Was World War One necessary?
Some of us had watched the beginning of Jeremy Paxman’s TV series on the First World War, in which he appeared to say that this was a justified war (despite the suffering and deaths) because it was necessary to resist the growing power and militarism of Germany. That view has been expressed by others, eg the historian Max Hastings; Michael Gove’s attack on “Blackadder”, “Oh What a Lovely War” etc which express the contrary view (coming mainly from the trenches?) that it was a futile war, in which the leaders and generals had no idea what they were doing, and sacrificed lives needlessly.
WW1 was perhaps the first war that directly involved the whole people- even the suffragettes were prepared to postpone getting the vote to respond to Lloyd George’s “invitation” to work in the munitions factories. Many hoped that workers in Britain and Germany would prevent war by striking, but were disappointed that patriotism overwhelmed “socialist internationalism”. It also only slowly dawned on people that a war between strong, evenly matched and industrialised power blocks is bound to be a war of attrition- killing enough of the enemy to force him to give up (and accepting the cost of your own massive casualties to achieve that).
So was WW1 the end of “Christian Europe” (the hope that Christian nations would be able to settle their differences relatively peacefully)? The Bible suggests that nations get judged, not just individuals: but 19th century theology had in many ways separated personal and individual morality from social and public life (eg the Sermon on the Mount was said only to apply to individuals, not to nations).
There is perhaps a natural “tribalism” in human nature, but nation states only achieve a sense of unity on the basis of national “myths”. These may have a basis in historical fact, but may not- the “myth” that becomes the history that is taught and which inspires the people (which is what Michael Gove wants to see). The State of Israel (as it was established in 1948) is for some people based on the “myth” that they are the same people to whom the “promise of the land” in Genesis was made (but in Exodus a “mixed multitude” went out of slavery from Egypt. Some would say that the whole story of Moses is not historical fact, and “direct descent” to the present day is uncertain). International law is perhaps more important than “history”.
In both Jewish and Islamic theology there is a requirement of loyalty to the State in which you live. And Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. But did he mean by that what some theologians have suggested- that the State has a right to command our obedience even when it is acting unjustly? Others have suggested that a better rendering might be “Let Caesar keep his money” (they were looking at a coin with Caesar’s head)- which might be translated into modern terms as: “Let him keep his international companies, stocks and shares, investment banks, hedge funds, military power etc, etc.”?