A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Anniversary WWI

Fr Bernard Carney sm

Fr Bernard Carney sm

This year is spent in marking the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of WWI. In fact the war began on August 5th 1914.

Bending the sword of war. The Christchurch War Memorial by  William Tretheway.

Bending the sword of war. The Christchurch War Memorial by William Tretheway.

This month’s Marist Messenger includes a snapshot of that anniversary by a brief account from Elizabeth Charleton about some New Zealand Catholic chaplains and their ministry to the soldiers in their care. (page 41)

One of the features of WWI and increasingly so ever since, has been the mechanisation of killing. Gone are the lines of men on horseback charging at one another with swords and spears. With the development of machine guns, tanks, poisoned gas and submarines, war could be waged in a totally new way. This whole mentality has gone on over the last 100 years. The personal nature of confronting one’s enemy as in David and Goliath is over. Impersonal killing has now reached a new sophistication with drone strikes.

Along with all other legitimate targets comes the collateral damage i.e. the accidental killing of civilians who happen to be close to the action. This has always brought a special poignancy to war, as if the taking of human life in a military context was not bad enough.

The Church has always recognised the right of a country to defend itself.  No 2308 of the Catholic Catechism says in part, “governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self defence, once all peaceful efforts have failed.”

Much of the world has been spared the scourge of war since 1945. It would seem for the most part that the lessons of peace have been learnt. One of these lessons has been a better effort on the part of the world community for a just and equal distribution of this world’s goods. Another lesson has been the avoidance of the victors of WWII humiliating the defeated nations by imposing war reparations on them as they did after WWI.

One has only to look briefly at today’s world situation to see the wisdom of the saying, ‘Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.’ The answer surely is to safeguard the elements of peace. The Catholic Catechism mentions, ‘the safeguarding of the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect of the dignity of persons and peoples and the assiduous practise of fraternity.’ ( CC 2204)

The recall of the tragedy when humanity has failed in this respect, can only be for the good. Hence the importance of commemorating WWI and subsequent conflicts.     

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