Tag Archives: james baldwin

So Many Books, So Little Time

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Frank Zappa one noted; “So many books, so little time”, and truthfully I have to share in his thoughts.

The past month has been very busy with travel as well as work but at the same time I have continued to read at a rather brisk pace and I want to let you know what I have been reading so you can see what has been provoking so many of my thoughts. In fact since we went to Germany I have spent less time on social media, less time diving deep into the current news of the day, and more time reading as well as walking and contemplating what I have read.

Over the past month I have read Walter Lord’s Miracle at Dunkirk, Amy S. Greenberg’s A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, Geoffrey Megargee’s War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941, Deborah Lipstadt’s The Eichmann Trial, while I am in some way involved with working my way through Richard Evans’ Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, William Craig’s The Fall of Japan: The Final Weeks of WWII in the Pacific, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers:How Europe Went to War in 1914.

All of these books are important. Dunkirk which Lord wrote decades ago is very useful in interpreting the film of the same name that came out last summer. I actually think it is one of the best because of his focus on the individuals involved. Greenberg’s A Wicked War deals with the major personalities involved in the U.S. invasion of Mexico and the precedent that the actions of President James K. Polk in launching an unprovoked, immoral, and criminal war of aggression on a weaker neighbor. It is very pertinent reading in our present day and the portrayals of both Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln remind us that it is not unpatriotic to oppose a President when he acts against the ideals of the country and lies to get his agenda passed. Megargee’s War of Annihilation is important because it helps to crush the myth embraced by many military history buffs that the German Wehrmacht had clean hands in the conduct of the war and that it was only the SS which executed the crimes of the Nazis. The evidence that Megargee presents of the complicity of the senior leaders of the Wehrmacht in the crimes against the Poles and during Operation Barbarossa against the Russians, as well as their assistance to the killing squads of the Einsatzgruppen is a needed tonic against the myth. Finally, Lipstadt’s The Eichmann Trial is an excellent presentation of the case which is able to correct some of the myths about Eichmann and the trial, including a fair critique of Hannah Arendt’s treatment of the trial.

In addition to the books I am currently reading I have more waiting in the wings including Michael Burleigh’s Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II, Alistair Horne’s The Age of Napoleon, George Annas and Michael Grodin’s The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation, Vivien Spitz’s Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans, Laurence Rees’s The Nazis, a Waring from History, and Megargee’s Inside Hitler’s High Command.

Books are important and if we don’t read we fail to understand life itself. Reading helps put life in context, even things that seem unjust or unfair, or the disappointments of life, as James Baldwin wrote: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.

So until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


Filed under books and literature, History, Loose thoughts and musings

Wisdom & Empathy: Undoing the Cycle of Folly


The Author on the Iraq-Syrian Border, December 2007

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been continuing to be a bit reflective and it seems with each day there is something to cause me to reflect on different aspects of life and the human experience. When I am in these reflective times I tend to look back at flawed, yet brilliant men who had unique insights into their times and even the future, but who were often ignored by those who supposedly knew better.

British military historian and theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart wrote:

“A study of history, past and in the making, seems to suggest that most of mankind’s troubles are man-made, and arise from the compound effect of decisions taken without knowledge, ambitions uncontrolled by wisdom and judgments that lack understanding.  Their ceaseless repetition is the grimmest jest that destiny plays on the human race. Men are helped to authority by their knowledge continually make decisions on questions beyond their knowledge. Ambition to maintain their authority forbids them from admitting the limits of their knowledge and calling upon the knowledge that is available in other men. Ambition to extend the bounds of their authority leads them to a frustration of others opportunity and interference with others’ liberty that, with monotonous persistency, injures themselves or their successors on the rebound.  

The fate of mankind in all ages has been the plaything of petty personal ambitions. The blend of wisdom with knowledge would restrain men from contributing to this endless cycle of folly, but understanding can guide them toward progress.” B.H. Liddell-Hart “Lawrence of Arabia” DeCapo Press, Reprint, originally published as “The Man Behind the Legend” Halcyon House 1937 

Over the past few days I have been thinking about the reaction to the near government shutdown, the latest mass murder in this country, and the latest events in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. I have found each of these events troubling in their own way, especially when I see the statements of powerful leaders, political, religious, military, and media about them. With the exception of the response of President Obama to the killings in Roseburg Oregon, I was troubled because it seemed like most commentators had no empathy about any of these events. Power, politics and ideology seem to obscure the pain and suffering of people.

Since I returned from Iraq I have become much more empathic regarding the suffering of others. In some ways this is good, but it also brings about a certain amount of pain as I feel that suffering. Some account that as wisdom and tell me so, though most of the time I feel painfully unwise. Even so I strive to seek wisdom even as I recognize my own limitations, and as such I look to history and the lives of others who seem to have struggled with some of the same issues that trouble me.

The ceaseless repetition of these tragedies and the lack of empathy of so many powerful political, media, and even religious leaders cause me a lot of pain, and sometimes I wish I did not feel so much. That is interesting because until I went to Iraq and came home I was very good at being able to compartmentalize my feelings. But that kind of compartmentalization is now very difficult for me, so I have to try to integrate them with reason and knowledge and act on them, and to do this I turn to books and history for lessons and examples.

The late James Baldwin, a noted African-American author and civil rights activist wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” I can understands that, because when I find myself experiencing such feelings I turn to history, to books and the lives of people much like me.

One of my favorite flawed heroes is T.E. Lawrence, or as he is better known, Lawrence of Arabia. I think that Lawrence was gifted with profound insights and had a rare sensitivity to humanity, politics, conflict, and even peace than many people before or since. Lawrence wrote, “The rare man who attains wisdom is, by the very clearness of his sight, a better guide in solving practical problems than those, more commonly the leaders of men, whose eyes are misted and minds warped by ambition for success….”

Sadly, all too many of our leaders, and not just American leaders have eyes that are misted and minds warped by ambition for success. But as I mentioned yesterday, nothing that we despise in others is entirely absent from ourselves.

But that is a hallmark of our humanity.


Padre Steve+


Filed under ethics, History, iraq,afghanistan, philosophy