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A Contempt for Facts and Defense of Nazis: the President’s Response to Charlottesville 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I feel like I now live in a alternate universe where everything looks like it is supposed to but at the same time everything is different. This has been particularly striking apparent to me some since the Nazi caused violence in Charlottesville and the President’s multiple responses, ending with yesterday’s news conference in which he deflected the blame for that violence onto what he called “the alt-left.”

Honestly I had a hard time believing this was real, but it is, and now I must continue to speak out. If I don’t I will be as guilty before the bar of justice and humanity as the President and his apologists. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: 

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.” 

The President is a Nationalist who by his words and actions seems to ally himself with the White Nationalists of the Alt-Right. He does his best not to criticize them and when he does he blames their (and his) opponents using a language of moral equivalence. Hannah Arendt 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 the man who can fabricate it.” 

It is hard for me to imagine any leader in American history who fits Arendt’s description better than President Trump. 

I was aghast when I heard President Trump’s third set of remarks about the Nazi caused violence and death in Charlottesville this weekend. I hardly could believe my ears and just shook my heard when I read the complete transcript. I never believed that I would ever hear any American President do his utmost to deflect the blame off of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers than I heard today. At the same time I had no doubt that this would happen at some point as since the President first announced his candidacy in 2015 I have been saying it, even here on this website, but every time I wrote about it I wanted to be wrong. Sadly I wasn’t wrong and now the President has a news conference and blames everyone but the Nazis for the violence, insisting that there were some “very good people among them” even as he blame liberals of the fictional “alt-left” for what happened.

Yesterday the President held a news conference in which he said that the ideology of the Alt-Right, including the KKK and the Nazis was against American values. I watched it and it seemed forced as he read it from a teleprompter. It sounded so forced that Richard Spencer, one of the leading Alt-Right agitators said that he didn’t believe the President’s words were sincere. 

Today proved that the Nazi was absolutely right about the President. The press conference was a not only a public relations and political disaster for the President, but it covered him in disgrace and dishonor. It also embarrassed the country in the eyes of the world. It was unbelievable. 

The only people who seem to be happy are the Nazis of the Alt-Right who praised the President for his “honesty and courage.” 

The President and his Nazi like apologists have turned their words to reject and demonize legitimate opposition in order to deflect criticism from themselves. In his book On Tyranny Timothy Snyder wrote about how Hitler did this in Nazi Germany:

“Victor Klemperer, a literary scholar of Jewish origin, turned his philological training against Nazi propaganda. He noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition: The people always meant some people and not others (the president uses the word in this way), encounters were always struggles (the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the world in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).”

As I said, the only people defending him are the Nazis of the Alt-Right and the Court Evangelicals who have been his most stalwart supports. There seems to be nothing that he can do to disappoint them and they quickly jump to his defense using the same arguments of moral equivalence that that the President does. The former are Nazis whether they assume the title or not, the latter are no better than the German church leaders who encouraged their flocks to support Hitler and refused to speak out against the crimes of the Nazis. 

Yesterday the President lost any remaining credibility he had in terms of upholding his office and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

God help us,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Trump and “Total Solutions” 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On this day in 1941 it appeared to Hitler and his henchmen that the Wehrmacht would soon defeat Stalin’s Red Army and Complete Hitler’s conquest of the European continent. In the cold blooded calculations of the Nazis it was time to begin the planning to settle their accounts with the Jews. On that day, seventy-six years ago Herman Goering, acting on the orders of Adolf Hilter sent the following order to Reinhard Heydrich, the head of Himmler’s Sicherheitsdienst and the Reichssicherheitshauptamt or Reichs Security Main Office: 

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

That order set the stage for the completion of a program of mass killing that had already began as Heydrich’s Einsatzgruppen followed the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union killing hundreds of thousands of Jews up close and personal. The order would eventually form the basis of the final solution which would be fully implemented as policy after the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 and Heydrich’s killing by Czech commandos not long afterward. During that time men who had previously unblemished records of service sacrificed their sacred honor to carry out Hitler’s decrees, while many more remained as silent witnesses of their evil deeds. 

The German program of genocide was replicated by Stalin against Jews and other non-Russians of the Societ Union, without the Nazi’s racial bloodlust. 

Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote something that we should be concerned with today as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin each work to secure their greatness on the lives of others deemed to be their enemies: 

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

So far only Putin has used a policy of mass murder to achieve his goals, but if actions follow words, then President Trump will not be far behind his Russian tutor in tyranny. The President has already named who he blames for his failures: liberals, Democrats, blacks, LGBTQ people, Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, women, the news media, educators, scientists, and more recently the former GOP mainstream headed by Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, Lisa, Murkowski, and his former chief of staff Reince Priebus. 

In the past few days I know of a number of politically liberal military officers, all junior chaplains, whose conservative chaplain superiors are threatening their careers and freedom to voice their faith online, simply because they and their churches stand against Trump’s latest attack on transgender military personnel. This, despite the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said that as of now there is no change in policy towards transgender personnel and the fact that chaplains may faithfully stand by and proclaim their churches or religions teachings, even if they conflict with the views of those in power. 

My question is simple: If the President continues threatening American citizens, will he finally decide that his opponents need to be liquidated to achieve his goals? In light of the President’s words and tirades against his opponents, which grow increasingly more violent on a daily basis, this is a fair, if still hypothetical question. But even so, since he, and many of his supporters openly speak of using violence against their opposition, and voice their admiration for Putin, Turkey’s Erdogin, and other dictators, it must be asked especially when a Fox News host, Jesse Watters, even said “A lot of people wish President Trump was a dictator…” 

A dictator? If I recall correctly our founders warned of us of this day as they debated the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

I just wonder, if the President were to give such orders, just who in his administration or among its allies will be the modern Goering and Heydrich? Who will be the men, or women, who given the chance would order, coordinate, and maybe even kill for the President to set the stage whatever final solution he is attempting to achieve. I wonder who will write the order after Trump tweets it, and who will sell their souls to execute it. Honestly, I don’t know who will eventually do that. All I know is that I take my lead from General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office rather than lead an invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and who gave up his life in the attempt to overthrow Hitler in July of 1944: 

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

I do hope others will do the same if the President issues orders that are illegal, unconstitutional, or go against American values or international law. There was a time that I could not imagine that happening, but with every passing day of the Trump presidency I become less sure of that. 

Likewise, I wonder who will get the blame for the catastrophes unleashed by our President, but based on his past actions and current words, there is one person that will not accept any blame, and that is the President. He never has in done so in any private, public, or political venue. 

So in the midst of this I am reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I must ask the question he did: 

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

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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The Continued Erosion of America’s Moral Authority: Tillerson to Shut Down War Crimes Office

tillerosn dmz

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It seems to me that the Trump administration is doing everything it can to corrode any remaining moral authority that the United States has in the world. Yesterday I read that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will disestablish the office that investigates potential war crimes. Though seemingly small in comparison to the many other actions the administration is taking this one speaks volumes about the attitudes of Trump, Tillerson, and others in the administration.

Tillerson has been working to concentrate the activities of the State Department on pursuing opportunities for American business and strengthening the U.S. Military. To do so he has been shutting down sections of the State Department that deal with U.S. Aid, humanitarian intervention, human rights, and world poverty. The decision to close the office which was founded in 1997 after the human catastrophes in the Balkans and the Rwandan Genocide is a major step backward.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who was the senior American prosecutor and organizer of the Major War Crime Trials and Nuremberg noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Sadly, after all of Jackson and his team’s efforts at Nuremberg the United States stepped back from participation in International tribunals or the International Criminal Court. Tillerson’s decision is a further step back from the norms of civilized behavior and a step towards increased barbarism.

David Scheffer, who served as the first U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes and now teaches at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, told Foreign Policy: “This is a very harsh signal to the rest of the world that the United States is essentially downgrading the importance of accountability for the commission of atrocity crimes… This sends a strong signal to perpetrators of mass atrocities that the United States is not watching you anymore.”

I assume that is the case. The Trump administration has turned a blind eye to the Russian destabilization operations in the Ukraine, ignores the human rights violations of Saudi Arabia and is likely war crimes in Yemen, sends decidedly mixed messages on Syria, and voices his approval at the crimes of the Erdogan regime in Turkey and the actions of Philippine President Duarte.

It is apparent that President Trump, Secretary Tillerson, and possibly National Security Adviser McMaster have forgotten like so many Americans that the true power of the United States is not its economy, not its military power, but the ideals that it stands for, especially when they are most difficult. The administration has embraced the survival of the fittest philosophy of Charles Darwin and like the other totalitarian regimes which cluttered the Twentieth Century is throwing away the one thing that set the United States apart from other nations, the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the Four Freedoms. While our country may not have always lived up to them, they were why people respected the United States even when we failed to live up to them. Timothy Snyder wrote: A patriot… wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves.” The actions of the Secretary of State and President show that they are not patriots, but nationalists, willing to cast aside the lifeblood of what makes America great for material gain and personal power, as Snyder notes, they encourage us to be our worst and then tell us that we are the best.

It is important that we do not throw away what little credibility we have left, but the neither the President nor many in his administration seem to care. The administration bases its arguments on necessity and expedience and has no hesitation in lying repeatedly to justify its actions. But, as William Pitt the Younger noted: “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

Robert Reich correctly noted: “Our moral authority is as important, if not more important, than our troop strength or our high-tech weapons. We are rapidly losing that moral authority, not only in the Arab world but all over the world.”

I am afraid that the further men like Trump and Tillerson move towards eliminating the last vestiges of our diplomatic and legal moral authority, and toward a transactional view of nationalism in which only economic and military power count, that it will not be long before our military and economic power is used for evil. This is not to say that it hasn’t been used for that in our history, but most of the time there were checks and balances, as well as self-restraint that kept them from being even worse. With every decision like this those restraints fall away and we edge closer to tyranny.So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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When the Unthinkable Arrives


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that is terrifying to be a historian who has specialized in the study of tyrannical regimes. This is the case with me. Even since my undergraduate study working under Dr. Helmut Huessler at California State University Northridge I have studied the transition of society from democracy to dictatorship. While my studies then and ever since focused on the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the fact is that what happened in Germany was not unique, it is a part of the human condition and the people of any country can find themselves under the foot of a dictatorship if the conditions are right. I believe that conditions in the United States have never been more ripe for dictatorship than they are today. 

As chaos continues to engulf the House of Trump, as investigations regarding Trump’s relations with Russia gain steam, and as his poll numbers crash, I become more concerned that the unthinkable will happen and we will suddenly be in a major war or hit by a major terror attack. I believe that if or when one or the other happen that the Trump regime will use it to suspend civil rights and liberties and maybe even suspend Congress and the courts in the name of security. Sadly, I think that in such a case that very few people would resist. Of course the 35-40% of people that would support him as he said, even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue would be at the forefront, but many other people would follow all because they are afraid and desire security more than freedom. 

Now this is not all Trump’s doing as for the last three decades many of those that now support him, especially the leaders of the Religious Right, Fox News, and radio and internet demagogues have prepared the ground for his rise. 

Dr. Timothy Snyder, the historian from Yale has warned us in his book On Tyranny. He noted:

“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.”

Human beings are the one constant in history, and human nature is very consistent when it comes to how we respond when under attack. One only has to think of the fear that followed the 9-11 attacks and the willingness of people to give the government vast new powers, including an authorization for the use of military for against Al Qaida which has not been updated or supplemented since 2001, despite the fact that many of the places our military are operating in today have nothing to do with Al Qaida. 

I believe that the chances of such a think happening have gone up exponentially since the President and the Executive branch have not filled many critical ambassadorships, as well as thousands of key billets in the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. Likewise, despite all it’s bluster about strengthening the military nothing significant has occurred and will not occur because it cannot. This is because of the the policy of sequestration enacted by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Likewise, with its callous treatment of our allies and lack of concern about Russian interference in American elections, and in Europe the administration has weakened us at home and abroad. 

This is a very dangerous time and every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that our Republic as we knew it dies. I do not know if this will be the result of a war with North Korea or Iran, or possibly a major terror attack, but as things spiral out of control I cannot shake the feeling that we are going to have our Reichstag Fire moment, and that we will not rise to the challenge. Instead I think that most Americans will give up freedom in the name of security simply because that is human nature and has been demonstrated throughout history on every continent. James Madison noted: 

“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

Now is a time that we must all be awake and aware of what is going on in our country and the world. The storm clouds are building and we most be cognizant of the times or be engulfed and overwhelmed when the unthinkable arrives. That may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is necessary. 

I would like to believe that I will be proven wrong and honestly I want to be proven wrong because I do not want our nation to have to endure war, terrorism, and a tyrannical despotism. 

So, until tomorrow I wish you a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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What Does it take to Become a War Criminal? 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the fact that senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens. I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. 

There was a common myth after the Second World War that the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, fought an honorable and clean war while the criminal actions of war crimes and genocide were the fault of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the SS. It was a comforting myth because it allowed a great number of men who agreed with Hitler’s policies, and often assisted in them to maintain a fiction of honor and respectability. While for the most part the German Army in the West fought according to international norms of conduct, it was a different matter on the Easter Front, where following Hitler’s lead the Wehrmacht from its senior officers in down was often at the tip of the spear in enforcing Hitler’s racial and ideological war. 


                                                                                       Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

This came form the top. In addition to the Commissar order, also known as the Criminal Order, Field Marshal Keitel offered this directive to units fighting on the Easter Front:

“In view of the vast size of the conquered territories in the East, the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if instead of punishing resistance by sentencing the guilty in a court of law, the occupying forces spread such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush every will to resist amongst the population.

The commanders concerned, together with all available troops, should be made responsible for maintaining peace within their areas. The commanders must find the means of keeping order within their areas, not by demanding more security forces, but by applying suitable drastic measures.”

                                                                                  Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. 

“The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. … In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. … For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” 

An order was issued by General Erich Von Manstein’s Eleventh Army in November 1941 which stated in part:

“Jewry constitutes the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remainder of the Red Armed Forces which is still fighting, and the Red leadership. More strongly than in Europe it holds all the key positions in the political leadership and administration, controls commerce and trades, and further forms the nucleus for all unrest and possible uprisings.

The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all. Never again must it encroach upon our European living space.

The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties’ which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people…

The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. Nevertheless nothing which the homeland has sacrificed itself to contribute may, out of a misguided sense of humanity, be given to prisoners or to the population unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht.

The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevist terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews…

Manstein claimed that he did not remember the order at his trial and that he sought to ensure that his troops did not engage in conduct not fitting of the honor of soldiers. He included the following in the order: “Severest action to be taken: against despotism and self-seeking; against lawlessness and lack of discipline; against every transgression of the honor of a soldier.”

In his defense at Nuremberg Manstien attempted to mitigate the damning words of the order. He explained that “I do want to point out to you that if it says here that the system must be exterminated, then that is extermination of the Bolshevik system, but not the extermination of human beings.” Despite Manstein’s clarification of what he meant in the order it would be hard for soldiers and commanders receiving the order as written could hardly have been expect not to interpret it literally. Likewise his order mentions the intentional starvation of Soviet citizens and harsh invectives against the Jews. 

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten. 


There are many other examples of German Army commanders at various levels issuing orders similar to Von Reichenau and Von Manstein as well as accounts of Wehrmacht units cooperating with the Einsatzgruppen in various mass extermination actions against the Jews, including the action at Babi Yar. In many cases the cooperation was quite close as evidenced by the report of the commander of Einsatzgruppe C to Berlin on November 3rd 1941:

In a great number of cases, it happened that the support of the Einsatzkommandos was requested by the fighting troops. Advance detachments of the Einsatzgruppe also participated in every large military action. They entered newly captured localities side by side with the fighting troops. Thus, in all cases, the utmost support was given. For example, in this connection, it is worth mentioning the participation in the capture of Zhitomir, where the first tanks entering the city were immediately followed by three cars of Einsatzkommando 4a.

As a result of the successful work of the Einsatzgruppe, the Security Police is also held in high regard, in particular by the HQ of the German Army. The liaison officers stationed in Army HQ are loyally briefed of all military operations, and, besides, they receive the utmost cooperation. The Commander of the 6th Army, Generalfeldmarschall von Richenau, has repeatedly praised the work of the Einsatzkommandos and, accordingly, supported the interests of the SD with his staff.

It is true that in some cases individual Wehrmacht officers refused to cooperate with the Einsatzgruppen in their operational areas, but without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht the extermination campaigns against the Jews and other Soviet citizens could not have been successful. 

                                                                                                 The Rape of Nanking 

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I do believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era. The disturbing thing as that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. 

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



There is a scene in the movie Nuremberg in which an American psychologist named Gustave Gilbert questions the commandant of Auschwitz. When he asks the commandant if he felt guilty for the extermination of the Jews in his camp the commandant said “does a rat catcher feel guilty for killing rats.” Thereafter Gilbert confronts Herman Goering pointedly asking the number two Nazi “A rat catcher catching rats”. Is that the kind of thinking it takes to carry out state sanctioned mass murder? Not just blind obedience but also a belief that your victims are not human?” 

Goering replies: Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your medical experiment? Would Americans have dropped bombs as easily on Germany as it did upon Japan killing as many civilians as possible? I think not. To an American sensibility, a Caucasian child is considerably more human than a Japanese child…. 

What about the negro officers in your own army? Are they not allowed to command troops in combat? Can they sit on the same buses as the whites? The segregation laws in your country and the anti Semitic laws in mine, are they not a difference of degree? 

The tragic thing is that while Gilbert was certainly correct in his question to Goering, Goering was also right. For all that is good about America there is a persistent strain of this kind of thinking which deems other people, especially non-white people as inferior racially, culturally, and intellectually. Over the decades we like to think that we have become better but the underlying attitudes are still present today, sometimes in plain view, but often just under our veneer of civility and good manners, but what maintains that civility is quite fragile. In his history of Auschwitz 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.” The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

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

When I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College I challenged my students to deal with these kinds of questions. They are not easy and they require that we look into the darkest reaches of our hearts to see what we will do when we are confronted with choices to obey orders that go against the values of the institution but may reflect the more troubling aspects of our culture. Some of these men and women I am sure understood and will not break under pressure, but I am not so sure about others, and I worry about them in the crisis. The fact is we are only as good as we are in the crisis. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not discount when asking the question about how ordinary men become war criminals:

“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.”

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. I will address this in the recent American context next week. So until tomorrow, when I publish something more personal and unrelated to this subject.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Everything happens fast, but nothing actually happens…” The Trap of the News Cycle

breakingnewsalert

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I came back from my trip to the Congressional Baseball game with my friend Vince Miller yesterday and as we came back we pondered and discussed a number of subjects. On of those was how we as Americans allow ourselves to be sucked into the media vortex surrounding any given crisis and how for the media every story is a “breaking news story.”

As we discussed the subject the words of historian Timothy Snyder came to mind. Snyder wrote:

“Everything happens fast, but nothing actually happens. Each story on televised news is “breaking” until it is displaced by the next one. So we are hit by wave upon wave but never see the ocean.”

I used to be a cable news junkie. I had CNN, Fox. or MSNBC on constantly, especially whenever a crisis occurred. In addition  to those I would also be checking every news source that I could. My motives we good. I wanted information, but instead I got sucked into stories that has no resolution and were quickly replaced with other stories. When I read Snyder’s words in his book On Tyranny they struck me to the core, because they rang true. The adrenaline rush and hyper-vigilence that I experienced from the continuous onslaught of each breaking news crisis wore me out and left me exhausted without any resolution.

This devotion to breaking news can become as much of an addiction as drugs or alcohol and the result is not good. We become slaves of the news cycle. While I always to to remain informed I now try to do it on my terms and instead of allowing myself to be bombarded by what I see on television. Instead I try to take some time, check the veracity of stories and examine them from different printed viewpoints and wait for more information to come out. By doing this I have found that I don’t get sucked into the news cycle and still live my life, appreciating friends, family, and even my Papillon dogs.

Likewise, by taking in information in this manner I can spend some time thinking about it and examining it in the context of history, philosophy, ethics, and theology without the hype and unrelenting drumbeat of “information” put out by television news. I find this is more helpful and healthy for me than siting in front of the tube as vapid hosts ask arrogant and often as badly informed analysts or talking heads questions of which can only be answered by speculation as the speed of the news cycle does not allow for well thought out answers or for that matter the truth to come out.

Anyway, I am going to be working around the house this weekend and taking some time to reflect on the events of this week as I continue to read through my current stacks of books.

So have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Meme Wars: The Death of Facts, Reason, American Political Discourse and Democracy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been thinking about a political meme that I saw posted on Facebook last week and I have been thinking about the words of the most erudite thinkers and reading about how it reflects the death of American political discourse. The meme embodied the worst of what is happening in American politics and thought. While it was a “pro-Trump” meme I hate to admit that I have seen mirror images of it from the political left.

Memes are an incredible form of propaganda. They often use powerfully emotional images and combine them with a one sided barrage of half-truths and lies about their side and their political opponent. In this particular meme Republicans were contrasted with Democrats.

It listed what Republicans are supposedly for on one side with the Democratic response on the other. Republicans in this meme were to “Protect America” “Fight Terrorism” “Reduce Tax Burdens” “Reduce Regulations” “Drain the Swamp” and “Make America Great Again.” The Democrats only response was “Hate Trump.” Such propaganda noted American philosopher Eric Hoffer “does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” It bypasses the cognitive, intellectual, moral, and ethical components that make us responsible citizens who care about our country, its people and the world in favor of a desert of alternative truths or as they are better known, lies.
The Republican beliefs in this meme were simply age GOP talking points that bear little resemblance to what the GOP does when it has Senate and House majorities as well as the White House, now so more than ever. If actions speak louder than words these were farcical, a half-truth, wrapped in a lie, ensconced in myth. To say that what Democrats believe can be reduced to “Hate Trump” misses the whole point of the American political system and it is a statement that mimics totalitarian propaganda which is then reinforced daily by White House spokesmen, Cabinet members, legislators, Fox News hosts and the Right Wing media machine, thousands of supposedly Bible believing Christian pastors, and quite often from the President himself.

But it is possible dissent from the policies and actions of a President and still to be a patriot. It is patriotic to stand for the rule of law, human rights, the Constitution, to fight terrorism of all kinds (not just Islamic), to defend the country and not depart from the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the protections of the Constitution (including the separation of powers). What has happened in the modern GOP is that personal loyalty to a President who demands it is considered the standard by which patriotism is judged even as he tramples the Constitution and defies the ideals, norms and traditions that made the American system of government that people around the world admired and brought so many persecuted people to our shores. Honestly that includes most of our ancestors.

But in the meme world facts do not matter so long as they support the system of those that promote the propaganda contained in them. Hannah Arendt wrote that the “True goal of totalitarian propaganda is not persuasion, but organization of the polity. … What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.”

That is why memes are so important to propaganda. Adolf Hitler was a master of understanding that art of manipulation through propaganda. He wrote in Mein Kampf:

“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”

That is why these talking points have been harped on for decades by the GOP, its media, and religious allies. In the GOP’s meme propaganda the Democrats as well as independent liberals or progressives are not fellow Americans who simply disagree on policy but an enemy to be destroyed. Admittedly there are left-wing memes that are no better intellectually or morally than those on the right that make me cringe. Regardless of their political bias, political memes are quite truthfully described as propaganda and unless they are truly political satire, I refuse to post them on any of my social media accounts.

To want our nation to live up to its ideals is patriotic. To want our leaders to embody those ideals and to expand them is likewise patriotic. To speak out when they are trampled and decide to resist or dissent within the bounds of the Constitution and reason is also in the end patriotic. It is American. For a side, in this case a conservative activist group to use propaganda to demonize its opponents shows that they have become as intellectually and morally bankrupt as the German conservatives who allied themselves with Hitler as Germany slid into totalitarianism.

The meme culture is a spin-off of social media which in large part is dependent on what is shown on television since many people have forgotten how to read and are susceptible to belief anything lie and reject inconvenient facts if they do not line up with the consistency of the system and its political propaganda . On has to pull themselves out of the digital culture and withdraw from the endless barrage of propaganda being sold as news on television and read. We must rediscover truth and facts written with the eloquence of the great authors and orators, otherwise we will see our Republic die, and it won’t be because of a foreign enemy. It will be our own damned fault.

It is absolutely essential that we return to reading the classics, reading history, as well the great writings of the great statesmen and philosophers and throw the memes in the digital garbage can because the meme political culture is based on anything but facts and anything but truth. Those who propagate memes cultivate a culture of unreason, and a political culture in which truth does not matter. Timothy Snyder wrote: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”

The political meme culture is a big part of the problem.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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