As cathedral bells toll remembrance in Worcester, I thought I’d repost these thoughts on war for 11/11/11.
For Christians, Remembrance Sunday can stir mixed emotions. Today we remember the fallen of war and regret that war seems to be the natural condition of man. We weep along with God who, when surveying the war and murder that polluted his earth said, “I gave them commandment that they should love one another, but they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. As a result misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them . . . ; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” (Moses 7:37).
The observance of Armistice Day — the 11th Day of the 11th month — was originally intended to ensure that never again would the nation commit to the slaughter and evil that have become synonymous with words such as “Somme” and “Flanders Fields.”
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.
As Latter-day Saints we are commanded to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16). Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt 5:9, 3 Ne 12:9). Former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Spencer W. Kimball, chastised Americans, and Mormons, thus:
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel — ships, planes, missiles, fortifications — and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:
‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:44-45).
President Kimball was right: we go to war far too easily. Nevertheless, there is somewhat of an awkward tension regarding Latter-day Saint/Christian views of war, for there are times when war can be just, regrettably. I cannot resolve this tension, but it ought to be raised. You see, Mormons are not absolute pacifists. Speaking of America’s (and by extension, Britain’s) current conflicts in the Middle East, President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
First, let it be understood that we have no quarrel with the Muslim people or with those of any other faith. We recognize and teach that all the people of the earth are of the family of God. And as He is our Father, so are we brothers and sisters with family obligations one to another.
But as citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders. They have access to greater political and military intelligence than do the people generally. Those in the armed services are under obligation to their respective governments to execute the will of the sovereign. When they joined the military service, they entered into a contract by which they are presently bound and to which they have dutifully responded.
One of our Articles of Faith, which represent an expression of our doctrine, states, ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law’ (Articles of Faith 1:12).
341 British military personnel have died in the current Afghanistan conflict, dutifully responding to their obligation to serve Queen and Country. Today, whatever our feelings regarding the rights and wrongs of this or that war, we remember their sacrifice. That is the reason for Remembrance Sunday. We also remember the civilian casualties of war, poignantly described by President Hinckley: “There are . . . mothers, innocent civilians, who cling to their children with fear and look heavenward with desperate pleadings as the earth shakes beneath their feet and deadly rockets scream through the dark sky.” Perhaps we can also take that painfully difficult Christian step to pray for our enemies, as President Kimball exhorted.
Doctrine and Covenants 134:2 teaches us that governments have a duty to ensure “free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” I believe that when governments and nations threaten and do violence to these rights, their moral standing is void and we are permitted to resist. This led a young Latter-day Saint German boy, Hellmuth Huebener, to actively oppose Nazi evil in Hamburg during the Second World War. He was executed for what the morally bankrupt Nazi regime considered “crimes” against the state; certainly his reward is in heaven. It is what led the young men of America and the Commonwealth to risk their lives so far from home. It is what led the young pilots of the Royal Air Force to fight in the skies above Britain seventy years ago during the Battle of Britain. 498 of them died. Given the stakes, I do not think Churchill engaged in hyperbole:
The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few (August 20, 1940, House of Commons).
When I finish speaking, the choir will sing that beloved hymn Jerusalem. Blake’s poem invokes images of “England’s green and pleasant land,” a beauty I would also extend to all corners of our islands. They are not words of a dewy-eyed patriotism, however, but a call to build Zion, Jerusalem. But here is the thing: one cannot build Zion when there is no freedom, when we are slaves in Babylon. Again, President Hinckley:
[T]here are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression.
So, today we remember those who fought for those very reasons. Like the angel who instructed Alma, we “remember [what] great things [God] has done for [our forebears]; for they were in bondage, and he . . . delivered them” (Mosiah 27:16). I invite you to remember those in your families and in our church and local community who have served their countries. I invite you also to have a look at the war memorial next time you are in the Leicester stake centre and remember the sacrifices of our brother Latter-day Saints in the Great War.
Our family remembers, among others, our Bradley and Head grandparents who, doing their duty, kept calm and carried on; Grandad “Banker” John F. McLaverty who served in the Royal Navy on the Arctic convoys; Grandad Ralph Smith who was injured at Dunkirk; and Great Uncle Herbert Kirkby, 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade, who fell at the Somme in 1918.
They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
[Choir sang Jerusalem followed by 2 minutes’ silence. Loughborough Ward, 14.xi.10.]