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“We’re Going to Have to Try to Top It” Trump’s Need for a Parade

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It was revealed yesterday that President Trump has ordered the military to conduct a military parade in Washington D.C. It was reported in the Washington Post on Tuesday and a military official noted:

“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

In the same article White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted:

“President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” Sanders said. “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”

The President who conspicuously avoided military service in Vietnam with five deferments, compared avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in 1980s New York to combat in Vietnam, called men like John McCain and others who were wounded or captured in Vietnam “losers”, combat veterans with PTSD “weak”, and that he knew more about ISIS war and strategy than American military leaders has wanted to display the instruments of American military power since he was elected. He requested such a display for his inauguration but the request was turned down and prior to the inauguration he told a reporter Karen Tumult when she asked how Americans would know that he had made America Great Again:

“We’re going to display our military. We’re going to display it. That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.”

But there is no lack of love, respect or appreciation from the military in the United States. The military is one of the most trusted and respected institutions in the country. In an era where trust most public and private institutions is collapsing the military, trust in the military, despite some erosion since the election of President Trump is still very high, some 72% of Americans have a high amount of trust in the military and its leadership. Trump’s politicization of the military is hurting it, but respect and trust for the military still remains high, and even those who do not trust military leadership still tend to appreciate and honor the troops. So I think that the argument by Ms. Sanders that we need an event were Americans can show their appreciation for the military is misplaced. We already have three days; Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day; two of them which are national holidays where we honor military personnel, veterans, and those who gave their lives in service of the country.

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley noted:

“I don’t think there’s a lack of love and respect for our armed forces in the United States,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “What are they going to do, stand there while Donald Trump waves at them? It smacks of something you see in a totalitarian country — unless there’s a genuine, earnest reason to be doing it.”

But despite the official pronunciations of Ms. Sanders I think the President’s need for a parade and demonstration of America’s military power is more like Penis Envy based on his visit to Europe last year where he viewed the French Bastille Day Parade. After that event the President remarked:

“It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen… It was two hours on the button, and it was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France… We’re going to have to try to top it.”

The President seems to be jealous that the French President gets to preside over a military parade. But there is a difference between such displays in France and the United States.

The French parade coincides with Bastille Day the French equivalent of our Independence Day marking an event that was the tipping point of the French Revolution. Though it had been held since the revolution the annual parade began in 1880 about a decade after France was defeated by Prussia in the Franco Prussian War. It is closely connected to French independence and has become much less nationalistic over the past few decades. For many years the french have invited contingents from old allies, former colonies, and former enemies like Germany to participate. Likewise, French troops have marched under the banner of the European Union on a number of occasions.

The American experience is not at all similar. Military parades down Pennsylvania avenue are quite rare and with the exception of the inaugural parades of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy which were held at points of high tension during the Cold War, almost every other parade has commemorated a military victory such as the Civil War, World War Two, and Operation Desert Storm, which should better be called the First Iraq War. There really is no precedent for such a parade when the nation is still engaged in war without end and when the real possibility for at least one major new war, possibly a nuclear war exists.

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But that being said there are real, pragmatic considerations for opposing such a parade and almost all of them deal with national security and the costs. Unlike France in which most of the units involved in the parade are stationed between 50 and 100 miles of Paris, the units needed to fulfill the President’s parade fantasy have to be moved hundreds of miles to get there and doing so would disrupt badly needed training cycles, deployment preparation, and cost tens of millions of dollars, even before the costs to the District of Columbia are added in, and let me remind you all of those costs come from Federal taxes. The last major victory parade, that after Operation Desert Storm cost over 12 million dollars which is close to 22 million now; but the problem is that the actual costs would probably be far more than that in an time when resources are much more constrained in which costs have gone up. In 1991 many of the troops involved were being demobilized and the armed forces being reduced in strength following the end of the Cold War; today’s military is stretched to the breaking point and if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula anytime soon such a parade will mark a tragedy even if we win.

Since almost all of my life has some association with military service as a Navy dependent, Navy Junior ROTC Cadet, Army National Guard Enlisted Soldier, active duty, Army National Guard, Army Reserve Officer, and for the last 19 years as a Naval Officer I appreciate the support of the American people. But I would rather see that support shown by increased funding of the V.A., increased support to service members and their families, including health care. If the President wanted to honor veterans he could authorize the military to award the Cold War Service Medal or the Iraq Medal of Commitment through an executive order. The costs of doing one or both would be chump change in comparison to the rest of the military budget and as Napoleon Bonaparte noted: “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”

While he never served himself and has mocked combat veterans the President is a nationalist and authoritarian. Nationalists and authoritarians tend to wrap themselves around the military as a way of showing the strength that inwardly they don’t have.

Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Everlasting Groundhog Day that is Trump’s America

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is Groundhog Day, but in this strange new world of the United States of Trump I always feel like I am waking up to Groundhog Day. A President and administration that has been the subject of numerous real scandals, a President who has told over 2000 verifiable lies and counting barely a year into office, and a Congress, especially the GOP majority in the House of Representatives that has bound themselves to those scandals, lies, and possible treason by their actions that appear to be assisting in the obstruction of justice.

I could go into all of that but there is so much going on. The biggest event will happen today Congressman Devin Nunes releases a secret report with the approval of the  President  attacking the veracity and integrity of the investigation of Special Prosecutor  Robert Muller  of potentially illegal and maybe even treasonous actions by numerous members of the Trump Campaign staff.  Including some who became members of the administration like the Bungee-National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. As a former Republican I never in a million years expected Republicans to so shamelessly discredit the FBI, other intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice. So much for all that I believed about Republicans respecting the Rule of Law.

Then there is the mutual admiration society that White Supremacists and neo-Nazis like former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke , Richard Spencer and the publisher of the neo-Nazi The Stormer  Andrew Anglin  seen to have with the President.

But that’s not all, we have a Republican Paul Nehlen running to oppose Paul Ryan in Michigan who is so anti-Semitic that he divides his critics into two categories; Jews and non-Jews. We have the leader of the GOP controlled Pennsylvania State House who is refusing to implement the order of the State Supreme Court to redraw gerrymandered congressional districts before the 2018 mid-term elections.  In Missouri there is a GOP State Representative named  Rick Brattin who has stated that human beings are different than LTBTQ people.

Even after the defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama there are two Federally convicted felons running for the Senate, Joe Arapaio in Arizona, and Don Blankenship, former Chairman & CEO of Massey Energy in West Virginia. Arapaio was convicted of civil rights violations as Sheriff of Maricopa County and pardoned by President Trump. Blankenship was convicted for conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as securities fraud after 29 coal miners were killed in Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

Then there is the GOP Congressman Scott DeJarlais  from Tennessee who paid a mistress to have an abortion despite the fact that he is a married supposedly “pro-life” Evangelical Christian. He wasn’t alone Congressman Tim Murphy , another pro-life Republican did the same. But that doesn’t matter because Christian preachers like   Tony Perkins and  Franklin Graham are willing to give the President a “gimme” for an affair with a porn star after his third wife and now First Lady Melania had given birth to his son, and that he has been a serial adulterer cheating on all of his wives.

If all of these events were were isolated instances or aberrations one might be able to shrug their shoulders and sigh, but they are just a few of many more that could be named.

Thus today when I think of Groundhog Day I realize that I and yes you too are doomed to endure it for I think will be a minimum of three more years, and by that time the damage to the very fabric of our Republic will surely last for the rest of my lifetime, if not far longer.

I wish that things were different, but as Timothy Snyder noted, it only takes about a year for an authoritarian to take over or fundamentally change a country.

It’s been a year and the President’s attacks on the Constitution, the legal system, the judiciary, Federal Law Enforcement, the free press, African American sports figures, America’s allies, as well as any opponent while backed by his party and a third of the electorate mean that this is not going to end anytime soon.

I am not optimistic and wonder when the President will be afforded the chance for his own Reichstag Fire event, something that he seems to  have its upsides.  Let’s not even talk about the coming war with North Korea tonight.

So anyway, until tomorrow, Happy Groundhog Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Eternal Precedent of the Holocaust

conspiracy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saturday is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the anniversary of the day that the Red Army liberated the Nazi extermination and slave labor camp at Auschwitz.

Primo Levi wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Seventy-six years ago this week group of 15 relatively common bureaucrats of various German government, police, and party agencies sat around a table and discussed the implementation of what is called the Final Solution. The meeting was chaired by SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich, who had been charged with the task of solving Germany’s “Jewish Problem” shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Hermann Goering, the number two man in the Nazi Reich sent Heydrich the following message:

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24th 1939, to solve the Jewish problem by means of evacuation and emigration in the best possible way by according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution (Gesamtlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other organizations touches on this matter, the organizations are to collaborate. 

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for the carrying out the desired final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question.”

Goering

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Heydrich

When Goering wrote Heydrich, the head of the Reichssiecherhiethauptampt (RSHA) or Reich Security Main Office, in July 1941 it seemed that Nazi victory in Europe was all but assured. Goering’s words were businesslike. Early measures taken by Heydrich to rid Germany and annexed Austria had been reasonably successful to rid those areas of their Jews through emigration and evacuation. These were not benign measures, people were forced to leave their homes, businesses, communities, and had most of their belongings taken from them in order to leave the Reich. However with the occupation of most of Europe following the Nazi military success and the looming occupation and subjugation of the Soviet Union the process of giving the Jews a chance to emigrate to lands outside Nazi control had come to an end. In fact the Nazis occupied the countries that may Jews had found refuge.

Less than six months after he received the directive from Goering, on January 20th 1942 Heydrich summoned representatives from various Reich agencies were called for what turned out to be a brief, two hour meeting which decided the fate of the Jews. The meeting was held at an estate located in the suburbs of Berlin, called Wansee. Organized by Heydrich’s deputy Adolph Eichmann, involved Heydrich, Eichmann and 13 mid level representatives from various economic, governmental, justice and police entities.

At the conference Heydrich established his authority through Goering’s directive to overcome the bureaucratic and personal attempts of various attendees to take control of the Final Solution process. Despite objections from some attendees who favored sterilization and the use of Jews in the war armaments industries, Heydrich made it clear that the Final Solution would be a campaign of extermination. He was quite clear:

“Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved…in large single sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastward constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated through natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtlessly consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately, because otherwise by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.”

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The Nazi leadership decided that its race war against the Jews needed to forge ahead. Within days of Wansee the orders went out and SS commanders at various concentration camps began devising more efficient means to exterminate Jews and other “sub-humans.” It was a matter of pride and efficiency for them. As Rudolph Hoess the Commandant of Auschwitz said at Nuremberg “the camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyclon B….” Hoess estimated that some 2.5 million people were exterminated at Auschwitz at rates as high as 10,000 a day.

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Einsatzgruppen in Action

In the Soviet Union four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. The EinsatzgruppenOrdungspolizeibattalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units in fewer than six months, killed over a million and a half Soviet Jews, and the slaughter would continue unabated until the dying days of the Reich.

Heinrich Himmler, Heydrich’s friend and superior told a gathering of senior SS leaders:

“I also want to mention a very difficult subject before you here, completely openly. It should be discussed among us, and yet, nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public…I am talking about the “Jewish evacuation” the extermination of the Jewish people.” 

It is One of the things that is easily said. “The Jewish people is being exterminated,” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it’s part of our plans, we’re eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, ha!, a small matter.” 

But then along they all come, all the decent upright Germans and each has his decent Jew. They all say: the others are all swine, but here is a first class Jew. And none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, or when there are 500 or 1000. And to have seen this through, and –with the exception of human weaknesses– to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned….”

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Himmler and his entourage 

Whether the words are those of Goering, Heydrich, Hoess or Himmler, there is a certain businesslike banality to them. But these men, and many others like them orchestrated a campaign of genocide and race hatred unmatched in history. Yes, there have been other genocides, the Turks killing the Armenians during the First World War and the Hutu and Tutsi slaughter in Rwanda but neither they or the politically motivated campaigns of mass slaughter conducted by the Soviets, the Chinese Communists and the Khamer Rouge killing fields can match the systematized extermination campaign waged by the Nazis against the Jews.

The truly terrifying thing about the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust to me is that most of the men at Wansee, men that commanded the Concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen were very ordinary men who simply believed that they were doing their jobs. Very few could be described as psychopathic killers by nature. They were lawyers, doctors, career police officials, businessmen, and bureaucrats who carried out an extermination campaign that killed by their own numbers between 5.5 and 6 million Jews, not to mention others deemed to be subhuman including the handicapped, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and other non-Jewish minorities like the Gypsies not to mention the wide variety of those considered political enemies. But it was the Jews that bore the most tragic fate and it was the Jews who were the object of Hitler’s most bloodthirsty actions.

But without the bureaucrats, the mayors, district leaders, party functionaries, police officers, soldiers, railroad officials, businessmen, and others who helped there could have been no Holocaust. As British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

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Timothy Snyder correctly observed that “The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

That is something that we must never forget lest the would be architects of annihilation of our day; the politicians, preachers, propagandists, and profiteers, who demonize the Jews, Muslims, dark skinned immigrants, LTBTQ people and other inconvenient elements and prepare people to do evil or ignore it: the ordinary men who just obey orders. Primo Levi who I quoted at the beginning was right, the common me, those that don’t think but simply follow orders or turn their heads and ignore the evil who are the most dangerous.

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

We cannot forget and we must always be vigilant or we too could easily succumb, it’s not that hard.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Societies Can Break, Democracies Can Fall” An Unprecedented and Dangerous Shutdown

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The present government shutdown is like none that we have seen before. What is going on now is a blatant attempt by the President to humiliate and destroy his opposition from both the Democratic Party and the few Republicans willing to oppose him. Interestingly enough he is being aided by the two Republican congressional leaders who has already emasculated, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Both have already so compromised themselves with the Trump’s ardent supporters that they know that their political survival is absolutely dependent on what they do for him.

All this is despite the fact that on Friday Senator Chuck Schumer offered the President more than any previous Democratic leader to end the shutdown, even going against the Democratic base by agreeing to fully fund the President’s wall. The President at least pretended to agree to a deal that would protect the people protected under DACA, the “Dreamers.” The legislation to protect them was first introduced in a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Dick Durbin. It eventual died but was resurrected by President Obama through his immigration policies. President Trump ended that but on numerous times indicated that he wanted to find a “loving” solution to the plight of the children undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country, some as long as three decades ago.

However, less than three hours after the meeting Schumer was told that the conditions that he thought were agreed to were rejected with Presidential Chief of Staff John Kelly saying that they were “too liberal.”

For all intents and purposes these young people that were protected under DACA are Americans but are prevented from becoming citizens because of how they got here. They are not a menace, they are our neighbors and contribute much to this country; their only crime was to be brought here as children, and now they are being demonized by Trump, Ryan, McConnell, and most of the GOP host in ways that fully assimilated German Jews were during the early days of the Third Reich.

By their words, actions, and policies and actions these men are showing that they are committed to only one thing: total victory for Trump. But that is what Trump has been about since he first went into business, for him it is and always has been a zero sum game, whether be it in business, marriage, entertainment, as a candidate, and now as President.

The plan now is to try to make the Democrats loom as the devil behind the shutdown while they simply are doing what Ryan, McConnell and the GOP Congress did in 2011 and 2013. The hypocrisy and lies that they employ to do this will be on full display all weekend and until they achieve their goal, even if the Democrats eventual agree to end the shutdown, and if they do that is when Trump will move in for the kill.

What is happening is dangerous beyond anything that we have ever seen in this country. The danger to the country is greater than at any time since the Confederate States attempted to destroy the Union in the name of White Supremacy and Slave Power in 1861. Sadly, the President is much more like Jefferson Davis than Abraham Lincoln.

On March 14th of 2016, almost eight months before President Trump was elected  I wrote these words on this site:

“I am afraid. Over the past few weeks violence has become commonplace at the campaign rallies of Donald Trump. In the past week a reporter from the Breitbart News service, an organization that is solidly behind Trump was assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager, and Breitbart threw her under the bus for him. Protesters have been assaulted, reporters threatened, Trump not only condones the actions, he encourages them, threatening to use the law and courts to ruin people’s lives, and offering to pay the legal bills of his supporters who have been charged with crimes. He labels any opponents as “bad people” who need to be punished. The ultimate cruelty is that though he is the one inciting the violence, he and his supporters blame that violence on the victims, be they Democrats or Republicans, protestors or media, pundits, politicians or preachers. He is creating a frenzy among his most violent supporters that demands victims to satiate their new found bloodlust…

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, and to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible…”

Well Donald Trump is the President now and anyone who thinks that he can be contained, even by the Mueller investigation is foolish.  Today the American system of government so carefully crafted by our founders to prevent such events is now collapsing before our eyes. It is true that over the years that both parties and for that matter almost all Americans bear some responsibility for this, but it is Donald Trump who in the past year has upended almost every societal and political norm in that the founders put in place. Based on his past action and his nefarious personality as well as intent of his supporters; the true believers and the opportunists, we cannot have confidence that our institutions will survive. The only reason that he would cut a deal,with the Democrats would be to further embarrass and degrade McConnell and Ryan, but since they rallied to him Saturday I don’t see that happening.

Historian Timothy Snyder noted:

“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.”

We I see the words and actions of the President, his supporters and even some friends that I thought I knew, including retired military chaplains I fear for this country. I don’t want to sound like an alarmist but that is what I see going on. This is not an ordinary shutdown and it will not end with business as usual. God, I do hope that I’m wrong, but I know in my heart that I am right.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Enemies of the People: The Mantra of the Dictator de Jour

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about Senator Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor in the context of history. I compared it to two other instances where Senators of a party went against the President and leaders of their own party, in both cases signaling a watershed where the the history of those parties and their polices were defeated and the course of the nation changed.

While I posted Senator Flake’s words I did not go into any real analysis of them. Tonight I will take what I think is the most important segment of his speech, that in which he compares the use of President Trump’s use of the term “enemy of the people” to Josef Stalin. Some pundits and the politicians on the political right have decried Senator Flakes words but they all sound like Soviet apparatchiks when they do so. The fact is that like it or not Senator Flake sounded a warning about a clear an present danger.

The use of the term “enemy of the people” was a hallmark of Stalin’s tyranny and unlike Hitler, who primarily reserved it for the Jews; Stalin applied it across the social spectrum to any opponent. Timothy Snyder noted that “In the Great Terror in the Soviet Union, NKVD officers recorded 682,691 executions of supposed enemies of the state, most of them peasants or members of national minorities.

The problem is that once the leader of any nation applies the term enemy of the people or enemy of the state to any individual or group in society that all bets are off when it comes to any real freedom, even for people who think that they are allies or supporters of such a regime. As Snyder noted about Stalin’s state, “All in all, the purification of the armed forces, state institutions, and the communist party led to about fifty thousand executions.” The fool is the one who thinks his loyalty to the tyrant will keep him alive.

The President’s supporters should always be aware of what has happened to the supporters of regimes that suddenly find themselves to be inconvenient, no longer necessary, or even possibly a danger to the regime… at least according to the dictator, or the wannabe dictator de jour.

The truth is that the President and many members of his administration backed up by their allies at Fox News and other right wing apparatchik sources and supported through the base motives of Republican politicians who value passing a tax cut and appointing right wing judges over truth and the Constitution itself. To do this they use what is for all purposes propaganda to demonize any opponent as an enemy of the people. Hannah Arendt was so spot on when she wrote:

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”

Arendt’s words are so true today. The attack on truth, free speech, the freedom of the press, and all that the founders of the United States of America sought to preserve are under attack by a man and party who were elected to their offices in legal elections.

While the President may not be a certified dictator like Stalin, Hitler, or so many others, his words and actions before and after he became President do suggest that he is an authoritarian who neither has an understanding or an appreciation of the the principles of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. As Snyder wrote:

“The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”

Senator Flake was right. This is a dangerous time and the President whether he fully understands his actions or not is following the path of Stalin and Hitler in terms of how he deals with truth. Sadly, the truth is that Stalin, Hitler, and yes our President value instability and chaos in order to bolster their power by promising stability. Arendt noted:

“The point is that both Hitler and Stalin held out promises of stability in order to hide their intention of creating a state of permanent instability.” 

My dear reader, please ask yourself if the United States is more stable than it was a year ago. Ask yourself if any of this is normal.

Senator Flake, as real and doctrinaire conservative Republican as there ever was, has compared the President of the country and leader of his party to Josef Stalin. As Jesus once said, “Let he who has ears let him hear.”

I’ll write more about this but it will have to wait. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Most Evil is Done by People who Never Make up Their Minds to be Good or Evil.”

rolfeFriends of Padre Steve’s World,

I read and write a lot about Weimar and Nazi Germany as well as the Holocaust. They were the focus of my undergraduate major working under Dr. Helmut Heussler who served as a translator and interrogator at Nuremberg while I was a student at California State University at Northridge and later in my Masters of Arts in Military History. I read the documents, the histories, the narratives, and the reports both in English and German. I study the perpetrators, the victims, and yes the bystanders as well and there is not enough time in one man’s life to read all of them, but I will try.

Likewise I visit the sites where things happened in Germany, and every time that I make a trip to those places I learn more and believe me it is not comfortable.  When I visited the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg I saw a picture of Dr. Heussler doing his work. Back then he was very young and it would be a number of years before he finished college and went on to his doctorate. When I saw his picture I remembered just how important he was in opening my eyes to the dark side of humanity; even those people that are not truly evil; those like most of us who exist between the shades of gray between sainthood and the devil.

The histories, the documents, the narratives paint a dark picture of humanity and the fallibility of people. The portrait that they paint a disturbing picture of the true nature of what is in all of us. When I look at the pictures and see the films I can see that the lessons of that time have not been learned. Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

In the age where men who admire tyrants and authoritarians like Trump, Putin, Farage, Erdrogan, Assad, and so many others it is important that we try to learn the lessons lest we fall into the same trap as our ancestors and become perpetrators, victims, or bystanders. The fact is that totalitarian regimes and events like the Holocaust are all too common in human history. 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 fact is that there are very few true saints and likewise very few truly evil people. Quite obviously Adolf Hitler and many of his associates fell in the latter category. The rest of us, and for that matter most of the people on all sides during from the Nazi seizure of power until the Gotterdammerung of the Third Reich in in the flames of Berlin in 1945 fell somewhere in the gray area between the truly evil and the saints and truthfully all of us given the right conditions are capable of becoming perpetrators, victims, or the worst, bystanders who turn their backs on evil because it doesn’t seem to affect us; but it does.

Admittedly this is a dark subject and as I always reminded my students “the one constant in history are fallible human beings.” 

During our recent blizzard and snow event my wife Judy was away, so one of the nights that I was alone I re-watched the film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film is profoundly disturbing not only because of the subjects that it deals with but also when we look at the great uncertainty time that we live and how similar it is to the world of the late 1920s and early 1930s. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film, Maximillian Schell, who played Hans Rolfe, the defense counsel for Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster gives a summation in the final defense of his client who has already admitted his guilt which is remarkable because he tells the truth about the guilt of everyone.

Rolfe’s summation of his defense following his client’s admission of guilt is damning. It is something that almost all of us do. It is how we look at the atrocities of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, the willful starvation of millions by criminal regimes; and then stand by saying little or nothing and doing nothing, sometimes even supporting the leaders or the regimes that commit these actions.

So please, no matter what your political point of view, take the time to watch clip or the whole film, and read the transcript of Schell’s speech below. It’s far easier than trying to do all the reading, study, and research that I have done.

“Your Honor, it is my duty to defend Ernst Janning, and yet Ernst Janning has said he is guilty. There’s no doubt, he feels his guilt. He made a great error in going along with the Nazi movement, hoping it would be good for his country. But, if he is to be found guilty, there are others who also went along, who also must be found guilty. Ernst Janning said, “We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Why did we succeed, Your Honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcast all over the world? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf, published in every corner of the world? Where’s the responsibility of the Soviet Union, who signed in 1939 the pact with Hitler, enabled him to make war? Are we not to find Russia guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the Vatican, who signed in 1933 the Concordat with Hitler, giving him his first tremendous prestige? Are we not to find the Vatican guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the world leader, Winston Churchill, who said in an open letter to the London Times in 1938 – 1938! Your Honor – “were England to suffer national disaster should pray to God to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler!” Are we not to find Winston Churchill guilty? Where is the responsibility of those American industrialists, who helped Hitler to rebuild his armaments and profited by that rebuilding? Are we not to find the American industrialists guilty? No, Your Honor. No! Germany alone is not guilty: The whole world is as responsible for Hitler’s Germany. It is an easy thing to condemn one man in the dock. It is easy to condemn the German people to speak of the basic flaw in the German character that allowed Hitler to rise to power and at the same time positively ignore the basic flaw of character that made the Russians sign pacts with him, Winston Churchill praise him, American industrialists profit by him! Ernst Janning said he is guilty. If he is, Ernst Janning’s guilt is the world’s guilt – no more and no less.”

Sadly, little has changed in the character of humanity. If we do or say nothing, if we support those who do such things, if we close our eyes and pretend that it is not our problem, then we too are the guilty party.  As Hannah Arendt wrote: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

A Steady Diet of Falsifications and Distortions: The World of “Alternative Truth” and “Fake News”

hannah-arendt

Hannah Arendt 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The day after President Trump’s inauguration Presidential spokesperson Kellyanne Conway who defended a number of outright lies posited by then Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his first press conference as alternative truth. The statement was astounding and was met with much criticism and ridicule, but it reflected a key tenant of the administration  that facts as they are, are unimportant, that truth itself is malleable.

In the year since the inauguration the nation has been subjected to a propaganda campaign by the administration, the right wing media led by Fox News, certain members of Congress, and a host of flacks including prominent pastors. This campaign, often led by the President’s early morning Twitter storms labels any opposing news or facts as “fake news” while often demonizing and sometimes threatening those making the reports or conducting investigations of the administration.

In the past year we have entered a world that our founders never expected to happen but warned us about. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, that the fiercest enemies of the republic were those men who begin “by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.” 

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”

The world that most of us grew up with is changing before our eyes and it is happening around the world and it is hard to say what is going to happen. I started re-reading Hannah Arendt’s book last night. It was one of my texts as an undergraduate when studying Hitler’s Germany. The book deals with both Naziism and Stalinism which makes it in some sense like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. While the latter focuses more on how Hitler and Stalin used their power on their own people as well as the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Belorussians, and others who happened to find themselves swallowed up by the two totalitarian states; Arendt’s book more at the underlying social conditions. In a time when populist politicians around the world are speaking in the the language of authoritarians, and promising to deliver their people from various political, racial, and religious enemies, it is important to remember where such talk almost always ends, totalitarian states.

But the fact is based on numerous polls in this country and around the world going back two decades show a rise in people of all ages and ideologies who are willing to accept authoritarian government and to abandon democracy. Well before President Trump ever announced his run for the presidency in 2015 the stage was set for an authoritarian leader to arise in the United States just as many are doing in Europe. Whether President Trump actually ends up ruling as an authoritarian is not yet clear, but the signs keep pointing that he may be heading in that direction, and that his followers will have no problem with it. His inaugural address was marked by his distain for both political parties and the political establishment and linking himself with the people. It was loaded with populism and nationalism, as are the messages of  Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, and others in Europe.

William Shirer who served as a correspondent in Berlin from 1934 to 1941 wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich about the corrosive power of repeated lies by the leaders of the Third Reich and its propaganda organs on people who in every other way were completely ordinary.

“I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.”

I have had similar experiences sitting and talking with people are much like the Germans that Shirer was speaking and I shake my head.

I often wonder how did we got to this point as I watch and read the President’s tweets, speeches, interviews, and the comments of members of the administration and his allies.  I am perplexed about how we did got to the point that a presidential spokesperson, as well as once respectable Republican members of Congress, and former administrations  can defend outright lies and refer to them as alternative facts. 

I think that this incessant barrage of propaganda and demonization by the administration and their media supporters is designed designed to bypass the intellect and appeal to the raw passions of followers who have ceased to think critically. I have written about this trend for several years using different historical examples but today I am just going to leave you with one other thing that Arendt wrote:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

I will discuss that passage in depth at another time but I think it is good just to let it sink in.

Have a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary