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When Military Forces Become Criminal Institution’s: The WWII Wehrmacht and the Attempt of Trump to Turn the Military into His Instrument of Terror

Hitler and His Commanders Planning Operation Barbarossa 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am continuing on with my series on Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s closing arguments while serving as the Chief American Prosecutor at the Major War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg. These crimes are not without relevance today, thus it is important for us to revisit them, for as I noted yesterday, quoting Yehuda Bauer, the Holocaust did not deviate from human norms.

For me it is a difficult subject, for I served in and supported a war that by any standard of legal and moral judgement would have met the criteria that we prosecuted the Nazis for in 1945. I should have known better because I had studied the Nazi crimes and had been the student of a professor who served as an interrogator and interpreter during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. But in the moment of hysteria after the attacks of September 11th 2001 and my belief in the integrity of Secretary of State Colin Powell, I allowed my good sense to be persuaded that an act of aggressive war that resulted in war crimes, and might even include crimes against humanity was perfectly legal.

I went to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. I worked with advisors to Iraqi Army, Border Troops, Police, Port of Entry, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams In Al Anbar Province. I came back from Iraq a very different man. I saw the lies. I came to love and appreciate the Iraqis and what they had suffered under both Saddam Hussein and our invasion and occupation. I can still see the maimed bodies, the destroyed cities and hamlets, the crippled children, as well as the wounded Marines in my mind. I pray and hope that the Iraqis that I served alongside did not become victims of ISIS after I left the country.

I am haunted by it to this day, and I no longer trust the supposedly good intentions of the American government, and in the age of Donald Trump fear for our nation and the world. Since he took office he has attempted to use military units in operations both on the Mexican Border, in Washington D.C., and has pardoned convicted U.S. Army and Navy War Criminals.

After Border Patrol agents, in full combat gear and body armor fired tear gas across across the Mexican border against Mexicans throwing rocks at them,  President Trump said that he authorized U. S. Military personnel to use deadly force against rock throwers. His former Chief of Staff, and now opponent, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly issued a “cabinet order” something never heard of before, allowing U. S. Military personnel to engage refugees believed to be endangering Border Control agents, in what appears to be a direct violation of Posse Comitatus. Add to those issues the use of drone strikes, by the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations, both DOD and CIA, against often insignificant targets that that more often than not have many women and children in them, and finally the pardoning of convicted war criminals by President Trump, and firing the only administration who stood in his way, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.

Since then the President attempted to use the Army against peaceful protestors in Lafayette Part outside the White House on 1 June 2020, their use was not authorized by the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, the President used U.S. Park Police, a mixture of other Federal Police, and D.C. National Guardsmen launched a violent attack on the protestors in order to allow the President unimpeded access to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a disastrous photo-op. But the optics for the military were bad, both Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and General Mark Miley apologized for their presence. Subsequently, they have taken actions following it directly opposing the President’s most racist and pro-Confederate, and White Nationalist words and tweets, while the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chief of Naval Operations, and other Service Chiefs banned Confederate and other racist symbols on military bases. They also ordered investigations into racial incidents and at least in the case of the Navy have moved to initiate a climate of command that takes the issues of racism, gender bias, sexual assault, religious prejudice and other actions harm anyone serving in the Navy.

But I digress. When I read these accounts my mind is taken back to the subject of war crimes, and based on my expertise and study of the crimes of the Nazis, not to mention the Japanese in the Second World War, I automatically default to those settings.

So, I will stop with my words and go back to those of Robert Jackson at Nuremberg, because they are so pertinent today, and because I have been writing about Justice Jackson and the Major War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg. There will be a time that I write about the subsequent Generals Trial, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Immediately after the seizure of power the Nazis went to work to implement these aggressive intentions by preparing for war. They first enlisted German industrialists in a secret rearmament programme. Twenty days after the seizure of power Schacht was host to Hitler, Goering and some twenty leading industrialists. Among them were Krupp von Bohlen of the great Krupp armament works and representatives of I. G. Farben and other Ruhr heavy industries. Hitler and Goering explained their programme to the industrialists, who became so enthusiastic that they set about to raise three million Reichsmarks to strengthen and confirm the Nazi Party in power. Two months later Krupp was working to bring a reorganised association of German industry into agreement with the political aims of the Nazi Government. Krupp later boasted of the success in keeping the German war industries secretly alive and in readiness despite the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty, and recalled the industrialists’ enthusiastic acceptance of “the great intentions of the Fuehrer in the rearmament period of 1933-1939”.

Some two months after Schacht had sponsored his first meeting to gain the support of the industrialists, the Nazis moved to harness industrial labour to their aggressive plans. In April, 1933, Hitler ordered Dr. Ley “to take over the trade unions”, numbering some 6 million members. By Party directive Ley seized the unions, their property and their funds. Union leaders, taken into “protective custody” by the SS and SA, were put into concentration camps. The free labour unions were then replaced by a Nazi organization known as the German Labour Front, with Dr. Ley at its head. It was expanded until it controlled over 23 million members. Collective bargaining was eliminated, the voice of labour could no longer be heard as to working conditions, and the labour contract was prescribed by “trustees of labour” appointed by Hitler. The war purpose of this labour programme was clearly acknowledged by Robert Ley five days after war broke out, when he declared in a speech that:

“We National Socialists have monopolised all resources and all our energies during the past seven years so as to be able to be equipped for the supreme effort of battle.”

The Nazis also proceeded at once to adapt the Government to the needs of war. In April, 1933, the Cabinet formed a Defence Council, the working committee of which met frequently thereafter. In the meeting of 22nd May, 1933, at which defendant Keitel presided, the members were instructed that:

“No document must be lost since otherwise the enemy propaganda would make use of it. Matters communicated orally cannot be proven; they can be denied by us in Geneva.”

In February, 1934 -and, your Honours, dates in this connection are important -with defendant Jodl present, the Council planned a mobilization calendar and mobilization order for some 240,000 industrial plants. Again it was agreed that nothing should be in writing so that “the military purpose may not be traceable”.

Hjalmar Schacht

 

On 21st May, 1935, the top secret Reich Defence Law was enacted. Defendant Schacht was appointed Plenipotentiary General for War Economy with the task of secretly preparing all economic forces for war and, in the event of mobilization, of financing the war.

Schacht’s secret efforts were supplemented in October, 1936, by the appointment of defendant Goering as Commissioner of the Four-Year Plan, with the duty of putting the entire economy in a state of readiness for war within four years.

A secret programme for the accumulation of the raw materials and foreign credits necessary for extensive rearmament was also set on foot immediately upon seizure of power. In September of 1934, the Minister of Economics was already complaining that:

“The task of stock-piling is being hampered by the lack of foreign currency; the need for secrecy and camouflage also is a retarding influence.”

Foreign currency controls were at once established. Financing was delegated to the wizard Schacht, who conjured up the MEFO bill to serve the dual objectives of tapping the short-term money market for rearmament purposes while concealing the amount of these expenditures.

The spirit of the whole Nazi administration was summed up by Goering at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, which included Schacht, on 27th May, 1936, when he said: “All measures are to be considered from the standpoint of an assured waging of war.” The General Staff, of course, also had to be enlisted in the war plan. Most of the generals, attracted by the prospect of rebuilding their armies, became willing accomplices. The Minister of War von Blomberg and the Chief of Staff General von Fritsch, however, were not cordial to the increasingly belligerent policy of the Hitler regime, and by vicious and obscene plotting they were discredited and removed in January, 1938. Thereupon, Hitler assumed for himself supreme command of the armed forces and the positions of von Blomberg and of von Fritsch were filled by others who became, as Blomberg said of Keitel, “a willing tool in Hitler’s hands for every one of his decisions”. The generals did not confine their participation to merely military matters. They participated in all major diplomatic and political manoeuvres, such as the Obersalzberg meeting where Hitler, flanked by Keitel and other top generals, issued his virtual ultimatum to Schuschnigg.

As early as 5th November, 1937, the plan to attack had begun to take definiteness as to time and victim. In a meeting which included the defendants Raeder, Goering and von Neurath, Hitler stated the cynical objective:

“The question for Germany is where the greatest possible conquest could be made at the lowest possible cost.”

He discussed various plans for the invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia, indicating clearly that he was thinking of these territories not as ends in themselves, but as means for further conquest. He pointed out that considerable military and political assistance could be afforded by possession of these lands, and discussed the possibility of constituting from them new armies up to a strength of about 12 divisions. The aim he stated boldly and baldly as the acquisition of additional living-space in Europe, and recognized that “The German question can be solved only by way of force.” Six months later, emboldened by the bloodless Austrian conquest, Hitler, in a secret directive to Keitel, stated his “unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future”.

On the same day, Jodl noted in his diary that the Fuehrer had stated his final decision to destroy Czechoslovakia soon and had initiated military preparations all along the line. By April the plan had been perfected to attack Czechoslovakia “with lightning swift action as the result of an ‘incident’”.

All along the line preparations became more definite for a war of expansion, on the assumption that it would result in a world-wide conflict. In September, 1938, Admiral Carls officially commented on a “Draft Study of Naval Warfare against England”:

“There is full agreement with the main theme of the study.

1. If, according to the Fuehrer’s decision, Germany is to acquire a position as a world power, she needs not only sufficient colonial possessions but also secure naval communications and secure access to the ocean.

2. Both requirements can only be fulfilled in opposition to Anglo-French interests and will limit their positions as world powers. It is unlikely that they can be achieved by peaceful means. The decision to make Germany a world power therefore forces upon us the necessity of making the corresponding preparations for war.

3. War against England means at the same time war against the Empire, against France, probably against Russia as well, and a large number of countries overseas; in fact, against one-third to one-half of the whole world.

It can only be justified and have a chance of success if it is prepared economically as well as politically and militarily and waged with the aim of conquering for Germany an outlet to the ocean.”

This Tribunal knows what categorical assurances were given to an alarmed world after the Anschluss, after Munich, after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, that German ambitions were realised and that Hitler had “no further territorial demands to make in Europe.” The record of this trial shows that those promises were calculated deceptions and that those high in the bloody brotherhood of Nazidom knew it.

As early as 15th April, 1938, Goering pointed out to Mussolini and Ciano that the possession of those territories would make possible an attack on Poland. Ribbentrop’s Ministry wrote on 26th August, 1938:

“After the liquidation of the Czechoslovakian question, it will be generally assumed that Poland will be next in turn.”

Hitler, after the Polish invasion, boasted that it was the Austrian and Czechoslovakian triumphs by which “the basis for the action against Poland was laid”. Goering suited the act to the purpose and gave immediate instructions to exploit, for the further strengthening of the German war potential, first the Sudetenland, and then the whole Protectorate.

By May of 1939 the Nazi preparations had ripened to the point that Hitler confided to the defendants Goering, Raeder, Keitel, and others, his readiness “to attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity”, even though he recognized that “further successes cannot be attained without the shedding of blood”. The larcenous motives behind this decision he made plain in words that echoed the covetous theme of Mein Kampf:

“Circumstances must be adapted to aims. This is impossible without invasion of foreign States or attacks upon foreign property. Living-space in proportion to the magnitude of the State is the basis of all power -further successes cannot be attained without expanding our living-space in the East ….”

While a credulous world slumbered, snugly blanketed with perfidious assurances of peaceful intentions, the Nazis prepared not as before for a war but now for the war. The defendants Goering, Keitel, Raeder, Frick and Funk, with others, met as the Reich Defence Council in June of 1939. The minutes, authenticated by Goering, are revealing evidence of the way in which each step of Nazi planning dovetailed with every other. These five key defendants, three months before the first panzer unit had knifed into Poland, were laying plans for “employment of the population in wartime”, and had gone so far as to classify industry for priority in labour supply after “five million servicemen had been called up”. They decided upon measures to avoid “confusion when mobilization takes place”, and declared a purpose “to gain and maintain the lead in the decisive initial weeks of war”. They then planned to use in production prisoners of war, criminal prisoners, and concentration camp inmates. They then decided on “compulsory work for women in war time”. They had already passed on applications from 1,172,000 specialist workmen for classification as indispensable, and had approved 727,000 of them. They boasted that orders to workers to report for duty “are ready and tied up in bundles at the labour offices”. And they resolved to increase the industrial manpower supply by bringing into Germany “hundreds of thousands of workers” from the Protectorate to be “housed together in hutments”.

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder

It is the minutes of this significant conclave of many key defendants which disclose how the plan to start the war was coupled with the plan to wage the war through the use of illegal sources of labour to maintain production. Hitler, in announcing his plan to attack Poland, had already foreshadowed the slave labour programme as one of its corollaries when he cryptically pointed out to the defendants Goering, Raeder, Keitel, and others that the Polish population “will be available as a source of labour”. This was part of the plan made good by Frank, who as Governor-General notified Goering, that he would supply “at least one million male and female agricultural and industrial workers to the Reich”, and by Sauckel, whose impressments throughout occupied territory aggregated numbers equal to the total population of some of the smaller nations of Europe.

Colonel General Alfred Jodl 


Here also comes to the surface the link between war labour and concentration camps, a manpower source that was increasingly used and with increasing cruelty. An agreement between Himmler and the Minister of Justice, Thierack, in 1942 provided for “the delivery of anti-social elements from the execution of their sentence to the Reichsfuehrer SS to be worked to death”. An SS directive provided that bedridden prisoners be drafted for work to be performed in bed. The Gestapo ordered 46,000 Jews arrested to increase the “recruitment of manpower into the concentration camps”. One hundred thousand Jews were brought from Hungary to augment the camps’ manpower. On the initiative of the defendant Donitz concentration camp labour was used in the construction of submarines. Concentration camps were thus geared into war production on the one hand, and into the administration of justice and the political aims of the Nazis on the other. The use of prisoner-of-war labour, as then planned in that meeting, also grew with German needs. At a time when every German soldier was needed at the front and forces were not available at home, Russian prisoners of war were forced to man anti-aircraft guns against Allied planes. Field-Marshal Milch reflected the Nazi merriment at this flagrant violation of International Law, saying: “… This is an amusing thing, that the Russians must work the guns.”

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Executed on the order of Adolf Hitler 9 April 1945 


The orders for the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war were so ruthless that Admiral Canaris, pointing out that they would “result in arbitrary mistreatments and killing”,  protested to the OKW against them as breaches of International Law. The reply of Keitel was unambiguous. He said:

“The objections arise from the military conception of chivalrous warfare! This is the destruction of an ideology! Therefore I approve and back the measures”.

The Geneva Convention would have been thrown overboard openly, except that Jodl objected because he wanted the benefits of Allied observance of it while it was not being allowed to hamper the Germans in any way.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel

Other crimes in the conduct of warfare were planned with equal thoroughness as a means of ensuring victory of German arms: In October, 1938, almost a year before the start of the war, the large-scale violation of the established rules of warfare was contemplated as a policy, and the Supreme Command circulated a most secret list of devious explanations to be given by the Propaganda Minister in such cases. Even before this time commanders of the armed forces were instructed to employ any methods of warfare so long as they facilitated victory. During the progress of the war the orders increased in savagery. A typical Keitel order, demanding the use of the “most brutal means”, provided that .

“… It is the duty of the troops to use all means without restriction, even against women and children, so long as they ensure success.”

Grand Admiral Karl Donitz

The German naval forces were no more immune from the infection than the land forces. Raeder ordered violations of the accepted rules of warfare wherever necessary to gain strategic successes. Donitz urged his submarine crews not to rescue survivors of torpedoed enemy ships, in order to cripple merchant shipping of the Allied Nations by decimating their crews.

Thus, the WAR CRIMES against Allied forces and the CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY committed in occupied territories are incontestably part of the programme for making the war because, in the German calculations, they were indispensable to its hope of success.

Similarly, the whole group of pre-war crimes, including the persecutions within Germany, fall into place around the plan for aggressive war like stones in a finely wrought mosaic. Nowhere is the whole catalogue of crimes of Nazi oppression and terrorism within Germany so well integrated with the crime of war as in that strange mixture of wind and wisdom which makes up the testimony of Hermann Goering. In describing the aims of the Nazi programme before the seizure of power, Goering stated that the first question was to achieve and establish a different political structure for Germany, which would enable Germany to object against the Dictate (of Versailles), and to make not only a protest, but an objection of such a nature that it would actually be considered.

With these purposes, Goering, admitted that the plan was made to overthrow the Weimar Republic, to seize power, and to carry out the Nazi programme by whatever means were necessary, whether legal or illegal.

Reichsmarschal Hermann Goering 

From Goering’s cross-examination we learn how necessarily the whole programme of crime followed. Because they considered a strong State necessary to get rid of the Versailles Treaty, they adopted the Fuehrerprinzip. Having seized power, the Nazis thought it necessary to protect it by abolishing parliamentary government, and suppressing all organized opposition from political parties. This was reflected in the philosophy of Goering that the opera was more important than the Reichstag. Even the “opposition of each individual was not tolerated unless it was a matter of unimportance”. To insure the suppression of opposition a secret police force was necessary. In order to eliminate incorrigible opponents, it was necessary to establish concentration camps and to resort to the device of protective custody. Protective custody, Goering, testified, meant that:

“People were arrested arid taken into protective custody who had not yet committed any crime but who could be expected to do so if they remained free.”

The same war purpose was dominant in the persecution of the Jews. In the beginning, fanaticism and political opportunism played a principal part, for anti-Semitism and its allied scapegoat, mythology, were the vehicle on which the Nazis rode to power. It was for this reason that the filthy Streicher and the blasphemous Rosenberg were welcomed at Party rallies and made leaders and officials of the State or Party. But the Nazis soon regarded the Jews as foremost amongst the opposition to the police State with which they schemed to put forward their plans of military aggression. Fear of their pacifism and their opposition to strident nationalism was given as the reason that the Jews had to be driven from the political and economic life of Germany. Accordingly, they were transported like cattle to the concentration camps, where they were utilised as a source of forced labour for war purposes.

At a meeting held on 12th November, 1938, two days after the violent anti-Jewish pogroms instigated by Goebbels and carried out by the Party Leadership Corps and the SA, the programme for the elimination of Jews from the German economy was mapped out by Goering, Funk, Heydrich, Goebbels, and the other top Nazis. The measures adopted included confinement of the Jews in ghettoes, cutting off their food supply, “aryanizing” their shops, and restricting their freedom of movement. Here another purpose behind the Jewish persecutions crept in, for it was the wholesale confiscation of their property which helped to finance German rearmament. Although Schacht’s plan to use foreign money to ransom the entire race within Germany was not adopted, the Jews were stripped to the point where Goering was able to advise the Reich Defence Council that the critical situation of the Reich exchequer, due to rearmament, had been relieved “through the billion Reichsmark fine imposed on Jewry, and through profits accrued to the Reich in the aryanization of Jewish enterprises”.

A glance over the dock will show that, despite quarrels among themselves, each defendant played a part which fitted in with every other, and that all advanced the Common Plan. It contradicts experience that men of such diverse backgrounds and talents should so forward each other’s aims by coincidence. The large and varied role of Goering was half militarist and half gangster. He stuck his pudgy finger in every pie. He used his SA bullies to help bring the gang into power. In order to entrench that power he contrived to have the Reichstag burned, established the Gestapo, and created the concentration camps. He was equally adept at massacring opponents and at framing scandals to get rid of stubborn generals. He built up the Luftwaffe and hurled it at his defenceless neighbours. He was among the foremost in harrying Jews out of the land. By mobilising the total economic resources of Germany he made possible the waging of the war which he had taken a large part in planning. He was, next to Hitler, the man who tied the activities of all the defendants together in a common effort.

The parts played by the other, defendants, although less comprehensive and less spectacular than that of the Reichsmarschall, were nevertheless integral and necessary contributions to the joint undertaking, without any one of which the success of the common enterprise would have been in jeopardy. There are many specific deeds of which these men have been proven guilty. No purpose would be served -nor indeed is time available -to review all the crimes which the evidence has charged against their names. Nevertheless, in viewing the conspiracy as a whole and as an operating mechanism, it may be well to recall briefly the outstanding services which each of the men in the dock rendered to the common cause.

To be continued…

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Filed under ethics, germany, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, war crimes trials, White nationalism, world war two in europe

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here…” America at the Tipping Point of Dictatorship and Democracy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I started this article last night but could not finish it because of how upset I was after seeing President Trump’s speech last night where he threatened the use of active duty military forces against protestors, declared an unorganized amorphous group known as Antifa, as a terrorist organization on the order of Al Qaida, and launched into a tirade worthy of Hitler in a teleconference with the nation’s governors.

But what got me was what happened during his speech. He promised the use of dominating protestors, as he ended his speech tear gas was launched and a line of unarmed peaceful protestors near St John’s Episcopal Church were suddenly assaulted by heavily armed police in riot gear and officers mounted on horseback. An aid station was overrun and two priests handing out water assaulted. I do not know if National Guard personnel were involved in the attack, which was ordered personally by Attorney General Bob Barr, so the President could walk from the White House, through Lafayette Square, and have a photo op holding a Bible in front of the church. It was  an act of absolute violence just to take a propaganda photo.

The Episcopal Bishop for Washington DC, Bishop Mariann Budde almost immediately after the incident:

“ I am outraged. The President did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor as you just articulated, did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now,” Budde told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360.”

“And in particular, that of the people of color in our nation, who wonder if anyone ever — anyone in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred words. And who are rightfully demanding an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country. And I just want the world to know, that we in the diocese of Washington, following Jesus and his way of love … we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this President. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love.”

While we were in Berlin a bit under two years ago 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. Our founders even understood and enunciated that concept of liberty in their time.

One of the conspirators in the anti-Hitler plot was Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was well aware of how their actions would be categorized under current German law. The man who planted a bomb and attempted to assassinate and overthrow Hitler noted:

“I know that he who will act will go down in German history as a traitor; but he who can and does not, will be a traitor to his own conscience.” 

He was correct by the law of the times. All of 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, as many of us who took our oaths the the Constitution could imagine ever having to possibly disobey criminal orders, lawfully issued by the President? Today, actually yesterday evening, President Trump threatened states and cities which could not control protests with military intervention.

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. We don’t have that excuse, our military officers have always sworn our oath to the Constitution and not any President or political party.

However, one 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. Though there have been no changes to our oaths of office, the President acts as he is the law, and the law is his word, and overrides the Constitution, it’s prescribed checks and balances between the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch, and the powers given under the Constitution to the States. Like Hitler, Trump has surrounded himself with yes men committed to serving him and ignoring the Constitution and law of the land.

Most German 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. They stood by as bystanders. Yehuda Bauer, Israeli historian and chronicler of the Holocaust, who with his family escaped Czechoslovakia on the day Hitler invaded it, and made their way to Palestine wrote these immortal lines: Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

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.”

Beck also wrote something that is all to important to any military officer, intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as diplomats in such times as we live today:

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

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, as it seems to be this very day as President Trump threatens and verbally insults governors, and uses the most heavy handed methods to crush mostly peace protests.  Almost all the Constitutional and institutional guardrails designed to prevent a President from assuming dictatorial powers have be rolled over and crushed. Too often those charged with guarding it are willing participants in its death, soldiers, civil servants, judges, and legislators. Such was the case in the Third Reich, and could well be the case here.

The problem is that President Trump as a malignant narcissistic sociopath who has no empathy for anyone, no respect for the Constitution or law, despite calling himself a “law and order president.” He has no scruples and there is no line he will not cause. His policies have been racist, homophobic, misogynistic, one sided to enrich the richest and impoverish everyone else. Though he bills himself as a defender of the Christian faith, he blasphemies its most sacred doctrines, scorns its command to love, carries a Bible for show, all to gain the allegiance of his most politically naive, theologically insipid, morally bankrupt, ethically challenged, and power hungry voting block in the nation, Conservative Christians. Russian dissident Gary Kasparov stated something that is burned into the DNA of President Trump:

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

With the COVID 19 pandemic still raging that he cannot control, and has simply abdicated his position to do anything constructive to solve; much less actually help the states with over 106,000 Americans now dead, over 40 million Americans are newly unemployed, businesses large and small are failing, and he does nothing. Even so the stock market is booming, even as he and the Republican Senate refuse to pass anymore aid to help those without jobs, small business owners who have lost everything, and those who will be soon evicted from their rental properties or have their homes foreclosed on in the next month or two. There is an obvious disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. And finally, we have massive civil unrest which could have been prevent had President Trump simply been civil and decent, rather that rude, crass, and unfeeling. Rather than addressing the truth of what was going on he retreated into his cloud-cuckoo-nest of acting tough while hiding in a bunker. Kasparov was completely right about him.

That is what Beck understood as well. Beck was certainly not perfect. He longed for the return of the monarchy and had the same cultural anti-semitism of most German conservatives, but he did not act on it. Instead, 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.

Another officer, Colonel, later Major General Henning Von Tresckow noted: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.”  We can now just substitute Trump’s name in that quote, for in the case of many supposed conservative Evangelical Christians, Trump has become a Messiah figure.

Tresckow also noted: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” Again you can substitute Trump’s name in that quote. 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?” The same is true in our day.

How harshly will history judge the American people if we allow this by our action, or inaction to keep going even as thousands of people a day continue to die of COVID19, more and more people losing their jobs, businesses and houses, and heavy handed police tactics claim the lives of more and more people, mostly Blacks and other people of color? Answer that question.

The more Trump says and does the more the world, and especially our oldest and most reliable allies wonder about us, and will seek ways to separate themselves from us if Trump remains in power. At the same time all of our real enemies like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran salivate as we self destruct. In fact they willingly participate in our destruction by doing things that help Trump stay in power by playing Americans off against one another through malicious use of the internet and social media.

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.”

Over the past couple of decades we have seem American police officers, state troopers, and sheriffs kill unarmed people in cold blood, many times their actions being recorded on video, only to be acquitted or sentenced to little in the way of incarceration or punishment. Last week a Minneapolis police officer with a long history of misconduct charges killed George Floyd after arresting him for a non-violent misdemeanor. Three other officers assisted. They were filmed by multiple witnesses, and Mr. Floyd died six minutes into his killer’s knee cutting off his ability to breath, as he reportedly  told the officers “I can’t breath” as witnesses said the same. None of the officers paid any heed and it wasn’t until nearly the eight and a half minute mark, the officer finally removed his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck, and Mr. Floyd was already dead. If that had been the only occasion of police brutality and over reaction, which now seems to be the standard operating procedure for many police departments, the application of the maximum use of force for any infraction, unless you are a heavily armed white man, in which case you get the benefit of the doubt.

This is not to say that probably the vast majority of law enforcement officers take their jobs seriously and are impartial dispensers of the law who go out of their way not to harm suspects. Sadly, there are a lot that do go out of their way to harm suspects, and with the support of political action committees and police unions laws are written to protect the bad actors from any repercussions from their misconduct.

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, for Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote in The Atlantic today:

While no one should ever condone the violence, vandalism, and looting that has exploded across our city streets, neither should anyone lose sight of the larger and deeper concerns about institutional racism that have ignited this rage.

As a white man, I cannot claim perfect understanding of the fear and anger that African Americans feel today. But as someone who has been around for a while, I know enough—and I’ve seen enough—to understand that those feelings are real and that they are all too painfully founded.

We must, as citizens, address head-on the issue of police brutality and sustained injustices against the African American community. We must, as citizens, support and defend the right—indeed, the solemn obligation—to peacefully assemble and to be heard. These are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

And neither of these pursuits will be made easier or safer by an overly aggressive use of our military, active duty or National Guard. The United States has a long and, to be fair, sometimes troubled history of using the armed forces to enforce domestic laws. The issue for us today is not whether this authority exists, but whether it will be wisely administered…

I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.

Furthermore, I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.

Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods. They are not “battle spaces” to be dominated, and must never become so.

We must ensure that African Americans—indeed, all Americans—are given the same rights under the Constitution, the same justice under the law, and the same consideration we give to members of our own family. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so.

Too many foreign and domestic policy choices have become militarized; too many military missions have become politicized.

This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership.

Admiral Mullen, though retired is a voice of conscience who understands the dangers of what the President, Attorney General Bob Barr, and their Congressional and media surrogates are doing. He is standing for all Americans, and though a White man who as he admits cannot fully understand the experience of Black Americans, he speaks truth. He is speaking prophetically to a President and Administration who though they attempt to appear to support the law of the land and represent themselves as the modern defenders of the Christian faith, even though all they do is antithetical to the Gospel.

Now, let’s say the active duty military, which is not trained in crowd control or riot control is unleashed on civilian protestors. I am sure that many soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen would refuse to follow unlawful orders, but then there are others who would shoot to kill with no reservations, especially since a President who has pardoned convicted war criminals gave the orders. This could fracture the military, and endanger national security. But it does not seem that this matters to the President, or most of his advisers and supporters. The SECDEF’s reference to the cities of the United States being battle space can easily lead to disaster. It doesn’t take a senior officer to order killings, just a nervous young squad leader, who after being told that he is in a combat situation and that anyone could be a terrorist, panics and orders his squad to fire on protestors. In that moment that squad could kill more Americans in minutes than the military killed terrorists in the last few years.

If the active duty military is committed to dominate the battle space, and kills people, the blood shed would forever stain the honor and reputation of the American military. We would be no different than the Wehrmacht soldiers who aided the SS Einsatzgruppen in the extermination of Jews in Poland and the Soviet Union during World War II, and we would be worthy of every condemnation, for even Hitler Refused to use the military for domestic police missions in Germany, he left that to the SS and the Ordungspolizei, which after Heinrich Himmler took over all internal police functions, fell under the command and control of the SS. 

I hate to put in those terms, but I have to ask this question. Will our military become an oppressor of our people when even Hitler forbade his to be?

The German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who ended up dying for his connection to the Herman conspirators against Hitler wrote:

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”

Bonhoeffer’s words are timeless and should send a chill through anyone who claims the Name of Christ, and supports what Trump is doing.

I leave you with that very disturbing thought for the evening.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

P.S. For the next few days I will be republishing articles on the Battle of Midway and D-Day in order to catch up on work for my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era and Beyond. 

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A Man’s Got to Know His Strategic Limitations: President Trump and the Current Middle Eastern Crisis

        Turkish Protestors in Istanbul 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watch the crisis between the United States, or shall I better say President Trump and Iran unfold, and have talked with various friends about it in person and on social media I am reminded of a couple of different definitions of patriotism. Now since I have served the United States as a military enlisted man, and officer in both the Army and Navy in Peace and War, I think that I love my country and should be considered a patriot. I am not blind to our shortcomings, nor things that have been done in the name of the United States that go against the will of our Founders, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and the law embodied in our Constitution. Liberal or not, I am a realist. I don’t like to us to lose unnecessary wars.

Likewise, as my favorite theologian Harry Callahan said in Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  Our President, nor his Cult  do not understand reality. Despite the comparative easy Assassination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassim Suleimani, regardless of how bad of man he was, the President has opened a potentially apocalyptic Pandora’s Box which will bring about worse for the United United States, the region and the world.

None of our allies anywhere in the world, including the Israelis, who hate Iran, have officially offered us their support. The Iraqi Parliament has passed a resolution asking the government to order the United States military forces to leave the country. That may not happen, but it will place our very limited and scattered forces in Iraq at the mercy of Iraqi Militias supported by Iran, and quite possibly regular Iraqi and Iranian forces. It could be a death trap for the 5,500 or so American troops in Iraq, not to mention those in Kuwait, those based in Syria, Bahrain, and Qatar, or on ships in the Arabian/Persian Gulf.

American military power is not what it used to be and the President has not considered the second, third, fourth, fifth, or more effects of this strike. Our military readiness is not good, our ability to project power and sustain our forces is worse than it was in 2003, and now we have no allied support. Likewise there is no telling what the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, or other competitors/enemies will do.

The Iranians have announced that they will not abide by the nuclear accords reached with the West during the Obama Administration, which they abided by even after President Trump renounced that accord. Likewise they have promised vengeance against American military targets and a eulogist at Suleimani’s funeral put an 80 million dollar contract for anyone who kills President Trump.

I neither want a wider war or for that matter for the Iranians to succeed in assassinating President Trump. As much as I oppose the President’s policies and think of him as a dangerous man, his death would only serve to make things worse. He would be succeeded by Vice President Pence, and his cult would demand its own vengeance, regardless of the military, diplomatic, and economic cost.

The “Mistake” Letter

Today the situation continued to escalate as the Iraqi Parliament continued to press for the removal of American and foreign forces from Iraq, backed now by the Iraqi President. President Trump threatened to attack religious and cultural sites in Iran, in violation of treaties we have signed and if carried out would be war crimes. He was countermanded by Mark Esper, the Secretary of Defense.Trump continued to reiterate his threat about 52 targets in Iran based on the number of hostages taken by Iranians during the takeover of the American Embassy in 1979, to which the Iranian President reminded the United States of the 290 passengers lost when the USS Vincennes misidentified and shot down IR-655, an Iranian passenger plane on a scheduled flight in 1988. In response the the Iraqi Parliament vote Trump ordered the administration to draft  sanctions against Iraq. During the day a draft of a withdraw letter was mistakenly released by the commander of American Forces, which was almost immediately denied as a mistake by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense.

If you ask me, things seem to be spiraling out of control, and nobody seems to be at the helm of the ship of state. This is not a good position to be in.

But now the dice have been thrown, the wager has been made, and the outcome is at best an uncertain gamble. I fear for our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in Iraq and the Gulf. The Iranians can easily shut down the Straits of Hormuz, their Yemeni allies can threaten the Bab El Mendeb, the other major maritime choke point in the region. Likewise, in defiance of Trump the Iraqis could cut off supplies from the American troops scattered across the country if they do not withdraw or some kind of accord is reached for them to stay. Likewise, the Iranians, while not the military equal of the United States do have enough power to endanger every American facility in the Persian Gulf, kill tens of thousands of Americans, and seriously disrupt the world economy, yet leaving the Russians, and Chinese greatly strengthened.

I do not know what will happen over the next few days or weeks, but the President has backed us into a corner with little room for maneuver, diplomatically or militarily. Even long term allies like the Israelis, British, and Australians have not offered support. Neither have the Saudis, the mortal Sunni enemies of the Shia Iranians. Certain pundits have, but not their governments.

This is a watershed moment, things that Americans and the world trusted to remain as they were will no longer be the same, and we will not be the better for it. Things will not get better and they will very likely get worse and very possibly bring about the Armageddon that many of Trump’s followers, as well as certain groups of Sunni and Shia Muslims, and others fervently pray for.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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