Tag Archives: martin niemoller

Downfall: Misplaced Loyalty

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I decided to watch again the film Downfall which is about the last ten days of Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich.” After the film was over I watched the special features which included a segment on the making of the movie along with interviews with the actors portraying Hitler, his entourage, and the defenders of Berlin. The film and commentary is in German with English subtitles but is probably the best film that deals with the subject ever made.

Since it is in German and since I speak German I do my best to try to listen rather than watch the subtitles and in doing so I pick up on some of the nuances of the language that do not necessarily come through as well when translated into English.

It is a hard film to watch because the producers, directors, and cast strove for historical accuracy. Since I have studied the people, the era, the ideology, and the battle for years I already feel like I know the people involved. The fact that the cast does such a good job portraying them is remarkable, these are not your typical cookie cutter depictions of Nazis seen in so many other films.

But what really struck me tonight was the absolute fanaticism of so many of them, and one of the actors noted in his interview that his character, SS General Wilhelm Mohnke, was a fanatical Nazi even at the end, something that was common among many of the Hitler entourage and the SS. The actors managed to put a human face on evil, that is hard to do in film.

As I watched the devotion of Hitler’s entourage and loyal SS soldiers I could only think of the devotion, fanaticism, and moral blindness shown by so many supporters of the American President today. The motto of the SS was Meine Ehre Heisst Treue, or My Honor is loyalty. The motto could be applied to President Trump’s most devotee followers in their Make America Great Again ball caps.

I just shake my head when I hear and see some of the things said and done by the President’s most fervent supporters. The President was right about them. When he said “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” he was absolutely correct. Despite the myriad of lies and untruths, the actions that are absolutely contrary to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and for that matter the Gospel, his followers, many conservative Evangelical Christians dig in deeper to defend him even as he leads them to destruction.

It is the same kind of cult like devotion engendered by Hitler in his followers, who like the followers of Trump were conditioned by years of right wing propaganda to believe everything he says because he says what they already believe. I can understand them because from 1989 when I first started listening to Rush Limbaugh, until I deployed to Iraq and came back a changed man in 2008 I absorbed every bit of the same propaganda, that of Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, and Fox News that the most steadfast followers of Trump did. But when I came back from Iraq I was like the German soldiers who returned home in 1942 or 1943 and realized all that they were fighting for had been a lie.

I think that one of the most disturbing things that I see is that the people who I was most like in the late 1990s until 2007, Conservative Evangelical and Catholic Christians seem to be the most loyal to Trump. That is disturbing because I think of the words of the German pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemoller realized his mistake too late as I fear many well meaning people who follow Trump will as well. For Christians, to surrender honor, truth, and self-respect all for the sake of political power is to cease to follow Jesus. To do so may be an act of religious devotion, but it is not to God, it is to an idol.

Anyway, I recommend the film.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Political Commentary, film

Pastors go into Mooregasms to Defend Roy Moore

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a fascinating day to catch up on events, particularly from the panty and pussy obsessed scion of the American Christian Right former Judge Roy Moore.

I have to tell you. At one time in my life and ministry I would have been both surprised and shocked to see so many allegedly Bible believing Christian pastors mount a defense of a man who by his own admission as an adult in his 30s sought out teenage girls. When one complained about his sexual advance he told her: “no one will believe you” because he was a prosecutor and she was just a girl. But then, that was the 1970s, no-one believed women who were assaulted, molested, or even raped. In a sense he was right, and even now, some 40 years later Moore has found that his most strident allies, apart from Fox News, are supposedly Conservative Christian clergy, including some fifty plus from his home state of Alabama who signed a letter defending him today.

Their reasoning was that he had stood up to liberals by illegally placing a massive monument with the Ten Commandments on it outside the Alabama Supreme Court when he was Chief Justice, and for which he was later removed from office, as well as his decision not to enforce, but even resist the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergfell v. Hodges regarding the right to same sex couples to marry. That act also brought his removal from office.

But undeterred, Moore calculated that under the conditions created by Donald Trump that he could win a Senate seat in Alabama during a special election. With the backing of Alabama Evangelicals and alt-Right scion Stephen Bannon defeated the man appointed to take the place of now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Luther Strange during the GOP primary, and now faces Democrat Doug Jones in the special election. Since the the Washington Post, in its tradition of solid investigative journalism tracked down women who had been the victims of Roy Moore’s unwanted advances. Their stories are so compelling that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other Senators have said that they believe the victims and that Moore should withdraw from the race. George Will, who is factually one of the conservative columnists and commentators with any sense of decency and integrity said today that “Roy Moore is a disgrace and Doug Jones deserves to win.”

Needless to say, that did not deter these pastors from going into Mooregasms to defend Moore. In a letter issued by them which is also found on Moore’s website these men and women announced:

Pastor’s Letter

Dear friends and fellow Alabamians,

For decades, Roy Moore has been an immovable rock in the culture wars – a bold defender of the “little guy,” a just judge to those who came before his court, a warrior for the unborn child, defender of the sanctity of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty. Judge Moore has stood in the gap for us, taken the brunt of the attack, and has done so with a rare, unconquerable resolve.

As a consequence of his unwavering faith in God and his immovable convictions for Biblical principles, he was ousted as Chief Justice in 2003. As a result, he continued his life pursuit by starting the Foundation for Moral Law, which litigates religious liberty cases around our Nation. After being re-elected again to Chief Justice in 2012, by an overwhelming majority, he took another round of persecution for our faith as he stood up for the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.

You can know a man by his enemies, and he’s made plenty – from the radical organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU to the liberal media and a handful of establishment politicians from Washington. He has friends too, a lot of them. They live all across this great State, work hard all week, and fill our pews on Sunday. They know him as a father, a grandfather, a man who loves God’s Word and knows much of it by heart, a man who cares for the people, a man who understands our Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Fathers, and a man who deeply loves America. It’s no wonder the Washington establishment has declared all-out war on his campaign.

We are ready to join the fight and send a bold message to Washington: dishonesty, fear of man, and immorality are an affront to our convictions and our Savior and we won’t put up with it any longer. We urge you to join us at the polls to cast your vote for Roy Moore.

In your service,

Dr. Tom Ford, III, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Stan Cooke, Kimberly Church of God, Kimberly, Alabama

Pastor Jonathan Rodgers, Dothan, Alabama

Pastor Joseph Smith, Pine Air Baptist Church, Grand Bay Alabama

Dr. David E. Gonnella, Pastor, Theodore, Alabama

Pastor Mike Allison, Madison, Alabama

Dr. Terry Batton, Christian Renewal and Development Ministries, Eufaula, Alabama

Pastors Tim and Elizabeth Hanson, Smiths Station, Alabama

Pastor Mark Liddle, Dominion Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

Pastor Steve Sanders, Victory Baptist Church, Millbrook, Alabama

Dr. Richard Fox, retired Baptist pastor

Dr. Randy Cooper, Pastor, Warrior, Alabama

William Green, Minister, Fresh Anointing House of Worship, Montgomery, Alabama

Maurice McCaney, Victory Christian Fellowship Church, Florence, Alabama

Pastor Jamie Holcomb, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Paul Elliott, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Rodney Gilmore, Covenant Christian, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Mark Gidley, Faith Worship Center, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Bill Snow, Edgewood Church, Anniston, Alabama

Pastor Michael Yates, Webster’s Chapel, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Mark Holden, Webster’s Chapel, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Joshua Copeland, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Anniston, Alabama

Pastor Bruce Jenkins, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Keith Bond, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Jim Lester, Fannin Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Thad Endicott, Heritage Baptist Church, Opelika, Alabama

Bishop Fred and Tijuanna Adetunji, Fresh Anointing House of Worship, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor David Floyd, Marvyn Parkway Baptist Church, Opelika, Alabama

Pastor Bruce Word, Freedom Church, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Paul Hubbard, Lakeview Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Rev. Carl Head, Lakeview Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Duwayne Bridges, Jr., Fairfax First Christian Church, Valley, Alabama

Rev. Edwin Roberts, Adams Street Church of Christ, Enterprise, Alabama

Pastor John McCrummen, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Rev. Mickey Counts, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Rev. Alex Pagen, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Pastor Glenn Brock, Eufaula, Alabama

Rev. Tim Head, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor/Elder Ted Phillips, Christ Church, Odenville, Alabama

Tim Yarbrough, Elder, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Pastor Myron Mooney, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Jerry Frank, Elder, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Pastor Jim Nelson, Church of the Living God, Moulton, Alabama

Pastor Earl Wise, Millbrook, Alabama

Rick and Beverly Simpson, Summit Holiness Church, Alabama

Pastor Lane Simmons and Margie Dale Simmons, First Assembly of God, Greenville Alabama

Rev. Charles Morris, Pastor Grace Way Fellowship, Evergreen Alabama

Dr. George Grant, Pastor, Parish Presbyterian Church

Pastor David Whitney, Cornerstone Church

Dr. Peter and Roseann Waldron, St. Francis Anglican Church

Pastor Franklin and Mrs. Pamela Raddish, Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries

Dr. Michael Peroutka, Institute on the Constitution

Reverend Bill Owens, Coalition of African American Pastors

**Church names are listed for identification purposes only

Honestly I hope that he and they continue fight it out so that they are discredited as representatives of Jesus Christ and I hope that Christians, especially Evangelicals finally get off this political train that is going to kill the church in the United States. I spent much of this afternoon reading the polling of George Barna (the leading Evangelical pollster) and the Pew Religion and Culture polls. The fact is that young people are fleeing the church and unbelievers are rejecting our message for a number of reasons, but most can be directly attributable to men like Roy Moore and his clergy enablers:

Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;

Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it

Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts

Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality.

Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda.

My friends, that survey was done over five years ago and there are many more from Barna and other pollsters that support it. Christians need to wake up and before it is too late discover what men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller did in the 1930s, sacrificing the Gospel for political power is always a losing proposition. As Niemoller wrote: “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

Bonhoeffer 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.”

Will we ever learn? Honestly I don’t think so. Most pastors will continue to defend the indefensible as Moore’s supporters are, and they will only more strident if he loses, or if the Senate refuses to seat him. Sadly, they will continue to rake in money and find avenues to gain political power even as the church and Christ that they supposedly represent are rejected, not because of Jesus, or even the Bible, but because of them. If God is just, they will be held accountable for their actions. If he’s not, it doesn’t matter.

Honestly, I believe the the Crucified God is just and I will leave it at that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary

Corker, McCain, Flake, and Von Papen: A Reflection on Words Without Actions

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been listening to the words and watching the actions of Republicans who at one time or another have criticized or stood against the words and actions of President Trump. Likewise I have watched and listened for any pushback from military leaders at the actions of retired Marine Corps General John Kelly when like any hired partisan political hack he went to the defense of the President, and made false statements regarding a Democratic Congresswoman while pouring more gasoline on a fire that never should have been lit in the first place. As I have watched that spectacle I have been reminded of the words of one of my football coaches in high school who told me when I protested not getting playing time “your actions speak so loud I can hear a word you are saying.” He was talking about my performance in practice and his words helped me to set a new course for my life. I only wish that President Trump’s Republican critics would have gotten that message.

A number of Senators, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain, as well,as former President George Bush made sharp comments about the President’s actions, words, and his character, but were careful to avoid mentioning him by name. Corker was one of Trump’s earliest supporters but now has become one of the Presidents’s most stalwart critics. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has occasionally spoken out against certain policies of the President gave voice as to the real reason that congressional Republicans say little and do less to oppose the chaos of the administration, or President’s attacks on the Constitution, when he said that he wasn’t criticizing Trump because he was “working for tax cuts.”

Working for tax cuts while the President and his supporters like Steve Bannon threaten the very heart of the American system of government and the Constitutional rights of all Americans is a sad excuse for doing nothing. When I read the the comments of the erstwhile GOP opponents of Trump I am reminded of Franz von Papen and other German conservatives who in 1933 looked the other way when Hitler began his campaign to eliminate political opposition, including that of their own parties. Too late, Papen, who had helped convince President Paul von Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor. In a speech at Marburg University on June 17th 1934 Papen, then serving as Vice Chancellor spoke against some aspects of the National Socialist state without actually naming Hitler or the Nazi Party. Even so, the speech infuriated Hitler, and two weeks later Papen narrowly escaped death during the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler eliminated much potential opposition from inside and outside of the Nazi Party in a two day bloodbath in which three of his closest aides were murdered by the SS and Gestapo. Afterward Papen resigned his post and was appointed as Ambassador to Austria where he served during the Nazi takeover of that county, and later in Turkey.

Other German conservatives, especially in the Army lent a hand to Hitler by both tacit agreement and silent acquiescence in those early years when it was still possible under the Weimar Constitution to remove Hitler, but their hatred of democracy and Hitler’s opponents on the political left prevented them from taking the courageous steps necessary.

Papen bore heavy responsibility for helping Hitler gain power and to carry out his initial work to eliminate organized political opposition, and to eliminate his opponents in the Nazi Party. Without the cooperation of Papen and other non-Nazis as well as their later silence, Hitler would not have been able to gain full power over the German state.

I wonder how many American conservatives, including GOP leaders, Christian ministers, and military men will end up regretting their acquiescence to President Trump. When I do that I am reminded of the words of Martin Niemoller, a German war hero from the First World War who became an influential pastor. He wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemoller later wrote the immortal poem First They Came. I wonder how many of the people who either cheer on the President today, or knuckle under to his threats will find Niemoller’s words apropos when they find themselves under the gun. Niemoller wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. 

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. 

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me. 

Words matter, but actions matter more. This is a warning from history.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany, Political Commentary

Not Just Words but Actions: My Support for LGBTQ Civil Rights

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am often asked why I write on the topics of civil rights and human rights and why I have over the past few years gone beyond writing but speaking and engaging in peace public protests for these rights. I guess it is because I have to. Writing is easy for me and apart from the occasional death threat from a Neo-Nazi or KKK sympathizer there is little risk. However, getting out in public and speaking or marching with others in support of their rights is not without risk.

As a historian I have always impressed by the struggle for equality and resistance against tyranny. It matters not to me if the cause is that of the African American fighting against slavery, Jim Crow, and continued discrimination; the Native American against whom genocide was committed in the name of a supposedly “Christian American” Manifest Destiny; the Jew targeted by Nazi Race hatred and genocide, or so many others who due to their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or political beliefs have been targeted for subordination or elimination by governments, or mass movements.

One man who inspired me is Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham Alabama had the courage to confront the people and the culture that allowed the brutal bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that killed four little girls attending Sunday school and wounded many more. Morgan noted: “It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.” I have embraced his example to speak out publicly when I see the rights of my fellow citizens and other human beings trampled by those who only care about their power and privilege.

On this site I have frequently written about those subjects. Likewise, within the confines of still being a commissioned officer in the United States Navy I continue to support those discriminated and oppressed by people whose political, religious, or ideological beliefs support policies, measures, and ideas that go against the basic guarantees of the United States Constitution, as well as the bedrock ideal of the American experiment, the belief written in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” and reinforced by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg address that this Republic was dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” 

I know that there are many times that people wonder why I continue to write about and even take an active role in promoting the liberties of people who because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity are the targets of discrimination, legislative actions, threats, and violence. As such I write about these issues all the time, however, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I became an actual participant in rallies and marches on behalf of any persecuted group. In my case it was making a deliberate move to openly support my friends in the LGBTQ community.

My support of my LGBTQ friends has perplexed many people who predominantly knew me through church or military settings. The sight of a Christian Navy Chaplain and carer military officer supporting people who until 2012 were forbidden to even reveal under threat of criminal prosecution and discharge from the military that they were Gay, or condemned by the church to discrimination in this life and damnation in the next was anathema to many people who I counted as friends. Since I came out as a straight ally to my LGBTQ friends, many people who I believed were friends have long since written me off simply because my stand contradicted their religious beliefs. That bothers me by I have to move along. Likewise there are others who regardless of their beliefs have remained close friends and been supported even if they disagreed with me. That is a hallmark of true friendship. I honestly believe that if friendship is predicated on religion, political beliefs, or anything but on true care for one another it is not friendship.

It is interesting that almost all of my LGBTQ friends are people who I went to high school, college, attended church with, or served alongside in the military. In fact I didn’t know that most of them were Gay for years because the were closeted and that the act of coming out could cause them incredible harm. Over the years as I came to support them more and more have let me know that they were Gay, knowing that I would both protect their confidence and fully support them and they have come to trust me, and I cannot betray their trust by failing to support them in my words and in my deeds.

Knowing their stories and holding them sacred is important to me. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hold fast to the creeds of the church yet suffer the pain of excommunication because of my sexual orientation. I cannot imagine what it would be like to swear and oath to defend my country and go to war yet still be forced to be silent about the people that I love under the threat of punishment and discharge. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be evicted from my home or denied the opportunity to buy a house because I loved someone of my gender. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be able to be fired from a civilian simply because I was Gay. I don’t have to imagine what it would be like to have your best friends and your life partner forbidden to be with you on your deathbed, because as a hospital chaplain I have seen it happen even as the pastor of the man’s parents screamed at him to repent as he died with a ventilator in his throat.

Sunday I participated in the Equality March in Washington D.C. I was with friends and I represented friends that could not be there. It was important. I have been to D.C. many times but I have never experienced it in such a way, I never dreamed that I would be in any civil rights march that went past so many places that symbolize who we are as Americans including the White House and in front of the Capital building. On the way back home yesterday Judy mention how proud she was that I marched. That meant a lot to me, she is an amazing woman who cares so deeply about others that it humbles me. As we talked I remarked that had I been an adult in the 1960s I would have very likely been marching in support of the civil rights of African Americans.

John F. Kennedy said “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” This is something that I believe with my whole heart and now have decided to back my beliefs and words with action instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Yesterday I had friends who took part in the commemoration of the slaughter of 49 people, including an Army officer at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was a crime directed at them because they were LGBTQ people and Pulse was a place that they felt safe. Sadly they were not the first to die violently because of their sexual orientation in this country, nor will they probably be the last. That is a reason that I have to speak out. If I don’t I would be complicit in the crimes committed against them by my silence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I will not be a silent friend ever again. This week was for my LGBTQ friends, but I will do so for others as well. I cannot be silent in the face of hatred, even that legislated against already marginalized and despised people by supposedly Christian majorities in various statehouses and Congress. I remember all too well the words of the German pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

As such, I cannot be silent. To do so would betray all that I hold dear.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Resist the Beginning and Consider the End

 

Donald_Trump_official_portrait-e1485268487326-500x412

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have followed my writings here know that I have been sounding the alarm about the Trump Presidency since well before he even became the GOP nominee last year. In fact on March 14th of last year I wrote of candidate Trump:

“I am afraid. Over the past few weeks violence has become commonplace at the campaign rallies of Donald Trump. In the past week a reporter from the Breitbart News service, an organization that is solidly behind Trump was assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager, and Breitbart threw her under the bus for him. Protesters have been assaulted, reporters threatened, Trump not only condones the actions, he encourages them, threatening to use the law and courts to ruin people’s lives, and offering to pay the legal bills of his supporters who have been charged with crimes. He labels any opponents as “bad people” who need to be punished. The ultimate cruelty is that though he is the one inciting the violence, he and his supporters blame that violence on the victims, be they Democrats or Republicans, protestors or media, pundits, politicians or preachers. He is creating a frenzy among his most violent supporters that demands victims to satiate their new found bloodlust…

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, and to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible…”

As President Donald Trump has not strayed a bit from the words, actions, and demeanor of candidate Trump. He still bullies and threatens his opponents and then whines about how “unfairly” he is being treated. He is following through on his promises to demolish the foundations of the American democracy even as he destroys long standing alliances and praises dictatorships just as he promised on the campaign trail.

This has surprised many people, including those who study presidential campaigns and presidencies for a living, who somehow despite his incredibly bad track record, his known propensity to lie, and his all-consuming narcissism, paranoia, and self-pity believed that he would become a different man once in office. That did not and will not happen because he has no capacity for self-reflection and suffers from an incredible absence of empathy and delusions about his greatness.

While I did not expect Trump to become President I always believed that it was possible and that if it happened it would fundamentally change the United States for the worse. Milton Mayer wrote of a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

I have to say as I have said many times that I never wanted to be right about my intuition regarding a Trump Presidency, but with every passing day I see what I feared taking shape before my very eyes. I have tried to see though all the fog and deception and be true to the maxims that the German professor pondered as he examined his own guilt and shame for his inaction when resistance might have made a difference. “Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’”

In the course of this I have had to balance my learned feelings with reality and at every stage I have attempted to warn people while hoping for the best. I remember discussing the tension with a senior Navy officer who agreed with my concern that Trump is a danger and when it was appropriate for people to sound a warning; as he noted “we cannot yet see the end.”

There are many Trump opponents who are hoping that the vast amount of evidence connecting him and his closest advisers to Russia’s undermining of the 2016 elections will result in his impeachment. Others are hoping that some act of lunacy on his part will be enough to convince Vice President Pence and a majority of the cabinet to remove him from office through the process of the 25th Amendment.

However, I do not count on those happening soon enough to keep him from gaining complete control of the government using the pretext of war or terrorism to curtail civil liberties, political opposition, and Constitutional rights. Believe me I want more than anything to be wrong but I am sensing that this is where we are heading.

The President has called the Constitution “archaic” and suggested that it should be changed to grant the executive more power.  He has repeatedly acted to undermine the judiciary and turning Congress into nothing more than a compliant vassal. The structure would remain the same, but while the change would be striking most people wouldn’t notice until it was too late. Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote about this after World War Two:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

We are in a precarious situation and it would not take much for our nation to slide into a totalitarian dictatorship, and if the circumstance were right, if the crisis large enough, most people would probably surrender their freedom for the supposed security offered by a dictator. As Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Dealing With the Reality of the Trump Presidency

us-capitol-west-front-inauguration-2009-barack-obama

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times in history when eras end and new ones begin. As a historian I think that we are on the verge of one of those moments in history and that is not necessarily a good thing. Barbara Tuchman wrote that as England declared war on Germany in 1914 of British Foreign Secretary Earl Edward Grey:

“Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.”

I believe that could well be the case in our country and the world in the not too distant future, the symbolism of the lamps going out may be all too real.

At 12:01 today Donald Trump will take the Oath of Office and become the President of the United States. That is a fact. We can argue about his legitimacy. Like it or not he is the legal and thus the legitimate President. Of course that is one definition of legitimate. But there is another definition that can be argued to say that he is not, and this one is quite important to our form of government. That definition is “conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.” This is something that no-one can claim that Mr. Trump has done in his long business life or in his short political life. The latter is incredibly important, but it does not take away the legality of his election. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next five and a half hours he will be the President, and if something were to happen the resulting chaos who likely be worse than the transition of power to a man who appears to have been elected with the help of a hostile foreign power, and who lost the popular vote by one of the widest margins ever for someone who won the electoral vote. The truth be told I wish I had never seen this day come, but it has.

That my friends, like it or lump it is reality, and as the masthead of this site reads, I am a “progressive realist in Wonderland.” 

Now we can say “Never Trump” all we want, but he will still be President. We can put hashtags saying “not my President,” but he will still be President. That is cold hard reality. We can talk about resistance, but if we resist we need to be smart in how we do it and apply reason, logic, and hard work.

Does that mean that his policies should not be opposed on principle of they harm people? Never. There are many of his stated policies which if implemented will be harmful to the country. Likewise, some of the things that he has said regarding foreign policy not only will make us weaker but could end up in an even chaotic world and the real possibility of war with nations that could do us great harm, militarily and economically. Of course we could find out that once in office he becomes more pragmatic, realistic, and flexible. I kind of doubt it but it is a possibility.

A lot depends on what he says tomorrow, if he conducts himself with humility, dignity, and shows respect for all Americans, he could change the tenor of the debate in the country and instead of having to crush those who question his legitimacy, he could earn their respect, even if it is grudging. Again, while this is possible, I am not hopeful that it will happen, but I could be wrong. Even so, no-matter how he conducts himself today, he will still be President.

So what are the realistic options?

Protest is always an option, but those who do so must be very careful and not allow themselves to be provoked into any action that could cause President Trump to enact measures that are written in the Constitution, in established law, and in executive orders that deal with civil unrest. We have to remember that there are “agent provocateurs” who do things to cause individuals to do things that puts them on the wrong side of the law. One stupid or violent action against the President could bring the whole house down. If we protest it must be peaceful and those who do cannot allow themselves to respond to violence and intimidation in kind. That is what we learned from men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis. The path has to be non-violent.

What else can we do?

Get involved. Write your state and Federal representatives and senators on all important issues. Don’t just tweet to your friends.

Revitalize the political party system in the country by participating at all levels.

Run for office, especially at the local and state level. That is where real change happens, if your don’t win there it doesn’t matter if you win the Presidency once in a while. Many offices around the country are won by people who run unopposed; don’t let that happen.

Donate money to political groups, parties, and those who represent what you believe.

Speak up for those who have no voice and who are demonized by Trump’s most radical followers as well as those in the Republican Party who have demonized them far longer than Mr. Trump has been a member of that party.

Speak truth to power and do not spread rumors or innuendo. Get away from spreading political memes that even if they are factual are not conducive to reasoned debate.

Read long articles in newspapers, and journals. Things that require thought and reflection. When you share them do what I do. Ask people to read them and then ask them if the want to comment pro or con to do so themselves and not on your social media timeline or to discuss things in personal messages or even better in person. Avoid Twitter wars and Facebook rants, be careful of what you say in e-mails and comment sections of public forums.

Gather together in person and discuss issues, even with people with whom you disagree. Do it over a meal, a drink, but do it respectfully and build bridges that break down the walls of division. It’s hard to hate people that you break bread with.

Remember, there are people who initially support authoritarian leaders who sooner or later realize that they were deceived by false promises and come around. One of those was the German Pastor Martin Niemoller who initially supported Hitler, then when he realized that he had been lied to, spoke up, and resisted. In a concentration camp he wrote these words:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

Believe me, there will be a lot of people who voted for President Trump and his GOP allies who will be dealing with buyer’s remorse in the not too distant future. When that happens we need to be there for them.

Read. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Read real books on history, political science, law and the Constitution. Read how we got the Declaration of Independence and the story of how in the face of real rebellion and war, Abraham Lincoln began the quest for “a new birth of freedom.”

Read the biographies of statesmen and women, politicians, Presidents, and Prime Ministers, civil rights leaders, labor leaders, and even religious leaders. Read the classics, and even poetry. Learn about courage to face trying times and uncertain futures from those who went before us. Learn from their successes and also their failures. Most of them had feet of clay, but the good ones made a difference. We can too.

These are things that matter and in the long run can defeat the worst attempts of Trump, his cabinet officials, people he appoints as justices and judges, and GOP dominated legislatures.

Will you get instant gratification? No. This is hard work. It requires patience, humility, the ability to admit when we are wrong, and the courage to face reality. Part of that reality is that Donald Trump will be President at 12:01 today. I will not bury my head in the sand, and as painful and distasteful as it will probably be I will watch the inauguration today, if nothing else to show my respect to our outgoing President and his family, who I will miss as President.

I remember watching Barak Obama’s inauguration in 2009. When he took the Oath of Office, I was standing beside the bed of a critically ill African American woman in the ICU of the Medical center that I then worked. She was nearly 90 years old. Her late husband had been a military man back during Jim Crow and then the Civil Rights era, she remembered the hatred and discrimination that they both faced. I remember watching that moment with her, holding her hand, and listening to her joy in spite of her pain at seeing a moment that she never dreamed that she would live to see. It was a profound honor for me.

Truthfully, all of that being said, I am very afraid of what President Trump and his administration may do in a very short amount of time. It is much easier to destroy systems and crush dissent than to built bridges and renew the country. At the same time I will be a voice of reason and speak the truth the best I can given the limitations of my own office. I do want to be wrong, and I will pray for him and his family because if he screws up we are all screwed. That too is reality.

But that’s what we have to do. we cannot give up, but if we resist, we must do it smartly and effectively. Highly emotional outbursts that lead to less than wise actions will doom resistance. We must be to use the words of Jesus, “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under civil rights, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Problem with Having Scruples when Rulers Don’t: A Warning from General Johannes Steinhoff 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have written a lot about the dehumanization of people and genocide, and some of the things that create a climate where such events take place, and how political and religious leaders stir the primal passions of otherwise good, decent and law abiding citizens. I wrote yesterday how I am afraid of what is going on in our country, especially in regard to the violence being sanctioned and even promoted by President Elect Donald Trump.

Last spring I read a book by World War II German Luftwaffe ace Johannes Steinhoff. Steinhoff was unlike many of the German officers who wrote memoirs following the war, memoirs that historian Williamson Murray wrote “fell generally into two categories; generals writing in the genre of “if the fuhrer had only listened to me!” and fighter pilots or tank busters writing about their heroics against the productive flood from America or the primitively masses of the Soviet Union.” His book, The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goering should be essential reading for any currently serving officer.

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General Johannes Steinhof (above) as a Bundeswehr and NATO officer, showing his burns and before his crash (below)

steinhoff WW II

In his books, Steinhoff does something that you do not see authors do in most military or political memoirs, he actually does serious self reflection on his role in supporting an evil regime. In his introduction to his book The Final Hours the legendary fighter ace who was horribly disfigured when his Me-262 jet fighter crashed and burned two weeks prior to the end of the war wrote:

“In recalling these events, which had been long buried in my memory, it has not been my intention to make excuses. Our unconditional self-sacrifice in the service of the Third Reich is too well documented for that….

So it is because of what is happening today—with freedom threatened in virtually every respect by its own abuse—that I offer this contribution, in the form of an episode in which I was myself involved, to the history of the soldier in the twentieth century. Soldiers have always, in every century of their existence, been victims of the ruthless misuse of power; indeed, given the opportunity, they have joined in the power game themselves. But it fell to our own century to accomplish, with the aid of a whole technology of mass extermination, the most atrocious massacres in the history of mankind. This fact alone makes pacifism a philosophy worthy of respect, and I have a great deal of sympathy with those who profess it. 

The figure of the soldier in all his manifestations is thus symptomatic of the century now nearing its close, and it is to the history of that figure that I wish to contribute by describing what happened to me. I have tried to show what it is possible to do to men, how insidiously they can be manipulated by education, how they can be hoisted onto a pedestal as “heroes,” how they can be so corrupted as even to enjoy the experience—and how they can be dropped and denounced as mutineers when they discover that they have scruples. The complete lack of scruples that such treatment implies is peculiar to rulers who believe that the problems of their own and other peoples can be solved by imposing, through the use of military force, peace on their, the rulers’, terms—in our case a pax germanica, but the second Latin word is readily interchangeable.” from “The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goring (Aviation Classics)” by Johannes Steinhoff

Since I am a historian and and a career military officer with service in the Iraq War, a war that was illegal and unjust by all measure I can understand Steinhof’s words. Because much of my undergraduate and graduate work focused on German history, particularly that of Imperial Germany after the unification, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Reich, I draw a lot of lessons from the period. I also understand how people in this country can fall for the same kind of vitriolic propaganda that the Germans of that era did. I can understand because for years I fell for the lies and propaganda being put out by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the American political right.

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A picture of me (on left) in Iraq 2007 with my assistant and bodyguard RP1 Nelson Lebron

One of those lessons is that in times of crisis, that people, no matter what their race, culture, religious belief system, educational, or economic background are still human. Humanity is the one constant in all of history, our prejudices are often ingrained in us during childhood and reinforced by the words of politicians, pundits, and preachers. In times of stress, crisis, and societal change or upheaval even good people, moral people, people of great intellectual, scientific abilities can fall prey to demagogues who preach hate and blame others, usually racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, as well as civil libertarians who champion the rights of those minorities for the problems of the nation.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews, Slavs, Socialists and Communists; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

But that being said, there are a lot of people who from childhood believe the lies about others without question. In good times such people continue on with life as normal, but in crisis those hatreds and prejudices come to the fore. Rudolf Höss, the notorious sociopath who commanded Auschwitz told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about his reaction when ordered to turn the camp into an extermination center. He said that the order “fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years,” and “at the same time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.” 

Eugene Davidson in his book on the Nuremberg Trials wrote:

“Every society has in it at all times negative, criminal, sadistic, asocial forces. What holds them in check more than law and police is the consensus of the society – a general belief that despite everything wrong and stupid and muddleheaded in politics, the state is a going concern that will somehow make its way into the future.” (Davidson, The Trial of the Germans p.581)

But when things do not go well, when people do not feel that things will be okay, that the future will be better, and that they have a purpose they look for answers. However, they tend to find their answers in the rantings of demagogues, race baiters, conspiracy theorists, and others who they would tend to dismiss out of hand in good times. In Germany it was the loss of the First World War, the humiliation of Versailles and the economic chaos and social change of the Weimar period which allowed Hitler to gain an audience, then a following, then political power. The demagogues played to what was already in the hearts and minds of the disaffected masses, without that fertile soil, the rantings of Hitler and his propagandists would have never succeeded. Albert Speer wrote:

“As I see it today, Hitler and Goebbels were in fact molded by the mob itself, guided by its yearnings and its daydreams. Of course, Goebbels and Hitler knew how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audiences; but in the deeper sense they derived their whole existence from these audiences. Certainly the masses roared to the beat set by Hitler’s and Goebbels’ baton; yet they were not the true conductors. The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

In a sense a similar thing has happened in the United States which has experienced a series of wars beginning with Vietnam, the shock of the 9-11-2001 attacks, the economic crash of 2007 and 2008 which devastated the savings, home ownership, and investments of many Americans while at the same time benefiting the banking and brokerage houses whose government assisted policies brought about the crash. Of course there are other issues, many religious conservatives hate the progress made by the Women’s and Gay Rights movements, and their leaders play to their fears in apocalyptic terms. I could go on, but I am sure that my readers can identify other issues which demagogues and others use to spread fear and hate to further their goals. The fact is that without the the fertile soil that lays in the hearts of their most fervent followers they would never have a following.

In Weimar Germany hate mongers like Julius Streicher and propagandist Josef Goebbels stuck a chord with disenchanted people who felt that they had lost their country. They were fearful, angry, and desired a leader who would “make Germany great again.” Hitler and his Nazi media sycophants played to that fear, and took advantage of their anger at the existing order. Davidson wrote such people “exist everywhere and in a sick society they can flourish.” 

For decades the way has been prepared for true extremists to take advantage of the fears and doubts of people as modern American versions of Streicher and Goebbels have been at work for years. Rush Limbaugh was a modern pioneer of this in the United States, and he has been joined by so many who are even more extreme in their rantings that it is hard to name them all. Likewise, whole media corporations, websites, and political networks spread such fear every minute of the day, claiming that they, and they alone are real Americans. They actively support politicians who condemn, and sometimes even threaten people who oppose them, and all the while claim that “make America great again.”

When I was younger I devoured that propaganda, despite all of my learning I followed the rantings of men who I realize today are propagandists who promote the basest of lies, and hatred, often in the name of God. I was changed when I was at war, and when I returned home from Iraq in 2008 I realized through hard experience that I had been lied to, and that as a result that thousands of my brothers and sisters were dead, and tens of thousands shattered in body, mind, and spirit. Likewise I saw the massive destruction levied on Iraq and realized how terrible war really is. That was my epiphany, that is what it took to see how much I had been lied to, and it called me to question everything else that I had so willingly believed, things which had been fed to me by years of indoctrination in church, through the media, and by politicians who I believed were truly Christian. I can understand now how Martin Niemoller felt after the Nazi seizure of power when he said, “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

There was a time that I hated people who espouse the views that I hold today, the views that I write about so often here on this site. I can remember how angry I would get as I listened to the propaganda being put out by Limbaugh, Hannity, the Fox News Channel and all of the others that I listened to every time that I had the chance. But when I changed after Iraq, I felt the sting of that hatred in very real ways. I remember the day I was called by my bishop in my former church, who told me that I had to leave because my views on women, gays, and Moslems were to use his words were now “too liberal.” After that, many men who I considered to be the best of friends turned their backs on me, some in the most bitter and vindictive of ways.

But I realize now that what they did was because I had in a sense left the cult, and had to be ostracized. I can understand that now, because when I was under the spell I too turned my back on people who had fallen out of favor, or people who had rejected the tenants of the church or the political movement, and those are things that I can never undo. But at the time it made sense, it fitted in with all I had been taught for decades, as Albert Speer wrote of Hitler, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.”

What happened to Steinhoff’s generation is threatening to happen again, in our country, an authoritarian movement is threatening to destroy our democracy and republic. In it soldiers are esteemed, until they realize what is going on and speak out, but by then it is usually too late. I am understanding that fact more and more every day, and having had people troll this blog and call me a traitor and worse, I understand just a bit of what happened to Steinhoff and his fellow officers when they protested to the highest levels what was happening to Germany in early 1945.

We will soon know how military professionals react to being labeled as traitors. President Elect Trump and his followers have been demonizing the personnel of the nation’s intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic communities since before the election. The President Elect lambasts critics of any station on his Twitter feed which results in them receiving death threats from his followers. I expect that when presumptive Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks his mind and tells the truth that we will find out. Personally I expect that when he does that Trump and his most strident supporters will label him as a traitor for doing so. Like a religious cult they have no capacity to tolerate dissent, loyalty to the man will supersede loyalty to the country or the Constitution. When that happens it will be interesting to see the throngs of people in the military and outside of it who make the choice to throw one of the most courageous, selfless, and intellectual soldiers ever produced by our nation under the bus.

Their’s will be a conscious decision. My opinion is that the Constitution and the country will always come first. I want to give the President Elect the benefit of the doubt and do honestly pray that he will do the right thing for the country, but I am concerned because of his past and current behavior that his only loyalty is to himself. General Ludwig Beck, who resigned rather than obey Hitler’s order to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938 and died in the anti-Hitler coup attempt in 1944 said:

“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.” 

I have no doubt that General Mattis understands that and will courageously speak his mind, even if he is condemned for doing so. Sadly I have many doubts about other leaders: be they military, political, business, or religious. There are many people who will sell their souls for their personal advancement, the advancement of their agenda, or an increase in their bottom line. It is after all human nature. 

But the question is: will we see true men and women of courage who will stand when it appears there is no chance of success? As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” 

That will be what is demanded in the coming months and years. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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