Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance Sunday
Cathedral 2002

The Readings for today have been chosen by the lectionary makers to focus on the needs of mourners. They are all about life after death and future hope for the individual. Yet Remembrance Sunday calls for a reflection on the motives that properly justify a war. What can legitimately take us into the battlefield? So in spite of the readings this is what the sermon is about and my text is taken from the prophet Micah

"What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God" Micah VI, 8

This is all the more important as we stand at the potential threshold of another war, this time with Iraq. The wars on which we mainly concentrate on this Sunday are what was once called the Great War and its sequel, World War II. To enter both of these we argued that there was an aggressor who needed to be stopped. In 1914, when the Kaiser invaded Belgium, he crossed a moral as well as a geographical boundary and we went to war. Behind this there was the long-standing enmity betwe en France and Germany and much else, but the uniting sense was of moral outrage at the rape of a neutral country. So too in the Second World War, Nazi Germany had transgressed the code of human behaviour with its treatment of the Jews and its invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia, the last straw was the push into Poland against the specific warnings of the Allies. Once again it is possible to impute other less reputable motives, but at least it was the sense of being on the side of justice that str engthened the war effort of the West. We could appeal to the words of the Prophet Micah without shame.

"What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God" Micah VI, 8

We have now entered into a new phase in our thinking about war. It can be called more honest and realistic or perhaps less hypocritical. Yet on the other hand it is more blatantly selfish.

It was in 1988 that a famous US State Department official, George Kennan set out a clear coldly pragmatic policy statement in the following terms

"The U.S has about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of the world's population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming, and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our imm ediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives, as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic dogmas the better."

We have seen this thesis enacted in the politics of the middle east: over support for the Jewish side in the Palestine/Israeli war, in the dominance of the economics of oil in the last Iraqi conflict, and, most seriously, in the refusal by the US to pay attention to the international agreements that emerged from the Earth Summits at Rio, Kyoto and Johannesburg to limit the greenhouse gases which threaten the ozone layer. The reasons given for this was the danger that American jobs would be los t and their standard of living reduced.

American policies have ensured that their country is perceived as the robber baron of the world economy, its life of luxury built on the death by starvation and poverty of the Third World. Nothing can justify the terrorist actions of 11 September or any subsequent threats but it is possible to see what has fuelled the anger that provoked them.

If today we wish to honour the memory of those who died for their country in the two World Wars we need to do it with a commitment to the fight for peace. A dear friend of mine, an ex-Army Chaplain who died this year said to me recently, "I cannot support the politicians in their desire for war. I have buried too many young soldiers."

It is his passion that lies behind this sermon. The arguments come from a book "War on Iraq" written by Scott Ritter the former UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq and William Rivers Pitt an expert on the Middle East. For myself I was a Sub-lieutenant RNVR at the end of the last war and as I was elected Bishop of St Andrews was both Vicar of St Paul's Daybrook and OCF at the East Midlands District HQ.

In keeping this Remembrance Day we need to be ready to rethink our commitments not to follow any party line but to seek obedience to the Will of God in the circumstances of our day. This will meant that we must rethink some of the cliches of our religious language. We cannot make a specious appeal to God to bless our country when its policies are geared to dishonouring our maker by using the lives of his children as pawns in trade wars or as victims of actual fighting.

Michael Hare Duke