Christianity is not a warrior religion, unless a person is God or the Holy Angels. Men cannot kill other men without fear of injustice and no man’s death is altogether good. We hate war and we pray for peace.
I am not a pacifist. I think, with most Christians in most places at most times, that war is a necessary evil this side of paradise.
American Christians remember any war, especially the Civil War, as a horrible lesson in the failure of republican values. We honor the dead and the virtues they showed in life, including courage, but we can never wholly rejoice in war. We honor their service, but bitterly regret its necessity. A Christian does not celebrate a war, it is not cause for a party, he remembers it with hope that it will not be repeated.
The memorials of my childhood were serious, pious, and not triumphalist. We prayed for the fallen and begged God for “peace in our time.” Even that old Prayer Book phrase reminds us now of its tragic misuse by a good man, Neville Chamberlain. He put off a fight, as a Christian should wish to do, but as a result made it bloodier and worse.
We cannot pretend that war is never helpful. I am glad Hitler was overthrown and Stalinism defeated, but regret the loss of German and Russian life to reach that good goal. Christians never fight orcs in a war, they fight men created in God’s image so they do not take their life lightly. There are just wars, but even the best is a breeding ground for hatred and every vice. Going to war is solemn, peace celebrations joyous.
When I see a serviceman, I am thankful for his service, but sorry for its necessity. The better the trooper the more I feel the waste that the necessity of his service is. War calls out splendid character in some men and creates moments of sublime beauty and comradeship, but it does so at horrible cost. The soldier like the doctor only has a job because of sin. Unlike the medico, his work cannot be wholly commended. I honor the troops, but vow to change the world, as Christians have striven to do for centuries, to make war less common.
It is, I think, no accident that violent death and warfare have slowly lost their appeal all over the world. Rare is the conflict Rome, Constantinople, or Canterbury can embrace. Christianity and Judaism have labored long to stamp out the cult of the warrior. Of course, it has flourished, like a mold, in some Christian lands at some times, but it is contrary always and a bad fit with a religion led by the Prince of Peace.
Every war memorial is a prayer for peace, a reminder of human weakness, and a charge to do better. In times of conflict, like the one in which we live, it is a vow to pursue war as justly as can be done, eschewing torture and terror. We are naive enough not to fight, but we are good enough to hate it.