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Gone to graveyards every one


Aficionados of United Nations Days and Weeks will know that this is the Week of Science and Peace. In the middle of it, perhaps deliberately and certainly paradoxically, sits Remembrance Day. Initially called Armistice Day, it marked the end of the First World War and of the industrial scale killing involved in it. The events of 1918 and what they might say about the relationship between war and science merit reflection today.

Remembrance Day is still observed ritually in Australia by one minute of silence at 11.00am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Initially it recalled and honoured the many soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War. Now it encompasses all those who served in later wars and peace keeping operations. The poppies sold to raise funds for returned soldiers and their families recall the trenches on the fields of Flanders where these blood coloured flowers grew. The date and the time are those when an armistice came into force. It was signed earlier in the morning, but in some places fighting continued regardless. Over 2000 soldiers died on that day.

For the German people it was a bitter day. The were forced to accept the harsh conditions imposed by their enemies, including the resignation of the Kaiser and a sustained naval blockade. Their humiliation was intensified by the conditions imposed on them at the end of the war, and by the disorder and suffering caused by inflation and civil unrest afterwards. In retrospect Armistice Day can be seen as the time when one war ended and the seeds of the next were planted.  

When we look back at the First World War it is difficult not to notice the contrast between the great exercise of practical intelligence shown by the scientists and others who designed and engineered ways of killing and destruction, and the lack of wisdom of the human beings who allowed the world to decline into war, presided over the human loss and futility of its continuance, and ensured its return.

The war displayed the remarkable development of transport technology that could rush guns, shells, poison gas, men and other instruments of war to battle fronts, of manufacturing technologies that could streamline the production of increasingly destructive weapons, and of information technology that could sustain the war by inciting fear and hatred among civilians. The lack of wisdom among leaders who allowed the war to happen, encouraged a vision of fighting in it as ennobling, sent young men to their deaths for no gain and rejected any thought of a negotiated peace, was also on display.


'Science for peace is an idea whose time has surely been too long delayed.'


The reason for this discrepancy is that in war and in the strategic thinking that embraces war people focus on how questions and give only cursory attention to why questions. War making and security policy engage the practical intelligence but not human intelligence. They ask how to solve logistic challenges, such as how to increase production, to make tanks and aeroplanes, more effective guns, to maintain discipline, to destroy enemy positions, and exploit weaknesses. If there is an overarching question, it is narrowly concerned with how to win the war. What human benefit will come to the human beings involved and in what, if any, ways a better society will be created after it, is not asked. In how questions people become material to be moved and sacrificed as means to winning territory and battles. What might happen to them as persons is immaterial.  

This narrow focus was largely carried over into the Treaty of Versailles. It was a compromise between the self-interest of the victorious nations that the Germans were compelled to sign under threat of invasion and of continuation of the naval blockade that had already caused starvation. German people saw it as a humiliation, especially the demand that Germany accept guilt for the war. The sense of injustice at this humiliation together with the later depression created the conditions for Hitler to exploit in coming to power. They also made him determined to reverse the losses suffered after the war.

Both Remembrance Day and Science and Peace Week speak to our world today. Remembrance Day because it invites us to see the faces of people involved in war, the foundation of human wisdom.  Science and Peace week reminds us that science and technology have now produced the weapons and ways of delivering them that can destroy the world a few times over. They have also shaped a world in which nations can serve their own interests by producing and selling weapons for use in wars that cause misery to others without risking the lives of their own people. Science for peace is an idea whose time has surely been too long delayed. Both in reflection on war and on climate change it is a necessary idea.

The memory both of the Great War and the week of Science and Peace gives priority to the large questions that science and technology cannot answer. They lead us to ask first what kind of persons we are, what kind of a society we want, and why human beings matter. And then to ask whether such a society and such persons can flourish, even survive, if war is seen as compatible with them.

Pope Francis recently made news by insisting that modern warfare and the arms trade are morally indefensible. His insistence shouldn’t have been news. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict said the same thing. Nor should his words seem newsworthy. They are surely a statement of the obvious. 




Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Poppies on a war memorial. (Craig RJD / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, remembrance day, science and peace, Great War, peace



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Existing comments

Science and Peace, they seem to fit hand in glove but there's an interesting sub-plot quite often. The Nobel prize originated with Alfred Nobel, credited with the "invention" of dynamite and owner of the Nobel explosives company, now Dyno Nobel. Haber was awarded the 1918 Nobel for synthesis of ammonia (boom) but was pretty good with gasses in general like mustard and chlorine for WW1. Haber (a Jewish German patriot) is credited with Zyklon A/B which seems counterintuitive; as Andrew suggests happens, Haber was haunted by the trauma of Germany's loss in WW1. Winners of wars are able to reflect in Remembrance very differently; some like Haber will be determined to build better weapons. Necessity, the mother of invention (Plato) must be accomplished with risk audit; science needs to examine the various purposes that a new discovery might fulfill for both good and evil before it becomes public domain. Commonly, inventions are developed as technical weapons but eventually become public utility, (e.g.: radar, gps), conversely, remote control drones were kids toys, now they deliver explosives. It seems the military will always find funds for improved technology and weapons development; unused ordinance is sold off as "disposals". Hurrah for the last man to die...

ray | 11 November 2021  

Thank you Andrew for a very sobering and thoughtful article for Remembrance Day.

We very much need to be ensuring that our scientific efforts are dedicated to serving humanity and caring for our environment rather than creating death, suffering and destruction.

As we contemplate the causes of war on this day,
I think it is important to remember the important saying "Once Weapons Were Manufactured to Fight Wars. Now Wars Are Manufactured to Sell Weapons"
by the Indian author Arundhati Roy It tragically speaks a terrible truth of our modern times.

And we should also remember the comments that Dwight Eisenhower made about the US Military Industrial Complex. Even though he was a very conservative politician, he could see that this cabal of right wing politicians, militarists industrialists and business people would undermine US democracy (Some would say that they would not have to try very hard!)

For some time, US governments have appointed the chiefs of large corporations to be secretaries of state and war and these unelected people have a very big say about when the US will go to war. It is therefore no wonder that large US corporations make huge profits (killings?) out of US initiated wars?

And since WW2, the US has started over 90% of the wars that have occurred. Australians need to be thinking about these issues because our governments have sent young Australians to fight in these unjust and unnecessary wars.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 11 November 2021  

Remembrance Day now brings “added acuity to my dreaded premonition” of returning totalitarianism, wrote a Jewish woman whose grandparents escaped the Nazis for the USA. I would “thank God for letting me be a free person, a free Jew in a free land…I still feel blessed, but I no longer feel free.”
Her words mirror those of Xi van Fleet who immigrated to the USA after enduring Mao’s Cultural Revolution. US schools are teaching children, “to loathe our country and our history.”
Australia’s AUKUS deal to counter China’s belligerence “worried” Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, yet he extols the Vatican’s secret deal with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the appointment of bishops.
Imprisoned Catholic, Jimmy Lai, calls the deal a betrayal of Chinese Christians; Cardinal Zen says it will “kill the church”; and Nina Shea observes that soul-killing “CCP principles and President Xi’s sayings must inspire sermons”, contrary to Christians being instructed to fear those who can kill the soul rather than the body. (Matthew 10:28)
A “lack of wisdom among leaders” may have allowed war to happen. But is there any wisdom in a generation that knowingly permits “industrial scale killing” --42.6 million abortions (2020)?

Ross Howard | 11 November 2021  
Show Responses

Fr Andrew, "Pope Francis recently made news by insisting that modern warfare and the arms trade are morally indefensible." Yet he welcomed Biden and told him he was a good Catholic despite the fact that the US president supports Roe v Wade and the WHO with a reinstated $9bn women's health subsidy which translates into 56 million abortions per year world wide?
Shouldn't we help the resistance in Myanmar with weapons against the Tatmadaw killing fields? We did it with East Timor. The same in West Papua? Potentially the same assistance will inevitably asked in Taiwan? Or should we turn the other cheek, disband our Defence forces and let the Chinese tanks roll over our compliant carcasses?
Pope Francis should read proverbs 24:11 :
Rescue those being led away to death, and restrain those stumbling toward the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know about this,” does not He who weighs hearts consider it? Does not the One who guards your life know? Will He not repay a man according to his deeds?…" In other words Pope Francis should know better. The morally indefensible remark is window dressing.

Francis Armstrong | 12 November 2021  

‘Shouldn't we help the resistance in Myanmar with weapons against the Tatmadaw killing fields?’ No, the US should just invade. The junta will flee, the paper tiger army will fold, the people will rejoice, and there are sturdy democratic and federalist attitudes and institutions ready to take over. There might be some disgruntled nativist Buddhist monks but they’ll soon learn which side of their begging bowls is buttered.

roy chen yee | 14 November 2021  

The anti-democratic and illiberal atrocities in Myanmar and China are execrable (although, as you and I know, Francis, our Church, never having been a democracy and only since Vatican II moving towards engaging with human rights, we have much to contribute from our secular European inheritance).

When +Francis met with Biden the agenda would have been complex: firstly 'jaw-jaw' rather than 'war-war'. Secondly, the Eucharistic theology that he endorses is that it is the 'Bread of Sinners', rather than the 'Reward of the Saints' (which, of course, is Paradise).

Thirdly, with +Francis' very strong pro-life pastoral teaching, he would almost certainly have expressed his horror at the onslaught on human life that a reversal of the Roe-versus-Wade US Supreme Court ruling has opened up in that country by the re-opening of legal AND back-street abortion clinics.

And fourthly, +Francis would undoubtedly have been sending signals to the US episcopate about depoliticising the issue of the Eucharist, which my instincts tell me from reading your excellent posts on this site, would be to encourage the perniciously illiberal and anti-democratic forces of those opposed to the more mellow policies of the Democrats in favour of a return to the horrors of Trump.

Michael Furtado | 07 January 2022  

Ross' analysis fails to deal with the complex nature of Vatican relations with China. When he does his valuable and forthright critique of the abuse of power that typifies the policy and military behaviour of authoritarian regimes will hold more sway.

At any point in time the Vatican, as an independent state, must deal with China, with whom it must maintain diplomatic relations. While these do not necessarily indicate an endorsement of China's internal and foreign policy, the Vatican has always played a global role in ameliorating the harsher and more extreme policy aspects of those other nations whose abuses of human rights are or, in the past, have been execrable (or which, history has shown in the instance of the Nazis and the communists, has it least provided the impulse for back-room Vatican attitude and influence, sometimes ineffective and, of course, subject to criticism from libertarian state which have in the past been right to oppose totalitarian regimes).

Pope Francis's other hat is as the chief global pastor of the world's Catholic people, some of whom live in China and whose position qua the Chinese state is still highly vulnerable.

Ross' recognition of that complexity would advance this discussion.

Michael Furtado | 05 January 2022  

From Donum Vitae “God alone is the Master of life from its beginning until its end; no one under any circumstances can claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human life.”

Abortion is an act of violence upon the innocent, but even today as Christians, do we not still condone violence? As the term ‘Just War’(Theory) continually shatters the reality of this teaching given by the Church. The teaching by the church on a Just War is nothing more than a minefield with regards to its application of justified murder. Can there be anything more perverse than giving the Holy Eucharist to opposing Christian soldiers just before going into battle against each other?

Prior to Luke 22:36, we have Luke 22:35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out without purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered”

So, from now on we see the divide between the true believer/follower who trusts in God alone whereas those who rely on possessions need to protect them, as in
Luke22;36 “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” and since the time of Christ, we see the continual escalation of violence.
But of course, society at large must be governed by the rule of law and we need a police force to enact it, etc. But the use of Violence-‘an act of physical force that causes or is intended to cause harm’ was condemned by Christ when Peter struck the High Priest’s slave, cutting off his right ear He said, “Put away your sword,” Jesus then told him. “Those who use the sword (Violence) will die by the sword” (Violence)
Before writing the poem below my initial thought prompting me to write it was, can anyone imagine Jesus Christ carrying a gun, never mind using one, dropping a bomb on civilians/soldiers from an aircraft, or sticking a bayonet into anyone, etc? I think not, as we see His disarming action when we approach Him on The Cross and when/if this disarming action is encountered in a real-life situation, it confronts our own values and for a Christian, it should induce humility.

“Attach bayonets! courage and glory are the cry, do or die
First over the Parapet
John leads the Ferocious attack
While opposing Hans reciprocates the advance to the death dance
In crater of mud both stood
Eye met eye one must die
But who would hold true to the Christian creed they both knew?
‘To be’ the sign of the Cross,
To ‘give’ without counting the cost
Abandon bayonet, bowed head, bending knee, faith/love the other did see
Worldly values gone the other in humility now holding the same song/pray.
Please consider continuing via the

kevin your brother
In Christ

Kevin Walters | 12 November 2021  

We’ve come through the Cold War in which both sides already had the ability to make the planet uninhabitable – and nothing happened. That’s not to say that nothing can, but: China can’t send nuclear missiles into the US because that’s where its main markets are (a conjugal tie that didn’t exist between the US and the USSR); the US knows where China’s industrial and mining capacities are located and nuclearizing those will mean China can’t redirect post-war economic effort towards its domestic sector because it will have nothing to use, even if it comes off best in a now-withered world. It’s an odd rationality but it is rational for each side to keep beefing up its nuclear offensive and defensive capabilities because of the old duck story: to keep still, you have to paddle busily. AUKUS avante, or is that avanti, Aussie, avanti.

roy chen yee | 13 November 2021  

The enduring sadness in the wake of the horrors of WWI is that we mindless human beings have learnt bugger all from it and have continued with meaningless wars and destruction of humanity ever since.

john frawley | 13 November 2021  

Ray's wry post reminds of Group Captain Leonard Cheshire's story. Cheshire VC was an extraordinary man plunged into extraordinary circumstance that made him a 'Dam Buster'. Brave, soft-spoken, reflective, dynamic: you name it, he had that all the qualities that make great leadership akin to finding a needle in a haystack. My encountering him was at school. He was persuaded by our PP to address the Senior Boys at Assembly. (The entire school turned up!) There he spoke of his hatred of war on the basis of his experience at Nagasaki and of the dam-busting that had drowned many innocents people. His atonement was to set up homes for the disabled. Cheshire instinctively understood what he had witnessed at Nagasaki and the implications for mankind of the advent of weapons of mass destruction. He saw that this terrifying new power could be used for good or ill and that nuclear proliferation was inevitable. Hence he remained a firm believer in deterrence for the rest of his life. The bomb wrecked the Cathedral, but the timber face of Our Lady refused to burn, considered by some to be a miracle. Thanks, Andy, for interweaving so much in the Australian peace context.

Michael Furtado | 14 November 2021  
Show Responses

To agree with abortion is to carry the guilt of abortion and I am sure that those that do so, will be held accountable before God, may God have mercy on them. To agree with the dropping of the atomic bomb is to carry the guilt of all of the innocents who perished by those who used it and I believe that they also will be held accountable before God, may God have mercy on them. I believe that the atomic bomb is ‘The Abomination of Desolation. May God have mercy on all of us.
kevin your brother
In Christ

Kevin Walters | 15 November 2021  

So, one life - wrong as it may be for a mother to willfully take it - as against many lives destroyed by one bomb? Where's the proportionality, Kev? Or is your real campaign here against abortion? If not, why not raise a rant against capital punishment also?

Michael Furtado | 19 November 2021  

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