In his Sunday Angelus message yesterday, Pope Francis reminded the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square near the end of his message that today, July 28th, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. It is easy for us to look back on the Great War and call it, as the Holy Father did, a great catastrophe. It was that, most certainly, but the First World War had such an impact on the world in which we live that a century to the day that it began we are still living very directly with the effects of that apocalyptic conflict, and I do not use that word lightly. In two previous posts here at Life At 25, I’ve pointed out that Catholic Christians are supposed to be a people of peace who work for peace and pray for peace. Pope Benedict XV, who was Pope during World War I, tried in vain to get the warring powers to come to the negotiating table. The conflict only came to an end, history tells us, when the German High Command came to the conclusion that they simply did not have the manpower and the resources to continue fighting and needed to seek an armistice. The other thing that we also know in the light of history is that the Allied Powers were in a similar situation, and were also thinking of an armistice. Winston Churchill, then the British Minister of Munitions, asked in a government memorandum what everyone else was thinking in those days. “Do the means of beating the German Armies in the West in 1919 exist?…We still have the time…Have we the willpower…?” The “War to End All Wars” neither ended wars nor solved any of the major issues over which it was fought. It did manage to leave such a mark on the world that we continue to deal with the unresolved issues of that conflict in the Middle East, the Balkans, and in Ireland even today (though thankfully because of the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements, less so in the latter than in the others).
The First World War shaped the last century, and we are still struggling to resolve the issues left in its wake. Because of it, World War II directly came about because of the failed peace of the first Great War. It proved little, except that war, in the end, solves nothing at all, but only leads to more war and more agony. We can historically look to World War I and see that the rise of Communism, Fascism, and modern sectarianism in Europe and Asia all have their (modern) genesis somewhere in the legacy of the “Great War.” There is a reason why Pope Francis has said “War Never Again, Never Again War.” If you can name a war you believe to have been just, and on the surface it may have appeared so, some earlier war or conflict can be pointed to as the thing which caused or precipitated it. War brings about war, violence is almost always the cause of violence.
What I am about to share with you is my personal opinion, and because this is the diocesan blog for the Diocese of Knoxville I really must clarify that, but I am sure that at least some of our clergy will agree with me if no one else does. What I mean to share is this: The older that I get and the more that I merely sit back and observe the nation and the world around us, the more that I become convinced of the reality that the way that a Christian should live includes the path of nonviolence. For a Christian, especially in this day and age, to promote or countenance violence is contrary to the Gospel. This does not mean that violence will not occur, and that people will be forced to respond in some way, but all that may prove yet again is that violence breeds no justice, but only more violence, deeper injustice, and a circle of hatred and fear. The 20th Century was the most violent and brutal century in the history of the world, and it seems that the 21st Century is on its way to being as bad or worse. The reality is that until we accept the love that God is offering us in Jesus Christ the second person of the Holy Trinity, until we accept the love that is the Cross, we will continue to sacrifice our sons, our daughters, and ourselves in violence on the battlefields and the places of conflict of this world.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.