Tag Archives: political division

They Thought They Were Free: Some Things Never Change, Totalitarianism and Support for Evil

they thought they were free

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the most powerful books I have ever read was Milton Mayer’s “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945.” Mayer was a visiting professor at the University of Frankfurt in the 1950s and lived in a small Hessian town near the city. The book is about the relationships that he built with ten ordinary citizens in the town and how they lived under Nazism and how most saw little wrong with it in the end.

The book is well worth the read and very timely when one compares the attitudes of the men who became Mayer’s friends and many people in the United States today. The last few chapters of the book are a reflection of the author’s opinions of the future of Germany at the time of his writing and he was mistaken on how the Germans would eventually become a society that embraced democracy and rejected authoritarianism (at the time he felt that it was very possible that democracy would fail in Germany,) they do not take away anything from the heart of the book and its message about how people adjust to authoritarian rule.

One chapter in particular struck me, it was a conversion that Mayer had with a colleague at the University who also reflected what it was like to live in the Third Reich and how in doing so he compromised himself and lost the opportunity to resist when resistance might have changed the course of events as Germany proceeded down the road to dictatorship and destruction. The chapter is particularly painful to read as the man understood that he should have known better but didn’t recognize the warning signs of the gradual nature of how life was changing with each new law or dictate from the Fuhrer.

In reading the chapter I see parallels in American society today. There are the Trump loyalists, many of who openly call for restrictions of liberty and crushing opposition to the President’s policies using extra-constitutional means including violence. Many are quite extreme while others, persuaded by years of right-wing talk radio, politically charged sermons by their pastors, and the daily dose of Fox News believe everything said by the President even when confronted by facts. Then there are Trump’s opponents, but many of the opponents are divided and cannot get along with each other. Some of these opponents actually helped Trump into office by circulating the Russian anti-Clinton conspiracy theories and falsehoods throughout the campaign. Each of these groups probably composes about 25-30% of the electorate each. The remaining segment are the people who simply go with the flow because life is too busy and crisis laden to get too deeply enmeshed in the political debate, and many have become so cynical that they see no difference in either side and are much more concerned about making it in a still uncertain economy.

So I invite you to read this and draw your own conclusions. Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Chapter 13: But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“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.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

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

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

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

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

I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.

“I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”

“And the judge?”

“Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”

I said nothing.

“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

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

But Then It Was Too Late: An Excerpt from “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945”

they thought they were free

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This weekend we took a break from regular life and spent time relaxing with friends and our all of our 10 Papillon dogs. I spent very little time online and had pre-posted all of my articles for the weekend. It was wonderful to spend time with people, and of course enjoy the dogs as the played and cuddled and barked at anything walking down the street. But it was also nice to have little in the way of a scheduled agenda, which gave me some time to really do some reading.

One book that I took with me and finished while on the trip was Milton Mayer’s “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945.” Mayer was a visiting professor at the University of Frankfurt in the 1950s and lived in a small Hessian town near the city. The book is about the relationships that he built with ten ordinary citizens in the town and how they lived under Nazism and how most saw little wrong with it in the end.

The book is well worth the read and very timely when one compares the attitudes of the men who became Mayer’s friends and many people in the United States today. The last few chapters of the book are a reflection of the author’s opinions of the future of Germany at the time of his writing and he was mistaken on how the Germans would eventually become a society that embraced democracy and rejected authoritarianism (at the time he felt that it was very possible that democracy would fail in Germany,) they do not take away anything from the heart of the book and its message about how people adjust to authoritarian rule.

One chapter in particular struck me, it was a conversion that Mayer had with a colleague at the University who also reflected what it was like to live in the Third Reich and how in doing so he compromised himself and lost the opportunity to resist when resistance might have changed the course of events as Germany proceeded down the road to dictatorship and destruction. The chapter is particularly painful to read as the man understood that he should have known better but didn’t recognize the warning signs of the gradual nature of how life was changing with each new law or dictate from the Fuhrer.

In reading the chapter I see parallels in American society today. There are the Trump loyalists, many of who openly call for restrictions of liberty and crushing opposition to the President’s policies using extra-constitutional means including violence. Many are quite extreme while others, persuaded by years of right-wing talk radio, politically charged sermons by their pastors, and the daily dose of Fox News believe everything said by the President even when confronted by facts. Then there are Trump’s opponents, but many of the opponents are divided and cannot get along with each other. Some of these opponents actually helped Trump into office by circulating the Russian anti-Clinton conspiracy theories and falsehoods throughout the campaign. Each of these groups probably composes about 25-30% of the electorate each. The remaining segment are the people who simply go with the flow because life is too busy and crisis laden to get too deeply enmeshed in the political debate, and many have become so cynical that they see no difference in either side and are much more concerned about making it in a still uncertain economy.

So I invite you to read this and draw your own conclusions. Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Chapter 13: But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“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.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

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

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

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

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

I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.

“I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”

“And the judge?”

“Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”

I said nothing.

“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

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

One Nation: Natural Disasters Show How we Swim Together or Sink Alone

“In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else all go down as one people.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

I am amazed when I see the Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Politicians and Preachers declare that when disaster strikes one part of the country or another that the Federal Government which represents all of us has moral or constitutional right to provide assistance to the stricken region.  The latest is the  unprecedented drought in Texas which has turned the state into a tinder-box that is now going up in flames.  It seems that in our now poisonous political climate the some have even used natural disasters to indicate their belief that God is either sending a message or judging the country.

We have allowed our political leaders, pundits and politically minded preachers of the political Left and Right to lead us to the precipice of calamity as they use fear and loathing to deepen the division of Americans for their fellow Americans.  They have been wildly successful in their efforts and we all are paying the price for their hubris.

We have seen the wealth of the nation squandered by government as well as the great financial houses and multi-national corporations that for all practical purposes own the government.  Dwight Eisenhower warned us of the danger of the “military-industrial complex” but I think that the “banking-financial complex” is far more dangerous because it is far more insidiously enmeshed in every aspect of our lives as individuals and as a nation.  As a result we are in dire financial straits that some say are so great that we can no longer help one another and those individual regions afflicted with disasters beyond their ability to respond to protect life, property, critical infrastructure and even business interests will have to get through disaster on their own, without assistance.

In the past couple of years we have seen many natural disasters compounded by a crippled economy devastate the lives of Americans or all political philosophies, faiths, regions and socio-economic classes.   In times past these disasters would have brought us together.  It would not matter if the disaster was an earthquake in California, floods in the agricultural heartlands of the Midwest, hurricanes along the Atlantic or Gulf coasts, wildfires that lay waste to lives and property in the Southwest or drought in various parts of the country, we used to be moved to provide every bit of assistance that could help.  Assistance provided by individuals, churches, relief organizations, local and State governments and the Federal Government.  But now because we are in deep financial constraints we see some politicians, pundits and preachers on the political right who make their living hating government are for practical purposes saying that we should leave our countrymen and women to their own devices even when overwhelmed by events that they cannot control and do not have the means to respond.

We that is the case until their neighbors are endangered or devastated, unless you are House Majority Whip Eric Cantor who told the residents of Mineral Virginia and the surrounding area that assistance would have to be matched by corresponding cuts when they were struck by the largest earthquake the region had seen since 1897 when a 5.8-6.0 temblor hit Pearisburg Virginia.  We saw Ron Paul openly state that the Federal Government had no business in responding to the ravages of hurricane Irene which killed about 40 people and caused an estimated 7-10 billion dollars in damage from North Carolina to New England which places it in the top 10 hurricanes in terms of insurance losses.  This is while some pundits mocked the areas affected by gloating about how Irene weakened before coming ashore and about the “over-reaction” the Federal, State and Local governments concerned with the effect of the storm on their citizens.  Of course the same people deriding the “over-reaction” would be the first to use a lack of action or poor preparation and response against the very leaders that they deride for doing too much.

However the truth is that we do need each other and are interdependent on each other as states, regions and individuals in ways that our ancestors never were.  It is impossible to turn back the clock as hat happens in one region does affect the rest of us.  When agricultural regions are flooded, dried up by unending drought or winter weather the cost of food goes up, when a hurricane shuts down oil production in the Gulf of Mexico the price of gas and heating oil goes up, when a tsunami strikes Japan automobile factories in the U.S. have to shut down for lack of key components and the cost of cars goes up because supply goes down.  The list can go on and on and on and if we do not begin to think of ourselves as one nation instead of a collection of “Red States and Blue States” we will see this grand experiment go down in flames.

The time for political, social and economic fratricide is over; we cannot endure long if we continue down this self destructive path.  The multiple crises that we face demand that we come together to solve them.  As President John F. Kennedy said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.  Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under leadership, natural disasters, Political Commentary

Silent Witnesses

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers from Prison)

It has been an exhausting summer for most Americans and much of the Western World. We are witnessing events that most of us could not imagine happening.  We are tired of war but seem to be unable to extricate ourselves from the most expensive and least strategically important wars we have undertaken inAfghanistan.  The numbers of killed and wounded continue to mount even as it becomes apparent that there is no way to win the war given that more troops, time and money would have to be employed none of which we have.

Our economy is in terrible shape with sustained high unemployment, a massive debt, decaying infrastructure and little prospects for improvement.  Standard and Poor’s downgraded long term U.S. debt creating even more uncertainly and fear in U.S.and world markets.  Several European Union countries are on the verge of economic collapse threatening the Euro Zone and causing a ripple effect around the world.

We demand that governments do something but seem to ignore the fact that governments control almost nothing because they are in the thrall of the financial industry which really does control what governments can and cannot do. They even dictate how governments should manage their debts as in the case of SP downgrading the United States.  Our founders understood the dangers and the control that bankers have over governments.  Thomas Jefferson noted “I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” His fellow Virginian and drafter of the Bill of Rights James Madison said “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance.”  Across the Atlantic a leader of a different sort, Napoleon Bonaparte had a similar insight “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes.”

Catholic philosopher G. K. Chesterton wrote about how the worst vices and passions, selfishness, greed, lust and power were supposed to somehow bring about the best in people.  “It was the mystical dogma of Bentham and Adam Smith and the rest, that some of the worst of human passions would turn out to be all for the best. It was the mysterious doctrine that selfishness would do the work of unselfishness.” 

In the middle of this rapidly worsening situation we see the Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers as they pontificate about and blame one another for things that they refuse to take responsibility for and of which they really have little understanding.  Stirred up by them we too have become polarized, angry and distrustfully of our neighbor to the point of hatred.  Conservatives now hate liberals, liberals hate conservatives, the radicals on both sides have pushed their more moderate colleagues into adopting their position because those “moderates” are even more afraid of the ideologues in their own party than they opposition party.

Our government if we can call it that anymore is hopelessly divided and set against each other and none of the most prominent political “leaders” seem to have any morale center or courage of conviction.  They all seem to be Bonhoeffer cynics, misanthropes, or clever tacticians.

Religion is even used a trump card by the right with erstwhile “pastors” blessing the most ungodly adventures, preemptive war, use of weapons of mass destruction, while cozying up to and advocating for the most powerful financial interests.  Some of the more blatant of these “pastors” like C. Peter Wagner advocate a Christian theocracy based on the Seven Mountains theology by which Christians must take dominion over seven key spheres of society which are government, arts and entertainment, media, education, family, religion, and business with business being the most important.  If he was an isolated case it would not be worth commenting on but Wagner and his allies in the Dominionist movement are closely connected to a number of Republican Presidential candidates and one who will likely declare, Texas Governor Rick Perry.

We have witnessed it all and we have to say what we have seen is not working and in fact is an embodiment of evil and anarchy as each group positions itself to gain the most. We have exulted power, vice, avarice and greed as the highest ideals Bonhoeffer said:

“Unless we have the courage to fight for a revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values…. Socially it means the renunciation of all place-hunting, a break with the cult of the “star,” an open eye both upwards and downwards, especially in the choice of one’s more intimate friends, and pleasure in private life as well as courage to enter public life. Culturally it means a return from the newspaper and the radio to the book, from feverish activity to unhurried leisure, from dispersion to concentration, from sensationalism to reflection, from virtuosity to art, from snobbery to modesty, from extravagance to moderation.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

Be Careful…there is a point of no return and we may have crossed it

Be careful with your thoughts because they turn into words

Be careful with your words because they turn into actions

Be careful with your actions because they turn into habits

Be careful with your habits because they become your character

Be careful with your character because it defines you 

Ezra Taft Benson (former Secretary of Agriculture) quoted by Buck O’Neil

On Wednesday night I took a walk about our Nation’s Capitol.  It was a beautiful night and the buildings and monuments were illuminated in the most spectacular ways.  It was inspiring in a sense to see them, symbols of the greatness of the country and the people how sacrificed themselves to build it.  I can understand why so many millions of people have come to this country from all over the world to become Americans and be part of our dream.

In fact I became so engrossed I taking pictures that night that in the darkness I did not see an unilluminated ledge not far from theWashingtonMonument.  I fell from it onto the waiting sidewalk below and crunched my right leg pretty bad.  I had it checked out and x-rayed at the Naval Health Clinic at Joint Base Little Creek when I returned to Virginia. The doctor assumes that there is a good chance that I have a hairline fracture of either my tibia or fibula just below the knee and I am being referred for further tests when I return to Camp LeJeune Monday.  Until then I am on crutches and pain meds.

I fell over the ledge that I had no idea was where it was.  It was inadvertent and even when I got up and looked at it I had a hard time making it out.  However there are those in the country including many in the political leadership and media that seem to want us to go over a cliff because they perceive that it helps them and their agenda.  They see the ledge and they know the danger but they unfortunately enabled by “we” press on to the abyss.

For many years the political ideologues on the extremes of the Left and the Right in the United States have harbored the worst thoughts about those that do not match up with their ideologies. I have been writing for quite some time about how divided our body politic is and how dangerous the situation has become.

The contemptuous thoughts of the Left for the Right and Right for the Left first turned to words and those words became commonplace, so common that they became habitual.  In a sense they have become part of the political DNA of the most extreme among us.

The attitudes that we have formed and angry words which we now use so ubiquitously are reflective of a deep hatred that now is becoming what defines us as a people.  In fact the deep and abiding hatred which now permeates our society is now threatening the international standing and I would say the national security of the United States.  We have only ourselves to blame because through our actions and inactions of the past decade we have made our choice to be what we have become and there is no one group especially in our political, media and business elites that have served us well.  In fact we have as voters chosen this toxic mix of elected officials often more influenced by hate spewing pundits and our own self interests rather than that of the nation and future generations much as we would like to claim that we are looking out for the future.

We have chosen badly and we are paying for it.  We are being held hostage by those that we elected, men and women who supposedly know better than to destroy the country in order to save it as was about the village of Bien Tre in the Vietnam War… “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The Left and right have racked up massive debt over the past decade which has made previous debt pale in significance.  Each like to blame one another as “mostly to blame” but each has a major part of the responsibility for the mess that we are in.  However the amazing thing is that neither side nor we the electorate seems to be able to hold ourselves responsible.

Without going into the whole debt ceiling debacle which now has us on the edge of a default which we can only pray will not be as bad as real economists around the world say it will be; the fact is that we have made the mess and now our leaders are failing us. I have to say that all of them have used this made up crisis to some extent to further their goals and agendas at the expense of the country.  That is a shame and our elected leaders of all parties and factions are at fault and it comes back to character, theirs and ours.

You see it is about more than the budget or the debt ceiling. It is about hatred of fellow Americans which has been preached by hypocritical ideologues for decades on the radio, television and now the internet.  Much of it is as raw, hateful and disingenuous propaganda disguised as “news” as was Julius Streicher’s Nazi Der Sturmer and the Communist Party Die Rote Fahne were in Weimar Germany.  That poison has infected us and most of us line up on one side of the propaganda machine or the other.  We know what happened to the Weimar Republic, racked by bills it could not pay, massive unemployment brought on by the Great Depression and a desperate population led by politicians that intentionally used their misery to derail the efforts of government after government to try to manage the crisis.  They ended up with Hitler, the head of a large and vocal political movement which refused to compromise with anyone to bring down the Republic that they hated.

Whatever happens in regard to the debt ceiling and future budget negotiations the damage has been done.  The soul of our nation and our national character has been damaged perhaps irreparably.  Our leaders hate each other and the most influential media in the country, the talk radio and cable news pundits of all stripes throw gasoline on the fire every day. The social and political anarchy will reign until one side or the other has crushed their opposition.  Those in the middle lose either way as they will be crushed by whichever side wins unless they ally themselves with the winning side no matter who it is.

History teaches us that such times are at best tumultuous and at worst cataclysmic.  The consequences when great nations engage in such political fratricide it usually has grave consequences that effect it as well as nations and peoples far beyond its borders.

It is time for everyone to take a step back from the abyss before we plunge headlong into something that we will regret which will only benefit those that seek to benefit from it.  Or are we too stupid to see what is happening?

Thoughts, words, habits, character….be careful.

God help us all

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Political Commentary

A Tuesday in DC: Lunch with a Dear Friend and a Night walk through the Monuments

Today was another good day, in fact really good day at the conference I am attending with the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health.  At lunch I was able to spend some time with my former commanding officer at Marine Security Forces.  It was good to see Mike again.  He and I went through some very trying times together and I treasure his friendship as well of that of his family.  I think that of all the commanding officers that have served under which have included some incredible men that he was the best.  We are a lot alike in many ways both rather cerebral and out of the box thinkers. We basically are the same generation as far as military service goes, when he was a young Marine Corps Officer I was a young Army Officer.

We reminisced about the way the country was back then how our leaders still worked together and even if we disagreed with the policies of those in the opposing party that we still knew that we were Americans and that at the end of the day we were friends.  I guess that Mike and I are dinosaurs now; we tend to look at the big picture and both being career officers of the same generation have seen the country change. We both entered the military during the Cold War and after the loss of Vietnam.  Our teachers were the men that served in that war, those who came home to a then hostile country.  Neither Mike nor I are service academy types nor the products of conservative military schools, Mike went to Harvard and attended Navy ROTC and I went to a California State University School, CSU Northridge and took Army ROTC at UCLA.  We both come from strong yet tolerant religious traditions and were influenced by chaplains early in our careers.  Mike’s academic background is Economics mine Theology and Military History and both of us hold advanced degrees in those subjects.  We both graduated from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.  We have both served overseas and in combat.  We love our country and treasure our military service and that of the men and women that we have served with over so many decades.

I am honored that Mike will administer the Oath of Office when I am promoted on September 1st at Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia.  By the way Mike loves baseball too and being from Boston he is a Red Sox fan.  His dad, a die hard fan died a few months before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. My dad died a few months before his San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Talking with Mike today made me think back to a time when things were not like what they are now, where political opponents were simply opponents and not “the enemy.”  I shared with Mike the terms the German Military used in the Second World War to describe those that they fought against.  The Western Allies were “die Gegener” or simply opponents and for the most part the German military observed the Geneva Convention and Laws of War when fighting the Americans, British and French.  However with the Soviet Unionit was different.  The Soviets were “Der Feind” or the enemy.

As divided as we were in the 1970s and 1980s there was still a modicum of respect for the other side and ability to work together when we needed and Mike brought up the relationship of Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’ Neill, vigorous political opponents who remained friends.  However there is today and has been for the past 20 years or so for members of the extreme wings of both major parties to identify their opponents as “enemies.”  The language difference is significant. An opponent is a adversary that you hope to defeat but there is not a hatred involved and when the competition ceases the opponents remain friends and even colleagues even as they prepare for the next “game” so to speak.

Enemies are another matter.  To be an enemy is to assume that the other side poses an existential threat to your side or your agenda.  Thus there can be no compromise and the opponent is not simply to be defeated but destroyed and annihilated much like the Old Testament when the Israelites were commanded by God to kill everything even the babies and pregnant women.  So much for being pro-life but I digress….

Today we are more divided than any time since the Civil War, blood is boiling and if there is compromise it will be a mere truce until the next round of political bloodletting which if we are not careful may become actual bloodletting and the enemies allow their unbridled hatred of each other spill out into open conflict.  Such affairs never end well and if we remember our history our Civil War’s military conflict was over in a few years and yet with the relatively primitive weapons of the ay killed more Americans than any other conflict.  The after effects well, frankly Scarlett took over a hundred years to recover from and I would dare posit that some believe that the war is not yet over.

Tonight I went to dinner alone cancelling my plans to head out to watch the Nationals play the Marlins. I needed the time and solitude and somehow a trip on the DC Metro seemed the last place that I would find it. I walked to the Gordon Biersch where I had dinner, drank a few beers and watched the Orioles beat the Blue Jays.  After dinner I detoured from my normal route back to my campus housing which takes me in front of the White House.

Amid the lights and the amazing splendor of the buildings adorned with American and District of Columbia Flags I walked and simply observed people.  Tourists from across the nation and the world were taking pictures, business people and government workers hurried about, vendors hawked their patriotic wares, mostly made in China I might add or snack foods.  Here and there a protester sought to draw attention to their pet cause, there is the anti-nuclear weapons protestor that has been camped across from the White House since 1981, people demanding to see the Birth Certificate, those protesting for the removal of various Arab dictators and others peppered about. Capitol Police and Secret Service officers were out in force and amid the fortress like surroundings of many government buildings and the offices such as the World Bank and major business and financial institutions armed police and private security stood watch with cameras watching every move.

When I passed the White House I was rather down.  So I decided to walk the monuments that adorn the Capitol Mall.  I passed the Executive Office Building and Washington Monument and crossed the street to the World War Two Memorial.  At each place I paused before I continued to walk into the night.  I then stopped by the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, the stark reminder of the men and women killed and missing in that war as well as the rip in the fabric of the nation that I am not sure we have ever gotten past.  I then went and paused before the Lincoln Memorial and I thought of the immortal words spoken by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address shortly before he was cut down by a bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth.  They are words of reconciliation spoken even while Americans fought Americans in the last months of the war.

Fellow-Countrymen:  At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As I walked through the warm and humid night air I imagined what it must have been like for officers of the United States Army, Navy and Marine Corps as the nation split in 1861 with many Southerners leaving the service to enter the service of their own states.  Many tearful goodbyes were spoken by men that had served together in war and peace and on the lonely frontier of the nation, men who in a few moths time would be commanding American armies and killing their fellow Americans.  My family fought for the South being from Virginia.  I cannot say that I would have done different like them and so many Southerners or if like General George Thomas of Virginia I would have remained with the Union incurring the wrath of his family for the rest of his life.  Since I have never taken my Oath lightly I can only imagine that I would have done what Thomas did even if it meant the loss of family.

Today I fear that even if our leaders can avert a default on or debts that they have now set the stage for worse I the coming months and years. The open hatred and contempt of our leaders for one another and the ideas that each stand for has wounded the nation more deeply than any default or government shutdown could ever do. This is not simply partisan discourse it is a deep enmity and hatred that has not been seen in this country for 150 years.  If cooler heads do not prevail soon the damage may be irreparable and the consequences more terrible than we can imagine and why anyone would willingly continue down this road is beyond me, but hatred does terrible things to people and nations.

Since it was nearing10 PMI hailed a taxi by the Lincoln Memorial.  I entered into a conversation with the driver, an immigrant fromMoroccowho has been in the United States22 years.  I mentioned my concern and he was far more hopeful than me. He said he believed that a shutdown would be averted.  I love immigrants especially recent ones who have left home and family to become Americans.  My dad’s side family has been in this country since 1747 and my mother’s even longer.  It was inspiring for me to hear this man still be in awe of this nation despite all of our troubles. When I left the cab I thanked him, gave him a decent tip shook his hand and in my woeful Arabic said “Assalamu alaikum” or peace be unto you.

As a historian I tend to see the dangers in what is happening in our country and I do have legitimate concerns, but when I hear the words of hope and awe that this country engenders in those who come here to be free I hope again in spite of myself.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary, remembering friends

One Small Step for Man…One Giant Step for Mankind

I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was the stuff that dreams are made of the stuff that inspires a generation.  A tiny and fragile Lunar Module, the Eagle piloted by Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Bud Aldrin landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Within hours the two men had made the first walk on the Moon.  Armstrong made the statement “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  In orbit above the Moon Astronaut Michael Collins piloted the Command Module Columbia. It was the stuff that legends are made of and help point humankind to higher and nobler goals.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8rlwp_cbs-news-apollo-11-moon-landing-jul_shortfilms#from=embed

Shortly after he became President, John F. Kennedy promised to have a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.  His comments supporting the Apollo mission before a joint session of Congress are quite remarkable especially in light of the state of the technology available at the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouRbkBAOGEw&feature=player_embedded

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The United Stateswholeheartedly threw itself into the race for the Moon and though Kennedy, struck dead by an assassin’s bullet nearly six years prior did not live to celebrate the occasion it was something that in a time of war and deep political division united the Nation.  It did not matter if one was a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat the Space Program and in particular the Apollo missions made us glad to be Americans.  In the midst of trying times marked by racism and riots, political assassinations, anti-war protests and social unrest.

It was an amazing event which could have ended in disaster but instead helped us as a nation to aspire to higher and nobler goals. The landing on the Moon inspired many to study the sciences and Astronaut camps attended by children furthered that desire.  The invention, innovation and ingenuity sparked by the program helped birth more invention many times providing the basis for devices that are ubiquitous today but unthinkable except possibly to the writers of Star Trek then.

We dreamed and aspired to great things.  We were Americans then.  Now we have become a collection of deeply divided hatred filled special interests.  The last Space Shuttle mission that of the Atlantis will end tomorrow and no one knows what will follow.  But does it matter?

It probably doesn’t matter anymore because we have stopped dreaming or envisioning a hopeful future.  The Moon, Mars and beyond, forget that we need to sacrifice, well everyone but the people that put us in the mess we are in.

What does a space program matter when we are so divided against ourselves?

Our politician’s pundits and preachers of all political leanings and persuasions drive that poisonous wedge deeper every day and many willingly indulge in the “us against them” mentality promoted by those that beg us to listen to the “three hours a day every day.”

That Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers seems so bent promoting their ideologies and theologies that they forget that they all have a responsibility to a nation that is greater than their respective faction, special interest and even religious views.  Now we have politicians signing statements written by special interests groups and there are an ever growing number of them, as if they were the Constitution, binding them and their fealty to unelected and unaccountable power brokers who have only their ideology to promote.  To see politicians shamelessly entering into such pacts to win a nomination or primary makes me wonder what they will do if they are elected to the offices that they aspire.

Back in 1969 the country was a mess, but when the Eagle touched down on the Sea of Tranquility we were Americans again.  We took a moment and believed again and we achieved again.  Unfortunately I don’t see anything at the present that will make us so again at least in the near future.  I fear for our country. Maybe it’s just my PTSD “Mad Cow” getting to me; maybe it is the fact that as a historian and theologian I know where the path we are traveling ends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, philosophy, Political Commentary