Spirit Quest - Treasure the Dove of Peace

 

Spirit Quest
 
War is a failure — let's not shoot down the Dove of Peace
 
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective
 

11 November 2011 — The name “Buchenwald” always gives me the creeps. The German word in itself means beech forest, and indeed, the infamous German concentration camp is accessed by a road from the city of Weimar that leads through a forest of beech trees. Today the former concentration camp is a memorial site.
 
Buchenwald inmates were mostly political prisoners, however, there were also some Canadian, US and New Zealand airmen imprisoned there. They had been shot down over France, made their way to Paris where they hoped to find refuge among the French underground who had rescued many allied airmen. Unfortunately they were betrayed, captured and then transported for five days in terribly overcrowded freight cars to Buchenwald. The story has recently come to light in a documentary film called  The Lost Airmen of Buchenwald, .(www.lostairmen.com) directed by Mike Dorsey.
 
In the winter of 1968 I visited the Democratic Republic of Germany ( East Germany) and was taken to the site of this infamous camp. At the time I did not know of the presence of allied airmen, however, when there I  visited the camp cemetery where I was told  several Canadians were located. All other prisoners were buried in huge mass graves under large mounds of earth.
 
It was a horrible day touring the prison, seeing the cellar where inmates had been hung on meat hooks and when dead taken to the crematorium to be turned into ashes. 
 
I knew personally of one of the victims. He was engaged to a woman who later married my uncle. He had been discovered listening and disseminating information from Radio Free Europe.
 
The Communist government of East Germany liked to take foreign visitors to the camp which they used as propaganda against West Germany whom they accused as the direct heirs of the Nazi regime. Our guide was a survivor of the camp who minced no words in his depiction of life at Buchenwald.
 
The Allied airmen survived by maintaining a strict military discipline among themselves. A New Zealander was the senior officer and their spokesman. When ordered to work in a munitions factory they refused inasmuch as they would be producing ordnance against their comrades. They got away with it. 
 
Of course the incarceration in this camp was strictly against the Geneva Convention. Prisoners of war were to be held in POW camps, but in this case an exception was made inasmuch as they were accused of spying while still on the loose.
 
Unfortunately the horrors and the inhumanity are relegated to the past. Men and women are suffering at this very time, and wars, though we do not call them such, are still in progress, most recently in Libya. And lives are lost.
 
The old antiwar song “Where have All the Flowers Gone” asks, “When will we ever learn?” Good question. Canada is once again preparing to be a foremost war fighting force and putting aside the peacekeeping role for which we have been highly honoured. We are preparing to buy expensive fighter jets, submarines and warships, although we are unsure who is our enemy.
 
Today is Armistice Day. Veterans of the wars since the so-called Great War have marched to war memorials  and paused in honour of the dead. We have continued to add to that number especially in Afghanistan. The Highway of Heroes is a too much frequented thoroughfare. We need desperately to find ways in their name to preserve peace.
 
War has accomplished very little. The Great  War, though I don’t know what’s great about it, was a fantastic waste of lives. It ended not in victory but armistice. The terms of the peace  prepared the ground for Hitler’s fascist regime. The Allies won the Second World War, it really was but an extension of the First, however it left the world divided between East and West. The nations of the world lived for some forty years in danger of “mutual assured destruction,” (MAD). That hostility was put to rest not by military means. The Korean war, in which Canadians were sacrificed, ended in a stalemate even to this day. The US and China who for many years seemed on a collision course are now trade partners, indeed, China holds much of America’s debt. Most of the dictators such as Gadaffi were supported by western democracies, their removal cost many lives. Iraq and Afghanistan are far from being  at peace and stability in spite of human investments. At present Iran and Israel seem hell bent for an Armageddon from which there will be no rapture for the “righteous.”  War is in fact a failure. 
 
Ursula Franklin, emeritus professor of metallurgy at University of Toronto, a Quaker and peace activist has written: “ The indivisibility of peace is the best example: either there will be peace for all and all gain, if there will be no peace all will lose .... We need the safety net of interdependence that is built from the shared  priority that all people matter equally. Indeed, the well-being of this planet  and its inhabitants is the only guarantee for the survival of any nation, group or family. If there is to be security and peace, it will be security and peace for all, for those we love and for those we can’t stand.” Beyond the Arms Race: Building Security and Peace” - a speech delivered to educational institutions in Halifax, March 1984.
 
In that pause for remembrance  it is worth reflecting on those words. I believe that the Spirit of Peace is like a dove hovering over us. Let’s not shoot it down.
 
I am indebted to Carla Seaquist who in a recent article for the Huffington Post made mention of the documentary cited above.
 
Hanns F Skoutajan  SQ. 11/11/11

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