May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Today we assemble to remember the fallen military men and women, merchant marine and the Resistance, in the wars of the last and this century, and those who keep the Peace.
Sadly wars have been going on since time immemorial and over time war has changed. In the earliest times when people went to war, it was all the people of the village, town or city against another. Eventually as countries became to be identified through some form of a border, whole countries went to war.
As power structures developed the local lord or king would have a small guard of soldiers and lots of subservient tenants or vassals whom he could command to defend his territory, most would be ordinary folks, bakers, cobblers, farmers, who had no training in the art of war. That evolved into powerful lords and kings having a standing army; Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Greece, the Mongols, the Chinese, indeed most peoples perfected this and were able to dominate their worlds. This became possible because instead of the bakers, cobblers and farmers going to war they paid taxes to their lord or king to have someone else go fight the battles. Indigenous peoples throughout the world however maintained the concept that everyone was a warrior.
After a time war was left exclusively to professional armies, so much so that people would go out and picnic while they watched a battle in progress. War became genteel and illustrious and the military became another and respected class in society; tales of derring-do were told for decades and legends were rife. / After the Industrial Revolution war became mechanised; it was possible to kill people with machinery. It was no longer necessary to slash with a sword, run an enemy through with a lance, or bash someone’s brains out with a mace. Early ordnance was very inaccurate and limited, hence the ‘Thin Red Line’ tactic, where a whole fusillade of shot would hopefully hit someone in the opposing line of the other army an hundred yards away !
Then accuracy improved and anything could be targeted. Science developed chemical and biological weapons and killing became indiscriminate. Atomic and nuclear weapons were employed first to completely annihilate everyone in a city and then to terrorise others into submission, without firing a shot. And the strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was behind the diplomacy of half the world. It for the most part worked but it seeded proxy wars where the major powers could poke each other at no risk to themselves, but it cost the lives of powerless dependant states.
The twentieth century saw again that people, regular people, civilians, old, young, men, women and children were targets of war; ‘cannon-fodder’ in a totally new way, this time though they were non-combatants. Those who survived became refugees, daily struggling to find food and water, and to avoid disease, which always becomes rampant when civilisation’s infrastructures are destroyed.
As a by-product of all this territorial war evolved into ethnicities being opposed to each other, which led to that awful thing dubbed “ethnic cleansing” and more refugees were created.
The way of war has now changed again. Terrorism and counter-terrorism are the order of the day. The War to End all Wars, didn’t, but like everything else war continued to evolve. Highly sophisticated weapons kill with accuracy – and inaccuracy – from miles away. A sniper can shoot an individual at three kilometres, a pilot half a world away can drop a bomb anywhere he or she is told. War is even more impersonal except for the millions who suffer injury, displacement and disease. The stupidity of it all !
That is a short sad history of war.
While we rightly honour those who died fighting to save us and our way of life, we must mourn those who are politely called ‘collateral damage’. More people died as collateral damage than those in uniform, and that statistic will continue as even we, who think we are civilised, have both bombed cities and looked the other way when others did. We still pay taxes and yet civilians are largely the ones killed and wounded in war, that’s ironic.
We all morn three year old Hunter Haze Smith-Straight the three year-old boy tragically stabbed to death in Winnipeg last week, but we find it hard to identify with the one hundred million killed in the major wars of the twentieth century and the countless millions wounded. Unfortunately Joseph Stalin’s words are true “Every death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic”. And he should know he killed fifty million of his own people, which is another form of war to be sure.
How can God let this happen ?
We have freewill, and hoping that we will learn better, God allows us to exercise it, often to our own disadvantage. The redeeming thing is that righteousness always wins; it cost lives, it causes pain, but Right will out.
We need to give thanks to those and for those who stood their ground against Evil. It is our daily duty to do that, and to support those who suffer the wounds of war physical and emotional. We have a duty to pray for them all, especially to pray for those who ignore our tragic history of combat. Oh that one day we will “beat our swords into plowshares [and] spears into pruning hooks; [when] nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).
We need to pray hard about this but we need also to take action helping those affected by Conflict, just as we would beg for them to help us, given the roles reversed (Matthew 7:12). If we can kill in God’s name, surely we can have mercy in His name too. Lastly, we sorely need to encourage those in authority to cause Peace to break-out all over this wonderful world that we are putting at so much risk in other ways. Amen.