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The Tree of Life Continues to Weep: thoughts a Year After Anti-Semitic Killing in Pittsburgh

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I repost this article with a heavy heart. It has been just over a year since the White Nationalist massacre of Jewish worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. The saddest part is that seems to be forgotten by most Americans, even as anti-Semitic incidents and violence continue to rise in the United States and Europe.

In his book Auschwitz: A New History, Laurence Rees noted something that is important about how human beings act in crisis. After interviewing many of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders who were at Auschwitz and other parts of the Nazi death machine he wrote this:

“…human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.”

Just over a year ago, on the Shabbat, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was attacked by Rob Bowers, an open and unashamed White Supremacist determined to kill as many Jews as he could. Armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle and two or three semi-automatic pistols he entered the synagogue and opened fire screaming “All Jews must die!”

This is not an isolated incident, although it appears with eleven people killed, the worst single attack on American Jews in our history. While the United States is probably the least anti-Semitic country in the Jewish diaspora, there has always been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the United States. Historically this has been mostly relegated to White Supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the America First movement of the 1930s, and other White Nationalist, or Neo-Nazi groups. The Right Wing, White Nationalist anti-Semitism almost always flows from the deep well of racism. In the various expressions of this ideology, Jews are not White, they are Middle Eastern, and thus foreign. Likewise, to the Right Wing the Jews are conflated with Communism and thus in league with America’s Cold War enemies.

Likewise, there are people on the fringes of the American Left who espouse anti-Semitic beliefs, often in reaction to the policies and actions of Israel. Regardless of where it comes from, anti-Semitic threats, actions, and violence are an expression of evil, just as much as are other forms of racism.

The historical background is important. Recognizing it enables us to put the dramatic rise in documented anti-Semitic attacks or incidents over the past three years https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/2017-audit-of-anti-semitic-incidents in their appropriate context.

The fact is that the rise is significant and coupled with the more open and in your face actions of leading White Supremacists, and their political connections within the Republican Party, and among highly placed officials and advisers to President Trump. GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa frequently makes common cause with White Nationalists, and he is not alone. When in the President claimed that there “were fine people on both sides” in response to the violence precipitated by White Nationalist, KKK, and neo-Nazis which claimed the lives of a counter protester in Charlottesville, it was a tacit blessing of their movement, and despite the later attempts of the President to walk back the remarks, the damage was done.

Now the terrorist attack was committed by a man who embraced the apocalyptic fear mongering of the President regarding Central American immigrants, did not vote for or approve of the President. Bowers does not believe that the President is a Nationalist and believes that White Supremacists that support him are being foolish.

Bowers, who has posted that “the Jews are the children of Satan…” was particularly incensed by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The HIAS was founded in 1881 to help the Jewish victims of Russian pogroms find safety. They are the oldest such agency in the United States and now support refugees of every race, color, and creed. Bowers was most angered by its support for Central American refugees. In his rage at refugees Bowers is similar to many of the President’s supporters, except that the rage is directed at Jews who support refugees. He could have targeted any number of Christian or secular organizations that support refugees but he targeted Jews. Over the past few months he has made online threats to HIAS for its sponsorship of a National Refugee Shabbat in which participating congregations dedicated a worship service to the plight of refugees. Just before the attack Bowers posted:

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,”

Bowers’s rational for killing Jews is very much like the German Nazis in regard to German and European Jews. They believed that they were the victims of the Jews, that the Jews were trying to destroy their race, and since they believed that the Jews were a sub-human infestation, had to be exterminated. Just three days ago Bowers posted:

“Daily Reminder: Diversity means chasing down the last white person.”

Bowers was a frequent poster on the Gab social media site which has become a haven for men like him, as an alternative to Twitter or Facebook, however, anti-Semitic posts on Twitter have risen at an alarming rate. About 40% of the anti-Semitic posts on Twitter include the #MAGA and #KAG hashtags of Trump supporters.

Bowers’s violent act was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of violent racism and racist political extremism. It took place at the end of a week of race and political based violence. First, a rabid Trump supporter, conspiracy theory follower, and anti-Semite was arrested for mailing 13 bombs to political figures, former government officials, and media figures. All of the people targeted had been openly attacked by the President on Twitter or in various speeches. One of his former employers noted that the man said that he wished “to go back to the Hitler days” and that if it was in his power he would “eradicate the Jews” along with lesbians, black people and Hispanic people.

Then there was the was the incident in Louisville, Kentucky where a White man attempted to attack a predominantly Black church, and failing that went to a Kroger supermarket and shot two Black customers in the back, killing them. When confronted by an armed civilian in the parking lot the man said “whites don’t kill whites.” There was no other motive for the killing except the man’s expressed White Supremacism and racism.

These domestic terrorists are all individually responsible for the crimes that they committed and the lives that they have snuffed our. That being said, how they got to the place in their minds where such actions are justified is not hard to explain. They are very similar to others throughout history who have embraced race hatred, including anti-Semitism as a way of life. But, without a belief that violent acts are permissible due to the existential threats promoted by the President, his GOP political allies, the hosts of Right Wing pundits who have poisoned the airwaves and internet for three decades, and the political preachers who justify race and religious based Nationalism, the perpetrators would likely never act.

Just before the attack, President Trump publicly described himself as a Nationalist for the first time. In 2016 Timothy Snyder wrote of President Trump and the contrast between a Nationalist and a Patriot:

“The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.

The President has stoked the flames or racism, nationalism, and even anti-Semitism sine the day he announced his candidacy. The GOP establishment, even those men and women who before Trump’s nomination opposed and condemned all that he stood for have embraced him, very much as the German conservatives did with Hitler between 1932 and 1936, only much faster.

It is not that Trump is Hitler, at best he is a sorry pretender, not that he isn’t dangerous in his own right. Rather, it is the fact that his former GOP opponents have sold their souls for some kind of political or economic gain to him despite their obvious contempt for him and all that he stood. It is that the reality that the de facto state run media of Fox News sets his agenda on a daily basis. It is the fact that the scions of Evangelicalism who would never have supported a man like him have not only embraced Trump, but have invented supposedly Biblical reasons to support him. It is the fact that millions of people now embrace conspiracy theories because Trump repeats and amplifies them. It is the fact that this maelstrom of madness has opened the floodgates to the violence we have seen over the past week and it was not unbelievable or unsurprising. It was all too predictable. I have been saying so for years.

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.”We have to understand why or this not be the end. It will continue and it will get worse, regardless of what happens in the mid-term elections unless people stop being bystanders and confront the evil that is before us. The President will not, and neither will the compliant GOP majorities in Congress.

The fact that these men have been emboldened to use race based terrorism and murder, to openly espouse and act on anti-Semitism, and other forms of racism as was the case in Louisville and there is no push back in the Right Wing media while much of the mainstream media continues to give the enablers of such violent people equal time by inviting them to panel discussions where the truth is allowed to be obfuscated in the name of fairness and equal time.

So it will happen again and again. No amount of security can stop it. Unlike the terrorist who attacked on September 11th 2001, these terrorists are born and bred Americans. Two of the three would have attracted any attention, and the one who did was so over the top and open about his beliefs that he was considered to be a loon. They all had a choice as how to behave, and like the murderers of Auschwitz they allowed their situation to determine their choices.

Be assured, these acts will continue to happen. Anti-Semitism didn’t die in the Bunker with Hitler. It has found a comfortable home in the United States and what happened this week at the Tree of Life Synagogue shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, and ethics can collapse.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Continuing my Reading and Writing Rainbow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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War Crimes and War Criminals: Criminal Orders and Cooperation Equals Genocide


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about War crimes, war criminals, and bringing them to justice while pointing out that some commanders, even in criminal nations have opposed and disobeyed such orders.

What caused me to revisit the subject was watching the biographical documentary of Benjamin Ferencz, the last remaining prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials. Ferencz prosecuted the Einsatzgruppen Trial. The Einsatzgruppen were four units composed of SS, SD, Waffen SS, and Order Police personnel, with a combined strength of about 3,000 personnel, commanded by SS, or SD Colonels or Generals. They had the mission of exterminating Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet Communist Party officials, or Red Army Commissars. They received additional support from Order Police Battalions, Wehrmacht Security Divisions, government and party officials in charge of the occupied territories, and from the Wehrmacht Army Group, Army, Army Corps, and Division Commanders in their areas of operations. The Einsatzgruppen murdered nearly a million and a half people up close and personal with pistols, rifles, and machine guns at close range over mass graves. They also pioneered the use of gas vans. Many of their actions took place before the decision to implement the Final Solution. Without the cooperation of of the Wehrmacht, Government occupation authorities, and the Order Police they could not have murdered so many people.

Contrary to the myth of a clean Wehrmacht, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens. I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. 

There was a common myth after the Second World War that the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, fought an honorable and clean war while the criminal actions of war crimes and genocide were the fault of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the SS. It was a comforting myth because it allowed a great number of men who agreed with Hitler’s policies, and often assisted in them to maintain a fiction of honor and respectability. While for the most part the German Army in the West fought according to international norms of conduct, it was a different matter on the Easter Front, where following Hitler’s lead the Wehrmacht from its senior officers in down was often at the tip of the spear in enforcing Hitler’s racial and ideological war. 


                                            Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

This came form the top. In addition to the Commissar order, also known as the Criminal Order, Field Marshal Keitel offered this directive to units fighting on the Easter Front:

“In view of the vast size of the conquered territories in the East, the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if instead of punishing resistance by sentencing the guilty in a court of law, the occupying forces spread such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush every will to resist amongst the population.

The commanders concerned, together with all available troops, should be made responsible for maintaining peace within their areas. The commanders must find the means of keeping order within their areas, not by demanding more security forces, but by applying suitable drastic measures.”

                                           Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Commanders in the East used Keitel’s order as carte blanche authority to be even more severe than Keitel’s order specified. Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. 

“The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. … In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. … For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” 

Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein

An order was issued by General Erich Von Manstein to his Eleventh Army in November 1941 which stated in part:

“Jewry constitutes the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remainder of the Red Armed Forces which is still fighting, and the Red leadership. More strongly than in Europe it holds all the key positions in the political leadership and administration, controls commerce and trades, and further forms the nucleus for all unrest and possible uprisings.

The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all. Never again must it encroach upon our European living space.

The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties’ which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people…

The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. Nevertheless nothing which the homeland has sacrificed itself to contribute may, out of a misguided sense of humanity, be given to prisoners or to the population unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht.

The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevist terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews…

Manstein claimed that he did not remember the order at his trial and that he sought to ensure that his troops did not engage in conduct not fitting of the honor of soldiers. He included the following in the order: “Severest action to be taken: against despotism and self-seeking; against lawlessness and lack of discipline; against every transgression of the honor of a soldier.”

In his defense at Nuremberg Manstien attempted to mitigate the damning words of the order. He explained that “I do want to point out to you that if it says here that the system must be exterminated, then that is extermination of the Bolshevik system, but not the extermination of human beings.” Despite Manstein’s clarification of what he meant in the order it would be hard for soldiers and commanders receiving the order as written could hardly have been expect not to interpret it literally. Likewise his order mentions the intentional starvation of Soviet citizens and harsh invectives against the Jews. 

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten by historians and military men who admired his strategic, operational, and tactical acumen.


There are many other examples of German Army commanders at various levels issuing orders similar to Von Reichenau and Von Manstein as well as accounts of Wehrmacht units cooperating with the Einsatzgruppen in various mass extermination actions against the Jews, including the action at Babi Yar. In many cases the cooperation was quite close as evidenced by the report of the commander of Einsatzgruppe C to Berlin on November 3rd 1941:

In a great number of cases, it happened that the support of the Einsatzkommandos was requested by the fighting troops. Advance detachments of the Einsatzgruppe also participated in every large military action. They entered newly captured localities side by side with the fighting troops. Thus, in all cases, the utmost support was given. For example, in this connection, it is worth mentioning the participation in the capture of Zhitomir, where the first tanks entering the city were immediately followed by three cars of Einsatzkommando 4a.

As a result of the successful work of the Einsatzgruppe, the Security Police is also held in high regard, in particular by the HQ of the German Army. The liaison officers stationed in Army HQ are loyally briefed of all military operations, and, besides, they receive the utmost cooperation. The Commander of the 6th Army, Generalfeldmarschall von Richenau, has repeatedly praised the work of the Einsatzkommandos and, accordingly, supported the interests of the SD with his staff.

It is true that in some cases individual Wehrmacht officers refused to cooperate with the Einsatzgruppen in their operational areas, but without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht the extermination campaigns against the Jews and other Soviet citizens could not have been successful. 

                                                          The Rape of Nanking 

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I do believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era. The disturbing thing as that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. 

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human.Once human beings decide that other human beings are less than human, then all bets are off, and that includes Americans. Over our history we have shown a taste for barbarity when we believe our opponents are less than human.

There is a scene in the movie Nuremberg in which an American psychologist named Gustave Gilbert questions the commandant of Auschwitz. When he asks the commandant if he felt guilty for the extermination of the Jews in his camp the commandant said “does a rat catcher feel guilty for killing rats.” Thereafter Gilbert confronts Herman Goering pointedly asking the number two Nazi “A rat catcher catching rats”. Is that the kind of thinking it takes to carry out state sanctioned mass murder? Not just blind obedience but also a belief that your victims are not human?” 

Goering replies: Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your medical experiment? Would Americans have dropped bombs as easily on Germany as it did upon Japan killing as many civilians as possible? I think not. To an American sensibility, a Caucasian child is considerably more human than a Japanese child…

What about the negro officers in your own army? Are they not allowed to command troops in combat? Can they sit on the same buses as the whites? The segregation laws in your country and the anti Semitic laws in mine, are they not a difference of degree? 

The tragic thing is that while Gilbert was certainly correct in his question to Goering, Goering was also right. For all that is good about America there is a persistent strain of this kind of thinking which deems other people, especially non-white people as inferior racially, culturally, and intellectually. Over the decades we like to think that we have become better but the underlying attitudes are still present today, sometimes in plain view, but often just under our veneer of civility and good manners, but what maintains that civility is quite fragile. In his history of Auschwitz British historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism, as well as Catholic Germany. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

 “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

When I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College I challenged my students to deal with these kinds of questions. They are not easy and they require that we look into the darkest reaches of our hearts to see what we will do when we are confronted with choices to obey orders that go against the values of the institution but may reflect the more troubling aspects of our culture. Some of these men and women I am sure understood and will not break under pressure, but I am not so sure about others, and I worry about them in the crisis. The fact is we are only as good as we are in the crisis. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not discount when asking the question about how ordinary men become war criminals:

“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.”

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, laws and legislation, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, world war two in europe

“To Be Ignorant of What Occurred Before…” The Willful Ignorance Of History

Statue-of-Cicero-Stock-Photo-rome

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been writing a lot about the Holocaust of late and as I was working on my latest book I came across a quote by British Historian Laurence Rees from his book “Auschwitz, a New History:

“Soon the last survivor and the last perpetrator from Auschwitz will have joined those murdered at the camp. There will be no one on this earth left alive who has a personal experience of the place. When that happens, there is a terrible danger that this history will merge into the distant past and just become one terrible event among many…. But that should not be allowed to happen.

We must judge behavior by the context of the times, and judged by the context of mid-twentieth century, sophisticated European culture, Auschwitz and the Nazis’ “Final Solution” represent the lowest act in all history. Through their crime, the Nazis brought into the world an awareness of what educated, technologically advanced human beings can do – as long as they possess a cold heart. Once allowed into the world, knowledge of what they did must not be unlearned. It lies there – ugly, inert, waiting to be discovered by each new generation. A warning for us, and for those who will come after. (Rees, Auschwitz p.299)

I have been reading about the declining number of students studying history, and the relative ignorance of Americans as a whole as to history, including the gross and willful ignorance of it by the President. As a historian that frightens me.

The great Roman philosopher and political theorist Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote, “History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquities.”

Those who follow my writings here on this site know that I am a historian and that much of what I write, even regarding current events, is framed by history and the stories of those who came before us. That is one of my driving passions, a passion for historical truth, and a passion to ensure that the past is not forgotten.

Cicero is an important figure in history. He resisted the moves toward the dictatorship of the Caesars and would die for his belief in the Republic. As such he inspired the founders of the United States, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Adams wrote of the Roman:

“As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight.”

Sadly, it seems that our society, and even our education system is disconnecting itself from history. We have pretty much stopped teaching history in schools, and often what is taught is myth. As such we have become a society that through its ignorance of the past is ever repeating the worst aspects of our history. As a whole we are ignorant of our past, and that ignorance is demonstrated by many of our political, business, journalism, educational, and military leaders on a daily basis.

Cicero wrote “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

Our lives must be woven together with those who came before us, without that sacred connection to the past, we endanger the future, and doom those who follow us. Cicero wrote, “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” Thus, it is for us the living to remember and never forget those who have gone before. That is why I write.

At some point I will write more on things that Cicero wrote and said, including political and social lessons that are as relevant today as when he wrote them, but as historian George Santayana noted: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I fear that the President and his sycophants in the GOP and his Cult like followers in their ignorance of history and willful disregard for the Constitution and our institutions will end in the kind of political disaster that brought an end to the Roman Republic.

These are perilous times and I am afraid that the lessons of Cicero, Santayana, and Rees have not been learned.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

A Meditation On Resistance For Today From General Henning Von Tresckow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that resistance seems almost hopeless. I was talking with one of my friends who is very discouraged about the situation. He is an idealist. I spent much of the evening trying to buck him up.

British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

One of the problems is that throughout history, resisters frequently fail to unify in the face of their primary adversary and instead look for the faults among their own potential leaders. That my friends is the way to failure. So tonight, or as it is early this morning I will leave you with a few thoughts of one of the key German resistance leaders against Hitler during the Second World War. That man was Major General Henning Von Tresckow, a key member of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Tresckow said a number of things that I will quote in the way he said or wrote them. But for every time Tresckow writes or says Hitler, substitute Trump, and when he says Germany, substitute the United States.

In reality that is now where we find ourselves. We are on the verge of a dictatorship of a man who can barely be called sane. Yet, he has a core Cult, of committed followers who will through their own willful avoidance of the truth would support him even if he overthrew the Constitution, and proclaimed dictatorial powers, and unleashed violence against every domestic opponent. He routinely makes those kinds of threats, to the cheers of his Cult. In one of his speeches from March 14th of this year Trump declared:

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”

That is not a comfortable thought, but it is the new normal, especially among his supposedly Christian supporters, who include some of the most powerful religious leaders in the country.

Tresckow noted:

“I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.”

I feel the same way about Trump, whose most fervent and loyal supporters are conservative or Evangelical Christians. Honestly, when I read their writing, hear the speeches, and listen to their defense of Trump I see little difference in them and the German Christian movement that turned the Churches into a key part Hitler’s political base. Honestly, I cannot understand how any Christian cannot be a furious adversary of the Trump regime. This is not based on politics at all, but the demands of the Gospel itself. As Jesus taught in Matthew 24:24:

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

Trump is an unbeliever in the greatest sense of the word. Though he presents himself as a defender of Christianity; in thought, word, and deed has made himself a cult-like messiah figure to conservative and Evangelical Christians. He has played on their fears, their racism, their misogyny, their homophobia, and their fear of something that they call socialism. Of course the early church was much more or a practitioner ethics that bordered on socialism, though the term was not yet in use, than the post-Nicea imperial church that has been the face of Christianity in most “Christian” countries since Constantine. This Trump Cult is not Christian: it is an anti-Christian, and anti-humanity personality cult.

Unlike the Third Reich, the situation has not reached the point for any resistier to resort to political violence in response to Trump or his Cult. Instead we must speak the truth and seek to win elections, and not build cult like followings of any of our candidates, and destroy any sense of unity. We have to win with ideas and truth. Even so there is a possibility that we could fail, that is a possibility, and that failure would be the certain end of our Republic, its institutions, and its Constitution as we know it.

Tresckow also said:

“It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?”

We have to put an end to the Trump regime at the ballot box, and even that may not cause him give up without a physical fight. His former attorney, Michael Cohen has said exactly that. Trump is destroying the hard work of Americans and our allies to build a better would, and in almost every country, Trump is destroying the image of the United States, like Tresckow said in his time:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Those are import words, but just substitute the name Trump for Hitler. Tresckow was no socialist or liberal, but he believed in freedom. In fact he wrote regarding the Prussian political tradition and how it could be subverted to support evil:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

Truthfully that is a spirit much like the United States that which is engulfing the United States today, soulless routine and narrow minded dogmatism. The tension that exists in the key ideal of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, and the words of Trump and his supporters men who desire to rule by fiat and by extra-Constitutional means, cannot be more marked than it is today.

In the movie adaptation of the plot to kill Hitler Valkyrie: Tresckow is quoted:

“God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men… I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.”

To be sure, Trump is no Hitler, though his words sound more and more Hitlerian every day. I will not call the President a Nazi, though he has give tacit support to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups and frequently engages in racist diatribes. He is certainly acting as any authoritarian leader would, and we have to heed the warning of Russian dissident Gary Kasparov:

“dictators & would be autocrats do not ask “Why?” when it comes to using power for their advantage. They ask “why not?”

To go back to the words of Tresckow in Valkyrie, in noting it may come down to the actions of one man or woman, my friends, that “one” may come down to you or me. We cannot sit silently by as more and more actions that would have been considered as criminal are perpetrated by the President and his followers.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“A Symbol of Renewed White Identity and Common Purpose” What Trump is to White Supremacists and Nationalists

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday in Christchurch New Zealand an Australian White Nationalist not only committed mass murder against Muslims at worship in Christchurch’s two mosques. Before he did so he released a 74 page manifesto on Twitter, and announced it on 8chan, a website devoted to White Supremacism, Racism, and war against Muslims, Jews, dark skinned immigrants, and people on the political left. When he made his attack he announced to his followers that it would be carried live on his Facebook page.

He killed 49 men, women and children in cold blood, and wounded many more, live-streaming the whole event. It was an event made for social media and it became viral before media outlets and YouTube attempted to scrub it from their servers, but be assured, it will keep popping up in other places because White Nationalists will publicize it, and ghoulish people will,watch it and share it. In a way the Eagles nailed it in their song Dirty Laundry:

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
Comes on at five
She can tell you bout the plane crash with a gleam
In her eye
Its interesting when people die-
Give us dirty laundry

New Zealand doesn’t have many Muslims so he killed about one of every 500 living in the country. Since Muslims make up less than one percent of New Zealand’s population this is quite a blow to a small community, in many cases made up of people who fled repressive governments in Southeast Asia. It’s about the same percentage of the population made up by German Jews in 1932, just before Hitler came to power.

The murderer, a 28 year old Australian named Brenton Harrison Tarrant, possibly aided by others is a self-proclaimed White Nationalist who subscribes to the theories of “White Replacement” and “White Genocide” which are quite popular among White Nationalist groups around the world. During the White Nationalist Charlottesville marches, the White Nationalists chanted Jews will not replace us.”

The killer also made it clear that he is a white nationalist. The references to Hitler, Serbians convicted of war crimes for killing unarmed Bosnian Muslims, Anders Breivik, the Swedish killer who murdered 77 people, Dylan Roof, the killer of 9 people at an African American Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, whose Tree Of Life Synagogue experienced such an attack last year noted: “To me it was as though I’m living the movie ‘Groudhog Day’ as a horror film all over again,”

Sadly, the Rabbi is right. These acts be they directed at Muslims, Jews, African Americans, and others won’t be going away. One of the reasons is that many of these cold blooded killers and their followers believe they have a world leader who tacitly gives them his support, even if they don’t agree with all his policies or feel that he is somewhat a fool. It is not whether Trump is an actual White Nationalist at heart, something that I believe that he is; but even if he is not, he now serves as a symbol and rallying point for White Nationalist and Neo-Nazis worldwide: as Tarrant, the New Zealand killer called Trump: A symbol of renewed White Identity and common purpose…”

Another thing that Tarrant said was that he hoped to promote civil war in the United States. This is troubling because quite a few Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists in the United States speak of the same thing.

In his manifesto and his comments during the shooting Tarrant referred to the New Zealand Muslims as “invaders” and shortly thereafter Trump used the same term to describe Central American refugees when he vetoed the bi-partisan Congressional legislation overturning his State Of Emergency. Such language is designed, especially when placed in the context of him referring to the refugees as criminals, murderers, and rapists; intentionally designed to whip up public anger and resentment toward them. It is the same language used by Hitler and the Nazis in referring to Jews. The same is true of various European leaders who refer to use the same language to describe immigrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

As for those who pay little regard to manifestos written by people like Tarrant because they often jump from topic to topic and include a lot of irony and “snark” are mistaken. Such writing and communication styles have been long a part of the Nazi and White Supremacist tradition. One only has to read Mein Kampf, Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer, other Nazi tracts, as well as the speeches of Hitler and other leading Nazis. They are an encouraged method of delivering the Nazi/White Supremacist Message.

We have to fight against and expose the Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists, and if such people take up the message of President Trump in using physical violence against political opponents and the press, they may have to be met with force. To defend themselves, their offices, and their meetings against the Nazi Sturmabteilung or S.A. and Communist Roter Frontkämpferbund in the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, the Social Democrats had to form their own organization of former soldiers called the Reichsbanner. I would hate to see our country devolve into the street battles but if it happens then Democrats and other progressives may have to imitate the Reichsbanner, especially if the police refuse to police the violent right wing, as was often the case in Weimar Germany. Personally, I have more faith in our institutions, but one never knows what happens when democracy fails.

So anyway, the Christchurch Mosque Massacre should serve as a warning about the international spread of racist White Nationalism. When asked if he thought that White Nationalism was a major problem yesterday, President Trump said:

“I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”

But, the President, who in 2017 said that there were “very fine people” among the White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis who cause chaos, carnage, and death in Charlottesville, the words sound hollow and disingenuous, when he demonizes whole groups of people and when he advocates violence in his Tweets and at his rallies.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”

That has to be our attitude. We have to stop it, with or without the support of the President.

Until next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Stuff Of Dictators: More Threats Of Violence From the President

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1989 Donald Trump wrote in a full page advertisement in the New York Daily News “civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins.” He said that in relation to the Central Park Five, five teenagers who were falsely accused and convicted of the rape of a jogger in Central Park. In 2002 after the real assailant confessed and his crime verified by DNA evidence. Despite the reality Mr. Trump has continued to speak to that issue and claim that the five falsely convicted and imprisoned men are guilty.

Mr Trump repeated expressed his anger that they did not receive the death penalty, something that by the way is not part of the law in any state. Since becoming President the Mr Trump has suggested all sorts of extrajudicial and unconstitutional remedies to crime. Today he suggested doing that to gun owners who could be considered potential mass murderers. He told a group of Congressmen and Senators, as well as his own Vice President Mike Pence: “You could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Now personally I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but it still is unconstitutional. Earlier in the week the President proposed the death penalty to all convicted drug dealers. Again, no love for drug dealers but the President doesn’t get to impose sentences, but the President praised the extermination methods that Philippine President Duterte uses not just to kill suspected drug dealers but political opponents and members of the press. Of course the President has long suggested the political opponents should be jailed and the Press is an “an enemy of the people.” 

As I have written over the past few days in discussing the Reichstag Fire I am very concerned that as the walls close in on the Trump Presidency, that as the Muller investigation implicates more and more of his advisors and quite possibly family members, that as members of his administration like Hope Hicks admit that they lied for him, that the danger to our Republic only rises. I am afraid that there will be a Reichstag Fire moment that will allow the President to through already existing Executive orders and laws to scrap constitutional liberties and establish an authoritarian state. It’s not so much that he has to be popular to do so, the fact is that under threat of attack that most Americans will surrender liberty for the illusion of security. That was demonstrated in 2002 when the Patriot Act, an act so revoltingly un-American and totalitarian in its implications was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress with hardly any resistance.

Today the President again made violent threats against his political opponents. He said:

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”

That is what concerns me. For a President claim that the Army and Police are his personal protection force, for him to equate them to motorcycle gangs, for him to say that Nazis are fine people is extraordinarily evil and in complete defiance of the oath that he swore when he became President. In the past he has said similar things and during his campaign offered to pay the legal fees of anyone charged with attacking his opponents at his rallies.

Should a war break out, should there be a major terrorist attack, or anything that severely disrupts the country the mechanisms are in place for the President to declare the situation extraordinary and to take power. The thing is that no President has acted in such a way, but President Trump has repeatedly suggested violating the Constitution and praised foreign leaders like Dutarte, Putin, and Erdogan, men who all use such circumstances and laws to their advantage.

Timothy Snyder wrote:

“For tyrants, the lesson of the Reichstag fire is that one moment of shock enables an eternity of submission. For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions. Courage does not mean not fearing, or not grieving. It does mean recognizing and resisting terror management right away, from the moment of the attack, precisely when it seems most difficult to do so. After the Reichstag fire, Hannah Arendt wrote that “I was no longer of the opinion that one can simply be a bystander.”

Of course Mr Trump has a hard core of loyal supporters who in his words would remain loyal to him “even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Some are actually quite frightening, but in truth I am more frightened by the vast number of people in this country of every part of the political spectrum cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction or true and false, people how simply go along with the flow, especially in times of crisis.  Hannah Arendt, who saw the Nazi takeover of Germany in the beginning wrote:

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

In a world such as the one that we live today it is those who simply go with the flow or are easily persuaded into accepting what in normal times they would not accept because the times are exceptional, or in a crisis believe what they are told and regardless of what happens to fellow citizens or neighbors turn their backs on injustice. Most are totally ordinary and unremarkable and are no different than so many others who committed terrible crimes against humanity and too part in genocide.

British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

When people feel that a crisis makes a situation exceptional to the point that normal codes of conduct, social mores, laws, and ethics are Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men:

“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.” 

My question is: when the crisis finally comes, what will Americans do?

I want to be hopeful. I am not a fatalist. I believe that we can all given the opportunity rise to greatness and defend our Constitution, civil liberties, and embody the principles of the Declaration of Independence. It has happened before. But that being said human history, especially the history of the past century shows us that more often than not that most people do not rise to the occasion. 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.”

In our time that is the most important consideration. With the complete Trumpification of the Republican Party that day is today. he has for all intents and purposes given political cover for his supporters to commit violence on his behalf. The peril is mounting.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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