Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine, by Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger)★★★★
This book is a series of homilies that Benedict gave (mostly) in St. Peters’ Square every Wednesday in late 2007. Each homily (chapter) is a short vignette of an early church saint, with a few saints receiving two chapters, and Augustine five. Benedict is salutatory toward each of these saints, save for perhaps a few comments regarding the separatist nature of Tertullian. Benedict skillfully brings out the significance of these people to our current lives. He instructs as to the holiness and wisdom of these church fathers, traits that call all of us to adapt. A few of the saints were from the eastern desert of Syria, saints that I was unfamiliar with.
My only criticism of this work is Benedict’s inability to also instruct us as to the flaws of these fathers. Cyril of Alexandria was a most belligerent and unkind character; Origin’s speculative theology caused many including his contemporaries to accuse him of heresy, Jerome was a mean, surly character, and so on. To have flaws does not diminish one’s importance as an early church father, which must be remembered.
My criticism aside, this text has charm, and will help the Christian toward gaining a better understanding of a few of the saints who went before us. Their holiness, their steadfastness in spite of persecution and death, give us all a reminder that our faith is not a cheap faith, but rather was purchased by the blood of many of our forefathers.
Churchill’s War, Volume 1, by David Irving, 1987, 666 pages ★★★★★
This book and its subsequent volume 2, published in 2001, hit shock waves around the western world. Churchill, who, in his own words, “saved” Christian civilization, is analyzed by the author by means of consulting those who were near and dear to him, and by an exhaustive investigation of whatever personal and war records remained. Oddly, many records were destroyed after the war, probably because the Brits knew that the evidence would not be kind to them in supporting their pre-war and war actions. The existing records do not portray Churchill as the noble, selfless hero who through brilliance and fearless devotion to the British Empire gave his all to the cause. In exposing the “real” Winston Churchill, author Irving was not acting unfairly or acting out of revenge; Irving wrote a similar book titled “Hitler’s War” which was equally harsh to Churchill’s arch-enemy. Controversy will rage and many will still esteem Churchill as being the greatest statesman of the century, facts be damned. Perhaps Irving was a little off-sided in his commentary on this man, so we will let Churchill have the last word on himself. Late in 1940, Churchill went down to Dover to be entertained by the bombers flying overhead, gleeful that he had finally gotten Hitler to start bombing civilian targets (Churchill first started by bombing civilian Berlin), hoping that it would get American sympathy and their involvement in the war. Without regard to his personal safety, Churchill commented at that time “Perhaps tonight I shall be in Hell…” Churchill was off by a few years, but the statement reflects a rare instance when Churchill the inveterate liar actually seemed to be speaking the truth. If Dante were to write an update to his Inferno, the amended version would surely include Hitler and Churchill being forced to spend eternity with each other in one of the lower rungs of hell, next to Attila the Hun.
Volume 1 covers up to mid-1941, but gives a very brief account of Churchill’s early life. The focus of the text was the era between 1939 to 1941. Churchill was raised in the aristocracy with a silver spoon. Though performing somewhat mediocre in school, he excelled in the English language. He ended up as a reporter in the Boer War and was briefly captured by the enemy before escaping. Churchill’s interest in politics and war grew. During the Great War (WW1), Churchill is best known for the Gallipoli affair, a massive military blunder in Turkey leading to a great loss of British lives and materiel. This did not affect Churchill the least, and his efforts in politics remained steadfast. Churchill did have the penchant for switching sides, flip-flopping between the conservatives and liberals, siding for whatever would serve his best advantage. Though a highly effective and persuasive orator, he fell out of favor among peers in the political realm. Many lean years followed (during the 1920s and 1930s) where Churchill desperately tried to re-establish himself in politics. He lived a life of most elaborate existence at Chartwell, with multiple servants and great expenditure. His main income was through book publishing, which did not provide cash flow commensurate with his profligate lifestyle. He married an American wife and had three children, the oldest, Randolf, ended up costing Churchill dearly in the financial realm as a compulsive gambler, and he never supporting the “Churchill” political cause with consistency. Wealthy benefactors needed to occasionally bail Churchill out of crisis economic events. Churchill was a massive cigar smoker, exceeded only by his drinking habit, and all his most intimate friends knew him to be an incorrigible alcoholic who could not survive without the bottle, with brief moments of sobriety finding Churchill at his worst. Churchill rarely held the pen; almost all of his writing was while he was lying in bed with his housecoat, dictating to his secretary. This is true even of his massive multi-volume History of the English Speaking Peoples as well as the other multi-volume sets that he “wrote”.
Chamberlain was Churchill’s enemy in the British system, and as prime minister, Chamberlain behaved with the desire to keep England out of unnecessary wars. Much to the chagrin of Churchill, any effort for a benevolent solution to the “Hitler problem” was a symbol of appeasement and not strength. The empire must be preserved at all costs, and any competition for world domination was considered an affront to the British empire. Hitler had no grievance with Great Britain and no desire to be militarily involved against the Brits. Throughout the book, multiple attempts by Germany to cease and desist fighting each other and have Churchill stay out of Hitler’s affairs were clear. Churchill had no problems with other nations (Russia and Japan) engaging in power-plays; it was clear through Churchill’s writings and actions that he harbored a personal vendetta against Germany, and come hell or high water, at an enormous loss of British lives, and destroying the British Empire and bankrupting the British Empire, Churchill was going to persist. Almost sounds like Hitler, doesn’t it? Churchill made desperate attempts to return as a member of parliament to no avail as he had too many enemies, and England wasn’t interested in another war. Even with German (and Russian) invasion into Poland and declaration of war, Chamberlain remained prime minister. Without dealing a blow-by-blow account of this history, eventually, Churchill was able to oust Chamberlain and establish himself as PM. Churchill realized that Great Britain was not ready for another war, and needed to stimulate public interest into fighting the “Hun”. This demanded one of Churchill’s greatest skills, the ability to be a pathological liar. Lying to the public about the threat of Germany (even when he knew there was none), lying to Parliament, and lying to his hopeful allies like the USA, Churchill hoped to drum up the war cause. I didn’t realize this, but one of Churchill’s three greatest speeches, often quoted, “their finest hour”, occurred long before England had ever been attacked.
Churchill made a colossal blunder at Dunkirk by overestimating the capabilities of the French army, and when begged and pleaded for help from France while the German attack was faltering, Churchill refused air support and refused the deployment of troops, instructing the troops instead to run. They did so at the mess that is called Dunkirk. Thus, the “finest hour” speech was everything but England’s finest hour.
Germany was receiving iron and steel from Scandanavia. The Germans intercepted radio signals that showed that Churchill was going to invade neutral Norway in order to stop iron supplies to Germany, and so Germany wisely preempted their strike. There were a few battles on the Norwegian coast; Churchill had several Norwegian towns bombed, but ultimately had to withdraw in shame from Norway. The propaganda arm of Churchill kicked into motion, blaming Germany for invading neutral Norway, something to which Churchill wished the Brits could have beat the Germans.
Repeatedly, Churchill’s poorly made decisions and rash pronouncements should have brought him down and removed as PM; yet, his slithering tongue held him in power. Germany began to bomb strategic military targets on the English mainland. Churchill desperately tried in vain to lure Hitler into bombing civilian centers. Churchill knew from decoded Enigma signals that Hitler had absolutely no intention of bombing civilian targets, though Churchill’s public speeches were at odds with what he knew to be true. Churchill had hoped that the bombing of civilian London would bring the USA into the war, so desperately hoped that he could ultimately lure Hitler into bombing the civilian centers. Ultimately, one misguided German bomber accidentally dropped some bombs on some civilian houses, killing nobody, but serving as a justification for British reprisal. Churchill immediately ordered a fleet of bombers to hit civilian Berlin. Repeated civilian bombings of Berlin ultimately persuaded Hitler to start bombing London. This WAS Churchill’s finest hour, the joy of seeing London bombed, hoping that it would bring the USA into the war. As an aside, an example might be used to illustrate Churchill’s character, as seen in the war up until now. Imagine being in the deep south many moons ago, when the Ku Klux Klan were active. A group of KKK members come upon a n***er (dark skinned man of African origin) who is minding his own business, and wishes no contention. The KKK members begin to irritate, poke and prod, and ultimately come near to threatening the life of the poor n***er. The black man, in defense, suddenly fights back in defense, which then gives the KKK the justification for inflicting mortal harm on an innocent soul. (These events happened frequently in the south!) Churchill was that KKK man, relentlessly irritating Hitler until Hitler had no choice but to respond in defense. To think of Churchill as representing the paragon of Christian virtue turns the devil into a saint. Blessed are the peacemakers…
British losses at sea, in Greece, at Crete, and in North Africa were devastating to their economy. A fool-hearted invasion of Vichy France in Syria and Iraq led to no military advantage or great victory. The United Kingdom was bankrupt, thanks to Churchill’s war. Hitler continued to offer Britain reasonable terms, and Churchill aggressively made sure that peace offers from Germany were not known to the public. The entirety of British gold was in US hands, and Churchill sought to bargain off British islands in the Caribbean to the USA, something that Roosevelt had enough sense not to bite at. Ultimately, the USA conceded to a land-lease arrangement to Britain, though this came short of Churchill’s intention of luring the USA into the war.
An interesting aside is noted. In mid-1941, Rudolf Hess, a leading Nazi, flew a plane into England with the offer to help negotiate a peace settlement, as he was opposed to Nazi foreign aggression. Hess was held in prison, and remained there the rest of his life, dying in 1987. Much of his life was in solitary confinement. Most of his writings, memos and messages have either not been released yet to the public, or else destroyed. Sounds like GB was trying to hide something there!
The book ends with the beginning of Operation Barbarossa by Hitler, leaving more of the story to be told in volume 2.
There are great lessons to learn from this book. Government rarely ever tells the truth, and when they are the most desperate, they are probably lying the most. This book documented Churchill’s lies and deceptions on nearly every page. A slick-tongued orator like Churchill (or Hitler) should be most greatly feared. The deep state has had a long existence and knows no country boundaries. It is said that the first casualty of war is truth; this book makes it clear that this statement is simply not true, as truth dies long before the fighting ever begins; lies serve as the stimulus for an otherwise pacifist public to offer up life and limb for the cause. We knew that this was true in the Great War, when British propaganda spoke of the mindless Hun raping women and slaughtering children, exactly what was NOT happening. Present events bear witness to the “Churchill phenomenon” in Ukraine, where most of the information that we are given is highly suspect, yet leads to countless billions of dollars flowing into a needless war against a hypothetical barbarian foe (Russia). Peter, Paul and Mary were completely correct when they sang “when will they ever learn?”.
This book had the quality of generating a profuse flow of questions and reflections on how we are experiencing deja vu all over again and again and again. Politics doesn’t change, save to exceed in the corruption of preceding generations. I am left in complete bewilderment as to why people on the right adore Churchill (see for example the Hillsdale College website, where they are offering a complete lecture series on this “great” man. The link is https://online.hillsdale.edu/landing/winston-churchill-and-statesmanship I have serious disagreement with every one of their six main points as to why one should study Churchill). The blindness of the hard political right explains why the UCSA (United Communist States of Amurika) is in our current mess. Peter, Paul and Mary…! On to volume 2…
Hellstorm: The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947, by Thomas Goodrich ★★★★★
This is one of the most challenging books that I’ve read in a long time. It was difficult to speed through the chapters of this book. Each page held the earnest reader in grief and thoughtful reflection of the events of Germany at the end of the war* and the years that follow. This is not a revisionary history of the war; it doesn’t deny the holocaust or wholesale murder of “innocent” Jews. It doesn’t attempt to make the Nazis look nice or ameliorate the evil that they performed. But, it does add another layer to the evils of the war. There is a popular meme that has gone around (attempting to make a joke of the Nazis) with a Nazi soldier asking the question, “Are we the baddies?”. This book helps one to understand that when history is examined critically, it might be hard to know who really was the worst “baddie”. Perhaps the allies were the most morally culpable, explaining why we are now seeing God’s judgment on western civilization. The beauty of this book is that it is compiled of eye-witness accounts of each of the particular situations that Goodrich describes in this book. Thus, the only agenda is the attempt to give an account of the end of the war which also includes the perspective of those of German descent scattered throughout Europe.
Goodrich begins his war accounts with the firebombing of Hamburg. On July 24, 1943, long before Germany had committed any indiscriminate bombing of England, the British engaged in a massive firebombing attack on Hamburg. Before then, targets were selected (especially by Germany) as having military concern, and sparing the general civilian population. Now, the situation had changed, and an attempt to demoralize the general population through attacks on the entirety of Germany, the German public received the most hellish conditions describable to man. The toll of human suffering, of women and children, the elderly and infirm, and even foreigners who were held prisoner or otherwise detained in Hamburg were victims. It is easy to talk about firebombings, but to experience such a thing defies words, where the heat of the attack rises above 1000’s of degrees melting all in the vicinity, where the oxygen is sucked out of air letting victims suffocate should they escape the heat, and where massive windstorms then are generated by the atmospheric conditions. Eye-witnesses describe the horrors of such an event, which sadly the blind eyes of the attackers remain ignorant of. The Allied motives for such attacks were clear, in that their hatred for “Germans” had no bounds (though ignoring the fact that the British King was German!). Churchill and Eisenhower both had an unrelenting hatred for anything German and were not shy in openly admitting this, as is documented well in this book. Thus, it wasn’t the German militia or the Nazis who were the enemy, but the very German people.
The bombing of Berlin was a prolonged matter, as each square inch of the capital of Germany was bombed not just once or twice, but repeatedly, week to month on end, and long after there were no longer any standing buildings or structures. How people survived the bombings and continue to occupy the capital is a mystery.
A greater fire-bombing tragedy was brought out later in the book and was popularized by Kurt Vonnegut, the bombing of Dresden. This time the fire-bombings occurred days on end, and at a time when there was absolutely no strategic advantage to be gained. Indeed, there were large populations of American prisoners of war in Dresden who were also participants in receiving the wrath of Churchill and Roosevelt. Countless artworks and historical works were destroyed in the process. Dresden was not a military city and the west knew that. It was purely an act of blind vengeance and vengeance that someday would be returned on the English-speaking peoples of the world.
While the west was delivering its typical version of hell on the German people, the eastern front saw the Russian hordes pushing back the retreating German front. For the last 700 years the German people have been migrating eastward, much from the invitation of the Russian czar. Now, these ethnic Germans were caught in a life-and-death struggle. The Russians saw these people as no different from the invading Nazis and treated them no differently, even though they were entirely innocent of the sins of the homeland. The millions of ethnic Germans were now being displaced from their traditional homelands. Much of this was entirely supported and financed by the west, through agreements between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt.
The treatment of the displaced German people were as immoral and ruthless as describable. Many were shot point-blank, though that was usually too kind, and prolonged torture was more fitting to the Russian mindset. Women of all ages, from 8 to 80 and beyond, were raped, oftentimes abusing a young woman 20-30 times in a night. Those left to live were stripped of all of their possessions and typically died of starvation. All of this happened under the knowing eyes of Churchill and Eisenhower, who offered no appeals for restraint. Refuges from the east came under attack, and oftentimes the attack was from the west, when the Brits and US Air Force bombed boats in the North Sea which were known to contain only refugees fleeing from Russian hands.
Many military deaths occurred not only from the enemy, but from comrades, and this was true for Germany and even more so for Russia. The Germans wished so slow down the retreat back to Germany, and positioned SS troops behind the front to arrest and often to execute those moving in retreat. Oftentimes, innocent people like messengers moving back and forth from the front became the victim of these SS police. What the Germans did, the Russians did with a far greater degree, numbering perhaps even into the millions, of soldiers who were stalled or moving backward, or soldiers who were suspected of having been captured by the enemy; all experienced the same fate of death at the hands of a firing squad.
The end of the war should have been the end of suffering, yet for many, matters only became worse. This was true both from the west and from the east. Though both the American army and German army had violations of the Geneva convention for treating prisoners of war, Germany did its best to hold to the treaty. Contrary, the facts of the matter and statements from Eisenhower demonstrate a complete indifference toward adhering to agreed-upon conventions. The Nazi interrogators are oftentimes made the brunt of war movies, yet the behavior of the Americans and British after the war, in well-documented instances, make the Germans appear as school children. Starving women were turned into sex slaves for the teenaged American soldiers. The only glimmer of good behavior came from the frequent protests of the Red Cross, and the tireless and selfless work of the Salvation Army. The western allies have not a shred of moral superiority over their German brothers.
It is also noted that the suffering in the east was also in the extreme. The flow of immigrants to the west was greeted by the extreme savagery of the Russian soldiers. Typically, the front-line soldiers would pass through quickly, then the second wave of Russian soldiers coming through would engage in looting, raping, and pillaging in extreme order. Few women were left virginal. Nobody was left unharmed. Following the war, the Polish population then began to take vengeance on the German population that had done them no harm. If there ever was a situation of extreme genocide, it was to the Germans in Russia, Poland, and the Slavic countries. It is said that more citizens perished after the war than during. As an American population, we are quick to divest ourselves of this moral responsibility, yet that is not the case. Goodrich emphasizes time and again how the agreements between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were such that all the players were responsible for what Stalin did. It is like how we would treat a mob boss who commissioned an underling to perform a “hit” job. Both the underling and the boss would be equally morally charged. Such is true of Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt.
Goodrich details in the last chapter what has been considered the crime of the age, the treatment by the USA and Great Britain in their now vanquished foe. Revenge and vengeance were the themes. This was especially true of the Jews and their bitter spirit of revenge, which persists to this day. It is challenging to make a final assessment as to which nation held the moral superiority. Too often the Nazis behaved better than the Americans. When General Harris of the British Air Force was questioned as to the inhuman savagery of his bombing of Dresden, his reply was that he was only following orders. Seems like a few Nazis also offered that alibi.
Goodrich offers an epilogue that was quite moving. Germany began to rebuild, and in the absence of men, it became the duty of many women to clean up the streets and rebuild the cities. The Allies realized the Soviet threat that was now building and understood that the recovery of Germany would be in their own personal best interest. A German public that could have been justifiably revengeful chose instead the motto “Forget the past, only the future counts”. Meanwhile, their conquerors from the other side of the pond maintained the motto…
They got exactly what they deserved. We felt we were fighting an inhuman philosophy We became a force of retribution I always said that the only good German was a dead one and I still say that!
Goodrich completes the book by requesting the reader to engage in a sobering reflection as to who really held the moral high ground in World War 2. Certainly, one is left with no doubt that the USA or Great Britain cannot make that claim. This is not historical revisionism. This book calls for the act of truly grasping the moral depravity of all sides in the second world war. By not grasping this lesson, the USA is now falling prey to the eventual judgments that will result. I shudder to imagine that someday the US population might receive the same brutalities that we blithely administered to Germany. Pray that God be merciful.
*I use the word “war” in the singular as I consider World War I and World War II as the same (though second) 30 years war that haunted Germany. It was the very poor decisions and attitudes of the west toward Germany after WWI which made WWII inevitable. After both wars, the west’s inability to acknowledge equal responsibility for the war has made the west the more morally culpable for the carnage that resulted.