Tag Archives: Richard Evans

The Past is a Foreign Country: they do Things Differently There”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

British novelist L.P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there…”

That is true. When we look at or study history it is often hard for us in our time to comprehend how others committed or allowed acts that we find reprehensibly criminal and evil. Since my primary areas of expertise include the American Civil War, including the ante-bellum period and Reconstruction, as Germany from about 1848 through 1945, including Weimar and the Nazi era, I find that I am confronted with these questions almost daily.

One of the hard things for any of us, even historians who want to present a relatively objective view of events, is to try to avoid the assumption that the people who made those decisions operated under our world-view; to assume that they should have known what we know now. But that is not the case.

The historian Richard Evans wrote in his book The Coming of the Third Reich:

“People make their own history, as Karl Marx once memorably observed, but not under conditions of their own choosing. These conditions included not only the historical context in which they lived, but also the way in which they thought, the assumptions they acted upon, and the principles and beliefs that informed their behavior.”

Yet the fact is that these contexts don’t make their history correct. Quite a few people, especially those who subordinate history to ideology and thus pretend to have a key to understanding history. Hannah Arendt noted:

“Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.” 

Such is also our contemporary problem, and future historians and lay-people alike will ask the same questions about us, just as we ask them about those who went before us.

Dr. Timothy Snyder discusses how mythologized history leads to dangerous understandings of politics, which posit theories of inevitability or eternity. According to Snyder inevitability assumes “a sense that the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done.” Such was the view of many Americans and Western Europeans when Communism fell.

Snyder wrote:

“Whereas inevitability promises a better future for everyone, eternity places one nation at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past. Within inevitability, no one is responsible because we all know that the details will sort themselves out for the better; within eternity, no one is responsible because we all know that the enemy is coming no matter what we do. Eternity politicians spread the conviction that government cannot aid society as a whole, but can only guard against threats. Progress gives way to doom.”

That is what makes the past so different, and it is why that when I read, study, and write that I try to understand the world-view of those that I study. I try to discover what made them who they were; to see the good and the bad, and attempt to be as fair as possible without falling into the trap of writing history as either inevitable or eternal. I try to emulate Barbara Tuchman who noted:

“What his imagination is to the poet, facts are to the historian. His exercise of judgment comes in their selection, his art in their arrangement.”

Even so I exercise a fair amount of caution when researching and writing about the past, because it truly is a different country.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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No Better than the Tyrant: The Christian Enablers of Evil Leaders

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Conservative Evangelical Pastor Robert Jeffress and President Trump during the 2016 Campaign 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Earlier I wrote about the costs when the Church crawls into bed with Caesar. While there was some criticism of the President in the article it was directed and more of an indictment of the Christians who by their words, deeds, and silence destroy the witness of the Church in their quest for temporal power over those they believe to be unworthy of the grace, love, and mercy of God; not by any sense of Christian theological doctrine, the Creeds, or the Councils, but for reasons of race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or their political beliefs.

Unfortunately, this comes at a tremendous cost to those who claim to be Christians and for the Church itself. Paul the Apostle wrote to the church in Corinth: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us…” (2 Cor 5:19 NRSV)

The ministry of reconciliation has nothing to do with achieving political power no matter how it is done, especially when it comes at the cost of despising God become incarnate by supporting a would be tyrant, even if the tyrant was elected under a system designed to inhibit tyrants, a system that he used, very probably with the help of a hostile foreign power to conquer.

But despite the obvious culpability of the President and his close supporters for this situation, the culpability of the church and the Christian leaders who were his strongest supporters is much greater than the man with no morals, no empathy, and a who seems to suffer a greatly reduced neurological, psychological, and intellectual capacity to govern; a man whose actions are those of a sociopathic narcissist who appears to only care about himself and what profits himself. Throughout his life he has shown through his words and actions that he does not value other people except in regard to how they or their skills profited him, his family, or his businesses. People, regardless of who they are, or their relationship to him are fungible regardless of their personal loyalty, they are expendable: Bannon, Manafort, Flynn, Christie, Priebus, and so many others. Sadly, the Christians that excuse his actions on the basis of political power and expediency throw themselves before the throne of Caesar and crawl into bed with him will never understand because adorned in all of their jewels and riches like the Harlot of the book of Revelation will not understand the costs of their obeisance until the Beast turns upon them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Ethics: 

“For the tyrannical despiser of humanity, popularity is a sign of the greatest love for humanity. He hides his profound distrust of all people behind the stolen words of true community. While he declares himself before the masses to be one of them, he praises himself with repulse vanity and despises the rights of every individual. He considers the people stupid, and they become stupid; he considers them weak, and they become weak; he considers them criminal, and they become criminal. His most holy seriousness is frivolous play; his conventional protestations of solicitude for people are bare-faced cynicism. In  his deep contempt for humanity, the more he seeks the favor of those he despises, the more certainty he arouses the masses to declare him a god. Contempt for humanity and idolization of humanity lie close together. Good people, however, who see through all this, who withdraw in disgust from people and leave them to themselves, and who would rather tend to their own gardens than debase themselves in public life, fall prey to the same temptations to have contempt for humanity as do bad people. Their contempt for humanity is of course more noble, more upright, but at the same time less fruitful, poorer in deeds. Faced with God’s becoming human, this contempt will stand the test no better than the tyrant. The despiser of humanity despises what God has loved, despises the very form of God become incarnate.” 

Wittenberg, Nationalsynode

Nazi Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller with the S.A (above) and with Hitler (below)

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Like the German Christians who supported Hitler, be they those who remained loyal to him or those like Bonhoeffer’s colleague Martin Niemoller turned against Hitler when they realized the nature of the beast; conservative American Christians who have supported the presidency of President Trump without regard to the Gospel or the commands of Christ are much more responsible when it comes to the final judgement than the man that they helped put into power. God and history will hold hem accountable for the debacle that they bring upon the world.

Those leaders are well represented by Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas, who said during the 2016 election campaign:

“You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” Jeffress said. “I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.”

Jeffress would probably agree with Reich Bishop Müller who before the Nazi seizure of power wrote:

“Mere compassion is charity and leads to presumption, paired with bad conscience, and effeminates a nation. We know something about Christian obligation and charity towards the helpless, but we also demand the protection of the nation from the unfit and inferior. We see a great danger to our nationality in the Jewish Mission. It promises to allow foreign blood into our nation…” 

I think that Jeffress and his brand of American Conservative Christianity is no better than that of Reich Bishop Müller which joined by young clergy from lower middle-class or non-academic backgrounds. Richard Evans wrote about them in his book Third Reich in Power: 

“Such men desired a Church whose members were soldiers from Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through the involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion.”

How many other prominent conservative Evangelicals, Charismatics and others have espoused exactly that type of Christianity?

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Path of Remembrance: A Visit to Dachau

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Holocaust survivor 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 picture that you see above is the memorial to the Unknown Prisoner at Dachau. The words: “Den Toten zur Ehr, den Lebenden zur Mahnung” [To Honor the Dead, to Warn the Living] are engraved at its base.

Yesterday, Munich time, I took short excursion to Dachau in order to visit the Concentration Camp. I have been to Dachau a number of times beginning back in 1996. For me as a historian of the period the trip is both for learning and for meditation, for beyond its historical significance this is a holy place, a place made holy by the blood of tens of thousands of victims of one of the most evil regimes in history. The crimes committed by the staff of Totenkopfverbande SS guards from it’s inception were intended to terrorize and dehumanize the inmates who included political prisoners, religious objectors, Jews, and homosexuals. They were not there because they were convicted of any crimes, in fact many had actually been exonerated by courts, or had served what ever sentence they had been convicted of, but upon release were picked up by the SS and taken to Dachau.

Prisoners were told on arrival:

Here you are, and you’re not in a sanatorium! You’ll have got that already. Anyone who hasn’t grasped that will soon be made to. You can rely on that . . . You’re not prison inmates here, serving a sentence imposed by the courts, you’re just ‘prisoners’ pure and simple, and if you don’t know what that means, you’ll soon find out. You’re dishonourable and defenceless! You’re without rights! Your fate is a slave’s fate! Amen.

In the Camp they were subject to punishment for even the most minor or perceived infractions, beatings, whippings, and other punishments were meted out by guards who themselves were punished if they showed any mercy or human kindness to a prisoner. “While an offender sentenced to a term in prison knew when he was going to get out, release for the concentration camp inmate was determined by the whim of a quarterly review board, and could be delayed by the malice of any of the SS guards.”

Theodore Eicke, the commandant who systematized the Concentration Camp system created a world that his subordinate, and the later Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess described:

“It was Eicke’s intention that his SS-men, by means of continuous instruction and suitable orders concerning the dangerous criminality of the inmates, should be made basically ill-disposed towards the prisoners. They were to ‘treat them rough’, and to root out once and for all any sympathy they might feel for them. By such means, he succeeded in engendering in simple-natured men a hatred and antipathy for the prisoners which an outsider will find hard to imagine.”

Even a brutal man like Hoess found the brutality hard to watch, he recalled the “malicious evil-minded, basically bad, brutal, inferior, common creatures’ amongst the guards, who compensated for their sense of inferiority by venting their anger on the prisoners. The atmosphere of hatred was total.”

In the twelve years of its existence the staff of Dachau, through mistreatment, execution by bullet, gallows, through being used as subjects in grotesque medical experiments, by “execution by work,” or untreated illness and disease, murdered 41,566 prisoners. The point to be remembered is that despite this incredible number of murders that Dachau was not an extermination camp.

I took the S-Bahn from Munich-East to Dachau, a trip of about 30 minutes. While there I read the chapter in Richard Evans book Third Reich in Power that described the establishment and operations of Dachau and the other early Concentration Camps, from which all of the quotes above this are from. When I got off the train I had a choice of taking a bus to the camp or walking to it via the path known as the Weg des Erinnerns or Path of Remembrance. I chose the walk which was about two miles. Along it there were markers with parts of the history of Dachau and what the prisoners experienced from getting off a train to getting to the camp. The path winds through the town along the street now named Friedenstrasse, (Peace Street) and through John F. Kennedy Platz.

As I neared the camp the signs pointed out the SS Training School and housing for the SS guards. Then it left the paved road and went onto a trail which was uncovered in 2004. This trail is named Strasse der KZ – Opfer, or the Street of the Concentration Camp Victims, or perhaps better translated, “Sacrificial Victims” which was the path that the prisoners took from the SS barracks to the camp itself. It ended at the Hauptwache, the main guardhouse which also functioned as the entrance to the camp.

I went through the wrought iron gate with the cynical words Arbeit Mach Frei, work makes you free in the center of it. On entering to the right is the camp’s administration and headquarters building which now serves as a museum. Since I spent a lot of time at the museum last year I went left which took me down the western perimeter of the camp with its barbed wire fences and guard tower with the foundations of the camps prisoner barracks to my right.

Eventually I reached the location of the execution grounds and the crematorium. I had been there in 1996 but the weather was so cold and damp that I didn’t stay long and I have never found the pictures that I took then. Today I spent more time there, for it is truly the holy place in the camp. Even though there were a good number of people there, including a tour group, it was very quiet. I heard very few words as I walked the area. The first thing I did was to walk the execution grounds around the crematorium. In front of the building the former location of the camp gallows was marked. Behind the building was a memorial with a Star of David crowned with a Menorah and a marker to the thousands of unknown victims. Walking to the right of it down a gravel path that winds through a small grove of trees along the camp wall there were other markers to where the ashes of those murdered were unceremoniously deposited between 1933 and 1945.

But perhaps the most chilling marker was at the place where SS guards executed prisoners up close and personal with a pistol shot to the nape of the neck. The wall behind where they knelt still stands a long with the blood ditch. After that I walked to the crematorium. At the south end there is the delousing station. The camp was designed with a gas chamber for which there is no credible information of it ever being used. Instead, prisoners who were no longer fit for work were either given lethal injections in the infirmary, sent to extermination camps, or the former T4 Euthanasia site in Hardheim.

Had it been used the the procedure would have been much like the other camps where the unknowing prisoners walked in their camp uniforms which were then removed so they could go into a waiting area before they entered the “shower” or as it is marked over the entrance, the Brausbad. At Dachau this cynically named room was the a gas chamber that was designed to hold up to 150 prisoners. Once they were in the chamber the specially constructed doors which would make the chamber airtight were shut. Then SS men on the roof would release canisters of Zyklon-B gas into it. Within minutes the prisoners were dead, their bodies showing their final agony as many tried to escape the chamber. This was common at other camps as well as in the extermination camps.

Once the executioners had determined that the prisoners were dead and the gas was evacuated from the chamber, other prisoners would enter to remove the bodies to another waiting room, in which the bodies were staged before they were taken to the four chamber crematorium for cremation. Their ashes were then deposited in the areas nearby. At the end of the building another waiting room contained bodies of other prisoners who had been executed by pistol, or died of beatings, whippings, or disease.

The walk through those areas of the camp as well as the walk up the Path of Remembrance brought me close to tears at many points as I imagined what it must have been like. I was in a somber mood when I left that area and walked past the Russian Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious shines along the north edge of the camp. I think that the Jewish one was the most poignant to me. Across it were the words of Psalm 9:21 in German, and as one walks down into it a hole at the top off the monument’s roof allows light to stream into the darkness.

Finishing that I walked down the eastern wall and fence, once again noticing the guard towers, but about halfway down I turned right and walked over to the center street between the rows of prisoner barracks, the street known as Appelallee where the prisoners were assembled multiple times per day for head count and inspection purposes. As I walked down that street which is now lined with trees and markers denoting which prisoner block was at each spot I could almost see the images of the emaciated prisoners falling out for inspection and their brutal guards.

Finally I arrived back at the area in front of the headquarters building which due to a recent commemoration was decorated with wreaths from the German government, the State of Bavaria, Israel, Romania, and other nations. The words Never Again were prominently displayed. As I walked out of the camp I saw a dedication in English, German, French, and Russian which said:

May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because they resisted Naziism – help to unite the living for the defense of peace, and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.

I left the camp and decided to take the bus back to the train station where twenty minutes later I was back on a S-Bahn train to Munich.

You may wonder why I took the time to go into such detail about this walk. The answer is the same that I choose to walk civil war battlefields, it is to being to try to understand what the people there were seeing and experiencing. Of course there were the prisoners who were so savagely treated by their jailers. Then there were the bystanders, the citizens of Dachau and other German cities who watched as Jews, political enemies, and others were marched to the camp, which was not a secret installation. Finally, there were the perpetrators, very few of whom were punished for their actions.

But another reason is that the survivors, be they victims, perpetrators, or bystanders are rapidly passing away. Soon none will be left. When that happens it is up to us the living to ensure that this is not forgotten and that those murdered at Dachau, the other Concentration Camps, the extermination camps, and those killed by the murder squads that went from one end of Europe to the other in a systematic attempt to wipe every Jew that they could find off of the face of the earth. Yes, there were other victims, but the Nazi crusade against the Jews knew no boundaries, physical or time included. Unlike every other genocide it extended beyond national borders, or time; it was an eschatological crusade that by the will of Hitler was limited by only one factor, the complete military defeat that was inflicted on Nazi Germany by those who she attacked.

Finally, the story must be told because there are those who either claim it didn’t happen, or are tired of talking about it. In Germany those include leaders of the new-Nazi AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party. In the United States, Britain, and other nations there are members of many new-Nazi and Alt-Right groups who desire very much the same thing, but if decent people decide not to speak out, if we remain silent, there is nothing anywhere that will keep these ideological descendants of Hitler from beginning it again, if not to the Jews, to other despised racial, religious, ethnic, or ideological groups. We live in a world where demagogues take advantage of people’s legitimate anxieties and deeply ingrained prejudices to stir up ungodly anger and hatred in order to both gain new followers and to incite those followers to a campaign of violence.

Doctor 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.”

Today among other things I will visit sites associated with Sophie Scholl. She was a young Christian college student who led the opposition group the White Rose, which during 1941-1943 attempted to tell the truth about what the Nazis were doing. They were found out, and most after trial were beheaded in Munich. There is a small marker to her and the group just about a block from the hotel on the wall of a building. Her grave is in a cemetery less than a mile from the hotel.

The one thing about Germany as opposed to other nations, including Japan in China, Korea, and much of Asia, Russia and the mass exterminations of Stalin’s time, Belgium in the Congo, Britain in many of its colonies, much of Eastern Europe, Turkey, and yes, even the United States has faced its responsibility to remember the victims of their most evil and lawless government. If only other nations would take such deliberate steps to acknowledge their crimes. It may have taken over a generation for that to become a part of Germany’s being and part of their moral voice today. In Germany the monuments stand not to the perpetrators, but to the victims. An they are not just monuments, dedicated to memory, but the German words Denkmal and gedenkstatte contain the German word for think, meaning that they are not just there for people to remember a mythological past, but rather to be a part of the now living the history of those days for the living to ponder and to serve as a warning that it can happen again.

In a world where nothing is guaranteed and where those who deny or minimize the Holocaust attempt to find legitimacy and to silence good people I have to speak up. I cannot allow myself to become a bystander and let it all happen again, not to the Jews or anyone else.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Freedom is Never more than a Generation from Extinction: The Fragility of Democracy in Authoritarian Times

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have had a wonderful Christmas holiday with my wife Judy, our dogs, and friends. I have spent little time on social media and I am being very judicious in what I post, share, or tweet. Social media is a good thing, but over the past year I have found that it can also be a very dangerous and hateful place, full of the fallacies of ignorant ideologues. I have gotten to the point where I do not even look at any news sites after nine or ten at night. Instead I have been doing a lot of reading because I believe that true knowledge has nothing to do with dealing with an informational overload of hundreds of stories of often dubious veracity every day, as well as the propaganda that is knowingly published as if it were either real news or truth.

Sadly the purveyors of such material, including confidants of the President-Elect, and the hacks of the Right Wing like Rush Limbaugh, and rabid conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones are now ceaselessly working to destroy any confidence in reputable and conscientious journalists. They are using a tactic that was at the forefront of Nazi propaganda efforts: destroying the confidence of people in their nation’s institutions, which they wish to either destroy or use for their own purposes, and demonize the free press, which the Nazis called the Lugenpresse or the Lying Press, a term which has been frequently invoked by Trump supporters at his rallies before and after the election. During the campaign the President-Elect himself has all too often invoked the same specter to demonize the press as a whole or individual journalists without using the actual term.

Over the past month and a half I have read Timothy Snyder’s book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Richard Evans’ Third Reich at War, William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and I am currently reading Shirer’s Berlin Diary, and George Orwell’s 1984. Shirer’s Rise and Fall is a book that I read decades ago. All are helpful in understanding how despots and authoritarians come to power and how they destroy the institutions of democracy, including the press and free speech.

As such I am limiting my media intake to media that I trust, and that excludes every American cable news network. Before I post, tweet, or share any article I read it and check it out, and even then I don’t share everything. I am using what I am going to term media triage and just because I happen to agree with something doesn’t mean that I have to share it.

Today I read an interview with Gary Kasparov, the Russian Chess champion and champion of liberal democracy who now lives in the United States, in exile after having fled Vladimir Putin’s Russia where he was jailed for his beliefs several times.  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/12/garry_kasparov_on_why_vladimir_putin_hates_chess.html

Kasparov was asked by the interviewer:

As a Russian pro-democracy leader: You live in exile now in the United States, you were thrown in jail more than once. What’s your advice to us, as pro-democracy Americans faced with real threats to civil liberties and democratic rights in this country?

The great chess master replied:

“First of all, people here should understand that nothing is for granted. There were many warnings in the past, you know, but every time, Americans and Europeans—they believe that it’s like bad weather. It comes and goes. But the danger is real. I always want to quote Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Now, probably, it’s not even one generation. Things can happen very quickly, because there’s so much power that comes in the hands of people who have very little affection for the values that make up the core of liberal democracy and the free world.” 

We live in a day where the virtues of the Enlightenment are not only taken for granted but despised by authoritarians and ordinary people alike. There are many reasons for this, some quite valid and others spurious, but they have taken their toll around the world, and we fail to understand just how fragile democracy, classic liberal values, and freedom itself for granted. British historian Niall Ferguson wrote:“So much of liberalism in its classical sense is taken for granted in the west today and even disrespected. We take freedom for granted, and because of this we don’t understand how incredibly vulnerable it is.”  

I am still hoping, maybe in vain, that our democratic institutions will survive. Kasparov remains hopeful and noted in the interview: “But I still think that America has a huge potential to recover from this crisis, and let’s not forget that a majority of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump.” I think we do as well, but do fear that events may prove Kasparov and my hope wrong. Majorities often don’t matter to authoritarians, a trait which the President-Elect has reveled in throughout his campaign and in his post-campaign events, but I take what he says and does seriously, as we all should.

That’s all for tonight, as I have plenty more to write on this and related topics, so have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trump and His Supporters Real Threats of Revolution and Violence

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. It pulls and whirls the individual away from his own self, makes him oblivious of his weal and future, frees him of jealousies and self-seeking. He becomes an anonymous particle quivering with a craving to fuse and coalesce with his like into one flaming mass.” 

I have been seeing questions asked about why so many of Donald Trump’s supporters are doubling down on their support of him as he melts down and declares war on his own the Republican Party. I think that too many people simply ascribe this to frustration with the status quo but I think that there is more to it than that. Quite frankly Trump has appealed to the basest instincts of many of his supporters: he appeals to their fear, their racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Gay feelings, their feelings of powerlessness against real and imagined elites, and the fantasy world of conspiracy theories that have been promoted by right wing talkers, preachers, and media outlets for over two decades. He promises to make them important again, to make their twisted version of the Christian faith the law of the land, to bring retribution to their “enemies” to deport those not like them, and to ban others from coming into the country. He appeals to their desire for an authoritarian leader who will solve their problems without the niceties of acting in accordance with the Constitution or law.

Donald Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, Ill., argues with protesters outside the UIC Pavilion after the cancelled rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

His message is quite simply, to use these factors to stoke anger, hatred and rage against real and imagined devils. Hoffer noted: “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.” For many Trump supporters that “devil” is Hillary Clinton, Trump actually called her that during debate on Sunday night and claimed that she had a “very dark heart.” For some of his other followers it is Barak Obama, and to a growing number of his followers, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders who have denounced Trump or who have failed to endorse him. Hoffer wrote:

“It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler—the foremost authority on devils—that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category.” When Hitler picked the Jew as his devil, he peopled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. “Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States.”

In place of any detailed policy, instead of a message of hope to Trump threatens and cajoles and his supporters, of whom he said during the Iowa Caucus campaign “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Richard Evans in his book The Coming of the Third Reich discussed one of Hitler’s first speeches after coming to power.

“As so often in his career, Hitler, beginning slowly and quietly so as to secure the rapt attention of his enormous audience, went over the history of the Nazi Party and the alleged crimes of the Weimar Republic since 1919—the inflation, the impoverishment of the peasantry, the rise of unemployment, the ruin of the nation. What would his government do to change this parlous situation? His answer avoided any specific commitments at all. He said grandly that he was not going to make any ‘cheap promises’. Instead, he declared that his programme was to rebuild the German nation without foreign aid, ‘according to eternal laws valid for all time’, on the basis of the people and the soil, not according to ideas of class. Once more, he held up the intoxicating vision of a Germany united in a new society that would overcome the divisions of class and creed that had racked it over the past fourteen years. The workers, he declared, would be freed from the alien ideology of Marxism and led back to the national community of the entire German race. This was a ‘programme of national resurrection in all areas of life.’” 

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One thing you can say about Trump is that he understands his hard core supporters. Time and time again he has said and done things that would have left a normal candidate in a normal campaign sitting out the election at home, but instead his hardcore supporters, the people who now proudly call themselves “the Deplorables” respond to his threats to jail Hillary Clinton, to abandon and overthrow the GOP leadership, and his other invectives with an eagerness not seen in an electorate since Adolf Hitler’s mesmerized supporters screamed “Sieg Heil!” at Nazi Party rallies. The cult like devotion of his base is unlike anything ever seen in American politics. After two of his supporters beat a homeless man with a metal pole and urinated on him following a speech in which Trump called Mexicans “Rapists and drug dealers” Trump responded: “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country, they want this country to be great again.”  

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When his supporters roughed up opponents at Trump rallies he said: “Knock the crap out of them, would you?” and “In the good ol’ days, they’d have knocked him out of his seat so fast,” and offered to pay their legal fees. He encourages supporters to shout down the media at his events, calls out people who might be different than his supporters as he did when he asked non-Christians to identify themselves at a rally and asked his supporters if they should be allowed to stay in the room. This week he suggested that his followers go to heavily minority and Democratic precincts to “monitor” the vote. In open carry states that could well lead to his armed supporters loitering near polling places intimidating voters just as Hitler’s Brownshirts policed polling places in the elections leading to Hitler’s accession to power and the few votes held until he abolished opposition parties. Below is an image of armed S.A. Brownshirts outside a polling station on March 5th 1933, the final election for the Reichstag. 


  

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This monster is something that will not go away even if Trump loses. Some of his supporters call for violent revolution if Clinton wins, but they wouldn’t be the first. Trump himself used twitter to call for revolution when President Obama defeated Mitt Romney on November 7th 2012. These calls for revolution and the blessing of extrajudicial violence against political enemies and minority groups have to be taken for real, especially with the rise of heavily armed so-called militia groups, as well as neo-Nazi, KKK, and other White Nationalist groups which live in a cloud-cuckoo land of conspiracy laden paranoia, and dualism.

This my friends is not normal or rational behavior for any Presidential candidate or campaign. I don’t think that I’m overly dramatic at this point. We have not seen the worst of this campaign.

Have a good night. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Triumph of the Will without the Artistry or Charm


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It has been a busy week at work, socially, and commenting on the Republican National Convention. So I am taking a bit of a break to do some yard work this morning before it gets too hot, to do some other work around the house; and later, to grill some beer brats this afternoon before we simply chill out with our Papillon girls Minnie and Izzy. 

But just a brief thought. When I watched portions of the convention, and the message delivered at it by Chris Christie and various others, especially the keynote address of Donald Trump I was felt I was watching a really badly done version of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda masterpiece The Triumph of the Will, albeit without the artistry or the Hitlerian charm. The appeal to power, strength, might, and the demonization of all domestic polical opponents inside and outside the GOP; the identification of foreign Devils, religious enemies, and immigrants to stoke fear and hate was all to be seen, as was the promise that Trump, and Trump alone could make the country safe from these devils and prosperous. The desire to return to a world that no longer exists was the heart of the GOP message, just as it was for the Nazis, the existing world must be destroyed and a new world built in the manner of the old must be established. But sadly, most Americans who have only the barest of comprehension of the scope of the Nazi regime, or for that matter any other dictatorship did not notice. 

Richard Evans in his book The Coming of the Third Reich wrote about the 1932 presidential election campaign in Germany which pitted Hitler against the incumbent, the aging scion of German conservatism, Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg. 

“Hitler ranted against the iniquities of the Weimar Republic, its fatal internal divisions, its multiplicity of warring factions and self-interested parties, its economic failure, its delivery of national humiliation. In place of all this, he shouted, democracy would be overcome, the authority of the individual personality reasserted. The revolutionaries of 1918, the profiteers of 1923, the traitorous supporters of the Young Plan, the Social Democratic placemen in the civil service (‘ revolutionary parasites’) would all be purged. Hitler and his Party offered a vague but powerful rhetorical vision of a Germany united and strong, a movement that transcended social boundaries and overcame social conflict, a racial community of all Germans working together, a new Reich that would rebuild Germany’s economic strength and restore the nation to its rightful place in the world. This was a message that had a powerful appeal to many who looked nostalgically back to the Reich created by Bismarck, and dreamed of a new leader who would resurrect Germany’s lost glory. It was a message that summed up everything that many people felt was wrong with the Republic, and gave them the opportunity to register the profundity of their disillusion with it by voting for a movement that was its opposite in every respect.” 

Does this not sound familiar? 

So anyway. I am planning a short article for tomorrow but I need to get to work.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Nuremberg on Lake Erie


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been watching bits and pieces of the Republican National Convention and try as I might as a man who spent thirty-two years as a faithful Republican to find anything redeeming in it, I couldn’t. In fact, it troubled me more that I ever imagined that it could. If I wasn’t a historian with a tremendous background in both the history of Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Era; not to mention the American Civil War era, I probably would be less frightened. If I were not a historian I would probably just brush the words and actions that I have seen in Cleveland off as hyperbole with little real merit. But I cannot use ignorance as an excuse to ignore what I see, and try as I might I cannot get the images of the Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies out of my mind as I watch what is going on in Cleveland.

Though Trump won the delegate count by a slight plurality, dissenting delagates were brushed aside in procedural votes, any who oppose him in the GOP are now considered traitors and are scorned. Many prominent GOP leaders, including George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush are not attending this fiasco, nor is the last GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Likewise, some  18 GOP Senators and hundreds of other GOP leaders. Leading Republicans, including elected officials and pundits with pedigrees that go back to Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan are leaving the party, and with good reason; but to Trump and his stalwarts they are all traitors. For those who don’t remember Hitler purged the Nazi Party of men who did not agree with him as well. 

The images shown at the convention hall were designed to appeal to the basist of human nature: hatred of the other, using faux patriotism, the image of military might, and the tales of martyrs. Coming from a man who has openly and notoriously mocked military personnel and veterans; a man who compared his time in a private military pre-school to be superior to actual military service; and a man who used every method imaginable to avoid the draft in Vietnam, the display was sickening. A man that openly mocks military personnel using them for his political and personal gain. 

The speeches thus far have been angry diatribes which demonized Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton using charges that have been continually refuted. Peaceful Black Lives Matter Demonstraters were vilified as being responsible for the recent assassinations of police officers, when the men who killed them wanted nothing to do with the BLM movement or working peacefully with authorities to deal with a very real problem. The answer of Trump and his supporters to these to all problems is to go back and echo the words of anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and 1850s, or the answers of those who instituted Jim Crow, and those who passed the anti-Chinese laws of the 1880s-1940s.

But now these same xenophobic ideas are turned against Americans of color, or Americans of the Muslim faith; and let us not even talk about the radically anti-woman and anti-gay measures in the party platform. One speaker openly proclaimed that President Obama is a Muslim, repeating a lie as old as Obama’s nomination in 2008; a lie that Trump was one of the biggest publicists, and for which he has never apologize. Interestingly enough, the day the convention began, Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King, a long time Trump supporter, openly spoke of the superiority of the white race on live television. 

Listening to some of the speakers and reading their words I was reminded of the Nuremberg party rallies where Jews, Social Democrats, organized labor, and peoplewho were called subhuman, were the target of intensely violent rhetoric, which once the Nazis came to power was transformed into action. Like today the foreign policy blunders that led to a war  that broke the nation were not attributed to the imperialistic nationalists who helped bring about the disaster. Instead the fault for World War One was not blamed on the Kaiser and militarists, but those who were not responsible for bringing about the war, and who were saddled with dealing with the mess when those who caused it ran away from their responsibilities. Today Trump and his minions demonize President Obama and Hillary Clinton for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and four security contractors in a rapidly evolving crisis that only lasted 13 hours, but ignore any sort of inquiry or justice for the 4500 military deaths in the Iraq War; a war that was planned for over a year and justified by lies. Likewise, the lists of similarities in style and substance between Trump and the Nazi movement are too numerous to mention, and the similarities in the political climate between the late Weimar of 1930 to January of 1933 and today is frightening. Historian Richard Evans wrote in his book The Coming of the Third Reich: 

In the increasingly desperate situation of 1930, the Nazis managed to project an image of strong, decisive action, dynamism, energy and youth that wholly eluded the propaganda efforts of the other political parties, with the partial exception of the Communists. The cult of leadership which they created around Hitler could not be matched by comparable efforts by other parties to project their leaders as the Bismarcks of the future. All this was achieved through powerful, simple slogans and images, frenetic, manic activity, marches, rallies, demonstrations, speeches, posters, placards and the like, which underlined the Nazis’ claim to be far more than a political party: they were a movement, sweeping up the German people and carrying them unstoppably to a better future. What the Nazis did not offer, however, were concrete solutions to Germany’s problems, least of all in the area where they were most needed, in economy and society. More strikingly still, the public disorder which loomed so large in the minds of the respectable middle classes in 1930, and which the Nazis promised to end through the creation of a tough, authoritarian state, was to a considerable extent of their own making. Many people evidently failed to realize this, blaming the Communists instead, and seeing in the violence of the brown-uniformed Nazi stormtroopers on the streets a justified, or at least understandable reaction to the violence and aggression of the Red Front-Fighters’ League. 

Voters were not really looking for anything very concrete from the Nazi Party in 1930. They were, instead, protesting against the failure of the Weimar Republic. Many of them, too, particularly in rural areas, small towns, small workshops, culturally conservative families, older age groups, or the middle-class nationalist political milieu, may have been registering their alienation from the cultural and political modernity for which the Republic stood, despite the modern image which the Nazis projected in many respects. The vagueness of the Nazi programme, its symbolic mixture of old and new, its eclectic, often inconsistent character, to a large extent allowed people to read into it what they wanted to and edit out anything they might have found disturbing. Many middle-class voters coped with Nazi violence and thuggery on the streets by writing it off as the product of excessive youthful ardour and energy. But it was far more than that, as they were soon to discover for themselves.

Trump presents a vague program and changes his positions so often that it is a wonder how he can say them and keep a straight face. But the very real anger of the voters that he is channeling doesn’t demand answers, they don’t want anything concrete from him, with the possible exception of  a wall across the southern border with Mexico. But to many of Trump’s supporters today, like many Germans in 1932, a real program, real answers, and any kind of ideological consistently, economic philosophy, or understanding of foreign policy do not matter. 

But even worse from the perspective of a Christian is the fact that to many people, Trump’s hedonistic lifestyle, three divorces; his basic lack of concern and empathy for anyone other than himself; as well as his propensity to use people until they are of no use to him and throw them away; not to mention  his lack of business ethics, four corporate bankruptcies and his vainglorious narcissism which in former times would have lost  vote of conservative Christians, are now ignored. 

In fact a plethora of prominent leaders of the Religious Right, men like James Dobson and James Robison; men who Barry Goldwater despised, have come to embrace and support the Trump candidacy. The last poll I saw estimated that four of five people who call themselves evangelical or conservative Christians plan to vote for Trump, and mock his Deomcratic and Republican opponents. A “Christian” pastor used his benediction to do what never has been done at any major American political party’s convention. He called the other party and their candidate “the enemy,” and linked Trump’s vision to that of God. It was both blasphemous and anti-American all at once. 

The whole first day and today’s continued rancor is frightening to behold. Ronald Reagan would be rolling in his grave and Abraham Lincoln would condemn what we have seen in the same way that he condemned the Know Nothings in the 1850s. 

As a former Republican, as a man who worked for the Ford campaign before I could vote;  a man who voted for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and both George H.W., and George W. Bush, this is not about partisan politics, but I am glad that I left the FOP when I did when I came home from Iraq in 2008. 

This is about telling the truth about a campaign that I could never have believed in a million years that would be occurring in our country.  That my friends scares the hell of me. While I don’t believe that Trump will win the election, the thought that he has taken control of the GOP and is in the process of destroying it, bothers me, as it should you, and frankly he doesn’t care. He has no loyalty to anyone other than himself, and all of us, including his most loyal followers are just stepping stones; just like the German people were to Hitler, and they followed him to hell. 

Anyway, that is enough for today. Nothing like spending hours in doctors and military pharmacy waiting rooms with screaming kids and GOP convention coverage to get the blood flowing. I can use a beer or four tonight. 

Have a great day,

Peace

padre+

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