By Gary G. Kohls
In November 2007, 85-year old law-abiding citizen Paul Henss, of suburban Atlanta, Georgia, was deported to Germany, the country of his birth. He had lived in America for 53 years. Henss had immigrated to the US in 1955 at age 33, trying to escape the chaos, hunger and deprivations of post-war Germany. Unfortunately, he had omitted informing immigration authorities at the time about the precise role he had played the war.
Henss had been caught up in the unrelenting dragnet of the US State Department’s Nazi-hunting bureaucracy. The Jewish director of the unit, Eli Rosenbaum, had decided that Henss was a genuine war criminal for having briefly trained guard dogs during the war.
Henss was born in 1922 and, by age 12 - in 1934 - he had joined the Hitler Youth, as did most Aryan boys in Germany (including Pope Benedict XVI). At age 19 he, like most German young men, had been conscripted into the military - whether willing to fight and kill for Germany or not. He was assigned to the Waffen SS and fought with the most decorated German division of the war, the Ist SS Panzer Division.
While on temporary leave during the war, Henss spent two months with a guard dog patrol unit, training guard dogs and patrolling the outer fences of two camps, the infamous concentration camps Dachau and Buchanwald. He was never an interior guard and therefore had essentially no contact with the inmates on the other side of the wire. Those two months made Paul Henss a wanted man by the Nazi-hunters as a perpetrator of a war crime that he says he did not commit.
The camps contained prisoners who were exploited mainly as slave laborers and not for extermination. Henss was not a high-ranking officer or a camp commandant who made life and death decisions by giving ruthless orders to be carried out by underlings. If he had had the powers of command, his deportation may have been deserved, but Henss had no such power. Importantly, Henss, like most German children, was a child who had been raised to reflexly obey orders. He knew the consequences of disobedience in his strict disciplinarian home and equally strict school system, and he knew that German military discipline was even harsher; and so he obeyed orders as most soldiers do – out of fear rather than love.
The question of whether or not Henss deserved deportation at age 85 or whether or not deportation could possibly make amends for the heinous Holocaust in which he had essentially no part is not the actual point of this essay. Readers can make up their own minds about that issue.
The point that I want to make is that Henss was no more of a war criminal than many Israeli Defense Force boys and girls have been involved in the killing and maiming of innocent Palestinian civilians. Henss is certainly less guilty of war crimes than the uncounted numbers of young US soldiers who killed innocent unarmed civilians or participated in the torture and humiliation of largely innocent “suspects” in Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Fallujah, Baghdad, Guantanamo Bay or in the bowels of the numerous other hidden torture/“rendition” centers operated by the CIA in various third world countries.
And, it should be obvious, Henss was far less guilty of war crimes than was Werner von Braun, the famous Nazi rocket scientist who used POW/slave labor in his missile development projects for Hitler and Goering, and who was welcomed so warmly in the post-war Project Paperclip, in which dozens of Nazi scientists with similar skills were imported to do weapons research and development for the US military. Henss was far less guilty of war crimes than was George W. Bush’s grandfather, who, along with a number of other American corporate and financial elites like Rockefeller, helped finance Hitler’s rise to power.
Unindicted fat cat war criminals getting off scot-free
And, of course, Henss was far far less guilty than the unindicted war criminals Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, the two George Bushes and their Secretaries of Defense and State (perhaps we should also include the administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in that infamous list) – and the killing operations they ordered during their reigns. Their lethal orders were made.against mostly impoverished, weak, nearly defenseless little foreign countries and their freedom fighters (aka insurgents) in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Granada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq and scores of others that the corporate power elite, who dictated policy to their politicians, regarded as threats to their power and their covetous desire to control the natural resources of sovereign nations that had oil, pipeline access, precious metals, arable land, opium and now lithium.
And, as important as it is to seek justice always, aggressive criminal indictments or courts martial of the “boots on the ground” (who do indeed have literal blood on their hands) shouldn’t be given the highest priority until those higher ups in the chain of command are simultaneously brought to justice.
So far there have been no indictments of the political ones mentioned above who have massive amounts of figurative blood on their hands for their involvement in the atrocity-producing reality of 21st century, military-enforced colonization that uses indiscriminate and highly lethal air power to “shock and awe” the victims into rapid submission (or as Hitler named the strategy - “blitzkrieig”).
The Buck Doesn’t Stop in the Oval Office Anymore
We are dealing with a glaring double standard here. Harry Truman, of “The Buck Stops Here” fame, was willing to accept the blame for blunders made by those beneath him in the chain of command. The misleaders of America during the Cheney/Bush Decade of Greed III brought the US to the brink of total financial collapse, granting massive bailouts for their partners in crime just before they shamelessly abdicated power and responsibility for the crisis that soon afterwards took the US dangerously close to an economy-destroying depression that was only prevented by more costly and very unpopular bailouts of the culprits that created the problems in the first place.
The aforementioned infamous perpetrators of crimes against humanity and crimes against the peace have done everything they could do to avoid having to face the music for their criminality and/or blunders. And now, they and their Neoconservative and Neoliberal politicians and political supporters, having successfully evaded impeachment and International Criminal Court indictments and greatly deserved jail time, are arrogantly working to return to power in the 2010 Congressional and 2012 Presidential campaigns. Without being exposed and punished, their chances of success and further descent into what can be called Friendly American Fascism are good.
For George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Karl Rove, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and uncounted others in the Cheney/Bush White House, the buck always stopped somewhere down the chain of command and never at the top. Bush et al do not have IED-induced traumatic brain injuries or combat-induced PTSD, or third degree burns or amputations or Gulf War Syndrome or prescription drug-induced suicidality or Depleted Uranium-induced malignancies or vaccine-induced Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or any of the other nightmarish post-combat realities that way too many of these “cannon fodder” troops will have to worry about for the rest of their shortened lives. These elites, just like the criminal-minded people who have sociopathic personality disorders (psychopaths), show no remorse or feelings of guilt and can sleep quite well at night, thank you. They have excellent health care coverage for the rest of their lives, and they also have nutritious food to eat, with bodyguards to protect them from the justifiably angry crowds who may gather in protest outside their gated communities or yell obscenities at them as their bullet-proof limos drive by.
All these people, plus those in the laughably-labeled “coalition of the willing” (including Tony Blair and others on the other side of the Atlantic) meet the official definition of international war criminals. But will they ever be brought to justice?
The unwritten laws that grant white-collar criminals virtual immunity from prosecution will only continue to protect them until the widespread public apathy transforms into a “take-it-to-the-streets” righteous anger. They will be protected only until all candidates for office answer to the demands of an irate electorate that refuses to tolerate, or pay for, any more wars. They will continue to be protected until the time that honest judges take the benches and call up the courage to go up against the powers-that-be that currently have tight, bought and paid-for control of all three branches of government as well as the national security apparatus.
So some governmental agencies are still wasting precious time, mind and money aggressively going after small fry such as Henss, 65 years after World War II was over, while turning a blind eye to the real perpetrators of injustice. And they try to get us to believe that justice is being done.
The spirit of Hitler appears to be alive and well
The nation that hides and protects its criminal insiders rather than investigating them, that coddles them rather than indicting them, that looks the other way rather than impeaching them, that rewards them rather than punishes them, is proving once again that the spirit of Hitler is still alive and well in that nation.
Henss, in his defense against the charges that led to his deportation, said: "I am not a war criminal, I was 19 years old … Everyone was with the Hitler Youth. I didn't commit no crimes, I didn't hurt nobody. Otherwise I wouldn't have come to the United States."
A harmless elderly man, who as a kid was only obeying orders by simply training guard dogs during his nation’s war is being deported as a war criminal, while the pathological liars - who launched two illegal, unjust and aggressive multi-trillion dollar wars, resulting in the deaths of a million, mostly innocent civilians and the maiming of millions more - are getting off scot-free.
Dick Cheney and Karl Rove et al have been received respectfully, even gleefully, by powerful right-wing dignitaries, both foreign and domestic, and are being gratefully applauded by many wealthy war profiteers who are transnational Captains of Industry. These wealthy elite still support them and contribute to the candidacies of many other disgraced Bush supporters many of whom are now working to regain power by admittedly doing everything they can to make the Obama presidency fail. Despite the fact that their anti-democracy right-wing lapdogs in government shredded the Constitution during the Bush years and ran the economy into the ditch, numerous traitors to the republic are still roaming free.
Their puppeteers in the Shadow Government were made immensely wealthy and more politically powerful that ever before because of the Bush administration’s tax giveaways to the rich and Big Business-friendly de-regulation policies that allowed the British Petroleum disaster to happen, and they continue to protect their own. Of course, George W. Bush continues to be a laughing-stock all around the world but he and his cronies, despite their disgraceful exit from office, are raking in millions of dollars from their ghost-written memoirs and speeches. Any clever child that would hear this story would say “that’s not fair!” And he would be correct
This is not the American democratic ideal that I learned about in the history books of my youth. This is not what I came to love and respect about America when I heard about, with patriotic pride, what was inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. I now realize that I was misled to falsely believe that our “glorious and honorable” nation has always fought for, rather than against, the little guy.
Get your goodies first and let the devil take the hindmost
The America that has evolved into its present terminal illness, mostly in my lifetime, has done so under the control of the greedy few who seem to despise and obviously try to exploit the “tired, the poor, the teeming masses, the tempest-tossed, the wretched refuse who are longing to be free.” Now we have presidents, greedy governors and their respective pay-masters whose motto seems to be “get your goodies first and let the devil take the hindmost”.
If you listen closely you can almost hear the devil’s laughter echoing in executive, legislative and judicial chambers and corporate boardrooms all over this once great but now ethically and financially bankrupt nation, which is slowly being strangled to death and its wealth extracted by the elite greed-mongers who are stealing us blind. They seem to be accomplishing this almost effortlessly through the propaganda power of their corporate-controlled media. As a result of their cunning brain-washing techniques, too many of us are becoming oblivious of their agenda. Indeed, with the massive use of brain-altering prescription drugs, we the people almost seem to be enjoying the deadly process.
Dr. Kohls is a concerned observer of the human situation, a student of fascism and is therefore a critic of fascism’s major components: corporatism, militarism, racism and economic oppression. He is an advocate for peace, justice and planetary sustainability and a believer in the power of nonviolent resistance to evil.