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Integrity, Truthfulness, Purity, and Singleness of Purpose: Winfield Scott Hancock and what the United States Needs Today

hancock

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I visit Gettysburg a lot and I also write about it a lot. When I make those visits I am always humbled and learn something new. I only wish that most Americans and our leaders of both political parties as well as most media types and pundits could grasp what I experience on each visit to the “hallowed ground” of Gettysburg.

Quite honestly I do not think that the vast majority Americans regardless of their party affiliation or ideology  understand, appreciate or value in the slightest the sacrifices of the men who fought and in many cases died to preserve the Union at Gettysburg. Even among those who do I think that the object of their appreciation are the military aspects of the battle often taken in isolation, not the profound strategic dimensions of what this battle as well as the fall of Vicksburg in the west at the same time had on the war.

Nor do I think that they appreciate the massive political, ideological and social effects bought about by those Union victories in ending the war and how those effects redound to us today. This is especially true of the pundits, politicians and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” as I call them whose shrill voices urge on divisions between our people; including some that call out for violence to maintain their groups social, economic or religious advantages over others. Quite a few even lament the fall of the South and the institution including the washed up rock and roll musician of the political right Ted Nugent who wrote in the Washington Times in July 2012: “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.” More recently when President Trump talked of the moral equivalence of the opposing sides at Charlottesville I was reminded of just how hateful and morally bankrupt such feelings are, I am sure that General Hancock would be appalled that an American President would make that kind of stand.

All of that concerns me as an American and a historian; because I realize how dangerous such historical ignorance and visceral propaganda is in the life of any nation. Thus when I go to Gettysburg, or for that matter any other battlefield of our American Civil War the sacrifices of those men and what they fought to maintain are again imprinted on my heart.

Abraham Lincoln eloquently noted about those soldiers who fought to turn back the Confederate tide at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address:

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While I am an idealist I am also a pragmatist. I respect the right of others, even those that disagree with things that I very much believe in and support. Like it or not the keystone of our governmental system is one of compromise. That being said having relatives that fought on both sides of the American Civil War that I am not a sectionalist. Nor am I a person that attempts to use the political system to ensure that others have to follow my religious beliefs or to enrich certain groups. The democracy that is part of our republic’s system of government is not a perfect system by any means. In fact as the great English Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted “democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others.”

Thus I appreciate military men who maintain their oath to the nation in times of great conflict not abandoning it to support causes that they know are wrong because the people of their state, or interest group seek to divide that Union. Winfield Scott Hancock was one of those kind of men, as was George Meade, and John Buford, all of whom played key roles in defeating the Confederates at Gettysburg.

Hancock, who earned the title “Hancock the Superb” was the commander of the Union Second Corps at Gettysburg. Upon the death of John Reynolds early on the first day of battle Hancock was appointed by George Meade as commander of the Federal Left Wing, in effect becoming Meade’s deputy commander for the rest of the battle. He was seriously wounded as Pickett’s Charge came to its bloody end at “the Angle” even as his dear friend Confederate General Lewis Armistead lay mortally wounded a few hundred yards away.

Hancock is an interesting character. He was from Pennsylvania but was a Democrat. He was not a Republican like Lincoln. Hancock was not a political ideologue but was since he was a Democrat he was suspect by leaders in the party establishments of both parties; Republicans for being a Democrat, and Democrats for serving under Lincoln. As such he never was given independent command of an Army but remained the beloved commander of the Union Second Corps.

As the nation split and friends went their separate ways Hancock gave some advice to his best friend, Lewis Armistead and their commander, Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston who were preparing to leave the Union in early 1861. In response to the states rights arguments of his friends he made himself clear. He fully believed in the principal of states rights, but he could not compromise his faithfulness to the Union. He told his friends as they departed company on their way to their destinies during the Civil War:

“I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” 

During the war Hancock served with distinction. At Gettysburg he was influential in determining the choice of the Union defense, in helping to repel the Rebel attacks on July 2nd 1863 and the final repulse of Pickett’s Charge where he was severely wounded and his friend Armistead died. After he recovered from his wounds he continued to lead Second Corps until the end of the war. Ulysses Grant wrote of him:

“Hancock stands the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate command. He commanded a corps longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of very conspicuous personal appearance…. His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the 2d corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”

After the war Hancock supervised the execution of those convicted of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Following that duty he served in various postings in the occupied South and attempted to mitigate some of the actions of those bent on vengeance against African Americans as well as others who tried to exploit the defeated Confederates for political or economic gain. His balanced attempt at justice was not appreciated by many people in the North or the South.

In 1880 Hancock ran for President and lost a narrow election to James A. Garfield. After his unsuccessful campaign he returned to the Army and died at the age of 61 in 1886 at his headquarters from complications from diabetes.

In death was praised by political supporters and opponents alike. Former President Rutherford B. Hayes wrote:

“if when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.” 

Another political opponent Republican General Francis A. Walker lamented not supporting Hancock in 1880 after the great corruption that engulfed the country during “Gilded Age” of the “Robber Barons” the 1880s. Walker wrote in 1893:

“Although I did not vote for General Hancock, I am strongly disposed to believe that one of the best things the nation has lost in recent years has been the example and the influence of that chivalric, stately, and splendid gentleman in the White House. Perhaps much which both parties now recognize as having been unfortunate and mischievous during the past thirteen years would have been avoided had General Hancock been elected.”

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I have stood by the monument to this fine man on East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg many times. Each time I am struck by the bravery, courage and integrity of that remarkable man. Regardless of party affiliation I wish that we had more leaders like him today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Afraid of Words and Thoughts” Panic Engulfs the Trump Administration

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It seems like nearly every day we are treated to a new round of manic midnight tweeting by our President, usually because he has been criticized by someone or has went into a rage over after watching the conspiracy theorists and propagandists who support him.

He lashes out like a trapped animal the rage barely concealed by the power of his office. Even his official photograph looks like he is about to scream and rip someone’s head off. I have seen the official photos or portraits of every American President and while some show some sense of serious strength, none exude the anger that drips from the pixels of his photo.

In the past thirteen months I have observed that it is criticism of any kind that gets the President most worked up, it is as if his skin is so thin that any criticism will make him bleed. He shows all the signs of being a narcissistic personality, and seems to revel in his role as the enfant terribles of the Western World.

His response to criticism is that of the quintessential bully, or the abusive husband or father who cannot be criticized without fear of punishment. Now his temper is moved beyond attacking perceived enemies at home to threatening nuclear war in Korea, launching a trade war with our closest allies under the guise of national security, and protecting Vladimir Putin and Russia, foreign power that not only has set out to divide us, interfere with our elections, but which threatens us with new nuclear weapons.

He doesn’t fear power or institutions, he has done his best to undermine all three branches of government and has no respect for the Constitution.  He attacks and Yet at the same time he demonstrates a profound fear of words and ideas that he cannot control, thus his constant attempts to shut down debate, discredit democratic institutions, the institutions of government, the press, and even private citizens. Of course there is his unusual penchant for going after very same critics who have no power other than their ideas and the words that they speak.

I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s who wrote:

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police … yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.” 

That is what I believe we are seeing from our President and those closest to him. They have power, real power that with the exception of the courts, neither the Congress nor much of bureaucracy has not seen fit to check. Even so one after another they have resigned, been fired, or come under investigation. Reputations have been ruined by mere association with the President and others are imploding. Former associates are speaking with Special Prosecutor Muller, and he still lashed out berating and humiliating those

These are not the actions of a leader committed to the democratic ideals of our Republic nor the constraints of the Constitution, law, precedent, and tradition.

This is frightening to watch as the President more isolated than ever flails against enemies real and imagined while bringing the nation and world closer to a Götterdämmerung of the President and his party’s making, provided words do not fell him before he can.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“No More Dangerous Thing for a Democracy…”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some times when my education and experience as a historian and ethicist. Last week was one of those times as I watched Secretary of State Tillerson and President Trump raise the specter of preventive war on the Korean peninsula. Combined with the evisceration of the State Department and other levers of “soft power” in the Trump budget proposal and the President’s near total commitment to military force as the preferred option in foreign policy it makes me believe that we will be in a substantial and potentially devastating war in terms of lives, treasure, and moral standing, if not in Korea, somewhere else in the world within the next couple of years.

I do seriously hope that I am wrong, but I do not see patience, prudence, or wisdom as strengths of the Trump Presidency in either domestic or foreign policy. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote: “There is no more dangerous thing for a democracy than a foreign policy based on presidential preventive war,” but it appears that this is the foreign policy of the Trump administration.

Preventive war is also something called aggressive war, because the target of it has not committed an act of war before it is attacked. This was the policy of Nazi Germany for which its leaders were convicted at Nuremberg. Former Senator Ron Paul noted, “Another term for preventive war is aggressive war – starting wars because someday somebody might do something to us. That is not part of the American tradition.” As such most people have no understanding how the crime of preventive or wars of aggression poison and ultimately kill a democracy.

People also forget that once the Pandora’s Box of war is opened that nothing is certain but death, destruction, and the seeds of more war. Winston Churchill noted, “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

In terms of the destructiveness of such a war, including as Churchill noted the unforeseen effects of it President Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today. How could you have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled, the transportation systems destroyed, sanitation implements and systems all gone? That isn’t preventive war; that is war.

I’ll leave it at that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“In Their Hearts there is Unspoken Fear…” Observing the “Enfant Terribles” of Washington D.C.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It seems like nearly every day we are treated to a new round of manic midnight tweeting by our President, usually because he has been criticized by someone or has went into a rage over after watching the conspiracy theorists and propagandists who support him.

He lashes out like a trapped animal the rage barely concealed by the power of his office. Even his official photograph looks like he is about to scream and rip someone’s head off. I have seen the official photos or portraits of every American President and while some show some sense of serious strength, none exude the anger that drips from the pixels of his photo.

In the past fifty days I have observed that it is criticism of any kind that gets the President most worked up, it is as if his skin is so thin that any criticism will make him bleed. He shows all the signs of being a narcissistic personality, and seems to revel in his role as the enfant terribles of the Western World.

His response to criticism is that of the quintessential bully, or the abusive husband or father who cannot be criticized without fear of punishment.

He doesn’t seem to fear power or institutions, but he demonstrates a profound fear of words and ideas that he cannot control, thus his constant attempts to shut down debate, discredit democratic institutions, the institutions of government, the press, and even private citizens. Of course there is his unusual penchant for going after very same critics who have no power other than their ideas and the words that they speak.

I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s who wrote:

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police … yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.” 

That is what I believe we are seeing from our President and those closest to him. They have power, real power that with the exception of the courts, neither the Congress nor bureaucracy has not seen fit to check.

These are not the actions of a leader committed to the democratic ideals of our Republic nor the constraints of the Constitution, law, precedent, and tradition.

This is something new, and it is frightening to watch.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Power of Folly

lemmi_cliff

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are entering a dangerous time and while we hold out hope that our new President will be a wise and judicious executive, his words and actions after his election give us little hope of that.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, “Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government.” We are about to see just how those strong prejudices in the ill-formed mind of our President-Elect will do to our Republic, and the actions of his already powerful friends and lackeys jockeying for position in the incoming Trump administration. Tuchman wrote, “Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all passions.” One can already see how this is likely to play out over the coming months and years.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who openly opposed Hitler and his policies in an age when the bulk of German Christians either threw their wholehearted allegiance behind Hitler, or simply did nothing. Bonhoeffer wrote about the violence of Nazi power, and how it, like other brazen displays of power produces outbursts of folly. He noted:

“If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that certain human capacities, intellectual capacities for instance, become stunted of destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and…give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves.”

Our Republic and democracy is a brilliantly engineered system of government. It has a certain resiliency, but ultimately it is a fragile thing, one can look at our own history and the history of other republics with democratic institutions to see just how fragile it is.  To survive it depends on educated citizens to recognize the dangers of demagogues who rely on the folly others to gain power, but in this case we have failed to do that. If we are not careful we very well may see the institutions of our country used to destroy the foundations of our form of government.

We stand at a precipice and in the coming months and years it will be incumbent on people who value the proposition that of our Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that “all men are created equal” to do all that we can to hinder the march of folly that our newly elected President and Congress are about to embark upon. W.H. Auden penned the verse in his poem September 1, 1939:

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

 

We are going to be pummeled by an Orwellian disinformation campaign and it is terribly important that we continually speak the truth, for the truth may well be the only weapon that will remain at our side. As Winston Churchill wrote:

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police … yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I’m Back: Realism and Responsibility after the Election of Donald Trump 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World, 

Winston Churchill wrote: “Courage is is what it is to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” 

Last night I was in a state of shock regarding the election of Donald Trump to the office of President. I was despairing and I said that I was going to immediately put in my retirement papers and move to Europe. I did really mean it, and that may yet happen. But my wife Judy helped put things in perspective this morning and told me not to make any hasty moves. That allowed me to take a deep breath. I spent this morning alone in my office with the door closed. I pretty much stayed off social media and apart from checking my work e-mail and reading the comics I just sat back reflecting on what happened before taking the afternoon off and going to lunch. I needed to sit down and listen, and one of my older bar buddies showed up and he too helped me put things in perspective. 

During that time I saw a good number of comments posted to the blog and my Facebook account encouraging me to stay engaged and not to give up. Those were also helpful and while I have not answered any of them yet but I appreciate all of the kind words and thoughts. 

Now I am not happy with the results of the election and I am frightened at what Trump and his congressional majorities have promised to do. That being said now that the election is over I am committed to doing what neither he or congressional Republicans did for President Obama, I will give him a chance and treat him with the respect his office is due. I remember how badly President Obama was treated by Mitch McConnell, and if I thought it was wrong for him to be treated in such a manner, how could I be a part in doing that to anyone? even Donald Trump. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and if you are a Democrat, being obstructionists will only worsen the party’s situation. We have to be mature and show that we can endure defeat with dignity and grace. 

The fact is, that whether or not progressives like me like it, he has been elected with majorities in both the House and Senate, and we cannot change that. That being said, if we want to be taken seriously we must work for the common good and then figure out what we really believe as progressives and how to win elections. It is not good enough to simply oppose Trump and the GOP; we have to enunciate a positive vision and then go back to basics and that includes being the party of decency and civility. 

As for now I will not be retiring or leaving the country, even though an old German friend is now begging me to move there and promising to help me. That still might happen, but not yet. 

So anyway, it’s time to take a deep breath and do the right thing for the country. We cannot afford for Trump to fail, if he fails it hurts all of us and we can’t afford for him to screw up. If he does, let it be his doing, not ours, and let his supporters take the blame for electing him. As Abraham Lincoln correctly observed: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they chose to turn their backs on the fire and burn their behinds, then they’ll have to sit on the blisters.” That may seem unpalatable, but it is reality, and I am the ultimate realist. I guess that’s why I’m still here. 

Until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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The Cautionary Tale of the Desert Fox: The Murder of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

rommel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It was 72 years ago in Ulm Germany that a car pulled up to the residence of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In the car was the driver and two Generals dispatched by Hitler.  Rommel was recuperating following being severely wounded in an air attack in Normandy on July 17th 1944.

Rommel had been awarded the Pour le Merite, Imperial Germany’s highest award for valor in the First World War. He was never an official member of the Nazi Party, but like many Germans he believed Hitler’s promises and propaganda. As Hitler rose to power he like many others was carried away by early Nazi successes, the bloodless conquests of the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the spectacle of the Olympics.

Like most other officers he would serve the regime as it spread its dark pall over Europe, and unlike so many others when he suffered a crisis in conscience about the Nazi leadership and their policies he refused to obey orders that he knew were illegal and immoral and then risked his life by joining the conspiracy to kill Hitler.

After years of stalled promotion, Hitler’s expansion of the military allowed Rommel to be promoted, and when Germany went to war he was commander of the unit which guarded Hitler’s headquarters train when he went into Poland. Rommel received command of the 7th Panzer Division after Poland and as a division commander in France he led his troops on some of the most epic advances of the French campaign.

He was then given command of the troops sent to bail out Mussolini’s failed African adventure. His small force and always ill-supplied force, which became known as the Afrika Korps scored impressive victories against British forces. In Africa, Rommel gained fame and earned rapid promotion. Though Africa was a sideshow in the Nazi war effort, Rommel became a poster-child for Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine. His fame also earned the resentment of many fellow officers who because he was not an officer of the General Staff regarded him with jealous envy and distain. Even so, Rommel was a soldier’s soldier. He believed in sharing in the suffering of his troops. He once said:Be an example to your men in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered, and teach your subordinates to be the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.”

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That was until he discovered the reality of Hitler’s promises as the troops of the Afrika Corps found themselves subjected to constant privation from lack of supply, air support and reinforcements. As commander of the Afrika Corps and later the Panzer Armee Arfika he and his troops achieved amazing success against an enemy that was always better supplied and equipped and which had air and sea superiority. Battling the British as well as the political machinations of Mussolini and Germany’s Italian Allies as well as opponents in the German government such as Hermann Goering, Rommel saw his troops crushed under the press of the British as well as the Americans who landed in French North Africa. Eventually, sick and worn out, Rommel was sent back to Germany to recuperate.

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Rommel had a sense of honor and humanity that many other German generals lacked. He refused to allow anti-Jewish measures in areas occupied by German troops in North Africa, ensuring that the approximately 425,000 Jews living in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco were spared the fate of the Holocaust. He refused to execute Jewish POWs, and refused to follow the notorious “commando order.” In June of 1994 he protested the massacre of the people of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane by units of the 2nd SS Panzer Division directly to Hitler and asked for the authority to punish those responsible, but was refused.

His honest assessments of the chances of the Germans winning the war which he spoke candidly to Hitler and the High Command made him persona non grata in Berlin and Berchtesgaden. In the time before he was posted to France in late 1943 he became a part of the plot to end the war and overthrow Hitler. Rommel’s Chief of Staff at OB West, General Hans Speidel, was a key man in the conspiracy and Rommel had contacts with a number of key conspirators. He believed that the war was lost unless his forces could repel the coming Allied invasion on the beaches and worked feverishly to bolster the beach fortifications. He recommended that the Panzer Divisions be deployed near the coast where they could immediately counterattack Allied invasion forces while they were still vulnerable. But his advice was not taken. He was given command of the Army Group but was not given control of most of the Panzer Divisions, which Hitler kept under his direct control.

When the invasion came Rommel was away from Normandy visiting his wife. On learning of the invasion he sped back to Normandy. When he arrived he fought a desperate battle against the Allied forces. His outnumbered forces were under constant assault from the land, sea and air received paltry reinforcements compared to the Allies. Even so, German troops inflicted many local defeats and exacted a heavy price in allied blood in Normandy but were ground to dust. Even so, many American and British infantry regiments suffered 100% casualties but remained in action because of a continuous stream of replacements. Rommel urged Hitler and the High Command to withdraw German forces from Normandy before the allies broke through his front. By doing so he found that he was now considered a defeatist.

Rommel was severely wounded in an air attack on his vehicle by a just days before the attempt on Hitler’s life. Hitler survived the attempted assassination and exacted a terrible revenge on anyone connected with the plot. Show trials and public hangings of officers who had served valiantly at the front were common. Thousands were killed and thousands more imprisoned.

Eventually, other conspirator’s testimony exposed that Rommel was part of the plot. He was recommended by the “Court of Military Honor” to be expelled from the military and tried by the “People’s Court” of Judge Roland Freisler. During the purge that followed the attempt on Hitler’s life, many noted German military commanders were hauled before this court and humiliated by Freisler before they were sent to their deaths. Freisler, a fanatic Nazi judge has been part of the infamous Wansee Conference which planned the details of the Final Solution was killed when his courtroom was bombed in February 1945.

Because of his fame and popularity in Germany Hitler was decided to offer Rommel a choice of being tried by the People’s Court or committing suicide and ensuring his family’s safety. Hitler dispatched two generals from Berlin to personally deliver the message.

492px-Erwin_rommel_death

Rommel suspected that he would be identified and killed and told that to his friends and family in the days leading up to the arrival of Generals Wilhelm Burgorf and Ernst Maisel from OKW with the ultimatum. They met with Rommel for a short time before giving him the opportunity to say goodbye to his family. Rommel told them of his choice and left his home for the last time. 15 minutes later the Generals called his wife to say that he had died of a heart attack. Rommel was given a state funeral and the German people were lied to about his cause of his death.

Winston Churchill wrote of Rommel:

“He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this, he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy, chivalry finds no place … Still, I do not regret or retract the tribute I paid to Rommel, unfashionable though it was judged.”

Rommel was just 52 years old when he died. I find in the story of Rommel some commonality in my own life. Before Rommel went to Africa he believed that Germany would win the war, during his command there he discovered that what he believed was lies and that Hitler had little regard for him or his troops. Before I went to Iraq in 2007 I believed much of the political propaganda promoted by the Bush administration and right wing news media and pundits about that war.

The example of Erwin Rommel is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a brilliant and honorable man comes under the spell of a demagogue. Rommel believed Hitler and blindly followed him until he ran into the hard face of reality in Africa at which point he had the moral courage to do the right thing, but many didn’t. Sadly there are otherwise honorable men and women in the current United States military who are blindly supporting a delusional madman for President, a man who promises to order soldiers to commit war crimes, who threatens to jail political opponents, who condemns whole races of people and religions, a man who has no respect for the courts, the law, or the Constitution.  Personally as a historian I cannot understand that. Thankfully I am glad that I am not one of them for I know if Donald Trump ever became President that I would become a target.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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