lest we forget, best we regret

As we remember the sacrifice of fallen soldiers past, let us also remember that their deaths should not have been.

This year Anzac Day falls almost exactly on Easter. Both celebrations, in their own way, have attained an iconic status. However the buying of chocolate eggs, going on a long weekend holiday, playing two-up, buying a badge and getting drunk seem to be inadequate ways of remembering and reflecting on both events…

In my last post (“The Crucified [Nonviolent] God“) I spoke about the nonviolence of Jesus, with its crescendo in the event of the cross. If the cross really was, among other things, a powerful example and teaching of nonviolent sacrifice, what does Easter mean for war? For Christian reflection on Anzac Day?

In her article on The Drum today, Kellie Tranter wrote:

Although I’m not religious it’s interesting that those who are commemorate the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for the sins of mankind and for our salvation just days before we mark the sacrifice of our men and women who lost their lives “so we can be free”. Free to do what? To be complacent. To overindulge. To pursue more war. Lest we forget…

This is quite an apt summary of the Christian dilemma. So how do we remember the fallen in a way that recognises that Christian freedom, as won at the cross, necessitates freedom from violence?

Surely it begins by refusing to accept the need for war.

I remember sitting in primary school history lessons learning about the wars that have included Australia, where young men not too much older than me went to fight for our freedom. There was a romantic air about the struggle they endured. I was proud to be Australian at that point.

But of course, in later reflection, I realise that there is nothing romantic about the realities of war (indeed, you don’t have to have been to one to at least know this is true, although soldiers and unfortunate civilians could tell first hand of its true horrors).

There is nothing romantic about governments and generals sitting in safety, ordering young men and women to their deaths. This is not to mention the tragic deaths of mostly uninvolved civilians (Iraq; over 100,000 and counting).

There has unfortunately been an arguable tendency for many aspects of Anzac Day to glorify war itself. Certainly there has been an air of necessity about war. But is this simply an assumption?

I realise these are complicated matters, and that many will disagree, citing past world conflicts in which an armed response was apparently necessary (Hitler generally being top of the list).

But the complexities should lead us to at least consider that the opposite is also a possibility; there was another way. This kind of speculation is perhaps unhelpful. What is true, in any case, is that the nonviolent death of Jesus denies violence and war as a Christian response, or at least as anything but a last response.

This means that Anzac Day comes with an inherent tension; we remember the fallen for their sacrifice and what it achieved (lest we forget) but we also remember that their deaths, though not in vain, were not necessary, and nor was the violent methodology that led them to the slaughter (best we regret).

The positive element of this is that as Christians we celebrate peace, and speak out for peaceful responses to world events. We can also support soldiers and their families in the midst of trauma and loss, and campaign for such tragedy to go unrepeated.

The Tree of Life: this 10-foot high symbol of ‘reconciliation after conflict’ was created by Mozambican artists from decommissioned weapons.

We can also celebrate the coming of a restored world where war will finally be no more, where our tears will be wiped from our eyes, and where our swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

As we remember our lost today, let us also remember that in Jesus there is another way; a way of love, peace and nonviolence. Our young men and women do not need to die on the battlefield.

Lest we forget.

MCA

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Posted on April 25, 2011, in Conflict and Nonviolence, Culture & Art, Current Events, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I agree with the majority of what you are saying, but I think some of it only works in an ideal world. One which I do not believe we live in yet. You mentioned Hitler, what do you see as a Christian alternative to war in that situation? Or if someone where to invade Australia with force, what would you do? What is this other way? Personally I believe in the unfortunate truth that sometimes war is thrust upon us, and is necessary. For some people, peace is not an option, and it can only occur if both parties are willing.

  2. Matt, a thoughtful and insightful article as usual. In many respects I agree with your thoughts. The non violence of Jesus is a truly powerful image of the christian response in not returning violence for violence, yet it still ends in the death of Christ. My concern being that even if as christians we respond as Christ did to violence it will also result in the deaths of the innocent as well. In that regard non violence doesn’t always guarantee peace, freedom or freedom from fatalities.

    I think its fair to say that you and I will probably never share common ground regarding issues like an armed response to supress evil, however, I will agree that everything and literally everything practical should be attempted before arms are brought to bear on a problem. But this does not mean that armed conflict should be removed from the repertoire of responses.

    I find myself very much in agreement with some of Nick Don Stanton – Roark’s points re non violence….

    Not claiming that violence is inherently wrong. It is simply not for the church. There is still a place for Christians to call nations to use their military justly.

    Not claiming that your father/brother/son who fought in X war is a bad person. There is still a difference between cowardly acts of violence and heroic acts of violence.

    Not claiming that any nation should disband its military and police forces. As long as there are criminals in society, and terrorists in the world, there will be people of conscience who will take up arms to oppose them.

    Not claiming that Christians should be so concerned with avoiding violence they should simply “do nothing.” The church is still called to suffer with those who suffer, to speak out for those without a voice, to serve the poor in concrete ways, and to interpose itself between attackers and victims. And I do agree with Gandhi when he said that it’s better to be violent than to be a coward.

    And certainly not claiming that Christians who believe violence and military service are justified are “not true Christians.”

    I think Ed in his fb post from his perspective is correct as well, the Australian army in its humanitarian role esp in places like East Timor, where it is providing a role in the rehabilitation of a country clearly demonstrates christian principles as well.

    I believe as nations there will always be armed conflict and responses, I guess for me wanting to ensure they are in the minority and truly last resort is prime.

  3. Hi guys, thanks for posting.

    I have seen the argument widely used that we live in an imperfect world, and thus nonviolence does not (as my new anonymous friend put it) “work”.

    To a large degree I concur. I am under no illusions that we can rid the world of warfare and violence before the fullness of the kingdom of God comes to earth.

    In saying this, this does not mean that nonviolence does not work, but simply that it is almost never used as a serious methodology.

    People will use Hitler as an example, but remember that Hitler was able to rise to power as a result of the issues in Germany resulting in-part from the disgusting post-war imperialism of the Allied powers. Germany was a poverty-stricken nation at that point, and Hitler offered nationalistic hope.

    Similarly, many have argued that nonviolence will not work against terrorists, who are apparently committed to violence. But of course terrorists are not committed to violence, but rather to their ideologies. Violence is merely the vehicle for the ideology. It is important to remember that such ideologies (including things like freedom, prosperity, religion – much like many/most Western people…) are made violent largely through the oppression of Western nations (notably in the economic sphere – I have read in several places of studies concluding that poverty breeds terrorism. I mentioned an example with Hitler and Germany above).

    (Tangentially, could it be said that the greatest terrorists in the world are those who hold imperial power? i.e. Western powers. Hmm…)

    Now, before I go on, I must reiterate what I briefly mentioned in my post – that war may well be a necessity at times, but only as a last resort. This is not the same as saying war is a necessity generally.

    In relation to this, we should not misuse Ghandi’s famous dictum that conflict is better than cowardice:

    I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. … But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence.

    This comment is not supportive of warfare and violence; it merely claims that it is comparatively better than doing nothing (in “lesser of two evils” scenarios). Ghandi, however, is testimony to the power and imagination of nonviolence to bring large scale change.

    Of course the greatest example of nonviolence is Jesus. Bruce, you are right that Jesus died; sacrificed in the midst of nonviolent resistance. But no one has ever claimed that nonviolence will be free from casualties; theologically speaking, suffering (in a strange way) brings about the victory of God (see the life of Jesus, and the book of Revelation). But of course warfare brings casualties too, let’s not forget that (and almost always more than nonviolent resistance).

    I find it problematic to say that violence is OK, but not for the Church. There needs to be a consistent ethic, and it needs to be somewhat pragmatic, e.g. if you are not willing to send your own children off to war you have no right to support the sending of the children of others…

    It is true that the early Church universally repudiated action in the military. Why might this be? Why have we changed that view?

    Last thing (this comment is much longer than I thought it would be…) – some examples from the last century or so of major change brought about by nonviolent means (you can look them up if you have time; many people do not buy into nonviolence simply because they have never heard of a nonviolent success…):

    1850-1867 Hungary- Hungarian nationalists (inc. Francis Deak) regained self-governance for Hungary as part of Austro-Hungarian federation.

    1905-1906 Russia – forced Tsar to accept the creation of an elected legislature.

    1917 Russia – collapse of Tsarist system (mostly nonviolent, some violent elements)

    1913-1919 USA – Women’s suffrage

    1920 Weimar Republic, Germany – coup against republic put down by general strike.

    1920s-1947 India – Indian Independence (Ghandi).

    1939-1945 Europe – Many examples of nonviolent resistance to Nazis in WW2.

    1944 El Salvador – Hernandez (dictator) ousted by nonviolent revolution.

    1944 Guatemala – Ubico (dictator) also ousted by nonviolent revolution.

    1955-1968 USA – Civil Rights movement (Martin Luther King Jr.)

    1968-69 Czechoslovakia – nonviolence means Dubcek regime can stay in power for 8 months in the face of Soviet invasion (“Prague Spring”).

    1986 Philippines – Marcos (dictator) regime overthrown by nonviolence. “People Power” was a phrase coined in this revolution.

    1987-1991 Estonia – nonviolence (including the “Singing Revolution”) brings Independence.

    1989 East Germany – the “Peaceful Revolution” is largely responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    1989 Czechoslovakia – fall of the Communist regime by way of the “Velvet Revolution”

    2000 Yugoslavia – overthrow of Milosevic (mostly peaceful, some arson).

    2001 Philippines – Overthrow of Joseph Estrada.

    MCA

  4. Again Matt an excellent post, worthy of consideration. I personally may well be closer to concurring with your thoughts than you realise. I guess regarding terrorists, I see that whilst the origins of their plight may well be aimed at the so called economic terrorisim of the Western World, terrorists still believe that their cause is furthered best by unrestrained and indiscriminate acts of violence perpertrated on innocent civillian victims. I seriously don’t believe that any degree of non violence will disuade them from their chosen path short of complying with their demands. That isn’t non violence, thats blackmail.

    I do agree with Ghandi, non violence is always superior to violence, however non violence isn’t always an option. Non violence should always be used as a prime alternative, but when options have been exhausted, force remains an enormous deterrent, and in proportional usage is appropriate.

    I also believe that whilst I may not at times agree with the use of proportional force by a nation, I must never infer, indicate or demonstrate that the troops being deployed under such circumstances have nothing less than my full unwavering support, love and prayers for their safety and welfare. This is something that in my opinion that the advocates of non violence have not done well in the past.

    I’ll finish with these thoughts, if the whole christian church in our society was as comitted to non violence and not just protesting against, but actual feet on the ground soloutons, then the cause would be forcefully and wonderfully advanced.

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