Tag Archives: ludwig beck

Presidents are Neither Above the Law or Criticism: Wisdom from Theodore Roosevelt and Stephen A. Douglas

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find it both interesting and troubling to listen to many supporters of President Trump castigate anyone for any criticism offered about the President, sometimes going as far to say that critics are being “unfair,” “disrespectful,”or most disturbing, “disloyal” or “treasonous.” Even the President tweets out those kind of accusations on a whim.

Admittedly some forms of criticism cross boundaries and are personally insulting and disrespectful of the President. In my writings I try, even when being very critical of his policies, words, or actions, to refrain from personal insults that could be considered disrespectful to the President because I am still on active duty.  As my readers know I am a historian as well as an theologian/ethicist and when I do write about the actions of the President and his administration I do so based on careful study and comparison with historical, ethical, or legal precedents. My views are likewise informed by my education and and belief in the principles of the Enlightenment, my belief in human rights as set out in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the French Rights of Man and the Citizen, as well as my understanding of the Anglican Christian tradition of “Scripture, Tradition, and Reason” being the foundations of faith.

But it is not disloyal or treasonous to offer criticism of policies, legislative proposals, executive orders, or actions and words of the President or his advisers that could endanger the security of the United States, its citizens, and its alliances, or potentially be unlawful.

Even so I am occasionally criticized for offering historical examples that compare the President and his most ardent supporters in an unfair way, some even calling those disrespectful. I find their double standards and lack of appreciation of irony quite fascinating as most of these people have spent the last eight years or more disparaging and disrespecting President Obama with some of the most racist, vile, contemptible, and false accusations ever made against a sitting President, while at the same time condemning others for simply repeating what the President himself has said.

I found out that a couple of years when I had a couple of students criticize some of my teaching at Gettysburg when comparing the anti-immigrant Know Nothings of the 1830s-1850s to current anti-immigrant Trump supporters, and stated that some Trump Administration Civil Rights proposals to be a throwback to Jim Crow. My words then were not insulting nor disrespectful, but simply valid historical criticism; but some Trump supporters are so thin-skinned that they cannot abide any criticism of the President, despite dishing out incredibly racist and disgusting personal comments about President Obama, which were mostly devoid of any non-racially based political or ideological principles.

Last summer I experienced the threat to my career from one of my chapel parishioners who lied about the contents of a sermon and asked my Commander to have me investigated and tried by Court Martial for simply criticizing the actions of the administration on the southern border using Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and History. I did not mention the President but I was accused of comparing him to Hitler and my critic, who never spoke to me and who I still would not recognize wanted me charged with Conduct unbecoming of an officer and disrespect to the President of the United States. About a quarter of the congregation was questioned and I was exonerated, but I have learned the hard way that the President’s supporters will go to any length to silence anything the believe critical,of him.

Unlike President Obama the current President is ensnared in numerous legal, criminal, and Constitutionally backed investigations which range from simply enriching himself as a public official (the emoluments clause) and his family, or more seriously collusion with not only Russian, but Saudi, and other nations to influence his election. The Senate committee investigating the Russian connection said that this actually happened and backed up the evidence submitted by U.S. law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies concerning this. The Saudi and other Sunni Arab connections were just brought to public light about a year ago. Lord knows how many other governments were involved with Donald Trump Jr., and others to seek to influence the 2016 elections and U.S. foreign policy since then.

Theodore Roosevelt had to defend himself in 1918 from such criticism from the supporters of President Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt was criticizing the Wilson administration because of how badly he thought they were pursuing the war effort against Germany. For this people were castigating him. People said that newspapers should not print what Roosevelt had to say as well as “He should stand by the President” and “He should be stood before a stone wall and shot.” Roosevelt ended up writing an op-ed in the Kansas City Star in which he noted:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”

Senator Stephen A. Douglas

This is exactly how I base any criticism I offer of the President, his policies, words, and actions. I heartily agree with the words of Senator Stephen A. Douglas when he battled President James Buchanan over the pro-slavery attempt to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a Slave State in 1858. Douglas said of his encounter with Buchanan:

“God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!” 

Sadly, there are very few GOP Senators who would have the moral courage to do what Stephen Douglas did in 1858. He did so even though it doomed his chances to be President.

I admire Stephan Douglas but there is a difference. Now there is a difference, I am not a Senator or elected Representative, I am an officer and must carry out the orders of the President. However, if I ever come to believe that I cannot in good conscience carry them out, or if I believe that they are un-Constitutional I will retire from the military in order to allow myself the freedom to speak out more openly. To ‘this point in time I have not to have been forced to Carr out any illegal or unconstitutional orders, and as a Chaplain I have been able to speak my thoughts openly, though I am careful in how I say them at least in order to maintain my respect for the office of the President.

General Ludwig Beck

One of my examples is the German General Ludwig Beck, who resigned as head of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s aggression and his plan to attack Czechoslovakia. He wrote something that I hold particularly important in my service at this point in history:

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

Unlike the current President who sought numerous deferments from entering the military in a time of war: Stephen Douglas put his political career on the line to follow the Constitution, Theodore Roosevelt resigned from his office as Assistant Secretary of the Navy Since to go to war and place himself in harms way, Ludwig Beck would die in the failed attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944. All three men were far more honorable than President Trump, and their words should be heeded by Americans regardless of their political affiliation.

Over the past few weeks the President and his media cohorts have been suggesting unconstitutional and illegal actions against his critics Following the end of the Mueller investigation. His administration members are refusing Congressional subpoenas, and he is hiding behind executive privilege. In a different era his own party members in Congress would hold him to account, but these are different times. The actions of the President and his administration members, supported by the GOP majority in the Senate will likely bring about a Constitutional Crisis that will test the very foundations of the Republic, at the same time he is sending significant military assets to confront an undisclosed threat from Iran, while increasing sanctions on that country, while readying economic tariffs on China. I could go on, but I won’t.

Theodore Roosevelt was absolutely correct. Presidents are not beyond criticism, rebuke, or the law. Any real patriot understands that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

Life Unworthy Of Life: The Rational of the Trump Budget

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In a previous era a government through its laws, decrees, and policies deemed certain people to be “life unworthy of life.” That government was the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. The life that was unworthy of life included the physically and mentally handicapped or disabled, those with Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Polio, and people with other neurological conditions. Likewise the mentally ill, those suffering clinical depression, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses were considered to be life unworthy of life. Even the deaf were included, and veterans suffering from what we would now call PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury. Also included were people labeled as “asocial” a very loose definition that could include almost any metal disorder or criminal act.

Tens of thousands were liquidated at the T-4 Euthanasia centers, most located in hospitals or sanitariums. Mostly gassed with carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust of trucks or Diesel engines, their remains were cremated. Others, especially children were either starved to death or given a lethal injection while they slept. The next of kin of each victim was sent a standard form letter telling them that their relative had died of influenza, typhus, or some other disease. They were given the option of paying for an urn that may or may not have contained the ashes of their loved ones for inurnment near their home town. If they could not afford it the ashes were disposed of in the cemetery where they were killed.

Despite the Nazis attempts to disguise their crime they could not be hidden, and after over 70,000 Germans were Euthanized the official T-4 Euthanasia program was ended in German. The gas chambers and cremation ovens and facilities were disassembled and sent east to Poland, where they and their experienced technicians became key components of the Holocaust of the Jews.

But the Euthanasia program didn’t stop, it simply moved eastward as the SS Einsatzgruppen killed the patients at every mental hospital, sanitarium, old folks home, or orphanage they came across. Inside Germany at the four T4 centers over 80,000 were gassed. At Hartheim in Austria a Party was held on the gassing of the 10,000th victim. Richard Evans wrote:

“At Hartheim the staff held a party to celebrate their ten-thousandth cremation, assembling in the crematorium around the naked body of a recently gassed victim, which was laid out on a stretcher and covered with flowers. One staff member dressed as a clergyman and performed a short ceremony, then beer was distributed to all present. Eventually no fewer than 20,000 were gassed at Hartheim, the same at Sonnenstein, 20,000 at Brandenburg and Bernburg, and another 20,000 at Grafeneck and Hadamar, making a total of 80,000 altogether.”

The tolls in Poland, the Baltic States, and the Soviet Union were much higher, but outside of the T4 program which “officially” ended in 1941.

Now in the United States the laws guaranteeing health care to people are being challenged, the Secretary of Education has removed funding from the Department’s funding request for the Special Olympics, programs for the physically and mentally disabled under the SSI are being cut to the bone, and even care for disabled veterans is being threatened as not being economical because none of them are economically valuable to an administration for which profit is the bottom line, and supposedly pro-life Christians have no problems in cutting such programs because many have bought into the materialistic Prosperity Gospel, whose fawning preachers have anointed President Trump if he were King Cyrus. Criticism of the President cannot be tolerated, and the sick, weak, weak, infirm, or mentally ill, who are not productive have no place in society. Inside the womb they are a political issue, outside the womb they might as well be dead if you listen to Trump’s clique of Reichsbishofs those who cannot produce for the economy should not eat, get medical care, or live. They are life unworthy of life.

You see, in the authoritarian world where an uninhibited and unhinged executive backed by profit minded billionaires, and equally greedy preachers, such lives; the old and infirm, the disabled, the mentally ill, the young but physically disabled, those with neurological issues, and birth defects stand in the way of profit, stand in the way of a “perfect” society. Such people may not advocate euthanasia per say, gas chambers, or firing squads, but starving them, depriving them of medical care, turning them out of care facilities knowing that their families lack the capability of caring for them, and if they have any capacity for work, work them until they die, so long as they Confess Christ before they die.

How do we know that life does not matter to them? One way is to note the many times that pharmaceutical corporations have increased the costs of previously inexpensive yet vital life saving medicines by thousands of dollars a dose all for profit with little to no pushback from the White House, or the FDA, much less the Senate GOP majority, or the Evangelical supporters of Trump.

Please understand, this dystopian future need not happen if people of any faith, or no faith at all make a stand against a twisted idea of dictatorship backed up by billionaires and corporate entities that suck billions of dollars from the taxpayer and pay almost nothing themselves. Of course they couldn’t do it on their own in not supported by a de facto State Media, and a cult like legion of followers who would follow Trump even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue. His words, not mine.

As I turn 59 today, this does bother me enough to speak out. As a senior military officer facing the end of his career and retirement amid multiple physical and emotional issues, it does matter. I keep two things in mind today. First is that of my own responsibility. In that I am reminded of the words of German General Ludwig Beck who wrote:

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

And his compatriot, Major General Henning Von Tresckow stated: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Historian Timothy Snyder reminds of a certain truth, which should we forget, as I imagine a large number of Trump supporters have:

“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.”

Those all are hard truths to comprehend. As Americans we always presume that we are the good guys, when in fact many times we have acted in means contrary to the ideals of the Declaration as well as the Constitution, and other laws enacted by Congress. But our republic and its institutions are both resilient and fragile. History has proven this, we have even survived a civil war, but we may not survive an increasingly vindictive and unstable President, his compliant majority in the Senate, and the 35-40% of voters who are in effect no longer Republicans, but the Trump Cult which is largely buttressed by Conservative Evangelical Churches, and inspired by a President who uses force, legal, and extralegal alike to secure his rule.

We live in extraordinary times which call for extraordinary strength if our Republic is to continue in any form that resembles the intentions of the founders and their liberal enlightenment beliefs.

If we do not want to see the return of a full fledged government and industrial sponsored campaign to eradicate life unworthy of life, we have to fight. It is a fight that we did not chose, but if the Republic is to survive without becoming a criminal dictatorship we must speak up.

As Yehuda Bauer said: “Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

The choice is ours.

Until tomorrow, or maybe later tonight,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Waiting for the National Emergency

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am musing about President Trump’s treat to declare a National Emergency if Congress does not bend the knee and surrender it’s Constitutional powers under Article One of the Constitution by not appropriating funding for the construction of his border wall, the one that he promised that Mexico would pay for on many occasions.

Honestly, I have always believed that Trump will declare a National Emergency to consolidate dictatorial powers. However, I did not believe that he would use such a poorly concocted plan to do so. I realize that his contempt for the Constitution, our system of government, the Congress, the Courts and all of our institutions runs deep in him, but if he attempts an end run around Congress by doing this I am positive that the Court challenges will doom it, were emergency powers restricted to finding a way to build his Wall, however, a state of emergency proclamation gives the President nearly dictatorial powers should he or maybe in the future, she decide to use them. Congress needs to reign those powers in, but that won’t happen anytime soon.

Declaring a state of emergency simply to bypass Congress for a pet project will create a Constitutional crisis, and if you can imagine it, throw the country into chaos.

It is not enough that the government shutdown has been going on three weeks. It is not if that the global and the United States economy is not showing signs of weakness.

It is not as if foreign powers, real enemies such as Russia are continuing to attack our institutions at home and interests abroad.

It is not as if authoritarian regimes are taking over power in former democracies, with President Trump’s full approval.

Likewise, it’s not as if that the administration is not in chaos, that the resignation of the last remaining adults in the room, and the indictments, or coming indictments of Trump allies by the investigation of Robert Muller, and the coming hearings in the House Of Representatives will not cut the President’s feet out from under him.

He will be fully revealed for what he is and always has been, and what his most faithful supporters have excused and ignored.

The President is habitual liar, a narcissistic sociopath with delusions of Godhood, and a two bit owner of a family business who has destroyed every business he has led, bamboozled and defrauded and every investor or contractor who put their faith in him, and betrayed every one of his wives. Though he avoided military service, he has derided and mocked honorable military men, men who fought in combat, put their lives on the line, and even were wounded or taken prisoners. To Trump, men like James Mattis, John McCain, Stanley McChrystal, William McRaven, John Allen, John Kelly, H. R. McMaster, John Kerry, and so many others were failures, and he, who dodged the draft, bragged that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was his personal Vietnam.

So I await his declaration and I hope that the Republicans in the Senate will finally grow a set of testicles and remember that their oath is to the Constitution, not the President. I hope that the courts will stop it, and I hope that military leaders will put their feet down and not obey an unconstitutional and unethical order.

Again, let me reiterate that I have always believed that Trump will try to use a state of emergency, his Reichstag Fire moment, to secure his hands or on power, but I thought he would use a war, a major terrorist attack, financial collapse, or natural disaster to do it. In those kinds of events he would probably have the support of the majority of Americans and Congress, but for this ham fisted attempt to bypass Congress and defy the Constitutional separation of powers should be his undoing if he actually tries it.

Regardless of if he does it or not, it is important for every man and woman who has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic also applies to defending it against a rogue President who defies the Constitution and collides with foreign powers against his own country. Until Trump such was unthinkable, no President, even the most callous or criminal has ever sank to the moral, legal, and ethical depths of this President.

So, I wait to see what happens. As I do I remember and reflect upon the words of German General Ludwig Beck:

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, laws and legislation, leadership, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

Criminal Orders: Trump Suggests that Soldiers Shoot Rock Throwers on the Border

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I heard President Trump say that he had ordered the military said that he has told the military to respond to any rock throwing by members of the migrant caravan as if it was an armed attack. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. I told them to consider it a rifle.” This was after he said that he would deploy 15,000 soldiers to the U.S. Mexican border to repel the non-existent threat of an imaginary invasion.

While I believe that his words are a political stunt to solidify his Christian, White Nationalist base in the final days of the mis-term elections, such an order would be illegal under any circumstances. It would be a criminal order which if followed would make the military members who planned or executed it complicit in crimes against humanity. If the order was transmitted through the Secretary of Defense to the commands involved it would make the Secretary as guilty as Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel who on Hitler’s direction issued what is now known as the Criminal Order or the Barbarossa Decree. In part it stated:

The exercise of martial law serves primarily to maintain military discipline.

The wide extent of operational space in the East, the form of combat that this offers, and the peculiarity of the enemy, present tasks to the courts martial…that, with their limited personnel, they can only solve, if military law restricts itself for the time being to its central task.

That is only possible if the troops themselves defend themselves against every threat from the enemy civilian population without mercy….

I . Treatment of criminal acts by enemy civilians

1. Criminal acts of enemy civilians are withdrawn until further notice from the jurisdiction of courts-martial and summary courts.

2. Guerrillas are to be dispatched without mercy by the troops either in combat or while trying to escape.

3. Furthermore, all other attacks by enemy civilians against the Wehrmacht, its members and retinue are to be repelled on the spot by the most extreme measures up to the destruction of the attacker.

4. Where measures of this kind were missed or were initially not possible, the suspicious elements are to be immediately brought before an officer. He will decide whether they are to be shot.

Collective drastic action will be taken immediately against communities from which treacherous or insidious attacks against the Wehrmacht are launched, on the orders of an officer with at least the rank of battalion commander upwards, if the circumstances do not permit a speedy apprehension of individual culprits.

If Trump’s spoken word is transmitted by the Secretary of Defense to the Commander of U.S. NORTHCOM is would be an illegal order. It would place officers in the position of having to disobey and risk their careers, and depending on the whim of the President maybe their lives, or to obey. I think that most senior officers would refuse to obey such an order. However, I am not so sure about all of our mid-grade and junior officers or NCOs, many of whom fully subscribe to much of Right Wing propaganda being spewed by the President and his submissive servants in Congress, and the unofficial propaganda ministry of Fox News. I am sure that there is a modern day Lieutenant William Calley our there somewhere who would interpret the President’s words as a license to kill.

I do not think that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, or any of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would consent to such an order, but I don’t know if others below them would fight it.

General Ludwig Beck who resigned his position as the commander of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s planned invasion of Czechoslovakia and died in the failed attempt to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime said:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act according to their specialist and political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility for it carrying out an order.”

We are now in uncharted waters. I believe that if Trump actually issues such an order that there will be many resignations of key DOD military leaders and civilian officials, however, that will leave the military in the hands of loyal and compliant followers or opportunistic careerists.

That is a frightening possibility. The only thing now is to see what the senior military leadership does if the President actually issues this order. Will they do what the Republican majority in Congress has done and bowed their knee to Trump, or will they take their oath to the Constitution and the American people seriously. As Beck noted:

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

Historian 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.”

At one time I would have believed that the post-Vietnam military might follow such orders, but I am not so sure right now.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Limit of Soldierly Obedience: Ludwig Beck and a Lesson for Officials in Authoritarian States

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

While we were in Berlin I visited the German Resistance Memorial Center. The museum is located in what was the headquarters of the German Army in World War One, the Weimar Republic, and during the Nazi Era. On July 20th 1944, German Army officers attempted to kill Adolf Hitler, overthrow the Nazi regime, and end the war. Sadly, they failed in their attempt and most of those involved were tried and executed for what their criminal government considered treason.

Of course by the law of their times their act was treasonous, but morally it was all that men and women committed to the rule of law and human rights could do. The officers involved had all sworn a personal oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler as the Führer and Reichskanzler of Germany in 1934. At the time most of the men who swore that oath did not anticipate what would come. Many of the older officers had served in the Imperial Army and sworn an oath to the Kaiser and their dynasties of the lands where they entered service. That changed in 1918 when the Weimar Republic came into existence and military officers as well as civil servants swore an oath to the constitution rather than a person.

A year after Hitler came to power as Reichskanzler, President Hindenburg died. Hitler, seized the opportunity used the occasion to swear the military, as well as the civil service to a new oath. This oath was not to the Constitution, or to Office of thePresidency or Chancellor, but to him personally as the Führer and Reichskanzler.

Most officers and civil servants, even those uncomfortable with Hitler’s policies obeyed their oaths and simply stayed in their lanes and did their jobs, even when they had incontrovertible evidence of Nazi atrocities.

Yet there were others who for a number of reasons, in some cases noble, and in others pragmatic, or even base, decided to break the oath they had sworn to Hitler in 1934. Among these men was General Ludwig Beck. Beck noted:

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

With the rise of legally elected authoritarian rulers in Europe and the Americas should concern men and women who have sworn to uphold the constitutions of their countries. These leaders campaigning against democratic institutions, and upon gaining power purge those institutions of opponents and use them to solidify their own power. The veneer of democracy is maintained while the soul of it is crushed. Too often those charged with guarding it are willing participants in its death, soldiers, civil servants, judges, and legislators.

That is what Beck understood. He resigned his office as Chief of Staff of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia, became a member of the anti-Hitler resistance and died in the failed attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20th 1944. He was a career Army officer and a conservative, but he realized that there are limits to obedience in the face of evil.

I fear that there are many men and women in nations whose democratic institutions are being subordinated to authoritarian rulers who will not rise to the occasion and allow those institutions and eventually their nations to perish. Sadly, that also includes those in the United States.

I will leave you with that thought for the evening.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Price of Resistance: Remembering the Men of Operation Valkyrie

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Three days ago in Berlin I visits the memorial to the men of the German resistance movement who attempted to remove Hitler from power a number of times, and then resorted to attempted assassination. Their final attempt occurred on July 20th 1944. The building from which they attempted to seize power was the headquarters of the German Army, the Oberkommando des Heeres, located on Bendlerstraße.

I am not going to retell the story of those men. I have written about the event and some of the men a number of times. Among them at the headquarters were Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who had planted the bomb, General Ludwig Beck, General Friedrich Olbricht, Lieutenant Colonel Merz von Quirnheim, and Stauffenberg’s aide, Lieutenant Werner Von Haeften. All were captured by Wehrmacht Guard forces commanded by Major Remer when it was clear that Hitler was still alive.

Beck was given the opportunity to kill himself but failed and was shot where he lay while Stauffenberg, Olbricht, Quirnheim, and Haeften were tried by a drumhead Court convened by General Friedrich Fromm and executed in the square in the middle of the complex. Fromm had known about the plot but had refused to commit himself to it. When it was clear that Hitler was alive he overcompensated and had them executed to cover up his involvement. This did not save him, he was arrested soon after, tried by the Volksgericht headed by Roland Freisler, and executed in 1945.

I stood in that square where they were executed and I was moved. They paid paid the ultimate price for their act of resistance and I wonder if Americans who claim to be resisters would be willing to pay that price if that was the only remaining option.

Other plotters not in Berlin or at the Bendlerstrasse complex were either arrested and later executed, or committed suicide. One of those men, General Henning von Tresckow said the following shortly before his death:

The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope that for our sake God will not destroy Germany. None of us can bewail his own death; those who consented to join our circle put on the robe of Nessus. A human being’s moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.

In the United States we still have the option of elections and for the moment most of our institutions are still holding out against a lawless administration. How long that will remain I do not know. Every day that I wake up without discovering that the United States has not experienced its Reichstag Fire moment I am relieved and say a prayer of thanks; but I worry, especially after a chapel member and strong supporter of President Trump tried to get me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in my chapel. I had to hire a lawyer to fight the charges during the preliminary investigation.

Thankfully, I was exonerated and did not have to face a trial because what the man had said was a bold faced lie. Despite that, the comments of some people who said I did not do what I was accused of doing were still quite harrowing in how they portrayed me and my beliefs. It was as if I was a caricature of a raving leftist. The fact is that I do not blindly follow any political party line. I have been a military officer and chaplain for almost all of my adult life, I have served under six Presidents and there are none who I agreed with on every issue, but my oath is to the Constitution, not any President or party despite my current party affiliation.

On some issues I am very liberal or progressive, and others quite conservative, but in each case I try my best to base those positions with my Christian faith, as well as my belief in the great proposition of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal…” and my belief that Abraham Lincoln was correct when he said in the Gettysburg Address “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

However, history shows that when authoritarian leaders seize power that most people, even opponents find a way to make peace with the regime. This is a fair question to ask of anyone.

A hashtag, tweet, or Facebook like or dislike does not define integrity or strength of character, it is what they do in the crisis when the personal costs are factored in. I have already experienced that to a degree, and I know what I will do because I have already had to do it. Yet most people have not hit that point, and honestly I pray that they never do.

Many of the men who acted on July 20th 1944 did so knowing that if they failed in their attempt that they would die and that their families too would be condemned. Of course they no longer had the opportunity that Americans today have to vote or to speak out publicly. They and their country had sacrificed that when sat silently when Hitler dismantled the Republic and the opposition parties, with the exception of the Social Democrats, voted themselves out of existence and allowed Hitler to rule as a dictator. Likewise, many Social Democrats and Communists converted to the NDSAP or minded their own business and looked the other way after the Nazis seized power. The same was true of most German Conservatives.

The German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a part of the plot, but who had been arrested earlier through his association with leaders of the resistance in the German military intelligence service, wrote:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

The men of the German resistance tried and failed more than once to stop Hitler. They were not perfect men, but in the end they made a stand that they knew would cost them, their family members, and their friends dearly.

I wonder if we would have the courage to do it should the institutions of the Republic fail and Trump or any other would be authoritarian leader of any party gain absolute power. By and large the leaders of the GOP, even those who fought his nomination and warned about the danger he posed, have already surrendered to Trump. The most notable is Senator Lindsey Graham.

Stauffenberg was right about men like Graham and the GOP leadership when he made this observation about most German military leaders and government officials:

“You cannot expect people who have broken their spine once or twice to stand up straight when a new decision has to be made.”

Likewise I wonder about the many people that claim to be resisters when the cost is still relatively low. Will they stand when their social or economic status, career, family, or lives are in danger? As I said earlier it is a fair question. People are people no matter what and history too often shows that even resisters often find ways to adjust to authoritarian governments.

Tresckow 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?

There are many lessons to be learned in this. Will we learn them?

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.” My Favorite Resistors, Part One: the Anti-Nazis

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

They are know and unknown but all resisted tyrants and all have become inspirational figures in my life. They are men and women, and many are soldiers or clergy, while others were civil rights leaders. Most were advocates of non-violence, but some due to the incredibly evil nature of the regime under which they lived and served resorted to violence. But all show me and I hope will show you that the path of resistance is not futile.

The problem is that far too many people become discouraged the longer the struggle lasts and end up accommodating themselves to the evil regimes under which they lived. That will probably be the experience of those who struggle against tyranny around the world today as authoritarianism under many guises becomes more entrenched. It is a world wide phenomena but if the classic understanding of democratic liberalism advocated by so many including the founders of the United States is to survive, authoritarians and their tyrannical worldview must be resisted.

Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich wrote:

“I’ve been thinking of a story from the Old Testament: Moses stood all day and all night with outstretched arms, praying to God for victory. And whenever he let down his arms, the enemy prevailed over the children of Israel. Are there still people today who never weary of directing all their thinking and all their energy, single-heartedly, to one cause?”

That my friends is important.

Yesterday, July 20th was the 74th anniversary of Operation Valkyrie, the attempt of conservative German military officers, diplomats, and others to kill Hitler and end the tyrannical and genocidal Nazi regime. Among the men who died in that attempt were Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, General Henning von Trescow, General Ludwig Beck, Lieutenant Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim, and General Friedrich Olbricht. Others were implicated and were murdered after kangaroo court proceedings at the hand of the Volksgericht, the “People’s Court” headed by Roland Freisler. Among them was Field Marshal Erich von Witzleben. While Freisler hounded and tried to humiliate him Witzleben remained calm and announced to the court:

“You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months’ time, the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!”

 

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General Henning von Tresckow

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” When the attempt failed von Trescow was serving on the Russian front far away from Berlin. To avoid arrest and the possibility that under torture he could implicate others or cause harm to his wife and children von Trescow killed himself. Another participant wrote that before his death von Trescow said:

“The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about dying, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give his life in defense of his convictions.”

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General Ludwig Beck

Beck, who had resigned his post as commander of the German Army in protest of the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia wrote something that has become a key part of my military and personal ethic: “It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

Tresckow, a committed Christian also noted of Hitler’s supposedly Christian supporters: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” 

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Admiral Wilhelm Canaris 

There were other Christian resisters of the Hitler regime. Hans Oster was the son of a pastor and one of the senior officers in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence. His boss, Admiral Wihelm Canaris was also a resister. Both would be executed on the personal order of Hitler in April 1945 along with Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all had been arrested for their involvement in anti-Hitler activities. For his part Canaris would note something that military, intelligence, or police officials who might be tempted to excuse the actions of modern day tyrants or would be authoritarians:

“One day the world will hold the Wehrmacht responsible for these methods since these things are taking place under its nose.”

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Pastor Bonhoeffer who died with Oster and Canaris at Flossenburg wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

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Hermann Maas 

Hermann Maas, another Lutheran pastor made his mark by speaking out in defense of Jews and Socialists. He angered the German political right including the Nazis by doing so. He aided Jews and other non-Aryans to escape Germany, and cared for the elderly Jews who could not. He was removed from his pastorate and imprisoned. He survived the war and would be the first German recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Maas discussed the responsibility of all Germans for the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis, something that Christians and others in nations like the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America that are threatened by authoritarian leaders and racist regimes:

“Every German bears responsibility for Germany no matter who he is or where he stands, in the homeland or abroad, in public and at home. No one can absolve him of this responsibility. He can transfer it to no one.” 

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Sophie Scholl

But these men were not the only opponents of the Nazi regime. A young woman, a student at the University of Munich named Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were at the center of an anti-Nazi resistance called the White Rose. They published and distributed a number of anti-Nazi leaflets and were caught doing so in early 1943.

One of those pamphlets noted:

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?

If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass – then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now – the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability – are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems – but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate.

Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.

Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.”

She wrote:

“It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I think of all of these people that I admire young Sophie Scholl the most. She had no power. She was not an officer, a government official, a businessman, or a pastor. She was simply a young woman who was informed by her faith and her concern for basic human morality and ethics.

While the Nazi State was consumed by the flames of Hitler’s Götterdämmerung, the lives and message of those few who resisted still redounds to us today. And yes, in comparison to the majority of Germans  of the Hitler era, they were a tiny minority, Of over 2000 German General and Flag officers a mere 22 were involved in anti-Nazi activities and the same is true for most professions in the Third Reich.

Milton Mayer wrote the words of a German University Professor and colleague after the war was over. The professor was reflecting on how people ended up going along with the Nazi regime. Mayer wrote his friends words:

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I think that I shall close with that tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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