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What Did You Do During the War, Daddy?” is the title of a wonderful but sobering book written by Sabine Reichel. Reichel was born in 1946 to Nazi collaborator parents in bombed-out Hamburg, Germany. Her parents had been upper-class citizens prior to the war and they managed to maintain their respectability after the war. Her mother and father, like so many other obedient “good” Germans of the Nazi-era, never talked to their child about what they had done during the Hitler years. The unwelcome truth only came out much later, during Reichel’s early adult years. The book details her experiences in trying to obtain the answers to the book’s title question.
“What did you do during the war, Daddy?” has been a dreaded question for many soldier-fathers (as well as for some civilian parents) who collaborated (actively or passively) with warmongers in times of war, and who then discovered, too late, that they had been on the ethically wrong side of what turned out to be an unjust war—a war that might have been contrary to what they had been told, a war of aggression or corporate resource exploitation and therefore a war that was an international war crime, a crime against humanity, or a crime against the peace.
And whether or not they were deceived by their corporate-controlled government and media outlets (shadow or otherwise) about the realities of those wars, any parent will dread being asked probing questions such as these: “Did you profit from the war, or were you on the side of flag-waving, warmongering politicians, the corporate war profiteers, or the gun-runners of your country that beat the drums for war?” “Did you swallow whole the repeated nationalistic pro-war messages of the media’s propaganda machine that glorified war and obscured the inconvenient truths about the organized, indiscriminate mass slaughter that is modern war?” “Did you remain silent in the face of your nation’s war crimes when innocent, unarmed civilians on the ‘other side’ were being demonized, starved, bombed, poisoned, persecuted, imprisoned, ‘disappeared,’ made homeless, or becoming victims of ‘collateral damage’?”
Some nonviolence-embracing fathers, if they have strong consciences and courage to match, refuse to kill and die in an unjust war. Because they could honorably and truthfully answer, they might welcome the following questions: “Daddy, when you sensed that the war was an unjust one, did you refuse to sign up and support it? Did you speak out against your era’s war as well as other forms of violence? Did you join the resistance against the warmongering majorities? Did you march in public anti-war actions and actively try to reverse your nation’s misbegotten involvement in war?”
Becoming “Good (Catholic and Protestant) Germans” (and Americans)
Multitudes of guilty World War II-era German parents, most of whom were baptized Christians, faced these questions when their children started reading between the lines of their censored school history books. They realized that war crimes had been committed by their nation and therefore perhaps also by their patriotic parents.
The same could be said about American Protestant children whose fathers were of draft age during the Vietnam War or of average Catholic Christians whose leaders were in positions of authority and counsel during the Dirty Wars in Central and South America, wars that were often fomented and then aggressively supported by the United States’ military/industrial/congressional complex during the Reagan/Bush years.
In every nation, the history books have been written by the patriots, nationalists, militarists, and assorted victors who feel compelled to preserve the myths of the “glory” of war. Since war crimes (at the very least, rape and pillage) have been committed by soldiers on all sides of all wars throughout the history of warfare, there is a tremendous amount of motivation to cover up the shameful deeds that are so easy to commit during the fog of war.
An example that comes to mind is the Catholic Joseph Ratzinger (now emeritus Pope Benedict XVI), who joined the Hitler Youth in his teens. Young, naïve Joseph has every right to feel fully justified in that act of German patriotism and nationalism. But later he was archbishop of Munich, the historical hotbed of German fascism and a city that nurtured Adolf Hitler and spawned the Nazi Party during the 1920s.
One wonders what the archbishop would have said if his parishioners had asked him what he had done during the war, since participation in the killing of friends or enemies was clearly contrary to the teachings and modeling of the pacifist Jesus.
What Would Jesus Have Done During the Dirty Wars in Protestant North America or Catholic South and Central America?
Church leaders of all denominations (in nations that have been granted special tax privileges by their governments) have been dutifully denying the established facts about the soul murders committed against vulnerable children and adolescents by violent adults such as drill sergeants and pedophile priests. Protestant and Catholic clergy were guilty of not resisting Hitler’s Nazi Party early enough. And the Vatican must shoulder a lot of responsibility in the successful establishment and growth of Mussolini’s Fascist Party. And, of course, the Vatican had a large roles to play in the birth and growth of the brutal militarist, imperialistic regimes both in Germany and in the Dirty Wars in the predominantly Catholic South and Central American nations during the 1970s and 1980s.
Of course, one must ask the simple question that doesn’t seem to ever be asked of (or answered by) Christian clerical or lay leaders of most denominations. And that is, “What Would Jesus Have Done” in the war? The clear answer that even secular humanists can easily produce: It’s obvious that Jesus would have actively and nonviolently resisted all forms of violence, as he indeed did, even if it meant that he would have to suffer. He had already clearly taught his followers to refuse to participate in homicidal violence, and he would have expected them to perform righteously rather than satanically.
In my studies of the history of early Christianity, I have lamented the fact that in the early 300s, the murderous empire-builder Constantine was able to draw the church away from its pacifist beginnings. Similarly, I have also lamented the fact that now, 20 centuries after the birth of Christianity, the religion of my birth and upbringing has likewise been co-opted away from its first principles, so that apparently one can be a follower of the non-violent Jesus and still be willing to send vulnerable, easily brainwashed, historically and theologically illiterate youth off to kill and be killed—direct negating what Jesus said and did.
Doing One’s “Sacred” Duty to Serve Volk, Fuhrer, und Vaterland
In both World Wars, baptized and confirmed Germans enthusiastically marched off to what they thought were justified wars, wars fought “defending” against the threats posed by various minority or outsider groups that were accused of endangering the fatherland. Conscription laws had to be progressively relaxed as the wars progressed to include children and older men up to the age of 60 because most of the ideal-age young adult men were dead, disabled, or otherwise used up and cast aside. German men were told by their Catholic and Protestant bishops and pastors that it was their Christian duty to fight and kill for the Fuhrer, and the women were told to support the troops, the war mission, and the Thousand Year Reich by having lots of Aryan babies.
The patriotic duty for all patriotic Germans was to serve “Volk, Fuhrer, und Vaterland.” Germany, with its Prussian militaristic tradition, had a habit of waging aggressive wars that were later to be defined at the Nuremberg trials as crimes against humanity, crimes against the peace, and international war crimes. The soldier’s sacred oath of allegiance to Hitler and his killing machine totally trumped the Golden Rule of the gospels and the Christic ethical principles of love of friend, neighbor, and enemy, basic gospel truths that were rarely taught from German pulpits or in German Sunday schools. That sad reality certainly seems to be true of American churches today, yesterday, and very likely tomorrow.
Most German Christians saw no contradiction between the demands of Jesus’ gospel ethic of love, mercy, and forgiveness and the ruthless and cruel “gods” of war and wealth—and their pastors didn’t either. There wasn’t even a hint of a gospel nonviolence movement in Germany. The pacifist Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an aberration, and he came along the way too late.
German Christians couldn’t have been expected to understand the practicality of the ethical teachings of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount because it hadn’t been taught for 1700 years. They didn’t make the connections between the stories of the early Christian martyrs (who knew Jesus best) and their total refusal to engage in homicidal violence, even against their enemies. It’s likely that none of the religious books they had studied in Sunday school or seminary had talked about the demonic nature of war. German Christian soldiers, as is the case of many other Christian soldiers in other nations, may have been fooled into thinking that the presence of Christian chaplains in the military was an endorsement of war, and therefore that war was somehow compatible with the teachings of Jesus.
Going Into Battle with “Gott Mit Uns” on Their Belt Buckles
German soldiers in both World Wars went into battle with the words “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us) inscribed on their belt buckles. There was a well-oiled military/industrial/political/media complex that consistently pumped out pro-war propaganda. Perhaps these patriotic soldiers weren’t aware that the anti-war, anti-fascist, and socialist printing presses had been silenced well before either World War had started. Indeed, the liberal printing presses had been both silenced and smashed well before WWII, and the liberal journalists, editors, and publishers had been imprisoned. Given the inglorious history of Europe’s church-endorsed Reformation Wars, Counter-Reformation Wars, Thirty Years’ War, and Hundred Years’ War, Prussian militarism and universal conscription was regarded as somehow normal, even godly.
Whatever the process, Germans were well prepared to obediently follow their Fuhrer. Just as all soldiers everywhere solemnly take their oaths, pledge their allegiance to and salute the flag, obey orders (even illegal ones), and promise to fulfill their “duty to God and country,” so did German soldiers pledge their allegiance to Hitler and the swastika and to do their duty to ensure homeland security.
Failure to Exercise Their Duty to Warn Prospective Disabled Veterans
Sadly but predictably, the military and religious leaders of all militarized nations throughout history have not exercised their duty to warn prospective soldiers about the high likelihood of becoming victims of the usually permanent, brain-altering, soul-destroying, neurological disease known as “shell shock” (in WWI), “battle fatigue” and “combat stress” (in WWII and the Korean War), and, finally and more accurately, combat-induced posttraumatic stress disorder (in
Vietnam and beyond).
And so most of us sheeple vote for our representatives without knowing a thing about their susceptibility to intimidation by the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, the NRA, and the NSA, or whether or not they will accept bribes (a.k.a campaign contributions) from antidemocratic billionaires or institutions such as right-wing think tanks and megacorporations (especially weapons manufacturers, Big Banks, and Big Oil). Through our inability to directly question candidates for national office, we have already become dumbed down enough to feel impotent and uncertain about the justifiability of our nation’s current or past wars. We therefore have become, just like average Good Germans in the Hitler era, pre-emptively unified in our willingness to make murder for the state when the next false flag is waved, the next war games are scheduled, and the next aggressive war gets started.
If we want to avoid having to squirm or lie when our disappointed, justifiably angry, soon-to-be-impoverished, education-deprived, malnourished, jobless, and debt-ridden children ask us questions about what we did during America’s current wars of economic and military imperialism (“full spectrum domination”), and the on-rushing destruction and depletion of the planet’s resources, we must at least refuse to be complacent about the slaughter of our fellow planetary inhabitants that is being perpetrated in our name.
Members of antiwar, anti-imperialist resistance groups that are supporting or participating in the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street and other justice movements won’t have to be evasive when their children and grandchildren ask them, “What did you do during the war?”
Instead, they will be able to proudly tell them about their resistance efforts, which might then give them hope and encourage them to follow in the footsteps of their altruistic mothers, fathers, grandmas, and grandpas who did what they could do to stop the wealth-extractors, the polluters, and the warmongers before they could start the next war or poison the next river. Hopefully it is not already too late.