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The Value of a Single Human Life: Personal Responsibility during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have grown tired of the deniers of science and those who when occupying high positions in the Federal and State governments prepare to add to the death and economic disaster we are already experiencing in the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise I have grown very tired of trying to confront their cultish followers with history, science, and facts, especially those who should know better. The sad thing is that I can certainly determine that they have left their conscience, and medical knowledge behind simply to support the policies of President Trump which began with denial, deflection, and outright lies between December 2019 and now.

I have a unique perspective to offer on what is going on now. I am a historian, an ethicist, as well as a Priest and Navy Chaplain. I have served in the military for over thirty eight and a half years, as a Medical Service Corps Officer and Chaplain. I have served in combat, and as an ICU, ER, and Critical Care Chaplain during the height of the AIDS pandemic when there were no drugs to even mitigate the symptoms of HIV, and the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

As a historian I have studied pandemics, eugenics, and the sterilization, or extermination of people whose lives were considered Life Unworthy of Life, a condition more influenced by eugenics to purify the race, and the economic costs of keeping such people alive. Sadly, many American Christians who lean toward Libertarianism, and Conservatism, even those who claim to be Pro-Life, which should be more accurately termed anti-abortion because once a child is born into this world they couldn’t give a damn if it lives or dies. By their budgets you shall know them. The poor, the disabled, or those with chronic medical conditions are not worth spending tax dollars on, especially if that money keeps the rich from getting richer. As Alfred W. Crosby wrote in his book America’s Forgotten Pandemic, the Influenza of 1918 about the businesses leaders that pressured San Francisco’s board of supervisors to lighten up on Medical and public health and restrictions that had led to a decline of infections and deaths: “The dollar sign is exalted above the health sign,” said Hassler, referring to the influence of the merchants on the supervisors’”

As a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army while commanding a Medical Ambulance Company stationed in Germany during the height of the Cold War I was school trained as a Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Warfare Defense officer. I can describe in detail what radiation poisoning at different amounts will do to a human being, as well as what kind of shelters provide the greatest protection from radiation exposure.  I can tell you what various chemical agents, blood, choking, and nerve will do to a person if they are not properly equipped, or fail to use their provided protective gear as they were trained to do, the same is true of militarized biological agents. Unlike, chemical agents, there is little defense against a biological agent. I was also trained in combat triage in a contaminated environment. I have written about that in the last month so I won’t go into detail here, but it turns normal triage upside down.

Finally, as a young Medical Service Corps Captain helped write the Army’s regulation on personnel policies for HIV infected soldiers, and then because officers senior to me, I had to counsel all of our HIV infected personnel on their career options, and legal restrictions if they violated the commanders order which closely corresponded to the Physicians Medical order, but had the authority of the Uniform Code of Military Justice behind it, if the soldier failed to warn a sexual partner that he or she was HIV positive or did anything else to intentionally spread the virus. That was back in 1987. At that time I met and talked with then Major Robert Redfield, now head of the CDC about how HIV could spread and that it would enter the general population. Before effective policies and treatments to mitigate its effects HIV spread like a fire around the country and the world. While we do not yet have a vaccine for it, education, preventive measures, and effective drugs to mitigate its lethal effects have blunted its spread. That being said, HIV is far harder to spread than airborne viruses like influenza and Coronavirus. HIV has to be spread by direct contact and intermixing of bodily fluids, like blood, semen, or other bodily excretions.

At of the time of the writing of this article, the Coronavirus 19 has now killed over 55,000 Americans and infected almost a million according to official tallies, which are probably low since very few health agencies were testing for it before March. Testing in the United States has continued to lag on a per capita basis with only about 1.5% of the population tested. Currently there are over 813,000 active cases in the United States. The United States government leadership knew of the threat through reliable intelligence sources that the virus was raging in China In December 2019  long before the Chinese Communist leadership admitted it, or took action to contain it. Instead the President did nothing until he instituted a travel ban from China at the end of January. However, by then, it was too little and too late. The virus was already spreading and killing in the United States.

The lack of  any action defied the warning of President George W. Bush in a speech to the National Institute of Health on 1 November 2005:

“A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire: if caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage; if allowed to smolder undetected, it can grow to an inferno that spreads quickly beyond our ability to control it.” 

However, President Trump, a man who prides himself in not reading, and despises the counsel of experts in any field, could not heed the warnings of President Bush or any other responsible member of his administration, or the medical and scientific community at large. Instead he denied the threat, blamed others, and took no decisive action to protect the people of the country or economy from it. instead of being like Harry Truman who had a sign on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here,” the President refused to take any responsibility for the earlier lack of action or distribution of public warnings, and said “I take no responsibility at all.” But that is no exception to anything he has done in his life. He loves to claim credit when times are good, but when his decisions result in multiple failed divorces, failed businesses, and serial corporate bankruptcies, he refuses to take any blame. But still, his cultish followers refuse to abandon him even as he abandons them to poverty and death.

in 1918 and 1919 before he suffered a stroke that left him incapacitated and unable to lead the country, President Woodrow Wilson said nothing about the pandemic that was then killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, and threw the responsibility to respond on under funded and unready state and local authorities. As Albert Marrin wrote in his book Very, Very, Very, Dreadful The Influenza of 1918:

“Throughout the pandemic, the nation lacked a uniform policy about gathering places, and there was no central authority with the power to make and enforce rules that everyone had to obey. Each community acted on its own, doing as its elected officials thought best.”

As a result over 667,000 Americans died, the economy was hit hard, and the stage was set for policies that help bring about the Great Depression a decade later, and would take the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt to overcome. John Barry wrote in his book The Great Influenza:

“So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lessen the panic that can alienate all within a society. Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization cannot survive that. Those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.” 

Unfortunately, that has been the case today. For every responsible citizen there are those who would preserve their lives and fortunes even if they had to sacrifice the lives of others to do so. They are little different in their morality to the Germans who turned away from Nazi atrocities to maintain or enrich themselves without ever lifting a finger to kill or help anyone. The issue reminds me of an episode of Dr. Who where the leader of a colony on Mars tells the doctor that he would do anything to protect his people and family. The Doctor asks “even if that meant killing innocent men?” Unmoved, the leader reiterated his point, to which the Doctor replied:

“Well then, that’s the difference between us. I’d give up my ownlife without hesitation; it’s mine to give. Just don’t ask me to give up anybody else’s. … This is how evil starts: With the belief that the ends justify the means. But once you start down that road, there’s no turning back. What if you can save a million lives, but you have to let ten people die? Or a hundred? Or a hundred thousand? Where do you stop?”

Truthfully we have to ask the question posed by the Doctor. But for many committed to the dollar, their position, and their loyalty to a President that shoes no loyalty to them the current crisis has proved that they are selfish and more interested in their creature comforts and lifestyle than they are of the deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. I am reminded of the words spoken in the film Judgment at Nuremberg by Judge Haygood played by Spencer Tracy in the fictionalized account of the Judges Trials at Nuremberg:

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat.  Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.” 

So, that being said, what do we stand for in 2020? It is something that all of us all have to answer for, not just political, or business  leaders, but all of us.

If we are nor willing to protect and care for the least, the lost, and the lonely, what use are we? As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

As a Christian and humanitarian I cannot speak otherwise. If I cannot stand up for truth regardless of the cost, I am not worth the powder to blow me to Hell.

Think about that. Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, euthanasia, faith, film, History, laws and legislation, national security, nazi germany, Political Commentary, Religion, US Presidents, world war one

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

Jewish Men being Rounded Up in Baden with Citizens looking on  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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