As the time of year approaches when the poppy sellers appear, one of the words one often hears in the media is the word ‘sacrifice.’ It is not a word that is popular today, especially when used in the context of a religious blood sacrifice – an atonement for sin. It is acceptable to refer to the loss of life of members of the armed forces in the service of their country as a sacrifice but how far does this analogy work when we compare it with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? it does even come close. Under the Mosaic Law any animal to be sacrificed had to be perfect. They may have been defending our freedom by they did not atone for our sin.
The photograph shows part of Kingussie’s War Memorial, one of two panels naming those who died during the First World War listing the names of those who served in the Cameron Highlanders. Most of them having served in the local Territorial Unit (F Company, 4th Camerons). How many people know anything of the individuals named there? Few and far between them. Rather ironic then that Remembrance services claim to remember them. The name on the top is that of Capt. John Campbell, he was killed on the morning of the 18th May 1915 during the battle of Festubert. The 4th Camerons had been ordered to capture a trench some 600-800 yards away, another battalion had been ordered to take positions on their right. They had attacked as it began to grow dark the previous evening. Not long after leaving their trenches they found that the ground they had to cross was intersected with ditches that were difficult to cross. Just before they reached the the German trench they found a deeper ditch that most had to swim across before reforming and storming the German trench. Having captured part of the trench they began to work along it aiming to locate the neighbouring unit unaware that their attack had failed. As dawn broke the men were isolated and the Germans began to counterattack. Soon it became inevitable that they had to retreat. As they began to evacuate the trench Captain Campbell who had already been wounded stayed behind firing his revolver. That was the last that was heard of him. A noble deed, a sacrifice of sorts undoubtedly, but as a sacrificial victim an already wounded man was hardly “without spot or blemish.”
Rqually there is a strong pacifist streak amongst the Christian Church which finds the whole season of Remembrance distasteful at best and repugnant at worst. They find it glorifying war and think that in is nothing that comes close. They are wary that in remembering the fallen that we are creating a cult of the dead as happened in Nazi Germany. Yet on the other hand there comes the time where one has to stand up to evil (e.g. Adolf Hitler) and therefore there are occasions when it is justified. Though for every Second World War there has been a War of Jenkin’s Ear. Though pacifists may cite the verse stating “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” to justify their pacifism, but most people are unaware that there is a verse that states the converse. The latter appears in Joel 3:10 whereas the more familiar form occurs in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3. Is this a contradiction? Rather, I would put it to you that it’s a sign of God’s wisdom – the lesson being that when we take Scripture as a whole, we should always be twice as willing to make peace than war.
How then should we treat this season of Remembrance? Our response has to be a question of balance. We must be wary of exalting those who have died for their country. Yet to forget the lessons of history can only lead to events repeating themselves. Though there are those who will differ i do not see a problem with wearing a poppy if only to remember the dangers of war.
David Rose, originally written in 2012.