One hundred years ago today the guns fell silent. Back then they called it “The War To End All Wars.” It wasn’t. Now it is a name and number: World War One.
Millions more would die in armed conflict over the next hundred years and continue to die today in smaller conflicts around the globe. We have long lost the optimism, long stopped believing that there is an end to war. In 1918 people really believed humanity had learned something important from four years of the bloodiest fighting in memory. They thought we had grown up enough to not repeat our mistakes.
Maybe that was a misunderstanding of theology. On an individual level, it is not enough to merely identify the sin, there must also be repentance for change to happen. On a corporate level, the same holds true. Saying war is wrong and that we aren’t going to do it again means nothing unless there is change from the attitudes that brought about war in the first place. Saying we weren’t going to do this anymore wasn’t enough, as the world quickly learned.
Today we remember – and vow, as they did 100 years ago, that we aren’t going to war anymore. We mean it just as much as they did then, even as mini-wars rage around the globe and nuclear powers taunt each other.
But today we don’t all take time to remember. I discovered last year that Germans don’t commemorate the end of the war on November 11. For the post-war generation, the day they lost the war was not something they wanted to commemorate. There is a national day of mourning, which falls on the third Sunday of November each year, next Sunday, and has been observed since 1922.
Last year I found those observances were similar to what I was used to in Canada on Remembrance Day. Death is real, no matter which side you are on in a conflict. Families are impacted. The men in the trenches had no say in whether this was a just war or not; the politicians said fight, so they fought. We remember the ordinary soldiers, not the politicians who couldn’t find a peaceful solution.
The generation who fought in the First Word War is no longer with us. Those who fought in the Second World War are now in their nineties, their numbers dwindling daily. Witnesses of the horrors of that conflict will all too soon be no longer with us. Our collective memory fades, the images on film won’t have the reality of flesh and blood memories. Politicians, who don’t have to fight themselves, will once more send others to die for their mistakes of diplomacy.
That sounds depressing, yet on this Remembrance Day I do believe it is possible to have hope. But it is a realistic hope. We live in a fallen world; it is unlikely we can eliminate all conflict between nations or groups.
But I can do my part. I can repent. I can change. So can you. If enough of us do that, we will see changes in society.
For that to happen though, there has to be an acknowledgement of sin and a desire to change. Do you think that can happen?
On this Remembrance Day morning, I wonder.