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Carolyn Hammond, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge Onward Christian Soldiers in the Twenty-first Century: a Cross-Cultural View.

Carolyn Hammond, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge Onward Christian Soldiers in the Twenty-first Century: a Cross-Cultural View. What can we complain...when we see a poor soldier stand in a breach almost
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Carolyn Hammond, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge Onward Christian Soldiers in the Twenty-first Century: a Cross-Cultural View. What can we complain...when we see a poor soldier stand in a breach almost starved with cold and hunger, and his cold apt to be relieved only by the heats of anger, a fever, or a fired musket,...? This man shall stand in his arms and wounds, weary and watchful; and all this for a man whom he never saw, or, if he did, was not noted by him; but one that shall condemn him to the gallows if he runs from all this misery. It is seldom that God sends such calamities upon men as men bring upon themselves and suffer willingly. Holy Dying (1651): Jeremy Taylor ( ) In his great exploration of how to die well, written during a period of civil strife and upheaval, the seventeenth-century Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor states as starkly as can be the paradox of why men engage in warfare. He emphasises that this is a picture of an ordinary man, recruited into the King s service, who does not know who or what he is fighting for, only that he has no choice and will be killed if he stays where he is, yet also killed if he runs away. He is bound to this role, this fate, by a nexus of obligation, status and conformism: his obedience to this fate, his tacit acquiescence in the insanity of war, is the great question which Taylor, and everyone after him, must leave unanswered. To motivate fighting one to one, or in a small group, requires a clear grievance; and either to be the injured party or to be bound by loyalty of some kind to that injured party. To fight in a war, the motivation must be different, because the grievance is never personal. It must include legitimation by some higher authority; and find a mechanism for involving large numbers of those within the interest group (race, nation, party) which either motivates them to join in, or forces them to do so. This example sets side by side two extremes of how force within human existence is understood. One is the individual with choice and control over his life; the other is the individual bound by an ineluctable obligation. Where is the poor soldier s autonomy, his personal choice? From Christianity s point of view, that poor soldier is both a unique and autonomous individual (and one who is God-beloved as well); and also part of the Body of Christ, bound to, and supported by, his fellow-christians. The no man is an island principle, if you like. The evidence from Scripture is mixed. The Bible texts which reflect directly upon the use of military force are capable of yielding very different meanings; and of being spiritualised whenever their literal sense proved too challenging. The contradiction is insoluble and enduring without contextualisation, even metaphorisation of the sense: Then Jesus said to him, Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Mt 26:52 RSV); Jesus said, Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Mt 10:34 RSV). Soldiers are a puzzle. A soldier is someone who takes up arms on behalf of a nation, or a people, or a territory. Someone whose membership of or allegiance to a kinship group of some kind renders military service both a duty and a privilege. In theory. There are positive and negative forces operative on every soldier: on the one hand, the fear of punishment, and 1 on the other, the loyalty to comrades which evokes extraordinary acts of courage and selfsacrifice. In 2012 I met Johnson Beharry, who, on 18 March 2005 (at the age of 26), was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valour in the British and Commonwealth armed forces, for twice saving members of his unit from ambushes on 1 May and again on 11 June 2004 at Al-Amarah, Iraq. He sustained serious head injuries in the latter engagement. It has affected his life, his health is permanently impaired. But he joined the Army to escape the life of drugs and gang crime into which he was sinking, he told me; and found a kind of redemption in the order and loyalty of his fighting unit. He is only one example; all of us will have heard of others. For the soldier to stand as an example of supreme courage, an exemplum virtutis, he has to have another ingredient added to the mix. His supreme courage must not be self-serving but directed at the other. It must not be a quest for personal glory but for the good of those to whom his loyalty is directed. This is one reason why modern armies fight in small units: within the smaller unit, familiarity and trust breed courage by first imprinting a sense of group identity. So what does it mean to be a soldier in war? There is too much material for anyone to give a short answer to the question. I have to be selective and use what I know. I am going to glance at two paradigms of military prowess, to show how the soldier as communal (rather than individual) hero became part of the myth of European history. Then I conclude by looking at how Christian insight helps us to make sense of the soldier in the twenty-first century. We ought not to be surprised that Christians have always felt able to engage in combat, in warfare. Not all of them, all of the time, but many of them, most of the time. The debates about service in the armed forces of the Roman empire which so exercised early Christianity were not mainly about the morality of warfare; they were about idolatry, how to manage the encounter with the embedded nature of Roman religion in army life, which required participation in sacrifices. The actual fact of physical fighting was taken for granted; without the complex modern protections of international treaties, and the supervision and/or intervention of the UN, this would probably be evident in European life now as it was in times past, times which, after all, are still not so very distant. If, then, we begin by trying to understand what a soldier is, we have plenty of material to draw upon. Our mental map is a composite of sources scripture, story, book, painting, film. This paper is not a historical survey of how the Church integrated with the Roman imperium; or how Christians struggled to make faith and military service compatible. There is ample material in Tertullian, Cyprian, Eusebius and Augustine which deals with these matters. I want to go back a step, and consider Christian leaders in the Church in connection with the depiction of ordinary soldiers; to cast some light upon the perpetual conundrum that war is. The imagery of war is, as in modern times, ambiguous. It can be noble and inspiring, or repulsive and hideous. To understand war within a Christian context, we have to begin with how language works in us; how does the language of war in its primary context (the armed forces) relate to the language of war in everyday life? Take the love poets of Augustan Rome. For them, love was a form of warfare; they inverted roles to make the woman (of inferior social status) powerful, her aristocratic, educated male lover weak and powerless. But what matters here is that this metaphor s attractiveness for them was rooted in the fact that they all knew what military service was like. It was a universal, shared experience. What added 2 piquancy to the militia amoris was the contrast between the hardship and slog of the one, and the charm and indulgence of the other. What is our equivalent of the militia amoris? I.e. what are the resonances of the language of warfare for us? There is a second kind of metaphorical warfare in the entertainments Roman rulers put on for the citizens of the imperium: in particular the gladiators of ancient Rome. Again they were slaves, from the lowest rank of society. Yet they were part of a machinery of performance of substitute-war. In place of real naval battles, e.g., the Colosseum could be flooded for a reenactment (naumachia); just as today people join societies (such as the Sealed Knot) to dress up and re-enact battles of the past. But in ancient Rome, with no CGI, the deaths could not be faked for entertainment only. They had to be real deaths, the blood was real blood, the sufferings and agonies were real too. This was the world at large into which Christianity was born. No wonder it absorbed some of the ubiquitous common language and world of ideas of warfare, and generated its own metaphorical language of warfare. Language with which today s Church, today s Christians, are profoundly uncomfortable. Look at some military language in the NT: I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need (Phil 2:25 RSV) Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: (Philem 1:2 RSV) 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. (2 Tim 2:3-4 RSV) Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? (1 Cor 9:7 RSV) 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; 16 besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Eph 6:10-18 RSV) And for a parallel from the OT, look at what Job says about the nature of human existence upon earth: Is not human life on earth just conscript service? (Job 7:1 NJB) militia est vita hominis super terram (Job 7:1 VUL) The Hebrew word is (army, war, warfare). The metaphor is ancient indeed. 3 It is from these roots that a metaphorical language of warfare was absorbed into the Church of England s worship; and doubtless woven later also into expression of Empire. Hymns encapsulated the idea: Fight the good fight; Soldiers of Christ arise; Onward Christian soldiers; Stand up, stand up for Jesus. All of these hymns were once popular, but are now rendered morally suspect, and consequently are rarely sung. The same military metaphor is enshrined in the permanently authorized liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer (1662), in the introduction to the prayer of Intercession at Holy Communion: Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here in earth. The language of Empire can sometimes be redeemed by assimilation to the kingdom of heaven which Jesus came to proclaim: it causes no great unease to sing One holy Church, one army strong,/one steadfast, high intent ; or One army of the living God;/to his command we bow. 1 Because we in modern Europe have rejected territorial expansion as a legitimate aim for governments and their armies, we have problematised language centred on expansion of the Kingdom of heaven. Popular hymns like Hills of the North rejoice have had to be substantially rewritten because of the frisson of patronization, even racism, which tinges their texts. Elsewhere in the world, in large parts of Africa, say, or South Korea, the Church militant here in earth is flourishing, untroubled by anxieties about the language of war and territorial expansion which haunt European Christians. But the two World Wars cast a long shadow over our European choices of language for Christian living; and that shadow has knock-on effects for us. How did faith and war come to be seen in our time as incompatible? Augustine wrote in various contexts to argue that imperial military service and the Christian profession were not incompatible, and convincingly so. It is not from theology, I think, that our discomfort comes, but from history. The arguments can be made, and have been made, for the legitimacy of Christians fighting to a greater purpose, a worthwhile end. But the shadow of the recent past is inescapable. Augustine s opposition to capital punishment, an opposition common to Christians in his time, expresses the Christian sense that the gift of life is a divine prerogative, not a human choice. The application of that belief as the overarching principle trumps other considerations. But we also have to acknowledge that the alternative forms of conflict resolution devised in the shadow of the two World Wars, by their very success, have insulated us all, Christians and non-christians alike, from the grimy realities of conflict. This has made it easier to generate theoretical choices, and proclaim theoretical principles, when we are under no real, urgent pressure to defend our loved ones, our property or our territory (and so put those principles to the test). The realities of warfare have been pushed to our margins, and we watch as spectators, usually uneasy spectators (like Alypius at the gladiatorial combats his friends dragged him to, Confessions ) but fascinated and gripped by the terrors we observe at a distance, and without personal cost. The Roman empire used its army for conflict resolution by force. Once bishops were incorporated, under Constantine, into the machinery of the imperium, those Christian leaders were often equally ready to engage in conflict and violence for socio-political ends: Athanasius, for example, in the fourth century; or Cyril of Alexandria in the fifth. 1 Hymns: City of God, how broad and far : Let saints on earth in concert sing. 4 Constantine himself described himself as a bishop ( overseer ) to those outside the church (Eusebius, Vita Constantini 1.44); yet he was, before and while he was a Christian, primarily a military leader. He had fought and directed battles successfully. He was ruthless in using violence to achieve his own ends. The imagery of war was not other to his subjects; it was embedded in their social existence as it was in his. Their status as citizens entailed obligations of service. The military historian John Keegan argues that tribal warrior culture is not to be equated with other forms of human interaction. He expresses this succinctly: Soldiers are not as other men. Man was a military animal aeons before he was a political one. Warfare is tribal, built on the small group defending its resources. In A history of warfare, Keegan remarks on the polarities of war: The bounds of civilised warfare are defined by two antithetical human types, the pacifist and the lawful bearer of arms. The lawful bearer of arms has always been respected, if only because he has the means to make himself so; the pacifist has come to be valued in the two thousand years between the founder of Christianity and the professional Roman soldier who had asked for his healing word to cure a servant. I also am a man under authority, the centurion explained. 2 Keegan asks, and so may we: May we guess that Christ was conceding the moral position of the lawful bearer of arms, who must surrender his life at the demand of authority, and therefore bears comparison with the pacifist who will surrender his life rather than violate the authority of his own creed? (p.4) We have to begin from position of admitting ignorance. None (?) of us has ever taken part in warfare; we have only experienced it second hand, as family tale, or legend, or most often as entertainment. Warfare pervades epic stories with religious subtexts, like the Lord of the Rings they have a direction, a purpose, the slaughter is for a reason, the goal is achieved, anxiety in conquered, justice is restored; the cost in lives lost is a source of passing pathos, a heavy price, yes, but a price worth paying for the ultimate end. This is what we want the stories of all our wars to be like. When the tales come to be written, war narratives tend to be assimilated to this pattern. The First World War stands out against this backdrop so starkly that it is painful. It changed nothing and achieved nothing. It squandered millions of lives over worthless patches of mud. But it should be admitted that grim as it was the First World War was not unique for the pitiful nature of its objectives, and the meagre meaninglessness of its achievements. The most realistic depiction of war in European literature remains the first one ever recorded: the Iliad a story which stands in the starkest possible contrast to war epics like The Lord of the Rings. It has no proper beginning, and no proper end; there is no goal achieved, no quest fulfilled, no justice re-established, no satisfaction at the close. The Iliad lays bare all the worst that men can do to one another, in anger, spite, revenge and pride; and shows up their thirst for justice, vengeance, glory, honour, as purposeless and lacking in ultimate meaning. In the follow-up epic, the Odyssey, the only outcome of the earthly deeds of men in search of 2 Hutchinson, London, 1993, 16. 5 timē ( honour, τιμή) is a shadowy existence in Hades. What Odysseus discovered in his encounter with the shades of the dead in the Underworld was a wretched state of semiexistence. The bitterness of it drew from the great hero Achilles, after all his marvellous feats of valour in war, a cry of hopeless misery: Do not speak lightly to me of death, glorious Odysseus! I wish I might work as a serf labouring for another man, as one with no land of his own and a pittance to live on; better that than lording it here over the perished dead. His bitter cry expresses the same view as that of writer of the Bible book Ecclesiastes: A living dog is better than a dead lion (9:4 RSV). The literature of Homeric epic offers no way of making sense of war. It just happens because men compete principally for timē, as well as for land, or for resources. And the more men they join to themselves in a common endeavour, the luckier they are likely to get in terms of outcome. The story of the siege of Troy, of which the entire twenty-four-book epic Iliad depicts only a tiny fragment, is in a way a fulfilment of the Christian truth that he who endures to the end will be saved (Mt 24:13 RSV); or, sticking closely to the Greek, ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος οὗτος σωθήσεται (Mt 24:13 BNT): he who endures to the end will come to safety. The winner is the last man standing. 3 So if this, the bitter reality of warfare, has always been recognised, where does the dulce et decorum est pro patria mori idea come from? I don t mean what is its literary origin (though that turns out to be more interesting and relevant than might at first appear). It s the title of a poem by Wilfred Owen, quoted from a poem by Horace: Odes 3.2: Let the young man learn to endure constricting poverty Cheerfully, on his demanding military service, And as a fearsome cavalryman To harry the fierce Parthians with his spear: It is sweet and fitting to die for one s fatherland, For Death also catches up with the coward who flees Angustam amice pauperiem pati robustus acri militia puer condiscat et Parthos ferocis uexet eques metuendus hasta Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: mors et fugacem persequitur uirum... 3 Cf the film Skyfall, 2012: the contest between good (James Bond) and bad (Raoul Silva) ends with a similar conclusion. Bond to the dying Silva declares, Last rat standing. 6 The ode is really about a choice between honour and dishonour when death is inevitable; and the military sense of the slogan is not coherent without this understanding. As a single line, it cannot be taken as an expression of Roman views of wa
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