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Guard Your Soul Lest You Forget: the Relevance Of the Holocaust Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I took a few days of leave for the first time in months so that Judy and I could visit friends in the Washington D.C. area. Since Wednesday ended with me being called back in to work to deal with the workplace suicide of a young sailor stationed at one of the units on our base it was needed.

It is nice because the expectations that we have of each other are simply to enjoy the time together without expecting them to entertain us. Judy does crafts with Melissa, all of us talk, sometimes we play card games or watch television or a movies while our seven combined Papillon dogs hang out and play.

So yesterday I drove over to the nearest Metro station and went down to the Holocaust Museum. Since I study the Weimar and Nazi period, the Holocaust and the war crimes trials this was important. In Germany I have been to the Dachau and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps, the T4 Euthanasia Program Center at Hadamar, the Palace Of Justice in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (as well as the Nazi era Nuremberg laws) were prosecuted, the Sophie Scholl White Rose Museum, and the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism; this was important. I will be continuing to visit Holocaust sites in Germany when I go there this Fall, but I finally was able to stake out the time to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

The museum is important and despite having been to places shown in it and knowing more about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust than the vast majority of Americans, I found myself overwhelmed at times as I walked slowly through the exhibits. Many I recognized, knew about, or had been to, but that did not make them any less emotionally difficult to see. But there were others that drove home why this museum is so important in our day and time.

I think that the one that hit me the hardest was the pictorial Tower of Faces from the Polish shtetl of Ejszyszki. That town was home to some 4,000 Jews and the pictures had been taken over the preceding decade by local photographers. They were pictures of everyday family and community life; men, women, children at work, at play, at rest. Worshipping, working, studying, the old and the young, the well off and the poor, the religious and those not as religious at all phase of life captured in photos for eternity. For 3500 of them their lives ended on September 21st 1941 when the Nazis rounded up the Jews at their Synagogues on the eve of Yom Kippur and executed them by firing squad in mass graves at the town’s Christian and Jewish cemeteries. Only 29 of those who survived that day lived through the war. That Jewish community had existed for 900 years and was exterminated in a matter of hours.

I looked at those pictures and I could not get over all of those innocent lives cut short. Each face was the picture of an individual or individuals, families, friends, schoolmates. They were not abstract numbers or statistics but real flesh and blood people like you and me. They had hopes and dreams, but because they were Jews they were exterminated, like nearly six million other Jews who also were real people with hopes and dreams that would be destroyed by the Nazi racial war. Of course the Nazis targeted others, but none with the relentless anti-Semitic racial hatred propagated by Nazi ideology. Thus they condoned and executed by people who would have ordinarily have been considered upstanding and moral citizens. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

But then this is not abnormal as the great American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

The problem is that what happened during the Holocaust and to the people of the shtetl of Ejszyszki is not just an aberration, it is all too much a part of human nature; even that of people who call themselves Christians like those who exterminated the Jewish people of Ejszyszki. It is not simply an artifact of history that we can ignore. It can happen again and if we are not careful it will happen again. The spirit of the ideology that allowed normal law abiding people to massacre millions of people, either up close and personal like at Ejszyszki or in death factories like Soribor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Auschwitz is still alive today in Russia, Europe, and even in the United States. Of course it exists elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. But I think that it is most frightening when it exists in the nations which claim to be inheritors of Christian civilization or the enlightenment, especially among the people who claim the words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Honesty when I see the President of the United States and his most devoted followers follow the script of the Nazis and other race supremacists I get concerned and I remember the words of historian Yehuda Bauer:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

As for people who might be neighbors, coworkers or even friends today who for whatever reason either support, dismiss, or ignore the peril of the racial, ideological, and religious animus of the modern authoritarians and anti-Semites I can only recall the words of Yale historian Dr. Timothy Snyder who wrote:

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

Today I truly believe that under President Trump that the United States is just a Reichstag Fire moment from entering a phase of history when not only Trump supporters, but even some Trump opponents would do nothing in a crisis and either become willing participants in tyranny, bystanders to it or victims of it. As I walked through the museum and remembered all of my visits to Holocaust and other sites in Germany I realized again that it can happen again.

When I finished with most of my visit I went to the Hall of Remembrance and sat for a long time in silence, a silence that made me realize again just how easy it would be to happen again and the choices that all of us if it happens in our time will have to make.

I’ll leave you with the warning of Yehuda Bauer:

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Trump’s America: Saving the Form but Not the Soul

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In light of how President Trump and many of his advisors and defenders treat the Constitution, the principles, and norms of the American Experiment I went back to re-read British military historian Sir Basil Liddell-Hart’s small but significant work Why Don’t We Learn from History?

In it he makes some observations that are very pertinent to today, in fact very chilling words. He noted:

“What is of value in “England” and “America” and worth defending is its tradition of freedom, the guarantee of its vitality. Our civilization, like the Greek, has, for all its blundering way, taught the value of freedom, of criticism of authority, and of harmonising this with order. Anyone who urges a different system, for efficiency’s sake, is betraying the vital tradition.”

The President is an admirer of dictators and presumes himself to be above the Constitution and the laws that he swore to uphold. He uses the language and tactics of every aspiring despot labeling his critics as “enemies of the state” and uses his position for personal gain even initiates trade wars, alienates allies, praises dictators, and threatens nuclear war.

But his defenders and supporters don’t care. This includes those who are otherwise privately decent and law abiding people with supposedly Christian values tolerate and live their public lives by the code of social Darwinism.

“One can understand the point of view of the man who goes in for unabashed “piracy” and seeks his own profit regardless of others. He may draw his profit, although unconsciously his loss far exceeds it, because he is deadening his own soul.

But one cannot see sense, even of so shortsighted a kind, in those who maintain any standards of decency in private life yet advocate, or at least countenance, the law of the jungle in public and international affairs. More illogical still are those who talk of patriotic self-sacrifice and of its spiritual sublimity while preaching pure selfishness in world affairs.

What is the use of anyone sacrificing himself to preserve the country unless in the hope, and with the idea, of providing a chance to continue its spiritual progress toward becoming a better country? Otherwise he is merely helping to preserve the husk, saving the form but not the soul. Only a perverse patriotism is capable of such hopeless folly.

What is the value of patriotism if it means no more than a cat’s devotion to its own fireside rather than to human beings? And, like the cat, such a “patriot” is apt to get burned when the house catches fire.”

When I observe Trump, his administration, the Republican Congressional leaders, Evangelical Christians, and the Fox Propaganda Network I cannot but think of Liddell-Hart’s words and how relevant they are today.

When I swore my oath as a new Army Second Lieutenant in 1983 I swore that “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” Since then I have served under six Presidents, four Republicans and two Democrats. I have found admirable characteristics in five of them even if I did disagree with all of them on matters of policy or ethics at one point or another. That being said until now never did I believe that a President of the United States posed an imminent threat to the Republic, or that he would be aided and abetted by men that at one time I admired. They are the kind of men that Liddell-Hart described, and they are dangerous.

At the same time I am one of those believe in telling the truth and will continue to speak because my oath to the Constitution still matters.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

The Fragility of Human Behavior in the Crisis: When Civil Liberties End, Tyranny Begins

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1989 Donald Trump wrote in a full page advertisement in the New York Daily News“civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins.” He said that in relation to the Central Park Five, five teenagers who were falsely accused and convicted of the rape of a jogger in Central Park. In 2002 after the real assailant confessed and his crime verified by DNA evidence. Despite the reality Mr. Trump has continued to speak to that issue and claim that the five falsely convicted and imprisoned men are guilty.

Mr Trump repeated expressed his anger that they did not receive the death penalty, something that by the way is not part of the law in any state. Since becoming President the Mr Trump has suggested all sorts of extrajudicial and unconstitutional remedies to crime. Today he suggested doing that to gun owners who could be considered potential mass murderers. He told a group of Congressmen and Senators, as well as his own Vice President Mike Pence: “You could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Now personally I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but it still is unconstitutional. Earlier in the week the President proposed the death penalty to all convicted drug dealers. Again, no love for drug dealers but the President doesn’t get to impose sentences, but the President praised the extermination methods that Philippine President Duterte uses not just to kill suspected drug dealers but political opponents and members of the press. Of course the President has long suggested the political opponents should be jailed and the Press is an “an enemy of the people.” 

As I have written over the past few days in discussing the Reichstag Fire I am very concerned that as the walls close in on the Trump Presidency, that as the Muller investigation implicates more and more of his advisors and quite possibly family members, that as members of his administration like Hope Hicks admit that they lied for him, that the danger to our Republic only rises. I am afraid that there will be a Reichstag Fire moment that will allow the President to through already existing Executive orders and laws to scrap constitutional liberties and establish an authoritarian state. It’s not so much that he has to be popular to do so, the fact is that under threat of attack that most Americans will surrender liberty for the illusion of security. That was demonstrated in 2002 when the Patriot Act, an act so revoltingly un-American and totalitarian in its implications was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress with hardly any resistance.

That is what concerns me. Should a war break out, should there be a major terrorist attack, or anything that severely disrupts the country the mechanisms are in place for the President to declare the situation extraordinary and to take power. The thing is that no President has acted in such a way, but President Trump has repeatedly suggested violating the Constitution and praised foreign leaders like Dutarte, Putin, and Erdogan, men who all use such circumstances and laws to their advantage.

Timothy Snyder wrote:

“For tyrants, the lesson of the Reichstag fire is that one moment of shock enables an eternity of submission. For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions. Courage does not mean not fearing, or not grieving. It does mean recognizing and resisting terror management right away, from the moment of the attack, precisely when it seems most difficult to do so. After the Reichstag fire, Hannah Arendt wrote that “I was no longer of the opinion that one can simply be a bystander.”

Of course Mr Trump has a hard core of loyal supporters who in his words would remain loyal to him “even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Some are actually quite frightening, but in truth I am more frightened by the vast number of people in this country of every part of the political spectrum cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction or true and false, people how simply go along with the flow, especially in times of crisis.  Hannah Arendt, who saw the Nazi takeover of Germany in the beginning wrote:

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

In a world such as the one that we live today it is those who simply go with the flow or are easily persuaded into accepting what in normal times they would not accept because the times are exceptional, or in a crisis believe what they are told and regardless of what happens to fellow citizens or neighbors turn their backs on injustice. Most are totally ordinary and unremarkable and are no different than so many others who committed terrible crimes against humanity and too part in genocide.

British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

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

When people feel that a crisis makes a situation exceptional to the point that normal codes of conduct, social mores, laws, and ethics are Christopher Browning wrote in his book Ordinary Men:

“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.” 

My question is: when the crisis finally comes, what will Americans do?

I want to be hopeful. I am not a fatalist. I believe that we can all given the opportunity rise to greatness and defend our Constitution, civil liberties, and embody the principles of the Declaration of Independence. It has happened before. But that being said human history, especially the history of the past century shows us that more often than not that most people do not rise to the occasion. 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.”

In our time that is the most important consideration.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

Downfall: Misplaced Loyalty

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I decided to watch again the film Downfall which is about the last ten days of Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich.” After the film was over I watched the special features which included a segment on the making of the movie along with interviews with the actors portraying Hitler, his entourage, and the defenders of Berlin. The film and commentary is in German with English subtitles but is probably the best film that deals with the subject ever made.

Since it is in German and since I speak German I do my best to try to listen rather than watch the subtitles and in doing so I pick up on some of the nuances of the language that do not necessarily come through as well when translated into English.

It is a hard film to watch because the producers, directors, and cast strove for historical accuracy. Since I have studied the people, the era, the ideology, and the battle for years I already feel like I know the people involved. The fact that the cast does such a good job portraying them is remarkable, these are not your typical cookie cutter depictions of Nazis seen in so many other films.

But what really struck me tonight was the absolute fanaticism of so many of them, and one of the actors noted in his interview that his character, SS General Wilhelm Mohnke, was a fanatical Nazi even at the end, something that was common among many of the Hitler entourage and the SS. The actors managed to put a human face on evil, that is hard to do in film.

As I watched the devotion of Hitler’s entourage and loyal SS soldiers I could only think of the devotion, fanaticism, and moral blindness shown by so many supporters of the American President today. The motto of the SS was Meine Ehre Heisst Treue, or My Honor is loyalty. The motto could be applied to President Trump’s most devotee followers in their Make America Great Again ball caps.

I just shake my head when I hear and see some of the things said and done by the President’s most fervent supporters. The President was right about them. When he said “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” he was absolutely correct. Despite the myriad of lies and untruths, the actions that are absolutely contrary to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and for that matter the Gospel, his followers, many conservative Evangelical Christians dig in deeper to defend him even as he leads them to destruction.

It is the same kind of cult like devotion engendered by Hitler in his followers, who like the followers of Trump were conditioned by years of right wing propaganda to believe everything he says because he says what they already believe. I can understand them because from 1989 when I first started listening to Rush Limbaugh, until I deployed to Iraq and came back a changed man in 2008 I absorbed every bit of the same propaganda, that of Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, and Fox News that the most steadfast followers of Trump did. But when I came back from Iraq I was like the German soldiers who returned home in 1942 or 1943 and realized all that they were fighting for had been a lie.

I think that one of the most disturbing things that I see is that the people who I was most like in the late 1990s until 2007, Conservative Evangelical and Catholic Christians seem to be the most loyal to Trump. That is disturbing because I think of the words of the German pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemoller realized his mistake too late as I fear many well meaning people who follow Trump will as well. For Christians, to surrender honor, truth, and self-respect all for the sake of political power is to cease to follow Jesus. To do so may be an act of religious devotion, but it is not to God, it is to an idol.

Anyway, I recommend the film.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, History, Political Commentary

“To Act in the Light of Truth” Another Staff ride at Gettysburg

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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am travelling up to Gettysburg for another Staff Ride with students from the Staff College. The weather this weekend looks like it will be spectacular for the visit, praise be Al Gore for the great weather, but admittedly weather like this probably isn’t that great for us in the long run, so say the climate scientists and researchers that I trust to tell the truth, but I digress…

Gettysburg is a good place for me to visit. It is a place that helps remind me that even in the midst of the most hateful, politically divided period of our history since the Civil War Era, which spans the 1850s, the war, Reconstruction, and the return of White Rule, Black Codes, and Jim Crow, that good has triumphed over evil more than once. That fact helps keep me grounded in history and reminds me that no-matter how hard the fight is that we must resist tyranny, racism, discrimination, and injustice at every opportunity, even when the odds are against us.

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Gettysburg inspires me for many reasons. I cannot go there without sensing the spirits of the men whose blood hallowed that ground, to preserve the Union, and helped pave the way for the slow but steady advances in liberty that our nation experienced, despite often violent opposition, which appear to be threatened again today. I may be a realist, but I still have a sense of idealism that will not let me give up.

One of my inspirations is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a hero of the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. He was a Professor of Natural and Revealed Religion at Maine’s Bowdoin College, who against the wishes of his wife volunteered to serve, going on to great distinction during the war. He wrote:

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”

We have to fight for the higher good, and not our own interests now. We have to act in the light of truth against the phalanx of lies deployed by the President, his advisors, and the propagandists that spread those lies as much as the press of the South encouraged disunion, and the hate of the North. When I hear the lies, distortions, and hatred being spread by them I get angry, but then I remember something else that Chamberlain wrote:

“But the cause for which we fought was higher; our thought wider… That thought was our power.”  

So, have a great day and never give up.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Munich, the Bier Hall Putsch and American Parallels

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This is another one of my pre-posted articles for while we are traveling in Munich.

I have spent a total of about four years of my life in Germany. I enjoy the country and the people and I love traveling here because for me it is relaxing. When I have a car I enjoy driving on the Autobahn, and I find the mass transportation more than effective and convenient but a great way to travel.

I am a historian who for many years specialized in the study of the latter years of the Kaiser Reich, the German revolution and civil war, the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period. I always find visiting Munich intellectually stimulating. Munich is a very interesting and sometimes contradictory city, rich in culture, music, art, literature and scientific-technological achievements. Likewise it has always been a more cosmopolitan center of a very conservative state, especially religiously conservative as Bavaria is the heart of Catholic Germany. Thus there has always been a tension in the city, between the local more religious conservatives and business leaders and the more secular and progressive inhabitants, and the immigrants from Eastern Europe, especially more traditional and conservative Orthodox Jews.

This tension continues today with the large numbers of foreigners that live and work in the city. Many are Turkish guest workers and their descendants that have been in Germany almost half a century. But many are new immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, some who have embraced German life in a secular state, but many who have not and stand out in the crowd. In particular I think of the number of Moslems who retain their traditional dress and ways, which in many ways is reminiscent of the Eastern European Orthodox Jews, who likewise stood out as they attempted to maintain their cultural and religious identity.

Hitler-Putsch, M¸nchen, Marienplatz

Munich is the capital city of Bavaria, or as it is known here, Bayern. It was ruled for centuries by the Wittelsbach dynasty, which included “Mad King Louis” who built the amazing Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles. That dynasty, with the rest of the German royalty was overthrown at the end of the  First World War. It was replaced for about three months by what was known as the Bavarian Soviet led by Kurt Eisner, an “independent socialist.” Eisner could not hold power and resigned in February 1919 and on the way to his resignation he was assassinated by a right wing extremist who held the views of the racist Thule Society. Eisner was replaced by a Majority Socialist leader who could not form a government and then by an Independent Socialist and Communist government. This government was both inept and brutal, it took hostages from the elite of the city as well as conservative reactionaries and had them executed. This brought a response from Berlin which sent a force of 30,000 Weimar Government employed Freikorps troops, including many Bavarians from rural areas, under the command of Ritter Von Epp to crush the Munich Soviet. After hard fighting against the Communist troops Epp’s men crushed the opposition and executed hundreds of the Communists and Independent Socialist fighter and leaders.

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The city was still rife with revolutionary and reactionary elements and in 1919 a new political party was established. This party became the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany, or the NSDAP. Adolf Hitler joined the party and quickly became its head. He along with General Erich Ludendorff led a coup, or “putsch” against the government on the 8th and 9th of November 1923. The putsch originated at the NDSAP headquarters and Hitler led about 2000 armed members of the party to the Burgerbrau Keller beer hall where the Gustav Von Kahr, who had been appointed with dictatorial powers due to the unrest, was making a speech.

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Hitler took Kahr and other members of the government hostage and declared a revolution and enjoined those present to “join in this grave eleventh hour for our German Fatherland.” While many present were turned by his speech, the revolt did not gain momentum and in desperation Hitler ordered a march to overthrow the government. At Odeonsplatz at the bridge over the Isar River near the Feldherrenhalle his group of nearly 2000 followers including future Nazi Leaders Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess were confronted by about 100 Bavarian police, and defeated. Hitler was arrested and tried, spent nine months in prison during which he wrote Mein Kampf. The Burgerbraukeller and the Feldherrenhalle became Nazi shrines which after Hitler’s takeover became places where Hitler would return yearly to mark his failed putsch.

All of these events took place in a small area of the Munich city center. Sadly most people who come to Munich are aware of the events that occurred here, and many fail to realize how easily a city know for so many cultural and scientific achievements can become the locus of evil for a man like Adolf Hitler.

While I love Munich my love is tempered by how many events which still affect us today occurred here just eight to ninety years ago. To use a German expression, that amount of in the sense of history is merely an “augenblick” or “blink of an eye”. It is hard to believe that so much has happen here, and just how few people understand just how easily such events can happen again.

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When I look at my own country I see parallels between some of the more deplorable of Donald Trump’s supporters, the White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Racists, and members of the so-called “Alt-Right” which is nothing more than a cover for its member’s Nazi ideology with the people that followed Hitler to the Burgerbraukeller. The hatred that they express towards liberals, racial minorities, immigrants and Moslems is so similar to the words of those precursors to the Nazi party rule in Germany that it is frightening. Comforting myths are substituted for history. Race, ideology and xenophobic nationalism, often clothed in the language of tradition “Christian” beliefs are used to demonize those who are different. Sadly too I see some of my fellow progressives inflamed with such a hatred of conservatives that they cannot see the dangers inherent in such polarization. As a historian, I find the parallels disturbing.

But despite that we are here to have fun, and that I am. After all, I choose to believe in the power of acceptance, tolerance and inclusiveness. Those are found in the words that are imprinted on the modern German Army belt buckles and in the German National anthem “eingekeit, recht  und freiheit” or “unity, Justice and freedom.” Those words are also implicit in our own Declaration of Independence which states that “all men are created equal.” Thus for me, not believe that good can overcome evil is central to who I am.

And from Munich, I am your friend,

Peace

Padre Steve

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Disgusting, Disgraceful, and Dishonorable: Trump’s Pathological Need to Belittle those Who Sacrifice for the Country 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Three words: Disgusting, disgraceful, dishonorable, is how I have to characterize how Donald Trump and his campaign treats those who serve, those who have served, and the families of military personnel. 

Ever since the parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan so eloquently spoke, and criticized Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention there has been a full court press by Trump, his aides, and his most strident supporters to demonize the Khans in the most cruel, senseless, and even evil ways. What they have done and continue to do is so offensive that it drew the official rebuke of many veterans groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association. 

Trump is the ultimate bully and crybaby. He went to Twitter to complain of their “vicious attacks,” of course ignoring how has made a career of not only making vicious, and even libelous attacks on people of all walks of life. But then, like I said he is a bully and a crybaby. His assault on military personnel and veterans knows no bounds. He went out of his way to insult, attack, and demonize the Khans, and some of his aides and advisers have insinuated that they are connected to the Islamic Brotherhood, and demanded that they condemn Islamic militants, like losing their son in the battle against them doesn’t count. He mocked John McCain who spent years in a North Vietnamese POW camp, as well as others who have been POWs. He equates his high school years at an elite military prep school as being better than having actually served in the military. He says that he knows more than Generals about how to defeat ISIL. He stated in his acceptance speech that the military was “a disaster.” This list could go on, but even more despicable is the fact that while he claims to “have made sacrifices” he used five deferments to dodge the draft, something that he seems proud of doing. 

He claims to have made millions of dollars in donations to military charities but there are no records, he will not name the charities, and he will not reveal his tax returns. He biggest bragging point is his participation as a co-chairman of the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission, in which he claimed credit for its construction is also full of deceit. In 1984 he was exposed by fellow members for only showing up at two or three of the twenty meetings. When asked by the Washington post about this he played down the military service of the other commissioners saying “They’re very small thinkers. They’re stockbrokers that were in Vietnam and they don’t have it.” 

The farcical comments by one of the head of his political action committee, that his sacrifice included losing two marriages because he was so committed to his business, conveniently leaving out the part about his constant affairs that led to the break up of those marriages. Some sacrifice. 

Why Trump acts this way might be a mystery to some, but I have a theory. Trump actually feels inferior to the men and women he is insulting because he knows that his avoidance of serving in Vietnam was cowardly. So he has to tear down McCain, he has to say he knows more than the generals, he has to go after the parents of a fallen hero. He is pathological in his need to prove his superiority, but as much as he blusters, Trump knows that he cannot live his own dishonor down, and so he must actively continue to belittle the sacrifices of, and even attempt to destroy the lives and reputations of those who actually did serve. 

Truthfully, the man has no honor, and neither do his henchmen in the Christian Right who have been the loudest and most vicious critics of the Khans, simply because they are Muslim, and who have demeaned Captain Khan’s sacrifice to protect his troops from a terrorist car bomber. Some even said that he was not a hero. To see people who claim to be “Christians” act in such a manner defies the imagination and brings to mind the images of the burning of heretics, witch hunts, and more recently in American history the lynching of blacks by the supposed Christians of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, and the White Leagues. 

But truthfully I am surprised at none of this. Many American Evangelical and Conservative Christians only care about the military and the men and women who serve in it so long as it fits their political and religious agenda, and they ruthlessly attack anyone who dares to criticize that agenda. I know this because it has happened to me on quite a few occasions. 

The whole affair has both sickened and angered me as a thirty five year veteran of the Army and Navy, as a combat veteran, and as a Christian. When I see the venomous nature of Trump, his campaign, and many of his supporters I fear for the country. A a Mike Pence speech the mother of a current Air Force member asked Pence about Trump’s attack on the Khans and was booed by the attendees, and he made no attempt to stop it. 

The campaign being waged by Trump reminds me of the 1932 campaign of Hitler against Paul Von Hindenburg. In that campaign war veterans of non-Nazi parties were attacked, derided, and sometimes murdered by Nazi Brownshirts. The violence of the Trump campaign language being used against the Khans and others who disagree with Trump could easily lead to physical violence against Trump’s enemies. Don’t say it can’t happen, violence was a central feature of Trump supporters during the primaries and as the election draws closer I would not be surprised to see an uptick in the number of acts of violence against those who oppose Trump. 

So anyway. That will be all. Have a great Tuesday. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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