My two minute silence: ‘Thank God it wasn’t me’

Lots of people in the media have been complaining that ‘everyone’ (starting with Jon Snow) is being pressurised into wearing a poppy. Maybe I live in some kind of poppy backwater, but I spotted only a minority of wearers in Leamington today and nobody seemed to be judging those that weren’t.

I freely choose to wear a poppy – I don’t think they glorify war, although I do think that we should explicitly remember war dead from other countries.

Last night’s Rev shed light on what Adam Smallbone thought about whilst praying on retreat.  So here’s some of what was going through my mind at 11am this morning:

My 11am

Thank God that it wasn’t me.

Thank you God that I didn’t have to make a decision between conscientiously objecting and signing up to fight for my country. (I think I would have convinced myself it was right and signed up, but I’m not sure I would have always liked myself for it).

Thank God that I didn’t have to face that body numbing and brain mashing fear of likely death in the trenches or at Dunkirk. A bullet bringing the end of me with barely a second thought.

Normal

When they speak of World War II, I’m always horrified and amazed by my grandparents’ utter normality in extraordinary times. The older generation that we talk to and walk past each day weren’t any more brave or stoic or with fewer feelings than you and me. They simply found themselves in a different time – just one tick of history before me.

I then wondered whether I would ever face those decisions in the future.

There is no reason why history will continue to move in an ever straight line called ‘progress’ away from death and war. I pray that my character will be prepared to make decisions with fortitude and courage whilst actively pursuing peace each day.

Dignity

I opened my eyes and looked around. I was standing at work in a homelessness drop-in with people who seldom feel like they participate in mainstream society. We stood, remembering together. A collective silence bringing out the dignity and worth in a country and a people.

Somehow, against the odds I’m proud to be here, proud to be human.

About Jonathan Chilvers

Jonathan Chilvers...leads a homeless project in the middle of Leamington and is part of Jubilee Church Leamington. He is a Green Party County Councillor in Warwickshire, but is not writing on behalf of any of the above. Jonathan loves his wife and two beautiful daughters. Follow or contact him via Twitter: @jonchilvers
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7 Responses to My two minute silence: ‘Thank God it wasn’t me’

  1. Chris says:

    I agree completely. And as well as remembering the dead of other countries, we ought to remember the civilians who were killed in wars as well. Often no one even bothers to count them.

    I don’t like it when people talk about our brave heroes. They probably weren’t all brave. Many were conscripted, tricked or bullied into joining up. Some went mad and were shot by their own side. A few eventually murdered each other or their officers, or came home and wrecked their families. Some wanted to be heroes but didn’t realise what would happen to them. Who knows what we’d have been in those circumstances? They were all victims though.

    I wish they’d called that charity Help For Victims. It does great work, and the money is needed because the government doesn’t do nearly enough. But in my local supermarket they have 12-year-old kids dressed in military uniform collecting money for them, and it makes me feel sick. They literally are the children “ardent for some desperate glory”, and I fear they are still being told the “old lie”. One day they may die for someone else’s money, oil or political convenience. One day they might torture civilians to death and come home to medals.

    I fear that politicians like remembrance events, because to them there is a convenient implication that war is inevitable and has a just purpose, worth the sacrifice. We sometimes forgets the wars of greed or pride; the mistakes that were just pointless wastes of life. I wish there was a way of advertising that you’re serious about stopping wars in the future, without diminishing the horrors of the past.

  2. Jon Chilvers says:

    Thanks for your thought provoking comments Chris. I think that I agree it’s not a completely satisfying use of the word, the heros tag is justified because most people behaved with decency within a context way outside of our usual experience and we don’t have another way of articulating that. I think this is true even if we also think that they are victims in the way you describe above.

    Although I didn’t agree with the Afghan & Iraqi conflicts I can’t hand on heart say that we shouldn’t have an armed forces at all. Therefore it’s important that I honour those that choose to risk their lives to protect the daily safety I take for granted, but that in terms of history is relatively rare.

    Finally in terms of another way to remember what do you think of white poppies? http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html

  3. Robert Tomlinson says:

    I’m a big fan of the white poppy. Makes a lot of sense.

    Why don’t you agree with not having an armed force at all Jon? Do you not find it contradictory to your faith, particularly when you look at the actions carried out by the Early Church and their refusal to sign up to Caesar’s army.

    • Jon Chilvers says:

      I’ve been thinking about the White Poppy the last day or two – in the past I haven’t worn it because I didn’t want to implictly criticise people wearing the normal one, most of whom do it for excellent motives, which I think has been the effect in the last few years. However, next year I think I will wear both white and red.

      @Robert – I don’t have a watertight logical argument re: armed forces, but here are some of my thoughts:

      The greatest fear of most societies in history has been that of breakdown of order, because no order = no harvest = death. Order has always been imposed by force or the threat of it (as it still is now – if we break the law we will be forcably detained by the police), but without it societies would not have survived. We take order for granted which is why the riots came as a shock to people, but actually it is very fragile. My concern with many pacifist arguments is that they undervalue order.

      In terms of the army, specifically religious city states like Calvin’s Geneva still needed an army to protect themselves or otherwise they would have been overrun by mauradurs. You can argue that God would have protected them or they should have lain down their lives in the name of nonviolence, but equally they could argue that God had given them the means to provide for their own defence. A similar case still exists with the UK now, so although I am against a nuclear deterrent I think there is a case for a defence force at the least.

      I also have sympathy with an army for peace keeping missions such as Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Congo and (should have been) Rwanda where I think armed forces were a necessity to impose a ceasefire and prevent the murder of thousands that couldn’t defend themselves (or make a choice that they would pursue pacifism even if it meant their own deaths). However, I hold this in tension with the argument of many peacemaker teams that if we put the same amount of effort and money into actively building peace that we do war we wouldn’t need peacekeeper forces.

      Also God’s kingdom is not one imposed by force, but freely chosen (cf Walter Wink), but churches (including the early churches) have been happy to accept the security provided by force to preach the good news. I’m not happy with the contradiction but it makes me think it would be hypocritical to call for the end of the armed forces. I don’t really have an answer there.

      Any insight you can shed appreciated!

      • Robert Tomlinson says:

        I appreciate what you wrote and largely agree with it on practical terms. But I’m unsure of whether the Kingdom of God is meant to be that ‘practical’ by worldly standards, particularly when we study the sermon on the mount. However, I do not believe I am brave enough to call myself a pacifist yet. And their is a strong case for the importance of peace keeping forces, recently highlighted in Will Collier’s book “Guns, Wars & Votes”.

        On the other hand, I do feel that it is contradictory to the actions of the Jesus I love. I believe that when Jesus disarmed Simon Peter he disarmed all Christians. Furthermore, the early Christians could rightfully have signed up for Caesar’s army on ‘moral’ reasoning; Rome was spreading education, sanitation, democracy etc. but they refused to, thus resulting in their death.

        Your comment on how the church has accepted protection willingly is interesting. But that just leads me to question what exactly is the church asking to be protected? Is it land, wealth, stature? All of these things are nice and comforting, but are they really where we should be placing our emphasis for protection on? We are a church and community built on martyrs who we celebrate the lives and deaths of. And when we start asking a State to protect us, who employ armed forces that use tactics that aren’t wholly compatible with the Kingdom of God, it seems like we are selling ourselves short.

        As Christians I believe we are meant to be brave and sometimes be different, even if this gets us misunderstood and disliked. Although I will admit that this is something I am not always very good at doing. With this in mind I would never condemn someone for going into the armed forces, yet I would certainly never promote it. For me I just wish more people read All Quiet on the Western Front.

  4. Gary Bird says:

    Jon,

    There are a lot of moral points that could be discussed (as shown below your post) but I just want to say “That was wonderful mate, well said”!

    I am proud to know you.

    Peace

    Gary

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