Reader Writes - November 2018
It’s the season of Remembrance, a special centenary year, and of course our own festival of poppies and remembrance at St Mary’s. We shall be naming the fallen at our war memorial from two world wars and Afghanistan; there’s also a memorial down on the Recreation Ground for the Korean war. We are remembering soldiers from our community who gave their lives. But in the rest of the world remembrance isn’t as straightforward. Our wars were as savage as other people’s wars, but in contrast the fighting and most of the misery happened in other countries.
The universal chaos of war more usually and tragically engulfs armies and civilians alike. Our neighbours in Europe, especially on the Eastern front, suffered invasion, famine and persecution on an unimaginable scale. On a visit to Transylvania this year I noticed a poignant war memorial dated 1941-1952 in the sanctuary of a church; Nazis invaded in 1941, but survivors, many of them civilians, only limped home from the Soviet gulag in 1952. For our neighbours the occupation was terrible but the liberation was often worse and endlessly cruel.
It has been said succinctly that “war makes states ... and vice versa”. It’s a tragic truth that war stirs up ethnic and national differences; but most of us can instinctively see that this is a deceitful and artificial alienation of peoples and languages. In Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate set around the ruins of Stalingrad he has a Red Army soldier, caught in no-man’s land, take shelter in a shell hole. In the darkness and confusion over hours of terror he finds himself clutching the hand of a companion sheltering in the same hole. At dawn in a lull from shelling he finds that his companion is a German soldier and as terrified and miserable as he; they sheepishly went their different ways, weapons unraised.
The stupidity and tragedy of ethnic and national conflict is made doubly costly when you consider that the greatest threats to our ‘national interests’ are far bigger than other nations. Is return to cold-war in anyone’s interest? For the sake of a great people whose literature and music we love we should be demolishing walls of hostility, not building them. Even more dangerous, in October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced their sobering report that should leave every nation and every citizen in no doubt; climate change is an existential threat that requires supranational coordination to save this world we have on loan from our grandchildren.
But the solution is ultimately personal because it is spiritual. Why are there wars among you asks James, the brother of Jesus; “Don’t they come from the battle within you? ….. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” We shall be remembering the words around war memorials “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”; with deep gratitude we remember the sacrifice made by others for our decades of peace. Christ did exactly that; he died on a Roman cross to set each of us free in eternity, and he died for all our futures and our children’s futures. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Amin.