In 1932 Albert Einstein was invited by the league of Nations to examine the problem of war. Einstein came to see that science could not explain the fact that human beings, uniquely, kill their own kind in highly organised ways, channelling vast resources into doing so. He then wrote publicly to Freud hoping that psychoanalysis might offer a diagnosis and, possibly, a cure. Freud’s response was pessimistic: violence and inequality are natural to humankind and a utopian state of peace will remain only a theory. Freud was right to be pessimistic, it was not long before WWII began.
Why war? At one level wars are attempts to solve political and economic problems during periods of national or international instability. Nations do not stumble accidentally into war, they choose it as a deliberate means of, for example, securing influence and control of productive and scarce resources. But in the process, war mutates into something which is no longer containable and, in recent times, military technology has made war total and potentially final. In its inception, nature and character, there is a profound and deep madness in the act of war. The madness in being prepared to organise murder on a huge scale: to plan it, research it, execute and then be silent. Silent as houses are demolished, refugees are created and countries , communities and crying children are destroyed in the blink of an eye. Silent as words and bones are turned to ash in a puff of industrial smoke. How can we possibly tolerate the existence of war?
The prophet Micah gave us words about war which are almost three thousand years old. He said, ‘They will beat their swords into plough shares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation anymore.’ Centuries of wars later we are still waiting for a time when the words of the prophet Micah will ring true.
On Remembrance Sunday we stand on that bridge between the stories of the horrors of war and the Gospel of Hope and Justice for our world. We are in a place where we can offer ourselves to be transformed not by politics of fear, but by the love and Grace of God. Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Peace us not something that you wish for. It is something that you make, something that you do, something that you are and something that you give away.’ If we really want to honour those who died in war it is for us to build a more peaceful, loving world for their children and ours where , by the Grace of God, hatred and injustice are never given the oxygen or opportunity to grow. Not least because that is what the Fallen thought they were dying for.