Tag Archives: timothy snyder

Mistaken Assumptions: Yes Elected Officials Can Destroy the Institutions that Helped them to Power

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since it is late, we were out with a couple from my chapel’s Catholic congregation enjoying a wonderful meal at our favorite Mexican restaurant, just a short thought for the day.

I read President Trump’s words in his speech and in his tweets over the weekend excoriating what he calls the journalists who write “fake news” in order to discredit him. As I watched his speech online, then read it as well as his tweets and the words of his surrogates I was reminded of historian Timothy Snyder’s words in his book On Tyranny. 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.”

President Trump has since the beginning of his campaign promised to destroy the institutions that helped him to the presidency. He and his surrogates seem to be working overtime to accomplish that by attacking the press, the courts, the military and intelligence services, the diplomatic corps, law enforcement; particularly the FBI and Special Prosecutor Robert Muller.

We are looking at a full fledged Constitutional crisis and truthfully I wonder if we will survive it, even if the President does not blunder us into a war with North Korea which would be the most deadly and destructive war waged since the Second World War. Yet he and his supporters do not seem to care, and for the most part many Americans regardless of their political leanings don’t seem to realize just how close we are to full fledged war.

But I digress, even if the war doesn’t come the President and his supporters will destroy the institutions of our Republic simply because they only care about their political and economic power. The country and the vast majority of its citizens be damned.

So until tomorrow, when I plan on writing about our night I wish you all the best,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under News and current events, Political Commentary

Insane, Impaired, or Evil? Questions the Loyal Opposition Must Ask

Edward R. Murrow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American journalist and pioneering radio and television broadcaster Edward R. Murrow said: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” His words are profound. He, along with William Shirer covered the rise of the Nazis and then lived through the height of the Red Scare and the McCarthy era inquisition. Of course he was right, the fact is that it does not matter which party controls the reigns of government or who the President is that principled opposition is not disloyal.

This is an important fact to remember even as the current President of the United States, his accomplices in the world of Fox News and Breitbart, and his fanatical supporters in what is called the Christian Right dare to say. The fact is that for our government to function as the founders intended it is absolutely necessary for the minority party, as well as other minorities be allowed to dissent. When that Constitutional right is abridged in any way it endangers our society and our way of life. In an age where opinions can be picked up cheap on the internet, television, or radio, and where things like courage, fortitude, and real faith are in short supply, we have to acknowledge as Murrow did “that we are living in an age of confusion – a lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria.”

We have a President who has spent the year after his election victory demonizing his opponents, be they members of the press, the Democratic Party, or even members of his own Republican Party for infractions that had they happened under any previous American President of any party would have never happened.

Some politicians, pundits, and medical professionals have suggested that the President is either insane or perhaps suffering from the early stages of dementia. Others disagree and believe that he is neither insane or suffering from dementia but that he is a master manipulator who knows exactly what he is doing. His list of actions that would have certainly damned the candidacy of any previous Presidential candidate, or the term of of office of any other President grows with every passing hour. Despite that whatever opposition there is seems to be ineffectual and shunted aside. In normal times the suggestion that the President might be suffering from a type of mental illness or a medical condition that impaired their cognitive ability would be a cause for bi-partisan concern, and to think that the President might be a manipulative prospective tyrant would as it did during Watergate turn his own party against him. Honestly, the thought of an either insane or cognitively impaired President trying to demonize his opposition or one that is bent on crushing them are both bad scenarios. I think that the latter is worse if his own party has surrendered its soul to their ideological goals so much that they are willing to go along with actions and statements that just over a year ago many of them said should disqualify someone from the presidency.

My problem is that I am a historian and that I have studied totalitarian states and the history of how they became such. What I am seeing going on now frightens me. We are moving closer to a totalitarian system of government than I could have ever thought could have happened in this country. I believed that our system of checks and balances coupled with a free press would keep anyone from overthrowing our system of government and establishing a totalitarian state, but we seem to be moving rapidly in that direction.

Historian Timothy Snyder noted in an interview with Sean Illing: “We think that because we’re America, everything will work itself out. This is exactly what the founders refused to believe. They thought human nature is such that you have to constrain it by institutions. They preferred rule of law and checks and balances.”

The rule of law, the Constitutional system of checks and balances, and the underlying premise of the Declaration of Independence cannot be sacrificed for political expediency. The question one has to begin to ask in light of all of the President’s actions and words is: is the President insane, is he impaired, or is he evil and intent on establishing himself as a tyrant? None of those options are good, but if the President’s supporters were principled as was the Republican Party in 1973-74 during Watergate then such actions can be stopped. However, if they are not, and if the leaders of the President’s Party knows or suspects that he is insane, impaired, or evil and acting against the Constitution, but take no action in order to get their agenda passed then they are no better that the non-Nazi German conservatives of 1932-1935 who abandoned all principle because Hitler gave them some of what they wanted.

I’m going to stop for now, but remember the questions about the President posed by many other than me that must be answered: is he insane, is he impaired, or is he evil?

Honestly I don’t know. I can speculate, but the questions have to be asked by people in elected or appointed offices established by the Constitution, as well,as the press, and the citizenry if we are to retain our republican system of government. Dissent is not disloyalty. Asking such questions is not treason. Our founders wrestled with this. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.

Murrow noted: “No one can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, News and current events, Political Commentary

The NFL and the Problem of Patriotism versus Nationalism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I thought that the controversy over the peaceful demonstrations of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial prejudice and violence committed against African Americans and other people was beginning to die down. That was before today when Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Indianapolis allegedly to watch a football came and see former Indianapolis Colt’s quarterback Peyton Manning be honored by the team. Instead, taking his orders from President Trump, the Vice President traveled to the game and walked out when members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the National Anthem. Thereafter the Vice President and the President went to Twitter to castigate the players and using taxpayer money, in this case over $200,000 to make their point, condemning the protesting players as being disrespectful to the flag and to the military. As labor leader Eugene Debs noted in 1918: ““In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.”

The act was an act of craven political nationalism disguised as patriotism, and there is a difference between the two. George Orwell noted this when he wrote “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.” Sadly I fear that the vast majority of Americans do not know the difference.

For those who don’t know I’m a veteran. In fact I’m a combat veteran. Not only that I am basically a dinosaur in today’s military as I’ve been serving continuously in some component of the military since I enlisted in August 1981. My oath is to the Constitution and that document enshrines the right of free speech and political protest, even of people that I may disagree with, and to see the President and Vice President flagrantly demonizing people for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and exercising those Constitutionally protected rights by kneeling during the national anthem not only offends, but angers me. Likewise the fact that the President found every way he could to avoid military service and openly mocked combat wounded veterans as losers during the Presidential campaign demonstrates the President’s hackneyed understanding of what he calls patriotism. 

My dad also served a full career in the U.S. Navy including a combat tour in Vietnam where he was assigned to an emergency airstrip in the city of An Loc, surrounded by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong for 80 days.

I also had relatives fight in both World Wars and one of my great uncles, a brother of my dad’s mother was killed in action serving as an infantryman during World War Two. Over the last sixteen years of war I have had a good number of friends and comrades die or suffer so much from the psychological and spiritual wounds of war that they later ended their lives.

As such, I have the highest regard for the armed forces of the United States and those who have served in them whether they be volunteers or if they were drafted. At the same time I don’t think that simply being a veteran makes one any more patriotic than someone who hasn’t served in uniform and I find it disgraceful that the military and those that serve are all too often reduced to stereotyped symbols that are used for partisan political causes which are not at all related to patriotism, but instead the most base and banal forms of nationalism, often paid for at sporting events by the Department of Defense.

Please understand that patriotism and nationalism are two different things. One can be a patriot and not a nationalist. That difference was first shown by the members of Congress and other elder statesmen of the country who between 1846 and 1848 opposed President James K. Polk’s unjust and shameful war against Mexico who included John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and a freshman Congressman named Abraham Lincoln. All were called traitors by Polk and his supporters. Military men serving in Mexico found the war criminal and the actions of state volunteers abominable. Ulysses S. Grant, then a young Lieutenant wrote that the Mexican war was “as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

Patriots want the country and our leaders to live up to our highest ideals. Patriots actually believe the words of the Declaration of Independence which state “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” A patriot believes and works for what the founders wrote in the First Amendment to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech, religion, association, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances, and yes, that includes kneeling during the National Anthem.

Likewise a patriot is committed to building upon those foundations as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While those who served in the military and those who have died to protect this county and honored the Constitution are worthy of respect, there have been far to many other patriots who have sacrificed themselves for the ideals of the country and have been treated as criminals for doing so. Those who fought against slavery and who defied the law to fight against it and to protect African Americans from slave owners who were backed by the government were patriots. Women who fought for the right to vote were patriots. Workers who fought for fair wages and safe working conditions. Men and women who protested and opposed unjust wars against Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the Spanish American War, the Vietnam War and the U.S invasion of Iraq were all patriots. Likewise the men and women who have stood up for the civil rights of all citizens often in the face of violent opposition from police were patriots too. 

This list could go in and on listing the patriotic endeavors of Americans of all races, all genders, and all religions to promote the liberty of all, whether they had ever served in the military. Frederick Douglass wrote: “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason… Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

However, nationalism is not the same as patriotism even though a fervent nationalists will without hesitation co-opt the symbols of the nation for purposes that were feared by our founders. Historian Timothy Snyder makes a good comparison of patriotism and nationalism:

“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.”

One can have honest disagreement as to what they think of the actions of the protesting players, but to deride them as being unpatriotic even as they use the flag as a campaign fundraising tools as the President did in an ad last week and the Vice President’s cynical move Sunday were shameful. Their nationalism reminds me of what Mark Twain called “Monarchical Patriotism” which he noted was different than republican patriotism. Twain wrote:

“There are two kinds of patriotism — monarchical patriotism and republican patriotism. In the one case the government and the king may rightfully furnish you their notions of patriotism; in the other, neither the government nor the entire nation is privileged to dictate to any individual what the form of his patriotism shall be. The gospel of the monarchical patriotism is: “The King can do no wrong.” We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: “Our country, right or wrong!” We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had:– the individual’s right to oppose both flag and country when he (just he, by himself) believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.”

We as a people have become so hopelessly confused as to the meaning of patriotism that we as Twain noted, are throwing away the most valuable assets we have, the right of the individual to oppose both flag and country when they believe them to be wrong. We have allowed the President and those like him to turn the protests regarding injustices that bring shame to our republic to be attacks on the flag and the military, and that is grotesque. We are throwing away our birthright as Americans to protest wrong in our land and are embracing the creed of tyrants. If we continue down this path we will lose our republic. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

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

Padre Steve’s Reading Rainbow: Some of the Most Important Books in my Life

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think that it important to read, and read, and did I say read?

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Since I write about a lot of topics and because I am a historian as well as a stand up theologian, I read a lot and I frequently quote from other people in anything that I write. Sometimes I find that those who have gone before me have said things I want to say much better than I could on my own. Thus I am not afraid or ashamed to give attribution to them, after all, it is only fair.

But today I want to share some of the books that I think are important for anyone seeking to understand our world. In a sense, this is my Reading Rainbow moment.

Most of my picks deal with history, military, diplomacy, civil rights, politics, as well as baseball. Despite the fact that I am a priest I don’t have many books on theology, religion, or faith on my list, but then the fact is that I don’t see a lot, including many of the so called classics that hold up over time. So today just some of my reading rainbow.

Here they are in no particular order:

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall

A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

The Nanking Massacre by Iris Chang

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence

Hero: A Life of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen

A Soldier Once… and Always by Hal Moore

To Kill an Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Centurions by Jean Larteguy

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

The Past that Would Not Die by Walter Lord

The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer

The Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam

Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball by George Will

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Why Don’t We Learn from History? By B.H. Liddell-Hart

They Thought they Were Free by Milton Mayer

Once an Eagle by Anton Meyer

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Boenhoffer

Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder

This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Forever Free: the Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial by Joseph Perisco

In the Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore

On Being a Christian by Hans Kung

The Crucified God by Juergen Moltmann

The Mystery of the Cross by Alister McGrath

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow

War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious American Civil,War General, Daniel Sickles by Thomas Keneally

Lincoln at Gettysburg by Gary Wills

Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning

Perpetrators Victims Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 by Raul Hilberg

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

Lincoln’s Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac by Stephen Sears

The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton

Sorry, no descriptions or intros included, but trust me. They are all worth the read. Anyway, those are just some of my favorites on from my Reading Rainbow. Yes, there are plenty more, but that’s all for now.

Have a great day and as always,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

The Eternal Precedent of the Holocaust

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

While I was writing the article that I published here yesterday that I was not done with the subject, and that in the words of Hedy (that’s Headly) Lamar “My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” That being said I have been so busy that I am finishing this late today after driving of the the Washington D.C. area for an extended weekend. Tomorrow morning I am going to drive up to the Antietam battlefield which is just up the road in Maryland to spend the day walking that battlefield. I’ll probably write something later in the afternoon or evening rather than to push out another article for tomorrow morning tonight.

Yesterday I wrote an published an article about how easy it is to acquiesce and silently become an accomplice and bystander to evil. But there was so much more to write if I had the time to do so in the format of this site. Of course I am sure that I will use what I wrote yesterday in other projects and maybe even in a book format. I had a reader ask me yesterday if I didn’t think the continuing to brink up past evils such as the Holocaust and American Slavery was worse than letting them lie and to disappear into history far from memory.

It’s actually not a bad question but I responded to him by reminding him that Holocaust Denial industry has been going on for decades, and as philosopher Primo Levy, an Auschwitz survivor noted “Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.” Since there are now very few victims, perpetrators, or bystanders left to remind us of that genocide in the flesh, the Holocaust deniers and the fabricators of fake history are becoming more numerous and some, seek to present themselves as legitimate historians with their own journals. This as I said is not surprising to me, especially in the United States which was physically unscarred by the war and where White Supremacy has long been part of our history and culture, and not just in the old states of the Confederacy. 

I would dare say that the vast majority of Americans have never looked at one of the victims of the Holocaust in the eye or seen their Auschwitz camp number tattooed on their left forearm. I have and I cannot forget. But the truth is, that the further into the past an atrocity like the Holocaust disappears, through ignorance or intentionality, there is a very real possibility, or shall I say probability is that those crimes against humanity will be forgotten and repeated by a new generation. That is the lesson of history and the human condition, that is why it is even more important not to forget or allow others to forget the magnitude of these crimes against humanity. 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.” A growing number of Americans are comfortable in stating publicly their agreement with White Supremacist and neo-Nazi ideology, some 9% or 30 million in a recent poll. 

The Nazis, the American Slave Power elite, the Stalin and his NKVD mass murderers, their willing executioners, those who profited from their crimes, and those who stood by and said nothing, were not that much different than most of us given similar circumstances. In regard to the Holocaust it was not an anomaly of human history or something that could not be replicated in other places. 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.”

We have to remain on guard in order to ensure that such events, unimaginable to most people, never happen again. History may not repeat itself, but human nature doesn’t change and we are fools if we think that we are any more ethical or moral than Europeans of the 1930s or 1940s.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, holocaust, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany

“But the Jews Weren’t the Only Ones” How Ordinary and Terrifyingly Normal People Minimize and Accept Nazi Ideology

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to admit that the amount of ignorance in the defense of evil that I see daily is simply mind blowing. It makes me shake my head. But then I cannot be surprised anymore. Over the weekend I saw a poll in which nine percent of Americans said that holding White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi views and ideology was okay.

Now nine percent doesn’t sound like a big number or anything to worry about until you extrapolate that percentage into the numbers of people who hold that view. Based on the population of the United States that nine percent equals about thirty million individuals. Now I’m sure that many of these patriotic Americans are not card carrying Klansmen or Nazis, but the fact that they would turn a blind eye to the evil of both in the name of some incomprehensible moral equivalence as did President Trump after Charlottesville is quite disturbing. Perhaps it is his example that enables them to be so open about their acceptance of evil.

Yesterday on my Facebook page a friend of a friend commented on an article which discussed new research that indicates that the Nazis in their occupation of the Ukraine killed perhaps a half million more Jews than previously believed. That woman made the comment that there were others, and yes that is true. Had the Nazis won the war tens of millions more of the Jews as well as the Slavs who they referred to as Untermenschen or subhumans would have been killed, either directly or through a policy of intentional starvation. But make no bones about it, from the months that Hitler spent in Landsberg prison for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 writing Mein Kampf until the end of the war as the Red Army closed in on his bunker in Berlin, the Jews above all were the object of his personal hatred.

Close to six million Jews and millions of others were killed by the Nazis. Millions of Africans were enslaved in the United States and even after emancipation were by law treated as less than full citizens. Under Jim Crow they were discriminated against at every level of government including states that were neither a part of the Confederacy or not even States when the Civil War was fought, they were impressed as forced labor under the Black Codes and thousands were murdered, often in public by people who brought their children to watch Black men die.

But these people were not just numbers. It’s all to easy to blur them into a mass of dehumanized humanity by talking about the millions, when every single one was a human being, yes, I believe created in the image of God. We have to see their faces and we have to recognize their essential humanity as men and women, children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, whose lives were in the case of the Jews obliterated as if they never existed, and others like African slaves who were simply property.

I explained that in quite a few fewer words and told her that she shouldn’t challenge me on the subject, which of course she did. So I went into more detail and shot her argument down in flames, to the cheers of other commentators on the post. When you have spent much of your academic life studying a subject it really gets old hearing people make excuse for evil by trying to minimize that evil, especially against the targeted people.

It’s like Confederate apologists saying that the institution of slavery which enslaved millions of Africans was actually worse for White people. Yes it is true that many poor whites benefited little from slavery, but they were not bought and sold as chattel, sold away from their wives and children, whipped, and marched across country in chains to new owners, or yes even killed simply because they were not considered human beings but property.

Sadly, as Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote “The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

So there are about 30 million Americans who believe that holding Nazi and White Supremacist beliefs is okay. A few years ago I would believed that the number was lower, but after seven months of living in Trump’s America I believe that it might be even higher than the poll indicated. I only say this based on the postings I see on various social media platforms, news comment pages, the proliferation of websites that cater to these beliefs, and the lack of real condemnation of such individuals by the majority of the GOP Senate and House majorities, and the outright defense of them by other GOP representatives at the Federal and State level. These people have not learned the lessons of the Holocaust, nor American slavery.

Again I don’t believe that the majority of these people are real card carrying Nazis or Klansmen. Most would probably be considered great citizens: they work, they raise families, they go to church, and many would claim that they have “a Black or Jewish friend” so obviously they cannot be racists. But that being said they turn a blind eye to the evil of race hatred and White supremacy, and sometimes join in on social media meme wars where they mock the victims. But no matter what, not condemning the purveyors of White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi ideology, or by using the arguments of moral equivalence to minimize those crimes against humanity makes these people as complicit in the past, present, and future crimes of Naziism as if they were.

They may be ordinary people, as seemingly normal as anyone else, but as Hannah Arendt noted about Adolf Eichmann and other Nazis who advanced the destruction of the Jews was that they were so normal. She wrote:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

That my friends is as true as the day she wrote it after Eichmann’s trial, as it is today, and why we must constantly educate people in every forum possible that it is all too easy to become either a perpetrator or evil or a bystander. As Snyder wrote: “It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander. It is tempting to say that a Nazi murderer is beyond the pale of understanding. …Yet to deny a human being his human character is to render ethics impossible. To yield to this temptation, to find other people inhuman, is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history.”

Since they were human beings the Nazis were not unique to history. In every era of history human beings have committed atrocities, many in the name of some kind of ethnic, religious, or nationalist ideology of supremacy that held other people to be less than human. That may sound harsh, but it is all too true based on 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.”

In the movie Judgment at Nuremberg the judge played by Spencer Tracy noted something important about the defendants in the trial. His words need to be heard today as well:

Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

It is high time that we learn that again and that we make up our minds to oppose the ideologies that made the Holocaust and Slavery possible. As Hannah Arendt observed: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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