Sermon on the 75th Anniversary Commemoration of VJ Day - August 15th 2020
War is, without doubt, the most destructive force on our planet. Forget earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanoes. Their destructive power – though often immense for a few hours – pales into insignificance against the destructive power of war. The destruction of cities, the millions of victims of any world-wide conflict, the destruction of whole economies and entire races of human beings – these are just some of the effects of war.
Nuclear war cranks up the destructive potential to an even greater height. It was Albert Einstein, reflecting on the pure destructive potential of the weapon he helped to create who said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” He understood that a worldwide nuclear war had the potential to push the human race back into the Stone Age.
And yet, War is an inevitable and, it seems, ever-present aspect of human nature. So, what can we learn from the wars of the past (let alone the wars of today)? On this 75th anniversary of the surrender of Japan, perhaps it is worth a look at the causes of that particular conflict.
Between 1928 and 1932, Japan faced domestic crisis. The Great Depression – across the whole world – led to spiralling prices, economic collapse, mass unemployment, falling exports and social unrest. In November 1930, the Prime Minister of Japan was shot by an ultra-nationalist. In 1932, the army tried to assassinate the next Prime Minister, and ultimately the military seized control of the country. Between 1932 and 1936, admirals ruled Japan. Confident and arrogant, they believed that the whole of Asia should be ruled by them – as a way out of economic collapse. China was invaded, and in response, in 1941, the United States announced a punitive oil embargo. For the Japanese leaders, that move was a perfect pretext for war, unleashed in December 1941 with the Pearl Harbour attack.
The rest, as they say, is history – including the history that some of neighbours in Havant lived through in all its horror. In our Monthly Information sheet for this month is a compelling and harrowing tale of what it was like to serve in the Far East in the 1940s – penned by a recently deceased member of St Faith’s, Govan Easton.
But it is the history behind the history from which we need to learn. The conditions which prompted the rise of the Japanese military machine are similar to those that led to the rise of Hitler, half a world away. Market forces in crisis, spiralling debt, unemployment and poverty – however caused. It is when economies go bad that people look to extremist leaders for solutions. Given our current economic woes, throughout the world, not least as a result of COVID-19, we need to be on our guard against this tendency. We must not let populist fear-mongers rise again. We must not let fear drive us to more war.
War is what happens when language fails, and when we focus our angst, our fears, our problems on some other easily identified group. For the Nazis, it was the Jews. For the Japanese, it was the ‘evil Americans’ and their allies. Today, for billions of people throughout the world, the West is still perceived as ‘the great Satan’. And many in the West, following populist leaders, are blaming immigrants and ‘others’ of all races for the problems we face.
To imagine that the Second World War was the last Great War is to be naïve in the extreme. There has never been a ‘war to end all wars’. And there never will be – for as long as human beings choose violence over talking, self-preservation over sharing, hatred of the ‘other’ over love of neighbour.
British Troops have been involved in wars all over the planet – since 1945. Many of you will remember such wars – some of you have even fought in them. Greece, Malaya, Korea, Eqypt, Kenya, Cyprus, Indonesia, Dhofar, Aden, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Lebanon, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq, Kosovo, Sierra Leonie, Afghanistan, Iraq (again), Libya, and Syria.
But there is another way. Writing around 2,700 years ago, the Jewish prophet Micah dreamed of a day when all the peoples of the earth would ‘learn the ways of God’. “He will teach us his ways”, said Micah, “so that we will walk in his paths”. “He will settle the disputes between peoples, and they will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Everyone will sit in peace under their own vine, and no-one will make them afraid”.
This peace will only come about when the peoples of the earth finally accept the rule and governorship of God, when they take seriously what God meant when he told us to love our neighbours as ourselves. That’s a message repeated again and again through the Jewish & Hebrew Scriptures, and the Scriptures of all the great religions. It’s a message that was taken up with vigour by Jesus of Nazareth. Only when we stop keeping the best stuff for ourselves, being content to watch our neighbours in other lands starve and die, will the world ever find the peace for which we all yearn.
If we will let him, the Lord will indeed be our Shepherd. If we will follow his ways, he will indeed lead us beside still waters. Our cups will indeed overflow.
But how will this be achieved? There is no other way but the way of changing one person at a time. To quote Mahatma Ghandi, ‘if you change yourself, you will change your world’.
So today, we give thanks for the 75 years of relative peace we have enjoyed here in Britain, not forgetting the Manchester and London bombings, Novichok poisoning and other terrorist outrages. We remember, once again, those who gave their lives – or who were forced to give up their lives – for our peace. Today we especially pay tribute to those who endured the horror of the Death Railway and the Far East prisons. We remember, too, the innocent children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – those who never raised a weapon against any one of us. We remember them, and all those who have sacrificed themselves, or who were sacrificed, in the vast number of conflicts ever since.
But let us not simply remember them. Let us honour their sacrifice with a sacrifice of our own. Let us, each one, commit ourselves to living differently from today. Let us put aside the lure of wealth, and the pettiness of nationality, and realise that we are all, each one, children of the same God. Let us learn from him, and follow his ways…so that perhaps, one day, such commemorations as this will no longer be necessary.
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