"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

THERE ARE NO NO WINNERS IN A WORLD WAR by Metropolian Hilarion Alfeyev (plus) MEMORY, MYTH AND LAND by Margaret O'Brien Steinfels

A century ago, the First World War began. On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, then on 1 August, Germany declared war on Russia, and over the course of a few short days, several more world powers joined the conflict either on their own initiative or by needs. Over the next three years, more and more countries joined both warring sides, dragged into the quicksand of fighting that was growing to encompass the European continent and far beyond it.
The result of that four-year war was millions of lives lost–more than ten million soldiers dead and twelve million civilians. The war brought four great empires to ruin. And it had long-term effects for most of the countries involved: if there hadn't been a First World War, there wouldn't have been a Third Reich, or the Nazi party, or Hitler's concentration camps and gas chambers. If Russia hadn't been pulled into the First World War, there wouldn't have been a Bolshevik revolution, famine, dekulakization, or mass repressions.
The result of World War I was a repartitioning of the world, a redefining of spheres of influence. Yet many fundamental problems that the war attempted to solve remained unaddressed in its wake. And in twenty years’ time after the war, the same governments (only now with new rulers) found themselves drawn once again into an even more terrifying event, a conflict that came to be known as World War II.
The First World War’s centennial anniversary is not likely to cause a major response around the world. Monuments will be opened in honor of the heroes, existing memorials will be cleaned up, and wreaths will be laid on soldiers’ graves. Solemn ceremonies will be held. But will the war’s anniversary serve as cause for serious reflection on the impact it had around the world? Will the impact of the two world wars become a lesson for those world leaders on whose shoulders it now rests to prevent a third?
Today, a hundred years later, new world empires are at work repartitioning the world again, this time with the use of localized conflicts. The Middle East has been a powder keg for more than a decade–beginning with Iraq, the events of the “Arab Spring” have spilled over into Libya, Egypt, and Syria, drawing more and more countries into a not-yet-worldwide conflict. But the Middle East unrest has only in part been caused by domestic strife among the different peoples inhabiting the region: to a significant extent, the conflict has spread and continues to do so as a result of intervention from without. The war in Syria is hardly a civil one: third-party countries are fighting on its territory, each of which brings to the table its own specific interests. And likewise, current events in Iraq–the capture of major cities by radical Muslims–are not merely a consequence of civil uprisings. All this has become possible because ten years ago, outside forces decided to meddle in the situation and establish order.
The current-day situation is beginning to resemble more and more the one brewing just before World War I. It is true that conflicts for the time being are localized in nature, but entire governments are being drawn into the militaristic rhetoric, and entire military-political groups. The polarization of opinions on the matter has reached a critical level. Various countries’ mass media are creating and supporting the image of the Enemy and demonizing the actions of foreign countries. It is a short step from this sort of behavior to a declaration of war on an international scale.
Judging from these developments, it might seem that the lessons of World War I have been wholly and long ago forgotten, just like the lessons of the war that followed it, the human losses of which outweighed even the horrific figures of the first war several times over.
The key lesson from both world wars is that in such wars, there can be no winner. All sides suffer massive losses, and everyone loses. Even today, historians continue to dispute who really won World War I. Strictly speaking, Germany, along with its Axis partners, lost the war. Having said that, can one really make a case for saying that Russia won? Only at the very outset of the war, in 1914, did things seem to be going well for Russia. The following three years, however, took a massive toll on the life and material well-being of the country and thoroughly exhausted Russia to the point that the Tsarist Empire fell, and the Bolsheviks, aided by Germany, were able to take over the country with almost no resistance. They couldn’t have achieved this had the great and powerful Russian Empire not been drawn into a bloody and atrocious war, the ramifications of which no one could have anticipated.
The last archpriest of the Tsarist army, Georgy Shavelsky, wrote in his memoirs about an air of “militant dust and some sort of joyful sentiment” that seized the population of the Russian Empire during the summer of 1914 after the declaration of war. “At that time we didn’t want to think about the might of our foe, about our own army being ill-prepared, about the variety of uncountable victims which the war would demand, about the flood of blood and millions of deaths, about the multitude of tragic and at times unforeseeable events which would play a decisive role in the war. At that time the masses– both young and old, both fickle and wise– passionately rushed into a terrible and unknown future, as though only in the torrent of suffering and blood could they find their happiness.”
Today, as well, no one wants to stop and consider such unforeseeable and terrible events that any such war would inevitably bring with it, directly or indirectly–a huge death toll for the civilian population. Nor do they want to think about the possibility that a bomb dropped on a military target may indeed destroy civilian housing, snuffing out the lives of the elderly, women, and children. Or about the likelihood that a rocket targeting a military aircraft might indeed destroy a commercial plane as has apparently happened with the Malaysian Airlines plane that crashed in the area where war is raging in southeastern Ukraine. No one has taken responsibility for that loss of 298 lives–none of whom had any relation to the war–and it appears highly unlikely that we will ever learn the names of the guilty parties to this atrocity. Nonetheless, the warring opponents in the dispute are already using this terrorist act to blame one another, making loud political statements and clamoring for punishment and retribution.
That was the situation a century ago as well, when the outbreak of war was sparked by a Serbian terrorist’s assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne. It was as though the world leaders were waiting for just such a shot to ring out so that they could begin the war that they all knew was inevitable. Notably, all of the countries entering the war expected a quick victory, a blitzkrieg with minimum losses and maximum gains. None of the world leaders at the time could possibly imagine the implications of their irresponsible decisions, which in the end would leave them awash in the blood of their own peoples.
At the start of a war, it’s possible to more or less calculate the expected loss of life, but no one can count up the lives lost through foregone potential descendants of each soldier and each civilian killed, since each one takes to his grave at least one or two children, four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and so on.
The Russian Orthodox Church has its own views on war, its own prophecies and its own warnings.
The Church considers war to be an evil, and any killing a crime. However, it blesses soldiers who are fulfilling their holy duty of protecting loved ones and rectifying injustices. The Church condemns those world leaders who drag their citizens into military operations; however, it does not view the victims of such actions as having died in vain: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:3). The Church believes that Christ’s words can refer to those soldiers fighting on the field of battle to protect their faith and Fatherland and laying down their lives. It celebrates their heroic deeds and prays that God will forgive them all their sins and that they will be remembered in God’s everlasting memory.
The Church believes in the resurrection of the dead. On Holy Saturday, the day of remembrance of Christ’s death and burial, the prophecy of Ezekiel is read in services, concerning a field full of bones of the dead. According to the words of the prophet, these bones are rejoined one to another, clothed with sinews and flesh, God breathes life into them, and they are transformed into living hosts. All those who have died on the battlefield or in other circumstances, all innocent victims of armed conflicts, are not lost forever: they will be resurrected into new bodies and a new life.
While the Church strives to instill hope in people, it at the same time cautions them against actions that may deprive them of eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church directs its voice to earthly authorities, warning them against being drawn into military conflicts that may take the lives of soldiers and civilians. The Church goes to great lengths to organize talks between hostile parties, to assist the wounded and suffering, and to oppose bellicose propaganda and outbursts of hatred that may provoke fratricidal clashes.
The Church does not take sides in a civil war. When civil unrest began in Ukraine last winter, the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to which the majority of the population belongs, did not support either side. The Church’s members have ended up on both sides of the fence. The Church has called for a peaceful solution to all the accumulated problems and has acted as a mediator between the warring parties: monks from the Kiev-Pechersk Monastery took to Independence Square in Kiev and for many days stood in the pouring rain as a living shield, to prevent the two sides from clashing in mortal combat. The Church sees its mission as one of reconciling enemies, preventing violence, and protecting people's lives.
Today, when fratricidal war has engulfed the eastern regions of Ukraine, millions of believers of the multinational Russian Orthodox Church offer their fervent prayers for a speedy end to the civil war, and that peace will return to the blessed Ukrainian land. The Church also perpetually directs its voice to those in power, beseeching them to cease from hostilities and begin peace talks.
However, the voice of the Church today sounds like “one crying out in the wilderness” (John 1:23). Some may even ask, “Why does the Church keep silent, why do we not hear it?” The Church is not silent! But unfortunately, the Church’s voice is being drowned out among the cacophony of other voices calling not for peace, but for war; not for reconciliation, but for escalation of the violence; and not for efforts to save lives, but to continue their senseless and criminal destruction.
The voice of the Church is the voice of God. Those who choose not to listen to that voice defy not only fundamental human values and common sense–they defy God Himself. But “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Having sown hatred and enmity, the leaders of the major world powers that entered World War I reaped death and destruction. May the events of a hundred years past serve as a sobering reminder to all those today who call for yet another repartitioning of the world, and who would attempt to resolve their international and domestic problems through military means.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev - Chairman of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, author of over 40 books on theology, history, and art history. Professional composer and author of musical works for choir and orchestra


Commonweal / www.commonwealmagazine.org /  August 26, 2014

Why We Fight: Memory, Myth & Land

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels

Nations go to war for reasons both obvious and obscure. Sometime the causus belli is apparent, even announced. In 1914 Britain and France said they would declare war on Germany if it invaded Belgium. The Austro-Hungarian Empire promised war against Serbia if Prime Minister Nikolas Pasic said no to an Austrian ultimatum in investigating Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination. Germany, having absentmindedly given a blank check to Austria, jumped in to support its ally. Fearing a German attack, Russia began troop mobilizations. Alliances and secret agreements clicked into place and drew in nations with little at stake in these issues. For this, millions died in a war that lasted more than four years and whose consequences still shape the international landscape.

These disparate reasons for going to war, of course, masked deeper, emotionally charged justifications. For example, France and Serbia shared a zeal for recovering lost territory. In France’s case it was Alsace-Lorraine, lost in 1871 to Germany in the Franco-Prussian war. In Serbia’s case it was Kosovo, lost to the Turks in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1914, the French desire for “revanche” rested on a living memory. Serbia’s obsession rested on a “myth-scape,” in historian Christopher Clarke’s resonant term, cultivated for more than half a millennium in song, story, and political beliefs. So the Serbs were no less intense than the French in seeking revenge. In their case, the Ottoman Empire was the enemy and Austria the rival in controlling the Balkans.

The desire for revenge and recovery (revanchisme, in French) of the two nations paid off at the Versailles peace negotiations. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to French control in 1919. Serbia corralled unwilling Croatians, Slovenes, Bosnians, Macedonians, and Montenegrins into Yugoslavia, which after, decades of internal conflicts dissolved in 1992 into its constituent parts. While Versailles satisfied these demands of revanchism, it laid the groundwork for others: in the declaration of an independent Ukraine and the provision for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

If revanchism seems far-fetched, even old-fashioned, consider the passions at work today in these trouble spots. Russia lost Ukraine after World War I, regained it after World War II, and lost it again in the demise of the Soviet Union. Today, when Russian President Vladimir Putin lays claim to Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, he appeals to national grievances that oblige redress. However the current fighting ends, eastern Ukraine is likely to remain contested territory—perhaps for centuries. Some people never forget.

Then there is the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Versailles was party to the first international effort to establish a Jewish homeland. Chaim Weitzman, representing the Zionist movement, asked the peacemakers for the land between the Mediterranean and the eastern side of the Jordan River. The Arabs rejected that and any Jewish claims to Palestine. In granting the British a mandate to govern Palestine, statesmen at Versailles implicitly blessed the Balfour Declaration, which promised to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The long struggle between 1920 and 1948, when the UN finally partitioned Palestine, did nothing to reconcile Jews or Arabs to the idea of a shared nation or to contiguous autonomous states. A bit like the Serbian mythscape, the Zionist claim rested on previous occupation, in this case going back thousands of years. A bit like the French living memory, the Palestinians claimed right of possession based on their continuing presence. As we have seen again and again, neither peacemaking nor warmaking has appeased the passions of revanchism and resolved their intractable conflict.

On the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, will these territorial claims lead to an equally appalling struggle? Do resentment and revenge doom the world to another tragedy as Russians and Ukrainians, Israelis and Palestinians struggle over their own landscapes and mythscapes?

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william h. slavick Subscriber August 28, 2014 - 5:57pm:

The Balfour Declaration was Britain's price to get American Jews to persuade Wilson to go to war. And it promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine provided that Palestinians there were respected.  The  struggle between 1920 and 1948 was irresolvable not because Palestinians objected to the presence of the Jews who were there (after a huge influx that tripled its part of the population and, armed, represented an increasing threate to Palestinian natives denied arms by the British) because the Zionists wanted it all, and had, in 1895, committed themselves to take it all by force since they knew the Palestinians would not go away voluntarily.  Protests of an unjust partition, giving 30 per cent of the population political control of 55 per cent of Palestine provided the pretext for the Zionist military to enact its long planned ethnic cleansing of 750,000, annexation of half of the partition part left to a near completely Palestinian population, and theft, then or later, of all but 3 per cent of the real estate when they owned only 6 per cent in 1947.  Margaret, balance is not truth.

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Jim & Nancy Forest
Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands 

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