Spirit Quest on the InGlory of War

Spirit Quest

On the InGlory of War

The Guns of August can be heard once again

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

The War that Ended Peace is the intriguing title of a book by Margaret MacMillan in which she explores the reasons for the Great War, 1914 - 1918. It had been preceded by a century of relative peace since the end of the Napoleonic wars, relative inasmuch as there had been minor confrontations but nothing to match the conflagration that would consume all of Europe and a good deal more. It would entail a massive loss of life on both sides especially on the front between Germany and France.  It ended with an armistice on November 11, 1918  and be followed by a conference at Versailles that dismembered the Austria Hungary empire, establishing new boundaries and creating new states such as Czechoslovakia, the land of my birth. Loss of territory such as the Rhineland and large amounts of compensation were demanded much of which Germany, although the loser, ignored. 

The Guns of August, the title of Barbara Tuchman’s book, are also audible in our time especially in the Middle East in a very lopsided struggle between Israel and Palestine in Gaza which (at time of writing) is being pounded to smithereens, but also in northern Africa and Asia. Many of the wars today are not nation against nation but internal such as in Syria. Russia and its former vassal state are at each others throats with much of the world particularly the United States, Europe and Canada siding with the Ukraine. These have the potential of escalating into wider international conflicts. 

Let me be frank, I hate war. One would suppose that most everyone does, but that isn’t so. Many countries are gaining great profits by supplying weapons and the fuel that run them. It was Dwight Eisenhower who coined the term “military-industrial complex” where the winners are the suppliers of bombs, aircraft and the oil on which war runs.

Although, as a child until my 9th birthday, I lived less than 30 km from the German border, I never did see shots fired in anger. I did witness political skirmish on the streets of my home town, between the Sudeten Germans, the Nazis versus the Socialists, until the Munich Agreement divided the country on September 25, 1938. 

Only after fleeing to Scotland was I familiarized with war. On a short stay in Glasgow prior to our departure for Canada my parents and I and other refugees were treated to a civil defence film. Much of its footage was shot in the Spanish Civil War and only too graphically showed the bombing by Hitler’s airforce of Republican cities. It frightened me and I could hardly wait until we boarded an ocean liner to take us across the Atlantic far from what would become a theatre of war. 

Of course  during the war I was often exposed to film clips about the fighting in Europe and North Africa. These were usually shown before the main feature films such as Sun Valley, a light song and dance kind of film. That was before the Americans were attacked at Pearl Harbour and themselves became embroiled. 

For a time an allied victory was not a forgone conclusion. Germany was winning on all fronts until stopped at Stalingrad in Russia and Alamain in the Sahara. In the Pacific the Japanese island hopped. Canadian men and women went abroad , many did not return from Italy, France and Germany. War was not a pretty thing.  Brits found out that the civil defence film I had seen was quite realistic. 

It was Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military tactician, who said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” That process must be reversed, and war must end and negotiations take the place of violence in order to restore normalcy and peace. The United Nations has an important and difficult role to play in the world. Yes, I passionately hate war. I would like to be a pacifist but sometimes it seems that the only way is by military action such as defeating a Hitler.

It is now 100 years since the outbreak of the Great War. We are reminded of the sacrifices Canadians made at Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and the Somme as well as many other bloody and muddy venues. The last survivors of that war have now left the stage and the actors in other wars of the 20th century are also diminishing. Soon there shall be few if any witnesses to those bloodlettings.  

We need desperately to be reminded of the “inglory” of war. Our government wants to impress us with the valour of our soldier, sailors and airmen from the war of 1812 to the present, to convince us that Canada came of age at Flanders and a generation later on the beaches of Normandy. I have no doubt about the price of sacrifice but it is nevertheless a tragedy that differences can only be settled on battlefields and with the loss of life and the devastation of environment. I ask myself how the struggle between Israel and Palestine will be resolved. 

I hate war whether Canadians are involved or not. Ours should be a peacekeeping role rather than a warrior nation as written about by McKay and Swift in their book Warrior Nation . 

War is not glorious, it is ugly. Remember the horrors of the last century as well as our present time.

SPIRIT QUEST  28/08/2014

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