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“If You Are Offended I am not In the Least Bit Sorry” Witnesses to Genocide: George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower and Edward R. Murrow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

During our trip to Germany last year we visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, which as a Major Camp had numerous sub-Camps, including Ohrdruf which Generals George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower visited shortly after its liberation in April 1945. Both went out of their way to describe the horrors they saw.

In our day there are fewer and fewer people who lived through or personal saw or documented the evils of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Likewise, there are a host of Holocaust deniers who produce a plethora of pseudo-scholarly articles claiming to be legitimate historians. Even more frighteningly the rise of apologists for the Nazi regime including those who are active members of allegedly conservative parties in the United States and the European Union is beginning to influence politics. The abject racism, rejection of anyone considered racially inferior, and quite often their unhidden anti-Semitism show that what lies in the dark heart of Naziism is not dead and in fact is rising.

In the United States its rise is being fueled and legitimized by the Presidency of Donald Trump who has referred to American Nazis and White Supremacists as “very good people” after one of their protests where an anti-Nazi demonstrator was murdered and others brutally attacked. In the same time frame a good number of Republican candidates have exposed themselves as White Supremacists and actual Nazis while running for office. A host of new-Nazi and White supremacist organizations openly meet and flood the internet with their race hatred, and it goes unchecked by the Administration and the Justice Department.

The fact is that anyone who denies the Holocaust, attempts to minimize it, or advocates the same policies of race hatred and violence against political, religious, or other opponents is no better than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Likewise, those who stand by and say nothing are worse. As Yehuda Bauer wrote:

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

The good thing is that there were people who took the time to record what they saw in the Nazi Concentration Camps and exposed those deeds to the world in such a way that only perverted and evil people could brazenly deny those facts.

One of the most detailed descriptions of a liberated Concentration Camp was written by General George Patton in his memoirs entitled War as I Knew It.

… we drove to Ohrdruf and visited the first horror camp any of us had ever seen. It was the most appalling sight imaginable.

A man who said he was one of the former inmates acted as impresario and showed us first the gallows, where men were hanged for attempting to escape. The drop board was about two feet from the ground, and the cord used was piano wire which had an adjustment so that when the man dropped, his toes would just reach the ground and it would take about fifteen minutes for him to choke to death, since the fall was not sufficient to break his neck. The next two men to die had to kick the board out from under him. It was stated by some of the Germans present that the generals who were executed after the Hitler bomb incident were hanged in this manner.

Our guide then took us to the whipping table, which was about the height of the average man’s crotch. The feet were placed in stocks on the ground and the man was pulled over the table, which was slightly hollowed, and held by two guards, while he was beaten across the back and loins. The stick which they said had been used, and which had some blood on it, was bigger than the handle of a pick.

Our guide claimed that he himself had received twenty-five blows with this tool. It later developed that he was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners. General Eisenhower must have suspected it, because he asked the man very pointedly how he could be so fat. He was found dead next morning, killed by some of the inmates.

Just beyond the whipping table there was a pile of forty bodies, more or less naked. All of these had been shot in the back of the head at short range, and the blood was still cooling on the ground.

In a shed near-by was a pile of forty completely naked bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime – not, apparently, for the purpose of destroying them, but to reduce the smell. As a reducer of smell, lime is a very inefficient medium.

The total capacity of the shed looked to me to be about two hundred bodies. It was stated that bodies were left until the shed was full and then they were taken out and buried. The inmates said some three thousand people had been buried from this shed since January 1, 1945.

When our troops began to draw near, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes. They therefore used the inmates to exhume the recently buried bodies and to build a sort of mammoth griddle of 60 cm. railway tracks laid on a brick foundation. The bodies were piled on this and they attempted to burn them. The attempt was a bad failure. Actually, one could not help but think of some gigantic cannibalistic barbecue. In the pit itself were arms and legs and portions of bodies sticking out of the green water which partially filled it.

General Walker and General Middleton had wisely decided to have as many soldiers as possible visit the scene. This gave me the idea of having the inhabitants themselves visit the camp. I suggested this to Walker, and found that he had already had the mayor and his wife take a look at it. On going home those two committed suicide. We later used the same system in having the inhabitants of Weimar go through the even larger slave camp (Buchenwald) north of that town. (Excerpted for G. Patton War as I Knew It)

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote after seeing the camp:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

One of those reporters was Edward R. Murrow who broadcast his visit to Buchenwald:

There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing….

[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.

They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.

As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.

In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts….

We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man’s feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.

I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge….showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We’re very efficient here.”

We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.

I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn’t possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.

But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?

I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.I

If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry….

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, however, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime. The late Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian philosopher and survivor of Auschwitz wrote: “It happened, it can happen again.” 

I will now quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.

That is our reality. There are people, even neighbors and those that we think are friends who would be perpetrators or bystanders when those that transgress the way of Trump are take us from our homes and families because of our beliefs. I would love to be wrong about this, but I am a historian and a theologian and I know the human condition far too well to sit back and remain silent, no matter what the cost.

Last year I had a Facebook exchange with a friend who is a retired Navy Chaplain. He is very much a Trump supporter and apologist. He is very happy about Justice Kavanaugh being in the Supreme Court. The stories of the victims and their claims did not matter to him. Despite that I do not believe that he is a bad man or an evil person. I simply believe that like Martin Niemöller that he has made a bad choice in the man and party that he currently supports and that he will eventually regret it. I could be wrong, he might not turn out to be a Niemöller, but a Reichsbishof Müller. Sincerely hope that he does not become the latter.

I keep quoting historian Timothy Snyder, but he was all too correct when he wrote these words less than two years ago:

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.

If you don’t believe me read the words of the President, his closest supporters, the prominent political preachers of the Christian Right, and any number of Trump leaning columnists, pundits, and politicians. There are some who are so far gone that they will accuse any opponent of being disloyal, not the the Constitution or the law but to President Trump.

Last year, one of those people tried to get my commanding officer to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in which he lied about what I said. I had to spend my money to hire a lawyer to defend me from the false charges and have them dismissed during the preliminary investigation.

Trust me, I know what resistance will mean if this President and his cult like followers are not stopped. Our fate will be worse than that of Nazi Germany because we should have known better. We should have learned from Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. We should have learned fro Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, we should have learned from the Nuremberg trials, but we have not.

Facing possible impeachment, and with a growing likelihood that the Democrats will extend their control of the House, possibly regain the Senate, and maybe defeat Trump in the 2020 elections, a desperate Trump, backed  by his true believers may very well attempt to circumvent those elections and impeachment hearings.  With the laws already enacted in the Patriot Act and numerous executive orders there is little to stop a President who has no respect for the law or the Constitution from declaring full emergency powers should any war, terrorist act, or natural disaster be declared. That’s what makes all of this so frightening. Trump only needs an event which is scary enough to frighten people into following any emergency decree. Americans wouldn’t be the first to do so, it’s human nature: the need for security overrides the need for the rule of law and freedom.

So with all of that happy commentary I will leave you until tomorrow.

Until then have a good night, and please, never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, holocaust, leadership, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Trump Tweets About a Domestic Nacht und Nebel Decree

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today President Trump tweeted something against the ANTFA which could be used against any domestic opponents if he tried to implement it. The tweet read:

”Conisteration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others). Would make it easier for police to do their job!”

Please note, I support the ANTIFA as much as I do White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK. That means I don’t. That being said ANTIFA efforts are always directed at events where the White Supremacy groups are gathered, and usually threading racial or religious, and LGBTQ supporters.

Most of their protests are peaceful, and unlike their opponents on the Right they are not a unified body and have no national organization. The political Right, especially the President tend to lump any opponent as ANTIFA. Likewise, unlike White Supremacist groups, which the FBI have labeled as extremist groups, the ANTIFA, which began as an Anti-Fascist and Anti-Nazi movement in the 1920s and 1930s, has not been labeled as such and despite my best efforts to find recent deaths attributed to them I cannot. On the other hand White Nationalist and Supremacist groups have killed far more Americans than any domestic terror organization. Thousands, dating back from Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement to Charlottesville have been systematical murdered by them.

But seriously, Senator Ted Cruz and GOP Representative Bill Cassidy Of Louisiana introduced legislation to label the ANTIFA as a Domestic Terror Organization. In fact they are nothing of the such, they are a disparate group of individuals with no national or statewide organization, unlike their opponents on the right. To be sure the last sentence of the Cruz-Cassidy legislation mentioned White Supremacist groups, but when the President and high administration officials defend those group daily it is hard to believe that such a law would be uniformly enforced.

I am sorry, unless one is willing to label the violent racist groups of the Right as domestic terror groups, and implement harsh policies against their violence and intimidation then this smacks of a Hitlerian Decree. It is a Reichstag Fire Decree and Night and Fog Decree wrapped into one unwholesome package, with dire impact for any person who writes or protests against the policies and actions of the Trump Administration.

Trump’s tweets and the legislation of Cruz and Cassidy are dangerous. They are going to lead to far worse. Do I think that the Cruz-Cassidy legislation ever being signed, but the President can do a lot with previously issued legislation and executive orders should he make the decision.

In Hitler’s Germany the Reichstag Fire Decree allowed his government under the Weimar Constitution to rule by decree and jail political opponents.   On March 10th 1933 the Malicious Practices Act made even the slightest dissent, including joking about or criticizing members of the Nazi government a crime, punishable by being sent to a Concentration Camp. On July 14th 1933 the Hitler government declared the Nazi Party to be the only legal political party. The previous Conservative and Center parties had either already dissolved themselves while the Communists and Socialists were outlawed. Formation of any new political parties was outlawed.

The Nuremberg Laws Of 1935 stripped the Jews of citizenship rights. The Nacht and Nebel Decree of December 7th 1941 was used as a way to eliminate resistance members and dissenters in occupied countries by either murdering them or shipping them to Concentration Camps.

Heinrich Himmler wrote on that day:

“After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose.”

Less than a week later Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel ordered the German military:

“Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal.” 

The President’s continued ill-regard for the Constitution, our laws, our system of government and the long established guardrails to prevent tyranny are increasing. The danger is real.

It is true that this is not Germany of 1933, and that Trump, despite some of his similarities is not Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin, but he is getting more dangerous with every passing day. The frightening thing is that he may find an already existing law or executive order to outlaw any opposition to him, and willing accomplices to enable him to do it.

After the Liberation, a Nacht und Nebel Prisoner’s Uniform 

Historian Timothy Snyder noted:

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

That is something we must ask ourselves today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Southern Justice at 55 Years: Why Must it be Denied and Forgotten?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fifty-Five years ago three young men working to register blacks to vote as part of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. As a historian I am troubled as I see an increase in racially motivated hate crimes and displays of nooses left as threats at historically black institutions or places dedicated to remembering the Civil Rights movement. When I see the lack of empathy and the lack of concern shown for these crimes by white people, especially Evangelical Christians I wonder if we are sinking back into the abyss of Jim Crow.

I have dealt with Holocaust deniers many times and also plenty of people who find nothing wrong with American slavery, Jim Crow, and racism. I find it troubling that despite the forensic, and historical evidence that people can either deny, minimize, or rationalize such behavior.

The fact that the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination had to struggle with the issue of civil rights and the race hatred of the Alt-Right last week showed me that the toxin has not been purged from the Convention, or for that matter much of America. The fact that a man who is active in White Supremacist movements murdered two men and wounded a third as they defended Muslim women on a Portland Oregon commuter train was disturbing, as was the murder of a newly commissioned African American Army Lieutenant by a White Supremacist on the campus of the University of Maryland. Likewise there has been a spate of nooses being placed on college campuses, historically Black institutions, Civil Rights sites, and at the offices or residences of people who support civil rights, including professors.

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These troubling incidents have again reminded me of the events of June 21st 1964 when three men, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen. Twenty year old Andrew Goodman was from New York City. He was a progressive activist and Anthropology student at Queens College. Twenty-four year old Mickey Schwerner was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish and had come South to work with others for Civil Rights in Mississippi. The third man, James Cheney, was a twenty-one year old Black Mississippian. Chaney was from Meridian Mississippi and was a volunteer with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equity. All three men were there to assist community leaders with voter registration and education in conjunction with local churches.

On June 21st 1964 the three men were in Philadelphia Mississippi where they were investigating the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church. The church had been working with CORE’s voter registration and education programs. In the wake of the church being burned, many black citizens and church members were beaten by whites, rumored to be aided by members of the local Sheriff’s office. They specifically accused Sheriff’s Deputy Cecil Price of abuse.

When Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were marked men from the moment they arrived. As they left the town the three were arrested for an alleged traffic violation. They were briefly jailed and released that evening, but were not allowed to make any phone calls. On the way back to Meridian, two carloads of Klan members forced their car off the road and then abducted them and murdered them. The bodies were not discovered for 44 days. Their disappearance brought national attention and a major investigation to the town. Eventually seven men, including Deputy Price were convicted of the murders. The murders and the investigation became the subject of the movie Mississippi Burning.

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Iconic American artist Norman Rockwell who was well known for his portraits of American life as well as his support for the Civil Rights movement, painted “Southern Justice” which is sometimes known as “Murder in Mississippi” in 1965. This was not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which over the past decade has been under attack in many southern states and a key provision on racial gerrymandering was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Fifty-three years ago the murders of these three young men brought national attention to the pervasive racism and discrimination in the country. Before this event most murders, lynchings, as well as the burnings of homes businesses were left uncovered by the media, the victims forgotten and the perpetrators unpunished.

I do hope and pray that we never go back to those days, but there are a number of troubling issues for us in the United States today. The first is that there have been quite a few laws passed to limit voting rights in various states. Some of these have been successfully challenged in the courts and eventually one may make its way to the Supreme Court. Then there is the rapidly growing number of racially motivated hate crimes against Blacks and other minorities as well as the threat of nooses being placed in trees around historic sites and museums dedicated to minorities or civil rights. The Southern Poverty Law Commission monitors the activities of hate groups across the political, religious, and racial spectrum and has noted a sharp increase in attacks over the past two years, coinciding with the election of Donald Trump as President. Heavily armed and militant racist and anti-Semitic groups proudly march hand in hand with Trump supporters, allegedly to protect them from “leftists.”

I wonder if we will see a return to the commonplace violence and silence that characterized the nation’s treatment of minorities before the Civil Rights movement. You think that we have moved the chains so far and that it cannot happen again when before our very eyes it rises like an undead specter to claim new victims. Eternal vigilance is the guardian of freedom; we cannot allow the thousands who died before, and those who have died since these three young men to be forgotten. Too much is at stake.

In memory of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner and others of the Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights movement who died or suffered to peacefully bring about change to our society, I leave you until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the First Memorial Day

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is Memorial Day weekend and for the vast majority of Americans, even those who loudly claim to “support the troops” the weekend is little more than an opportunity to start the summer. There will be ball games and picnics, parties and concerts, as well as road trips, and some will even honor the military personnel that are currently serving; however, that is not why we observe Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is observed to honor the lives and sacrifice of those men and women who died in the service of the country. Its roots go back to May 1865 when newly freed Blacks in Charleston South Carolina took the time to honor the fallen Union soldiers by dedicating a cemetery to them. I’ll go back to that in a bit.

Frederick Douglass discussed the meaning of Memorial Day in 1884:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.”

Memorial Day, at one time known as Decoration Day is one of our most sacred civil holidays that we observe in the United States, or at least it should be. It was a holiday born out of the shedding of the blood of about 750,000 American soldiers, from the North and the South in the Civil War, a singular event that still echoes in our history and in some sense defines who we are and it is important that we come to understand its meaning and history.

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The Racecourse Cemetery

The first observance of what we now know as Memorial Day is fascinating and it needs to be remembered. Frederick Douglass was absolutely right when he spoke the words that I began this article, and we need to remember the humble beginnings of this day which was first marked by recently freed slaves in Charleston South Carolina on May 1st 1865. They did so barely two weeks after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and three weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

The acrid smell of smoke of the last battles of the American Civil War was still lingering over many towns and cities in the South on May 1st 1865. Charleston, the hotbed of secession was particularly hard hit during the war. In 1861 Cadets of the Citadel and South Carolina militia forces began the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Union Forces laid siege to the city in late 1863, a siege which ended with the city’s surrender to Union forces under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman on 18 February 1865. The day of the surrender was somewhat ironic. Charleston, the city most associated with the opening of the conflict surrendered to Union forces on the fourth anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy. By the time of its surrender much of the city had been destroyed by Union siege artillery and naval forces.

As a Confederate stronghold Charleston had also been the home of three of the Prisoner of War Camps. One was located in the Charleston City Jail and the other at Castle Pinckney which had been one of the ante-bellum U.S. Army installations in the city. A third camp was erected on the site of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in 1864. This was an open air camp and Yale Historian David Blight wrote that “Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.”

By the end of the war most of the white population of the city had left and most of those remaining were recently freed slaves. After their liberation and the city’s occupation by Federal forces, which included the famous 54th Massachusetts as well as the 20th, 35th and 104th US Colored Troops Regiments; about 28 recently liberated Black men went to work and properly reinterred the 257 Union dead on the raceway and built a high fence around it. They inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course” on an arch above the cemetery entrance.

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On May 1st over 10,000 Black Charlestonians gathered at the site to honor the fallen. Psalms, Scriptures and prayers were said, hymns were sung and many brought flowers. A parade of 2800 children covered the burial ground with flowers. They were followed by members of the Patriotic Association of Colored Men and the Mutual Aid Society. This society’s members provided relief supplies to Freedmen and provided aid to bury those Blacks who were too poor to afford burial. More citizens followed many laying flower bouquets on the graves. Children then led the singing of The Star Spangled Banner, America and Rally around the Flag. The Brigade composed of the 54th Massachusetts and the 35th and 104th Colored Regiments marched in honor of their fallen comrades. Following the formalities many remained behind for a picnic.

Other communities established their own Memorial Day observances in the years following the war, but the event in Charleston was the first. The first “Official” commemoration was on 30 May 1868 when Union General John Logan who headed the veteran’s organization called The Grand Army of the Republic appealed to communities to honor the dead by holding ceremonies and decorating the graves of the fallen.

In the South three different days served a similar purpose. In Virginia people commemorated the day on June 3rd, the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Carolinas marked the day on 10 May, the birthday of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In much of the Deep South the event was conducted April 26th, the anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph Johnson’s Army to General William Tecumseh Sherman. For many in the South, still attempting to come to grips with their defeat the day would become about “The Lost Cause” or “the defense of Liberty” or “States Rights” and the war was often referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

The “Martyrs of the Racecourse” cemetery is no longer there. The site is now a park honoring the fascinatingly complex Confederate General and post-Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina Wade Hampton. An oval track remains in the park and is used to run or walk by the local population and cadets from the Citadel. Thankfully, at long last in 2010, one hundred and forty-five years after the dedication of that cemetery a marker was placed in that park commemorating the cemetery and the event that we now recognize as the first Memorial Day.

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African American Children saluting the Union Dead years later

The Union dead who had been so beautifully honored by the Black population were moved to the National Cemetery at Beaufort South Carolina by the 1880s. Some state that the reason for this was that the cemetery had fallen into neglect, and this may be the case, but the event and their memory conveniently erased from memory of Charlestonians.

I do not think that this would have happened had the people who had the bodies moved simply restored and maintained the cemetery. Had not historian David Blight found the documentation we probably still would not know of this touching act by former slaves who honored those that fought the battles, and gave their lives to win their freedom. Blight wrote in 2011 in the 1870s Charleston “had no place for the former slaves’ march on their masters’ racecourse.”

The African American population of Charleston understood the bonds of slavery and oppression. They understood the tyranny of prejudice in which they only counted as 3/5ths of a person. They understood and saw the suffering of those that were taken prisoner while attempting to liberate them from the tyranny of slavery. They stand as an example for us today.

But their suffering was not over. Within little more than a decade Blacks in the South would be subject to Jim Crow and again treated by many whites as something less than human. The struggle of they and their descendants against the tyranny of racial prejudice, discrimination and violence over the next 100 years would finally bear fruit in the Civil Rights movement, some of whose leaders, like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. would also become martyrs. Unfortunately that struggle is not over.

Frederick Douglass spoke to Union Veterans on Memorial Day 1878. His words, particularly in light of the war and the struggles of African Americans since and the understanding of what those who were enslaved understood liberation to be are most significant to our time. It was not merely a war based on sectionalism or even “States rights,” it was a war of ideas, a war of diametrically opposed ideologies. He said:

“But the sectional character of this war was merely accidental and its least significant feature. It was a war of ideas, a battle of principles and ideas which united one section and divided the other; a war between the old and new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization; between a government based upon the broadest and grandest declaration of human rights the world ever heard or read, and another pretended government, based upon an open, bold and shocking denial of all rights, except the right of the strongest.”

Douglass’s words were powerful then and they resonate today as many of the same ideas that were the cause of the Civil War and were continued during Jim Crow are still alive. Unfortunately there are those in our society who labor daily to establish the “rights” of the strongest over the weak, the poor, the powerless and minorities of all kinds. Of course such actions, often wrapped in the flag, patriotism and buttressed with cherry picked quotes (many of which are fake, changed or taken out of context) from some of our founders are designed to re-establish the oligarchy of the power of the few, much like the men who owned the lives of the slaves and poor whites in the ante-bellum American South. Such actions do nothing but demean and trample the sacrifice of those who fought for freedom and the only remedy is to fight them with the full knowledge of truth.

american-flag

I do hope that today we will observe Memorial Day in a fitting manner. Let us honor those Americans who died that others might be free. Let us look back at what freedom actually means and not forget the sacrifices of those that gave, and still give their lives in the “last full measure of devotion to duty” that others might live. This is especially true in an era where the racial and religious hatred and prejudice of Southern Slave Power, and Northern Know Nothings, that enslaved African Americans, exterminated Native American, invaded and Mexico, and treated Irish, German, Asian, and other immigrants, Roman Catholics, and Jews as enemies is raising its head as White Supremacists take their cue from the President that such behavior is acceptable.

Take a moment on Monday at noon to pause what you are doing and go silent for at least one minute, and remember.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Offering We Bring: the Observance of Memorial Day

 

decoration-day1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is Memorial Day weekend and for the vast majority of Americans, even those who loudly claim to “support the troops” the weekend is little more than an opportunity to start the summer. There will be ball games and picnics, parties and concerts, as well as road trips, and some will even honor the military personnel that are currently serving; however, that is not why we observe Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is observed to honor the lives and sacrifice of those men and women who died in the service of the country. Its roots go back to May 1865 when newly freed Blacks in Charleston South Carolina took the time to honor the fallen Union soldiers by dedicating a cemetery to them. I’ll go back to that in a bit.

Frederick Douglass discussed the meaning of Memorial Day in 1884:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.”

Memorial Day, at one time known as Decoration Day is one of our most sacred civil holidays that we observe in the United States, or at least it should be. It was a holiday born out of the shedding of the blood of about 750,000 American soldiers, from the North and the South in the Civil War, a singular event that still echoes in our history and in some sense defines who we are and it is important that we come to understand its meaning and history.

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The Racecourse Cemetery

The first observance of what we now know as Memorial Day is fascinating and it needs to be remembered. Frederick Douglass was absolutely right when he spoke the words that I began this article, and we need to remember the humble beginnings of this day which was first marked by recently freed slaves in Charleston South Carolina on May 1st 1865. They did so barely two weeks after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and three weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

The acrid smell of smoke of the last battles of the American Civil War was still lingering over many towns and cities in the South on May 1st 1865. Charleston, the hotbed of secession was particularly hard hit during the war. In 1861 Cadets of the Citadel and South Carolina militia forces began the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Union Forces laid siege to the city in late 1863, a siege which ended with the city’s surrender to Union forces under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman on 18 February 1865. The day of the surrender was somewhat ironic. Charleston, the city most associated with the opening of the conflict surrendered to Union forces on the fourth anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy. By the time of its surrender much of the city had been destroyed by Union siege artillery and naval forces.

As a Confederate stronghold Charleston had also been the home of three of the Prisoner of War Camps. One was located in the Charleston City Jail and the other at Castle Pinckney which had been one of the ante-bellum U.S. Army installations in the city. A third camp was erected on the site of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in 1864. This was an open air camp and Yale Historian David Blight wrote that “Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.”

By the end of the war most of the white population of the city had left and most of those remaining were recently freed slaves. After their liberation and the city’s occupation by Federal forces, which included the famous 54th Massachusetts as well as the 20th, 35th and 104th US Colored Troops Regiments; about 28 recently liberated Black men went to work and properly reinterred the 257 Union dead on the raceway and built a high fence around it. They inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course” on an arch above the cemetery entrance.

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On May 1st over 10,000 Black Charlestonians gathered at the site to honor the fallen. Psalms, Scriptures and prayers were said, hymns were sung and many brought flowers. A parade of 2800 children covered the burial ground with flowers. They were followed by members of the Patriotic Association of Colored Men and the Mutual Aid Society. This society’s members provided relief supplies to Freedmen and provided aid to bury those Blacks who were too poor to afford burial. More citizens followed many laying flower bouquets on the graves. Children then led the singing of The Star Spangled Banner, America and Rally around the Flag. The Brigade composed of the 54th Massachusetts and the 35th and 104th Colored Regiments marched in honor of their fallen comrades. Following the formalities many remained behind for a picnic.

Other communities established their own Memorial Day observances in the years following the war, but the event in Charleston was the first. The first “Official” commemoration was on 30 May 1868 when Union General John Logan who headed the veteran’s organization called The Grand Army of the Republic appealed to communities to honor the dead by holding ceremonies and decorating the graves of the fallen.

In the South three different days served a similar purpose. In Virginia people commemorated the day on June 3rd, the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Carolinas marked the day on 10 May, the birthday of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In much of the Deep South the event was conducted April 26th, the anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph Johnson’s Army to General William Tecumseh Sherman. For many in the South, still attempting to come to grips with their defeat the day would become about “The Lost Cause” or “the defense of Liberty” or “States Rights” and the war was often referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

The “Martyrs of the Racecourse” cemetery is no longer there. The site is now a park honoring the fascinatingly complex Confederate General and post-Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina Wade Hampton. An oval track remains in the park and is used to run or walk by the local population and cadets from the Citadel. Thankfully, at long last in 2010, one hundred and forty-five years after the dedication of that cemetery a marker was placed in that park commemorating the cemetery and the event that we now recognize as the first Memorial Day.

First-Memorial-Day-honoring-257-Union-soldier-martyrs-10000-freedmen-march-led-by-3000-children-05011865

African American Children saluting the Union Dead years later

The Union dead who had been so beautifully honored by the Black population were moved to the National Cemetery at Beaufort South Carolina by the 1880s. Some state that the reason for this was that the cemetery had fallen into neglect, and this may be the case, but the event and their memory conveniently erased from memory of Charlestonians.

I do not think that this would have happened had the people who had the bodies moved simply restored and maintained the cemetery. Had not historian David Blight found the documentation we probably still would not know of this touching act by former slaves who honored those that fought the battles, and gave their lives to win their freedom. Blight wrote in 2011 in the 1870s Charleston “had no place for the former slaves’ march on their masters’ racecourse.”

The African American population of Charleston understood the bonds of slavery and oppression. They understood the tyranny of prejudice in which they only counted as 3/5ths of a person. They understood and saw the suffering of those that were taken prisoner while attempting to liberate them from the tyranny of slavery. They stand as an example for us today.

But their suffering was not over. Within little more than a decade Blacks in the South would be subject to Jim Crow and again treated by many whites as something less than human. The struggle of they and their descendants against the tyranny of racial prejudice, discrimination and violence over the next 100 years would finally bear fruit in the Civil Rights movement, some of whose leaders, like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. would also become martyrs. Unfortunately that struggle is not over.

Frederick Douglass spoke to Union Veterans on Memorial Day 1878. His words, particularly in light of the war and the struggles of African Americans since and the understanding of what those who were enslaved understood liberation to be are most significant to our time. It was not merely a war based on sectionalism or even “States rights,” it was a war of ideas, a war of diametrically opposed ideologies. He said:

“But the sectional character of this war was merely accidental and its least significant feature. It was a war of ideas, a battle of principles and ideas which united one section and divided the other; a war between the old and new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization; between a government based upon the broadest and grandest declaration of human rights the world ever heard or read, and another pretended government, based upon an open, bold and shocking denial of all rights, except the right of the strongest.”

Douglass’s words were powerful then and they resonate today as many of the same ideas that were the cause of the Civil War and were continued during Jim Crow are still alive. Unfortunately there are those in our society who labor daily to establish the “rights” of the strongest over the weak, the poor, the powerless and minorities of all kinds. Of course such actions, often wrapped in the flag, patriotism and buttressed with cherry picked quotes (many of which are fake, changed or taken out of context) from some of our founders are designed to re-establish the oligarchy of the power of the few, much like the men who owned the lives of the slaves and poor whites in the ante-bellum American South. Such actions do nothing but demean and trample the sacrifice of those who fought for freedom and the only remedy is to fight them with the full knowledge of truth.

american-flag

I do hope that today we will observe Memorial Day in a fitting manner. Let us honor those Americans who died that others might be free. Let us look back at what freedom actually means and not forget the sacrifices of those that gave, and still give their lives in the “last full measure of devotion to duty” that others might live. This is especially true in an era where the racial and religious hatred and prejudice of Southern Slave Power, and Northern Know Nothings, that enslaved African Americans, exterminated Native American, invaded and Mexico, and treated Irish, German, Asian, and other immigrants, Roman Catholics, and Jews as enemies is raising its head as White Supremacists take their cue from the President that such behavior is acceptable.

Take a moment on Monday at noon to pause what you are doing and go silent for at least one minute, and remember.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Coexistence of Normality and Bottomless Cruelty” Timothy McVeigh and the Terrorist Next Door

murrah bombing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short note to close out the work week. Amid all the political drama surrounding President Trump, James Comey, and the release of the Comey memos this week, one thing that was overlooked by most people was the anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in 1995.

I don’t think that I could ever forget the day. I was working as a hospital ER department chaplain where I worked a 3:00-11:00 shift and usually didn’t get to bed until one or two in the morning. I was also a Chaplain in the Army National Guard. Not long after I got up I turned on the news and was drinking my coffee when the news about the bombing flashed across the screen. I was stunned, especially when I found out that the bombers were Americans, and both former soldiers. I could not imagine American soldiers turning their hatred agains the government into an act of terrorism.

They killed 168 people, including babies and young children in the day care center were killed, hundreds of others wounded. McVeigh and Nichols were part of the anti-government so-called “militia” movement that still exists in parts of this country, of which the Bundy family, which occupied a Federal Wildlife Sanctuary in 2016 in order to bring about a revolt against the government is part.

Sadly, there are such people who would do the same today if given the chance. As this attack shows, most of them are not Islamic terrorists, but some are plain old Americans, people you might see in the grocery store or at the gas station. Some belong to the White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi Alt-Right, others to heavily armed self-appointed “militia” groups, and still others simply deluded followers of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Members of all of these groups or movements have committed violent acts or have been stopped from doing so by the work of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

What is scary is that almost all of them repeat the same words, thoughts and ideology that McVeigh wrote about before and after the attack. In the end McVeigh rationalized his violence and defended his actions, never showing any hint of remorse for his victims, they were simply collateral damage, and the children he killed, a distraction from his message. Those that interviewed him said that he seemed completely normal and it was hard for them to reconcile his normalcy with what he did and his attitude toward his victims.

Reading his words and what others observed about him reminded me of what the Israeli court psychologist who interviewed Adolf Eichmann noted about Eichmann. Hannah Arendt recounted it:

“The Israeli court psychiatrist who examined Eichmann found him a “completely normal man, more normal, at any rate, than I am after examining him,” the implication being that the coexistence of normality and bottomless cruelty explodes our ordinary conceptions and present the true enigma of the trial.” 

I find it sad to see others like McVeigh doing their damnedest to impugn the character, honor and work of the men and women of the FBI. Unfortunately they have found a friend in President Trump who impugns the honor, decency, and loyalty of the FBI, members of the Justice Department, and Federal Judges; not to mention his political enemies and the free press.

So let’s never forget the events of that terrible morning and remember that to paraphrase Arendt using McVeigh instead of Eichmann:

The trouble with McVeigh was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted or sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. 

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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With Malice Towards All and Charity Towards None: President’s Day and the Absence of Empathy in the Age of Trump

trump-tweeting

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After four devastating years of Civil War Abraham Lincoln ended his Second Inaugural Address with these words:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Today is the second President’s Day that the United States has observed during the Trump Era. A year ago I really did hope that things would be different than they are today. and I do not think that President Trump could ever say or mean the words that Lincoln spoke on that day in March 1865, in fact he seems in his life, words, and actions to filled with malice towards all and charity towards none.

I had spent the year and a half before Mr. Trump’s election, even before most people considered him a serious candidate for the Republican nomination warning about the danger that he posed to the Constitution and to the Republic whose course it guides. But less than a month after his inauguration I expressed hopes that the man who I believed was a self-absorbed bully, a narcissist, and sociopath could somehow rise above all of that to be a man who could grow into the office.

I wrote:

“I would wish that Mr. Trump would have a sense of empathy for others. I don’t doubt his business acumen, or his ability to read weakness in others, nor his ability to demean, threaten, and humiliate people. He has wealth, celebrity, and now he is in reality the President of the most powerful country in the world. He seems to have everything, and at the same time he seems to have nothing, his life seems empty of almost everything that makes us human. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?… I really do hope that he finds friendship, comes to know fraternity, gains prudence and wisdom, and develops a sense of empathy, if not for the country, for him, his wife, and young son….”

I really wanted to be proven wrong in my assessment of him, but the past year has shown that he is incapable of transcending his pathological narcissism and basic hatred of humanity. Every speech, every interview, every tweet of the past year has driven that home. Even this week as the nation mourned the deaths of seventeen people in a mass murder at Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, Mr. Trump made the event all about himself as he attacked the FBI blaming their failure to stop the attack on the investigation into the now proven Russian interference in the 2016 election; an investigation that is getting ever closer to him.

The list of scandals involving Mr. Trump, including affairs with porn stars and Playboy models: coupled with attacks on individual Americans, political opponents regardless of their party affiliation, the press, and long standing allies while embracing dictators and authoritarians around the world, all the while threatening war, even nuclear war in Korea and against Iran. Then there are his attacks on Congress, the judiciary, the Justice Department, Federal Law enforcement personnel and agencies, and American intelligence services.

If that was all it would be damning enough, but Mr. Trump demonstrates in his words and actions that he has no empathy for the victims of abuse, racism, or even the wife of an American soldier killed in action in Niger. However he can defend Nazis and White Supremacists after Charlottesville as “very fine people” and former White House aide and serial spouse abuser Rob Porter as “having done a very good job” and defended him against the allegations. Even last week he appeared to blame the victims of the Florida shooting for not doing enough to stop the shooter before they were killed.

I do not know why Mr Trump is incapable of empathy. As I speculated last year I think it may be how he was brought up. Whatever the reason for his actions and behavior he exhibits enough of the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as Sociopathic Personality Disorder to be truly scary and disturbing.

When I watch the President in action I am reminded of the words of Dr. Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist who was detailed to the major war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials wrote in his book Nuremberg Diary: 

“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.” 

I think that is what bothers me the most about President Trump; he has the genuine incapacity to feel with with his fellow men. Because of his position that portends bad things for all of us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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