(Message delivered at Hawick Remembrance Parade, Wilton Lodge Park, 13/11/11)
The wisdom from above is first pure,
then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. (James 3.17–18)
In recent years we have seen much television coverage of the history of war. The death of Harry Patch led to a spate of documentaries and news features on WW1. The 70th Anniversary of D-Day gave us much more on WW2, and we are constantly updated on the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 1914, radio was in its infancy and transport was still mostly by horse or mule. Today, long-range missiles fired from jet aircraft and directed by computerised fire-control systems mean that attackers may never see their targets.
The nature of conflicts has also changed. In the Arab spring of 2011, civilians rose up against their oppressive governments. Some revolutions have been relatively peaceful, whilst others have seen violence on both sides. Outside interventions have become more cautious. NATO’s assistance to Libya has been from arm’s length – no foreign troops on the ground.
But despite the technical and political advances, people still bear the brunt of war. During his time as Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt brought to public awareness many practical problems faced by servicemen and women in overseas conflicts. He played a key role in setting up Help for Heroes to ensure proper care for injured service personnel and their families.
Now retired, with the title General Lord Dannatt, he spoke in a recent lecture of the instant decisions a solider must make under tremendous pressures; decisions that may have life or death consequences for his comrades and those he is sent to protect. This (the General says) requires physical, mental and moral discipline and courage.
Also in the news this week, some people have described the Poppy as a political symbol, and remembrance parades as glorification of war. But they’ve missed the point. Whatever our view of war in general or of specific conflicts, we must not forget the men and women caught up in the heart of it.
One day a mob brought to Jesus a woman who’d had an affair. These deeply religious men reminded Jesus that this sin carried the death penalty. It was a kangaroo court, a show trial designed as much to trap Jesus as to punish the woman. It was also rough justice – the man was equally guilty, but mysteriously escaped.
Jesus words ring down the years: “whoever is without sin may throw the first stone.” In their high-handed religiosity they had forgotten the need for honesty, and their duty to care even for the sinners among them.
It has warnings for us today. It is right that we should be cautious before joining a conflict, and that we constantly review our actions and our motives. Even when going to war, we should still be working and praying for a peaceful resolution.
But we must never forget that real people are on the front line, laying down their lives, bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, and perhaps paying the ultimate price for someone else’s peace and security.
Today is our opportunity to acknowledge their courage, to thank God for their sacrifice and to pray for peace in our world.