The Long Shadow

Rarely do leaders weigh the consequences of conflict. The human cost is terrible, and so too is the loss of homes, wildlife, heritage and communities. Things that take centuries to create are gone in an instant. The destruction wreaked by war has perhaps never been as visible as it is in Ukraine. From mobile phones and social media sites there is moment-by-moment reporting, independent of the channels of news that previously controlled the narrative of world events.

The photo at the top of this blog, taken in South Shields, is not a relic of the first or second World Wars. The Trow Rock Disappearing Gun was a prototype that could be retracted or elevated from its mount, but never went into mass production. The gun in the picture is a replica of the Victorian original. Across the UK, in all sorts of places, we can still see the detritus of war – pillboxes left standing as a reminder of the coastal defences that once surrounded the British Isles. Conflict lingers in the landscape for centuries.

The Chapel of the Royal Foundation of St Katherine, London, stands on the site of a parish church destroyed in 1940

The human (notably male) propensity for fighting appears to be travelling at a far slower pace of evolutionary progress when compared with the speed of new armaments and their technical delivery. A primitive willingness to go to war is now housed in the terryfing world of novichok and thermobaric bombs. Growing up in the 1970s I was well aware of CND and its opposition to the philosophy of ‘mutually assured destruction’. I was 14 when Russia invaded Afghanistan and remember feeling anxious about where this might lead; how the world would react; and whether military escalation would follow, drawing in an ever wider circle of armed forces.

Today is Mothering Sunday, the midpoint of Lent in the Western Church. Tragically we are witnessing many mothers with children fleeing to neighbouring nations, leaving partners behind fighting for the defence of Ukraine. It is a sad reality that many of those seeking refuge will not be reunited with their loved ones. This adds poignancy to the partings that we see on train platforms across unoccupied Ukraine: people do not know whether the separation will be temporary, or final.

Few, few shall part where many meet!
The snow shall be their winding-sheet,
And every turf beneath their feet
Shall be a soldier’s sepulchre.

Hohenlinden by Thomas Campbell

We seem to have lost the energy to seek peace and pursue it. Perhaps there was too much hope invested in the interconnections of capitalism as an impediment to war. Putin has shown us that massive economic losses do not outweigh the decision to invade a neighbour. I’m not sure there can be great hope for humanity if all our energy is put into technical advances with token interest in peace studies; ethics or responsible disarmament. Whether in prayer or mindfulness, we each need to reflect on our own contribution to peace – and find ways to resolve differences without a clash of arms or the long, long shadow of war.

“Friends, let us hold in the Light the people of Ukraine. Let us hold in the Light the people of Russia. Let us hold in the Light the people of Afghanistan. Let us hold in the Light the people of Ethiopia. Let us hold in the Light the people of Myanmar. Let us hold in the Light those affected by conflicts we have forgotten or have never even heard of, because the consequences of war will scar lives just as they are doing in Kyiv. Let us hold in the Light the people working for peace. Let us hold in the Light the people who are not”.

https://www.quaker.org.uk/blog/ukraine-faithfully-maintaining-our-testimony-against-war

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