Tag Archives: judgment at nuremberg

Survival as What? President Trump’s Warsaw Speech


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I have just a few thoughts about President Trump’s Warsaw speech as well as some of his other comments while in Poland. 

I know people have different opinions about the speech but my greatest concern was that while the President spoke of “defending Western civilization” he never once mentioned the ideals that are at the heart of the United States. He never talked about what is written in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution or appealing to those documents as well as the ideals of our founders or his predecessors, not even Ronald Reagan. Instead it was similar to his dystopian Inaugural Address on a global level. Likewise during and after the speech he continued his attacks on the free press, something that his Polish host has been doing since he took office. 

It reminded me of the “blood and soil” speeches of Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis and it appealed to a concept of white, European, Christian that has more in common with Nazi and other Fascist movements, as well as the “noble Confederacy,” the Lost Cause, and White nationalism than it has to do with the promise of the United States and its ideals. The thing that the President does not seem to grasp is that no enemy can conquer this nation if we live up to the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln said it well on more than one occasion: 

“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.”

But even more to the point Lincoln noted something that the President does not understand or appreciate: 

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

The President has frequently threatened those freedoms as he attacks his opponents and disparagesAmericans, including military, intelligence, and law enforcement officials or agencies who disagree with him. At the G-20 summit he appeared to have given Vladimir Putin a pass on the well documented Russian efforts to influence and interfere with the 2016 general election. It is troubling for me to see our President give more credence to a thug like Putin than to American intelligence officials, military officers, and diplomats. The things that the President often says, especially on Twitter are more often than not directed at Americans and our closest allies are troubling because it seems that he is more willing to believe the words of a sworn enemy of the United States than to believe Americans. Likewise when he talks uses terms that make me think of Spencer Tracy in the film Judgment at Nuremberg. In that film Tracy took aim at those who surrendered freedom for security and those who would at the same time blame minority groups for the nation’s ills and those who would use the same tactics as our enemies would. In doing so he will destroy what this nation was founded upon and there will be no easy righting of the ship of state. 

In the film during the scene where Spencer Tracy pronounces judgment on a German jurist played by Burt Lancaster. It is a riveting moment as Tracy says these words. They are important so I will leave you with them and wish you a good day.

“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 through the 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.”

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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A Road Built by Hate and Paved with Indifference

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again just a short thought for today but one that I hope will resonate with my readers. Historian Ian Kershaw wrote: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.”

The longer that I live the more that I understand how this happens. Today, as there were in 1930s and 1940s Nazi Germany, there are all too many hate-filled ideologues who desire to destroy or subjugate entire races and ethnic groups, or members of different religions or political ideologies. In the United States they have free reign to do speak and write freely about their goals and for many years we have regarded most of them as fringe characters who had no chance of ever enacting anything that they proposed. Many of these were and continue to be the most vocal supporters of President Trump, and see in him a man who will help them accomplish their desires as no President has done before. One of them, Steve Bannon serves as his chief policy adviser and strategist, and there are no shortage of civil rights opponents and proponents of a police state in his cabinet, including his Attorney General.

The sad thing is despite the myriad of actions taken by the Trump administration, its abuses of power, its probable connections to a hostile power, its attempts to shut down law enforcement probes of the Russia connections, its unabashed attempts to silence the press and all other opponents, and its nearly uncountable number of lies and distortions that it makes on a daily basis; that the vast majority of Congressional Republicans nor his followers seem to care. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of opposition, but among his followers and the great number of people in the middle who prefer not to get involved there is little real opposition; moral, religious, ethical, or political to anything that he says or does, mostly because they do not understand how it effects them or their liberties, nor how toxic it is to the nation. It seems to me that they are not only apathetic to the abuses of power, but have no empathy towards the people that they are directed against.

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For the Trump supporters this is not a problem. He represents a chance for them to recover their greatness, just as Hitler did for many of his followers in the 1930s, including those who joined the Party late. One of the greatest film monologues that illustrated this phenomenon is that of Burt Lancaster in his portrayal of a Nazi judge who is on trial in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. His comments remind me so much of what I see among many Trump supporters today:

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

While we have not reached the point that the Third Reich did between 1933 and 1938, it would not take much for us to get there. We misjudge ourselves if we belief that such things cannot happen here, as Timothy Snyder wrote: “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.”

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American theologian noted: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

We should heed their warnings before we cross that precipice and head into the abyss.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The World’s Guilt: The Flaw in Character that Allows us to Look the Other Way

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

rolfe

Today just a short follow up to my last few posts about the Holocaust and the other crimes of the Nazi state. A couple of those dealt with the film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film is profoundly disturbing when one looks at the time that we live. This is one of the more disturbing sections because in it, Maximillian Schell who played Hans Rolfe, the defense counsel for Burt Lancaster.

His summation of the defense following his client’s admission of guilt is damning. It is something that when we, and by we I mean people around the world, 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 regimes that commit these actions.

Please, no matter what your political point of view, take the time to watch the film, and read the transcript of Schell’s speech below:

“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 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.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Because we Loved our Country!” Why People Believe the Lies

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Press Secretary Sean Spicer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I couple of days ago I asked the question “how did we get here?” when I was discussing drumbeat of lies, which are now called alternate truth by the President and members of his administration. As the past few days have unfolded I have asked the question to myself a number of times as the statements continue, along with the admonitions from Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway to “always believe” what is being said by the President and for the media and other critics to “shut up.” The media of course now is always lying so it goes, and sadly some journalists have added fuel to the flame by misreporting, that doesn’t mean that journalists or the press as a whole are lying, but it sets up straw men for the President and his advisors to attack. Opposition is considered treason, and opponents must be silenced because it is the patriotic thing to do.

Likewise there is the silencing of Federal workers, and even agencies who simply report the truth, and the quashing of dissent by removing officials who may be troublesome later on. His foreign policy seems like it is going to be a go it alone, aggressive hyper-nationalism, forsaking longstanding and faithful allies to ally himself with the Russian dictator, and to threaten military action, trade wars, and to bring back torture. Yet, those are actions that in the long run are bound to destroy the United States, but there is no push back from the GOP majority in Congress.

Then of course are the executive orders which are being issued daily. President Trump is doing exactly what he promised to do during the campaign when we were told not to take what he said literally. Before his inauguration the President said that he may issue 200 executive orders in his first month in office. Such is to rule by fiat, to bypass Congress, the Courts, and ultimately the people, yet it is entirely legal and at the same time if unchecked by the Congress or the Courts will lead to a totalitarian state.

Yet the President’s supporters and the the vast majority of the Republican Congress say nothing and some are calling him brilliant. So I ask myself why? What is going on when people, people who are basically good, turn a blind eye to emerging tyranny. Why is it that otherwise decent, and even brilliant people will allow such things to happen, and even more, to wholeheartedly support the policies.

Then I began to think of the classic film, Judgment at Nuremberg. The question of how many Germans, who should have known better abandoned all sense and supported Hitler seems to me to be quite similar to what is going on with many Trump supporters. They are afraid of the future, they are frustrated, and their fear of the past, present, and future is such that they are willing to cast aside logic and blindly support a man who can only be called a madman. They are doing it out of “love for country.”

In the movie, Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning. As the trial dragged on he was content to allow his defense attorney to use whatever means necessary, even re-victimizing the people who were in fact the victims of his own judgments in support of his government’s policy. When he went to the witness stand his conscience finally got the best of him and he explained his guilt and how he and so many people like him abandoned all sense and morality in supporting Hitler. I could imagine when all of what we are just beginning to see happen before our eyes is done, and our world has crashed in about us, I wonder if some of those who supported the President and asked no questions will have the courage to say like Janning:

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

I do not know what is going to happen, I still hope and pray that the President will do good things for the country and the world; but every word, and every action coming from him and his spokespeople serve to dampen any measure of hope that I have for this very young administration. Thankfully, there are people who are using legal means to resist and to speak out, but I wonder if that will be enough.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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At the Dock of Justice: Nuremberg at 70

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On October 1st 1946, twenty-one Nazi leaders waited in the dock in Saal 6oo (Courtroom 600) at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg to hear the pronouncement of the verdict and their sentences on the charges of war crimes.

Just a week ago during our most recent trip to Germany I stood next to that same defendant’s dock where Hermann Goering and twenty other men sat, and then rose to hear the verdicts of the Tribunal. Goering and ten compatriots, Governor General of Poland, Dr. Hans Frank, Minister of the Interior and Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia Dr.Wilhelm Frick, General Alfred Jodl, SS General and head Reichs Main Sucurity Office Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, Regional Leader of Thuringia, and head of Slave Labor programs, Fritz Sauckel,  Dr. Arthur Seyess-Inquart, Reichskommissar of occupied Netherlands, and Julius Streicher, Gauleiter of Franconia and publisher of the Nazi propaganda paper, Der Sturmer. Party Secretary Martin Bormann was sentenced to death in abstentia as the Allies believed that he may had escaped Berlin after Hitler’s death. It has since been discovered that he died in the attempt.

Others were sentenced to varying prison terms. Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, 10 years, Minister of Economics, Dr. Walter Funk, life in prison, Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess, life in prison, Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, 15 years, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, life in prison, Head of the Hitler Youth, and Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach, 20 years, Armaments Minister, Albert Speer, 20 years in prison.

Three men were acquitted: Hans Fritzsche of the Propaganda Ministry, Dr. Hjalmar Schlacht pre-war head of the Reichsbank, and Economics Minister, Franz von Papen, and Vice Chancellor, Ambassador to Austria and later Turkey.

Robert Ley, head of the Reich Labor Front was not tried as he committed suicide in his cell the day following his indictment. Neither was Gustave Krupp, C.E.O. of the Krupp industrial firm and armaments manufacturer who was too sick to go to trial.

Following the trials of the major war criminals, eleven more trials were held, including the Doctor’s Trial, a General’s Trial, also known as the Hostage Trial, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial.

To stand in that room where such evidence was presented and powerful testimony given was humbling. To see where learned men, powerful, and even respected men, who had so willingly sacrificed any trace of personal honor and morality, men who aided and abetted a regime which committed the most heinous crimes committed by a civilized “Christian” nation in history left me silent. I have studied these trials since I was in college over 35 years ago. My primary professor, Dr. Helmut Haeussler was an interpreter at the trials.

Since that time I have continued to study them and today as I see the rise of Right Wing movements in Europe, as well as the United States, movements which have at their core many of the same beliefs and principles held by Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the men who stood trial at Nuremberg I find myself frightened.

This is especially so in the United States where Donald Trump has made repeated policy statements limiting civil rights and freedom of speech, limiting the role of the courts, curtailing freedom of the press, favoring one religion above others, curtailing the legal and civil rights of whole groups of people, expelling millions of people, banning whole groups of other people entry into the country, promising to rid the government of his opponents, to fire military leaders who disagree with him in mass, to commit the military to use methods that are condemned as war crimes, war crimes such as were prosecuted by the United States and her Allies at Nuremberg.

To make matters more frightening, many of Trump’s supporters see no problem with this and are often shown on video threatening opponents, advocating even more extreme and violent measures than Trump himself. They justify their proposed polices by saying that these measures are to “protect the country,” and to Make America Great Again.”

But at what price?

In Judgement at Nuremberg, the film version of the Judges’ Trial, Spencer Tracy played Judge Dan Heywood. In the scene at which the verdicts were read, he gave this speech, some of which echoed the words of Justice Robert Jackson’s final statement at the major war crimes trial:

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

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 through the 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.”

A nation is what it stands for. The ideals that have marked the American experiment have never been perfectly practiced by the United States, but they are still the hallmark of the last and greatest hope of civilization. They are the ideals which lead people around the world to want to become Americans, they are the ideals which sustain us. But what Trump and his followers say is that they are not important, and in fact should be limited or abrogated entirely. But this is the way of expediency, and the end of the American experiment.

Standing beside the dock at Nuremberg I was humbled by the fact that I was where such history had been made, and at the same time I was frightened for my country and the world.

I will be spending some time this week to write about the trials, as well as the visit to Dachau that I made on this trip.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Paris & the Return of the Know Nothings

american-patriot

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the wake of the recent DAESH terror attacks there has been a resurgence in anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and Western Europe targeting the Syrians fleeing the terror of DAESH, or as they call themselves the Islamic State. The parties that capitalize on this in both areas have long track records and usually mask their hatred of people who are not like them, in terms of security. The arguments are nothing new, they have been used against almost every immigrant group that has ever come to the shores of Europe or America.

If you have read my last few posts, you know that I do believe that we are in a war against an intractable foe that must be defeated. At the same time I believe that we cannot allow ourselves to forget the best of our heritage and our highest ideals in doing so. Unfortunately, it seems that we are about to make things worse by re-victimizing the victims, and emboldening the claim of DAESH to be the return of the Caliphate.

Many of the prominent candidates for the Republican nomination for President, numerous representatives, over half of the nation’s governors have announced their opposition to any immigration of Syrians to this country, their language often mirroring that of previous anti-immigrant groups. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and others have tapped into the vast reservoir of nativism that has always been a part of the American body-politic. These politicians, as well as the pundits and preachers who fan the flames of fear are gaining traction. One cannot go to Facebook, or other social media sites and not see some of the vilest memes and comments be the people who stirred up by them make some most ill-informed comments imaginable, and a lot of these people are the descendants of immigrants who were subject to the very kind of discrimination, and even race hatred that they spew at current immigrants, especially Syrians and others from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

As I said, such attitudes and movements are nothing new. Anti-immigrant movements in the United States go back to our earliest days, ever since the first Irish Catholics showed up in the northeast in the late 1790s and early 1800s. Met with scorn and treated as criminals the Irish Catholics had to work hard to gain any kind of acceptance in Protestant America. But immigrants continued to come, seeking the freedom promised in the Declaration of Independence.

Many White American Protestants viewed Irish, German and other European immigrants to the Unites States in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s as interlopers who were attempting to take over the country. The immigrants were regarded as poor, uneducated, uncouth, and immoral, and in the case of Catholic immigrants as representatives and foot soldiers of a hostile government, the Vatican, headed by the Pope and the bishops. Those who opposed immigration formed a movement that was aimed at forbidding immigrants from being granted full rights, especially the rights of citizenship and voting. The fear was pervasive. Many Northern Whites were afraid that immigrants would take their jobs, since like slaves in the South, the new immigrants were a source of cheap labor.

Northern Protestant church leaders and ministers were some of the most vocal anti-immigrant voices and their words were echoed by politicians and in the press. The movement grew and used government action, the courts and violence to oppress the Irish and Germans who were the most frequent targets of their hate. The movement eventually became known as the “Know Nothing” movement.

Know Nothing leaders were not content to simply discuss their agenda in the forum of ideas and political discourse, they often used mob-violence and intimidation to keep Catholics away from the ballot box. Mobs of nativist Know Nothings sometimes numbering in the hundreds or even the thousands attacked immigrants in what they called “Paddy hunts,” Paddy being a slur for the Irish. To combat immigrants who might want to exercise their right to vote, the Know Nothings deployed gangs like the New York’s Bowery Boys and Baltimore’s Plug Uglies. They also deployed their own paramilitary organization to intimidate immigrants on Election Day. This group, known as the Wide Awakes was especially prone to use violence and physical intimidation in pursuit of their goals. The Nativist paramilitaries also provided security for anti-immigrant preachers from angry immigrants who might try to disrupt their “prayer” meetings.

Know Nothing’s and other Nativist organizations, organized mass meetings throughout the country which were attended by thousands of men. The meetings were often led by prominent Protestant ministers who were rich in their use of preaching and prayer to rile up their audiences. The meetings often ended with physical attacks and other violence against German or Irish immigrants and sometimes with the burning of the local Catholic Church. They also provided security for preachers from angry immigrants who might try to disrupt nativist prayer meetings.

The violence was widespread and reached its peak in the mid-1850s.

Monday, August 6, 1855 was Election Day in Louisville, Kentucky. To prevent German and Irish Catholics from voting, Know Nothing mobs took to the street and launched a violent attack on immigrants as well as their churches and businesses. Known now as “Black Monday” the Nativists burned Armbruster’s Brewery, they rolled cannons to the doors of the St. Martin of Tours Church, the Cathedral of the Assumption and Saint Patrick’s Church, which they then were searched for arms. The private dwellings and the businesses of immigrants were looted. A neighborhood known as “Quinn’s Row” was burned with the inhabitants barricaded inside. At least 22 persons were killed in the violence and many more were injured. In Baltimore the 1856, 1857, and 1858 elections were all marred by violence perpetrated by Nativist mobs. In Maine, Know Nothing followers tarred and feathered a Catholic priest and burned down a Catholic church.

The Know Nothings did not merely seek to disenfranchise immigrants through violence alone, they were more sophisticated than that. They knew that to be successful they had to change the law. Then, as now, a new immigrant had to live in the United States for five years before becoming eligible to become a naturalized of the United States. The Know nothings felt that this was too short of time and their party platform in the 1856 election had this as one of the party planks:

A change in the laws of naturalization, making a continued residence of twenty-one years, of all not heretofore provided for, an indispensable requisite for citizenship hereafter, and excluding all paupers, and persons convicted of crime, from landing upon our shores; but no interference with the vested rights of foreigners.

The rational of the Know Nothings for the 21 year wait was that if a baby born in the United States had to wait until it was 21 years old he could vote, that immigrants were being permitted to “jump the line” and vote sooner than native-born Americans. But really what the Know Nothings wanted to was to destroy the ability of immigrant communities to use the ballot box. In many localities and some states Know Nothing majorities took power. The Massachusetts legislature, which was dominated by Know Nothings, passed a law barring immigrants from voting for two additional years after they became United States citizens.

A Know Nothing supporter recorded the 1856 Know Nothing Party platform. The similarities between it and many of the new nativists ideas are quite striking:

(1) Repeal of all Naturalization Laws.

(2) None but Americans for office.

(3) A pure American Common School system.

(4) War to the hilt, on political Romanism.

(5) Opposition to the formation of Military Companies, composed of Foreigners.

(6) The advocacy of a sound, healthy and safe Nationality.

(7) Hostility to all Papal influences, when brought to bear against the Republic.

(8) American Constitutions & American sentiments.

(9) More stringent & effective Emigration Laws.

(10) The amplest protection to Protestant Interests.

(11) The doctrines of the revered Washington.

(12) The sending back of all foreign paupers.

(13) Formation of societies to protect American interests.

(14) Eternal enmity to all those who attempt to carry out the principles of a foreign Church or State.

(15) Our Country, our whole Country, and nothing but our Country.

(16) Finally,-American Laws, and American Legislation, and Death to all foreign influences, whether in high places or low

In addition to their violent acts, the use of the courts and political intimidation the Know Nothings waged a culture war against immigrants. Latin mottoes on courthouses were replaced by English translations. Actions were taken to remove immigrants who had become naturalized citizens from public offices and civil service jobs as well as to use the government to persecute Catholic churches. In Philadelphia, all naturalized citizens on the police force were fired, including non-Catholics who has supported Catholic politicians, and in Boston, a special board was set up to investigate the sex lives of nuns and other supposed crimes of the Catholic church.

In the political upheaval of the 1850s Nativists tried to find homes in the different political parties. Some Know Nothings who were abolitionists became part of the new Republican Party, and Abraham Lincoln condemned them in harsh terms. He wrote his friend Joshua Speed about the hypocrisy that they displayed by supposedly being against the oppression of blacks while willing to oppress immigrants:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”

As an organized movement, the Know Nothings died out by the early 1860s, migrating to different parties and causes. In the North many became part of the pro-slavery Copperhead movement, which opposed Lincoln on emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment. In the post-war South the anti-Catholic parts of the Nativist movement found a home in the Ku Klux Klan and other white terrorist organizations which also used racist and nativist propaganda to perpetuate violence, and disenfranchise emancipated blacks in the decades following the end of the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction. The Nativist and anti-immigrant sentiments have periodically found a home in different parts of the country and the electorate. Violence was used against Chinese, Japanese and Filipino immigrants on the West Coast, against Mexicans in the Southwest, Italians, Slavs, Eastern Europeans and Jews in the Northeast.

Sadly it seems that it is being turned against others today. I find it strange that there are a host of people, mostly on the political right that are doing their best in their local communities, state legislatures and even Congress to roll back civil liberties for various groups of people. There is a certain amount of xenophobia in regard to immigrants of all types, especially those with darker skin white Americans, but some of the worst is reserved for Arabs and other Middle-Easterners, even Arab Christians who are presumed as all Middle Easterners are to be Moslem terrorists, even those who have been here decades and hold respectable places in their communities.

But immigrants are not alone, there seems to be in some states a systematized attempt to disenfranchise the one group of people that has almost always borne the brunt of legal and illegal discrimination, African Americans.

Likewise there have been numerous attempts to roll back the rights of women, especially working women; the use of the legislature by religious conservatives to place limits on the reproductive rights of women, holding them to the standard of a religion that they do not practice. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling for Marriage Equality in Obergfell v. Hodges there still are numerous attempts to curb any civil rights, including the right to marriage or civil unions of the LGBT community.

As I said, this is nothing new, that hatred and intolerance of some toward anyone who is different than them, who they deem to be a threat is easily exploited by politicians, pundits and preachers, none of whom care for anything but their prosperity, ideology, religion, or cause. While I would not call them a new incarnation of the Know Nothings, I have to notice the similarities in their message and the way that they push their agenda. As for those among them who claim the mantle of Christ and call themselves Christians I am troubled, because I know that when religion is entwined with political movements that are based in repressing or oppressing others that it does not end well. As Brian Cox who played Herman Goering in the television miniseries Nuremberg told the American Army psychologist Captain Gustave Gilbert played by Matt Craven “The segregation laws in your country and the anti-Semitic laws in mine, are they not just a difference of degree?

That difference of degree does matter, and there have been and still could be times when the frustration and anger of people, especially religious people can be whipped into a frenzy of violence and government sanctioned oppression by unscrupulous politicians, preachers and pundits. History is replete with examples of how it can happen. When I think of this I am reminded of the close of Spencer Tracy’s remarks in the movie Judgment 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 through the 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.”

Who and what are we?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Burden of Fear & Paranoia

know-nothing_flag

The Flag of the Know Nothing’s of the 1850s

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Captain Jean Luc Picard said in Star Trek the Next Generation, “the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think….”

I am amazed at the amount of fear being sown on the political campaign trail and by so many politicians, pundits, and preachers, the Trinity of Evil who employ fear and falsehoods with great aplomb to drive people into their camp. Sadly, too many people do not see this and respond based on the emotion of fear, and distrust, driven by the paranoia sown by the politicians, preachers, and pundits. I write about history all the time, and a few month’s back I wrote a piece for my Civil War and Gettysburg text that dealt with the Know Nothing Party and movement of the 1840s and 1850s. The story of the Know Nothings provides good lessons for us today, that is why I placed their flag as header for this article, because their whole platform was based on fear and paranoia. For the Know Nothings it was the fear of Irish and German immigrants, especially Catholics; for us it is Arabs, Moslems, Chinese, and Latin Americans, particularly Mexicans.

We live in a time when there are legitimate threats, and real things to fear, but the politicians, pundits and preachers take things that are reasonable to be concerned about, and then find some external or internal enemy to blame them on. As Captain Picard so well noted, the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think, and if we go down that road, we will destroy ourselves and our civil liberties. The Roman philosopher Cicero expressed this so well when he wrote, “No power on earth, if it labors beneath the burden of fear, can possibly be strong enough to survive.”

I am reminded of the speech made by the character played by Burt Lancaster in the great movie Judgement at Nuremberg. It is really amazing and speaks to the condition that we are finding ourselves in today.

http://movieclips.com/FkTn-judgment-at-nuremberg-movie-dr-janning-explains-his-actions/

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

We must guard ourselves from the rampant fear and paranoia promoted by the politicians, pundits, and preachers who rant throughout the twenty-four hour news cycle if we are to maintain our civil liberties and freedoms. This is why I write, because we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the age old trap that is being set for us by the politicians, pundits, and preachers who make their living by exploiting people’s fears and sowing distrust which becomes a poison, which left untreated leads of vast and heinous crimes.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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