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Joyeux Noël, Christmas Eve 2018: History and Memory, the Stubborn Humanity Within Us

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I rewatched the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) which is one of my Christmas traditions. When I watch it I cannot stop. I don’t look at my social media, I don’t tweet. Although it recounts an incident that occurred over a century ago, I am drawn to it out of a feeling of camaraderie, and a hope that people of good will can, and maybe will someday put and end to the scourge of war. I guess one reason I have to put down everything else is that I cry through most of the film.

I do not think that  end of war will happen anytime soon, for as Henry Wordsworth Longfellow wrote some fifty years before this incident, “for hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth, goodwill to men.” 

But I dare not, even in the age of a madman in the White House and warmongering dictators and despots wreaking havoc on the world, give up the hope of peace. I tend to watch it before or after reading Stanley Weintraub’s book: Silent Night: the Story Of the World War One Christmas Truce. 

It was a book that I refused to read until after I returned from Iraq in 2008. Of course as a military historian I knew of the Christmas Truce, but it was something that I tried to keep a distance from after September 11th, 2001. After my experience of Christmas on the Iraq – Syrian Border In 2007 I could no longer ignore it.

Weintraub Wrote:

Christmas 1914 evokes the stubborn humanity within us, and suggests an unrealized potential to burst its seams and rewrite a century.

I say that my time in Iraq did that to me. I cannot forget the Masses that I celebrated on the border and my time with Americans, Iraqi Soldiers, and local Bedouin during those days.

In the film, one of the main characters is the Chaplain of the Scottish battalion played by Gary Lewis tells a Lieutenant:

“Tonight, these men were drawn to that altar like it was a fire in the middle of winter. Even those who aren’t devout came to warm themselves. Maybe just to be together, maybe just to forget the war.” 

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The war was supposed to be over by Christmas, or so the planners had said. Instead after a series of massive battles that produced unprecedented number of casualties the war settled into a stalemate. As the sides exhausted themselves in a series of meeting engagements throwing the flower of their idealistic youth into the great maw of the front to be torn apart by massed artillery and machine gun fire the planners sought new ways to find military victory.

In December 1914 with neither side having the ability to force the issue and casualties already running over a million dead and wounded the armies dug in. Massive trench networks were constructed in the mud of France and Belgium as the artillery continued its impersonal work of destroying men, machines and the homeland of millions of civilians.

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Despite the stalemate the high commands of the various nations continued to through their troops into meaningless attacks to gain a few yards of their opponent’s trench networks. The attackers always suffered the worst as they went “over the top” and were cut down by well sited machine guns and networks of defensive redoubts.

As Christmas neared individual parties of British and German troops began to fraternize exchanging gifts and attempting despite the wishes of their commanders to maintain an attitude of live and let live. On Christmas Eve German troops began to decorate their trenches with Christmas trees and lights, carols were sung and Christmas greetings exchanged as the local truces became widespread and soldiers met in no man’s land to talk and give each other gifts of cigarettes, alcohol, food and souvenirs.  In some places the sides helped each other collect and bury their dead and some Chaplains even led Christmas services in which men of both sides worshipped.

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The truce would not last as the high commands of each side issued strict orders against them and within days had moved the units that they believed most “infected” by the Christmas spirit to other locations and replaced them with units inculcated with the message of the inhumanity of their enemy. Such messages often included the religious understanding of this being a “holy war” against enemies of God and humanity. It is funny that though Muslims are frequently demonized for committing Jihad, that Christians have a terrible record when it comes to finding theological reasons to kill those that they believe, even other Christians to be the enemy.

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This really wasn’t surprising, after all for in the years leading up to the war many school children, especially in France and Germany had been propagandized. Churches and ministers cooperated in the carnage.

In the movie Joyeux Noel the British Padre who had cooperated in the Christmas truce is relieved by his Bishop and sent home. The Bishop then preaches to the newly arrived soldiers, those replacing the men who had found peace for a moment. The sermon is not a work of fiction, it is actually part of a sermon that actually was given in Westminster Abbey in 1915. It was a sentiment that fit the mood of the high command who sought to minimize the danger of peace without victory. It was a sermon, the likes of which were preached by ministers, preachers, priests and bishops throughout that terrible war. It is a sermon that many preachers, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu even today mimic with terrible consequences.

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

Unfortunately I have met and heard men preach the same message against those they hate, a message that twists the words of Jesus in a diabolical way to justify the worst acts of nations and peoples. In the year 2018 wars rage around the world. Some are conducted by well organized professional militaries but many by militias, paramilitary and terrorists groups. In some cases the brutality and inhumanity exhibited makes the industrialized carnage of the First World War seem sane. Even now preachers of various religions, including Christians, Moslems and Jews advocate the harshest treatment of the enemies of their peoples all in “the name of God.”

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Eleven short years ago I was traveling up and down the western border of Iraq with Syria. I was visiting our Marines that were advising the Iraqi Army and Border Forces, conducting Christmas services for them and also visiting Iraqi soldiers as well as civilians. In a couple of instances Iraqi and Jordanian Christians working as interpreters came to the Eucharist services, for one it had been years since he had received the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion. While out and about visiting Iraqis we were hosted by Iraqi troops and well as Bedouin tribesmen and their families. The warmth and hospitality and faith of these wonderful people was amazing.

T.E. Lawrence wrote that the Bedouin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he was within God.” 

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I think that for me that Christmas week was the one that will remain with me more than any and despite being in a war zone, it for me was a time of peace on earth and good will toward men. Some people cannot imagine how a career military officer could feel that way. In the movie the French company commander is confronted by his father after the truce, and after the military postal censors had reported the many incidents of fraternization with the enemy to the various high commands in France, Germany, and Great Britain.

The Country? What does it know of what we suffer here? Of what we do without complaints? Let me tell you, I felt closer to the Germans than to those who cry “Kill the Krauts!” before their stuffed turkey…  no, you’re just not living the same war as me. Or as those on the other side.”  

Weintraub wrote:

“To many, the end of the war and the failure of the peace would validate the Christmas cease-fire as the only meaningful episode in the apocalypse. It belied the bellicose slogans and suggested that the men fighting and often dying were, as usual, proxies for governments and issues that had little to do with their everyday lives. A candle lit in the darkness of Flanders, the truce flickered briefly and survives only in memoirs, letters, song, drama and story.”

During World War One there were men who retained their conscience and tried to mitigate the effects of the war and suffering. Likewise there were those who could not let go of their hate. One such Soldier was Adolf Hitler, whose story is recounted in Weintraub’s book:

Although he was out of the line in reserve, discussion arose about crossing into Niemandsland to share Christmas with the British. He refused. “Such a thing should not happen in wartime,” Hitler argued. “Have you no German sense of honor left at all?” More than patriotic scruples were involved. Although a baptized Catholic, he rejected every vestige of religious observance while his unit marked the day in the cellar of the Messines monastery to which they had retired on the 23rd. “Adi” was distinctly odd. He received no mail or parcels, never spoke of family or friends, neither smoked nor drank, and often brooded alone in his dugout. In the ruins open to the sky, Corporal Frobenius, a Lutheran theology student also decorated with the Iron Cross, read the Christmas gospel to a joint congregation of Catholics and Protestants, but not to Corporal Hitler.

Hitler’s Nihilism, racist nationalism, and unrepentant rejection of his religious heritage while gaining the support of the most religious Christians in the Reich would be part  of his life until he took it in his Berlin Bunker In 1945, and it would be shared by all too many men since the First World War until the present.

I will not be one of them.

Maybe someday we will begin to understand, until then, like so many others in so many wars before, I am still dreaming of home.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, film, History, Military, movies, Political Commentary, world war one

“It Deviated Not From Human Norms:” The Nazi Crimes, Robert Jackson’s Closing at Nuremberg, Part Two

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The crimes of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime may seem like the happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we would all like to believe that. However, they are only as far away as the next time. That is why we must continue to show them in their awful reality. Yehuda Bauer, a historian of the Holocaust whose family escaped from Czechoslovakia the day it was annexed by the Third Reich 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.”

This is an eternal truth. The Red Chinese in Tibet, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Serbians massacring Bosnians under the noses of Dutch Peacekeepers in Srebrenica, the Tutsis of Rwanda butchered by their Hutu neighbors shortly after Easter, as well as the crimes of the Islamic State against Kurds, opposition Sunnis, Shia, Yazidis, and Christians in Iraq and Syria.

Besides genocide we can add the crime of aggressive war against weaker neighbors or nations committed Russia in Georgia and the Ukraine, and the United States against Iraq. Then there is the assault on minority groups within various nations, the rejection of refugees, and rise in anti-Semitism across Russia, Europe, and the United States have all produced myriads of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders.

The crimes committed by the Nazis against their own citizens and the nations that they victimized are not completely unique to them. While the Nazi Genocide committed against the Jews is unique, what motivated them is far more common than we would want to admit. The Holocaust and the Nazi war for Lebensraum is not an aberration from the norms of human nature, it is the norm. That is why continuing to expose those crimes, the men and women behind them, and those who stood by, doing nothing while their neighbors were being marched away, or stood by as other men marched men, women, and children to massive pits and shot them one by one, up close and personal, by the tens of thousands.

I would like with all my heart to consign the crimes of the Nazis to the depths of history, but I cannot. That is why I, a man born thirteen and a half years after the major Nuremberg War Crimes ended with ten of the defendants hanging from the gallows continues to write about it.

Over the past week I have been writing about the Nuremberg Trials and the American Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Last night I wrote about the introduction of his closing arguments before the Tribunal which followed his opening address by nine months. I now continue with Justice Jackson’s closing arguments against the Nazi war criminals sitting in the dock of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

So until tomorrow, I leave you with Jackson’s words.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

THE CRIMES OF THE NAZI REGIME

The strength of the case against these defendants under the conspiracy count, which it is the duty of the United States to argue, lies in its simplicity. It involves but three ultimate inquiries: First, have the acts defined by the Charter as crimes been committed; second, were they committed pursuant to a common plan or conspiracy; third, are these defendants among those who are criminally responsible? The charge requires examination of a criminal policy, not of a multitude of isolated, unplanned, or disputed crimes. The substantive crimes upon which we rely, either as goals of a common plan or as means for its accomplishment, are admitted. The pillars which uphold the conspiracy charge may be found in five groups of overt acts, whose character and magnitude are important considerations in appraising the proof of conspiracy.

1. THE SEIZURE OF POWER AND SUBJUGATION OF GERMANY TO A POLICE STATE The Nazi Party seized control of the German State in 1933. “Seizure of power” is a characterisation used by defendants and defence witnesses, and so apt that it has passed into both history and everyday speech. The Nazi junta in the early days lived in constant fear of overthrow. Goering, in 1934, pointed out that its enemies were legion, and said:

“Therefore, the concentration camps have been created, where we have first confined thousands of Communists and Social Democrat functionaries.”

In 1933 Goering forecast the whole programme of purposeful cruelty and oppression when he publicly announced:

“Whoever in the future raises a hand against a representative of the National Socialist movement or of the State must know that he will lose his life in a very short while.”

New political crimes were created to this end. It was made a treason, punishable with death, to organize or support a political party other than the Nazi Party. Circulating a false or exaggerated statement, or one which would harm the State or even the Party, was made a crime. Laws were enacted of such ambiguity that they could be used to punish almost any innocent act. It was, for example, made a crime to provoke “any act contrary to the public welfare”.

The doctrine of punishment by analogy was introduced to enable conviction for acts which no statute forbade. Minister of Justice Guertner explained that National Socialism considered every violation of the goals of life which the community set up for itself to be a wrong per se, and that the acts could be punished even though it was not contrary to existing “formal law”.

The Gestapo and the SD were instrumentalities of an espionage system which penetrated public and private life. Goering controlled a personal wiretapping unit. All privacy of communication was abolished. Party Blockleiter appointed over every 50 householders spied continuously on all within their ken.

Upon the strength of this spying individuals were dragged off to “protective custody” and to concentration camps without legal proceedings of any kind1and without statement of any reason therefore. The partisan political police were exempted from effective legal responsibility for their acts.

With all administrative offices in Nazi control and with the Reichstag reduced to impotence, the judiciary remained the last obstacle to this reign of terror. But its independence was soon overcome and it was reorganised to dispense a venal justice. Judges were ousted for political or racial reasons and were spied upon and put under pressure to join the Nazi Party. After the Supreme Court had acquitted three of the four men whom the Nazis accused of setting the Reichstag on fire, its jurisdiction over treason cases was transferred to a newly established “People’s Court” consisting of two judges and five Party officials. The German film of this “People’s Court” in operation, which the showed in this chamber, revealed its presiding judge pouring partisan abuse on speechless defendants. Special courts were created to try political crimes, only Party members were appointed judges, and “Judges’ letters” instructed the puppet judges as to the “general lines” they must follow.

The result was the removal of all peaceable means either to resist or to change the Government. Having sneaked through the portals of power, the Nazis slammed the gate in the face of all others who might also aspire to enter. Since the law was what the Nazis said it was, every form of opposition was rooted out and every dissenting voice throttled. Germany was in the clutch of a police State, which used the fear of the concentration camp as a means to enforce non-resistance. The Party was the State, the State was the Party, and terror by day and death by night were the policy of both.

2. THE PREPARATION AND WAGING OF WARS OF AGGRESSION From the moment the Nazis seized power, they set about with feverish but stealthy efforts, in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, to arm for war. In 1933 they found no air force. By 1939 they had 21 squadrons, consisting of 240 echelons or about 2,400 first-line planes, together with trainers and transports.

In 1933 they found an army of 3 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions. By 1939 they had raised and equipped an army of 51 divisions, 4 of which were fully motorized and 4 of which were panzer divisions. In 1933 they found a navy of one cruiser and six light cruisers. By 1939 they had built a navy of 4 battleships, 1 aircraft carrier, 6 cruisers, 22 destroyers, and 54 submarines. They had also built up in that period an armament industry as efficient as that of any country in the world.

These new weapons were put to use, commencing in September, 1939, in a series of undeclared wars against nations with which Germany had arbitration and non-aggression treaties, and in violation of repeated assurances.

On 1st September, 1939, this rearmed Germany attacked Poland. The following April witnessed the invasion and occupation of Denmark and Norway, and May saw the overrunning of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Another spring saw Yugoslavia and Greece under attack, and in June, 1941, came the invasion of Soviet Russia. Then Japan, which Germany had embraced as a partner, struck without warning at Pearl Harbour in December, 1941, and four days later Germany declared war on the United States.

We need not trouble ourselves about the many abstract difficulties that can be conjured up about what constitutes aggression in doubtful cases. I shall show you, in discussing the conspiracy, that by any test ever put forward by any responsible authority, by all the canons of plain common sense, these were unlawful wars of aggression in breach of treaties and in violation of assurances.

3. WARFARE IN DISREGARD OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

It is unnecessary to labour this point on the facts. Goering asserts that the Rules of Land Warfare were obsolete, that no nation could fight a total war within their limits. He testified that the Nazis would have denounced the Conventions to which Germany was a party, but that General Jodl wanted captured German soldiers to continue to benefit from. their observance by the Allies.

It was, however, against the Soviet people and Soviet prisoners that Teutonic fury knew no bounds, in spite of a warning by Admiral Canaris that the treatment was in violation of International Law. We need not, therefore, for the purposes of the conspiracy count, recite the revolting details of starving, beating, murdering, freezing, and mass extermination admittedly used against the Eastern soldiery. Also, we may take as established or admitted that the lawless conduct such as shooting British and American airmen, mistreatment of Western prisoners of war, forcing French prisoners of war into German war work, and other deliberate violations of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, did occur, and in obedience to highest levels of authority.

4. ENSLAVEMENT AND PLUNDER OF POPULATIONS IN OCCUPIED COUNTRIES

The defendant Sauckel, Plenipotentiary General for the Utilization of Labour, is authority for the statement that “out of five million foreign workers who arrived in Germany, not even 200,000 came voluntarily”. It was officially reported to defendant Rosenberg that in his territory “recruiting methods were used which probably have their origin in the blackest period of the slave trade”. Sauckel himself reported that male and female agents went hunting for men, got them drunk, and “shanghaied” them to Germany. These captives were shipped in trains without heat, food, or sanitary facilities. The dead were thrown out at stations, and the newborn were thrown out the windows of moving trains.

Sauckel ordered that “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 degree of expenditure”. About two million of these were employed directly in the manufacture of armaments and munitions. The director of the Krupp locomotive factory in Essen complained to the company that Russian forced labourers were so underfed that they were too weakened to do their work, and the Krupp doctor confirmed their pitiable condition. Soviet workers were put in camps under Gestapo guards, who were allowed to punish disobedience by confinement in a concentration camp or by hanging on the spot.

Populations of occupied countries were otherwise exploited and oppressed unmercifully. Terrorism was the order of the day. Civilians were arrested without charges, committed without counsel, executed without hearing. Villages were destroyed, the male inhabitants shot or sent to concentration camps, the women sent to forced labour, and the children scattered abroad. The extent of the slaughter in Poland alone was indicated by Frank, who reported:

” If I wanted to have a poster put up for every seven Poles who were shot, the forests of Poland would not suffice for producing the paper for such posters.”

Those who will enslave men cannot be expected to refrain from plundering them. Boastful reports show how thoroughly and scientifically the resources of occupied lands were sucked into the German war economy, inflicting shortage, hunger, and inflation upon the inhabitants. Besides this grand plan to aid the German war effort there were the sordid activities of the Rosenberg “Einsatzstab”, which pillaged art treasures for Goering and his fellow-bandits. It is hard to say whether the spectacle of Germany’s No. 2 leader urging his people to give up every comfort and strain every sinew on essential war work while he rushed around confiscating art by the trainload should be cast as tragedy or comedy. In either case it was a crime.

International Law at all times before and during this war spoke with precision and authority respecting the protection due to civilians of an occupied country, and the slave trade and plunder of occupied countries was at all times flagrantly unlawful.

5. PERSECUTION AND EXTERMINATION OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS

The Nazi movement will be of evil memory in history because of its persecution of the Jews, the most far-flung and terrible racial persecution of all time. Although the Nazi Party neither invented nor monopolised anti-Semitism, its leaders from the very beginning embraced it, incited it, and exploited it. They used it as “the psychological spark that ignites the mob”. After seizure of power, it became an official State policy. The persecution began in a series of discriminatory laws eliminating the Jews from the civil service, the professions, and economic life. As it became more intense it included segregation of Jews in ghettoes, and exile. Riots were organized by Party leaders to loot Jewish business places and to burn synagogues. Jewish property was confiscated and a collective fine of a billion marks was imposed upon German Jewry. The programme progressed in fury and irresponsibility to the “final solution”. This consisted of sending all Jews who were fit to work to concentration camps as slave labourers, and all who were not fit, which included children under 12 and people over 50, as well as any others judged unfit by an SS doctor, to concentration camps for extermination.

Adolf Eichmann, the sinister figure who had charge of the extermination programme, has estimated that the anti-Jewish activities resulted in the killing of six million Jews. Of these, four million were killed in extermination institutions, and two million were killed by Einsatzgruppen, mobile units of the Security Police and SD which pursued Jews in the ghettoes and in their homes and slaughtered them in gas wagons, by mass shooting in anti-tank ditches and by every device which Nazi ingenuity could conceive.

So thorough and uncompromising was this programme that the Jews of Europe as a race no longer exist, thus fulfilling the diabolic “prophecy” of Adolf Hitler at the beginning of the war. Of course, any such programme must reckon with the opposition of the Christian Church. This was recognized from the very beginning. Defendant Bormann wrote all Gauleiter in 1941 that “National Socialism and Christian concepts are irreconcilable”, and that the people must be separated from the Churches, and the influence of the Churches totally removed. Defendant Rosenberg even wrote dreary treatises advocating a new and weird. Nazi religion.

The Gestapo appointed “Church specialists” who were instructed that the ultimate aim was “destruction of the confessional Churches”. The record is full of specific instances of the persecution of clergymen, the confiscation of Church property, interference with religious publications, disruption, of religious education, and suppression of religious organizations.

The chief instrument for persecution and extermination was the concentration camp, sired by the defendant Goering and nurtured under the overall authority of defendants Frick and Kaltenbrunner.

The horrors of these iniquitous places have been vividly disclosed by documents and testified to by witnesses. The Tribunal must be satiated with ghastly verbal and pictorial portrayals. From your records it is clear that the concentration camps were the first and worst weapon of Nazi oppression used by the National Socialist State, and that they were the primary means utilised for the persecution of the Christian Church and the extermination of the Jewish race. This has been admitted to you by some of the defendants from the witness stand. In the words of defendant Frank:

“A thousand years will pass and this guilt of Germany will still not be erased.”

These, then, were the five great substantive crimes of the Nazi regime. Their commission, which cannot be denied, stands admitted. The defendant Keitel, who is in a position to know the facts, has given the Tribunal what seems to be a fair summation of the case on the facts:

“The defendant has declared that ‘he admits the contents of the general Indictment to be proved from the objective and factual point of view’ (that is to say, not every individual case) ‘and this in consideration of the law of procedure governing the trial. It would be senseless, despite the possibility of refuting several documents or individual facts, to attempt to shake the Indictment as a whole.'” I pass now to the inquiry as to whether these groups of criminal acts were integrated in a common plan or conspiracy.

THE COMMON PLAN OR CONSPIRACY

The prosecution submits that these five categories of premeditated crimes were not separate and independent phenomena but that all were committed pursuant to a common plan or conspiracy.

The defence admits that these classes of crimes were committed, but denies that they are connected one with another as parts of a single programme. The central crime in this pattern of crimes, the king-pin which holds them all together, is the plot for aggressive wars. The chief reason for international cognizance of these crimes lies in this fact. Have we established the plan or conspiracy to make aggressive war?

Certain admitted or clearly proven facts help to answer that question. First is the fact that such war of aggression did take place. Second, it is admitted that from the moment the Nazis came to power, every one of them and every one of the defendants worked like beavers to prepare for some war. The question therefore comes to this: Were they preparing for the war which did occur, or were they preparing for some war which never happened?

It is probably true that in their early days none of them had in mind what month of what year war would begin, the exact dispute which would precipitate it, or whether its first impact would be Austria, Czechoslovakia, or Poland. But I submit that the defendants either knew or were chargeable with knowledge that the war for which they were making ready would be a war of German aggression. This is partly because there was no real expectation that any power or combination of powers would attack Germany. But it is chiefly because the inherent nature of the German plans was such that they were certain sooner or later to meet resistance and that they could then be accomplished only by aggression.

The plans of Adolf Hitler for aggression were just as secret as Mein Kampf, of which over six million copies were published in Germany. He not only openly advocated overthrowing the Treaty of Versailles, but made demands which went far beyond a mere rectification of its alleged injustices. He avowed an intention to attack neighbouring States and seize their lands, which he said would have to be won with “the power of a triumphant sword”. Here, for every German to hearken to, were the “ancestral voices prophesying war”.

Goering has testified in this courtroom that at his first meeting with Hitler, long before the seizure of power:

“I noted that Hitler had a definite view of the impotency of protest and, as a second point, that he was of the opinion that Germany should be freed of the Peace of Versailles. ‘We did not say we shall have to have a war and defeat our enemies’; this was the aim and the methods had to be adapted to the political situation.”

When asked if this goal were to be accomplished by war if necessary, Goering did not deny that eventuality but evaded a direct answer by saying, “We did not debate about that at all at that time.” He went on to say that the aim to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles was open and notorious and that, I quote again, “Every German in my opinion was for its modification, and there was no doubt that this was a strong inducement for joining the party.”

Thus, there can be no possible excuse for any person who aided Hitler to get absolute power over the German people, or who took a part in his regime, to fail to know the nature of the demands he would make on Germany’s neighbours.

Until tomorrow…

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

What Have We Done? Moral Injury and Our Unending Wars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is not every day that one reads about himself in a book by a Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent and author. I did that this week. Back in 2014 I was interviewed by David Wood for his book What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars. After the interview I kept going with life struggling with the daily effects of PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury in my life. The book came out in late 2016 or early 2017 but I didn’t know that it had until Sunday when I read some comments by Army Chaplains in a Facebook Group that I am fortunate to be a member.

When I found out the book had been published I immediately purchased it on Amazon Kindle and will get a hard cover copy as well. Of course I search for my name and went to the chapter in which David told my story. It was very good, so I began reading the book from the beginning. David is an exceptional writer and having spent many years in combat zones and embedded in American combat units at war he has earned his stripes, and what he writes is so vivid and real that to me it brought back too many memories, painful memories of the war and what I experienced when I came home flooded me. I again recalled the words of the great Union General and hero of Little Round Top, Gouverneur Warren that he wrote his wife in 1867:

“I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

It was not reading my story that got me, it was reading the stories of Marines, soldiers, and other Chaplains that got me. I knew that I wasn’t alone. I have seen carnage. I have been shot at, and I have been in danger many times, always unarmed; that I would do again. In fact in my FITREP debrief from my commanding officer and executive officer both noted that where I stood out the most was in crisis situations dealing with death and trauma. Truthfully, that is how I am wired and it has always been that way. Sadly my current billet, which will certainly unless everything goes to shit will be the one that I will retire from is more suited to men or women who do well in the bureaucracy and management. Outside of crises and trauma situations I do best teaching and writing, but I digress…

David’s book triggered memories. I had to make a note not to read it before bedtime because on Sunday night when I finished the second chapter I took my sleep meds, put on my CPAP, and had my therapy puppy Izzy snuggled around my head. I closed my eyes and the flashbacks began. When I finally went to sleep the nightmares began. They have not ended. The Alsatian German Soldier, Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier:

“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”

While I write about my private war with PTSD and Moral Injury I say little or nothing about it now to superiors, in fact after serving with me for over a year my Commander didn’t know how I struggle. I admitted it to him during the debrief and he was surprised. I guess that is a good thing because since “coming out” with PTSD in 2009 having already dealt with it for a year discovered that I had become one of the untouchables. Though I was selected for promotion to Commander in 2010 I was shunted off into billets that made me noncompetitive for promotion to Captain. I realized that in 2011 when the newly promoted deputy Chief of Chaplains treated me as if I was a nonentity when she made her tour of the commands at the base I was then serving. In 2014 when the Washington Times published an article on their front page about my story it went completely unacknowledged by the Chief of Chaplains office in Washington DC. I didn’t even get a call from a staff member asking if I was okay.

I can understand how Gouverneur Warren felt when he was cast off at the end of the Civil War, but then I also remember how a Comcast seasoned EOD Master Chief Petty Officer told me that “you can admit and get help for PTSD but you will never again get assigned to the billets that get you promoted.” He was right and truthfully I am okay with that, I can say that I am happy where I am now, not to say that if given the chance I wouldn’t hesitate to go in harms way again. My nightmares this week seem to lead me to believe that that may happen before I retire from the military, but again I digress…

I highly recommend David’s book to you. It is probably the best account of the war and its unintended consequences that I have ever read. Please read it if you really care about those of us who have been to war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or to go back further Vietnam have experienced. When you are done with it you too may ask What have we done?

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Poetry of Fear: Nightmares and Moral Wounds

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Tombstone at the British Cemetery, Habbaniyah Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Stephen King wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”

I prefer physical pain and physical injury to moral, emotional, and spiritual injury. I agree with Alexander Dumas who wrote in the Count of Monte Cristo“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is how I feel over ten years after returning from Iraq in 2008. No matter how well I am doing there are times when things going on in the present fill me with terror and evoke the ghosts of my past. As much as I want to put my war and other wars in the past I see American political leaders, propagandists, and religious leaders doing all they can to bring about new wars abroad and divide us at home.

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I find this deeply unsettling and it causes great anxiety, especially when I try to sleep. On Saturday night I had terrible nightmares of war with superiors trying to force me to commit war crimes. Four times Judy tried to wake me as I screamed and fought and I couldn’t pull myself out of the dreams. Thankfully I did not end up throwing myself out of bed and causing injury as I have done before. Likewise the Papillons, including our youngest boy, Pierre, now know to move to a different part of the bed when I am so unsettled.

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

In my dreams I remember everything about the war like it was yesterday. The images are vivid: wounded Marines, a wounded Iraqi boy with his father, a rocket flying just a few feet above my head, taking small arms fire in Ramadi on the ground and aboard an Army helicopter which returned fire as we took off from Ramadi, destroyed cities and villages, destitute and terrified people, and refugees.

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But those dreams and nightmares blend reality with unreality, real places with imaginary places, places that I’ve been to but are not the same as they are in the real world and they frequently show up. You think that I would be used to them; but no matter how often I have them I never get used to them, and I can’t really explain them, I only try to survive them.

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Ramadi, January 2008

One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Anyway, I have spent my evening watching the musicals Chicago and Mama Mia in order to take my mind off of all that is going on in the world. Now it is time for bed and the world of dreams and nightmares. Thankfully I will get up in the morning and carry on with life, even joyfully.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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My Country Right or Wrong?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Even since I was a child I was an avid reader of history, especially military history and biography. I idolized the men that I read about and many of the things that they said and did, and almost always skewed them into an almost perverse form of patriotism. After the attacks of 9-11-2001 and during the run up to the invasion of Iraq I got into a internet argument with a man who later became the Presiding Bishop of my former denomination. He was and still is a very honorable man.

While very conservative theologically he had a strong sense of social justice and having come to adulthood during Vietnam war era he had a certain sense of distrust about military adventurism that I, an officer who at that time had some twenty years of military service did not fully appreciate. I responded to one of his comments with a quote from one of my favorite American Naval heroes, Captain Stephen Decatur who once remarked:

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”

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There is some truth in what Decatur said, but his words should not be used to justify imperialistic nationalism, racism, or militarism. Sadly back then that was exactly how I used it to attempt to shut down the arguments of an honorable man. If he ever reads this I hope that Bishop Craig Bates accepts my heartfelt apology for how I treated him back then.

It took me two combat tours, one at sea where I was a member of a boarding team, and the other in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, and a lot more military and historical education that I realized how wrong that I was in doing this. Using patriotic quotes to buttress immoral, illegal, unconstitutional, and un-Christian policies is damnable. G. K. Chesterton noted: “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’”

But, I am afraid that my former understanding of patriotism is exactly what many Americans follow today, regardless of their political affiliation or ideology seem to automatically defer to the decisions of the President in launching military strikes. This has been largely true since the end of Second World War until now with the exception of Vietnam. No one wants to be “against the troops” and I am still one of those troops, but opposing nationalism, imperialism, and militarism is not the same as “supporting the troops.” The late Army Lieutenant General Hal Moore, who led his battalion into the Battle of the Ia Drang in 1965 and was memorialized in the film We Were Soldiers told West Point Cadets in 2005:

“The war in Iraq, I said, is not worth the life of even one American soldier. As for Secretary Rumsfeld, I told them, I never thought I would live long enough to see someone chosen to preside over the Pentagon who made Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara look good by comparison. The cadets sat in stunned silence; their professors were astonished. Some of these cadets would be leading young soldiers in combat in a matter of a few months. They deserved a straight answer.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander in chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake-and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million Americans gave their lives to protect and defend.”

I remember reading General Moore’s back words then and despite my respect for him I didn’t see their truth, I still believed the lies of Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration, and the Right wing media. I was wrong, and within two and a half years I would discover just how right that he was.

Today, some ten years after I returned from Iraq I find that we now have a President whose historical, ethical, and policy blindness is subjected to his narcissistic and paranoid personality. He is a man who dodged the draft, avoided military service, condemned men and women wounded. killed, or captured in combat as losers while bragging that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in the 1980s was his Vietnam.

War is a great way to distract from other real concerns, especially if it gives the President, any President, a chance to divert attention from his own malfeasance and criminality. Our Republic is in danger and I do not think that the danger will soon pass. I only wish that it would.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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“If Only…” Thinking about the Tapestry of Life

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It is interesting to think about life, what has transpired, and what might have been if only…

Like anyone I wonder about all of the “what ifs” and “might have been” parts of my life. Of course there are many, going back to things that I could not control, such as the choices that my parents made regarding their lives, career, family, and home. Then there are my own choices, choices that I made, some for better, and some maybe for worse. Then there were the choices of men and women in my life and career that impacted my life and the decisions that I made, again for better or worse.

Some of my dreams, and nightmares too, involve those decisions, particularly the ones that I could not control; but then there were those decisions, particularly regarding my military career choices, that come back to haunt my dreams. Those can be troubling; the things that I volunteered to do and the costs of those to Judy as a result of those decisions. Many of those decisions, particularly my decisions to volunteer for certain deployments and operations have come at a great cost to both of us, the struggle with the effects of PTSD even ten years after my return from Iraq is still very real.

But then I am reminded that none of us have a crystal ball that allows us to see what the result of our decisions will be; none of us are God, or some other omniscient being. We make our decisions based on what we know, and what we think might be the outcome of our decisions.

I love the television series Star Trek the Next Generation. One of my favorite episodes is called Tapestry. In the episode Captain Picard is killed. He is then met by the being known as Q, played by John De Lancie for a do-over, a second chance to reverse a choice that he made as a young officer.

On Q’s promise that his choice will not alter history Picard takes the chance and he ends up regretting it. In his second chance to avoid the incident that allowed him to be killed he alienates himself from his friends, and turns him in to a different person, unwilling to take chances and doomed to insignificance. When he returns to his new present he finds himself alive but a different person. Instead of a starship captain is a nondescript lieutenant junior grade doing a job that he hates as an assistant astrophysics officer.

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Distraught Picard complains to Q:

Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?

Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?

Picard: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion… and imagination! That is not who I am!

Q: Au contraire. He’s the person you wanted to be: one who was less arrogant and undisciplined in his youth, one who was less like me… The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. He never led the away team on Milika III to save the Ambassador; or take charge of the Stargazer’s bridge when its captain was killed. And no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe – and he never, ever, got noticed by anyone.

It is a fascinating exchange and one that when I wonder about the choices that I have made that I think about; because when all is said and done, my life, like all of ours is a tapestry. On reflection Picard tells Counselor Troi, “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I… pulled on one of those threads – it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.”

I think that I can agree with that. All the things in my life, the good things and the bad, as well as the paths not taken have all been a part of the tapestry of my life. I would not be who I am without them; and that I cannot comprehend. I would rather be the flawed me that is me, than the perfect me that never existed. Thus, all of those threads of my tapestry are in a sense, precious and even holy.

I’ll keep all of them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on my 58th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am 58 years old. I don’t feel that old or act that old and truthfully it’s hard to believe that I am that old. At the same time I do know that I am getting older, the proof is in the pudding around my belly.

Despite remaining in pretty good physical shape for someone my age, (so far this month I have ran and walked 203 miles and will probably have ran or walked over 250 miles before the month ends)  I notice the signs of aging. Despite the amount of exercise and diet I maintain I gained a lot of weight and have a hard time losing it, so Thursday I’m going to the doctor and asking for a complete physical and blood panel.

My hair has been a lost cause for over a decade and I need glasses and hearing aids, although the latter are more for conditions not associated with aging, instead from neurological damage from PTSD, TBI, and concussive injuries. I struggle with PTSD and its demons which are especially noticeable when I try to sleep. My dreams, even those which are not nightmares or night terrors are often quite disturbing, and if not disturbing at the minimum very intense, but I digress…

All that being said after years of struggle following my tour in Iraq which included a faith crisis, severe depression, and even suicidal thoughts I am pretty much loving life again. My wife Judy is wonderful and I could not in a million years have a better wife. We have three great Papillon dogs, Minnie Scule, Izzy Bella, and our youngest, Pierre. One of my priorities in the next couple of months is getting Izzy the training that she needs to be a certified Therapy dog. She has the temperament for it and both she and Pierre are especially sweet and comforting. Minnie is sweet too, but she is quite quirky.

I love life even though I still struggle and I look forward to the future even though I cannot predict that future and the actions of President Trump scare the shit out of me. If there is one person in the world that makes me fear the future it is the current American President. As a military officer I swear my oath to the Constitution not the President and so I will continue what I believe is a principled opposition to his policies as long as I serve as well as maintain a honest Christian critique of the President based on my baptismal, confirmation, and ordination vows as a Christian and a Priest.

That could be risky, especially since there are about 35% of Americans who have proven that they will put their loyalty to the President over all principle, over their Christian faith, or any oath that they swore to the Constitution. Some of them not only speak in a violent manner but act upon their impulses. When I think about them I know that some would target me, and in fact I have been threatened  by neo-Nazis and White Supremacists on this blog and on social media but I must speak the truth.

Having grown up in a military family and subsequently serving over 36 years in the military I find much of my inspiration from military figures, especially those who opposed the totalitarian leaders of their own countries. Most of them are quite flawed men, like me.

One of those men was German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris who was executed on Hitler’s order at Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9th 1944 at the age of 58. He noted:

“I die for my fatherland. I have a clear conscience. I only did my duty to my country when I tried to oppose the criminal folly of Hitler.”

Another was General Ludwig Beck who stepped down from his position as commander of the German Army over Hitler’s threatened invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and died in the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944. Beck noted:

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

We live in unusual and troubling times. What was considered normal public behavior and respect for law and the Constitution that was a part of the five previous Presidents that I served under is now gone. That is the fault of Donald Trump; the allegedly “conservative” commentators on talk radio and “conservative news sites;” from the lips of supposedly Christian leaders, the Fox Propaganda Network, and from every person who excuses Trump’s lies while condemning their political enemies for far less.

These indeed are unusual and troubling times, times that our Founders warned us about and tried to prevent by the manner in which they devised the government of this country. But their warnings have been ignored and their safeguards imperiled by the actions of the President, his followers, and the leaders of the Republican Party.

Despite that I will continue to face the future with a certain amount of hope even as I quite realistically speak out against the things I see based on my oath to the Constitution.

And I will enjoy my birthday.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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