameless of the conditions which made the German people easy victims to the blandishments and intimidations of the Nazi conspirators.

But it points to the dreadful sequence of aggression and crimes I have recited, it points to the weariness of flesh, the exhaustion of resources, and the destruction of all that was beautiful or useful in so much of the world, and to greater potentialities for destruction in the days to come. It is not necessary among the ruins of this ancient and beautiful city with untold members of its civilian inhabitants still buried in its rubble, to argue the proposition that to start or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst of crimes. The refuge of the defendants can be only their hope that International Law will lag so far behind the moral sense of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must be regarded as innocent in law.

Civilisation asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of International Law, its prospects, its prohibitions and, most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will, in all countries, may have “leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the law.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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History, Biography, and Organizing my Library at Home

 

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a very difficult day where I worked in the house, the storage space, and. helped Judy and some of her friends break down their wares at the end of a craft show. This evening I did some more work organizing books in my library here at home. This week while doing my transfer I also caught up with some reading since my orders didn’t actually show up until late Wednesday. I read Mark Rosen’s “The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: a Reconsideration”; “The Participants: the Men of the Wannsee Conference” edited by Hans Christian Jasch and Christopher Kreutzmuller; finished reading “Our Declaration: a Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” by Danielle Allen; and began reading Stefan Kühls “The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism.” While browsing my books I pulled out “Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II” by Yuki Tanaka.

In like of what I have been doing I am reposting an edited and expanded version of an older article emphasizing the connection between history and biography. This is something I try to do when I write. Tomorrow, I start my check-in process after having signed in to my new command, before they send me to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

English historian and military theorist Colin Gray noted that “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, but especially in the matter of war.

I think one of the sad things about history is that many authors, especially in military history, but other areas as well, seem to treat the participants as bit players in a series of events, rather than a prism from which to understand and view history.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had students, and even colleagues tell me that history is dry, boring and uninteresting to them. I will not condemn them, for certainly if it is that is case, it is not their fault, but rather those who write and teach history. If all history is, is arbitrary dates, lists of disconnected events and names of people, without any context to their lives, why should they care about it?

When I first began to study history I was much more concerned about events than people. However, over the past couple of years I have began to develop what I call my philosophy of history. That has come about through my study of the events leading to the American Civil War and in particular my study of the Battle of Gettysburg, but also in other historical events such as the Arab Revolt of 1917,  the French adventures in Indochina and Algeria, and the Holocaust.

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, to make the subjects appear saintlike, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. There are others who go to the opposite extreme and do all they can to demonize their subject. In either case the method is less than honest, but for many people, profit and propaganda value mean more than truth. Of course either type of writing appeals to the masses who do not care about nuance, or for that matter truth.

But such is not history. Neither are “histories” which are designed to support a particular ideology, be it political, religious, or economic. Such works are not history, but propaganda. When I see people, in this country forbidding the teaching of history because it is not patriotic enough I want to scream. It is like I am watching the propagandists of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, or any of many other nations that used ideology or religion to supress history that didn’t meet their definition of “patriotic.” But then I digress…

My gut feeling says that such artificial divisions between history and biography do a disservice to the reader. I take a tremendous pleasure in writing, and I like to try to communicate and interpret facts, which is indeed the vocation of the historian, in a manner that makes them interesting. What I am finding is that when telling the stories of events we must also tell the stories of the people who make these events.

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman who in her writings about events, never forgot importance of people, and refused to turn them in to one dimensional caricatures.

In my writing now I attempt to bring the prism of the biography into the events that I write about.

I had a fellow faculty member note that he liked what I wrote about Gettysburg because it was more than just the events, it was the personal connection he felt to the people.

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.In the next few days you will be seeing some of my Gettysburg work, and hopefully as you read it you will notice that I attempt to find that nuance in the various men, on both sides of the conflict, who are part of the story.

I found that the complexities and contradictions of the subjects of history, the people help me understand the events more than anything. I think my epiphanies came in reading about the lives, as well at writings of men like T.E. Lawrence and Gouvereur Warren whose triumphs, struggles, weaknesses and injuries mirror my own. In learning about these men as people, in the context of what they accomplished helps me to understand their history and the era that they lived far more than simply recounting how they influenced a battle.

Likewise, I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layers and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about more fascinating, because then I gain a holistic perspective and develop an empathy for them. Even good and honorable people who find themselves due to race, religion, or nationality fighting for an evil cause, or evil people fighting for a good cause. Both are troubling, I think that good and honorable men who submit themselves to criminal and evil causes are more troubling.

We are seeing much of that today in regard to various members of the Trump Administration. When I was reading the article on Friedrich Kritzinger, the State Secretary for the Reich Chancellery, a conservative Prussian Civil Servant who served under the Kaiser, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. In his position he made sure that the bureaucracy of the Reich ran efficiently, and also wrote legal justifications for the absorption of the rump of Czechoslovakia, and western Poland into the Reich. He also took part in the Wannsee Conference, for which he was the only participant to express remorse. Stefan Paul-Jacobs and Lore Kleiber, wrote about him in The Participants:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” (St. Augustine). This might not be a quote from Kritzinger, but it serves as a reminder that, by working as a lawyer for a regime, which he has known from the start to be criminal, he made himself a stooge.” (The Participants p.217”) 

The story of Kritzinger, is very pertinent for anyone trapped by ideological or religious constraints, or commitment to a leader that they know is corrupt, acting criminally, or undermining the law and Constitution. That may confuse or even offend you, but it is a part of the human condition. That my friends is history.

Barbara Tuchman noted “that if the historian needs to submit himself to his or her material instead of trying to impose himself on his material, then the material will ultimately speak to him and supply the answers.”

This is very important, because when we do this we discover the answers to the why questions, especially the why questions that are so very uncomfortable, are necessary if we want to discover truth.

I know that I can find connections in the strengths as well as their weaknesses of people that I admire. Thus when I see ordinary people taking part in events, for good or for evil,I can say that given the same set of circumstances that that could be me. Context matters, nuance matters, people matter. If we do not understand that, history becomes nothing more than a set of manipulated facts, devoid of context that can be used to buttress the most evil intentions.

I do plan on developing these thoughts over the coming weeks and months, but for now it will suffice to say that when I write about history, that people matter. That is why I write.

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Filed under books and literature, civil war, History, life, Military, philosophy, racism

A Last Night in Germany: Thoughts on Returning Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight is our last night in Germany with our friends and it was rather restful. We took the S-Bahn train to Karlsruhe for a bit of shopping for Judy and stopped in an Italian coffee and ice cream shop for lunch. Judy has now developed a taste for Cappuccino, which I like as well. Much of the time we had no internet or LTE connection which wasn’t a bad thing because we spent time with each other.

A word of warning for others who visit areas of Germany that are not in major cities, LTE and 5G Service can be sporadic at best. This can be extremely frustrating at times. Thankfully our friends near Karlsruhe have a WiFi connection in our name connected to their internet service.

After our visit to Karlsruhe we went back to our friends house and while Judy rested, I went for a ten kilometer walk punctuated by a visit to a local pilstube, or bar where I had a couple of beers and spoke to the bartender and regulars. Of course I was the on foreigner there, which is par for the course in many small towns. Until I identified myself as an American, without speaking English, and explained that my wife’s family was from the area, I was able to pass myself off as a German.

Tonight we will have dinner with out friends, and I will do as much packing as I can before going to bed. It has been nice being with our friends; they have three of the same kind of dogs that we have and all are sweet. It is nice to have a sweet dog on your lap when you are away from home.

We will drive to Munich in the morning, drop off our rental car and then check in for our flight. Depending on the time I might get another post off before the flight or when we get back to the United States.

Before bed I have been reading a book that I purchased at Dachau, entitled That Was Dachau 1933-1945 by the Czech historian and former Dachau inmate, Stanislav Zamecnik, published by the International Committee Of Dachau. I am getting close to the halfway point in it but it is well worth the read if you can can get a copy. I will be writing more about Dachau in the future going into far more detail about the policies, laws, and atrocities committed than I am mentioning now. However, it is now late, and after a wonderful time with our friends it is time to go to bed.

Until sometime tomorrow, Central European or Eastern Standard Time I wish you all the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under history, holocaust, life, Loose thoughts and musings, Travel

Continuing my Reading and Writing Rainbow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

British historian Sir Max Hastings once made the comment: “I would be miserable if I went to bed without having written 1,000 words about something.” I am much the same way and hopefully one day I might be one tenth as good, and as successful writer as him or writers like Barbara Tuchman, William Shirer, and Laurence Rees.

I do most of my writing before I go to bed at night and usually set my articles to post at 6:30 in the morning, although of late I have been posting them as soon as I write them.

I have a hard time going to sleep without writing be it for this website or for one of the books that I am working on. I read voraciously whenever I get the chance sometimes going to a bar just to read a book while enjoying a good craft beer or German or Irish import. Likewise once I am done with whatever I am writing I go right back to reading, sometimes keeping whatever Papillon is sleeping with me from getting the sleep that they want. That’s what I will be doing tonight when I finish this article which you will be reading tomorrow when it posts. In a sense my writings are kind of like Schroedinger’s cat, they are written yet unwritten at the same time, but I digress…

But going back to writing and reading I have to say that I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do either, I think I would be in some sort of hell if I couldn’t write every night or read. Doing these things helps me keep my perspective and to more fully appreciate the events of the day. Honestly, if I had not consciously immersed myself in history from the time that I was a child, including the many days that I cut 10th grade Geometry class to read the history reference books that I couldn’t check out of the school library I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I like writing history because I become immersed in the people, the places, and the intricacies and complexity of the events. I like to incorporate the little known back stories of people help understand their actions at a given point. Likewise think that the lives of the individuals involved in the events I write about, both before, and after the event should they have lived through it, give my readers a more human connection to the events, as well as understanding of the people involved. I find that the stories of people allow readers to make those connections, maybe even inspiring in them a bit of sympathy for scoundrels or suspicion of supposed saints.

I think that the character of people, good, bad, or wherever it falls on the spectrum, and their basic humanity; their strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, and their feet of clay, matter immensely and need to be part a of the story. I hate it when I read a history where a given character’s actions during a given event are examined in detail, but who they are as a person never comes through because the authors didn’t give their readers the courtesy of introducing them as people because they included little or no biographical details to make them interesting. Instead they become one dimensional caricatures of who they were in life, which in my view does them, the story, and the reader a grave injustice. So when I write I try to find interesting parts of a person’s life that is not directly related to the event to paint the picture. Walter Lord, who wrote prolific books on some of the key events of the Twentieth Century including books about the Titanic, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Dunkirk, the desegregation of the University of Mississippi, and many more noted something that I have taken to heart, “I look for something that is highly unusual, involving ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations.”

That’s one reason I like the writings of both Tuchman and Hastings, they bring life to to the events they write about, they allow your imagination to run and to want discover more about the people and the events. The late Walter Lord, was also excellent at doing that, as was William Shirer, and I think that is how I would like my writings be remembered. But in order to do that I have to read and write, as Stephen King said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 

In the past couple of months I have read Ian Kershaw’s To Hell and Back, Europe 1914-1949; Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat’s How Democracies Die; Benjamin Cart Hett’s The Death Of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall Of the Weimar Republic; Geoffrey Megargee’s Inside Hitler’s High Command; Christopher Browning’s Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp; Bonnie Weinstein’s When Christians Break Bad: Letters from the Insane, Inane, and Profane; and I am just about done with Laurence Rees’s Hitler’s Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss. I plan on finishing it tonight.

I also need to get back to a submission to my agent on the book I started during the Spring, entitled Walk, Remember, Bear Witness: Remembering the Holocaust as the Last Survivors Pass Away. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Where Will Trump and His Followers Thoughts, Words, and Actions Lead?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I wrote about the Racial Rubicon that President Trump and his followers at a rally crossed. It was sobering, because what I and others have said about him since the day he announced his candidacy was on full display. Trump had ignited the bonfire three days before by telling people to send four Congresswomen of color back to their country of origin. All are American citizens, three of the four born in the USA and one a naturalized citizen.

Never before has a sitting President opened the doors of racism so wide as President Trump, even James Buchanan and his work to tip the Supreme Court In the Dred Scott decision, and his attempt to overthrow the law by attempting to have Kansas admitted as a Slave State, an effort that was successfully opposed by Senator Stephan A. Douglas, Democrat from Illinois, a member of Buchanan’s own Party. Buchanan threatened him, but Douglas, otherwise not a friend of slaves held his ground and built a bi-partisan coalition in the House and Senate to defeat Buchanan. Unfortunately, there is no one like the late Senator from Illinois. Douglas paid the political price, though the Democratic nominee in 1860, the party split and in a second nominating convention nominated John C. Breckinridge, Splitting the party and bringing Abraham Lincoln to office.

So where does this lead? That is a question one of my readers asked on Twitter today. I wish that I knew. But I remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

I sincerely believe that Donald J. Trump is incapable of discerning truth from lies. He lies so much that it has become ingrained in his very soul. In regard to this aspect of Of Trump’s personality, I am reminded of the words of Adolf Hitler’s Finance Minister, Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk, who noted: “He wasn’t honest with his most intimate confidants…. In my opinion, he was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between truth and lies.

Today the President attempted to pass the blame, and in effect through his chanting supporters under the bus, saying that “He did not like it, he did not agree with it,” but the problem is that he started it, he planted it through his tweets and statements in the days before. He reveled as the crowed chanted as he spoke against Representative Ilan Omar of Minnesota “Send her back, Send her back!” Representative Mark Walker, Republican from North Carolina (who I actually met and drank beer with in 2017 after the Congressional Baseball Game) immediately voiced his concern and consternation about the display, but very few other Republicans found anything to complain about. Senator Lindsey Graham blamed it on Trump’s narcissism, and the statements of Omar and the other Congresswomen, not racism, despite the decades of evidence demonstrating the latter.

Gandhi’s words are as true today as when he wrote them. Americans today have the choice of being, to use the words of Yehuda Bauer “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.” 

If you wonder how such events happen in a democracy, look no further than the words of Yale Historian Timothy Snyder:

“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.”

The questions for all Americans today, will we be perpetrators, victims, or bystanders, or will ordinary Americans find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands.

Those are the questions after Trump and his followers actions over the past few days. Believe me, people I know, people I would have believed in ordinary times to be good and decent people are mocking those who criticize the President and making excuses for the illegal and immoral racist words and policies of his administration. For me that is frightening.

Where does it end? I leave that to you, but as a historian, ethicist, and Priest I have to say that if Trump remains in power by ballot or bullet, it will be something that will bring such shame to our country that generations from now our descendants will burdened with, just as the descendants of the Nazis. Sadly, we never did that with our Slave owners and those who brought about the Civil War, including my ancestors.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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