Rudolf J. Siebert is a critical theorist from Frankfurt, Germany. Specializing in the Frankfurt School, critical political theology, and Dialectical Religiology, he is the author of over a hundred articles and dozens of books. He is an emeritus professor of religion and society at Western Michigan University, where he taught for fifty-four years. At WMU, he founded the Center for Humanistic Future Studies, as well as two international conferences: (1) “The Future of Religion” conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and (2) “Religion and Civil Society” in Yalta, Ukraine/Russia.
- Abitur: Lessing Gymnasium, Frankfurt a.M., Germany, 1946.
- Philosophicum: Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Mainz, Germany, 1948. (B.A. equivalent).
- Theological Examination: Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Mainz, Germany, 1953. (B.A. equivalent).
- M.A. in Social Work: Catholic University of America, 1953-1955.
- Staatsexamen (History, Theology, Philology, and Philosophy): Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Germany, 1957 (M.A. equivalent).
- Licentiate/Doctor of Theology (Ph.D. equivalent): Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Mainz, Germany, 1965.
In 1993, I published a book in Frankfurt, Germany, entitled Right, Power, and Love: Georg W. Rudolphi’s Prophetic Political Theology. It is a book about Christianity and a great German Catholic priest under fascism. His name was Father Georg W. Rudolphi. My father died from cancer when I was about eleven years old, so this priest became something like a substitute father for me and I experienced a lot of the things which he had to go through under National Socialism. In 1933, Father Rudolphi was like so many priests in Germany, Italy, and Spain on the Right — the far Right. This means he was a nationalist. He had fought in the First World War and he felt like all the others who came home from that misery — “cheated”! They had fought bravely, heroically, but they had lost. Father Rudolphi was one of them. In 1933, when the Bishop came to visit his parish, Rudolphi ran up the church flag and the swastika — both of them. It was only one or two years later that he slowly discovered the truth, that Hitler’s National Socialism was a swindle and that his friends were being killed, that his youth group leaders were being beaten up and so on. And gradually, in a certain sense, he converted. He became an anti-fascist and is known as such today.
When I was growing up in Rudolphi’s parish I thought that all Catholics were anti-fascists. From 1933, when I was 6 years old, until 1943, when I turned fifteen and joined the German Air Force, I was in the Catholic Youth movement. I believed that almost all Catholics were anti-fascists. Only later on, did I find out that those who resisted in Catholicism and Protestantism were a tiny minority, like one percent of the Catholic Church and one per cent of the Protestant Church. In Catholicism there was not even a “Confessing Church” as such. There were instead one percent of the priests and the laity who resisted fascism. And so, I wrote this book in order to remember them because they are so obviously forgotten. People think of the Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and Mussolini about the Concord Agreement between Hitler, Franco, Salazar, and the Vatican, and so on — but no one remembers the people in the Catholic Church who resisted. That was my beginning and I must admit that this made a great impression on me. I learned to know it at its best — and this when it prophetically resists unjust situations.
I came to the United States first of all as a prisoner of war (POW) in April 1945. I was drafted into the German Air Force when I was 15. It was customary at that time because the German troops had marched to Russia in order to fight atheistic Bolshevism. This fight by the way was also blessed by the Pope, Pope Pius XI. There was nobody at home to defend the cities, so I was among the young men, “boys really,” who were drafted into the Air Force to defend Frankfurt and other German cities, e.g. Mannheim, Karlsruh, Kaiserlautern, etc.
Life as a German Soldier
As a German Soldier in World War II, I shot down 18 British and American bombers. When I was first drafted, I refused to go — I stayed at home. I wasn’t going to fight for the Nazis, having resisted them to this point. The next day an officer came with his gun and I was taken to the airport. That night Frankfurt was firebombed. It was August 1943.
The Allied bombers dropped incendiary bombs and the old city of Frankfurt burned. The damage was extensive because the little houses in Frankfurt were made with wooden beams covered in tar. People burned to death in the streets as a fire storm swept through the residential district. The next morning, I saw the whole thing. This became, then, for me the only time I was to have a connection with fascism.
I considered the deliberate firebombing of civilians to be against the Geneva Convention. It was unethical and immoral. I had learned from Father Rudolphi and others that what was done and being done to the Jews was a horrible crime, a war crime. I hold this position up to this day. I don’t make a secret of it and sometimes, when I am asked to give a guest sermon, I refer to it.
Several years ago, for instance, I was asked to give a sermon in a Methodist church and an old man came up to the pulpit and he said, “You know I flew missions over Germany, and I bombed Frankfurt.” I said, “Well, you were very lucky that you came back.” And he said, “Well, whenever we came to London, we were briefed on what we had bombed.” Now this is technically impossible because Americans bombed during the daytime while the British bombed at night. During the daytime, the Americans flew about 10,000 feet high but when they bombed, they came down lower that 10,000 feet, low enough so that they could see if it was a factory, railroad, or residential street. They knew exactly where they were and to what position they were bombing. The same thing was true for the British at night. They had their screens and they put their lights on in all four corners and then unloaded their bombs from Beethoven Street, over to Mozart Street, and then Hegel Street. They never bombed the Cathedrals.Not because it held some religious significance for them but because it could be used as a marker for the next aerial bombardment. And the same thing happened in Munich, Hamburg, and every other major city in German during World War II. There cannot be any doubt that this American veteran, or any other veteran of the Air Force during WWII for that fact, knew exactly what they bombed. Recently, the Canadian veterans protested against a film and a book, The Valor and the Honor, which mentioned that they had bombed civilians. The whole thing is not that the American veteran lied to me or that it was hypocrisy; it was simply that you fly into foreign territory, which is very dangerous, you risk your life, which makes you a hero for your nation, you are fighting against fascism, you think you fight righteously. If there ever was a “just war” then this war against Hitler was it. But at the same time, you use means that which are outlawed by the Geneva Convention. The veteran cannot remember how he violated the Geneva Convention any longer. Thus, this veteran can live with himself. But forgetfulness is exile and remembrance is redemption!
I was in the German Air Force as long as there was petrol and planes to fly, but by the late of 1944, there was nothing left to fly, so I was put into the infantry. I became a Lieutenant and was trained to go to Russia. The life expectancy of a German Lieutenant in Russia was about 6 weeks. So that’s why the winters here in North America don’t bother me much because I was trained to go the Eastern Front.
When I finished my training at the officer’s school in Büdingen, Germany. General Patton had pushed through Worms at the Rhine River and though Aschaffenburg and Würzburg at the Main River and then toward Berlin and there was a big hole in the front — nobody was there because nobody expected it. So, I fought against Patton’s tank army, with my unit, as Patton and his men marched to Berlin. I surrendered to officers of Patton’s army and to the Canadian officers who were connected with it. I was seventeen years old and it was 1944.
Life as a Prisoner of War
After I had been caught, I was brought to Worms and was put into a huge camp with about 20,000 men. It was cold and we had nothing to eat for about a week. It wasn’t anybody s fault. It was simply that too many people had been taken prisoner and the liberty ships couldn’t transport enough food and supplies for both the fighting American army and for the prisoners. So, there was just nothing there. No food! After Worms, I was shipped in a railway car for the transportation of animals to Marseille, and on the way there I was stoned by the French. I was in a railway car and there were these holes where the prisoners could put their heads out to catch some fresh air. Passing a French railway station, the French threw stones and I was hit and knocked unconscious. A Protestant minister gave me the last water he had, and this has always made me friendly towards Protestants. I thought his action was heroic. From this experience, I became an ecumenist.
Then I was in a camp in Marseilles — an American military camp. Every day, one hundred POWs gather little stones on the beach and then another hundred prisoners came out and spread the stones again in order to keep us busy. One day I left my underwear on the line to dry and my bible in the tent and marched out with one of those groups of a hundred men and we never came back. We marched to another camp in Marseille. We were put on a ship the next morning and brought to Oran in North Africa and from Oran, after three weeks, to Norfolk, Virginia. On the way, we met German U-boats. We, the prisoners, were put up on deck, in a line, so the U-boat Commander could see through his periscope that we were there and wouldn’t shoot. They didn’t want to shoot anyway — they wanted to go to Latin America because many of the fascists went to the Argentine, towards the end of the war. They had many friends there. So, the U-boats were just on their way south and they had no intention to fire upon us. It was the last days of war, in 1945.
When I arrived in the Naval Station at Norfolk, Virginia, the war was over. I was booked into Camp Allen. When I walked through the doors of the camp with my comrades, we met a High German officer in his Africa Corps uniform and an Iron Cross (first class) on his chest. He was the cousin of Colonel Stauffenberg, who in the past year had made the last assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler in the Wolfsschanze, East Prussia. But unlike his cousin, our officer was very much a committed fascist even after the war was over. As a matter of fact, he did not believe us when we told him that the war was over and that most German cities were bombed out up to 80%. He shouted at us for not having fought better to defend the Fatherland.
The night after I had arrived at Camp Allen, the fascist prisoners sentenced a comrade to death in the name of Adolf Hitler, who by that time had already committed suicide in Berlin. The prisoner was sentenced to death, by his own German comrades, because he had talked with the Secret Police — more precisely with a Jewish Secret Policeman — outside the camp after coming home from work in the harbor. For that, there was the death penalty. So that gives you a picture of the whole atmosphere in the camp, it was still very fascist.
Some of the Jewish Secret Police had emigrated from fascist Germany at the last moment of the first phase of the Final Solution, like my Canadian friend Gregory Baum, for instance who still emigrated in 1938. However, most of those Jews had left Germany already — in 1933, 1934, and 1935 — in order to come to the States, and then had been drafted into the American Army as soon as the war broke out. So, they now were American army officers.
The fascist POW executed this comrade by putting his head into a toilet and drowning him. When the American Camp Police came in nobody had seen or heard anything. This was the spirit of the camp. Many of the prisoners were still committed fascists, true fascist believers to the very end and beyond. There was still much fascist solidarity among the prisoners — particularly against the non-fascists, not to speak of the anti-fascists. Fascism is a very powerful, almost biological thing.² There was a time, in my youth, when I though only the Germans, Italians, and Spaniards could become fascists. I now know that every nation can fall into such a terrible temptation in a time of crisis. To be a fascist means to be committed to what the Schopenhaurians, Nietzscheans, Wagnerians, Spenserians, and Adolf Hitler called the aristocratic law of nature: the law according to which the stronger organism, individual, class, corporation, nation, or race has the right to exploit and sacrifice the weaker one for its own self-preservation. Fascism is the exact opposite of the Messianic law of the Jewish and Christian prophets: the lion, which eats straw rather that, the lamb. Fascism is much older, primitive, and archaic that the Messianic law. Fascism is utter barbarism.
The Secret Police
Shortly after I arrived in Camp Allen, the Secret Police were conducting a very intense cross-examinations in which they tried to separate the fascists from the anti-fascists. Since these Secret Police were mostly Jews who had more or less recently come from Germany, they knew Frankfurt, for example, better than I did. And so, in their cross-examinations they would encircle prisoners and say, “You were in this and that unit in Poland at this and that time, you drove a truck.” They would continue, ‘In that truck, you transported Jews to that quarry near that village where they were shot or gassed in vans.’ The Secret Services information was very precise. By putting things together like this, they finally knew what you had done before and during the war. If you were categorized as a fascist and/or a war criminal, you would be sent to England or France. There you would work in coal mines for several years or clean out mine fields in Normandy where the maps to the location of the land mines had been lost and thus people were blown up again and again, or things like that. Or you were categorized as an antifascist, as it happened to me, you were sent back to ruined Germany in order to democratize it.
The Jewish Secret Police knew all about the underground Catholic Youth Movement in Frankfurt, to which I had belonged. They knew that we had helped many Jews hide from the Nazis. Of all religious groups in Germany, the Catholics had the best record in helping the Jews. The Secret Police knew about our efforts to spread the mimeographed sermons of Bishop Graf von Galen in Münster, which criticized the concentration camps together with the Allies saturation bombing of open cities. They knew that the Gestapo came to our homes looking for those sermons and severely punished those who had them or were distribution them. When the Secret Police had made all the connections (had it all mapped out) I was set free.
In the POW camps, the officers didn’t have to work. Nevertheless, as an officer, I volunteered to work. I wanted to be productive. Thus, I worked in a cafeteria in the harbor of Norfolk and fried hamburgers and cheeseburgers for American soldiers and their girlfriends after they came from the movies at night. One night I was caught, putting hamburgers into my pocket in order to take them home to the other prisoners. My comrades were somewhat hungry after the food had been less plentiful after the end of the war and after the fall of the German government. Needless to say, I was fired! But then I was reemployed, I drove a little truck in the harbor and transported boxes from ships to trains or vice versa. Whenever a box fell down and broke open, the content belonged to the prisoners. It was a matter of honor among prisoners, in a certain rhythm, to let some boxes drop for the poor comrades in the camp. I turned into some kind of a Robin Hood. Now, instead of stealing hamburgers, I let boxes drop and took the contents to the comrades in the camp. I must say to the honor of the American Army, and particularly of the Military Police of Camp Allen, that I was never punished for being Robin Hood except by being moved to another more productive job.
After officially having been categorized as anti-fascist, I was sent to the camp library to work there for a short time. Soon after, I began to study economics and political science with professors from Harvard and Yale and other American Universities for six months without any barbed wire. When we argued with our professors that Germany was a country without space, they told us to build skyscrapers and plant potatoes on top of them. In general, I thought that the teaching was not very realistic considering the real situation, that being, Germany was between the East and the West. But all was meant well. The professors really wanted to help. I was trained, so that I could go back home to Germany, and help democratize Germany.
The Russians trained some 20,000 anti-fascists, mostly from the Paulus Army, for East Germany. The Americans trained some 20,000 anti-fascists, mostly from the Africa Corps, for West Germany. There were altogether 3,000,000 German prisoners and 100,000 Italian prisoners in the United States during and shortly after the war. The enlisted POWs worked mostly on farms in nearly all of the lower 48 states. Remember, this was before Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the United States. In general, the officers and enlisted POWs had a very good life in the American prisoner of war camps. However, after Hitler’s government fell and the following Dönitz government was not recognized by the Allies, things changed but the food was still much better in the American camps than in Germany or in European camps at the time.
My Return to German
In February of 1946, after I completed my training, I was sent by train to New York, from Norfolk, and then shipped back to Europe. However, on the way back to Germany the State Department made a mistake. The liberty ships, on which we were being transported in, had only numbers — no names! Well, somebody mixed up the numbers so the liberty ship with the fascists and war criminals went home to Hamburg and the ship with the anti-fascists (that I was on) went to Le Havre. From Le Havre, we were transported by truck to Bolbec. In Bolbec, the Americans had built a prison camp for former SS troops.
At that time, the Allies did not yet make a distinction between the SS who were the elite troops and commandos of the German army and the SS who worked in Special Services (SS-Totenkopfverbände) for the concentration camps. In this camp, the majority of the POWs were elite troops who were used primarily against Russia tank troops. When we arrived in the Bolbec camp, we naturally said we were anti-fascists. The American officer in charge said, as he played with his dog, “Of course, all the Germans here are anti-Nazi, I have never met a German who was a Nazi.” He took everything away from us that we had received in the States. We were given these huge seas sacks full of cigarettes (mostly Camels), chocolate, underwear, etc., to use as trading material to get what we needed from the black market in Frankfurt. The US government knew, of course, that if we were to promote democracy in West Germany we also had to eat. Anyway, when I came into the Bolbec camp, I was put in a tent that was half under water. There were two corpses in the tent, their stomachs swollen. These were young men, sixteen or seventeen years old, who had not volunteered for the SS but who had been drafted into the SS in the final years of the war. Now food was in short supply in the camp and the SS POWs were very hungry. Thus, they did not mention to the camp commander that they had two dead bodies in their tent because they wanted to keep the dead men’s food rations for themselves. The daily rations were so small that my new bunkmates were starving to death. The dead men remained with us, in the tent, for quite some time.
I was in the camp for three weeks. During the war, I had never been so close, for such a long a time, to the SS. In the camp, things did not get better during my stay. French doctors came into the camp and saw how healthy and well fed the anti-fascists where. From that point, we were ordered to either work deep in French mines digging out coal or to remove the mines from Normandy. Remember, there were no maps to the locations of the mines. Thus, in certain intervals, the prisoners who tried to dig out the mines and touched them the wrong way were blown into the sky. I promised myself that after my release from the Bolbec camp and after my return to Germany, I would report this treatment of prisoners to the American authorities. I did but nothing came of it. I didn’t receive a hearing. I’m sure the rationality used by those who heard my claim was something like ‘What does it matter, they all were SS.’ Even after almost 50 years, the story of this whole affair has never really been told or investigated. All of it was against the Geneva Convention, just like the criminal behavior of many of the SS. Where the Golden Rule is missing there is no culture but only barbarism.
After three weeks, the notice came from Washington D.C. that a mistake had been made. We, the anti-fascists, were taken out of the camp and the camp commander had to give us our sea bags back. But of course, all the chocolate and cigarettes were gone. We just got back some underwear, too short, too long, or whatever. We were then shipped back in railroad wagons for animal transportation through Paris and eventually to Heilbron Germany and Frankfurt. Here I started my work as a journalist and completed my abitur. I began my university studies in critical theology at the universities of Frankfurt, Mainz and Münster. I supported myself not only as a journalist but also as a miner in the Ruhr area as an automotive worker with Opel in Rüsselsheim, and as an employee of the Frankfurt Chamber of Commerce. At the same time, I worked for the American Military Government and the American Army in order to help democratize that part of Germany, which was soon to become the German Federal Republic. Soon the Russians founded the German Democratic Republic. The establishment of NATO was followed by the founding of the Warsaw Pact. It began the so-called cold war between the former Allies. The Nuremberg Trials were broken off. The Germans were needed to win the cold war, even if they were old fascists.
Collective guilt is a very archaic type of a concept. In Ancient Greece, for instance when somebody of the city-state did some crime the whole city was responsible. I mean there was no alternative to this. Now, through Socrates of Athens and through Jesus of Nazareth and their emphasis on personal conscience, the concept of collective guilt has to be relativized in a certain sense. I do not think, for example, that all Americans are responsible for the wars in Vietnam, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, or Iraq. Certainly, those who decided, who wrote, who expressed their consensus are guilty while those who were opposed to these involvement’s are not guilty. I think in a certain sense, that my Pastor Rudolphi was guilty for having believed in fascism, no matter how briefly. Of course, these people had no critical theory of society whatsoever. You have to think of what is available in order to get a clear picture of what is happening. When Father Rudolphi put up the swastika in 1933 he became guilty. But then somebody can convert, of course, and can take an opposite type of view. He atoned for his mistake. Others did not.
I think a lot of Germans were never really converted. I mean, up to today, you find large percentages of Germans who want to have a “little Hitler.” They don’t want to have a Hitler who marches into Russia or into Yugoslavia but a Hitler who cleans up the railway stations from drug addicts and homosexuals: who cleans up the foreigners, Turks, Gypsies, Jews; who makes Germany “German” again.
This nationalist feeling, again, is there today — this was here all the time. The Germans had been told, by other people, that they were guilty and so on. But many of them have not really believed this or accepted it. I gave a speech in April 1993 in Frankfurt and some old fascists came up and they said, “They talk about our guilt all the time but they themselves are guilty. We should march into Croatia again and free the Croats from the Serbs. We bombed Belgrade in 1941 and we should do that again and we shouldn’t actually be embarrassed about all these things that our government once did,” and so on. And there are many Croats who say the same thing — they want the Germans to come back again and bomb the Serbs back into the Stone Age. The Germans are responsible for this present Yugoslav catastrophe once more. They pulled in the European Community (EC) finally. They never pulled in the United States. President Bush resisted the whole thing. But the EC certainly went along with it and this is how the whole terrible disaster in former Yugoslavia started. The Germans wanted to get the one million Yugoslavs out of the Germany and let them work in Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, etc. instead, that was cheaper. The Germans recognized the new states without securing the minority rights. That is how the Yugoslav civil war came about. I returned to Germany after the war and did my democratization work. Then in 1953-1954, I came back to the States as an exchange student for a leadership program at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. I completed my master’s in social work while I was there. I also met my wife Margie (Nov. 12, 1929-1978) who as an American living in Washington, D.C. and also studying at the Catholic University. Then I returned to Germany and continued my work there up to 1962, when I came to the States for good.
Living in the United States
In 1962, at St. Agnes College and Loyola College in Baltimore, I landed my first teaching and research assignment. After three years, the question arose “should Catholic teachers stay in Catholic schools, or should they go out into the wide world and be the salt of the earth to these places” As far as I was concerned, the Baltimore Jesuits decided that I should take a teaching and research position in the Department of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan where a Jesuit was teaching already. In 1965, I went to Michigan with my growing family — we had six children at that time — and so I thought I would work for this Jesuit, Father John Harden, in the Department of Religion. Together we would represent the Catholic section. But when I came to Kalamazoo, I found out that Father Harden was to be fired. He was a Jesuit and, they argued, as a Jesuit he converted people. He was the first priest paid by a State University. The project miscarried maybe because of his character. He certainly was very conservative man. However, he also was a rather decent man with good intentions as well. I don’t think it was only a personal matter; it was also that the Department was making the move from theology to the comparative study of religion. It separated itself more and more form theology. Father Harden was definitely a conservative theologian no matter how much he dealt with comparative religiology. So, theology fell by the wayside, in the Department, and finally disappeared completely. There was the First Amendment of the Constitution, but there was also the orientation of some of the teachers that were anti-theological — theology understood in a very narrow confessional sense; Father Harden had to go. It was a very painful thing for him. I had not expected it. I stayed on as the Catholic representative but engaged in the critical theory of religion in a Department, which was now completely changed its outlook. There was no confessional representation at all anymore — Jewish, Catholic or Protestant — but instead history, psychology, sociology, phenomenology, and philosophy of religion. I took over the sociology and psychology of religion in the form of the critical theory. Others taught the history of the different world-religions or the philosophy of religion. The approach became a completely secular one and Father Harden did not fit into this script and that was one reason why he had to go.
McGovern’s Campaign Manager
In 1969, I became George McGovern’s campaign manager for the third Congressional District when he ran for the Presidency. I saw George as a Mid-Westerner who represented great decency. He tried twice for the presidency. The first time I was his campaign manager for this district — gave speeches for him, organized rallies, collected campaign money, and so on. At the same time, I was also connected with student youth movement — Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). I was the liaison person between Western Michigan University and the SDS. I have a huge police file about all the speeches I gave in the 1960’s and 1970’s. When the Supreme Court decided that it had to be released, I went and picked it up. I went to the State Police Post in Paw Paw, Michigan and got it. I have it all at home, but the names of my informers were all crossed out.
I have kept in contact with George McGovern. He bought a motel and went bankrupt I’m afraid. Most recently he also lost his daughter, Teresa, in a terrible accident. It’s really sad. George was pushed out of office by a neo-conservative group with lots of money. I was engaged in active politics for only a few years. I would be engaged in politics much more if there was a fair chance to do some good. We had such great hopes during that first McGovern campaign. The whole summer I really thought it would be possible that George could become president. But people were afraid McGovern could not govern in the political jungle. He was an intellectual! He had his Ph.D. in history. He was a Methodist minister! He was too good a man. He had theological impulses! Politics was not mere business for him.
The early sixties were a very hopeful time. However, one year after I came to the States John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Then Robert Kennedy came to Kalamazoo — he lost his shoe here — and we had connections with him and then in 1968 he was shot, just months after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. Our brother in humanity, Malcolm X, after he left the Nation of Islam, had already been murdered in 1965. All the brilliant liberal leadership was annihilated. It was easy for the neo-conservatives to get a good start. The neo-conservative period could never have started if they had not cleaned up the progressive leadership first.
By the end of the 1970’s, the banner of the far Right, of the philosophical and political spectrum, was being carried by the counterrevolutionaries: the conservatives, the neo-conservatives, and neo-liberals. Most of them were either disgusted Roosevelt liberals (like Ronald Reagan, Father Charles Coughlin, etc.) on the one hand, or disgusted Marxists like Bataille, Castoriadis, Derrida, Foucault, who gave birth to Deconstructionism and Post-Modernism, on the other. This resulted in two right wing movements. These counterrevolutionaries meant to continue and promote the economic modernization of the world, i.e. Globalization. But the cultural modernization would be stopped; i.e., the bourgeois, Marxian, and the Freudian enlightenments.
Present day German neo-conservatism is a little bit different because it comes from Carl Schmitt. Schmitt was Hitler’s court jurist and political theologian. Until 1945, he was a highly honored man. Schmitt stated, four weeks after the war came to its end, that this is the time to forget and forgive. He was part of a government that was responsible for the death of 50 million people and he wanted to forget and forgive. Nevertheless, the neo-conservatives in Germany took up Schmitt and he has become the real founder of their school. Some of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger’s statements about how the Catholic Church should function come from these sources — from Schmitt and his neo-conservative followers. Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger are part of this German style of neo-conservatism. The American neo-conservative school doesn’t have these deep philosophical roots; the unholy alliance of Jesus and Thomas Hobbes.
The German neo-conservatives defined religion as a contingency-experience-management system which means that it should not be a wisdom religion like Taoism; it should not be a mystical religion like Hinduism and Buddhism; and it should not be prophetic religion like Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Because, if you have wisdom religion people say, “this is not a very wise society”; if you have a mystical religion then people go in to their own inner world and say ‘to hell with this outside world of economics and politics;’ and if you have a prophetic religion then people want to intervene into these injustices of society. All that is very disturbing for capitalist society. It is an un-wisdom, un-mystical, un-prophetical type of a religion which the neo-conservatives want; If you get your cancer diagnosis then you want to have a priest, to hold your hand or give the last blessing or whatever. That is what religion should do according to the neo-conservatives. Otherwise it should stay out of family, economics, and politics. It doesn’t matter whatever the contingencies are. In any case, religion must function as a contingency-experience-management system — as a system of integration and equilibration. Wherever society splits — between old and young, between men and women, between the classes, between the races, and so on — the religion has to put holy water on the split. When President Kennedy or his brother was killed you needed nine bishops to come in order to integrate, equilibrate, normalize, and manage the tensions.
This is the neo-conservatism concept and with this all the hopes that Kennedy or McGovern had inspired went to pieces. This is the reason: I never found any political movement with which I could connect myself. Joining any political movement would have meant conformism to the status quo. For a moment we could believe two years ago, that maybe president Clinton could end the neo-conservative period. But since the November election of 1994, we know that the “conservation revolution” continues. We do not even need the Speaker of the House to tell us so.
The Global Violence Continues
Some of my friends were direct interventionists, for peace, in parts of Nicaragua and El Salvador, but such interventions were very small. The killing continues in El Salvador even still today. My friends and I went on television in Michigan and elsewhere, every week, before and during the first Gulf War and argued against the war. I argued that none of the Seven Points of Augustine’s just war theory were fulfilled, meaning that first Gulf War was unjust. President Bush used the phrase, just war, but never went into the detail why he considered it was a just war. He simply said it was a just war. The Episcopalian bishop for the White House went to the President and told him it is an unjust war. The President said, “Well Bishop I respect your opinion, but I have another opinion.” The President got Billy Graham – who obviously is for the establishment – and Graham gave his blessings to the whole thing. But 500 Catholic bishops resisted, only nobody heard of them. So did 26 member churches of the World Council of Churches. But it was all in vain.
In the end, there were two hundred thousand dead Iraqi men, women, and children, all non-combatants to a large extent, in Basra and Baghdad. Whenever we came to that point – the point of Augustine’s program that states there must be assurance that no non-combatants would be killed, or as few as possible, the military assured us all the time: ‘we will not kill any civilians.’ And then what comes out in the end? A revelation that 200,000 men, women, and children have died. Either they are not good soldiers because they cannot aim straight: they aim in one direction and then shoot somebody else. Or, if they have aimed at all those innocent victims, then they are war criminals. Overall, there was not much standing up of the Catholic, Christian, or Religious left. Or at least it was not very effective. The victims are dead! Obviously, there were some people who supported the idea of peace but, otherwise, it was a rather lonely endeavor I undertook, every week, on the television, on the radio, in churches, and in the universities.
I think the Christian left has gotten weaker and weaker the longer the neo-conservative period lasted outside and inside the Church. In the first half of the 1980s, I taught at the Maryknoll Mission Institute who sent missionaries to El Salvador: some of them were murdered down there. Well, two of those sisters were student of mine at the very beginning of my teaching activity in Maryknoll. Sometimes I went to Maryknoll twice a year. At that time, the neo-conservative period had already started outside and inside the Church. But Maryknoll stayed on it prophetic, critical course much longer than many other religious or secular institutions. There were threats, there were martyrs, and there was a withdrawal of financial support. I admired greatly the Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters for their critical and heroic prophetic spirit at that time.
But by the middle of the 1980s, the neo-conservative wave caught up with Maryknoll as well. Critical theorists like myself were no longer invited. To be sure, the Maryknoll Mission Institute remains open until today. But the program does no longer express the same critical spirit as it did before the 1980s. Recently, the Maryknoll Sisters closed their Rogers College. According to the Sisters, it did not “go under,” but they chose to close it because of other available resources. Later, the Maryknoll Fathers closed their once overcrowded priest seminary. To be sure, the turn to the Right in the Church and Cardinal Ratzinger are a continual source of frustration for at least some Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters. However today, Sisters are no longer willing to pass on a critical article or book to their library, because there is no point in raising someone else’s blood pressure. Still in the early 1980s, the Maryknoll library was full of critical blood-pressure-rising books and articles.
Similarly, in Kalamazoo, there was Nazareth College (1871-1992) and I worked there with the St. Joseph’s Sisters into the early 1980’s. But then there came that trend all through the Church toward the Right from the Pope and Cardinal Ratzinger trickling down. It also swallowed up Nazareth College. I was invited less and less. Other critical people experienced similar things. My contemporaries and myself continued to be invited into Canada and all over Europe, but in the States, that became more and more difficult and rare, but now Nazareth College in Kalamazoo is also dissolved. In any case it does not pay to be uncritical and to simply conform to a society that reproduces itself antagonistically through separation and alienation, and not to try at least to bring to it that what it is missing most: universal, i.e. remembering, present and anticipation solidarity of course without loss of personal autonomy.
I discussed this question of Right-Left polarization with Hans Küng when we were together the last time in Wroclaw, Poland. I said Hans, you know people are talking about a schism, not only in the States but also in Germany, and he said that he would not be for it. Hans is more like Desiderius Erasmus than like Martin Luther. But I would say the same thing. I would not go along with another schism. It does not make sense to me to bring up all those things once more. Let’s fight the issues through to the last, inside the Church, and let’s not split it up once more! To have another American “Second of Third of Fourth Reformed United Catholic Church” among the 900 churches, denominations, sects and cults we already have does not make sense to me. I do not think that there is any future in this. It seems to me that the Right and the Left are pushing each other mutually into the most extreme positions so that both of them say things sometimes, which they don’t really don’t want to say, and which sooner or later they must certainly regret to have said and there is nobody there to mediate. The center does no longer hold! The Papacy itself is too committed to one side to the Right. Carl Schmitt’s influence remains too strong in the leadership of the Church: a blasphemous conjugation of Christianity and bourgeoisie.
In March 1975, I gave a paper for an international course on “Phenomenology and Marxism” at the Inter University Center for Post-Graduate Studies (IUC). It’s something like an international university under the guidance of UNESCO. Academician Ivan Supek is the founder of the IUC. He is a quantum physicist who had studied under Heisenberg. Under Tito, he was supposed to build “the bomb” for Yugoslavia but refused to do so. He is also a great poet. Over the years, we became very intimate friends. Sometimes people can unfold their humanity so beautifully — in other people it remains so terribly crippled. It’s an unjust situation that some can bring out so much of their humanity and others have such a hard time to do so. Often, this is due to bad circumstances. Anyway, Ivan Supek is one of those people whose humanity is beautifully unfolded. Supek was Fellow and President of the University of Zagreb but never a communist — always a humanist. For hours and hours, we sat and talked with each other; this wonderful man, who understood the history of Yugoslavia and its old great humanistic and religious traditions and its suffering. Well, eventually, Ivan and others like him invited me to introduce a course which was called “The Future of Religion.” Together with my late wife Margie (October 20, 1978), I founded and directed an international course on the “Future of Religion” in the IUC with the generous help of Western Michigan University. I prepared for two years and gave the course for the first time in 1977 and from there, every year since — even during the Yugoslav civil war and the bombardments of Dubrovnik.
I am making preparations to go there again in April 1996 and to direct the 20th international course on the “Future of Religion”. Every year we discuss a different facet of “The Future of Religion” and subject for that year is reflected in our sub-title. The sub-title in 1996 was “Religious, Ethical and Legal Attitudes toward War-making, Peacekeeping, and Peace-making.”
For the Eastern Europeans this is the best thing that could happen; that they would develop some free market system and some form of parliamentary government. It is certainly better than going into the streets and shooting each other. However, I do not think that Francis Fukuyama’s liberal democratic society is the last society and the end of history. We could, for instance, end up in fascistic barbarism. Even Fukuyama sees this. I think that Fukuyama knows very well, even as a Hegelian on the Right, that other systems came to an end through their inner contradictions: e.g. slave holder, feudal, capitalist, “really existing” socialist societies. The contradictions in the modern liberal democratic society are simply too great in order for it to be stable forever. This society reproduces itself antagonistically, i.e. without solidarity, through money, power, force, and the antagonisms between the classes. Many may not see the class antagonisms but doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Not even the welfare-state-class-compromise resolve the antagonisms between the classes. The contradictions between producers and consumers, owners and workers, luxury and misery, the rich classes and the poor classes, men and women, man and nature, the scared and the profane, personal sovereignty and universal solidarity are enormous. A system like this cannot be stabilized forever — you cannot always patch it up or whatever. Eventually, it will move beyond itself.
Today the distance between the individual actor and the highly cybernetic economic and political sub-systems of liberal democratic society becomes wider and wider. You can almost say that the more complex these economic and political systems become the greater becomes the distance. This is then emotionally expressed in a feeling of powerlessness and despair. It is simply a fact that one has to recognize before one can act communicatively. This is especially so in foreign policy because it is often so secret that the individual actor does not even know where in God’s name he is! Also, foreign policy decisions must often be made with great speed. In ex-Yugoslavia or Eastern Europe in general, I can only go as far as to say things that are visible. But even there you step into darkness. At the moment in which I delivered, for the fourth time, relief money and medicine to the Croats in Dubrovnik — thousands of dollars’ worth — in the next city of Mostar, these same Croats were slaughtering Muslims. You become guilty when you do something. You also become guilty when you do nothing. In other words, no action is an action.
From Belgrade to Dubrovnik
I was in Dubrovnik shortly before the civil war started. I was stuck in Belgrade because YAT Airlines was not flying any longer. A strike had stopped it. I was a whole week in Belgrade. During that time, I lived in the YAT Hotel, right opposite of the very busy but still, federal headquarters of the Yugoslav Army. I called the American Ambassador for help, protection, and direction. He was more depressed than I was. He said I had to leave the country as fast as possible because the civil war was coming. Nevertheless, I stayed and took a night train to Dubrovnik and directed my course on “The Future of Religion” at the IUC. I went back in 1992 but I could not fly. The Dubrovnik airport was bombed out. I snuck down the coast from Riejeka to Dubrovnik airport, which took 30 hours, in a cargo boat loaded with animals that the Germans had shipped to feed the people living along the Dalmatian coast. We always went there when it was beautiful. We participated in the people’s joy and now they were suffering. They were at war. Not to go there now was not a fair thing. We certainly could not stop the war, but we could engage at least in symbolic and communicative action of solidarity.
On my trip, I was in contact with Supek. He was in Zagreb as the head of the Croatian Academy of Science. I was in contact with the IUC in Dubrovnik, particularly with its, at the time, Norwegian Director General and with the German Head of the IUC Counsel, the former President of the University of Hamburg, a Protestant theologian, and a good friend of mine, who throughout the communist period had held his protective hand over our international course on the future of religion.
I made the 30-hour journey down the coast from Riejeka to Dubrovnik with those miserable cows. They made sad sounds; they must of known it was their last trip. When I got to Dubrovnik, the Serbs were shooting from the mountains to the right and left of me. But my German military education helped save me. The German military is like one of those old saying about the Jesuits; they make something of you when you are 6 years old so that even when you are sixty years old, you’re still the same. My training told me when to take cover. But Dubrovnik was ghostly. You stand beside a man and then, suddenly, that same man is lying flat on the ground. I ask the man, “What the hell are you doing?” He responded, “Well they’re shooting, they’re shooting all around us.” And I replied, “Yes I know they’re shooting but they’re shooting too high,” but he doesn’t understand. He was not trained for it; he did not know what high or low shooting meant. He was simply a peaceful fisherman.
The city of Dubrovnik is a beautiful medieval town and it has never been conquered. It had been peacefully occupied at one time. One of Napoleon’s general asked for permission to march through the town and never came out the other side. He just stayed there and used all the monasteries for his horses to rest and feed in. They had already some sad moments in their history before. But this event is obviously the saddest one of them all. During Easter, in 1979, an earthquake struck. I was awakened from sleep by the shaking ground. Other cities surrounding Dubrovnik had been destroyed by this, but it was nothing compared to the sadness that now lies over these cities.
Permission from the Government
Every year, I needed permission of the government — Marshall Tito’s permission in the beginning — and every year it was granted. In 1978, I met Tito in the city of Splito. He was in his 80’s but he still had red hair, dyed red of course. He came in two limousines — one limousine for him and the other for his dog. His wife, Jovanka Broz, wasn’t there. Allegedly, she was under house arrest because she had conspired with Serbian officers who wanted to bring Yugoslavia back into the fold of the Soviets. But he was very friendly as we discussed our problems. The problems were these reformed communists of the Praxis Group in Zagreb and Belgrade. Tito was not against them and he explained this. It was only that all the unrest in Yugoslavia always came from the universities. What really happen was that the universities or the airlines or hotels were self-managed. But there was always a grey eminence of a politician who sat there usually controlling the finances. But these Praxis philosophers wanted everything to be self-managed, to be independent. That was the program of the Praxis Group. Tito, of course, thought that this was premature. He said these people could not come to my international course. I said if these Praxis people cannot come — we don’t come. Well, then the Praxis people could come, but they wouldn’t let the students come. Or when the students could come, then the Praxis guys couldn’t come. The purpose was to keep the students and these professors apart. Sometimes they put the Praxis professors into research institutions. Most of the time, they paid their salaries, but they never wanted them to get together with the students because their program of total self-management was premature and then the students would be upset, and they would destabilize the whole country. And Tito explained this all very clearly and there was not this Western stuff of ‘dictatorship’ or whatever. He was the peoples’ tribune in a certain sense — a farmer tribune in Roman terms. And the people loved him because he resisted Hitler, and because he resisted Stalin, and because he was an honorable non-aligned leader. Many leaders were non-aligned, so he had this massive respect outside of the country. Inside the country, the people forgave him when it came to his women, his dogs, his red hair, and all the other peculiarities of his character because they loved him and were grateful.
My Yugoslav students always told me that Yugoslavia would come apart after Tito’s death. But in our course, I never found any tensions up until 1991, when the first Croats and Serbs, inside of the course, began to rebel. A Serbian woman came in and wanted student’s signatures for a petition to free Serbs who had been put into prison by Croats without trial. I looked into the matter and finally did sign it for her, but others did not sign, and the Croats protested against the petition. At that time, the Croats also told us why they converted from socialism to nationalism to capitalism. One Croat — he was my student for a long time and later became a professor — began to argue against his old teacher, Petrovitch. Professor Petrovitch of Zagreb, a Praxis Philosopher, was one of the most honorable persons — he’s dead now — in country. A theologian from Denmark, attending the course, was terribly upset because this young man had turned away from communism, turned towards nationalism and capitalism, and no longer had any respect for his teacher, Petrovich. The young scholar made his conversion clear, by simply saying, that people are evil by nature — an old religious doctrine — and that greed is strongest virtue in men. Nationalism and capitalism naturally appeal to this greed. Therefore, nationalism and capitalism will always be successful. On the other hand, religion — Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism — and socialism, a secularized form of Christianity, appeal to the highest in men: solidarity and all the ethical values and norms it contains. But these values and norms are weaker than greed in most men and women. This is why they fail so often.
Now this was before Dubrovnik was bombed. The following year, this same fellow, the opponents of Petrovitch, witnessed Dr. Fanjo Tudjman’s move to the Right and the fascist tendencies he promoted. Tudjman became a “democratic dictator” as Yeltsin established a “presidential dictatorship.” Now, the young Croatian scholar is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party and in opposition to Dr. Tudjman’s governing party in Zagreb. He has become a little bit more sober. He has learned something from history.
I went back to Dubrovnik throughout the civil war: April 1992, August 1993, April 1994, and April 1995. We had people coming from Holland, France, Germany, England, Bulgaria, Poland, USA, Canada, etc. It was very friendly and very nice. The Serbs withdrew from the mountains above Dubrovnik behind the airport. It was open again but, of course, it’s all ruined — everything was bombed out. All the villages have been ransacked. The Serbs just drove in with tanks and took all the televisions, washing machines, etc., which these people had bought by working in Germany. Then the Germans gave 2,000 Deutschmarks to all the refugees so they can move out of the hotels back into their villages. They sit in one corner of their house and from there they rebuild the rest with the 2,000 marks which the Germans gave them. It isn’t much — it rains on them and they are freezing. That’s how they will build their lives again. I helped to take Serbs out of Ossieck and to bring them to Canada. The Canadian government was open, and the Mennonites helped. I brought medicine to the wounded and sick Croats. I had always refused to call anybody an “aggressor.” That means, I have the position of mediator to some extent. They are all aggressors, both the Croats and Serbs, in their own way. They both want to have their front lines put straight. They both committed ethnic cleansing. There is no international agreement on all of this yet. They all run into other people’s territory and shoot and kill. Reconciliation is hard!
I hope to continue to go to Dubrovnik and to direct the international course on the “Future of religion.” I hope to intensify the scholarly works, together with my colleagues from other countries, concerning the modern dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, and between personal autonomy and universal solidarity. I would like particularly to concentrate on the connection between nationalism and religion. While the three world religions situated in Ex-Yugoslavia — Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Islam — made little contribution to the humanization and democratization of socialism, they helped very much to usher in neo-nationalism and even neo-fascism. The three religions could gain the moral ground and contribute to peace, only, if they were able to retrieve in themselves their own universalistic elements, instead of emphasizing their own particularistic tendencies and thus themselves to fall victim to nationalism, and thus not to be able to solve the problem of war and peace, but rather to be part of the problem. I have become the American organizer of an IREX project on “the Diversity of Religion on the Balkan: War and Peace,” centered in Sofia, Bulgaria. I shall choose some of my colleagues in Dubrovnik — from the USA, Canada, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, etc. — to work with me ton this project. It will become very interesting. Most recently I have been invited by the Crimean Academy of Sciences, Ukraine, to organize a lasting scientific seminar on the “Future of Religion,” to take place in a hotel on the Black Sea Coast, near Yalta.
In the immediate future, I shall continue my course in the IUC Dubrovnik. I will also continue to bring relief money and medicine from the United States and Canada to all three groups of combatants in EX-Yugoslavia: Croats, Serbs, and Muslims. More important than all scholarly work is to be like the Samaritan traveler who put oil and wine into the wounds, rather than making always more wounds. We shall try to contribute our own small share to national reconciliation in Ex-Yugoslavia, the Balkan, and in Eastern Europe in general.
In 2019, Dr. Rudolf J. Siebert retired from Western Michigan University after teaching for fifty-four years. His retirement speech can be found below: