Rejecting War-Crime Rationales

Since the Fourth Century A.D., Christian churches have sanctified nationalism and wars rather than insist on the non-violent teachings of Jesus, leaving many misguided Christians to explain later why they became implicated in war crimes, a predicament that Gary G. Kohls says is repeating again in modern America.

By Gary G. Kohls

“What did you do in the war, Daddy?” was the title of a wonderful book written by Sabine Reichel, who was born in devastated post-war Hamburg in 1946 to Nazi-collaborator parents who were respected in their post war community but had never talked to her about what they had done during the war years.

The truth only came out during Reichel’s young adult years.

High-ranking Nazis on trial at Nuremberg

“What did you do in the war” was the dreaded question that multitudes of guilty World War II-era German parents and grandparents faced when their children and grandchildren belatedly realized that war crimes had been committed by their nation in that war and that the harsh facts which had been censored out of their high school history books.

The gaps in the history books made many German children curious about the details that had been left out and so many of them started asking unwelcome questions of those family members who had survived the war.

Some wondered about what their parents had done while non-Aryan minorities were being discriminated against. What had their parents done while the Nazi thugs were torturing and murdering the “enemies of the state” during Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich.”

Those questions usually elicited evasive half-truths from parents in their weak attempts to cover up the guilt and shame of either being active participants or simply guilty bystanders – rather than resisters – of what was obviously a monstrous evil.

In both World Wars I and II, German “patriots” (the vast majority of whom were regular Christian church-goers) enthusiastically marched off to what they thought were justified wars, wars fought defending against various outsider groups who were accused of endangering the “holy” homeland.

Conscription-age males eventually included child-soldiers and men up to the age of 60 because, eventually, most of the ideal-age young adult men had been used up. 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. The women were told to support the troops and the war mission by having babies and otherwise sacrificing for the war effort.

One’s Duty

The “patriotic” duty for all “patriotic” Germans was to serve “Volk, Fuhrer und Vaterland” in aggressive war that was later defined at the Nuremberg trials as crimes against humanity 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 never taught from German pulpits. That sad reality certainly seems to be true of American churches today and yesterday.

Most German Christians saw no contradiction between the demands of Jesus’s gospel ethic of love, mercy and forgiveness and the ruthless and cruel “gods” of war and wealth. There wasn’t even a hint of a gospel nonviolence movement among German Christians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer came along far too late.

German Christians couldn’t have been expected to understand the practicality of the ethical teachings of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. 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 that they had studied in Sunday school or seminary had talked about the satanic nature of war. German Christians may have understood that the presence of Christian chaplains in the military was an endorsement of the organized mass slaughter of war and therefore as somehow being compatible with the teachings of Jesus.

Perhaps they were fooled by the fact that German soldiers in both World Wars went into battle with the words “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us) inscribed on their belt buckles. Perhaps they were fooled by the well-oiled media machinery that consistently pumped out pro-war propaganda. Perhaps they weren’t aware that the anti-war, anti-fascist and socialist printing presses had been smashed and silenced.

Given the glorious (or inglorious) history of Europe’s church-endorsed Reformation, Counter-Reformation and Hundred-Year wars, Prussian militarism was regarded as somehow being normal, godly, perhaps even hereditary.

To illustrate how so many “Good Germans” were brain-washed into becoming accessories to murder, I include below an extended excerpt from a homily delivered by Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy at Auschwitz, Poland, on the 50th anniversary of the August 9, 1942, gassing, murder and incineration of a Carmelite Catholic nun, Edith Stein, a brilliant Jewish feminist and scholar who had converted to Christianity prior to the institution of the “Final Solution.”

She changed her name to Sister Maria Theresa of the Cross when she entered the carmel at Cologne during the early years of the war. The homily is titled “Mission of Peace at Auschwitz”

“It is a truism of Christian existence that if the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in all its fullness except as it relates to the great spiritual failures of one’s own time, the Gospel has not been proclaimed. Failure to speak and act in a Christ-like fashion in relation to the diabolical operations of one’s own age can even make Christianity an accomplice in evil.

“Silence (or its sophisticated equivalent, open-ended ambiguous moral statements capable of an indefinite number of interpretations) gives consent. The Christian Church knows this. Hence, at different periods over her 2,000-year history, she has taken a red pencil and underlined with maximal authority certain words of the Gospel which people inside and outside the church at a particular time were in dire need of facing and accepting.

“The cost for this underlining was often substantial. Yet, fidelity to Jesus’s Great Commission to the Church allowed for nothing less: ‘Go you, therefore, and baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)

“The most obvious reality about Auschwitz is that Auschwitz is about homicide. Whatever else one wants to say about Edith Stein’s death, it is, like Jesus’s death, homicide. As the 20th Century winds down, 100 million corpses of people who have been killed at the hands of other human beings bear witness to nine decades of unmatched homicidal savagery. This death toll is more than all the centuries of recorded history combined and, as of today, we are still counting.

“If the moral moment has not now come for the Church to take out her red pencil and underline Jesus’s teachings on enmity and homicidal violence and to inform her own people that they must stop their participation in the state-sponsored tournaments of homicide called war, then it is hard to see what level of demonic behavior would have to be reached for the Church to remove her people from those spirits and apparatuses of human destruction which are so contrary to all that Jesus was and taught.

“There is no such thing as a Christian military solution to the evil of homicidal violence. A Christ-like war is a lie. It is obviously not a Christ-like solution, if, instead of my child or friend being destroyed, someone else’s child or friend is destroyed.

“National military solutions without exception are willing to throw someone else’s child or friend into the flames and therefore cannot be in line with the teaching of Jesus, who would throw no one into the flames. Yet, the historical record is beyond dispute.

“Since the time of Constantine (312 CE) to this time of global radiation, Christians have been killing each other, as well as non-Christians, and have been blessed for doing so by other Christians. The Christian allegiance to the spirit and behavioral demands of state endorsed homicide has been nothing short of idolatrous.

“Over and over again the Church – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant – has permitted her sacramental, catechistical and educational systems to become part of the Pantheon of ‘myths men kill by.’

“The following excerpt from an address by Bishop Franz Josef Rarkowski, the Catholic Bishop for the German Military, who was directly responsible for the moral and spiritual guidance of German Catholics in World War II, is illustrative and utterly normal in Church history:

“’Each of you knows what is at stake for our Volk in these stormy days, and, in whatever is asked of you, each sees before him the shining example of a true warrior, our Fuhrer and Supreme Commander, the first and most valiant soldier of the Greater German Reich, who is even now with you at the battlefront.

“’We will never forget that first day of September (1939) when he issued his formal call to arms to the entire Volk. You, too, were somewhere out there … Your ears and hearts were witness to that historic moment when the Fuhrer stepped before the whole Yolk in his old military cloak of army gray. You heard his words and sensed in them your Supreme Commander’s love and concern. … Thus, the example of the Fuhrer stands before you in brilliant glory.’

“This kind of anti-Gospel catechesis and rhetoric in support of homicide and enmity can be found in the mouths of most Christian pastors wherever on this globe the Church – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant – has been established since the Fourth Century.

“Again, if the time is not here for the Church to pick up her red pencil and put an ‘X’ through all of this sham Christianity, while simultaneously underlining in red Jesus’s teachings that reject enmity and homicide, when will the time be here for her to sever her alliance in homicide with the state?

“The flames of Auschwitz in which Edith Stein was incinerated were the bitter fruit of an ecumenical Christian effort. At least 90 percent of the people responsible for the immediate operation of Auschwitz, and for the civilian bureaucratic support systems that was absolutely necessary for its existence, were baptized Christians.”

Pledging Allegiance

Whatever the process, Germans were well-prepared to obediently follow their Fuhrer; and 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.

Sadly but predictably, the military and religious leaders of all militarized nations throughout history do not exercise their duty to warn their prospective soldiers about the high likelihood of becoming victims of the usually permanent, brain-altering, soul-destroying, neurological disease known as “shell shock”( in WW I), “battle fatigue” and “combat stress” (in WW II and the Korean War) or, 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 (aka campaign contributions) from antidemocratic institutions such as right-wing think tanks and megacorporations (especially weapons manufacturers, Big Banks and Big Oil).

By 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, preemptively unified in our willingness to make murder for the state when the next false flag is waved and the next war gets started.

If we want to avoid having to squirm or lie when our 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 movement 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 nonviolent resistance efforts that might then give them hope or 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 war-mongers before they could start the next war or poison the next river.

Hopefully it is not already too late.

Dr. Gary G. Kohls is a founding member of The Community of the Third Way, a Duluth-area affiliate of Every Church A Peace Church (


3 comments for “Rejecting War-Crime Rationales

  1. timcaffery
    May 9, 2012 at 14:04

    H.D. Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, 1849, brackets added.

    “How does it become a man to behave towards this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s [or assassin’s] government also.” 

  2. May 3, 2012 at 23:36

    It me add to the above artical which might imply that the Jews were totally responsible for the dire situation in Germany found itself in after WWI. The reason for Germany’s chaotic situation was primarilly the conditons put imposed on Germany by the allied victorious powers namely Britain, United, and France. The Versailles Treaty imposed strick measures that required Germany to pay the allies raparations for the war. This alone make Germany financial situation more drastically since it lacked the financial stability to honor this agreement. Becuase of this the economic situation in Germany and in other European countries got deteriorated to the point that gave rise to radical politics such as the leftwing or rightwing politics. The Nazis were able to take advantage of this situation to win the German people over and the rest is history as the saying goes.

  3. May 3, 2012 at 23:21

    This a good article of which I congradulate you. However there is something missing and this is the real cause of the violent Nazi slaughter of 20 million Russians alone by murderous Nazi hordes besides the large numbers of massacres throughout Europe. We only hear about the German Jews having been murdered by the Nazis but hardly do we hear about the million other victims like the Russians or even the Russian Jews.The question remains on why and how did Hitler and fascism became so popular and so victorious with the German masses and what role did the United State played in the rise of fascism, Nazi fascism in particualar,in Europe in the 1920’s and 30’s. In other what gave rise to European fascism that led to a WWII. First of all we hav to considered the political situation in Germany in the 1920’s and the fact that communism was gaining ground with capitalist ruling classes in Europe deadly scared that they would be overthrown like their sister Russian capitalist class had be dethrone by the Bolshevisks in oct. 1917. Lenin had said that Fascsim is the right hand of capitalism and rightly so. When the capitalist ruling class finds itself in danger of losing it power it calls on its most reactonary elements to save her from destruction. This is what happened in Europe in the 1920s. In addition, Germany had experienced a socialist take over of Bavaria in 1919 which added to the fears of the German and European capitalist ruling classes. They by no maeans would allowed a socialist Europe to take effect by no means. So the capitalist ruling class and the German capitalist industrialists called up the Nazis to organized themselves into a poltical party capable of wining electoral votes from the German social demcracts, the socialist and Communist party both of whom contolled three forth of the Reichstag parleament. The Nazis were able to garner support from industrialist like the mighty Krupp industrial complex and others. The won the masses over with the slogan “bread, work, and country.” The dire situation German found itself in was blame on the Jews who controlled much of the banking and financial sector just as they do today in America(Goldman Sacks, Bears Stearns, Lehman Bros., Soloman Bros., Alan Greenspan,Ben Bernanke, etc..But the real manace of far as the Euroepan capitalist class and the Nazis were concerned was communism. This the real reason for the rise of fascism in Germany, Itlay, and Spain where the left political parties were very strong to say the least. The Vatican fearing the rise of socialism also gave its support to fascism and supported Hitler unconditionally. After the war the Vatican would help Nazis escape to Latin America. What roll did America industrialists played and the U. S. government played in the rise of fascism in Europe? They played a big roll for the American ruling class was also afriad of communism speading to the the American Continent. The Palmer raids in the 1920s and the McCarthy witchhunts of the early 1950s is evident of this. Any one who profess being part or haing been part of the communist, socialist, or anarchist party could not get a job in the federal government nor join the arm forces as the oath would imply. Hundreds of Aemrican companies were doing big busines with Hitler and his Nazi war machine. IMB was handling the unique census counting machines for he Nazis keeping track of the population including Jews and their addresses so that they could be apprehened when the time came and it came.General Motors was building tanks for Hitler in Berlin. Ford Motors was builing trucks in France for the Nazis. General Electric was building electrical fuses for Nazi bombs to be dropped on American troops. Standard Oil was selling oil supplies to the Nazis and to the Japanese. This was all business and war is big business with friends and foe alike.
    I recently went to a 99% meeting all they talk was about non-violent. I am not a violent person nor do I expouse violence particularly when in demostrations and protest. I know of the extent that the government and its gorrilla war machine is capable of. But we have to recognize that there is violence and then there violence. there the reactionary rightwing violence by the governemnt. Then there is revolutionary violence by the oppressed. We American celebrate the Forth of July yet the Forth of July reperesnts a violent episode in the history of this country that liberated this country from the oppressive colonail English rule. We give tribut to the Civil War becaues it liberated the Black slaves. Yet the Civil War was a very violent clash between the states that killed more than a million human beings. To say that all violence is bad is to forget and to hypocritically denied the meaning of revolutionary violence which worship without giving credit where credit is due. Working class revolutionary violence is very different from reactionary rightwing violence.Non-violence will one day be taken over by revolutionary violence for the liberation of the oppressed. Meanwhile we have to resort to non violenct methods to get the point accross to people. The corporate bilionaires will never relinguish their wealthy throne by freewill and will use their deadly military and police forces to make sure the people (99%) don’t try to attempt to bring them down from their throne.This they send their dogs (police forces) agianst the protesters (99%) to remove them from their camps and protests areas in order to put out the fire before it gets big and threaten the establish order – the order that keeps the 1% in total economic and political power.


    There is violence and again there is violence. There anti-working class reactioanry violence

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