A War To End All Wars

photo 2On the SMU campus just behind Perkins Hall Administration, tucked beneath a grove of stately oaks, you’ll find this small memorial. I first stumbled across it more than twenty-years-ago now, during my frequent nighttime perambulations around campus.
If you’ve driven down Hillcrest anytime during your life, you’ve zipped past it. Maybe hundreds of times.

But you have to walk up really close to see what it is. It’s a memorial to all the SMU students who died in World War I.

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war. Except, this simple memorial at SMU doesn’t call it World War I. It just calls it “the Word War.”

photo 1The World War.

You see, in 1924 the hopeful students who planted that grove of trees knew nothing of a second world war. That carnage wouldn’t happen for another ten years.

Instead they knew the war we call “World War I” as “The War to End All Wars.”

Except it didn’t. There was World War II. Then, there was Korea. Then came Vietnam, and Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Iraq again. And that only counts the big wars we’ve been involved in.

There have been genocides in Europe, Darfur, Cambodia. There have been wars, declared and undeclared, throughout Central America. And in dozens and dozens of other places.

The “War To End All Wars,” didn’t.

They called it that, precisely because it was so terribly bloody and horrible. The carnage was almost incomprehensible. The terrors of mustard gas. A proliferation of explosives and high-powered weapons. The technology was all new. And it gruesomely, and exponentially, increased the ways we humans can kill one another.

It was a “War to End All Wars” because, surely, humanity would never put itself through that again.

Given the hundred years that has passed, and all the conflicts I just mentioned (and the dozens I didn’t) it almost seems a quaint thought now. Time has relegated all that pain and sorrow of “The War To End All Wars” to a small, forgotten monuments, under a peaceful tree grove. One you’d miss, if you didn’t intentionally walk over to it to see what it was.

And, in a sense, there’s a blessed mercy in that.
And in another sense, that’s the entire problem with the human condition in one symbolic nutshell.

The wound-healing mercy-of-time also births short historical memories. And, foolishly, we end up doing the whole thing again. We fight war after war to “end all wars.”
And they never do.

There are few things that approach factual proof for so-called “original sin.” But our propensity to plunge head-long into killing field after killing field comes pretty damn close.

Given that we are prone to forget specific wars, their suffering, their costs, perhaps there are other ways to “remember.” Perhaps the better path is simply to remember the moral and spiritual truths that speak against fighting wars, and to repeat them to ourselves as often as necessary.

Here are a few….

We cannot “Fight for Peace.”
We cannot “Wage War to End War.”
Violence begets violence.
Hate cannot drive out hate.

These are not new ideas. They are embedded deep within the spirit of all the world’s great religions. So, they have been available to us for millennia.

David Wilcox has a great song called “No Far Away.”

One of the lines is
“Vengeance never dies with the dead.
Despite what the general said.”

Every conflict, every bomb —whether dropped by friend or foe— does not simply kill an “enemy.” It also gestates future terrorists. Bombs are their own kind of twisted, inverse womb. A woman’s womb births new life and joy into the world. A bomb is the womb for the next generation of hate, anger, bitterness.

If the past one hundred years taught us anything, surely it’s taught us this.

And maybe, since the memory of the carnage of every war inevitably fades, the more important calling for us all is to remember those morals. Maybe we are called to repeat them over and over. Maybe that’s what we really need to “never forget.”

We cannot “Fight for Peace.”
We cannot “Wage War to End War.”

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

One thought on “A War To End All Wars

  1. Actually, World War II is considered to have begun 15 years after 1924, on September 1, 1939. U.S. involvement officially began more than two years later.

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