Tag Archives: timothy snyder

COVID-19, Trump Policy, and “Life Unworthy of Life”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reflecting about the present in light of the past, and how policy wise, the Social Darwinist policies of the Trump Administration, and the words of his cult propagandists regardless and  and followers direct me to the Eugenics movement of the 1920s and 1930s in the United States, Weimar Germany, and other European nations, as well as Japan. But the eugenics movement was nowhere more malevolent, evident and active than it was in Hitler’s Germany. Likewise it is hard to believe that members of the administration as well as its supporters seem to believe, if you take them at their word that the elderly, disabled, mentally ill, and poor, especially those who are not white or Christian are a burden on the State, and are as the Eugenicists of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as Hitler’s Nazi Party believed, were ”Life unworthy of life .” 

It seems hard to believe for anyone born after the mid 1960s, that government through its laws, decrees, and policies could deem certain people to be “life unworthy of life.” The most malevolent of such governments was the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, but individuals and institutions in the United States promoted the same ideology, but could not carry it to its logical conclusion.

The life that was unworthy of life included the physically and mentally handicapped or disabled, those with Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Polio, and people with other neurological conditions. Likewise the mentally ill, those suffering clinical depression, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses were considered to be life unworthy of life. Even the deaf were included, as well as veterans suffering from what we would now call PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury. Also included were people labeled as “asocial” a very loose definition that could include almost any metal disorder or criminal act, including being a homosexual.

Tens of thousands Of such people were liquidated at the T-4 Euthanasia centers, most located in former hospitals, psychiatric institutions, or sanitariums.

Once the Nazis decided to eliminate them the same day as they invaded Poland in 1939, most of these people gassed with carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust of trucks or Diesel engines, and their remains were cremated. Others, especially children were either starved to death or given a lethal injection while they slept. In every case the next of kin of each victim was sent a standard form letter telling them that their relative had died of influenza, typhus, or some other disease while being given the best of care. The next of kin were then given the option of paying for an urn that may or may not have contained the ashes of their loved ones for inurnment near their home town. If they could not afford an urn the ashes were disposed of in the cemetery nearest to where they were killed. At Hadamar, it was on the grounds of the institution.

Despite the Nazis attempts to disguise their crime they could not be hidden, and after over 70,000 Germans were Euthanized the official T-4 Euthanasia program was ended in Germany.  The gas chambers, cremation ovens and facilities were disassembled by SS experts, and sent east to Poland, where they and their experienced technicians became key components of the Holocaust of the Jews at Soribor, Belzec, Treblinka, and Auschwitz. 

But the Euthanasia program, despite Nazi lies to senior clerics and officials of neutral countries didn’t stop, it simply moved eastward as the SS Einsatzgruppen killed the patients at every mental hospital, sanitarium, old folks home, or orphanage they came across. Inside Germany at the four T4 centers over 80,000 were gassed. At Hartheim in Austria a Party was held on the gassing of the 10,000th victim. Richard Evans wrote:

“At Hartheim the staff held a party to celebrate their ten-thousandth cremation, assembling in the crematorium around the naked body of a recently gassed victim, which was laid out on a stretcher and covered with flowers. One staff member dressed as a clergyman and performed a short ceremony, then beer was distributed to all present. Eventually no fewer than 20,000 were gassed at Hartheim, the same at Sonnenstein, 20,000 at Brandenburg and Bernburg, and another 20,000 at Grafeneck and Hadamar, making a total of 80,000 altogether.”

The tolls in Poland, the Baltic States, and the Soviet Union were much higher, but outside of the T4 program which “officially” ended in 1941.

Now in the United States the laws guaranteeing health care to people are being challenged, the Secretary of Education has removed funding from the Department’s funding request for the Special Olympics, programs for the physically and mentally disabled under the SSI are being cut to the bone, and even care for disabled veterans is being threatened as not being economical because none of them are economically valuable to an administration for which profit is the bottom line of the insurance industry. Likewise, most supposedly pro-life Christians have no problems in cutting such programs because many have bought into the materialistic, Prosperity Gospel, whose fawning preachers have anointed President Trump if he were King Cyrus.

To them, criticism of the President cannot be tolerated, no matter how factual it may be. Thus, the  sick, then weak, then infirm, or mentally ill, who are not productive have no place in society. Inside the womb they are a remarkably powerful political issue; but once outside the womb they might as well be dead if you listen to Trump’s clique of Reichsbishofs, according to who cannot produce for the economy should not eat, get medical care, or live. They are life unworthy of life.

You see, in the authoritarian world in which we live, where an uninhibited and unhinged executive backed by profit minded billionaires, and greedy preachers, such lives; the old and infirm, the disabled, the mentally ill, the young but physically disabled, those with neurological issues, and birth defects stand in the way of profit, stand in the way of a “perfect” society.

If you directly challenged such people may not advocate euthanasia per say, they would not advocate for gas chambers, or firing squads. Instead they would turn a blind eye to depriving their victims of citizenship, starving them, depriving them of medical care, and turning them out of care facilities knowing that their families lack the capability of caring for them. and if they have any capacity for work, work them until they die, so long as they Confess Christ before they die.

How do we know that life does not matter to them? One way is to note the many times that pharmaceutical corporations have increased the costs of previously inexpensive yet vital life saving medicines by thousands of dollars a dose all for profit with little to no pushback from the White House, or the FDA, much less the Senate GOP majority, or the Evangelical supporters of Trump.

Please understand, this dystopian future need not happen if people of any faith, or no faith at all make a stand against a twisted idea of dictatorship backed up by billionaires and corporate entities that suck billions of dollars from the taxpayer and pay almost nothing themselves. Of course they couldn’t do it on their own in not supported by a de facto State Media, and a cult like legion of followers who would follow Trump even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue. His words, not mine.

I will turn 60 in just over two weeks, and this does bother me enough to speak out. As a senior military officer facing the end of his career and retirement amid multiple physical and emotional issues, it does matter. I keep two things in mind today. First is that of my own responsibility to my Oath, and to fellow citizens.  In that I am reminded of the words of German General Ludwig Beck who wrote:

“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.”

And like Beck’s compatriot, Major General Henning Von Tresckow stated: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” Or in my case, Trump’s America.

Historian Timothy Snyder reminds of a certain truth, which should we forget, as I imagine a large number of Trump supporters have:

“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.”

Those are all hard truths to comprehend. As Americans we always presume that we are the good guys, when in fact many times we have acted in means contrary to the ideals of the Declaration as well as the Constitution, and other laws enacted by Congress. But our republic has survived, but its institutions are both resilient and fragile. History has proven this, we have even survived a civil war, but we may not survive an increasingly vindictive and unstable President, his compliant majority in the Senate, and the 35-40% of voters who are in effect no longer Republicans, but a Trump Cult which is largely buttressed by Conservative Evangelical Churches, and inspired by a President who uses force, legal, and extralegal alike to secure his rule.

We live in extraordinary times which call for extraordinary strength if our Republic is to continue in any form that resembles the intentions of the founders and their liberal enlightenment beliefs.

If we do not want to see the return of a full fledged government and industrial sponsored campaign to eradicate life unworthy of life, we have to fight. It is a fight that we did not chose, but if the Republic is to survive without becoming a criminal dictatorship we must speak up, and we must do so now. If we do not we have no one to blame but ourselves.

As Yehuda Bauer said: “Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

The choice is ours, and the time is now.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, culture, economics and financial policy, ethics, faith, germany, History, laws and legislation, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

“You Can Take Our Lives and Freedom, but You Cannot Take Our Honor” Life is Not a Cabaret

Otto Wels

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am going to address something of critical importance today, even though it occurred over 87 years ago, which in the scope of history is not that long, despite the fact that the average American, regardless of their political beliefs and ideology are ignorant of past events, even those of just a few years ago. Thus, when one discusses events of 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 years ago, one typically receives blank stares, or appeals to historical myths and fabrications that they learned in school, church, or from the media, both news and entertainment. As a historian it drives me crazy, our society, including our political, business, and media elites, has become a new generation of Know Nothings, of whom none other than the President and cult like followers supply some of the worst, but certainly not the only examples.

in 1932 the Communist Party of Germany KPD, refused to ally itself with the Social Democratic Party, SDP because they viewed the Socialists as sell-outs who refused to embrace a Soviet State in 1918 and 1919. At that time they called themselves Independent Socialists, but though a minority unleashed a left wing reign of terror that pushed German Conservatives further to the extreme right, and left the Social Democrats working with the German Army to try to hold the center. In the end, it was the extreme right that finally won a thirteen year struggle to overthrow the Weimar Republic, and after abortive coup attempts, including the Kapp Putsch in Berlin, which was crushed by a nationwide strike of labor groups, and the Nazi led Bier Hall Putsch, which was crushed due to the duplicity of Hitler’s coerced allies, and the refusal of Munich’s police to withdraw in the face of the Nazi advance at Odeonsplatz.

However, the Nazis learned from their failures at violent revolution, and instead, despite being outlawed for a number of years, worked within the democratic model to slowly gain regional, and eventually a national following. By 1932 the Nazi Party, as well as the KPD were at the height of their support. The traditional conservative German right was divided and its leaders thought they could control the Nazi movement. The left was divided between the moderate SPD and the militant KPD. An alliance of the two left parties in 1932 and 1933 would have created a parliamentary majority and stopped the Nazi movement in its tracks, but the KPD, which had split from the SPD in 1919 hated the SPD more than they did the Nazis, even though the Nazis were an existential threat to the German left. 

As a historian I think that this is one of the of the most relevant examples as the United States and other democratic nations lurch toward legally elected right wing authoritarian governments.

A few months after he gained power, Hitler’s Nazi majority Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, or by its full title Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (“Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich”). The came on the heels of the Reichstag Fire Decree and had tremendous repercussions for the German Republic and in effect made Hitler and his administration a dictatorship. The legislative branch, the Reichstag was limited to nothing more than a rubber stamp for the executive, as was the judicial branch, the Reichsrat. It supposedly protected the rights of the President, the Reichstag, and judiciary, but it made Hitler the the sole decider of domestic and social laws, as well as all foreign policy decisions.

The law stated:

The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:

Article One

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich. This includes the laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the constitution. (Article 85 and 87 dealt with the budgetary process and allocation of funds for advertisement.)

Article Two

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain unaffected.

Article Three:

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette. They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date. Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government. (These Articles dealt with the legislative process in which the Reichstag, Government, Reichsrat, and President all had specific responsibilities which limited the power of the government to rush laws into force without due process and deliberation, and if needed the approval of the electorate)

Article Four

Treaties of the Reich with foreign states, which relate to matters of Reich legislation, shall for the duration of the validity of these laws not require the consent of the legislative authorities. The Reich government shall enact the legislation necessary to implement these agreements. (This removed the requirement of the Reichstag to approve treaties)

Article Five

This law enters into force on the day of its proclamation. It expires on April 1, 1937; it expires furthermore if the present Reich government is replaced by another.

When the legislation was introduced the debate was muted. While the Communist Party was yet to be banned, deputies of the Communist Party could not attend the session, many had already been arrested and many more were in hiding or had fled the country. Hermann Goering adjusted the rules for a quorum in order to compensate for the lack of members in attendance. Deputies of the Social Democratic Party were also terrorized, hounded, and some arrested, but 94 attended, outnumbered they did not buckle under the Nazi threats, which included the chamber being ringed by armed members of the SA and SS.

The non-Nazi Protestant based conservative parties provided no resistance, but the Catholic Center Party was torn by concerns that the legislation could limit the rights of the Catholic Church. However, they had been outmaneuvered by Hitler who had already negotiated a Concordant with the Vatican. The result was to ensure that the Catholic Center Party would vote for the measure, which passed with a mere 94 deputies opposing it, all members of the Social Democratic Party.

The only member of the Reichstag to speak against the measure was the head of the Social Democrats, Otto Wels. In defiance of Hitler, Goering, the Nazi Deputies, and the threatening SA and SS men uttered words that every resistor in every country threatened by authoritarian leaders who despise the rule of law and the Constitutions that they used to gain power need to hear and proclaim, because the truth can never be silenced:

“You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenseless but not honourless.”

Shortly after the Enabling Act, every non-Nazi Conservative party voluntarily dissolved, their organizations, youth, and veterans organizations being absorbed into the SA or Hitlerjugend. Many rank and file KPD members readily embraced the Nazis, even if their leaders were killed, jailed, or exiled. That was not the case with the SPD. Because of their stance and the courage of Otto Wels, they became the most hated and persecuted German political parties.

Otto Wels died as an exile in France. Many Social Democrats were placed in Concentration Camps and died, likewise some Communists. The Catholic Center Party would find itself betrayed, and many of its leaders would be killed, jailed, or placed in Concentration Camps, and Hitler would persecute opposition members of the Catholic Church as if no Concordat had ever been negotiated. A few members of the Protestant conservative parties, would join the German resistance, and some would be jailed, placed in Concentration Camps, or after the failed Military Coup of July 20th 1944, would be executed for their resistance, but they were a distinct minority, and few had any misgivings as long as it looked like Germany would win the war.

But eventually the Nazis would be driven from power. Their descendants today, whether in Germany, the United States, or other countries must be confronted at all costs. Democracy, and the American Constitutional Democracy, based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes that all men are created equal, and the Constitution of the United States which was the first to checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government, must be upheld. The Executive Branch, cannot, regardless of which party is in power be allowed to overthrow that democracy.

We have reached a point in the history of the United States where the Executive Branch, over a period of decades has assumed the powers of dictatorship as the Legislative branch over the corresponding time has surrendered its prerogatives and powers, while the judicial branch had become the domain of politically appointed judges and justices. Donald Trump and the GOP Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, have been the leaders of that, but should by some chance Bernie win, I have no doubt that some of his supporters secure his power by similar means. Yesterday, the President declared himself to be the Chief Law Enforcement Official in the country, in effect above all law. The Founders attempted to ensure that would not happen by placing Congress above the Executive Branch in the Constitution, but they assumed that no Chief Executive would do such a thing.

One does not know what will happen next, especially after the Senate acquitted the President in his impeachment trial, and the President’s subsequent retribution on those whose did not support him completely, or obeyed their oaths of office.

However, it is my opinion, that anyone who truly values the primary principles of the Declaration and the Constitution, and not just be a compliant tool of any political leader, must ne willing to take a stand; like the one Otto Wels made when confronted with a dictatorship in the making. Even if the President unleashes the power of the police and his own heavily armed supporters against opponents, we must remember like Otto Wels, they can “take our lives and freedom, but they cannot take our honor…”

This is something that anyone committed to the principles of the Declaration and Constitution must take seriously over the next eight and a half months leading to the next Presidential election. If we fail, the effects will be felt for at least a generation, and the institutions of our government will be transformed in ways that the founders could only imagine in their worst dreams.

Democrats and Never Trump conservatives must keep this in mind. Nothing is guaranteed right now, it is quite possible that Trump and his cult like supporters in Congress, before the election, or if he is re-elected, with their now majority in the courts could enact something like the Enabling Act if we are not careful. We must be careful to watch for the major terrorist attack, or war that could lead to the implementation of already legislated laws, such as the Patriot Act, or executive orders that give near dictatorial powers to the executive, and which would, if they occurred, be supported by a majority of Americans.

Historian Timothy 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.”

Trump has said he would do that and his supporters are committed to what he says, but until now most Americans have refused to believe him, and them. Sadly, most still don’t. After all, once one ceases to resist what more is there to do, just go to the Cabaret.

As Joel Gray, the Master of Ceremonies in the musical and film Cabartet sang:

Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so!
We have no troubles here
Here, life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.

Yes, ignore everything and immerse yourself in our entertainment and sports culture, as if nothing else matters. What does freedom matter if you have no troubles?

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under ethics, film, germany, History, labor, laws and legislation, leadership, movies, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, terrorism, US Presidents

“How Did it Get So Late So Soon?” The End of 2019 and the Uncertainty of 2020


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is the last day of 2019 and the year has gone by like a whirlwind, some of this is personal and the rest because of the chaos that has become the new normal in our country and much of the world. Dr. Seuss wrote:

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

Being that I am neither the prophet nor the son of the prophet, but a priest and historian I cannot predict what will happen in the coming year, only that it will be chaotic and dangerous. I try to be optimistic but I can see the threads of our Republic unraveling and regardless of how President Trump’s time in office ends, I do not expect a soft landing. Without sounding too pessimistic, I think it is wise to live by the words of George Washington when he commanded the Colonial Army during the Revolution:

“If we are wise, let us prepare for the worst.”

Of course many others have said things like hope for the best and prepare for the worst, but in such an world as ours I think that wisdom lies in preparing for the worst, even though I do hope, pray, and work for the best. The last three years have shown us that we can take nothing for granted, that institutions can be corrupted, Constitutional guardrails overcome, and tyranny arise. Historian Timothy Snyder warned us of this in his book On Tyranny: “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.” 

Snyder was right, and while we can all work, pray and hope for the best in 2020, we must also prepare for the worst. Given the words of the President, the policies of his administration, that the absolute nearly worshipful actions and words of his followers, who threaten violence and civil war should he be turned out of office by impeachment or failure to win re-election. That is something to be to be concerned about.

That being said, tonight to all of my friends I wish you the best, and in the words of Auld Lang Syne:

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under ethics, faith, History, life, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Political Commentary

Civilization Is Tissue Thin Because of the Evil Directed and Committed by Sociopaths, People Without Empathy: Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and War Crimes, then and Now, How Do You Choose to Burn?

 

nanking_massacre_1

The Rape of Nanking

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

This week I finished a series of articles on American Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s opening and closing arguments at Nuremberg, followed by one last night asking the question “Who Were the Victims? Does Anyone Care? The Holocaust and War Crimes Today.” For me the article was difficult to write because I have served in wars that under the rules of the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg and the subsequent U.S. trials in the same courtroom could be rule as wars of aggression, and in which American servicemen and women committed crimes that can easily be classified as war crimes, and even crimes against humanity. Likewise I have taught military ethics at Major American military Staff College.

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg text and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Doing that brought me to do much more study of war crimes and the Holocaust. Since then I have visited Nazi Concentration Camps, Euthanasia Centers, the Wannsee House, where the coordination of the Final Solution was conducted, as well as memorials to the German resistance at the Bendlerstraße headquarters from which the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944 was launched; the Sophie Scholl and White Rose Resistance Memorial and Museum in Munich, and the National Socialist Documentation Center, also in Munich.

As I wrote my articles I have been binge reading books about the Japanese War Crimes from the “China Incident” to the end of the Second World War. I started those at the behest of a reader of this blog. While I knew the wave tops of those crimes and was vaguely familiar with the Tokyo Trial I was not as well informed about the complexity of those crimes and the participation of Japanese officials at every level of government in them.

That leads me to today, not long after the American President pardoned convicted war criminals and the fired his own Secretary of the Navy to keep one of those men from losing his SEAL Trident at a peer review conducted by other SEALS.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany and Japan in the Second World War, as well as other war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide committed by other nations and people’s, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

Lynching in the American South

My original series of articles several years ago which dealt with the Nazi Eunsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. That was about five years ago. I will have to take a look at the current numbers, but I believe that the numbers wills only get worse as younger people are far more likely to believe that the Holocaust is a myth or or exaggerated.

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

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

mass killing einsatzgruppen

Einsatzgruppen

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo. When I think about the men and women who were the perpetrators of those crimes as well as those who were bystanders, who knew about those crimes and did nothing to stop them I am reminded of Captain Gustave Gilbert, an American Psychologist who interviewed and got to know the major German War Criminals at Nuremberg. Gilbert wrote:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

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

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

nankino-masakra-1

Nanking

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

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

tzd8ftsn-1390907543

Soviet Genocide in Ukraine

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

CambodiaExhibitMassgrave-x1

The Killing Fields

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

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

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

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

isis3-840x550

The Islamic State

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


Sophie Scholl, the 22 year old leader of the White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany I think gives those who still retain a sense of empathy, ethics, and self-decency a plumb-line of what the real issues are.

Sophie wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under ethics, germany, History, holocaust, imperial japan, middle east, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism, Tour in Iraq, us army, war crimes, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

The Indictment of America Today: Justice Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is hard to write this series of articles in the wake of President Donald Trump’s pardoning of American soldiers convicted of War Crimes and the Crime of Aggressive War initiates by President George Bush against Iraq in 2003. Before such actions, even the My Lai Massacre and other atrocities in Vietnam I couldn’t imagine the United States government going against the Nuremberg War Crimes precedents or the words of Justice Robert Jackson who organized the trials and served as the chief American Prosecutor at the Major War Crimes Trials. Before those Trials Jackson noted something incredibly profound, which too many Americans, regardless of their political party or ideology fail to comprehend.

“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.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

However, Jackson’s words are not our reality, Bush and Trump are not out of the ordinary when it comes to Twentieth Century and even the Obama Administration which with the barest of obfuscation continued without asking for either a declaration of war or update to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force against Al Qaeda. In fact all of our military actions since 2001 have been based on that that one act by Congress, disregarding any other facts regarding those that we are fighting.

That brings me to tonight’s article and my articles for much of the next week.

On November 20th, 1945 twenty Nazi leaders took their seats in the dock in Saal 6oo (Courtroom 600) at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The men were among the top leaders of the Third Reich, though there were a number of conspicuous absences. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler had committed suicide as the Reich collapsed. Martin Bormann was missing and was believed to have escaped. Reinhard Heydrich died of wounds caused by Czech partisans in 1942.

Now, the men who ruled over most of Europe just three years before presented a sad sight. Deprived of their opulent uniforms and power they looked terrifyingly ordinary.

At 10 A.M., Presiding Judge, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence banged his gavel on his desk looking across the courtroom at the defendants and made his opening statement, saying:

“Before the defendants in this case are called upon to make their pleas to the indictment which has been lodged against them, and in which they are charged with Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity, and with a Common Plan or Conspiracy to commit those Crimes… The trial which is now about to begin is unique in the history of the jurisprudence of the World and it is of supreme importance to millions of people all over the globe…”

Two years ago during I stood next to that same defendant’s dock where Hermann Goering and nineteen other men sat. Goering had been Hitler’s number two man and designated successor until the last days of the war. The others in the dock with Goering were Governor General of Poland, Dr. Hans Frank; Minister of the Interior and Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia, Dr.Wilhelm Frick; General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Staff of the Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht; Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; Gauleiter of Thuringia, and head of Slave Labor programs, Fritz Sauckel; Dr. Arthur Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Occupied Easter Territories, Dr. Arthur Seyess-Inquart, Reichskommissar of occupied Netherlands; Julius Streicher, Gauleiter of Franconia and publisher of the Nazi propaganda paper, Der Sturmer; Commander of the German Navy and Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Karl Donitz; Minister of Economics, Dr. Walter Funk; Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess;;Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath; the First Commander of the German Navy under Hitler, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder; Head of the Hitler Youth, and Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach; Armaments Minister, Albert Speer; Hans Fritzsche of the Propaganda Ministry, Dr. Hjalmar Schlacht pre-war head of the Reichsbank, and Economics Minister, Franz von Papen, who also had served as Vice Chancellor, Ambassador to Austria and later Turkey.

Also indicted but not in the dock, were SS Obergrüppenfuhrer and Chief of the Reich Security Main Office, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was recovering from a mild stroke; Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Head of the Armaments and heavy industry conglomerate Friedrich Krupp AG, and Chief of The Nazi Party Chancellery Martin Bormann. Robert Ley, leader of The German Labor Front committed suicide in his cell before the trial began. Krupp was too sick and senile to go to trial.

On the second day of trial Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Robert Jackson who was serving as Chief Prosecutor for the United States gave one of the most powerful opening statements in any trial. He said:

May it please Your Honour, the privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hands of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgement of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that Power ever has paid to Reason.

This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of seventeen more, to utilise International Law to meet the greatest menace of our times -aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honour.

In the prisoners’ dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led, almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these miserable men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals their fate is of little consequence to the world.

What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalism and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which embroiled Europe, generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived, and with the forces they have directed, that tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which attached to their names. Civilisation can afford no compromise with the forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.

What these men stand for we will patiently and temperately disclose. We will give you undeniable proofs of incredible events. The catalogue of crimes will omit nothing that could be conceived by a pathological pride, cruelty, and lust for power. These men created in Germany, under the “Fuehrerprinzip,” a National Socialist despotism equalled only by the dynasties of the ancient East. They took from the German people all those dignities and freedoms that we hold natural and inalienable rights in every human being, The people were compensated by inflaming and gratifying hatreds towards those who were marked as “scapegoats.” Against their opponents, including Jews, Catholics, and free labour the Nazis directed such a campaign of arrogance, brutality, and annihilation as the world has not witnessed since the pre-Christian ages. They excited the German ambition to be a “master race,” which of course implies serfdom others. They led their people on a mad gamble for domination. They diverted social energies and resources to the creation of what they thought to be an invincible war machine. They overran their neighbours. To sustain the “master race” in its war-making, they enslaved millions of human beings and brought them into Germany, where these hapless creatures now wander as “displaced persons.” At length, bestiality and bad faith reached such excess that they aroused the sleeping strength of imperilled Civilisation. Its united efforts have ground the German war machine to fragments. But the struggle has left Europe a liberated yet prostrate land where a demoralised society struggles to survive. These are the fruits of the sinister forces that sit with these defendants in the prisoners’ dock.

In justice to the nations and the men associated in this prosecution, I must remind you of certain difficulties which may leave their mark on this case. Never before in legal history has an effort been made to bring within the scope of a single litigation the developments of a decade covering a whole continent, and involving a score of nations, countless individuals, and innumerable events. Despite the magnitude of the task, the world has demanded immediate action. This demand has had to be met, though perhaps at the cost of finished craftsmanship. In my country, established courts, following familiar procedures, applying well-thumbed precedents, and dealing with the legal consequences of local and limited events, seldom commence a trial within a year of the event in litigation. Yet less than eight months ago to-day the courtroom in which you sit was an enemy fortress in the hands of German S.S. troops. Less than eight months ago nearly all our witnesses and documents were in enemy hands. The law had not been codified, no procedures had been established, no tribunal was in existence, no usable courthouse stood here, none of the hundreds of tons of official German documents had been examined, no prosecuting staff had been assembled, nearly all of the present defendants were at large, and the four prosecuting powers had not yet joined in common cause to try them. I should be the last to deny that the case may well suffer from incomplete researches, and quite likely will not be the example of professional work which any of the prosecuting nations would normally wish to sponsor. It is, however, a completely adequate case to the judgement we shall ask you to render, and its full development we shall be obliged to leave to historians.

Before I discuss particulars of evidence, some general considerations which may affect the credit of this trial in the eyes of the world should be candidly faced. There is a dramatic disparity between the circumstances of the accusers and of the accused that might discredit our work if we should falter, in even minor matters, in being fair and temperate.

Unfortunately, the nature of these crimes is such that both prosecution and judgement must be by victor nations over vanquished foes. The world-wide scope of the aggressions carried out by these men has left but few real neutrals. Either the victors must judge the vanquished or we must leave the defeated to judge themselves. After the First World War we learned the futility of the latter course. The former high station of these defendants, the notoriety of their acts, and the adaptability of their conduct to provoke retaliation make it hard to distinguish between the demand for a just and measured retribution, and the unthinking cry for vengeance which arises from the anguish of war. It is our task, so far as is humanly possible, to draw the line between the two. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.

At the very outset, let us dispose of the contention that to put these men to trial is to do them an injustice entitling them to some special consideration. These defendants may be hard pressed but they are not ill used. Let us see what alternative they would have to being tried.

More than a majority of these prisoners surrendered to or were tracked down by the forces of the United States. Could they expect us to make American custody a shelter for our enemies against the just wrath of our Allies? Did we spend American lives to capture them only to save them from punishment? Under the principles of the Moscow Declaration, those suspected war criminals who are not to be tried internationally must be turned over to individual governments for trial at the scene of their outrages. Many less responsible and less culpable American-held prisoners have been and will continue to be turned over to other United Nations for local trial. If these defendants should succeed, for any reason, in escaping the condemnation of this Tribunal, or if they obstruct or abort this trial, those who are American-held prisoners will be delivered up to our continental Allies. For these defendants, however, we have set up an International Tribunal, and have undertaken the burden of participating in a complicated effort to give them fair and dispassionate hearings. That is the best known protection to any man with a defence worthy of being heard. If these men are the first war leaders of a defeated nation to be prosecuted in the name of the law, they are also the first to be given a chance to plead for their lives in the name of the law. Realistically, the Charter of this Tribunal, which gives them a hearing, is also the source of their only hope. It may be that these men of troubled conscience, whose only wish is that the world forget them, do not regard a trial as a favour. But they do have a fair opportunity to defend themselves -a favour which, when in power, they rarely extended even to their fellow countrymen. Despite the fact that public opinion already condemns their acts, we agree that here they must be given a presumption of innocence, and we accept the burden of proving criminal acts and the responsibility of these defendants for their commission.

When I say that we do not ask for convictions unless we prove crime, I do not mean mere technical or incidental transgression of international conventions. We charge guilt on planned and intended conduct that involves moral as well as legal wrong. And we do not mean conduct that is a natural and human, even if illegal, cutting of corners, such as many of us might well have committed had we been in the defendants’ positions. It is not because they yielded to the normal frailties of human beings that we accuse them. It is their abnormal and inhuman conduct which brings them to this bar.

We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count in the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants re-enact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.

We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance between the most extreme of the Nazi revolutionists, the most unrestrained of the German reactionaries, and the most aggressive of the German militarists. If the German populace had willingly accepted the Nazi programme, no Storm-troopers would have been needed in the early days of the Party, and there would have been no need for concentration camps or the Gestapo, both of which institutions were inaugurated as soon as the Nazis gained control of the German state. Only after these lawless innovations proved successful at home were they taken abroad.

The German people should know by now that the people of the United States hold them in no fear, and in no hate. It is true that the Germans have taught us the horrors of modern warfare, but the ruin that lies from the Rhine to the Danube shows that we, like our Allies, have not been dull pupils. If we are not awed German fortitude and proficiency in war, and if we are not persuaded of their political maturity, we do respect their skill in the arts of peace, their technical competence, and the sober, industrious and self-disciplined character of the masses of the German people. In 1933, we saw the German people recovering prestige in the commercial, industrial and artistic world after the set-back of the last war. We beheld their progress neither with envy nor malice. The Nazi regime interrupted this advance. The recoil of the Nazi aggression has left Germany in ruins. The Nazi readiness to pledge the German word without hesitation and to break it without shame has fastened upon German diplomacy a reputation for duplicity that will handicap it for years. Nazi arrogance has made the boast of the “master race” a taunt that will be thrown at Germans the world over for generations. The Nazi nightmare has given the German name a new and sinister significance throughout the world, which will retard Germany a century. The German, no less than the non-German world, has accounts to settle with these defendants.

The fact of the war and the course of the war, which is the central theme of our case, is history. From September 1st, 1939, when the German armies crossed the Polish frontier, until September, 1942, when they met epic resistance at Stalingrad, German arms seemed invincible. Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands and France, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Balkans and Africa, Poland and the Baltic States, and parts of Russia, all had, been overrun and conquered by swift, powerful, well-aimed blows. That attack on the peace of the world is the crime against international society which brings into international cognizance crimes in its aid and preparation which otherwise might be only internal concerns. It was aggressive war, which the nations of the world had renounced. It was war in violation of treaties, by which the peace of the world was sought to be safeguarded.

This war did not just happen -it was planned and prepared for over a long period of time and with no small skill and cunning. The world has perhaps never seen such a concentration and stimulation of the energies of any people as that which enabled Germany, twenty years after it was defeated, disarmed and dismembered, to come so near carrying out its plan to dominate Europe. Whatever else we may say of those who were the authors of this war, they did achieve a stupendous work in organisation, and our first task is to examine the means by which these defendants and their fellow conspirators prepared and incited Germany to go to war.

In general, our case will disclose these defendants all uniting at some time with the Nazi Party in a plan which they well knew could be accomplished only by an outbreak of war in Europe. Their seizure of the German State, their subjugation of the German people, their terrorism and extermination of dissident elements, their planning and waging of war, their calculated and planned ruthlessness in the conduct of warfare, their deliberate and planned criminality toward conquered peoples -all these are ends for which they acted in concert; and all these are phases of the conspiracy, a conspiracy which reached one goal only to set out for another and more ambitious one. We shall also trace for you the intricate web of organisations which these men formed and utilised to accomplish these ends. We will show how the entire structure of offices and officials was dedicated to the criminal purposes and committed to the use of the criminal methods planned by these defendants and their co-conspirators, many of whom war and suicide have put beyond reach.

It is my purpose to open the case, particularly under Count One of the Indictment, and to deal with the Common plan or Conspiracy to achieve ends possible only by resort to Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity. My emphasis will not be on individual perversions which may have occurred independently of any central plan. One of the dangers ever present in this trial is that it may be protracted by details of particular wrongs and that we will become lost in a “wilderness of single instances.” Nor will I now dwell on the activity of individual defendants except as it may contribute to exposition of the Common Plan.

The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority behind all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture, the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and racked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.

I shall first take up the lawless road by which these men came to possess the power which they have so used. The chief instrumentality of cohesion in plan and action was the National Socialist German Workers Party, known as the Nazi Party. Some of the defendants were with it from the beginning. Others joined only after success seemed to have validated its lawlessness or power had invested it with immunity from the processes of the law. Adolf Hitler became its supreme leader or “Fuehrer” in 1921.

On the 24th February, 1920, at Munich, it publicly had proclaimed its programme (1708-PS). Some of its purposes would commend themselves to many good citizens, such as the demands for “profit-sharing in the great industries,” “generous development of provision for old age,” “a land reform suitable to our national requirements,” and “raising the standard of health.” It also made a strong appeal to that sort of nationalism which in ourselves we call patriotism and in our rivals chauvinism. It demanded “equality of rights for the German people in its dealing with other nations and the evolution of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.” It demanded the “union of all Germans on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples to form a Great Germany.” It demanded “land and territory (colonies) for the enrichment of our people and the settlement of our surplus population.” All of these, of course, were legitimate objectives if they were to be attained without resort to aggressive warfare.

The Nazi Party from its inception, however, contemplated war. It demanded the “abolition of mercenary troops and the formation of a national army.” It proclaimed that “in view of the enormous sacrifice of life and property demanded of a nation by every war, personal enrichment through war must be regarded as a crime against the nation. We demand, therefore, ruthless confiscation of all war profits.” I do not criticise this policy. Indeed, I wish it were universal. I merely wish to point out that in a time of peace, war was a preoccupation of the Party, and it started the work of making war less offensive to the masses of the people. With this it combined a programme of physical training and sports for youth that became, as we shall see, the cloak for a secret programme of military training.

The Nazi Party declaration also committed its members to an anti-Semitic programme. It declared that no Jew or any person of non-German blood could be a member of the nation. Such persons were to be disfranchised, disqualified for office, subject to the alien laws, and entitled to nourishment only after the German population had first been provided for. All who had entered Germany after 2nd August, 1914, were to be required forthwith to depart, and all non-German immigration was to be prohibited.

The Party also avowed, even in those early days, an authoritarian and totalitarian programme for Germany. It demanded creation of a strong central power with unconditional authority, nationalisation of all businesses which had been “amalgamated,” and a “reconstruction” of the national system of education, which “must aim at teaching the pupil to understand the idea of the State (state sociology).” Its hostility to civil liberties and freedom of the Press was distinctly announced in these words: “It must be forbidden to publish newspapers which do not conduce to the national welfare. We demand the legal prosecution of all tendencies in art or literature of a kind likely to disintegrate our life as a nation, and the suppression of institutions which might militate against the above requirements.”

The forecast of religious persecution was clothed in the language of religious liberty, for the Nazi programme stated “We demand liberty for all religious denominations in the State.” But it continued with the limitation, “so far as they are not a danger to it and do not militate against the morality and moral sense of the German race.”

The Party programme foreshadowed the campaign of terrorism. It announced, “we demand ruthless war upon those whose activities are injurious to the common interests,” and it demanded that such offences be punished with death.

It is significant that the leaders of this Party interpreted this programme as a belligerent one, certain to precipitate conflict. The Party platform concluded:

“The leaders of the Party swear to proceed regardless of consequences -if necessary, at the sacrifice of their lives -toward the fulfilment of the foregoing points.”

It is this Leadership Corps of the Party, not its entire membership, that stands accused before you as a criminal Organisation.

We have not sought to include every person who may, at some time, have supported the Nazi Party, but only the leadership core which pledged itself to achieve its ends at the risk of their lives.

Let us now see how the leaders of the Party fulfilled their pledge to proceed regardless of consequences. Obviously, their foreign objectives, which were nothing less than to undo international treaties and to wrest territory from foreign control, as well as most of their internal programme, could be accomplished only by possession of the machinery of the German State. The first effort, accordingly, was to subvert the Weimar Republic by violent revolution. An abortive “putsch” at Munich in 1921 landed many of them in jail. A period of meditation which followed produced “Mein Kampf,” henceforth the source of law for the Party workers and a source of considerable revenue to its supreme leader. The Nazi plans for the violent overthrow of the feeble Republic then turned to plans for its capture.

No greater mistake could be made than to think of the Nazi Party in terms of the loose organisations which we of the Western world call “political parties.” In discipline, structure, and method the Nazi Party was not adapted to the democratic process of persuasion. It was an instrument of conspiracy and of coercion. The Party was not organised to take over power in the German State by winning the support of a majority of the German people; it was organised to seize power in defiance of the will of the people.

The Nazi Party, under the “Fuehrerprinzip,” was bound by an iron discipline into a pyramid, with the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, at the top and broadening into a numerous Leadership Corps, composed of overlords of a very extensive Party membership at the base. By no means all of those who may have supported the movement in one way or another were actual Party members. The membership took the Party oath which in effect amounted to an abdication of personal intelligence and moral responsibility. This was the oath: “I vow inviolable fidelity to Adolf Hitler; I vow absolute obedience to him and to the leaders he designates for me.” The membership in daily practise followed its leaders with an idolatry and self-surrender more Oriental than Western. We will not be obliged to guess as to the motives or goal of the Nazi Party. The immediate aim was to undermine the Weimar Republic. The order to all Party members to work to that end was given in a letter from Hitler of 24th August, 1931, to Rosenberg, of which we will produce the original.

Hitler wrote:-“I am just reading in the Volkischer Beobachter, edition 235/ 236 page 1, an article entitled ‘Does Wirth intend to come over?’ The tendency of the article is to prevent on our part a crumbling away from the present form of government. I myself am travelling all over Germany to achieve exactly the opposite. May I therefore ask that my own paper will not stab me in the back with tactically unwise articles …” (047-PS)

Captured film enables us to present the defendant, Alfred Rosenberg, who from the screen will himself tell you the story. The S.A. practised violent interference with the elections. We have here the reports of the S.D., describing in detail how its members later violated the secrecy of elections in order to identify those who opposed them. One of the reports makes this explanation:

“The control was effected in the following way: some members of the election-committee marked all the ballot-papers with numbers. During the ballot itself, a voters list was made up. The ballot-papers were handed out in numerical order, therefore it was possible afterwards with the aid of this list to find out the persons who cast no-votes or invalid votes. One sample of these marked ballot-papers is enclosed. The marking was done on the back of the ballot-papers with skimmed-milk.” (R-142)

The Party activity, in addition to all the familiar forms of political contest, took on the aspect of a rehearsal for warfare. It utilised a Party formation, “Die Sturmabteilungen,” commonly known as the S.A. This was a voluntary organisation of youthful and fanatical Nazis trained for the use of violence under semi-military discipline. Its members began by acting as bodyguards for the Nazi leaders and rapidly expanded from defensive to offensive tactics. They became disciplined ruffians for breaking up opposition meetings and the terrorisation of adversaries. They boasted that their task was to make the Nazi Party “master of the streets.” The S.A. was the parent organisation of a number of others. Its offspring included “Die Schutzstaffeln” commonly known as the S.S., formed in 1925, and distinguished for the fanaticism and cruelty of its members; “Der Sicherheitsdienst,” known as the S.D.; and “Die Geheime Staatspolizei,” the Secret State Police, the infamous Gestapo formed in 1934 immediately after Nazi accession to power.

A glance at a chart of the Party Organisation is enough to show how completely it differed from the political parties we know. It had its own source of law in the Fuehrer and it had its own courts and its own police. The conspirators set up a government within the Party to exercise outside the law every sanction that any legitimate State could exercise and many that it could not. Its chain of command was military, and its formations were martial in name as well as in function. They were composed of battalions set up to bear arms under military discipline, motorised corps, flying corps, and the infamous “Death Head Corps,” which was not misnamed. The Party had its own secret police, its security units, its intelligence and espionage division, its raiding forces, and its youth forces. It established elaborate administrative mechanisms to identify and liquidate spies and informers, to manage concentration camps, to operate death vans, and to finance the whole movement. Through concentric circles of authority, the Nazi Party, as its leadership later boasted, eventually organised and dominated every phase of German life -but not until they had waged a bitter internal struggle characterised by brutal criminality. In preparation for this phase of their struggle they created a party police system. This became the pattern and the instrument of the police State, which was the first goal in their plan.

The Party formation, including the Leadership Corps of the Party, the S.D., the S.S. the S.A. and the infamous Secret State Police, or Gestapo -all these stand accused before you as criminal organisations; organisations which, as we will prove from their own documents, were recruited only from the recklessly devoted Nazis, ready in conviction and temperament to do the most violent of deeds to advance the common programme. They terrorised and silenced democratic opposition and were able at length to combine with political opportunists, militarists, industrialists, monarchists and political reactionaries.

A glance at a chart of the Party Organisation is enough to show how completely it differed from the political parties we know. It had its own source of law in the Fuehrer and it had its own courts and its own police. The conspirators set up a government within the Party to exercise outside the law every sanction that any legitimate State could exercise and many that it could not. Its chain of command was military, and its formations were martial in name as well as in function. They were composed of battalions set up to bear arms under military discipline, motorised corps, flying corps, and the infamous “Death Head Corps,” which was not misnamed. The Party had its own secret police, its security units, its intelligence and espionage division, its raiding forces, and its youth forces. It established elaborate administrative mechanisms to identify and liquidate spies and informers, to manage concentration camps, to operate death vans, and to finance the whole movement. Through concentric circles of authority, the Nazi Party, as its leadership later boasted, eventually organised and dominated every phase of German life -but not until they had waged a bitter internal struggle characterised by brutal criminality. In preparation for this phase of their struggle they created a party police system. This became the pattern and the instrument of the police State, which was the first goal in their plan. The Party formation, including the Leadership Corps of the Party, the S.D., the S.S. the S.A. and the infamous Secret State Police, or Gestapo -all these stand accused before you as criminal organisations; organisations which, as we will prove from their own documents, were recruited only from the recklessly devoted Nazis, ready in conviction and temperament to do the most violent of deeds to advance the common programme. They terrorised and silenced democratic opposition and were able at length to combine with political opportunists, militarists, industrialists, monarchists, and political reactionaries.

On January 30,1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the German Republic. An evil combination, represented in the prisoner’s dock by its most eminent survivors, had succeeded in possessing itself of the machinery of the German Government, a facade behind which they thenceforth would operate to make reality of the war of conquest they so long had plotted. The conspiracy had passed into its second phase.

We shall now consider the steps, which embraced the most hideous of crimes against humanity, to which the conspirators resorted In perfecting control of the German State and in preparing Germany for the aggressive war indispensable to their ends.

The Germans of the 1920′ s were a frustrated and baffled people as a result of defeat and the disintegration of their traditional government. The democratic elements, which were trying to govern Germany through the new and feeble machinery of the Weimar Republic, got inadequate support from the democratic forces of the rest of the world. It is not to be denied that Germany, when world-wide depression added to her other problems, was faced with urgent intricate pressures in her economic and political life, which necessitated bold measures.

The internal measures by which a nation attempts to solve its problems are ordinarily of no concern to other nations. But the Nazi programme from the first was recognised as a desperate programme for a people still suffering the effects of an unsuccessful war. The Nazi policy ends recognised as attainable only by a renewal and more successful outcome of war. The conspirators’ answer to Germany’s problems was nothing less than to plot the the regaining of territories in the First World War and the acquisition of other fertile lands of Eastern Europe by dispossessing or exterminating those who inhabited them. They also contemplated destroying or permanently weakening all other neighbouring peoples so as to win virtual domination over Europe and probably over the world. The precise limits of their ambition we need not define, for it was and is as illegal to wage aggressive war for small stakes as for large ones.

We find at this period two governments in Germany-the real and the ostensible. The form of the German Republic was maintained for a time, and it was the outward and visible government. But the real authority in the State was outside of and above the law and rested in the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party.

On February 27, 1933, less than a month after Hitler became Chancellor, the Reichstag building was set on fire. The burning of this symbol of free parliamentary government was so providential for the Nazis that it was believed they staged the fire themselves. Certainly when we contemplate their known crimes, we cannot believe they would shrink from mere arson. It is not necessary, however, to resolve the controversy as to who set the fire. The significant point is in the use that was made of the fire and of the state of public mind it produced. The Nazis immediately accused the Communist Party of instigating and committing the crime, and turned every effort to portray this single act of arson as the beginning of a Communist revolution. Then, taking advantage of the hysteria, the Nazis met this phantom revolution with a real one. In the following December, the German Supreme Court, with commendable courage and independence, acquitted the accused Communists, but it was too late to influence the tragic course of events which the Nazi conspirators had set rushing forward.

Hitler, on the morning after the fire, obtained from the aged and ailing President von Hindenburg a Presidential decree suspending the extensive guarantees of individual liberty contained in the constitution of the Weimar Republic. The decree provided that “Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the Press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.” (1390-PS)

The extent of the restriction on personal liberty under the decree of 28th February, 1933, may be understood by reference to the rights under the Weimar Constitution which were suspended:

Article 114. The freedom of the person is inviolable. Curtailment or deprivation of personal freedom by a public authority is only permissible on a legal basis. Persons who have been deprived of their personal freedom must be informed at the latest on the following day by whose authority and for what reasons the deprivation of freedom was ordered. Opportunity shall be afforded them without delay of submitting objection to their deprivation of freedom.

Article 115. Every German’s home is his sanctuary and is inviolable. Exceptions may only be made as provided by law.

Article 117. The secrecy of letters and all postal, telegraphic and telephone communications is inviolable. Exceptions are inadmissible except by Reich law.

Article 118. Every German has the right, within the limits of the general laws, to express his opinions freely in speech, in writing, in print, in picture form or in any other way. No condition of work or employment may detract from this right and no disadvantage may accrue to him from any person making use of this right.

Article 123. All Germans have the right to assemble peacefully and unarmed without giving notice and without special permission. A Reich law may make previous notification obligatory for assemblies in the open air, and may prohibit them in the case of immediate danger to the public safety.

Article 124. All Germans have the right to form associations or societies for purposes not contrary to criminal law. This right may not be curtailed by preventive measures. The same provisions apply to religious associations and societies. Every association may become incorporated (Erwerb der Rechtsfaehigkeit) according to the provisions of the civil law. The right may not be refused to any association on the grounds that its aims are political, social-political or religious.

Article 153. Property is guaranteed by the Constitution. Its content and limits are defined by the laws. Expropriation can only take place for the public benefitand on a legal basis. Adequate compensation shall be granted, unless a Reich law orders otherwise. In the case of dispute concerning the matter to the ordinary civil courts, unless Reich laws determine otherwise. Compensation must be paid if the Reich expropriates property belonging to the Lands, Communes, or public utility associations. Property carries obligations. Its use shall also serve the common good.” (2050-PS)

It must be said, in fairness to von Hindenburg, that the Constitution itself authorised him temporarily to suspend these fundamental rights “if the public safety and order in the German Reich are considerably disturbed or endangered.” It must also be acknowledged that President Ebert previously had invoked this power.

But the National Socialist coup was made possible because the terms of the Hitler-Hindenburg decree departed from all previous ones in which the power of suspension had been invoked. Whenever President Ebert had suspended constitutional guarantees of individual rights, his decree had expressly revived the Protective Custody Act adopted by the Reichstag in 1916 during the previous war. This Act guaranteed a judicial hearing within twenty-four hours of arrest, gave a right to have counsel and to inspect all relevant records, provided for appeal, and authorised compensation from Treasury funds for erroneous arrests.

The Hitler-Hindenburg decree of 28th February, 1933, contained no such safeguards. The omission may not have been noted by von Hindenburg. Certainly he did not appreciate its effect. It left the Nazi police and party formations, already existing and functioning under Hitler, completely unrestrained and irresponsible. Secret arrest and indefinite detention without charges, without evidence, without hearing, without counsel, became the method of inflicting inhuman punishment on any whom the Nazi police suspected or disliked. No court could issue an injunction, or writ of habeas corpus, or certiorari. The German people were in the hands of the police, the police were in the hands of the Nazi Party, and the Party was in the hands of a ring of evil men, of whom the defendants here before you are surviving and representative leaders.

The Nazi conspiracy, as we shall show, always contemplated not merely overcoming current opposition, but exterminating elements which could not be reconciled with its philosophy of the State. It not only sought to establish the Nazi “new order” but to secure its way, as Hitler predicted, “for a thousand years.” Nazis were never in doubt or disagreement as to what those dissident elements were. They were concisely described by one of them, Col. General von Fritzsche, on 11th December, 1938, in these words:

“Shortly after the first war I came to the conclusion that we should have to be victorious in three battles if Germany were to become powerful again: (1) The battle against the working class -Hitler has won this; (2) Against the Catholic Church, perhaps better expressed against Ultramontanism (3) Against the Jews.” (1947-PS)

The warfare against these elements was continuous. The battle in Germany was but a practice skirmish for the world-wide drive against them. We have here in point of geography and of time two groups of crimes against humanity -one within Germany before and during the war, the other in occupied territory during the war. But the two are not separated in Nazi planning. They are a continuous unfolding of the Nazi plan to exterminate peoples and institutions which might serve as a focus or instrument for overturning their “new world order” at any time. We consider these Crimes against Humanity in this address as manifestations of the one Nazi Plan and discuss them according to General von Fritsche’s classification…

Jackson would continue his statement and address the battle against the Working Class, the battle against the churches, the crimes committed against the Jews, crimes in the conduct of war. I will deal with each of these In later articles.

Jackson concluded his opening statement with this words, and they are important, not only to the Nuremberg Process, but in our day today:

While the defendants and the prosecutors stand before you as individuals, it is not the triumph of either group alone that is committed to your judgement. Above all personalities there are anonymous and impersonal forces whose conflict makes up much of human history. It is yours to throw the strength of the law behind either the one or the other of these forces for at least another generation. What are the forces that are contending before you?

No charity can disguise the fact that the forces which these defendants represent, the forces that would advantage and delight in their acquittal, are the darkest and most sinister forces in society-dictatorship and oppression, malevolence and passion, militarism and lawlessness. By their fruits we best know them. Their acts have bathed the world in blood and set civilisation back a century. They have subjected their European neighbours to every outrage and torture, every spoliation and deprivation that insolence, cruelty, and greed could inflict. They have brought the German people to the lowest pitch of wretchedness, from which they can entertain no hope of early deliverance. They have stirred hatreds and incited domestic violence on every continent. There are the things that stand in the dock shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners.

The real complaining party at your bar is Civilisation. In all our countries it is still a struggling and imperfect thing. It does not plead that the United States, or any other country, has been blameless of the conditions which made the German people easy victims to the blandishments and intimidations of the Nazi conspirators.

But it points to the dreadful sequence of aggression and crimes I have recited, it points to the weariness of flesh, the exhaustion of resources, and the destruction of all that was beautiful or useful in so much of the world, and to greater potentialities for destruction in the days to come. It is not necessary among the ruins of this ancient and beautiful city with untold members of its civilian inhabitants still buried in its rubble, to argue the proposition that to start or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst of crimes. The refuge of the defendants can be only their hope that International Law will lag so far behind the moral sense of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must be regarded as innocent in law.

Civilisation asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of International Law, its prospects, its prohibitions and, most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will, in all countries, may have “leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the law.”

Following the trials of the major war criminals, eleven more trials were held, including the Doctor’s Trial, a General’s Trial, also known as the Hostage Trial, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial, as well as others.

To stand in the courtroom where such evidence was presented and powerful testimony given was humbling. To see where learned men, powerful, and even respected men, who had so willingly sacrificed any trace of personal honor and morality, men who aided and abetted a regime which committed the most heinous crimes committed by a civilized “Christian” nation in history left me silent. I have studied these trials since I was in college over 35 years ago. My primary professor, Dr. Helmut Haeussler was an interpreter at the trials.

Since that time I have continued to study them and today as I see the rise of Right Wing movements in Europe, as well as the United States, movements which have at their core many of the same beliefs and principles held by Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the men who stood trial at Nuremberg I find myself frightened.

This is especially so in the United States where Donald Trump has made repeated policy statements limiting civil rights and freedom of speech, limiting the role of the courts, curtailing freedom of the press, favoring one religion above others, curtailing the legal and civil rights of whole groups of people, expelling millions of people, banning whole groups of other people entry into the country, promising to rid the government of his opponents, to fire military leaders who disagree with him in mass, to commit the military to use methods that are condemned as war crimes, war crimes such as were prosecuted by the United States and her Allies at Nuremberg.

To make matters more frightening, many of Trump’s supporters see no problem with this and are often shown on video threatening opponents, advocating even more extreme and violent measures than Trump himself. They justify their proposed polices by saying that these measures are to “protect the country,” and to Make America Great Again.” 

But at what price?

In Judgement at Nuremberg, the film version of the Judges’ Trial, Spencer Tracy played Judge Dan Heywood. In the scene at which the verdicts were read, he gave this speech, some of which echoed the words of Justice Robert Jackson’s closing argument in the Major War Criminal Trial.

“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.”

A nation is what it stands for. The ideals that have marked the American experiment have never been perfectly practiced by the United States, but they are still the hallmark of the last and greatest hope of civilization. They are the ideals which lead people around the world to want to become Americans, they are the ideals which sustain us. But what Trump and his followers say is that they are not important, and in fact should be limited or abrogated entirely. But this is the way of expediency, and the end of the American experiment.

Standing beside the dock at Nuremberg I was humbled by the fact that I was where such history had been made, and at the same time I was frightened for my country and the world. This is important because the United States is not immune from going down the path of the Third Reich. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

The Nuremberg trials help us to understand why. We cannot forget them.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under crime, ethics, History, holocaust, iraq,afghanistan, nazi germany, Political Commentary, War on Terrorism

A New Birth of Freedom and its True Meaning: The Gettysburg Address


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The weekend before Donald Trump was elected President I was at Gettysburg with my students from the Staff College. We finished our staff ride at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. My practice as always was to close the staff ride by reading his address. I always get a bit choked up when I read it because I realize just how important what he said was then, and still is today. That Sunday it was as if I saw the Confederate hordes advancing upon Cemetery Ridge and the fate of the country hanging in the balance.

I had already seen the assaults on our Republic and Constitution by Donald Trump and his supporters, and that particular day I was full of dread. I knew that if Trump won, and his supporters on the Alt-Right have their way, our system of government will be destroyed, the civil liberties that the men who died at Gettysburg to establish, would be curtailed or even rolled back. I feared, and it turns out quite rightly, that if Trump won, that civil rights would be threatened or rolled back, that White Nationalists would be emboldened, and racist violence and anti-Semitic attacks would increase exponentially. I would have preferred to be wrong, but I was right. Now we are in the midst of impeachment proceedings

In November of 1863 Abraham Lincoln was sick when when he traveled by train from Washington DC to Gettysburg. When Lincoln delivered the address, he was suffering from what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of his address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon his appointment as Prime Minister in May, 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.”

Many people in the United States and Europe did not agree with Lincoln’s restatement of the founding premise of the Declaration of Independence. Opponents argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. The more reactionary European subscribers of Romanticism ridiculed the “idea that a nation could be founded on a proposition….and they were not reluctant to point to the Civil War as proof that attempting to build a government around something as bloodless and logical as a proposition was futile.” [1]

As late as 1848, the absolute monarchies of Europe had fought against and put down with force revolutionary movements attempting to imitate the American experiment. Many of the revolutionaries from Germany, Poland, and other nations fled to the United States, where 15 years later, clad in the Blue of the United States Army fought to preserve that experiment on the battlefields of the American Civil War, including Gettysburg.

But Lincoln disagreed with the conservative reactionaries of Europe, or the American Slave owning aristocracy. He believed that Americans would fight to defend that proposition. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination- and he drove his point home with a deliberate evocation of the great Whig orator Daniel Webster- “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [2]

The Unitarian pastor, abolitionist, and leading Transcendentalist thinker, Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance – for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [3]

Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of historian George Bancroft, who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [4]

Theodore Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address. Parker, like Lincoln believed that: “the American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [5]

Following a train trip to Gettysburg and an overnight stay, Lincoln delivered these immortal words on that November afternoon:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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.[6]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, especially a man as singularity ill-equipped and ill-tempered as Donald Trump, Lincoln’s words still matter. Since Trump’s election he, and his supporters, many of whom are White Nationalists, and authoritarians have moved on many fronts to curtail civil rights and re-establish White rule in a way unseen since secession, and Jim Crow. So far our institutions have held, but there is no guarantee that they will. In such an environment, one has to wonder if our very form of government can survive.

But it is important that they do, and despite our weariness, we need to continue to fight for those ideals, even when the world seems to be closing in around us as it must have seemed following Lee’s initial success on the first day of battle at Gettysburg.

Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [7]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist, and despite my doubts, I have to believe that we will eventually recover.

Admittedly, that is an act of faith based on our historical resiliency, and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preacher, including the hate filled message of Donald Trump and his White Supremacist supporters, especially supposedly “conservative ” Christians. That doesn’t mean that I am not afraid for our future, or that despite my belief that our institutions will hold. Historian, Timothy Snyder correctly noted:

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

The amazing thing during the Civil War was that in spite of everything, the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that. His steady leadership and unfailing resolve help see the Republic through manifold disasters.

But, it was the men who left lives of comfort and security to defend the sacred principles of the Declaration, like Joshua Chamberlain, and many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom, and when we finally realize this fact, and take up the cause that they fought and died for, then maybe, just maybe, we can contemplate the real meaning of “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.d. [8]

Now, I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln on that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans, as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we decide to again believe in that proposition and be willing to fight, or even die for it. Of course, it is quite possible that we will not measure up to the example set by Lincoln and the men who fought for the Union at Gettysburg. If we don’t, The blame will be upon all of us.

So, have a great day and please stop to think about how important Lincoln’s words remain as we wait to see what the next day of Trump’s America brings. This is important because Trump and his supporters respect tyrants like King George III, as his supporters like Attorney General William Barr have said that the Colonialists revolted against the Parliament, not the King. To make that argument one has to ignore the Declaration of Independence in its entirety and declare that Trump is King, and that his word is law.

That cannot be allowed to happen, and I will be damned if I allow that happen without speaking out.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.409

[2] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[3] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[4] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[5] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[6] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in DemocracyNew York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

[8] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.13

Leave a comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Military, Political Commentary

Books The Window to My Soul and the Guard of my Conscience

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

George R.R. Martin wrote in his book A Dance With Dragons:  “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I constantly read and because I try to imagine what I am reading so that in a way I live it. I have been to places that have never traveled to before and on entering them I know exactly where everything is and what happened there. I remember leading a group from my Army chapel in Wurzburg Germany to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. As I led the group through the town a couple of people asked me how many times I had been there. I told them, “physically, never until today, but I have been here a thousand times before because of books. I saw Wittenberg in my minds eye before I ever saw the city.” They were surprised and both said that it seemed like I had been there many times.

I have had the same thing happen other places that I have visited, and again, it is because I read, and as I read, I imagine and occasionally dream.

I have a huge number of my books in my office most dealing with the history, especially the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the World Wars, and the insurgencies and counter-insurgency wars of the past seventy or so years. I have a lot of biographies, books on American history, military theory, sociology, philosophy, psychology related to war and PTSD, and a few theological works, though most of my theology books are at home because I don’t have room for them in the office.

Coupled with mementos of my military career, other militaria, artwork, and baseball memorabilia the sight and smell can be both overwhelming and comforting at the same time. I hear that a lot from my visitors, including those who come in for counseling, consolation, or just to know someone cares. They tell my visitors volumes about me without them ever asking a question or me telling them, and occasionally someone will ask to borrow a book, and most of the time I will lend them the book, or if I have multiple copies even give it to them.

In a sense my books are kind of a window to my soul, the topics, and even how I have them organized, and they are not for decoration. Many times while I am reflecting on a topic, a conversation, or something that I read in the news I peruse my books and pull one or more out to help me better understand it, or relate it to history. sometimes when in conversation something will come up and I can pull out a book. One of my Chaplains said that he should “apply for graduate credit” for what he learns in our often off the cuff talks. But, for me that is because I read so much and absorb it.

Likewise my memorabilia is there to remind me of all the people in my past who I have served with. I don’t have all my medals, honors, and diplomas up for everyone to see, instead I have pictures and collages, many signed by people who made a difference in my life. When I see the signatures and often all too kind words on them I am humbled, and in some cases a tear will come to my eye, but I digress…

I always try to read a decent amount everyday. I in the past couple of weeks I have finished reading a number of very good books dealing with different historical dramas. I have mentioned a number of my recent reads. Today I finished reading a very good book called Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes In World War II, by Yuki Tanaka. The book is primarily focused on Japanese War Crimes In the Southwest Pacific against Allied POWs, civilians, including German missionaries, and indigenous peoples. I will be referring to it in future articles as I deal with Japanese War Crimes In the Second World War. I am well versed in the Nazi War crimes and only somewhat familiar with Japanese war crimes, but the the takeaway from the book was that both the German War Crimes and Japanese War Crimes committed during the Second World War were committed by men who placed unconditional loyalty to a supreme leader, in the case of the Germans, Hitler’s Fuhrer cult, and in the case of the Japanese, Emperor worship, much like the present day Trump Cult. But I digress, I will go into that in a future article.

I love reading and writing about complex characters, people who may be heroes and at the same time scoundrels. I like the contradictions and the feet of clay of people, because I am filled with my own, and truthfully saints are pretty boring. Unfortunately I haven’t read any biographies of late, although most of my reading deals a lot with biography as the characters weave their way through history.

Last year we observed the Centenary of the end of World War One. As a result I re-read Edmond Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922 and Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Both of these are very important reads which should help us to reflect reflect on what is happening in our world today. There are many similarities and reading them causes me to wonder if world leaders will allow hubris, arrogance, greed, and pride to drag the world into another catastrophic war. Sadly President Trump, doesn’t read, and doesn’t learn from history. Unfortunately, his ignorance is very much a reflection of our twenty-first century media culture.

But to me, books are important, far more important than anything that is shouted at me on television. Unfortunately, the latter is how most people get information today. I often sit at the bar and on quiet days simply listen to those near me repeat ad-nauseam the bullshit echoed by badly educated and historically ignorant conservative pundits, usually from Fox News. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his little but profound book, On Tyranny:

“Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books. The characters in Orwell’s and Bradbury’s books could not do this—but we still can.”

Likewise, 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.”

But anyway, I signed in to my final duty station today where not only my Chaplain skills, but my historical knowledge will be appreciated. I immediately felt at home, far more than I did in my last assignment.

So have a great day and a better tomorrow, so pick up a book and read.

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under ethics, faith, History, imperial japan, life, Military, national security, nazi germany, Political Commentary, world war two in the pacific