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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Armistice Day Remembered & Revitalized | November 12, 2023 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake

The Prayer I pray you'll be our eyes and watch us where we go. And help us to be wise in times when we don't know Let this be our prayer when we lose our way Lead us to the place guide us with your grace To a place where we'll be safe La luce che tu hai (I pray we'll find your light) Nel cuore resterà (And hold it in our hearts.) A ricordarci che (When stars go out each night,) Eterna stella sei Nella mia preghiera (Let this be our prayer) Quanta fede see'è (When shadows fill our day) Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace Give us faith so we'll be safe Sogniamo un mondo senza più violenza Un mondo di giustizia e di speranza Ognuno lo dia la mano al suo vicino Simbolo di pace, di fraternità La forza che ci dà (We ask that life be kind) È il desiderio che (And watch us from above) Ognuno trovi amor (We hope each soul will find) Intorno e dentro sé (Another soul to love) Let this be our prayer (Let this be our prayer), Just like every child Need to find a place, guide us with your grace Give us faith so we'll be safe È la fede che Hai acceso in noi, Sento che ci salverà This is indeed a time of deep prayer—time of opening ourselves to the Great Spirit, the Great Immensity for faith for these days of devastating carnage and anguish. There is so much destruction in the land and in our own souls. We need something upon which we can lean. As a child, Howard Thurman had an oak tree in his back yard that he could lean his back against when trials reigned in his young soul. Upon what can we lean today if not upon each other and the Presence that is beyond all yet within and within all. O God of grace and God of Glory lead us and guide us along the way. There was a great luminous moment in the march of the world when allies and Germany signed an Armistice on November 11, 1918, signally a new relationship among the nations of the world. It was a pledge that nations would no longer resort to war to remedy their problems, for it never did. There were never victories for the millions who died and their families, for their aspirations and their moral integrity. The Armistice was a call to become civilized. We thank Veterans for Peace, what a beautifully and ethically inspiring name, for the ritual in which some of us participated at the church yesterday. The ritual comes from veterans who know about war, who served in the military, some of whom live with the traumatic effects still. Whereas, bells worldwide were rung on November 11, 1918 to celebrate and recognize the ending of WWI, "The war to end all wars" and

Whereas, to commemorate that peaceful pledge, bells were rung November 11 for over 35 years, and, Whereas, legislation making November 11 a holiday passed in 1938, " ...a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." and, Whereas, The 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. and,

Whereas, the substitution of the word "Armistice" to "Veterans" changes the focus from peace to war by celebrating and honoring warriors and war, and, Whereas, that November date symbolized the nation's desire to hold to a peaceful future and away from war, and, Whereas, too often rhetoric and patriotic symbols are used instead of genuine compensation for the extraordinary sacrifices and services of military personnel, and, Whereas, 90% of victims of wars are now civilians and by honoring only veterans, the public is distracted from the awful price paid by those other than military members, and, Whereas, Chapter #27 has for (many) years promoted the ringing of a bell eleven times at its ceremonies on November 11 and at other solemn occasions such as funerals to remind the public of that Armistice Day peace pledge, and Whereas, the ringing of bells is so much more fitting and peaceful than the often-practiced gun salutes and fighter plane flyovers, Therefore, be it resolved that Veterans For Peace, Inc. urges its memberships to adopt the procedure of honoring peace by focusing on bell ringing on Armistice Day, November 11 and other solemn occasions. While meditating on a message for today my mind and spirit led me to an Armistice Day sermon by Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick of Riverside Church in New York. Dr. Fosdick was one of the most extraordinary preachers of the last century. I have edited it for the purpose of brevity only. The entire sermon is definitely worth reading. It is available on the Internet. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick Preached at The Riverside Church, NYC November 12, 1933 …IT WAS AN interesting idea to deposit the body of an unrecognized soldier in the national memorial of the Great War, and yet, when one stops to think of it, how strange it is! Yesterday, in Rome, Paris, London, Washington, and how many capitals beside, the most stirring military pageantry, decked with flags and exultant with music, centered about the bodies of unknown soldiers. That is strange. So this is the outcome of Western civilization, which for nearly two thousand years has worshiped Christ, and in which democracy and science have had their widest opportunity — the whole nation pauses, its acclamations rise, its colorful pageantry centers, its patriotic oratory flourishes, around the unrecognizable body of a soldier blown to bits on the battlefield. That is strange. It was the warlords themselves who picked him out as the symbol of war. So be it! As a symbol of war we accept him from their hands. You may say that I, being a Christian minister, did not know him. I knew him well. From the north of Scotland, where they planted the sea with mines, to the trenches of France, I lived with him and his fellows — British, Australian, New Zealander, French, American. The places where he fought, from Ypres through the Somme battlefield to the southern trenches, I saw while he still was there. I lived with him in his dugouts in the trenches, and on destroyers searching for submarines off the shores of France. Short of actual battle, from training camp to hospital, from the fleet to no-man’s-land, I, a Christian minister, saw the war. Moreover I, a Christian minister, participated in it. I, too, was persuaded that it was a war to end war. I, too, was a gullible fool and thought that modern war could somehow make the world safe for democracy. They sent men like me to explain to the army the high meanings of war and, by every argument we could command, to strengthen their morale. I wonder if I ever spoke to the Unknown Soldier. One night, in a ruined barn behind the lines, I spoke at sunset to a company of hand-grenaders who were going out that night to raid the German trenches. They told me that on the average no more than half a company came back from such a raid, and I, a minister of Christ, tried to nerve them for their suicidal and murderous endeavor. I wonder if the Unknown Soldier was in that barn that night. Once in a dugout, which in other days had been a French wine cellar, I bade Godspeed at two in the morning to a detail of men going out on patrol in no-man’s-land. They were a fine company of American boys fresh from home. I recall that, huddled in the dark, underground chamber, they sang:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, Lead thou me on; The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on. Then, with my admonitions in their ears, they went down from the second- to the first-line trenches and so out to no-man’s-land. I wonder if the Unknown Soldier was in that dugout...I have an account to settle in this pulpit today between my soul and the Unknown Soldier.... He is not so utterly unknown as we sometimes think. Of one thing we can be certain: he was sound of mind and body. We made sure of that. All primitive gods who demanded bloody sacrifices on their altars insisted that the animals should be of the best, without mar or hurt. Turn to the Old Testament and you will find it written there: “Whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the Lord.” The god of war still maintains the old demand. These men to be sacrificed upon his altars were sound and strong. Once there might have been guessing about that. Not now. Now we have medical science, which tests the prospective soldier’s body. Now we have psychiatry, which tests his mind. We used them both to make sure that these sacrifices for the god of war were without blemish. Of all insane and suicidal procedures, can you imagine anything madder than this, that all the nations should pick out their best, use their scientific skill to make certain that they are the best, and then in one mighty holocaust offer ten million of them on the battlefields of one war? I have an account to settle between my soul and the Unknown Soldier. I deceived him. I deceived myself first, unwittingly, and then I deceived him, assuring him that good consequence could come out of that. As a matter of hardheaded, biological fact, what good can come out of that? Mad civilization, you cannot sacrifice on bloody altars the best of your breed and expect anything to compensate for the loss. If I blame anybody about this matter, it is men like myself who ought to have known better. We went out to the army and explained to these valiant men what a resplendent future they were preparing for their children by their heroic sacrifice. 0 Unknown Soldier, however can I make that right with you? For sometimes I think I hear you asking me about it: Where is this great, new era that the war was to create? Where is it? They blew out my eyes in the Argonne. Is it because of that that now from Arlington I strain them vainly to see the great gains of the war? If I could see the prosperity, plenty, and peace of my children for which this mangled body was laid down! My friends, sometimes I do not want to believe in immortality. Sometimes I hope that the Unknown Soldier will never know. Many of you here knew these men better, you may think, than I knew them, and already you may be replacing my presentation of the case by another picture. Probably, you say, the Unknown Soldier enjoyed soldiering and had a thrilling time in France. The Great War, you say, was the most exciting episode of our time. Some of us found in it emotional release unknown before or since. We escaped from ourselves. We were carried out of ourselves. Multitudes were picked up from a dull routine, lifted out of the drudgery of common days with which they were infinitely bored, and plunged into an exciting adventure that they remember yet as the most thrilling episode of their careers. Indeed, you say, how could martial music be so stirring and martial poetry so exultant if there were not at the heart of war a lyric glory? Even in the churches you sing, Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war. You, too, when you wish to express or arouse ardor and courage, use war’s symbolism. The Unknown Soldier, sound in mind and body — yes! The Unknown Soldier a conscript — probably! But be fair and add that the Unknown Soldier had a thrilling time in France.... Did you ever see them? Did you look, as I have looked, into the faces of young men who had been over the top, wounded, hospitalized, hardened up — four times, five times, six times? Never talk to a man who has seen that about the lyric glory of war. Where does all this talk about the glory of war come from, anyway? Charge, Chester, charge! On, Stanley, on!” Were the last words of Marmion. That is Sir Walter Scott. Did he ever see war? Never. And how can man die better Than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods? That is Macaulay. Did he ever see war? He was never near one. Storm ‘d at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred. That is Tennyson. Did he ever see war? I should say not. There is where the glory of war comes from. We have heard very little about it from the real soldiers of this last war. We have had from them the appalling opposite. They say what George Washington said: it is “a plague to mankind.” The glory of war comes from poets, preachers, orators, the writers of martial music, statesmen preparing flowery proclamations for the people, who dress up war for other men to fight. They do not go to the trenches. They do not go over the top again and again and again. Do you think that the Unknown Soldier would really believe in the lyric glory of war? I dare you; go down to Arlington National Cemetery and tell him that now. Nevertheless, some may say that while war is a grim and murderous business with no glory in it in the end, and while the Unknown Soldier doubtless knew that well, we have the right in our imagination to make him the symbol of whatever was the most idealistic and courageous in the men who went out to fight. Of course we have. Now, let us do that! On the body of a French sergeant killed in battle was found a letter to his parents in which he said, “You know how I made the sacrifice of my life before leaving.” So we think of our Unknown Soldier as an idealist, rising up in answer to a human call and making the sacrifice of his life before leaving. His country seemed to him like Christ himself, saying, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Far from appealing to his worst, the war brought out the best — his loyalty, his courage, his venturesomeness, his care for the downtrodden, his capacity for self-sacrifice. The noblest qualities of his young manhood were aroused. Yes indeed, did you suppose I never had met him? I talked with him many a time. When the words that I would speak about war are a blistering fury on my lips and the encouragement I gave to war is a deep self-condemnation in my heart, it is of that I think. For I watched war lay its hands on these strongest, loveliest things in men and use the noblest attributes of the human spirit for what ungodly deeds! Is there anything more infernal than this, to take the best that is in man and use it to do what war does? This is the ultimate description of war — it is the prostitution of the noblest powers of the human soul to the most dastardly deeds, the most abysmal cruelties of which our human nature is capable. That is war. Granted, then, that the Unknown Soldier should be to us a symbol of everything most idealistic in a valiant warrior, I beg of you, be realistic and follow through what war made the Unknown Soldier do with his idealism. Here is one eyewitness speaking: Last night, at an officers’ mess there was great laughter at the story of one of our men who had spent his last cartridge in defending an attack, “Hand me down your spade, Mike,” he said; and as six Germans came one by one round the end of a traverse, he split each man’s skull open with a deadly blow. The war made the Unknown Soldier do that with his idealism. “I can remember,” says one infantry officer, “a pair of hands (nationality unknown) which protruded from the soaked ashen soil like the roots of a tree turned upside down; one hand seemed to be pointing at the sky with an accusing gesture. . .. Floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detached itself from the skull.” War harnessed the idealism of the Unknown Soldier to that. Do I not have an account to settle between my soul and him? They sent men like me into the camps to awaken his idealism, to touch those secret, holy springs within him so that with devotion, fidelity, loyalty, and self-sacrifice he might go out to war. 0 war, I hate you most of all for this, that you do lay your hands on the noblest elements in human character, with which we might make a heaven on earth, and you use them to make a hell on earth instead. You take even our science, the fruit of our dedicated intelligence, by means of which we might build here the City of God, and, using it, you fill the earth instead with new ways of slaughtering men. You take our loyalty, our unselfishness, with which we might make the earth beautiful, and, using these, our finest qualities, you make death fall from the sky and burst up from the sea and hurtle from unseen ambuscades sixty miles away; you blast fathers in the trenches with gas while you are starving their children at home by blockades; and you so bedevil the world that fifteen years after the Armistice we cannot be sure who won the war, so sunk in the same disaster are victors and vanquished alike. If war were fought simply with evil things, like hate, it would be bad enough, but when one sees the deeds of war done with the loveliest faculties of the human spirit, he looks into the very pit of hell. Suppose one thing more — that the Unknown Soldier was a Christian. Maybe he was not, but suppose he was, a Christian like Sergeant York, who at the beginning intended to take Jesus so seriously as to refuse to fight but afterward, otherwise persuaded, made a real soldier. For these Christians do make soldiers. Religion is a force. When religious faith supports war, when, as in the Crusades, the priests of Christ cry, “Deus Vult” — God wills it — and, confirming ordinary motives, the dynamic of Christian devotion is added, then an incalculable resource of confidence and power is released. No wonder the war department wanted the churches behind them! Suppose, then, that the Unknown Soldier was a Christian. I wonder what he thinks about war now. Practically all modern books about war emphasize the newness of it — new weapons, new horrors, new extensiveness. At times, however, it seems to me that still the worst things about war are the ancient elements. In the Bible we read terrible passages where the Hebrews thought they had a command from Jehovah to slaughter the Amalekites, “both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” Dreadful, we say — an ancient and appalling idea! Ancient? Appalling? Upon the contrary, that is war, and always will be. A military order, issued in our generation by an American general in the Philippines and publicly acknowledged by his counsel afterwards in a military court, commanded his soldiers to burn and kill, to exterminate all capable of bearing arms, and to make the island of Samar a howling wilderness. Moreover, his counsel acknowledged that he had given instructions to kill everyone over the age of ten. Far from launching into a denunciation of that American general, I am much more tempted to state his case for him. Why not? Cannot boys and girls of eleven fire a gun? Why not kill everything over ten? That is war, past, present and future. All that our modern fashions have done is to make the necessity of slaughtering children not the comparatively simple and harmless matter of shooting some of them in Samar, one by one, but the wholesale destruction of children, starving them by millions, impoverishing them, spoiling the chances of unborn generations of them, as in the Great War. My friends, I am not trying to make you sentimental about this. I want you to be hardhearted. We can have this monstrous thing or we can have Christ, but we cannot have both. 0 my country, stay out of war! Cooperate with the nations in every movement that has any hope for peace; enter the World Court, support the League of Nations, contend undiscourageably for disarmament, but set your face steadfastly and forever against being drawn into another war. 0 church of Christ, stay out of war! Withdraw from every alliance that maintains or encourages it. It was not a pacifist, it was Field-Marshal Earl Haig who said, “It is the business of the churches to make my business impossible.” And 0 my soul, stay out of war! At any rate, I will myself do the best I can to settle my account with the Unknown Soldier. I renounce war. I renounce war because of what it does to our own men. I have watched them come in gassed from the front-line trenches. I have seen the long, long hospital trains filled with their mutilated bodies. I have heard the cries of the crazed and the prayers of those who wanted to die and could not, and I remember the maimed and ruined men for whom the war is not yet over. I renounce war because of what it compels us to do to our enemies, bombing their mothers and villages, starving their children by blockades, laughing over our coffee cups about every damnable thing we have been able to do to them. I renounce war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatreds it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in the place of democracy, for the starvation that stalks after it. I renounce war and never again, directly or indirectly, will I sanction or support another! 0 Unknown Soldier, in penitent reparation I make you that pledge. November 12, 1933

Yesterday in London an estimated 300,000 to 800,000 people engaged in an Armistice Day protest of the Israeli war on Gaza and Palestinians calling for a cease-fire as a beginning to support self-determination and freedom for Palestinians. If you can, watch videos of the march. The march said ”no” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‘s using the passage that Jehovah commanded the Hebrews to slaughter the Amalekites, “both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” The march affirms that people are awake. The number keeps growing, my hope keeps ascending and my soul is restored. Yes, the group was small that rang the church bell 11 times, on the 11th day of the 11th month, but oh, what a simple majestic expression of our commitment to study war no more.

Veterans Day

A hundred some years ago

on the 11th hour

of the 11th day

of the 11th month

a cease fire was called

on the war to end all wars.

A holiday of remembrance

of peace it should have been.

But thirty and some years later,

after another murderous war,

it became a day to honor

those who fought in any war

past, present, and to come.

War has not ceased;

we go on killing one another

and poppies red & gold

still bloom in field & hill;

bees & butterflies still visit them

but they, too, are in danger.

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