Outbreak of War
The Rectory - July 2004
Monday 28 June marks the 90th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. By the time you read this, events will be underway at St Peter’s to mark this poignantly historic event, and the subsequent events that led to war being declared on 4 August 1914.
One of the interesting things about this period of a month, according to historians, is that the British Government, and Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary of the time, in particular did not realise just how imminent war was. There were many domestic political problems to deal with, and there was no particular reason for Britain to enter a war in defence of a Balkan state, Serbia, that was under threat from Austria-Hungary. It became more complicated however when relations between Germany and France deteriorated, and the French allied themselves with Russia, traditional allies of Serbia. But even as late as 30 July the British Government were undecided about supporting the French. It was only when the German Government ignored an ultimatum over the invasion of Belgium that the decision was made, and war was declared at 11pm on 4 August.
As we mark this anniversary of the beginning of the ‘war to end all wars’, we are only too conscious of a range of events going on around us, some of which also seem the subject of random political discussion and negotiation. Many of you know that I have a long association and involvement with Sudan. Sudan has been struggling with civil war for over forty years. It seems as though at one level peace has almost been achieved between the Government and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army, the main alliance principally of southern Sudanese. The British Government representative to the Peace Process is a good friend of ours – his wife, Lillian Craig Harris, preached at St Peter’s two years ago. I know how much it has taken out of them both, and the minimal resources that have been made available in the search for peace there simply does not in any way stand alongside the amounts spent in Iraq. Yet according to ‘civilised society’ everything about the Sudanese situation compares exactly to the Iraqi situation in all but one respect. Sudan is a very poor country, and although sizeable deposits of oil have been discovered in recent years, it is so expensive to recover and transport because of the poor infrastructure in the country, that only the Chinese have invested in it. And now we are seeing scenes from Western Sudan that beggar belief in our modern world.
We are sitting on a powder keg. The increase in terrorism arising out of the Iraq situation, the fact that Sudan is widely reputed to be a training ground for terrorists, and that there is no obvious significant interest from the West in resolving the situation there in any meaningful way, means that we are moving into a more and more unstable situation in a wider area of the Middle East and North Africa. As we wait to see the results of the promised handover of power in Iraq, we must surely pray together that our political leaders will learn from their predecessors who oversaw the descent into chaos that became the First World War, and use the enormous power and influence that they wield to draw the poison, for which they are in part responsible, and to collaborate in the rebuilding of those national communities that have been so devastated over the past few years.