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“If Certain Acts and Violations of Treaties are Crimes, They are Crimes…” Trump Pardons Convicted War Criminals

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A day after President Trump pardoned three convicted American war criminals against the strong objections of the Department of Defense and the military services. With one stroke he took back military justice to the day when President Richard Nixon for all practical purposes overturned the military Justice system’s conviction of Lieutenant William Calley for the My Lai massacre by commuting his sentence to house arrest. It took decades for the United States Army to recover from the stain of what it had done in Vietnam, and the Presidency years to recover from the stain of Richard Nixon.
This happened during a week where I have been doing a lot of reading on the Japanese War Crimes during the Second World War, reviewing my previous studies about the Nazi War Crimes, and watching a mini-series about the Tokyo War Crimes Trials.
I am appalled at the President’s despicable defense and pardoned three men convicted of war crimes by U.S. military courts. Truth matters, law matters, and justice matters.

These pardons have the potential release unprecedented evil by otherwise honorable men who either believer that they are just following orders or approved by God through the words of their leader.

I take this very seriously. War Crimes are war crime whether committed by Nazis, Communists, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or American soldiers. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who organized the Nuremberg Trials and prosecuted the leading Nazis noted before the trials began:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

The fact that the United States Congress has never approved U.S. membership in the International Criminal Court means that we do not take war crimes seriously if they are committed by our soldiers. We make a mockery of justice, and even when our own military seeks justice, now the President is overturning the our military justice system to set convicted war criminals free. The President has dishonored the country and the military that is sworn to obey the law and the Constitution.

That is what it comes down to. How does one speak for human rights and against war crimes and crimes against humanity, yet watch the President of the United States make a mockery of justice.
Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


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

Of Pardoning War Criminals: Trump and the Consequences Of Ignoring Justice

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are reports that this Memorial Day weekend that President Trump will Pardon convicted or accused War Criminals, men whose conduct dishonored the military and the country, men whose fellow soldiers, Marines, or Sailors have voluntarily testified against. These men murdered prisoners and committed other crimes forbidden by the law of war. If he does so this weekend it will be the ultimate betrayal of the military by the Commander in Chief.

When Richard Nixon Pardoned Lieutenant William Calley, convicted of leading his platoon in the deadliest atrocity committed by American Troops in the Vietnam War at a village called My Lai. His men’s butchery had to be stopped by an American helicopter and its crew who interposed their bird between Carley’s men and other potential victims, and threatened to shoot at Calley’s men. The crime was initially covered up by Calley’s chain-of-command. Eventually it became public and the Army was forced to deal with it. Of all the officers charged and soldiers charged, only Calley was convicted. It took thirty years for the military to award the heroes who stopped the massacre.

In the six degrees of separation I am just twice removed from My Lai, two times. In my MSIII, junior year of Army ROTC in the Fall of 1981. My instructor was Major Barry Towne, during the investigation he was Commanding part of the security force. He told us what kind of criminal element that Calley and his platoon was. Calley’s defense at Court Martial was that “he was just following orders.”

Major Towne told us of its effect on the troops, the public, and the war. He told us that we would be war criminals if we ever allowed that to happen under my command. So I knew one of the Officers with first hand knowledge of the crime and the crime scene. Then, in June of 1998 while serving as the Garrison Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania I did the funeral of Calley’s Brigade Commander, Colonel Oran Henderson. He was acquitted of all charges including the cover-up which he began the day of the massacre. At the time I didn’t know his fully complicity in the massacre. Telford Taylor, one of the Senior American prosecutors at Nuremberg “wrote that legal principles established at the war crimes trials could have been used to prosecute senior American military commanders for failing to prevent atrocities such as the one at My Lai.” Those included Generals, and many other senior officers.

President Nixon commuted Calley’s prison time to House Arrest, and in September 1974 Calley was pardoned by the Secretary of the Army. That man said he did it because Calley really did believe that he was following orders.

So if the President begins pardoning War criminals it will be a watershed from which there will be no going back, unless the Generals and Admirals protest. If course if they do, Trump will replace them with men who will go all the way, and his base, especially his allegedly pro-life Christians, who believe that he has been ordained by God to Make America Great Again.

Just before the invasion of Poland Hitler told his military commanders:

“I shall give a propagandist cause for starting war -never mind whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked later on whether we told the truth or not. In starting and making a war, it is not the right that matters, but victory.”

In May 1941, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel disseminated the Barbarossa Decree in the name of Adolf Hitler which absolved German Soldiers from war crimes, even those against German law. Army Group and Army Commanders had the authority to be more severe than Keitel’s order. The Severity Order issued by Field Marshal Walter Reichenau of Army Group, Commander of 6th Army. That order stated:

The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization.

In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i. e., the annihilation of revolts in hinterland which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews.

Other Wehrmacht Commanders wrote similar orders, unleashing the beast in their soldiers and classifying their enemies as less than human, a typical charge leveled at racial and religious minorities, as well as immigrants, and potential enemies by the President.

General Erich Hoepner issued this order to his soldiers of Panzer Group Four, Later known as the 4th Panzer Army:

The war against Russia is an important chapter in the German nation’s struggle for existence. It is the old battle of the Germanic against the Slavic people, of the defence of European culture against Muscovite-Asiatic inundation and of the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism. The objective of this battle must be the demolition of present-day Russia and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity. Every military action must be guided in planning and execution by an iron resolution to exterminate the enemy remorselessly and totally. In particular, no adherents of the contemporary Russian Bolshevik system are to be spared.

Unopposed Pardons will release unprecedented evil by otherwise honorable men who either believer that they are just following orders or approved by God through the words of their leader.

I take this very seriously. War Crimes are war crime whether committed by Nazis, Communists, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or American soldiers. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who organized the Nuremberg Trials and prosecuted the leading Nazis noted before the trials began:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

If Trump Pardons these men he will be spitting in the face of American and International Justice. He will be blessing war crimes and if there is no push back from the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Regional Combatant Command Commanders we are doomed to repeat what criminal regimes have done. We will be a rogue and outcast nation whose word will not be believed, and whose military members will be considered criminals, even if they serve honorably and have never committed any crimes. Ask any Vietnam Veteran if you don’t believe me. I wasn’t a Vietnam veteran, but my dad was. When I enlisted and joined the ROTC program at UCLA I had a man come out from nowhere and start screaming at me “off campus ROTC Nazi!”

I haven’t forgotten that. I was a kid when Calley committed his crimes. I had never fired a shot in anger, and my primary focus of study over the previous year had been the guilt of the Nazis and their genocidal policies. What leaders do matters, and there is no escaping that, especially if you volunteer to serve in the military.

These are big issues and cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. The rot begins in the head of the fish. We are well on our way to to becoming a criminal and outlaw nation, something our Founders thought they had prevented by devising our system of government, a system intentionally designed to limit the powers of the Executive.

This does matter. If Trump Pardons these men and there is no push back from the Senior Commanders I would advise no one to enlist or take a commission in the United States military, and I have almost 38 years of service in the Army and Navy to prove my devotion to the Constitution and Country, including combat tours in which I was shot at and was in danger on a daily basis. As a historian, priest, and officer I cannot be silent if the President Pardons War criminals. The very thought is abhorrent to my nature.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


Filed under ethics, History, holocaust, iraq,afghanistan, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Atrocity in War: The Afghanistan Video

“Our men can’t make this change from normal civilians into warriors and remain the same people … the abnormal world they have been plunged into, the new philosophies they have had to assume or perish inwardly, the horrors and delights … they are bound to be different people from those you sent away. They are rougher than when you knew them. Killing is a rough business.”  Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle was one of the most prolific wartime journalists that ever lived, in fact he was killed by Japanese machine gun fire on the island of Ie Jima while with the Army during the Okinawa campaign. Ernie Pyle understood war and the men that fight it. If he was alive today I imagine that his comments about what happens to men in combat would be no different now than it was then.

In the past two days we have heard much and seen a distressing video of four U.S. Marines from a Scout-Sniper Team of 3rd Battalion 2nd Marine Regiment urinating on dead Taliban fighters. The images are disturbing and because they are raw and offensive they have created a furor that could define the NATO campaign in Afghanistan as much as the Abu Ghraib torture photos harmed U.S. efforts in Iraq and the broader Middle East.  When I was in Iraq I heard Marine leaders talking about the Abu Ghraib incident with distain and saying that those few soldiers that recorded their torture of prisoners were costing us the war.

3/2 was deployed in the northern area of Helmand Province and lost 6 Marines and a Navy Corpsman during their deployment. According to the Marine Corps Times Battle Rattle Blog author Dan Lamothe, Major General John Toolan said that the Scout Snipers of 3/2 may have killed up to 100 insurgents each during their tour, which would mean that they were engaged in many dangerous combat engagements.  This in no way condones or excuses their actions but it does provide some context to view what happened.

However wrong the actions may be and how stupid it was for the Marines in this unit to record them and allow them onto the internet the truth is that war changes people. Ordinary men do things that they would not have contemplated before it including breaking the codes of honor that they pledge to uphold when volunteering to serve. Ernie Pyle understood this far better than most journalists before or since. In fact he understood it far better than the minuscule percentage of Americans who have ever served in the military much less in combat.  Pyle wrote:

“Their life consisted wholly and solely of war, for they were and always had been front-line infantrymen. They survived because the fates were kind to them, certainly — but also because they had become hard and immensely wise in animal-like ways of self-preservation.”

E.B Sledge who served throughout the Pacific War as a Marine infantryman and whose writings are dramatized in the HBO Series The Pacific wrote about fellow Marines that harvested gold teeth from dead Japanese soldiers, urinated in the mouths of the corpses of the Japanese and shot civilians.  He was patriotic, religious and after the war wrote in his book With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa:

“The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu had eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all. We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to men behind the lines-service troops and civilians.” 

Mind you this is not an excuse for what these Marines did but it does offer an explanation for the act that they committed to video that we view without any context as to what led up to the incident or what they had been through.  It seems that people are rushing to judgement and that this will be compared to Abu Ghraib as a defining image of the Afghanistan as much as Abu Ghraib became symbolic of Iraq.  This is despite the fact that apart from being committed to video they are different. The Marines were infantrymen in one of the most desolate and dangerous combat zones of Afghanistan and the Abu Ghraib soldiers were jailers that had complete control of the prisoners.  There is a major difference between the actions as deplorable as both are.

I see the American wounded every day, Marines and Sailors whose lives have been radically changed by service in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They have seen horrors committed by Taliban, Al Qaida and other insurgents against their comrades as well as against Iraqi and Afghan civilians.  The war is every bit as brutal as was waged in the Pacific and they fight a brutal and unforgiving enemy that is intent on driving the infidels out of Afghanistan.

The uncomfortable fact is that an incredibly small number of Americans are fighting a war that at best will be a draw and quite probably a strategic and political defeat despite our troops not losing any battles.  The fact is that the action of these Marines will be used to not only prosecute them but to demonize them just as the actions of Lieutenant William Calley and his platoon at My Lai were used to demonize the Americans that fought in Vietnam.  The sad truth is that most of those that will engage in such demonization have never served in harm’s way or even known military service. Sledge wrote of critics of the Marines following the Second World War:

“In the post-war years, the U.S. Marine Corps came in for a great deal of undeserved criticism in my opinion, from well-meaning persons who did not comprehend the magnitude of stress and horror that combat can be. The technology that developed the rifle barrel, the machine gun and high explosive shells has turned war into prolonged, subhuman slaughter.”

I know that a thorough investigation will be conducted and that we will find out what happened in this unit that caused this obvious breakdown in discipline. Right now we don’t know who even posted the video on the internet and why they did so. Hopefully this is an isolated incident otherwise the incident will only grow in significance. During the investigation as well as news reports and interviews we will learn about the individual Marines involved in this action as well as their leaders. It will likely be uncomfortable and sad to watch.  It could well damage the reputation of the Marine Corps in the eyes of many even if it is an isolated incident.  What happened has already and will continue to reverberate here and in Afghanistan for a long time to come.  I just wish that we our media and politicians were as wise as Ernie Pyle and Eugene Sledge in judging these men as individuals before we know the whole story.

As someone that has served with Marines in harm’s way and know something of the stress that small teams of Marines can experience I have mixed feelings on this. I cannot approve of desecrating the remains of any human being at the same time I wonder what happened before this that might have contributed to the incident.  Of course we will hear more details than we want.


Padre Steve+

P.S. I have written a number of articles about the political, ideological strategic and moral aspects of war which I have listed here:

War Without Mercy: Race, Religion, Ideology and Total War

Why History Matters: The Disastrous Effects of Long Insurgency Campaigns on the Nations that Wage them and the Armies that Fight Them 

The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia

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