they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
When I was a little boy we had a tradition of going to the cemetery to put flowers on the graves of relatives. One time we stopped for gas on the way home, and my dad went inside to talk with the guys who ran the station, while my sister and I waited in the car with my mother. I asked her about the flags we had seen at many of the graves and she told me that the flags marked the graves of veterans. I asked if they had all died in the Second World War, and she said, no, it just meant that they had served in the military.
Then we talked about those who had died in the war and she told me that when a family lost a son they would put a flag in the window (I know there is a tradition of stars, but I think she talked about flags). Mom had been in high school during the war, and she was visibly moved by the memory.
“That must have been very sad for their mothers,” I said, seeing her emotion. “Yes,” she said, with tears in her eyes, “some families had more than one flag.”
“I wish I had been alive then,” I said. “I wish I had been in the war. I would have killed all those Japanese and Germans who made those mothers so sad!”
I was trying to cheer her up, and I could tell she knew that I meant well. She was quiet for a moment and then she said softly, “You know, Billy, Japanese and German soldiers had mothers, too.”
And I said, “Don’t say that. I don’t want to think about that!”
If we really think about it, it is almost unbearable. But as Christians, it is precisely what we ought to think about.
Mom’s thoughts came back to me as I read, again, the inspiring and emotional words of Julia Ward Howe, written in 1870.
Arise then ... women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us,
reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able
to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
As men have often forsaken the plow
and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other
as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each learning after his own time, the sacred impress,
Not of Caesar, but of God.
*This post includes material originally published on this blog in 2010.