At worship today I was introduced to a new and deeply moving ceremony. We stood for a period of one minute in total silence and at the end a bugler issued forth the military sound of The Last Post. This ceremony has been observed annually for well over 80 years, I understand, in recognition of those who lost their lives when the British Empire was forced to confront the might of the new Germany.
I am still acquainting myself with the history of the last century and am all but struck dumb by the scale of the slaughter that was unleashed. Our preacher informed me that some 19 million lives were lost in this first conflict and a further 70 million in a second global conflict that arose from German expansionism.
I confess to being tempted in these rambling jottings to frequent musings along the lines of "ah, if only my advice had been followed" or "oh, if they had held to my policies". In truth, we all underestimated the threat of Prussia, although I oft-stated that at Berlin in 1878 the idiotic Beaconsfield signed a treaty of "absurdity and duplicity", missing opportunities to create new and free nation states and entrenching the growth of the new European great powers.
I am thoroughly impressed by the wearing of poppies and the commitment to remembrance, both religious and civil, that I encountered today. If we had counted the lives lost to Napoleon less cheaply and held them in our hearts as well as our heads, we might have avoided later mistakes. I did note a confusion in our preacher's sermon, however, in respect of whether the lives were sacrificed for the freedom of one country or the peace of humanity. I fear that further studies may reveal that the majority were wasted as a consequence of the corruption of humanity and the harnessing of technology for the purposes of evil. Indeed in holding such noble ceremonies, the church may need to consider whether the sacrifice of life in war is equivalent to the willingness to lay down one's life advocated by the Lord Christ. For indeed it seems the modern world is beset by zealots who believe this to be the case: that martyrdom that destroys life is as good as martyrdom that saves life. I can only say that such beliefs are a travesty and always were a travesty of the Christian message of peace. I do recall the Queen looking rather oddly at me when I mentioned this concern to her at a time when she graciously invited me to dine with her one Sunday.