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A Visit to Lutherstadt Wittenberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For the first time in 22 years during our recent trip to Germany I returned to the city where a little known Augustinian Monk and Professor of Theology, Dr. Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation and changed the world forever. There had been other revolts against the Catholic Church by various dissenters but none of them had ever found and ear with rulers who by their support could change the status quo and protect them from being tried as heretics.

To be tried as a heretic meant that you were also in violation of the law of the local monarch or the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and likewise an enemy of the State. Once convicted of heresy the the opponents of the regime were then executed in whatever way the Church and State deemed to be the most effective way of discouraging future dissenters.

Luther was not only a keen theologian, he knew how to gain the support of common people, as well as the princes and other members of the nobility who knew that they were getting screwed by both the Church and the Empire. Thus while his theological motives based on his experience of the grace of God were genuine, he understood the political implications of his theology which broke the chains of Germans Protestants to Rome.

The result would lead Luther’s political supporters into multiple wars against Rome and the Holy Roman Empire, and then against German dissenters who dissented from Luther. It would also set the stage for successful breaks from Rome in England, and in Geneva, where John Calvin proclaimed a harsh and cold version of Protestantism. In many ways Luther never fully rejected parts of Catholic doctrine such as the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ, and the efficacy of Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, despite writing circles around himself to show his differences with Rome. He would never be Protestant enough for Calvin, or Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich, or the later more radical Calvinist separatists in France, Holland, England, and Scotland. Of course none of those were acceptable to the Radical Reformers of the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement in Holland which spread to England in the guise of the early English Baptists, who were simply Anabaptists who had thrown out pacifism.

Luther was a remarkable man with many flaws. His theology led to married clergy, the Bible being translated into German and then many other languages. In fact Luther’s translation of the Bible into German helped birth the modern German language as much as the later King James Bible did for English some 80years later.

Likewise, through his emphasis on the Three Solas, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides, and Sola Scriptura he opened the door for individuals to have more say in their spiritual lives and interpretation of the Christian faith, which led to many more breaks with the Church, his Church within a few years. Luther opened the door to a Christianity which has never stopped splitting, often with ugly consequences, and sometimes reforming for the better. Luther was a huge influence on John Wesley who influenced me like William Wilberforce and John Newton who helped abolish slavery in England and it’s colonies. At the same time one cannot overlook just how Luther’s vehement denunciations and demonizations of the Jews helped set the stage for the German anti-Semitism that brought about the Holocaust.

But all that being said from a theological point of view Luther shattered the theological oneness of the western church. Instead of one Pope, Luther opened the door for everyone to be his own Pope.

His theology also allowed rulers to break from Rome and still support their own State Church. In the various fiefdoms of Germany some went with Luther, others Calvin, and still others Zwingli. In England, Henry VIII took the Church of England out of Rome and that church recognized the English King, or at times the Queen the head of the Church.Without Luther to shatter the barrier between Church and State, there would likely never have been the freedom granted to the great

This when the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States wrote those documents they were absolutely opposed to the government of the United States having a State religion or for that matter even endorsing any sect of Christianity. The great Virginia Baptist and friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, John Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Luther certainly would not have agreed with that, but he opened the door to it and we should all be grateful that he did. One wishes that the Christian Nationalists of the United States would read their United States history because they are try to establish a particular minority sect of Christianity, a fundamental evangelicalism rooted in the political theology of John Calvin as the official State religion. To do so they are using a man who would shame the Medici Popes in his profound disregard and disrespect of anything resembling the Christian faith; for his carnal indulgence, his wanton greed, vain pomposity, and his narcissism which borders on self-deification. Luther would have recognized him and them as frauds of the most odious kind.

Luther’s flaws are many. He suffered severe, probably clinical depression, and many PTSD from the beatings administered by his father. That was not helped by his understanding as a young man, theology student, and monk of a very punitive and angry God who he could never please. His life crisis came at a time in his life, between 28 and 32 years old, when developmental psychologists tell us that many great thinkers, intellects, and leaders have their breakthroughs.

He was also at times terribly sarcastic, vindictive, and angry. He could turn on friends and former students who broke with him in a visceral manner. He was also beset by an anti-Semitic streak that while it was a part of the times that he lived was used by other German anti-semites, especially Hitler’s Nazis in their persecution, and later extermination of the Jews. He was also prone to see the religious wars of his time, be they against the Turks, the Roman Catholics, or the Radical Reformers, through the lens of an apocalyptic worldview.

Despite all his flaws he is one of the most important men in history. Without his break with Rome and the support of European nobility there probably would have been no Enlightenment as we know it for the great artists, writers, scientists, and others of that period would likely have never had safe places to go beyond the limits of Medieval Scholasticism and Aristotelian philosophy.

Likewise the principle of the Reformation is that Reformation never ends. The Church must continually reform or die. Unfortunately, that is seldom the case, the Christian Church has always been resistant to change and frequently is the last holdout against truly evil movements. Christians, not just in the United States, frequently heed the call of racism, nationalism, and misogyny more than any other group. Of course there are other religions where many of the faithful and their leaders do the same thing, but today’s post is about Luther and the the Christian faith.

Luther understood that the Gospel must speak to the issues of the day. He said: A gospel that doesn’t deal with the issues of the day is not the gospel at all. In our day those issues are ones that I think that had he lived among us that Luther would see and preach about. I could see him boldly condemning the court preachers of Donald Trump, (yes I see the split infinitive and I don’t care – to “boldly go” as someone we’ll know has said). Men like Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Franklin Graham wouldn’t stand a chance against the Monk from Wittenberg. Neither would the Medici President and his sycophant supporters who scream in indignation when he or they are exposed for who they are.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“The Most Appalling Site Imaginable” George Patton’s Experience at the Ohrdorf Subcamp of Buchenwald

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In our day there are fewer and fewer people who lived through or personal saw or documented the evils of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Likewise, there are a host of Holocaust deniers who produce a plethora of pseudo-scholarly articles claiming to be legitimate historians. Even more frighteningly the rise of apologists for the Nazi regime including those who are active members of allegedly conservative parties in the United States and the European Union is beginning to influence politics. The abject racism, rejection of anyone considered racially inferior, and quite often their unhidden anti-Semitism show that what lies in the dark heart of Naziism is not dead and in fact is rising.

In the United States its rise is being fueled and legitimized by the Presidency of Donald Trump who has referred to American Nazis and White Supremacists as “very good people” after one of their protests where an anti-Nazi demonstrator was murdered and others brutally attacked. In the same time frame a good number of Republican candidates have exposed themselves as White Supremacists and actual Nazis while running for office. A host of new-Nazi and White supremacist organizations openly meet and flood the internet with their race hatred.

The fact is that anyone who denies the Holocaust, attempts to minimize it, or advocates the same policies of race hatred and violence against political, religious, or other opponents is no better than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Likewise, those who stand by and say nothing are worse. As Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The good thing is that there were people who took the time to record what they saw in the Nazi Concentration Camps and exposed those deeds to the world in such a way that only perverted and evil people could brazenly deny those facts.

One of the most detailed descriptions of a liberated Concentration Camp was written by General George Patton in his memoirs entitled War as I Knew It.

… we drove to Ohrdruf and visited the first horror camp any of us had ever seen. It was the most appalling sight imaginable.

A man who said he was one of the former inmates acted as impresario and showed us first the gallows, where men were hanged for attempting to escape. The drop board was about two feet from the ground, and the cord used was piano wire which had an adjustment so that when the man dropped, his toes would just reach the ground and it would take about fifteen minutes for him to choke to death, since the fall was not sufficient to break his neck. The next two men to die had to kick the board out from under him. It was stated by some of the Germans present that the generals who were executed after the Hitler bomb incident were hanged in this manner.

Our guide then took us to the whipping table, which was about the height of the average man’s crotch. The feet were placed in stocks on the ground and the man was pulled over the table, which was slightly hollowed, and held by two guards, while he was beaten across the back and loins. The stick which they said had been used, and which had some blood on it, was bigger than the handle of a pick.

Our guide claimed that he himself had received twenty-five blows with this tool. It later developed that he was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners. General Eisenhower must have suspected it, because he asked the man very pointedly how he could be so fat. He was found dead next morning, killed by some of the inmates.

Just beyond the whipping table there was a pile of forty bodies, more or less naked. All of these had been shot in the back of the head at short range, and the blood was still cooling on the ground.

In a shed near-by was a pile of forty completely naked bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime – not, apparently, for the purpose of destroying them, but to reduce the smell. As a reducer of smell, lime is a very inefficient medium.

The total capacity of the shed looked to me to be about two hundred bodies. It was stated that bodies were left until the shed was full and then they were taken out and buried. The inmates said some three thousand people had been buried from this shed since January 1, 1945.

When our troops began to draw near, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes. They therefore used the inmates to exhume the recently buried bodies and to build a sort of mammoth griddle of 60 cm. railway tracks laid on a brick foundation. The bodies were piled on this and they attempted to burn them. The attempt was a bad failure. Actually, one could not help but think of some gigantic cannibalistic barbecue. In the pit itself were arms and legs and portions of bodies sticking out of the green water which partially filled it.

General Walker and General Middleton had wisely decided to have as many soldiers as possible visit the scene. This gave me the idea of having the inhabitants themselves visit the camp. I suggested this to Walker, and found that he had already had the mayor and his wife take a look at it. On going home those two committed suicide. We later used the same system in having the inhabitants of Weimar go through the even larger slave camp (Buchenwald) north of that town. (Excerpted for G. Patton War as I Knew It)

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote after seeing the camp:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, however, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime.

I go to a quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.

That is our reality. There are people, even neighbors and those that we think are friends who would be perpetrators or bystanders when those that transgress the way of Trump are take us from our homes and families because of our beliefs. I would love to be wrong about this, but I am a historian and a theologian and I know the human condition far too well to sit back and remain silent, no matter what the cost.

I had a Facebook exchange with a friend who is a retired Navy Chaplain. He is very much a Trump supporter and apologist. He is very happy about Justice Kavanaugh being in the Supreme Court. The stories of the victims and their claims did not matter to him. Despite that I do not believe that he is a bad man or an evil person. I simply believe that like Martin Niemöller that he has made a bad choice in the man and party that he currently supports and that he will eventually regret it. I could be wrong, he might not turn out to be a Niemöller, but a Reichsbishof Müller. Sincerely hope that he does not become the latter.

I keep quoting historian Timothy Snyder, but he was all too correct when he wrote these words less than two years ago:

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

If you don’t believe me read the words of the President, his closest supporters, the prominent political preachers of the Christian Right, and any number of Trump leaning columnists, pundits, and politicians. There are some who are so far gone that they will accuse any opponent of being disloyal, not the the Constitution or the law but to President Trump. One of those people tried to get my commanding officer to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in which he lied about what I said. I had to spend my money to hire a lawyer to defend me from the false charges and have them dismissed during the preliminary investigation.

Trust me, I know what resistance will mean if this President and his cult like followers are not stopped. Our fate will be worse than that of Nazi Germany because we should have known better. We should have learned from Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. We should have learned fro Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, we should have learned from the Nuremberg trials, but we have not.

For the next four months, and maybe more should the Democrats fail to gain a majority in the House or Senate, President Trump will have all the branches of the Federal government in his power. With the laws already enacted in the Patriot Act and numerous executive orders there is little to stop a President who has no respect for the law or the Constitution from declaring full emergency powers should any war, terrorist act, or natural disaster be declared.

So with all of that happy commentary I will leave you until tomorrow when, God willing, I will be back in the United States.

Until then have a good night, and please, never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Flugzeug, Fußball, and International Friendship in Trump’s Amerika First World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry for the delay in posting, but the past couple of days have been quite full. Yesterday we had to exchange our rental car and afterwards went to the Deutsches Museum’s aircraft yard Flugwerft in Schleissheim just outside of Munich. After that we went to our favorite local restaurant, Zum Brunnstein, had a long and relaxing lunch and then did some shopping in the local area near our hotel, which despite being a very expensive 4 1/2 star hotel, is located in your typical working class neighborhood. This is because of its location near the city’s Ostbahnhof which makes it a travel hub for business people and tourists.

After that we went back to the hotel where I prepared for my epic trip to a Bayern München game at Allianz Arena. But before I do that I have to go back in time…

Back in 1979 I was traveling with an American Christian singing group in Europe when President Jimmy Carter gave his American Malaise speech. Back then I was young, and still idealistic about the hope and promise of the United States that was given life in the proposition of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” as well as the ability of Americans to rise to the occasion in the midst of a real economic crisis triggered by massive inflation that had begun during the Nixon administration and the massive rise in oil prices after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

There was also a crisis of confidence in the ability of the nation to do better in the future, a crisis of confidence in the American system of government, and deep divisions over the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights movement which had expanded to women and homosexuals. Carter, whose deep Christian faith was always in evidence was castigated by prominent political activist preachers in the nascent Christian Right.

His speech was actually masterful, but he chose to use a harsh term to describe the truth about the United States in 1979, he talked of an American Malaise. That word was enough to cause his otherwise masterful diagnosis of the health of the nation to be mocked on both sides of the Atlantic. I will write about that speech soon because it is

At the time his words were mocked in many parts of Europe and as a nineteen year old college student traveling abroad I was embarrassed to be an American as I read in British newspapers the reaction to his speech. Of course I hadn’t actually heard or read the speech, only the reaction in the British tabloids which used it to slam the American President who they considered to be a non-Presidential commoner. Likewise, at the time I didn’t understand the nature of the Tabloids, or even the flagship British newspapers, and assumed that what I read was accurate. Based on those articles in the British tabloids, I wanted to hide the fact that I was an American, but if I had actually read or heard the speech I would have admired his honesty and candor.

Yesterday was different yet similar, however, instead of simply reading the reaction to the President’s speech at the United Nations, I was able to watch it and read its text, almost in real time. I watched in horror as Trump claimed to have done more than any American President during his first year and a half in office than any previous American President, only to be met with derisive laughter. One has to hand it to the miracles of modern technology sometimes, even when it exposes the American President, using his own speech as a complete idiot and buffoon.

So yesterday, instead of being a young and idealistic college student with little access to news in real time, I am almost forty years older and while still idealistic, I am much more world wise, with a lot more access to news as it happens than I was back then. Frankly, in 1979 I really didn’t know shit from Shinola about anything, even though I thought that I knew it all. Almost forty years later words of the late Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” have become more than a nice quote. They are truth.

Thirty-nine years after President Carter’s Malaise speech I was again in Europe when the American President again, not only embarrassed the country, but did so on full display while speaking at the United Nations. As I read his words at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus before going up to the Bayern Munich match against Augsburg I wanted to hide, but I was at a table with a couple of Germans, a Pole, and a Dane, all Bayern fans. It is interesting how the a team like Bayern can bring together so many people from around the world.

I could have easily hid the fact that I am American, in fact my German is good enough and my accent a blend of Bayerische, Hessische, and Rheinländische Deutsch to pass myself off as a German. But I am an American and like it or not, for now, Trump is the American President and he has no shame. One of the men that I was sitting with asked where I was from, assuming that I was German. I surprised him by telling him that I was an American and as happens often here I was told by the man just how he loved the United States and Americans but how fearful he was of President Trump. Like other German friends he told me that I should flee to Germany to escape what is coming. The specter of the unthinkable still haunts many Germans, even as the struggle with their own nativist, nationalist, racist, and anti-democratic elements.

Sadly, neither the President nor his Cult followers have any capacity for ethical or moral reflection. While I was embarrassed at President Carter’s speech in 1979, I never wanted to hide my head in shame as as much as I did yesterday when I read and watched President Trump’s speech to the United Nations. I was ashamed, because unlike Carter’s speech which had much basis in the reality of the times, and maybe more so today, Trump’s message of an America First foreign policy upends the promise of of the Atlantic Charter and everything good that came after it. He praises dictators and compliments regimes that have more in common with Stalin, Mao, or Hitler than Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Roosevelt and routinely savages our actual friends and allies.

But anyway, it is now after midnight here and we will be getting up to travel north, first to the Erzgebirge Region of Saxony before going to Wittenberg where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, then to Eisenach to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore before traveling to Berlin on Sunday.

So until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Pardon Me, But… Reflections on the Evangelical Dead Enders of Trump World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Pardon me tonight, but as I watch the descent into collective madness of the Trump regime and its acolytes as the walls close in around it I wonder what acts of desperation they will resort in the coming weeks until the mid-term elections and afterward should the Democrats regain control of the House, Senate, or both.

Truthfully, am afraid of what Trump, his Vichy Republican supporters and the cult-like base might do if they lose. In normal times and with normal players in our system with its checks and balances I wouldn’t be concerned, but with this crew I am concerned and I wouldn’t be surprised at anything that they might do to retain power.

I have lost count of the number of egregious policies and behaviors of the administration and its most fervent supports. It is like watching a cult leader and his disciples. Republican strategists and “Never Trumper” Rick Wilson noted of the Evangelicals that make up a significant part of his base:

Evangelicals are the dead-enders of the Trump world, a phenomenon explained by both demographics and geographic distribution; the southern and Midwestern states where they live are Trump country, writ large. He is their Golden Calf, and the leaders of the Evangelical movement repeat daily, “This is your god, who brought you up from Egypt.”

While I know many evangelicals who are truly in their personal lives the salt of the earth, but as for their high powered leaders who have over the course of more than three decades led them to surrender their lives and sell their souls for 30 small disc shaped pieces of metal composed of 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, if that much.

Believe me I know what I am talking about. I spent much of my young adult life and ministry in that world. In the early 1990s I worked at the headquarters of a major Evangelist who in 2016 became a political prostitute for candidate Trump, but I woke up after seeing the lies and the human cost of that devotion during my time in Iraq, long before Donald Trump burst on the Republican political scene.

Even before Trump came on the scene I experienced what it was like to have “Christian friends” turn their backs on me because I was no longer politically conservative enough for them. Yet after Trump, the cesspool that is political evangelicalism is far more toxic than it ever was. It’s leaders seem to have flushed anything redemptive in the Gospel down their gilded toilets, and some seem to be competing for the position of Reichsbishof in the new order. For them it is all about the raw acquisition of worldly power, the curse that has infected the Church since Constantine.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

This is something that far too many American Christian leaders and their followers have forgotten. Instead they have become vengeful instruments of the most ungodly and unprincipled man ever to serve as the American President, and maybe any man that has ever aspired to be President, and that my friends takes a lot of effort.

Rick Wilson, who knows the current generation of Christian leaders well due to his position in Republican administrations and as a political consultant to many GOP candidates wrote of them:

Changing hearts and minds in a society that has passed them by on many issues is boring and hard work. They’d rather compromise with a candidate who will nominate their preferred judges than uphold their values. Instead of working to change society through moral suasion, exemplars of faith, or even just better communications, they’d rather trust the federal government in the hands of Donald Trump to deliver their desired social end states. Call me crazy, but I thought that was the other team’s modus operandi.

Anyway, like I said in the beginning of this article, pardon me tonight, but…

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Birmingham Church Bombing and the Never Ending Scourge of Race Hatred in the United States

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

On September 16th 1963 a young Southern White lawyer in Birmingham Alabama spoke these words after a black church was bombed and the police attacked peaceful protesters:

“from anger and despair, from frustration and empathy. And from years of hopes, hopes that were shattered and crumbled with the steps of that Negro Baptist Church.”

Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 52 years ago today. At 10:22 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was one of the most brazen attacks against a church in the modern era, and men who claimed to be “Christians” committed it.

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Four young girls, three 14 year olds and one 13 year old were killed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives that day. Twenty-two other church members were wounded in an attack, which was carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Why were they killed and why were the others wounded? For the crime of being black and the crime of their church serving as a focal point of the Civil Rights movement.

Likewise, most people, including many blacks do not know that before that beginning in 1955 there had been 19 other bombings of black churches and the homes of black leaders in Birmingham before this one. But even before that outbreak of violence, Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham”because over 50 bombing attacks against blacks, black churches and black institutions in the years after the First World War.

The church had served as a focal point of the Freedom Summer where Civil Rights activists and students from around the country had met, trained and organized to register blacks to vote. This made it a prominent target for violence.

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Early in the morning of September 15th four members of the United Klans of America Frank Bobby Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash and Robert Chambliss placed a box of 10 sticks of dynamite under the church steps near the basement. A time delay detonator was set o ensure that the church was filled when the bomb went off. The blast occurred as children were entering the to listen to a sermon, ironically entitled “The Love that Forgives.”

The attack was a heinous crime and an act of cold-blooded premeditated murder that maybe a number of years before might not have made the news in much of the country. But this was 1963 and over the preceding months of the Freedom Summer opened the eyes of people across the nation to what was happening in the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers during that time raised the profile of the Civil Rights Movement and shown the ugly hatred towards blacks held by many Southerners hidden underneath the veneer of polite Southern hospitality.

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Blacks protested and were met with a massive police response coordinated by Governor Wallace that brought about more violence, and more dead blacks. A day later a young white lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr.; a true Southerner by right and heritage spoke to the White Businessman’s club of Birmingham. His words were forceful and to the point. Instead of simply asking why, the young man began his speech with this poignant remark:

“Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.”

He continued, A short time later, white policemen kill a Negro and wound another. A few hours later, two young men on a motorbike shoot and kill a Negro child. Fires break out, and, in Montgomery, white youths assault Negroes. And all across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say they wonder, “Why?” “Who?” Everyone then “deplores” the “dastardly” act. But you know the “who” of “Who did it” is really rather simple.”

Not only was the attack heinous, but, the response of many in law enforcement at the local level and even at the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was criminal. Hoover refused to investigate, and although a witness identified Chambliss, he was not charged with the bombing; instead he was charged for having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six-month jail sentence.

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Thought FBI agents had investigated the crime and discovered evidence against all four men, Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. So for eight years the crime was covered up.

However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. Baxley re-opened the case and requested the FBI files, which had been suppressed by Hoover, who had died in 1972. In 1977 Chambliss was indicted and convicted of first degree murder, he died in prison. Blanton was tried in 2001, convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 with ever having been charged with a crime and Cherry was convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison and died in 2004.

The attack and the deaths of the four girls served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. However it did not end the fight for equality, and others would die in its aftermath, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who died at the hands of an assassin’s bullet less than 4 years later.

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965 many blacks have been elected to local, state and federal offices or served in some of the highest ranks of the military, judiciary, and at the Cabinet level. Two, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have served as Secretary of State, two, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, as Attorney General of the United States; one, Clarence Thomas, as a Justice of the Supreme Court; and one, Barak Obama elected as President of the United States. Black sports stars, actors and singers are celebrated as heroes among much of society.

But despite these advances, racism is still quite prevalent and getting worse as its proponents, unleashed and unhindered with a supportive President in the White House. One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a white Southern Baptist minister and retired military chaplain noted that many whites may not be explicitly racists in interpersonal relationships with blacks, but have an attitude that blacks still need “to stay in their place.” He noted that he thinks that quite a few believe that many whites believe that this is a large part of the reason that President Obama is opposed and even hated by so many whites. It is not just politics or ideology. While politics may play a role the root of the hatred is racism because I cannot for the life of me imagining any white Democrat, including Hilary Clinton getting this kind of treatment.

But the sad truth is there still is an undercurrent of unrepentant racism in the country and not just the South. In fact many places in the South have seen greater advances in racial relations than other parts of the country. That is not to say that there are those who would attempt to disenfranchise blacks, some of the voting laws recently passed are designed to ensure that significant parts of the black population, specifically the elderly and students living away from home have greater difficulty voting. It is actually a more insidious method than past Jim Crow laws because the drafters of these laws hope to keep just enough black and other poor or minority voters from voting to ensure that they maintain power. Some of those who drafted or supported these state laws designed to disenfranchise voters have openly admitted that fact.

Not only is racial prejudice experienced by blacks, it is experienced by many Americans of Hispanic origins, some of Asian descent but also by those of Middle Eastern, Iranian, Pakistani or Indian descent. And yes, people of all races, including racial, ethnic and religious minorities can be as racist and violent as the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church 52 years ago. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter whom it is targeted against, and who does the targeting, it is wrong and needs to be fought.

The Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org lists 784 active hate groups of all types operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. (See the Hate Map herehttps://www.splcenter.org/hate-map) The number is down from recent because a number of more the virulent White Supremacist and militia groups have gone underground, shut down websites and social media pages.

Too many people have died in this struggle to stop now. If today you read this before or after going to church, remember those four little girls who died at the hands of four murdering, racist Klansmen. Likewise remember that there are others out there full of hate who would not hesitate to do the same again and others who would actively support those efforts. Sometimes even in the name of God.

As for me I will fight it no matter whom it is against.

Charles Morgan Jr. closed the speech which brought about death threats against him and his family and forced him to leave Birmingham with these words.

“And who is really guilty? Each of us. Each citizen who has not consciously attempted to bring about peaceful compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, every citizen who has ever said “they ought to kill that nigger,” every citizen who votes for the candidate with the bloody flag, every citizen and every school board member and schoolteacher and principal and businessman and judge and lawyer who has corrupted the minds of our youth; every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.”

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Charles Morgan Jr.

Charles Morgan died in 2009, but after he left Birmingham he went on to lead a remarkable life, especially in his commitment to Civil Rights and Justice. The New York Times obituary noted:

“Among his many cases as a civil rights lawyer, Mr. Morgan sued to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Alabama; forced a new election in Greene County, Ala., that led to the election of six black candidates for local offices in 1969; and successfully challenged racially segregated juries and prisons. After the civil rights movement began to subside, Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War.

He represented Muhammad Ali in his successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented the civil rights activist Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views. And he defended an officer when he was court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.”

We cannot ever let ourselves forget that it was supposedly Christian men who bombed a church and killed those four little girls, and that as long as all of us fail to live up to our responsibilities such things will happen again. If we do not, we are as guilty as those who throw the bombs, shoot the bullets, and those preachers, pundits and politicians who deny the fact that these things are still commonplace. This is especially true in the Trump era.

Yes, my friends, we will be at least as guilty as the brazen killers who continue to try to kill the dreams of those who are not like them. As for me, I hope that I will be as committed to stand for the rights of the oppressed and for justice as did Charles Morgan.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Battling Emboldened Holocaust Deniers a Day at a Time

Babi Yar

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have a policy about Holocaust denial on my site. If someone denies the Holocaust or tries to minimize it I delete their post. That might sound somewhat restrictive, but I will not give them the space on my site to posit their race hatred and justification of genocide in any way shape or form. It used to be that I would spar with them, but I realized that by doing so I gave them a sense of acceptability, and when some proceeded to make physical threats against me for opposing their ideas I realized that I couldn’t go down that road anymore.

That being said, every so often I get comments from Holocaust deniers, as well as Japanese deniers of the Rape of Nanking and other Japanese atrocities in Asia during the 1930s and World War II. The Japanese Nanking deniers are almost always Right Wing revisionists and hyper-nationalists who subscribe to the racial theory that the Chinese and other non-Japanese are less than human. But I’ve never had an American take issue with Nanking while almost all of my holocaust deniers are Americans who not only deny the Holocaust, but who subscribe to the most base and repulsive theories of anti-Semitism, and White Supremacy.

Today I had yet another Holocaust denier pop up and comment on my article  The Justification of Genocide: Race Hatred and the Quest for Living Space and said “you fear open debate.”  His blog address was listed on the post so I went to it and found plenty of racist, pro-Nazi, and Holocaust denial posts and links, as well as President Trump’s racist polices on immigration.

But the reality is that such people fear open debate because when they engage in it they are exposed for the frauds that they are. Some like the English defender of all things Hitler and Holocaust denier, David Irving had the nerve to sue American Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court where she would have to prove her innocence as opposed to an American court where he would have had to prove that she had libeled him. Even in that setting Irving lost. If you want to see a great film, watch the movie adaptation of the trial Denial.”

A while back I had another who ripped into me on the Nazi massacre of Ukrainian Jews at Babi Yar, in which over 33,771 Jews were marched out of Kiev and shot on the 29th and 30th of September 1941. There were 29 survivors who managed to escape the death pits by feigning and climbing out after dark. Massacres of more than 100,000 other people, mostly non-Jews continued until November. The number of Jews killed was documented by the Commander of the Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C which conducted the massacre. The Einsatzgruppe men were assisted by troops from two Police Battalions and Waffen SS troops with support from the Wehrmacht.  Both the records of the Einsatzgruppe and the testimony of SS men who took part is damning enough, yet my denier critic had the nerve to say “There was no such massacre – it is just another example of war time atrocity propaganda.”

I since he decided to leave his email address and website I decided to do a little investigation and found that he is full of these zingers and an avid supporter of President Trump. He plays fast and loose with the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust and claims that “It is currently illegal in many European nations to question the official or generally accepted account of the holocaust of European Jewry during the Second World War.” Of course that is not true, in fact in most of Europe the archives are open, the documents assessable, and the evidence undeniable. The problem is that the evidence is so great that any to deny it or attempt to revise it deserves both public ridicule and academic scorn. There are laws against Holocaust denial in many European countries precisely because it was such a horrific chapter in human history that it cannot be minimized or defended.

James Morcan in his book Debunking Holocaust Denial Theories wrote something very true that I am all too aware of:

“Unfortunately, the historicity of the Holocaust has been undermined and chipped away at by the exact same sinister forces that created the genocide in the first place: racists, religious bigots and the most paranoid type of conspiracy theorists who, together, are uniting – often unwittingly – to form a new wave of anti-Semitism that will not willingly accept the obvious facts of the past. This chipping away (at the truth) began slowly and insidiously – much like the Holocaust itself – but sadly, and worryingly, it is gathering pace.” 

It is interesting to read through the man’s blog and see that his issue is not about anti-Semitism, as he is exceptionally anti-Semitic, nor is it about the killing of the Jews, just the number of Jews killed. It seems that if  he, like the other deniers can somehow lessen the number of Jews killed, that it becomes more acceptable, and over time forgettable. I will not open this site up to Holocaust deniers. One of those deniers is Charles Johnson who was invited to the State of the Union Address by Congressman Matt Gaetz. In an interview Johnson responded to the question “what are your thoughts on the Holocaust, WW2, and the JQ in general?” (JQ is short for the Jewish Question) His response was telling.

“I do not and never have believed the six million figure. I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic. I think the Allied bombing of Germany was a war [sic] crime. I agree…about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real.”

He denies being a Holocaust deniers and touts his support for Israel, but his words are all too indicative of what he really believes, yet he is accepted by leading members of the Republican Party. Such associations do nothing but serve to legitimatize them and make their arguments more acceptable, after all, if a President and leading Congressmen espouse a position and associate with its proponents, it must have merit. Of course it doesn’t but when there is a dearth of historical knowledge and general indifference it does not take much for such men to motivate others to violence. As Lipstadt noted about David Irving, and I would extend to people like Johnson: “People like David Irving do not throw firebombs. They throw the words that can cause others to throw those firebombs.” 

The sad thing for us as a nation is that quite a few Holocaust deniers, have the ear of the President, people in his administration, and Republican Congressmen. This makes this topic all too relevant. As Marc Bloch wrote “we can truly understand the past only if we read it in light of the present.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Civilization is Tissue Thin: The Uncomfortable Necessity of Understanding Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I will be doing more of that in the next few weeks as we go back to Germany for an eighteen day visit.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

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Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the majority of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

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Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

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Nankingnanking_massacre_1

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

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Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

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The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

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The Islamic State

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide 

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

In fact in trying to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville the President first equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked and under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said that was an admission that he was almost an admission that he was wrong.” The President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

 

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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