When Time Magazine
chose Albert Einstein as its “Person of the Century” at the start of the new millennium, I thought, and still think, they made a mistake. The Person of the 20th Century was actually Gavrilo Princip, the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb nationalist whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie on June 28, 1914, was the spark that set off the cataclysm we call World War One. That war ultimately resulted in the rise of Communism with its gulag and Naziism with its Holocaust, the regular use of weapons of mass destruction
against civilians, and World War Two. Now, Pope Francis has said we are in the midst of World War Three, a war being fought in a piecemeal, but real, way. Can any period in history be more horrible than one in which we have to number world wars to keep the record straight?
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Princip was the midwife of the most violent century in history, and we are now in the second century of the horror he birthed. That first war cost millions of victims and replaced Western self-confidence with the cynicism of the British poet Thomas Hardy’s “Christmas 1924." “Peace upon earth!” was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of Mass
We’ve got as far as poison gas. Since then, we have gone much farther, far beyond the mustard gas of World War One. So far, the next “beyond” has only been used twice, in the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945. But now, the world is faced with two unpredictable leaders, at least one of whom shows signs of being mentally unstable, and both of whom brag about their possession of and willingness to use even more powerful weapons. One says he has a nuclear launch button on his desk, and the other Tweets in response, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" There are lessons to be learned
from the 20th century, but too few of us have learned them and committed ourselves to acting upon them. As part of the January 1 World Day of Prayer for Peace, Pope Francis took the unusual step of issuing a photo card for distribution. The photo, dubbed by Francis “The Fruit of War,” was taken in Nagasaki shortly after the atomic bombing there. It shows a barefoot young boy, six or so years old, with the corpse of his kid brother on his back. He is waiting his turn to cremate the baby. He is alone. Perhaps his parents were following the Japanese custom that parents do not attend the cremation of their child, and so sent their eldest son to perform the rites. Perhaps they themselves were dead or dying. The boy is a study in Japanese stoicism. He is standing at military attention, with his lips clenched between his teeth so tightly that a bit of blood may be visible on them. He is fighting back tears and one can almost hear him saying, Nakanai. Nakanai,
(I won’t cry. I won’t cry). That boy may be dead by now. He may have even been dying as the photo was taken, perhaps a victim of the radiation that may have killed his brother, who appears unwounded. But, even if he be dead, he is not gone. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of other boys and girls, men and women, just like him in our world today, forced to bear the loss to war and violence of those they love. When the card becomes available to you, as it likely will, get hold of one or more. Put one among your family photos, for those boys are your brothers. Look at it well and long. Pray. And hear what your little brother is saying to you: Nake. Nake
, (Weep. Weep). Then, perhaps, your heart will tell you what to do next. A Japanese Trappist monk once told me that so long as seeing the suffering of others arouses feelings of pity in us, we are still not being Christian. “We do not feel pity when someone we love suffers. We do not merely look on and feel bad when our brother or sister is in pain. We act. So, if we simply feel bad, we are not looking at others as our brothers and sisters in Christ.” Our prayers for peace are not unanswered
. The problem is that we do not listen to, do not want to listen to, God’s answer. That answer is simply, “That’s why I have set you there. Get to work.” We are the answer to prayers for peace. And to the extent that we fail to go beyond wishes, prayers and feelings and act
, we are a failed answer. Can you look at that photo and tell that boy that you have failed? Father William Grimm, MM, is publisher of ucanews.com and is based in Tokyo.