The War to End War

November 2, 2018 at 9:08 am Leave a comment

On 11 November 2018, Remembrance Day, we will commemorate 100 years since the end of WWI.  It was called “the war to end war,” a phrase coined by H. G. Wells.  The First World War was a terrible war that Europe tragically engaged in not realising what it would mean.  Other nations, such as Australia, were drawn in as well. At first people thought it would soon be over.  The reality was that both sides called upon their people to support the war effort in a way that went beyond any previous war.  Trench warfare meant soldiers confronted each other for extended time.  Casualties were high.  Have we learned anything from the suffering?  I will be one of the speakers at a Peace Conference in Perth on 10-11 November.


I saw the film ‘Testament of Youth’ based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain about the First World War.  It highlighted the suffering she experienced as a woman because of the war in which her fiancé and brother were killed.  She served as a nurse in France and nursed injured and dying German as well as British soldiers.  The film concluded with her addressing a group of people pointing out the human suffering on both sides.  After the war she became a writer, a pacifist along with people such as Aldous Huxley and leading Methodist Donald Soper (later Lord Soper).


In our current context people can be casualties of war even when they have nothing directly to do with the conflict.  I have friends whose son Jack was on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) that was shot down on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine.  All 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed.  This occurred in the War on Donbass in an area controlled by pro-Russian rebels.


As well as civilian casualties and destruction, war and violence have led many people to become refugees.  They often have horrific stories of needing to flee to safety having seen family members and neighbours killed.


All of this suffering highlights for me the unacceptable cost of war and the need to do all we can to find solutions to the issues leading to conflict and resolving conflict. We have not learned from the First World War that the suffering, injury and death, the destruction and devastation done to the land, is not something we should continue to accept.


Peace is not simply the absence of war.  The major part of our difficulty in achieving lasting peace in various places in the world is that the suffering, the injustices, the mistreatment of people are not overcome.  The desire to dominate, the misuse of power, the aggrandisement of leaders for their own people and nations lead to using violence and war as their preferred means to their ends. It is hard not to despair about the possibility of lasting peace in places such as the Middle East, between groups that hate each other, and because of the common belief in the necessity for the use of violence and war to impose peace.


Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  If we are seeking to follow the way of Jesus then being a peacemaker is not an optional extra.  Note that the term peacemaking is an active one.  We are to make peace, seek peace, recommend those things that build peace.  Jesus does not call us to separate ourselves from the world in order to live our own lives of peace in secluded communities of like-minded people.  While I have some admiration for people such as the Amish in the USA who do seek to live peaceful lives apart from the mainstream of American life, my own position is that we need to be more involved than that in the issues of the day.  This is especially so if we live in nations that are democracies in which we can participate in public debate and vote for leaders.


Peace has various dimensions as I have detailed in my book Peace Like A Diamond (Spectrum 2009).  There I speak of five interrelated aspects to peace: peace with God, peace with oneself, peace with others, peace in society, and peace with the environment. The fullness of peace, shalom, has to do with all these dimensions of peace which includes care for the creation as well as peace with people.


I believe Christians need to make peacemaking an essential component of being a disciple of Jesus.  The World Council of Churches has an important statement “An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace”.  It rightly says that the way to peace is by working for justice and reconciliation between people.  War has been justified in the past by the ‘just war’ theory which speaks of limits to the way war should be conducted.  In practice these limits are readily broken.  What is needed is to work to overcome the issues that lead to war.  We can seek shalom for all people.  Christians can be at the forefront of doing so by endeavouring to ensure that grievances are heard, truth is acknowledged, and fair treatment is given to all people no matter what their race or religion.


Let us then be peacemakers following the way of Jesus.  Jesus himself rejected the way of the sword.  At his arrest he told his disciples to put away their swords. He followed the way of suffering love and did not resort to violence.  Even on the cross he cried out, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). People do know what they are doing when they resort to war.  We need to challenge the justifications and call for non-violent responses.  Nations should heed the United Nations more than they do.  As we seek to be peacemakers we will be called children of God, sons and daughters loved by God as we align ourselves with God’s peaceful and loving purposes.







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A Culture of Greed Peacemaking Conference Statement

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