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Stalingrad and Responsibility: God is Not Always With Us

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tomorrow I will be taking part in a commemoration of the seventy-sixth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It will be a special occasion and I will write about it tomorrow evening.

However tonight I took the time to watch the German film Stalingrad. Released in 1993 it is the story of four soldiers of a platoon of soldiers of the 336th Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers were the equivalent of American Combat Engineers. It is a sobering film to watch. In a way it is much like the film Platoon. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made the battle and the human suffering come alive with realism. There is no happy ending and there are few if any heroes. The men see, protest, are punished, and then are ordered to participate in war crimes.

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the turning points of the Second World War, over a million Russian, German, Romanian, and Italian Soldiers died in the battle. Of the 260,000 soldiers of the German Sixth Army which led the attack in Stalingrad and then were surrounded by the Soviet counter-offensive, very few survived. Some escaped because they were evacuated by transport planes, but most perished. Of the approximately 91,000 German soldiers that surrendered only about 6,000 returned home.

I’ll write about that battle again on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believe in God and the Soviets do not, and he calls attentional their belt buckles which are embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us. I am a Chaplain and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film.

The second one is also difficult. I have been in the military for about thirty-six and a half years. Truthfully I am a dinosaur. I am the third most senior and the oldest sailor on my base. I have served during the Cold War as a company commander, was mobilized as a chaplain to support the Bosnia operation in 1996, I have served in the Korean DMZ, at sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch, and with American advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police, and Border troops in Al Anbar Province. I have seen too much of war but even though I could retire from the military today I still believe that I am called to serve and care for the men and women who will go into harm’s way.

That being said those who have read my writings on this site for years know just how anti-war I have become and why this dialogue hits so hard. Some of the members of the platoon are accused of cowardice and sent to a penal company in order to redeem themselves. The commander of the unit, a Captain who hold the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is confronted by one of the men.

Otto: You know we don’t stand a chance. Why not surrender?

Capt. Hermann Musk: You know what would happen if we do.

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

Capt. Hermann Musk: Otto, I’m not a Nazi.

Otto: No, you’re worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

That is something that bothers me today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003I had misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there. I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for someone else in 2006 but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war even as he holds the professional military in contempt seems to be angling for war in both the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. I have no doubt that War is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it, but I have to remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die. The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all to many nationalists have done in the past. I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that manner when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th 2001. Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war.

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders. Honestly, I dread what may befall us.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, film, Loose thoughts and musings, world war two in europe

Eins, zwei, drei g’suffa! Padre Steve Muses on German Beer

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
-Benjamin Franklin

Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.
-Dave Barry

From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.

–Saint Arnold of Metz, The patron Saint of Brewers

I have lived in Germany a number of times and have a good number of German friends that I have served with either in the Army or the Navy that I am still in contact with.  I have a love of good beer and my taste tends to gravitate toward German Pilsners and Lagers or an occasional Dunkel or Schwartzbier. I do have a fondness for a number of Irish beers and when overseas like Kilkenny which is finally just available in the US in a few locations. Hopefully it will be more available in the coming year.  I also like an occasional English Ale such as Newcastle.  Call me a beer snob but I find most mass produced American beers pretty substandard but I do like Sam Adams and Yuengling lager as well as some beers by some smaller brewers.  I’m sorry but “light beer” scarcely qualifies as beer.  I have to agree with the folks at the Capital Brewery in Middleton Wisconsin which says “People who drink light ‘beer’ don’t like the taste of beer; they just like to pee alot.” Life is too short for bad beer as was known back in medieval times in Danzig Germany where the town council made an edict stating: “Whoever makes a poor beer is transferred to the dung-hill.”

Alan Young, Master Brewer at Gordon Biersch Virginia Beach

In the US I also like a number of the more German type micro brews, especially Gordon Biersch where I am a member of the Virginia Beach Stein Club.  I like Biersch a lot and since I know the master brewer Alan Young at the Virginia Beach location know that the beer is prepared to the German beer purity standards and that the hops used in the beer actually come from Bamberg Germany.  However, today is not so much about the Biersch beer, which I will write about in detail in the near future.

Today is a day where I talk about Germany and German beer.  When we first went to Germany in 1984 we lived in a tiny little town in the Saarland named Eckelhausen and I was assigned to the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) which was based at Neubrücke, just over the Saarland and Rheinland-Pfalz state border.  These are little towns, Neubrücke is a few kilometers from Birkenfeld and Eckelhausen is in Kreis Sankt Wendel.

The nearest large city is Trier on the German-Luxembourg border. When we were stationed there the local beers severed at the local restaurants were primarily pilsners.  Some of those more local beers included Kirner Pils from the town of Kirn on the Nahe River, Barbarossa Braü from Kaiserslautern and Bitburger Pils from Bitburg. Bitburg has become much more than a local beer and can be found throughout Germany and around the world.

The 557th was moved to Wiesbaden in November of 1984 and this led us to other beers including Binding Bräuerei and their Römer Pils and Henninger Pils. Some of the beers from Hessen were very nice including Licher Pils from the town of Lich northeast of Frankfurt. This brewery also produces an “export” as well as a Weizen. It is advertised as the “number one beer in Hessen.”

Well we came back to the states just after Christmas of 1986 and suffered for years without a lot of German beer available in Texas and later West Virginia.  However, in 1996 I was mobilized from the Army Reserve to serve in Germany supporting Operation Joint Endeavor, the mission to help end the conflict between Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I was stationed with the 417th Base Support Battalion in Kitzingen but had significant duties at the Würzburg Army Hospital and the 4th Battalion 3rd Air Defense Artillery.

I lived in Würzburg and commuted to Kitzingen and in my time in this area which is in the state of Bayern but historically is the capital of Franken.  Of course I always gravitate toward pilsners or lagers and in Würzburg I came across a very old and good beer in Würzburger Pils.  I also was able to have more access to other Bavarian beers including Bamberger Pils, St Georgen  Kellerbrau, Reichelbräu Pils , Spaten and Löwenbräu as well as beers from just outside the area to include Michaelsbräu of Babenhausen and Braugold which I had in Weimar.

I have travelled elsewhere in Germany I have encountered many other beers.  I do prefer the beers from the more southern and central parts of the country than those of the north.  Probably the most unique beer I had was not so much to the quality or taste was Wittenburger Luther Beer which I came home with a stein which reads “Zum Gedenken an den bedeutendsten Wittenburger Luther Bier “ein kannlein bir gegen den teufel ihndamit zu verachten” or “To commemorate the most important, Wittenburger Luther Beer, a mug of beer against the devil is to despise him.”

So the Germans have taught me well.  I only drink good beer and I think that it is something to be savored and not abused.  I like the way that the Germans do life, unlike others who revel being Puritans, the Germans have balance in life.  Unlike some of the lack of “fun-dementalists” that I have met and spend their time reveling in the misery of their condition I totally agree with Luther when he said:

“God does not forbid you to drink, as do the Turks; he permits you to drink wine and beer: he does not make a law of it. But do not make a pig of yourself; remain a human being. If you are a human being, then keep your human self-control.”

And since I am not as young as I used to be: “We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old.

Amen and peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under beer, purely humorous