Today is 'Remembrance Day', when many nations recognize the signing of the Armistice which ended the 'Great War', World War 1.
I have a number of personal reflections on the significance of this event.
Having spent my life as a pacifist, I continue to advocate for the 'war' to end all wars. It's a bigger battle than ever.
I want to begin with an anecdote. My wife's Grandfather served in the Australian forces on the Western Front, in France. His own father had died suddenly in 1916. The policy of the army at that time was that since Grandpa was the eldest son he should no longer be required to engage in combat duties. He was posted as batman or personal aid to a field commander. There he was, then, on November 11th, 1918, at the command post, when the telephone rang. His officer was not present, so Grandpa took the call. He was informed that peace had been declared; hostilities were to cease. What a wonderful moment! What a message to have to bring: peace has broken out! Stop the fighting, now!
If only there were more officers who could make this announcement, in every aspect of life.
'The war to end all wars' did not. It was just 21 years and another World War broke out, involving the same protagonists. And since the Second World War there have been several hundred more wars.
For this reason, the war to end all wars must go on.
There are a number of basics in this war.
To fight a war, you have to have an army. Here I declare my basic stance. Since I faced the challenge of our government's 'draft', calling me to serve in Vietnam, I have held strongly to the statement of Bertrand Russell, who said ( in a place I can no longer source): There will be wars so long as there are young men willing to give their bodies to fight those wars. Immediately I read this I knew its fundamental truth. No one who decides to fight a war puts their own body on the line. They always send others—usually young, impressionable, and often poor people. Sadly today it is sometimes children. When I first read this, I decided I would say, 'No'. I refused the draft, and I worked to support others who did too. It cost a lot, working for peace.
The army of those in the war to end all wars is made up of all those who refuse to lend their bodies to the war effort: not only by not fighting, but also by not supporting the war mentality and the economic structures that produce wars.
That's the second part of the battle. War itself is a symptom of a much more pervasive sickness in human affairs. War is very often the product of economic systems which impoverish or in some way alienate a people, to the point where they take up arms to claim restitution. In some circumstances, war is the product of a different kind of alienation, perhaps the demonizing of a nation or its dominant group. Whatever is the immediate 'cause', war arises from the break-down of human community. This is why the dream of a 'united nations' was so important and is still so important. At least we must keep talking! We must keep our 'enemies' inside the family circle.
The war against all wars must therefore be about peace making. One absolute fundamental of peace making is justice, and opportunity for all to have the basic of living: food, shelter, educational opportunity. Fair trade is crucial, not the so-called 'free' trade, which is actually the freedom of the dominant to stay that way at the expense of the weakest. So the army of all those engaged in the war to end all wars includes all who work for justice, fair wages, fair trade, and economic opportunity for all.
Another crucial element is to resist the entire industry of arms trade. I am, for many reasons, opposed to the use of guns. I cannot comprehend the so-called 'right to carry arms' which is so dear to so many Americans. To me it is so fundamentally crazy for civilians to carry weapons. It breeds violence. But it goes further. Our economies encourage the production of weapons, to sell to nations which cannot feed their people, educate their children and develop the infrastructure they need, because they are spending precious resources arming themselves with the latest weaponry. This arms trade produces insecurity and generates its own justification. We need a 'war' on the arms trade. We need to refuse to be part of it all.
Finally, for me the war to end all wars must include 'religious toleration'. As a Baptist, I am proud of my heritage which affirmed religious freedom, the freedom of conscience 'for men of all faiths and of none'.
Very few people would recognize this today as a Baptist distinctive: quite the opposite. We have been more and more taken over by the zealots of a particular kind of evangelical theology which is actually intolerant of difference, unable to respect the views of others, and unable to embrace change. I hold very strongly to my own faith, to the Bible and the theology it teaches me, but this does not require me to oppress those who think differently. In fact the opposite: Jesus teaches me to love those who think differently from me, who think they are my enemies, to pray for them and do good to them. Religious freedom and respect for 'the other' must be a vital part of the war to end all wars.
But there is another crucial element in this idea of 'religious toleration'. It has to do with a humble spirituality: a recognition of the Spirit of God within us, calling us to grow, to learn from our mistakes and to dream for a better way, a better future, a 'kingdom of God'. What the Spirit does here is vital: one element of the Spirit's work is to teach us about our own limitation. We are frail creatures, even as we pretend to be mighty and strong. So much posturing and pretence. Who are we kidding? We are also sinful. That is, we sometimes do what we know is wrong, and we fail to do what we know is right, and we are ultimately unable, despite our best efforts to get it all together, individually or collectively. In biblical terms, we cannot save ourselves. But the Spirit calls forth hope within us: leading us to call out to God, and indeed to discover that God already wills to help us, and has acted to help us. Micah the prophet wrote that God has already shown us what is right: we should do justice, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God. Jesus has embodied that way of God, and invites us into this way.
The war to end all wars is not ours alone. We have cosmic companionship: not just in the human family, but 'with God on our side'.
'Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.'