RAY COLLINS: A War to End All Wars?

On a recent trip to Canberra I spent some time at the Australian War Memorial. When last I visited Canberra in 2014 I had intended to view the newly refurbished World War I section that was to open in time for the centenary of the beginning of The War to End All Wars. 

Unfortunately the exhibition had not been completed and so on my most recent visit to our National Capital I took the opportunity to witness the changes that had occurred.

In 2007 I visited the Western Front Battlefields and many of the war cemeteries that dot the landscape of Northern France and the Flanders Fields of Belgium.

The huge number of individual and mass graves bears mute witness to the terrible carnage of war. It is impossible to walk away from such places without an overwhelming sense of the utter stupidity of war. The new exhibition at the War Memorial also has that effect.

One of the features of the exhibit is a photo display on a very large screen which incorporates images of soldiers dead and alive, of ruined landscapes, of the services provided by the medical professions and the total destruction of villages, town and cities.

What struck me most of all was that the images of cities such as Ypres in Belgium reflect very much the images we are seeing on our TV screens almost every day as the destruction of the villages and cities of Syria and Iraq are vividly portrayed. As on the Western Front, many of these places have stood for centuries and contained incredible examples of architecture, antiquities and cultural artefacts that have inspired awe throughout many generations.

Along with this destruction goes the senseless slaughter not only of the combatants involved in this series of wars but sadly that of so many innocent civilians. It is almost impossible to believe that Syria in particular could ever return to the form of civilization that has been achieved by post war France and Belgium.

In this time of Lent we are called to repent of those things that take us further and further away from the path Jesus has asked us to follow. We are challenged to embrace the mission he has set for each of us, one that focuses on our love of our neighbour and to turn away from the elements of our human nature that led to the violence that we see perpetrated all over the world.

We are also called to spend time in prayer and reflection and I hope that our prayer will be for the people of Syria and Iraq and for those in other parts of the world experiencing such violence. We pray that what World War I was supposed to be, “The War to End all Wars”, will be attributed to this terrible carnage and destruction and that the voices of peace makers will soar above those of the  perpetrators of violence and achieve peace and justice in our desperate world.

Ray Collins Image
Ray Collins

Ray Collins is the Director of Schools within the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. He is an authority on education issues.

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