THE WAR AND CHRISTMAS T WO facts in history stare each
other in the face this week. One is the birth of Christ, which inwardly and out- wardly millions of men and women in every land are com- memorating as they will and can. The other is the intensifica- tion not only of the greatest war in history, but of the bitterness and hate it inevitably engenders. The one is fact as much as the other, and the consequences of the first to man- kind are greater than any possible consequences of the second. Somehow the two must be linked across the centuries. How that may be done it is partly for the theologian and partly for the preacher to explain. But it is not preachers and theologians only, it is much more statesmen and politicians, who have declared that this war is a crusade, waged in defence of a Christian civilisation. If the phrase has any meaning, and the adjective Christian still retains some association with its source, the week of Christmas is a fit moment for some brief reflection on what acceptance of a Christian standard involves in the prosecution of the war till the day of victory and the rebuilding of the world on what is left of its blackened and scarred foundations. Not all the nations, of course, who are fighting treachery and aggression today accept Christian doctrines. That matters nothing. Whoever is fighting Hitlerism is fighting with us, and a common hatred of the vileness that Hitler inculcates binds all his enemies together in a single purpose, to which differences of religious faith are irrelevant.
But this nation calls itself Christian, and millions who con- cern themselves little with what they may call the formalities of Christian worship tacitly accept Christian values and are defending them today not only in word—perhaps not in word at all—but in acts that involve often the extreme of sacrifice. That will go on. The amazing courage of ordinary men and women in the blasted towns of Britain is not to be claimed as an exclusively Christian virtue, but it is essentially Christian none the less. Readiness to lay down life for friends has supreme consecration, but to risk life, and often sacrifice it, as thousands of the civil defence workers have been doing for years for men and women of whom they know no more than that they are fellow human beings, is something greater still. But this, after all, is among the incidentals of the war; the struggle in which the two halves of the world are locked creates conditions in which such individual heroism is evoked. Its exercise is in a sense instinctive, though self-sacrifice in the moment of crisis is not to be looked for from men who in normal life have made their own security and advancement their chief concern. They act as the character they have built up dictates, and no intellectual process precedes the action.
It is very different when certain of the larger problems that the war immediately raises are faced. The initial problem of whether war can be reconciled with Christianity at all has been answered by the vast majority of the citizens of this country and America decisively. The incompatibility is far too flagrant to be ignored. The world has so evolved that situations are created in which no course possible seems wholly right. But to see freedom perish and the regime of the con- centration-camp and the shooting-squad take its hideous toll throughout Europe unresisted is in most men's eyes a lesser evil than recourse to force in the name of right to counter force wielded by indisputably evil men for as evil ends. There are few who challenge that, apart from a small minority whose disbehef in the legitimacy of war even in such a cause has been recognised by Parliament, and provision made, where genuineness of conviction is proved, for their exemption from enrolment in the fighting services. Such respect for con- science is essentially Christian in itself, but to recognise that and act accordingly is easier than to accept the standards Christian doctrine sets in a larger field. Every act of the enemy, and not of one enemy only, is a provocation, almost irresistible, to reprisal and retribution beyond what a firm adhesion to the principles the Christ an Church professes can justify. The test is exacting, and the margin between justice and vengeance often so narrow that the motives prompt- ing action must be searchingly examined before we can be satisfied that human and instinctive reactions have not carried us too far.
The goal, in a word, is victory without hatred. That in itself is a hard saying. Everything we are fighting inevitably breeds hatred. What other emotion could the attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbour, or Hitler's earlier assaults on Poland and the Low Countries, the mass-murder at Rotterdam, the sub- marine-warfare, the savage reprisals in France, provoke? If such outrages did not arouse a burning anger wherever news of them was carried the spirit which alone can bring victory would be dead. There can be no condonation of such crimes, and for their authors, when hands are laid on them, no mitiga- tion of the penalty an inexorable justice would prescribe. Nothing in the Christian ethic is incompatible with impartial justice, and justice is to be qualified by mercy only where mercy promises to bear fruit in a genuine change of heart. But justice and vengeance differ fundamentally. The term retribution may be applied to either, and to that extent Mr. Churchill had some excuse for proclaiming it as one of the principal objectives of the war—though to put it so is hardly accurate, for while retribution in the legitimate sense may be one of the consequences of victory, we are not in fact waging war for the purpose of punishing Germany, or even Hitler, but to create conditions in which neither such a nation nor such a man will be able again to plunge a continent into desolation. That purpose once achieved, there would be no justification for sacrificing a single further British life for the sake of retribution.
To what conclusion then does the spirit of Christmas, the spirit that the Founder of Christianity personified, point today? The answer is not easy, and no answer can be complete, for it may be modified by events that have not yet happened. But one of the great sayings of the last war casts some light on it. When Edith Cavell on the night of her death said " Patriotism is not enough ; I must have no hatred or bitter- ness towards anyone," she was defining what the basis of the only world worth living in must be. In the circumstances of today it is almost a superhuman task to purge the mind of bitterness and hatred (Christianity does not pretend that it is not superhuman), but it is possible at least to resolve that those emotions shall not alone determine action. A world has to be rebuilt in which there will still be some eighty millions of Germans and as many of Japanese. They, and all their asso- ciates, must be made and kept impotent to repeat the atrocities they are methodically perpetrating to-day. Their leaders, and persons political and military proved to be guilty of specific outrages, should suffer the penalties imposed by as dispassionate a tribunal as can be constituted in a world in which there is by the nature of things no nation genuinely impartial in spirit. But even the guilty nations must be given the opportunity to live, and the Atlantic Charter, in stipulating for equality of economic opportunity for victor and vanquished alike, enunciates not merely an Anglo-American but a specifically Christian doctrine. The highest aim this nation can set before it is to remove not merely the opportunity for war but the desire for war, to exorcise throughout the world the spirit of war. That is a task daunting in its immensity, and it will not be achieved by any weak or convenient condonation of evil. The essential so far as Europe is concerned is a new Germany, and though only Germans can change their country's course and purpose, the process can be fostered, as it can be frus- trated, from outside. Lord Vansittart, insist though he may on indicting not only Hitlerism but all Germany, has always declared that the only hope lies in the conversion of individual Germans. That is true, and if we cannot substantially pro- mote, at least we can avoid so acting as to hinder, that essential transformation. There can be no peace on earth without goodwill among all men and nations.