Witnesses for Peace
This year, Nov. 10, His Excellency the President, the Prime Minister and other Ministers of Government, civil and religious dignitaries, will gather at the Cenotaph in Roseau to commemorate the dead of World War I and World War II, in which Dominicans participated. Indeed, this observance ranks among the most solemn in the Commonwealth of Dominica. However, I daresay it is time that this country should consign the last vestige of colonialism to its final resting place.
In the post-modern world, Christians have been led to reflect deeply on the criminality of war. The just war theory developed in the Church has been proven to have many cracks. Men and women have challenged the validity of any kind of war. Conscience has had the final say.
On June 5, 1917, Ben Salmon, an American young man, born in 1889 to a Catholic family, wrote to President Woodrow Wilson: "I refuse to submit to conscription. Regardless of nationality, all men are brothers…The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' is unconditional and inexorable…Both by precept and example, the lowly Nazarene taught us the doctrine of non-resistance and so convinced was he of the soundness of that doctrine that he sealed his belief with death on the Cross."
For this affirmation, Ben Salmon was condemned to death. Eventually, he was given 25 years in jail. But he had no regrets.
Ben Salmon, who was married and had three children, spent much of his life in prison. Even when he was released he clung to what he said was "conscience, my infallible guide." In April 1918, the Secretary of War directed that action should be taken against all conscientious objectors. Ben Salmon refused to engage in even non-combatant work for the war effort. No power on earth could break his determination.
After much suffering, because of the harsh treatment given to him, he died in 1932 at the age of 43. To the end he remained a Catholic. Later, of his three children, one became a priest and another became a religious sister.
We need to refrain from anything which seems to imply that we are indulging in the glorification of war. The great nations of the World, the British, the French, the Germans, the Americans, have all pursued their wars to suit their own agenda, their own ambitions. They have succeeded in sucking in men of their colonies. Now that independence has been obtained, former colonies should cease to have meaningless and outdated observances as World Veterans' Day.
Every nation needs landmarks on which to hinge its progress in history. It needs to focus on certain incidents and certain personalities. And that is good. In the U.S.A., there is George Washington Day, there is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Let us have Emmanuel Christopher Loblack Day, Edward Oliver Leblanc Day, Mable Cissie Caudeiron Day, Sir Clarence Seignoret Day. These observances would be more meaningful than anything like what obtains at the War Memorial every year.
We need to study history and take a critical look at whatever we engage in. If not, we can easily be led astray by blindly following the great nations. It is time that we learn to forge our own links and carve our own destiny. It is time that we learn to develop our own moral standards and abide by them.
At the beginning of World War I, when Pope Pius X was asked to bless the Italian military, his response was blunt. He refused, saying, "I bless peace, not war." In 1918, at the end of the War, which was won by Britain, France and the U.S.A. against Germany, the triumphant powers met in Paris for the peace negotiations. When the French Marshal Foch heard of the results, he exclaimed, "This is not a peace treaty. It is an armistice for 20 years!" Sir Winston Churchill of England himself felt that the terms were too harsh. Germany lost all her former colonies, while the other nations kept theirs, and she was condemned to pay harsh, unjust war reparations.
It was that injustice which brought to the scene Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, who, in 1939, were back at war. Hitler received much support even from the Church in Germany. He presented himself as the vindicator of the dignity of the German people, who had been grossly humiliated.
The point we make here is that Great Britain, France and the U.S.A. were just as guilty of World War II as the Germans. Had Germany been treated fairly by the Allies, there may well have been no World War II. Because justice cannot be our watchword and vengeance must be exalted, we are doomed to be perpetually at war.
War has been raised to the level of heroism. Recourse has been made to patriotism. During World War II, to inspire the soldiers in battle, efforts were made to glorify the activity in which they engaged. One song exclaimed: "'Tis sweet for one's country to die!"
We are a Christian people. We need to develop a Christian conscience. This conscience must be made to bear on every aspect of human life. God has given us a compass by which we can measure good and evil. Let us endeavour to use it for the good of mankind.