As I write this, we are experiencing the hottest September day for 50 years and yet autumn is unmistakably on its way and with it the season of harvest and remembrance.
This summer as part of our family holiday, I visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery at Passchendaele in Belgium (the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world), as well as some of the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy.
Tyne Cot contains a staggering 12,000 graves, as well as recording the names of an additional 35,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers missing in action as a result of the Battle of Passchendaele (1917). The measure of the impact of Tyne Cot is shown in these words of King George V when he opened it in May 1922:
“We can truly say that the whole circuit of the Earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”
A better reflection of the appalling tragedy of war you could not find, but just a generation later, there was sadly more to come. At the Canadian Juno Beach Museum in Normandy, however, I came across some other very striking words.
At the outbreak of WWII, the Canadian Prime Minister was William Mackenzie King. This is what he broadcast to the nation to explain Canada’s entry into the war:
“The Nazi doctrine of force is the very antithesis of what one finds in the Christian gospel. If it prevails there will be, as I see it, an end to our Christian civilization. It will prevail, unless men are prepared to sacrifice their lives in opposing it.
That is why the present war is for the Allied forces a crusade. The time has come when to save our Christian civilization, we must be prepared to lay down our lives for its preservation.
The young men who are enlisting in our forces today, to serve on land, on the sea and in the air, are first and foremost defenders of the faith. Like others who have gone forth to battle in the past, they are placing their lives at the service of King and country.”
It is an astonishing speech. As someone else has written, by today’s standards, the words would be considered politically incorrect. But if you have read any accounts at all of what the Nazis and their sympathisers inflicted upon the Jews and other minorities of Central Europe, I’m afraid it is hard to disagree with the Canadian Prime Minister.
George V was right. War is desolation and Christians are to be passionate advocates of peace. But occasionally the other King (Mackenzie) is right: to do nothing is worse. Fortunately for us, the Lord Jesus did not do what was politically correct, nor did he do nothing. As Hebrews 13: 12-13 puts it:
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate (that is at the rubbish heap, the place of shame) to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
With best wishes