“Defend me, O God, and plead my cause,
against a godless nation” (ps.42.1)
More War memorials. Where’s the end of it? Is there an end of it? Probably not, as the Second World War has taken on an almost religious aura within the British Establishment. In a country already littered with military shrines, in that every town, city, village, and hamlet, has its mandatory war monolith, an almost continuous combination of necromania and military Shintoism is served up to the general public for their veneration: memorials of the war, anniversaries of the war, countless books about the war, endless T.V. programmes about the war, services, “fly-pasts”, poppies, flags, parades, last posts, and so on.
Now we have the spectacle of two more war memorials, just to keep us in tow; lest our devotion falls below the required level. The first one, in the centre of London, is a big temple like edifice, somewhat akin to the Pantheon in Rome, except that in the case of the latter the statues of the pagan gods were replaced by Christian saints, whereas in the former statues of the new pagan gods, Armed Forces personnel, are to be installed instead of any Christian symbols, like a Crucifix or a Cross. And to whom is this shrine dedicated? Apparently, to the “55,000 bombers” who flew missions over Germany during World War II. Behold your gods, England! Bombers! Our glorious heroes who, for the cause of freedom, peace and righteousness, slaughtered three quarters of a million German civilians. How shall we salute such gallantry? Are there any monuments worthy of such chivalry? Dear God, how man deludes himself. And you know it, O Lord, and suffer it, and gave up your Son because of it. All your righteousness, England, are as filthy rags (Is. 64:6), and well might the Irish put up a monument to I.R.A. bombers, who also killed and maimed civilians. The only difference between terrorism and State Terrorism is one of scale and not morality; for there is no moral distinction between the slaughter of civilians by the R.A.F. and the slaughter of civilians by the I.R.A.
The other sanctum sanctorum being planned for our veneration is a truly monstrous megalith, which is to be situated on the top of the cliffs of Dover, and, apparently, with the inscribed names of 1.7 million male and female martyrs who gave their lives for the cause of Britishness in the holy war against Nazism. And one can imagine that once Vera Lynn is dead and gone to her eternal reward, a kind of Mount Rushmore effect will be in the planning, which will have the good lady’s features chiselled into the rock face, complete with a sonic device that plays “The white cliffs of Dover” every time an aircraft or marine vessel enters British air space/waters. That’s if the whole thing manages to stay up at all and not end up crashing onto the sands and the sea below. Sic transit Gloria mundi.
World War Two is Britain’s counterfeit Calvary. By that, I don’t mean the Establishment doctrine that it was the great sacrifice that bought us our freedom from tyranny. No, I mean it was a kind of redemption from the sins, and they are many, of British Imperialism, which by 1939 had run for over 300 years. It was, as John Pilger has said, something like an ethical cleansing. The British had gorged themselves on the wealth and resources of a large part of the World’s surface, at the expense of indigenous peoples. They had pursued policies of near genocide against the Indian peoples of North America in the 17th and 18th centuries; burning villages, burning, hanging, butchering men, women and children, and deliberately spreading smallpox among them. They had been one-time leaders in the Slave Trade. They had instigated the massacres of the Australian Aborigines, thereby setting the tone for the continuing Australian policy of discrimination against those people. They had completely exterminated the Tasmanian people. They had slaughtered large numbers of the various Bantu peoples of Africa. They had invaded nearly a dozen Asian countries, reducing the populations to servitude and racial inferiority. They had plundered the natural resources of these lands, and hanged, imprisoned, and tortured anyone among them who dared to resist. They had oppressed the long-suffering people of Ireland for nearly 800 years; at various times trying to eradicate their culture and religion, and at all times treating the Irish as “untermensch” (subhumans), even to the point of starvation in the great famine. They had created the antipodean Gulag of Australia, consigning tens of thousands of poor English and Irish people to a brutal system of slave labour, more often than not for petty offences, the stealing of bread or forging coins in order to keep alive themselves and their families. Their Royal Navy had bullied its way round the World, starting wars here, there, and everywhere, in order to create, protect, or enforce British markets and British manufacturing, the vast profits of which ended up almost entirely in the hands of that small minority of upper class families, new and old, which already owned most of the wealth of the British mainland. And curiously enough, yet significantly, these British Imperialists had been among the first to set up the Concentration Camp system (The Americans against the Indians, and the Spanish against the Cubans had been the first in the field). Some 28,000 Boer men, women, and children died in British concentration camps during the War that enabled the British Capitalists to get their hands on the rich lands of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Imperialism, racism, militarism, oppression and brutality. Similar features to the Nazism which the British are forever congratulating themselves on fighting and defeating. It’s a funny old world.
Wars are not fought for moral reasons, to defend and protect the weaker and poorer nations of the World from the stronger ones. The British, like every other imperialist power, have always gone to war for the sake of territorial gain and in defence of their economic acquisitions. 1939 was no different. Nothing to do with liberating poor old Poland, or saving the Jews, but everything to do with countering a resurgent German Empire and its perceived threat to the economic interests of the British Empire.
But there was little, if any appetite for war in 1939, unlike 1914. Neither Hitler nor Chamberlain wanted their countries to be at war with each other. Besides, Hitler’s designs, lay in the East in Russia, where he fantasized about destroying Bolshevism and creating a new German Empire of strong, steel-eyed Teutons who would eradicate or subjugate the inferior Slavs.
Neither did the French have any stomach for war, and when the action finally started, after seven months of “phoney war”, they collapsed like a pack of cards. Within six weeks the Germans were in Paris. Something they had failed to do in over four years in the previous World War. So much for the impregnable “Maginot Line” upon which the British and French had sat for eight months, doing nothing in the way of engaging the enemy against whom they had declared war. Strange thing, the period known as the “Phoney War”. Apart from a few minor naval skirmishes nothing much happened until April 1940 when Churchill masterminded another one of his costly disasters, the Norwegian Campaign. Then again, like Gallipoli in the First World War, he was generally indifferent to the human cost of his adventures.
With Churchill as Prime Minister (May 1940) all the hyperbole and bombast, all the sacred liturgy of Britain’s World War cult makes its appearance and thereafter forms the canon for the subsequent orthodoxy regarding the war: “Finest Hour”, “We’ll fight them on the beaches, in the fields,” “Never in the field of human conflict”…..…..”This island shall stand as a beacon for freedom….”, and on and on.
Churchill was, like Hitler, a superlative egotist, a gifted orator, a political adventurer, excited by war, generally amoral, and as unscrupulous as the occasion demanded. Human life was readily expendable to both men, and neither had much use, if any, for the Christian religion in its proper religious sense as opposed to its use as a stabilizing vehicle for the good order of society. And both men were racial imperialists who were convinced of their special destinies in the leadership of their respective Empires. Britain’s “Finest Hour” or Churchill’s finest hour? Two political messiahs, two saviours, two men of destiny facing up to each other like a couple of gunslingers in a Western town, pride and cocksure vanity not allowing either to give way. Ergo, the suffering of millions in the wake of selfish and monstrous irresponsibility.
The dreadful and obscene legacy of the artillery bombardments of World War One is the aerial bombing of civilian targets in World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is a type or warfare that has been perfected by the British and Americans, who developed it to deadly affect during the Second World War and have had recourse to it several times since, as in the above mentioned countries.
The question is this: even if one subscribes to the standard orthodoxy that Britain’s war against Germany was necessary, and even if one argues that the saturation bombing of Germany was necessary, though the former is at least questionable, and the latter is highly questionable. But even given these positions, do we really want to erect monuments to bombers? Do we really want to honour, with temple-like edifices, men who were responsible for killing three quarters of a million civilians, men, women, and children, old people, sick people, refugees, wounded soldiers. Merciful Lord, where is the chivalry in all this? Where is the nobility? The wholesale slaughter of defenceless civilians is an odious and cowardly act, no matter who does it, and no matter what reasons they trot out to justify it. And it is even more monstrous when the perpetrators of such deeds maintain that they are fighting the war and pursuing these actions in the cause of humanity, and that theirs is a righteous cause against an evil and inhuman enemy.
But it’s not good enough. Beyond it all, and behind it all, and lurking within the whole experience there remains the cold, calculated nastiness of war, and the evil men do in order to protect their interests and advance their ambitions. When all is said and done, and all the varieties of the Just War argument have been insisted upon, tell me Christian man, or any man, what is the moral difference between the SS rounding up the villagers of Oradour-sur-Glane, herding them into a barn and throwing in hand-grenades, and British and American pilots obliterating hundreds of thousands of civilians in Germany, running to over a million civilians if one includes Japan? What is the difference between the Einzatsgruppen machine-gunning tens of thousands of civilians in purposely dug ditches in Russia, and “The Allies” promiscuously exterminating a far greater number of civilians from the air? In fact, if the atrocities committed by the Germans had been done from the air, no one would have regarded them as criminal. Did the bombings of Warsaw, and Rotterdam by the Germans merit consideration as war crimes? They couldn’t have done, otherwise the British and Americans would have been guilty of the same crimes.
“Strategic necessity”, they tell us, is what it’s all about. These actions, though unfortunate, are unavoidable if one is to win the war; “collateral damage” is the fashionable euphemism at present. Translated, it means the war against defenceless people, men, women, children, the sick, the old. The British and Americans, starting with Germany and Japan, have specialized in this form of terrorism ever since. A hundred adn ten thousand people, mainly civlians, refugees, and wounded soldiers, were incinerated within two days when the Anglo-Americans bombed Dresden. The irony is manifest. Two nations, Britain and America, forever taking the moral high ground. Convinced of the self-evident superiority of their way of life, their institutions, their actions, and their liberal secular values, yet resorting so often and so easily to an aerial terrorism that reduces the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War to a footnote in a very long book.
I even wonder if the Americans, inspired by the splendid British example, will get around to putting up a similar holy of holies, to the pilots who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And surely, sooner of later, will have statues to St. Bomber Harris and St. Oppenheimer, with suitable litanies to accompany them: “By thy holy bombs, destroy all our enemies; ;By thy holy bombs, make the world safe for democracy; By thy holy bombs, lead us in the cause of righteousness, that we may convert others to our superior way of life.
We’ve come a long way from those World War One dogfights, where aerial knights would joust with each other in the skies, and where if one accepts that the “profession of arms” is legitimate for a Christian man, a certain chivalry existed between the combatants. And if one accepts the “Just War” theory and its corollary, the Code of Chivalry, one is bound, as a Christian soldier, to protect the helpless, to defend women and children, the old and the sick, and not to attack unarmed men, whether they be the “enemy” or no. This surely is a fundamental principle of any nation that regards itself as a Christian people; a designation both Britain and America would certainly claim. Even Von Richtoffen, the Red Baron, who said he loved the “sport of war”, and may well have been a psychopath, was shocked when some French civilians were accidentally killed during an attack on an enemy position by members of his “Flying Circus”.
But enough. All this talk of war is nauseating. Suffice to say that Britain did not win the Second World War. At the time of the D-Day landings 80% of the German army was engaged on the Eastern Front fighting the Russians. It was they, as Von Manstein said, who “tore the guts out of the Wehrmacht.” The war in North Africa only turned when the Americans came in. And the war against Japan was won by the Americans, painstakingly taking island by island, and blitzing the Japanese mainland. To the British goes the credit for winning the Battle of the Atlantic against the U-Boats, and for eliminating the Italian fleet. Otherwise it was a poor performance compared to the First World War, where a small British army halted the German advance at Mons (with the help of angels), whereas at Singapore in 1942 a British army of 85,000 surrendered without a fight to Japanese troops arriving on bicycles down the Malay peninsular.
War is part of the Devil’s kingdom, not God’s. As the psalmist says “The Lord maketh wars to cease in all the world; he breaketh the bow, and snappeth the spear in sunder, and burneth the chariots in the fire. Be still then, and know that I am God” (ps. 45: 8-9). Yes, be still, nations of the world, and know that God, the God love, the God of peace, has come among us, full of grace and truth, as St. John says. Or as the beautiful Christmas hymn goes: “Holy Infant, all Divine, what a tender love was thine; So to come from heavenly bliss, down to such a world as this.”
Cast away your gods of war England, cast away your totems of war. Cease your glorifying of war, for you’ve well nigh made a religion of it, to be set alongside your other pseudo-religion of monarchy and Royalism. And how easily the two coalesce, neatly knitted together by the bogus sanctification of a hireling state church. Both of them royals and clerics together, prostrating themselves to the demands of state propaganda.
Far away from the world of bombs and bugles, killing fields, “strategic necessities,” and medal bedecked generals and royals is the world of Jesus, the Son of God; growing up, as he did, in a simple cottage, in a simple village, of humble parents. This world, reflected in the teaching of Jesus, who is the Word of God made flesh, is a world of flowers, lambs, birds, and foxes. A world of children playing, men sowing fields, women baking bread; of fishermen, farmers, shepherds, holy beggars and kindly wayfarers, all, in their daily lives and different ways, revealing the truth that God is our loving Father, and we are his dear children, brothers and sisters all. It’s that simple. Even a child can comprehend it, which is exactly the point; For as Jesus says, unless we become like little children, and are re-born, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Mt. 18:30) We must trust God, love him, rely on him for everything, and love our brothers and sisters, not hate them and kill them. Can anyone, after having read the Gospels, really be at enmity with any man ever again? All God’s children are made in his image, which is the image of Jesus, his Beloved Son. All are made for communion with each other. To paraphrase Tolstoy, the most important thing is to love God, because God is all, God is life; and to love God is to love life. All his creatures desire to live, and none wish to die. Therefore, to kill another human being is the greatest sin, a kind of atheism.
Perhaps it takes a St. Francis to show us how the Gospel of Jesus is lived in all its beauty, in all its simplicity, in all its sublimity. He gave up one kind of knighthood, the one of arms and fighting, of war and killing, of pride and vainglory, of ambition and acquisition, for another kind, the knighthood of Christ, which is the true chivalry of, and whose code is the Sermon on the Mount. This is the only “Strategic necessity” we need in the struggle between good and evil, until the day God chooses to complete his purpose and bring all things to their end.
Let’s leave Churchill to his “Finest Hour” (the poor man was even contemplating a continuation of the war from Canada, to the extent of bombing the British mainland, had the Germans invaded). As for England’s finest hour, it wasn’t 1940, or 1945, or 1918, or Waterloo or Trafalgar, or the defeat of the Armada, or even the 1966 World Cup(!). None of these, and nothing to do with nationalism and Imperialism. It was that blessed day in the year 597 A.D. when St. Augustine and his monks, sent by Pope Gregory the Great, stepped ashore at Thanet in Kent, and there began the conversion of the English people to the religion of Jesus Christ. But should a “Finest hour” require a military victory, then one need look no further than the year 878 A.D. For in that year King Alfred, greatest and noblest of all English kings, defeated the pagan Danes at Ethandum. Instead of wreaking vengeance upon them, or trying their leaders for war crimes (and goodness knows they’d slaughtered a vast number or people) or pursuing them farther with fire and sword, Alfred, truest of all Christian kings, has Guthrum and his Danish chieftans baptized in the river at Athelney. Thereafter the Gospel was taken to all the Danish people living under Alfred’s rule, and they were converted to Christ; the king himself supervising the Christian instruction of his people. Let us also not forget that this finest hour stretching from Augustine to Alfred, produced Wilfred who along with Willibrord began the great Anglo Saxon conversion of much of Northern Europe to Christianity. However the greatest missionary to the Continent was undoubtedly Boniface of Crediton, who converted the Germans. Such exquisite ironies are lost on even Churchill, in his own right an eminent historian, for it is the fate of those who are taken up with the kingdoms of this world, so often the play things of Satan, to miss the glories of the Kingdom of Heaven which are hidden from their gaze. It was a child who noticed that the Emperor had no clothes, and it is the meek who will miraculously inherit the Earth.
How different it is today in this land, this England. We have a phoney monarchy which is little more than a troop of royal stooges, without any purposeful Christian conviction, who serve their time doing the bidding of a secular state which is increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. We have a phoney Established Church which claims to represent the religious aspirations of the English people, but which historically is a creature of the Tudor State, constituted as a political tool upon the ruins of the ancient English Church; the Church of Augustine and Alfred, and all the saints of Old England. A country once abounding in monasteries and nunneries, shrines and pilgrims’ hospices, and splendidly adorned cathedrals and churches. Now it abounds in war memorials, denuded churches with royal coats of arms, instead of Rood screens, and museum-like Cathedrals full of regimental flags and imperial plaques to generals and dukes, viscounts and governors; nothing but mausoleums for the squirearchy that has ruled the country since the sixteenth century. The shrines of God replaced by the temples of the state and the totems of war.
This is the diet upon which the English people have been fed for so long; nationalism, imperialism, royalism and war, all synthesized into a potent brew of pseudo-religious sentiment. What I long for is this; that England becomes a truly Christian nation. The Christian nation that it was always meant to be, but never managed to be (like every other so-called Christian nation). For this to have any realistic chance of happening all the idols must be discarded, banished, pulled down. “Thus were they stained with their own works and went a whoring with their inventions”,” (ps.105:38).
We can start by making an end of the cult of war and the glorifying of it through the interminable celebrations of anniversaries and erecting of monuments. We can stop the pretence of being anti-war as we adorn ourselves with poppies and at the same time continue to invade other countries and bomb their populations. Instead of congratulating ourselves on how wonderful and righteous and generous we are, we can institute a national day of repentance for all the death, destruction, dislocation, and untold misery we have caused among so many people through our colonial rapacity and Imperialist wars, which continues to the present day, disguised as the “war on terror”. By all means have a “remembrance day” in November, for the fallen of all nations, as long as it is firmly remembered that the 1914-18 war was proclaimed as “The War to end all wars”. And that it is surely the most abominable hypocrisy to keep lamenting year by year the evil that is wrought by war, and the limitless number of lives that are devoured by its insatiable appetite, when all the while putting up more and more memorials under the guise of remembering, but in reality, glorifying war and the military. War is now too horrific, too hellish, to be any longer contemplated as a solution to anything. In fact contemporary wars are fought by the military against civilians; against women and children. Pilots, soldiers, and sailors, are not heroes. They are paid killers.
It is right to remember the First World War, to learn about it, to study it, to even meditate upon it. Because more than any other war, except Vietnam, it reveals the utter pointlessness and staggering wickedness of Governmental subterfuge and military ambition. And it brings into stark relief the life giving precepts of Jesus the Prince of Peace, the Son of God who was done to death by that deadly triad of the state, the military, and establishment religion. Those precepts are the Beatitudes, and instead of building memorial temples in order to house statues of air force bombers we’d be better off, us, our children, and our children’s children, and thereafter if we built a Rio de Janeiro-like statue of Our Lord Jesus Christ somewhere near, if not on top, of the “White Cliffs of Dover”, and inscribed with the Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes.
Let’s put our idols away. Let’s replace the totems of war with wayside Calvaries; for the Sacrifice of Christ is the only one that ultimately matters and in which we are all included, if we so wish. Let’s build statues of saints, not soldiers and bombers. Let’s end our infatuation with royalty, and kneel before the true King, the One who wears a crown of thorns. Let’s go forth to the new English people being formed in our day, black, brown, white and yellow and make of them a Christian nation. Let’s see the flag of St. George for what it actually is, the banner of the Risen Christ, and so rally round it. St. Boniface, that great monk and missionary of Old England, was a noted destroyer of idols, yet an even more noted builder of Christian Faith. Let us go and do likewise and win a new people for the Lord.
I’ll end finally, as the Lord permits, with the second verse of that beautiful hymn “I vow to thee my country”, which should of course be the English National Anthem, instead of that dreary dirge “God Save the Queen”. The first verse is all about doing the usual patriotic thing, but this is quickly superseded by the second verse, which is the whole point of the hymn, and indeed the whole point of the life we have been given by God, in Jesus Christ.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.
In the Most Holy Name of Jesus.