4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
These words from Isaiah came to me this Memorial Day Weekend. It made me think of my dad, a member of “the greatest generation.” In WWII, Dad flew with the 525 Squad of the 379th Bomb Group of the United States Army Air Force. He was based in Kimbolton, England from June 1944 until September 1945 during which time he flew 35 missions.
The photo above is Dad at the 379th Reunion held in Dayton, Ohio in September 2013. The whole family attended the five-day event. At a reception my dad was approached by the man in uniform. This wasn’t the first time such a thing happened-at a family wedding held at West Point the year before a group of cadets came up to my father when they found out he was a WWII vet. He was a hallowed piece of living history to these young men.
The reception took place towards the end of this reunion. We had toured the Dayton National Museum of the US Air Force. In the WWII section, Dad stood under a B17 and showed us how he got into it, where he sat as the navigator and how hard it was to navigate-in those days the navigator did all the calculations by hand. Looking at that plane, I was struck by how vulnerable these young men were-the plane looked about as sturdy as a tin can with wings. And they were being shot at as they dropped their bombs.
For me the most moving part of his service is captured in his words:
Our first mission was on June 5th, 1944. I was so scared, I couldn’t lift myself up through the nose hatch; someone helped me.
This is a war story we don’t often hear- how scared these young men are. And yet nations still “train for war.” We still train young men and women for war. How is a believer in God, in the “peace of God that passes all understanding,” how am I to understand war?
While I was in Israel this past January with a group from our synagogue (we are an interfaith family), we spent time at The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The Shalom Hartman institute “is a pluralistic center of research and education deepening and elevating the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world.” We were there to participate in a discussion of the ethics of war and the ethics in war. Our discussion would be familiar to anyone who has studied the Roman Catholic doctrine of “just war.” The discussion was particularly relevant as we sat in a conference room in a small country surrounded by enemies.
As a citizen of a “super-power,” a country that has only had one war ever fought on its soil, it is easy for me to say “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” But what do I say to the Syrians, who are being forced out of their homes? What do I say to Israelis? to Palestinians? The list could go on.
As we remember those who died serving in our armed forces, let us also remember the words of Mary Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones, who said “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” I think Jesus would agree – our job is to bring God’s kingdom to earth, one step at a time.
Connie Knapp is a Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown and a participant in the Commissioned Ruling Elders program of the Hudson River Presbytery.