Bitburg. Ronald Reagan. 1985. It was the most devastating attack on God’s Chosen People since Hitler murdered six million Jews a mere 40 years earlier. Over the strenuous objection of our closest friend and ally Israel; in the face of an international uproar over his odious offensiveness; in spite of the stinging slap across the face of our American service men and women who had spilled their blood and laid down their lives to stop the advance of a madman and courageously preserve our God-given freedoms, Ronald Reagan goose-stepped right into the middle of a German military cemetery, apologized to the Third Reich and placed a wreath on the graves of the Nazi soldiers who had died trying to exterminate God’s Chosen People and enslave the entire world.
And for that, today’s Trump-loving Christian conservatives venerate Reagan as the patriotic saint of America and greatest friend Israel ever had.
Luxembourg American Cemetery
Five thousand American service members are buried in the fifty-acre Luxembourg American Cemetery in Luxembourg City. Most were killed in December 1944 and January 1945 in the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest battle fought by the United States during the all of WWII. The graves of the 5,000 brave American service members who gave all they had to give to liberate Europe, are located a mere 35 miles from Bitburg.
Dachau Concentration Camp
Established in a converted munitions factory in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler, Dachau became the prototype for other Nazi death camps. Liberated in April 1945, it was the longest-operated of all German concentration camps. During its 12 years of operation, over 200,000 people were interned into the camp with 32,000 documented deaths and multiplied thousands of unrecorded deaths. Dachau is a one-hour flight from Bitburg.
As the 40th Anniversary of V-E Day was approaching, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl requested Reagan’s presence for an official state dinner in May 1985 as part of the anniversary festivities. Kohl and Reagan planned for a ceremonial wreath-laying at the German military cemetery in Bitburg where 2,000 German soldiers — including 49 members of the Waffen-SS — were buried. The honoring of these German soldiers was to be followed by a more grand ceremony at the US air base in Bitburg where Reagan would give a formal speech recognizing the progress of Germany.
So as not to detract from Germany’s new image and to keep from raining on Germany’s day of glory, Kohl asked Reagan not to make any uncomfortable detours to pay respects to the untold thousands of victims of German atrocities at Dachau.
And for the same reason, on the day set aside to celebrate the liberation of Europe by American service members, Reagan would sully their sacrifice and dishonor their service by coldly and callously refusing to acknowledge by slightest word or skimpiest deed the ultimate sacrifice of the brave American men and women who died liberating Europe; the very thing Reagan was in Germany to commemorate.
Air Force One would hardly have attained cruising altitude out of Bitburg before beginning landing descent in Luxembourg.
Did you get that? The graves of the Americans who gave their all and spilled their blood liberating Europe were only thirty-five miles away from where Reagan was placing a wreath at a Nazi cemetery. And he thumbed his nose at their sacrifice, and wiped his feet on their honor, and stubbornly gave the highest honors to the very ones whose wicked hearts and obscene abominations had required the Americans to pay the ultimate price!
“Nazi” versus “regular” German soldiers
Much has been made over the distinction between the Nazis and the supposedly-less-evil “regular” German soldiers who terrorized the world during WWII. This has mostly been a move to revise history and rehabilitate the memory of the German military and has mostly missed the point. It’s like pooling money together to buy lottery tickets and then retroactively going back to decide whose dollar bought which ticket — responsibility for the atrocities can’t be retroactively separated.
The German military (Wehrmacht) was made up of four branches: Kriegsmarine (navy); Luftwaffe (air force); Heer (army); and, Waffen-SS. The latter consisted entirely of soldiers who were card-carrying official members of the Nazi Party and who fell under the joint jurisdiction of the Schutzstaffel, the military arm of the Nazi Party. So, yes, technically, the Waffen-SS are “the Nazis.” And since German law prohibited members of the other three branches from belonging to any political party, yes, technically, the others are officially “not Nazis.”
But it doesn’t matter.
From the time of WWII, the term “Nazi” has been used generally and generically to refer to the larger German military, not just to official dues-paying card-carrying members of a political party. This politically-correct dichotomy between technically-non-Nazi “regular” German soldiers and officially-party-affiliated “Nazi” Waffen-SS soldiers is a distinction without a difference. The “regular” soldiers who fought on the Russian front are as guilty as the Waffen-SS kind who turned the knobs on the gas chambers, because the “regular” kind prevented Russia from coming to the aid of the Jews. The “regular” type who kept the British engaged and thwarted the French are as guilty as the Waffen-SS type who staged mass killings of Jews, because the “regular” type provided the interference-free conditions that allowed the Waffen-SS type to slaughter with impunity. The “regular” kind who rained holy hell fire down the cliffs at Normandy and massacred thousands of brave young Americans on D-Day are as despicable as the most heinously-vile card-carrying Waffen-SS kind; there is no moral or qualitative difference. It was the collective effort of the 18 million members of the German military that created the bloody tsunami of unspeakable evil that swept across Europe; it wasn’t just one madman; it wasn’t just one small group. Others are not excused from culpability just because the label we have used generically for decades to apply to the German military technically only applies to the small group of Waffen-SS.
When it was first announced in March 1985 that Reagan would be traveling to Bitburg to honor the German dead while shunning their Jewish victims at Dachau and snubbing the American dead at Luxembourg, Reagan’s press secretary first tried to quell outrage by claiming that American soldiers were also buried in the Bitburg German military cemetery. After learning that all American soldiers had been removed from all German soil many years before, Reagan attempted to defend his unconscionable actions with the revisionist parsing of “regular” German soldiers versus Waffen-SS German soldiers, saying only 49 of the soldiers in the cemetery were the “villains who conducted the executions and all” and the “regular” German soldiers had merely been “conscripted” into service and were not responsible for the evil they had perpetrated because they were only following orders.
At a March press conference, Reagan was asked by a reporter why his upcoming trip did not include a visit to a Nazi concentration camp. Fathering the concept of political correctness, Reagan said he feared it might hurt the feelings of some of the German people:
“And I felt that since the German people — and very few alive that remember even the war, and certainly none of them who were adults and participating in any way — and they have a feeling, and a guilt feeling that’s been imposed upon them, and I just think it’s unnecessary. I think they should be recognized for the democracy that they’ve created and the democratic principles they now espouse.” ~ Ronald Wilson Reagan, Press Conference. March 21, 1985
The outcry was loud and sustained. Jewish leaders in America voiced objections and more than half of the US senators and over a hundred house members — including Republicans — sent letters to Reagan begging him not to honor the Nazis. Nancy Reagan implored her husband not to go to Bitburg. Many Jewish people pointed out that it was especially painful and hurtful for Reagan to do this at a time when so many Holocaust survivors were still alive.
A month later, under mounting public pressure, Reagan announced that a quick stop at Bergen-Belsen had been added to his itinerary for the morning before his wreath-laying at Bitburg.
Bergen-Belsen…almost three hours away. Why would Reagan refuse to go to the hour-away Dachau camp but agree to go to the three-hour-away camp at Bergen-Belsen? Because it was more politically correct for the image Kohl was trying to paint; it was the least embarrassing for Germany — it was where Jews who collaborated with Germans were sent as a reward and where Jews were treated better in anticipation of using them for prisoner swaps. Yes, deaths occurred there, but mostly from typhus in the last months of the war, when the camp became atrociously overcrowded due to transfers from other camps.
And in the most offensive and insensitive words uttered by any US president in modern times, Reagan said at a White House press luncheon on April 19 that the “regular” German soldiers “were victims of Nazism just as surely as the victims of the concentration camps.”
Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler:
“To equate the fate of members of the German army bent on world conquest with that of six million Jewish civilians, including one million innocent children, is a distortion of history, a perversion of language and a callous offense to the Jewish community.” ~ Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler. President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. April 19, 1985.
After begrudgingly placing a wreath at the Jewish memorial at Bergen-Belsen and reading an 8-minute speech with eyes only occasionally darting up from his folded paper, Reagan flew to Bitburg Air Base, convoyed over to the German military cemetery to honor the Nazi dead, then returned to the air base for the larger ceremony.
And there, as the entire world watched, Reagan awkwardly lent America credibility to the German revisionist movement. He sorely minimized the responsibility of the German military by attempting to make the war about only one man; by attempting to parse “regular” German soldiers from Waffen-SS German soldiers; by attempting to paint the “regular” German soldiers as mere victims of an ideology, no less deserving of our mourning than the people they victimized:
“The war against one man’s totalitarian dictatorship was not like other wars. The evil war of nazism turned all values upside down. Nevertheless, we can mourn the German war dead today as human beings crushed by a vicious ideology. There are over 2,000 buried in Bitburg cemetery. Among them are 48 members of the SS — the crimes of the SS must rank among the most heinous in human history — but others buried there were simply soldiers in the German Army. How many were fanatical followers of a dictator and willfully carried out his cruel orders? And how many were conscripts, forced into service during the death throes of the Nazi war machine? We do not know. … We do not believe in collective guilt. Only God can look into the human heart, and all these men have now met their supreme judge, and they have been judged by Him as we shall all be judged.” ~ Ronald Wilson Reagan. May 5, 1985. Bitburg, Germany. Excerpt from Reagan’s Nazi-Honoring Speech.
President Obama traveled to Hiroshima 70 years after the war; not 40, when evil perpetrators of atrocities and still-terrorized and deeply-hurting victims remained in large numbers — like Reagan did.
President Obama laid a wreath to honor the victims of the collateral damage which resulted when we retaliated for Pearl Harbor and took action to end the war; he did not lay a wreath on the graves of the Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor; he did not honor those who had committed the atrocities — like Reagan did.
President Obama did not try to rewrite history. He did not venture anywhere near saying that the Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor were “just as much victims” of the terrible Nazi regime that gave them the orders to drop the bombs, as the people on the ground who were killed in holy horror by the bombs raining down upon them. No, President Obama didn’t make any such abhorantly offensive statements that excused the monsters who carried out the atrocities and dishonored the memory of their victims and sullied the service and sacrifice of the brave Americans who laid down their lives to stop them — like Reagan did.
President Obama made it very clear that he was not apologizing for the US dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. His soaring eloquence was not directed to the Japanese people or the American people; he wasn’t speaking to the echo chambers of cable and social media — his transcendent message was leveled deep into the collective heart of humanity:
“My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.
That is why we come to Hiroshima. So that we might think of people we love. The first smile from our children in the morning. The gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table. The comforting embrace of a parent.
The world was forever changed here. But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and extending to every child. That is a future we can choose; a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” ~ President Barack Obama. May 27, 2016. Hiroshima, Japan. Excerpt from President Obama’s Humanity-Honoring Speech
Dear God! How I am going to miss my president!