Rocky Versace: The Bravest Man You Have Never Heard Of

Captain Versace

 FOR THE ROCK and the children and sugar people of NamCan

Dedication of the book The Fifteenth Pelican by Marie Teresa Rios Versace

 

For his entire life Captain Humbert Roque ‘Rocky’ Versace was on a mission.  His first mission was as an Army Ranger.  His second mission was to be a Catholic priest and to work with orphan kids.  He had been accepted to a Maryknoll seminary but then fate intervened.  The son of Colonel Humbert  J. Versace from Puerto Rico and his wife Marie Teresa Rios Versace, a novelist and poet who, among many other books, wrote The Fifteenth Pelican on which the TV series The Flying Nun was based, Rocky was an unforgettable character.  A graduate of West Point in 1959, he was an Army Ranger and a soldier as tough as they come.  He had an intelligence of a high order as demonstrated by his fluency in French and Vietnamese.  He loved to laugh and have a good time.  At the same time he was deeply religious and a fervent Catholic.  In short, he was a complete man.

Volunteering for service in Vietnam, he began his tour as an intelligence advisor on May 12, 1962.

Rocky fell in love with the Vietnamese people, especially the kids.  In his free time he volunteered in a Vietnamese orphanage.  He believed in his mission and regarded it as a crusade to prevent the people he loved living under Communism.  During his tour he received news that his application to attend a Maryknoll seminary had been accepted.  He planned after ordination to return to Vietnam and work with Vietnam orphans as a priest.  He agreed to a six month extension of his tour since that fit in with his plans to attend the seminary.

On October 29, 1963 he was serving as an intelligence advisor with the 5th Special Forces Group (Green Berets).  He accompanied several companies of South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense (militia) that were seeking to remove a Viet Cong command post in the U Minh Forest.  They were ambushed and Rocky gave covering fire to allow the South Vietnamese to retreat and get away.  He was captured.  The Viet Cong murdered him on September 26, 1965.  What happened in between made Rocky a legend.  He was taken to a camp deep in the jungle along with Lieutenant Nick Rowe and Sergeant Dan Pitzer.  After their eventual release they told all and sundry what they witnessed Rocky do. (more…)

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Von Galen Contra Euthanasia

The Lion of Munster

(I originally wrote this series for The American Catholic, and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the third of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which may be read here.  On August 3, 1941 at Saint Lambert’s in Munster, he preached a third sermon which, along with an overall attack on the Nazi regime, attacked an evil that, alas, unlike the Nazis, remains with us today.

My Beloved Brethren,

In today’s Gospel we read of an unusual event: Our Saviour weeps. Yes, the Son of God sheds tears. Whoever weeps must be either in physical or mental anguish. At that time Jesus was not yet in bodily pain and yet here were tears. What depth of torment He must have felt in His heart and Soul, if He, the bravest of men, was reduced to tears. Why is He weeping? He is lamenting over Jerusalem, the holy city He loved so tenderly, the capital of His race. He is weeping over her inhabitants, over His own compatriots because they cannot foresee the judgment that is to overtake them, the punishment which His divine prescience and justice have pronounced. ‘Ah, if thou too couldst understand, above all in this day that is granted thee, the ways that can bring thee peace!’ Why did the people of Jerusalem not know it? Jesus had given them the reason a short time before. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it! I your God and your King wished it, but you would have none of Me. . . .’ This is the reason for the tears of Jesus, for the tears of God. . . . Tears for the misrule, the injustice and man’s willful refusal of Him and the resulting evils, which, in His divine omniscience, He foresees and which in His justice He must decree. . . . It is a fearful thing when man sets his will against the will of God, and it is because of this that Our Lord is lamenting over Jerusalem.

“the capital of His race.”  What courage it took in Nazi Germany to remind people of the fact that Jesus was a Jew!  Von Galen had always been a friend to Jews, and would hide a Jewish boy, with the help of a Protestant pastor, at an institute Von Galen controlled, from the Nazis.  After his death he would be highly praised by the Munster Jewish community for the care and assistance he had shown them.  Would that all Germans had acted the same way.  It is a canard to say that all Germans hated Jews:  even with the Nazis pumping out the vilest anti-semitism imaginable 24-7 since they took power that was not the case.  However, it is fair to say that a majority of Germans were indifferent to the fate of the Jews and were unwilling to raise their voices against the Nazi persecution of the Jews. 

Von Galen I think realized this indifference and his sermons were meant to show Germans that the evil of the Nazis was not restricted only to people they were shamefully indifferent to.

My faithful brethren! In the pastoral letter drawn up by the German Hierarchy on the 26th of June at Fulda and appointed to be read in all the churches of Germany on July 6th, it is expressly stated: ‘According to Catholic doctrine, there are doubtless commandments which are not binding when obedience to them requires too great a sacrifice, but there are sacred obligations of conscience from which no one can release us and which we must fulfil even at the price of death itself. At no time, and under no circumstances whatsoever, may a man, except in war and in lawful defence, take the life of an innocent person.’

The protection of innocent human life, a necessary corollary to the prime Commandment:  Love God and love thy neighbor.  This of course is right after Von Galen speaking of Jesus weeping over the capital of his race.  Not hard for his auditors, or the Nazi officials reviewing what he said, to connect the dots.

When this pastoral was read on July 6th I took the opportunity of adding this exposition:

For the past several months it has been reported that, on instructions from Berlin, patients who have been suffering for a long time from apparently incurable diseases have been forcibly removed from homes and clinics. Their relatives are later informed that the patient has died, that the body has been cremated and that the ashes may be claimed. There is little doubt that these numerous cases of unexpected death in the case of the insane are not natural, but often deliberately caused, and result from the belief that it is lawful to take away life which is unworthy of being lived.

Von Galen cleverly switches gears as if to say to his listeners:  “You thought only Jews are at risk of losing their lives?  Think again!

The Nazi euthanasia program fit in with the Nazi worldview that Man is only a superior animal, and that the only goals in life are purely biological.  The Aryan Germans were at the top of the animal pyramid according to the Nazis, and therefore it was only fit that they have more lebensraum (living space) to breed and fill the Earthwith the best specimens of humanity.  From this would come a race of ubermensch.  Lesser breeds would either serve this master race as slaves or be exterminated.  I think the Jews were hated by Hitler, above all, because they had brought into the world, through divine revelation, teachings about Man that clearly indicated than Hitler’s beliefs could never be more than crackpot fantasies.  However, Hitler gave us all an unforgettable lesson in the harm that can be done when crackpot nostrums are married to vast material power.

“Life unworthy of life”, the German phrase is “Lebensunwertes Leben”:   those who could not measure up to Aryan standards through mental defect, disease, insanity, etc, were to be culled from the master race herd.  The Nazi euthanasia program, Action T-4, started with the onset of the War in September 1939.  The Nazis had been paving the ground for this by releasing propaganda films and posters lamenting the cost of caring for “mental defectives”.  Hitler, unsurprisingly since murder was his solution of choice for virtually any problem, wanted to begin killing “useless eaters”, as the Nazis charmingly called those helpless persons dependent upon the love of others, from the time that he rose to power.  He was only stopped from carrying this out immediately because he realized that German public opinion would be revolted by the idea.  Under cover of the War he began to implement what he had desired to do all along.  Even after the start of the T-4 program, it was done secretly, withthe deathcertificates stating that the murder victims died of “heart failure” or some other cock and bull lie.  By the time that Blessed Von Galen was speaking some 70,000 men, women and children had been murdered, and the truth had begun leaking out.  I would note that the Nazis of course were following the same policy in their conquered regions, emptying out insane asylums, taking the helpless victims away, shooting them and then burying them in mass graves.  They began doing this in Poland, for example, immediately after the fighting ceased in October 1939.

This ghastly doctrine tries to justify the murder of blameless men and would seek to give legal sanction to the forcible killing of invalids, cripples, the incurable and the incapacitated. I have discovered that the practice here in Westphalia is to compile lists of such patients who are to be removed elsewhere as ‘unproductive citizens,’ and after a period of time put to death. This very week, the first group of these patients has been sent from the clinic of Marienthal, near Münster.

The Nazis would have been shocked at just how very well informed the Bishop was!  His intelligence network in the region of Munster more than rivaled theirs.

Paragraph 21 of the Code of Penal Law is still valid. It states that anyone who deliberately kills a man by a premeditated act will be executed as a murderer. It is in order to protect the murderers of these poor invalids—members of our own families—against this legal punishment, that the patients who are to be killed are transferred from their domicile to some distant institution. Some sort of disease is then given as the cause of death, but as cremation immediately follows it is impossible for either their families or the regular police to ascertain whether death was from natural causes.

As he did in prior sermons, Blessed Von Galen cites the law against the Nazis.

I am assured that at the Ministry of the Interior and at the Ministry of Health, no attempt is made to hide the fact that a great number of the insane have already been deliberately killed and that many more will follow.

At least no attempt that adequately prevented the truth from spreading.

Article 139 of the Penal Code expressly lays down that anyone who knows from a reliable source of any plot against the life of a man and who does not inform the proper authorities or the intended victim, will be punished. . . .

When I was informed of the intention to remove patients from Marienthalforthe purpose of putting them to death I addressed the following registered letter on July 29th to the Public Prosecutor, the Tribunal of Münster, as well as to the Head of the Münster Police:

‘I have been informed this week that a considerable number of patients from the provincial clinic of Marienthal are to be transferred as citizens alleged to be “unproductive” to the institution of Richenberg, there to be executed immediately; and that according to general opinion, this has already been carried out in the case of other patients who have been removed in like manner. Since this sort of procedure is not only contrary to moral law, bothdivineand natural, but is also punishable by death, according to Article 211 of the Penal Code, it is my bounden obligation in accordance with Article 139 of the same Code to inform the authorities thereof. Therefore I demand at once protection for my fellow countrymen who are threatened in this way, and from those who purpose to transfer and kill them, and I further demand to be informed of your decision.’

One can only imagine the consternation of the Nazis to this written demand!  The Germans, as a nation, have been in love with paper, bureaucracy and proper order for a very long time.  That is why the Nazis did their very best to keep their most murderous misdeeds “off the books”.

I have received no news up till now of any steps taken by these authorities. On July 26th I had already written and dispatched a strongly worded protest to the Provincial Administration of Westphalia which is responsible for the clinics to which these patients have been entrusted for care and treatment. My efforts were of no avail. The first batch of innocent folk have left Marienthalunder sentence of death, and I am informed that no less than eight hundred cases from the institution of Waesteinhavenow gone. And so we must await the news that these wretched defenceless patients will sooner or later lose their lives. Why? Not because they have committed crimes worthy of death, not because they have attacked guardians or nurses as to cause the latter to defend themselves with violence which would be both legitimate and even in certain cases necessary, like killing an armed enemy soldier in a righteous war.

The victims murdered by the Nazis are completely innocent and there is no legitimate reason to kill them.

No, these are not the reasons why these unfortunate patients are to be put to death. It is simply because that according to some doctor, or because of the decision of some committee, they have no longer a right to live because they are ‘unproductive citizens’. The opinion is that since they can no longer make money, they are obsolete machines, comparable with some old cow that can no longer give milk or some horse that has gone lame. What is the lot of unproductive machines and cattle? They are destroyed. I have no intention of stretching this comparison further. The case here is not one of machines or cattle which exist to serve men and furnish them with plenty. They may be legitimately done away with when they can no longer fulfil their function. Here we are dealing with human beings, with our neighbours, brothers and sisters, the poor and invalids . . . unproductive—perhaps! But have they, therefore, lost the right to live? Have you or I the right to exist only because we are ‘productive’? If the principle is established that unproductive human beings may be killed, then God help all those invalids who, in order to produce wealth, have given their all and sacrificed their strength of body. If all unproductive people may thus be violently eliminated, then woe betide our bravesoldiers who return home, wounded, maimed or sick.

Because of ” the decision of some committee”.  Hmmm, in the time of warnings of “death panels”, that has a very contemporary ring to it.  Von Galen gets to the core of the matter and states that people are being treated as if they were machines or animals.  This statement reminds me of a passage in a speech by Abraham Lincoln:  I ask attention to the fact that in a pre-eminent degree these popular sovereigns are at this work; blowing out the moral lights around us; teaching that the negro is no longer a man but a brute; that the Declaration has nothing to do with him; that he ranks with the crocodile and the reptile; that man, with body and soul, is a matter of dollars and cents.

Once admit the right to kill unproductive persons . . . then none of us can be sure of his life. We shall be at the mercy of any committee that can put a man on the list of unproductives. There will be no police protection, no court to avenge the murder and inflict punishment upon the murderer. Who can have confidence in any doctor? He has but to certify his patients as unproductive and he receives the command to kill. If this dreadful doctrine is permitted and practised it is impossible to conjure up the degradation to which it will lead. Suspicion and distrust will be sown within the family itself. A curse on men and on the German people if we break the holy commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ which was given us by God on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning, and which God our Maker imprinted on the human conscience from the beginning of time! Woe to us German people if we not only licence this heinous offence but allow it to be committed with impunity!

Much of so-called elite opinion in our society is in favor of abortion and euthanasia.  Just before Sarah Palin issued her widely mocked warning in 2009 that Obamacare would lead inevitably to Death Panels, Peter Singer, a professor, in a truly Orwellian touch, of bioethics at Princeton, wrote a piece in the New York Times in favor of the rationing of health care.  He assures his readers that such rationing could be done in a logical fashion:

Healthcaredoes more than save lives: it also reduces pain and suffering. How can we compare saving a person’s life with, say, making it possible for someone who was confined to bed to return to an active life? We can elicit people’s values on that too. One common method is to describe medical conditions to people — let’s say being a quadriplegic — and tell them that they can choose between 10 years in that condition or some smaller number of years without it. If most would prefer, say, 10 years as a quadriplegic to 4 years of nondisabled life, but would choose 6 years of nondisabledlife over 10 with quadriplegia, but have difficulty deciding between 5 years of nondisabledlife or 10 years withquadriplegia, then they are, in effect, assessing life with quadriplegia as half as good as nondisabled life. (These are hypothetical figures, chosen to keep the math simple, and not based on any actual surveys.) If that judgment represents a rough average across the population, we might conclude that restoring to nondisabled life two people who would otherwise be quadriplegics is equivalent in value to saving the life of one person, provided the life expectancies of all involved are similar.

Amazing the verbiage that has to be deployed when we wander from simple declarative phrases such as:  “Thou shalt not kill.”

I will now give you a concrete example of what is taking place here. A fifty-five-year-old peasant from a country parish near Münster—I could give you his name—has been cared for in the clinic of Marienthal for some years suffering from some mental derangement. He was not hopelessly mad, in fact he could receive visitors and was always pleased to see his family. About a fortnight ago he had a visit from his wife and a soldier son who was home on leave from the front. The latter was devoted to his sick father. Their parting was sad, for they might not see each other again as the lad might fall in battle. As it happens this son will never set eyes on his father again because he is on the list of the ‘unproductives’. A member of the family who was sent to see the father at Marienthal was refused admission and was informed that the patient had been taken away on the orders of the Council of Ministers of National Defence. His whereabouts was unknown. The family would receive official notification in due course. What will this notice contain? Will it be like all the others, namely that the man is dead and that the ashes of his body will be sent on the receipt of so much money to defray expenses? And so the son who is now risking his life at the front for his German compatriots will never again see his father. These are the true facts and the names of all those concerned are available.

This passage hits home for me.  I had an autistic son who passed away on May 19, 2013.  My wife and I loved him more than we love our own lives.  The thought that some idiot bureaucrats could have murdered him because they viewed him as having “a life not worth living” or because he was a “useless eater”, fills me with a boundless rage.  I can only imagine the depth of sorrow experienced by those Germans who had their loved ones murdered by the Nazi state.  Note how Blessed Von Galen ties in this example with a front line soldier.  Once again Nazi actions on the home front are betraying those risking their lives for Germany.

‘Thou shalt not kill.’ God engraved this commandment on the souls of men long before any penal code laid down punishment for murder, long before any court prosecuted and avenged homicide. Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was a murderer long before courts or states came into existence, and plagued by his conscience he confessed, ‘Guilt like mine is too great to find forgiveness . . . and I shall wander over the earth, a fugitive; anyone I meet will slay me.’

Blessed Von Galen now goes through a litany of commandments broken by the Nazis.

Because of His love for us God has engraved these commandments in our hearts and has made them manifest to us. They express the need of our nature created by God. They are the unchangeable and fundamental truths of our social life grounded on reason, well pleasing to God, healthful and sacred. God, Our Father, wishes by these precepts to gather us, His children, about Him as a hen shelters her brood under her wings. If we are obedient to His commands, then we are protected and preserved against the destruction with which we are menaced, just as the chicks beneath the wings of the mother. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it!’

Does history again repeat itself here in Germany, in our land of Westphalia, in our city of Münster? Where in Germany and where, here, is obedience to the precepts of God? The eighth commandment requires ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’. How often do we see this commandment publicly and shamelessly broken? In the seventh commandment we read, ‘Thou shalt not steal’. But who can say that property is safe when our brethren, monks and nuns, are forcibly and violently despoiled of their convents, and who now protects property if it is illegally sequestered and not given back?

Von Galen refers to the fact that the Gestapo was always eager to receive tales of those ever ready to denounce others and get them into trouble.  The theft of the property of the religious orders demonstrates how much respect the Nazis have for the seventh commandment.

The sixth commandment tells us, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’. Consider the instructions and assurances laid down on the question of free love and child-bearing outside the marital law in the notorious open letter of Rudolf Hess, who has since vanished, which appeared in the Press. In this respect look at the immorality and indecency everywhere in Münster today. Our young people have little respect for the propriety of dress today. Thus is modesty, the custodian of purity, destroyed, and the way for adultery lies open.

The Nazis, in their eagerness to produce more little supermen and superwomen, encouraged sexual immorality to promote births from “good racial stock”.  The SS established special eugenic brothels where SS “studs” could mate with German maiden “broodmares”.  There was much about the Third Reich that has the feel of a grade Z seventies horror/porn flick brought terribly to life.

How do we observe the fourth commandment which enjoins obedience and respect to parents and superiors? Parental authority is at a low ebb and is constantly being enfeebled by the demands made upon youth against the wishes of the parents. How can real respect and conscientious obedience to the authority of the State be maintained, to say nothing of the Divine commandments, if one is fighting against the one and only true God and His Faith?

The Nazis set the young against the old in order to produce new National Socialist men and women.  This process is described in the Disney wartime short:  Education for Death.

The first three commandments have long counted for nothing in the public life of Germany and here also in Münster. . .. The Sabbath is desecrated; Holy Days of Obligation are secularized and no longer observed in the service of God. His name is made fun of, dishonoured and all too frequently blasphemed. As for the first commandment, ‘Thou shalt not have strange gods before me’, instead of the One, True, Eternal God, men have created at the dictates of their whim, their own gods to adore Nature, the State, the Nation or the Race. In the words of St. Paul, for many their god is their belly, their ease, to which all is sacrificed down to conscience and honour for the gratification of the carnal senses, for wealthandambition. Then we are not surprised that they should claim divine privileges and seek to make themselves overlords of life and death.

Unfortunately, this paragraph fully applies to our time.

‘And as He drew near, and caught sight of the city, He wept over it, and said: “Ah, if thou too couldstunderstand, above all in this day that is granted thee, the ways that can bring thee peace! As it is, they are hidden from thy sight. The days will come upon thee when thy enemies will fence thee round about, and encircle thee, and press thee hard on every side, and bring down in ruin both thee and thy children that are in thee, not leaving one stone of thee upon another; and all because thou didst not recognize the time of My visiting thee.”’

All will ultimately be judged, as Jerusalem was judged.

Jesus saw only the walls and towers of the city of Jerusalem with His human eye, but with His divine prescience He saw far beyond and into the inmost heart of the city and its inhabitants. He saw its wicked obstinacy, terrible, sinful and cruel. Man, a transitory creature, was opposing his mean will to the Will of God. That is the reason why Jesus wept for this fearful sin and its inevitable punishment. God is not mocked.

“God is not mocked”.  A true phrase and one which so many of us, and I include myself fully among the “us”, so often have a hard time grasping.

Christians of Münster! Did the Son of God in His omniscience see only Jerusalem and its people? Did He weep only on their behalf? Is God the protector and Father of the Jews only? Is Israel alone in rejecting His divine truth? Are they the only people to throw off the laws of God and plunge headlong to ruin? Did not Jesus, Who sees everything, behold also our German people, our land of Westphalia and the Lower Rhine, and our city of Münster? Has He not also wept for us? For a thousand years He has instructed us and our forbears in the Faith. He has led us by His law. He has nourished us withHisgrace and has gathered us to Him as the hen does her brood beneath its wings. Has the all-knowing Son of God seen that in our own time He would have to pronounce on us that same dread sentence? ‘Not leaving one stone of thee upon another; and all because thou didst not recognize the time of My visiting thee.’ That would indeed be a terrible sentence.

“Is God the protector and Father of the Jews only?”  That would have caused Nazi analysts of the Bishop’s sermon to sit up and take notice!  Von Galen is warning here that what is happening to the Jews in their midst will also happen to the Germans, because they have deserted God.

My dearly Beloved, I trust that it is not too late. It is time that we realized today what alone can bring us peace, what alone can save us and avert the divine wrath. We must openly, and without reserve, admit our Catholicism. We must show by our actions that we will live our lives by obeying God’s commandments. Our motto must be: Death rather than sin. By pious prayer and penance we can bring down upon us all, our city and our beloved German land, His grace and forgiveness.

The only true hope to avert divine wrath:  obey the Commandments and be true Catholics.

But those who persist in inciting the anger of God, who revile our Faith, who hate His commandments, who associate with those who alienate our young men from their religion, who rob and drive out our monks and nuns, who condemn to death our innocent brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, we shun absolutely so as to remain undefiled by their blasphemous way of life, which would lay us open to that just punishment which God must and will inflict upon all those who, like the thankless Jerusalem, oppose their wishes to those of God.

Von Galen clearly foresaw the terrible judgement of God upon the Nazis.

O my God, grant to us all now on this very day, before it is too late, a true realization of the things that are for peace. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, oppressed even unto tears by the blindness and sins of men, help us by Thy grace to seek always what is pleasing to Thee and reject what is displeasing, so that we may dwell in Thy Love and find rest in our souls. Amen.

Amen!  The local Nazi gauleiter was outraged and demanded the immediate execution of Von Galen.  Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann, Hitler’s number two man in the Nazi party, nixed this, fearing the outbreak of a civil war in Munster, contenting themselves until after the War with the house arrest of Von Galen.

This sermon, copies of which were made along with his other two sermons and spread throughout Germany and to German soldiers of the Wehrmacht serving throughout Europe and North Africa, caused a protest movement to erupt in Germany and led to the ending of the T-4 program.  The Nazis would still attempt to carry out euthanasia, but only in the deepest secrecy and at a much slower rate.  Blessed Von Galen saved tens of thousands of lives because of this.  His anti-Nazi sermons were read throughout occupied Europe, including by a young Karol Wotyla in Poland.

This is the last of the sermons that made Blessed Von Galen world famous and earned him the title of the Lion of Munster.  However, it would be a mistake to assume that these were the only sermons in which he spoke out against the Nazis.  Next week we look at a sermon from 1936.

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (6)  
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Gravity and God

 I mean I’d pray for myself, but I’ve never prayed—nobody ever taught me how.

Dr. Ryan Stone, Gravity

This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

Sir Isaac Newton

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

Something for the weekend.  The Hank Williams, Jr. tune Angels Are Hide to Find from the movie Gravity (2013).  I picked up a copy of the movie Gravity, not expecting much, and assuming that I would probably quickly resell it on e-bay.  Somehow I had managed to read nothing about the film.  I was astonished at how much I enjoyed the film and how much it had to say about the human condition.  My review is below and the usual caveat about spoilers apply. (more…)

Published in: on March 29, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Gravity and God  
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Houston, We Have a Problem

(Originally posted at The American Catholic.  I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might find it amusing.)

You know, I am old enough to recall when NASA was all about space exploration.  Under the current administration it appears that NASA is mostly concerned with supporting the agendas of the Obama Administration.  Case in point, a NASA funded study of epic historical illiteracy:

If we’re to avoid their fate, we’ll need policies to reduce economic inequality and preserve natural resources, according to a NASA-funded study that looked at the collapses of previous societies.

“Two important features seem to appear across societies that have collapsed,” reads the study. “The stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity and the economic stratification of society into Elites and Masses.”

In unequal societies, researchers said, “collapse is difficult to avoid…. Elites grow and consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”

As limited resources plague the working class, the wealthy, insulated from the problem, “continue consuming unequally” and exacerbate the issue, the study said.

Meanwhile, resources continue to be used up, even by the technologies designed to preserve them. For instance, “an increase in vehicle fuel efficiency technology tends to enable increased per capita vehicle miles driven, heavier cars, and higher average speeds, which then negate the gains from the increased fuel-efficiency,” the study said.

The researchers used what they termed a Human And Nature DYnamical (HANDY) formula to reach their conclusions. The formula uses factors such as birth rates, resources, and income classes to create a mathematical equation to project outcomes.

The study was sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and headed by the National Science Foundation’s Safa Motesharrei.

For those who think modern society is immune from the problems that brought down ancient civilizations, a “brief overview of collapses demonstrates not only the ubiquity of the phenomenon, but also the extent to which advanced, complex and powerful societies are susceptible to collapse,” the study said.

So how do we save ourselves? “Collapse can be avoided, and population can reach a steady state at the maximum carrying capacity, if the rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed equitably,” reads the report. (more…)

Published in: on March 28, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Hannibal Hamlin: Forgotten Man of the Lincoln Administration

Thomas E. Marshall, Vice-President under Wilson, summed up the historical fate of most Vice-Presidents in this joke he used to tell:  There were two brothers.  One was lost at sea and one became Vice-President.  Neither were heard from again.  That was certainly the case with Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first Vice-President.  In an administration where almost everything has been examined endlessly by tens of thousands of historians with magnifying glasses, Hamlin is a complete void.  At the time Hamlin knew that he simply did not count in the Administration, although Lincoln was cordial on the rare occasions they met.  I am the fifth wheel of a coach is how Hamlin described his non-role in shaping the affairs of the nation during his term as Vice-President.

The most prominent politician from Maine, both before and after his term as Vice-President, perhaps Hamlin regretted his four years in political oblivion as Lincoln’s Veep.

Hamlin began his political career in 1836 when he won election to Maine’s house of representatives as a Democrat.  Serving in the Federal House of Representatives in 1843-47.  Appointed to serve out a term in the US Senate in 1848, Hamlin elected to a full term in his own right in 1851.  In 1856 he became a national celebrity when he broke with the Democrat party over slavery, and joined the Republicans.  Elected as a Republican as Governor of Maine in 1856 and  serving briefly, he resigned to take up a seat next year as a Republican, being one of the few members of the Senate to serve in that body as both a Democrat and a Republican.

He was placed on the Presidential ticket for regional balance and for the fame he had won as a former Democrat who left the party over slavery, a natural vote getter among anti-slavery Democrats.  Hamlin and Lincoln did not meet for the first time until after the election.  During the campaign Democrats spread the rumor that Hamlin was a mulatto.  Hamlin did have a swarthy complexion, but there was no truth in the allegation.  The same charge was made against Lincoln, racism being a weapon wielded freely by Democrats in both 1861 and 1864.

Hamlin as Veep advocated Emancipation and the use of black troops.  Less presciently, he also supported placing Fighting Joe Hooker in command of the Army of the Potomac.  Hamlin was left off the ticket in 1864 in order to broaden the ticket.  Hamlin was firmly associated now with the radical wing of the Republican Party, and Lincoln believed that a War Democrat would be a better choice in what was likely to be a close contest.  Andrew Johnson thus ultimately became President and Hamlin missed his opportunity to be something other than an historical footnote. (more…)

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hannibal Hamlin: Forgotten Man of the Lincoln Administration  
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Confederate Dentistry

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xpIi2k5et8 Last week I was watching A Southern Yankee, a Red Skelton flick from 1948.  It was howlingly funny, following the misadventures of Red as a Saint Louis hotel bellboy who gets mixed up in espionage for the Union.  One sequence had Red having two teeth pulled by Confederate dentists.  That got me curious as to whether the Confederacy actually had dentists among their medical officers.  They did, unlike the Union which firmly rejected any suggestion that dentists be made medical officers.   While Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, Davis had attempted to establish unsuccessfully a dental unit in the Army. Dentists were appointed in the Confederate Army as early as 1861 and with conscription of dentists they became fairly common in Confederate military hospitals, providing extractions, fillings and the cleaning of teeth.  The Confederate dentists stressed dental hygiene and the use of toothbrushes by the troops.  Several Confederate dentists did pioneering work in root canals.   They also aided in the treatment of gunshot wounds to jaws and mouths, using facial splints to help avoid disfigurement while the wounds were healing. (more…)

Published in: on March 26, 2014 at 10:30 am  Comments (2)  
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The Boss Wasn’t Amused

Bacall and Truman

One of the odder pictures in American history, this photo of 20 year old actress Lauren Bacall draped seductively over a piano being played by then Vice-President Harry Truman on February 10, 1945 caused considerable controversy and made headlines around the world.  The photo was taken at the National Press Club canteen where both Bacall and Truman were appearing to entertain 800 servicemen.  Bacall, reluctantly, posed on the piano at the request of her press agent Charlie Enfield, who was also publicity chief for Warner Brothers.  Bacall later recalled that Truman was a bad piano player. Bess Truman, Harry’s wife, was quite irked according to her daughter Margaret Truman, and ordered Truman not to play the piano in public again.

Published in: on March 25, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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March 24, 1944: The Great Escape

Seventy years ago was a busy time at Stalag III, a German POW camp near the town of Sagan.  76 Allied pows escaped the camp in the largest mass escape of Allied prisoners during the War.  The plan of the escape was conceived by RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, the officer in charge of the camp escape committee.  He announced his plan to the committee in the Spring of 1943 beginning with these words:

Everyone here in this room is living on borrowed time. By rights we should all be dead! The only reason that God allowed us this extra ration of life is so we can make life hell for the Hun.

The plan involved three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry.  More than 600 POWs were involved in the construction.  In the midst of the construction of the tunnels, the American POWs were moved to another compound and, contra Hollywood, no Americans as a result participated in the actual escape, although they had helped with the construction of the tunnels prior to their move.

On March 24, 1944, a moonless night, 76 men made good their escape.  The Germans realized what was going on when the 77th man was seen climbing out of the tunnel.  73 of the prisoners were eventually recaptured, with three making good their escape.  Hitler was enraged by the escapes and ordered the execution of the escapees.  German officers up to and including Reichsfuhrer Herman Goering were appalled, arguing that such executions would violate the Geneva Convention.    Hitler eventually compromised with fifty of the recaptured escapees murdered by the SS, including Squadron Leader Bushell.  It should be noted that the German officers at Stalag III strictly observed the Geneva Convention, and one can imagine their feelings at having their military honor stained by the SS.  Indeed a later camp commandantn Oberst Franz Braunen allowed a memorial to the murdered men to be erected by the prisoners and he contributed to it. (In regard to the East Front both sides waged a war of extermination with prisoners starved to death and murdered by the hundreds of thousands.) (more…)

Published in: on March 24, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 24, 1944: The Great Escape  
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Von Galen Contra the Swastika

The Lion of Munster

(I originally wrote this series for The American Catholic, and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the second of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.

Today the collection which I ordered for the inhabitants of the city of Münster is held in all the parishes in the diocese of Münster which have not themselves suffered war damage. I hope that through the efforts of the state and municipal authorities responsible and the brotherly help of the Catholics of this diocese, whose contributions will be administered and distributed by the offices of the Caritas, much need will be alleviated.

Charity, always a prime duty of Catholics.

Thanks be to God, for several days our city has not suffered any new enemy attacks from without. But I am distressed to have to inform you that the attacks by our opponents within the country, of the beginning of which I spoke last Sunday in St. Lambert’s, that these attacks have continued, regardless of our protests, regardless of the anguish this causes to the victims of the attacks and those connected with them. Last Sunday I lamented, and branded as an injustice crying out to heaven, the action of the Gestapo in closing the convent in Wilkinghege and the Jesuit residences in Munster, confiscating their property and possessions, putting the occupants into the street and expelling them from their home area. The convent of Our Lady of Lourdes in Frauen­strasse was also seized by the Gau authorities. I did not then know that on the same day, Sunday 13th July, the Gestapo had occupied the Kamilluskolleg in Sudmühle and the Benedictine abbey of Gerleve near Coesfeld and expelled the fathers and lay brothers. They were forced to leave Westphalia that very day.

The Nazi war on the Church is becoming more brazen in the midst of the War. (more…)

Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Von Galen Contra the Swastika  
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Anchors Aweigh

Something for the weekend.  Anchors Aweigh.  The fight song of the United States Naval Academy, it was composed in 1906 with music by Charles A. Zimmerman and lyrics by Alfred Hart Miles.  Universally regarded as the song of the United States Navy, it has never been officially adopted, although that has not stopped it being loved by most of the sailors who have served in Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club. (more…)

Published in: on March 22, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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