Archive for March, 2016

When in America in 1930-31, Bonhoeffer was often asked to comment on the war of 1914-1918, which we now called by the horrific name World War I. Even before arriving he had begun to prepare a presentation which, as it turned out, he was to give on a number of occasions. It is entitled simply “Lecture on ‘War’” and appears in DBWE 10:411. He actually wrote the message out in English, which at this early stage was still a very unfamiliar language for him.

Bonhoeffer begins with a somewhat extended description of the difficulties faced by the German people in the years after the war. Then he writes, “It can be proven historically, that the art. 231 [laying on Germany all the guilt for causing the war] of the Treaty of Versailles is an injustice against our country and we have a right to protest” (p. 415). He was sure – though in error – that all the civilized world agreed with Germany that the Treaty had been unfair to Germany. Hitler, of course, was later to gain great mileage from this perceived injustice.

Yet there was a sense, he admitted, in which Germany deserved much blame. “Before the war we lived too far from God, we believed too much in our own power, in our almightiness and righteousness. We attempted to be a strong and good people, but we were too proud of our endeavours, we felt too much satisfaction with our scientific economic and social progress and we identified this progress with the coming of the Kingdom of God; we felt too happy and complacent in this world, our souls were too much at home in this world.”

There was still a deep sense of hopelessness in Germany, Dietrich said, about the impossibility of ever being able to pay off the war debts imposed on them by Versailles. Yet they do not give up altogether because they are sure they will rebuild Germany in time. He is surprised that there are people outside Germany who worry that Germany will start another war. In Germany, he assures them, that such ideas are never voiced in Germany because the people are still totally consumed in the work of recovering from the past war. The thought of another war would be unbearable.

It must be especially unthinkable that Christians of one nation would ever again fight Christians of another. “It must never more happen, that a Christian people fights against a Christian people, brother against brother, since both have one Father,” Bonhoeffer says. And in the last judgment, all will be judged by the standard of love. Will mutual destruction meet such a standard?

“Today as never before nations of Europe – except Germany – are preparing for war.” I’m not sure what he means unless it is that nations were still developing new weapons, though in hind sight it seems that work was hardly substantial. It is truly sad to think that this sincere German, writing in 1930, would see his own beloved nation begin in just three more years a massive buildup of weapons and armies.

He urged his listeners to work actively for peace. Though he was naive about Germany’s capacity for war, he knew that there were forces in the world – indeed, in the human heart – that would always be moving us toward war. Several times he said that “we must overcome” those forces and let peace triumph in brotherly love.

We cannot count how many millions of human beings, in the 86 years since Bonhoeffer spoke, have been mutilated, maimed, and killed at the hands of fellow human beings. Nor can we measure the grief we cause our heavenly Father when we chose hatred, greed, self-centeredness over simple love and respect for one another.


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