We will remember them.  All of them.
By Mark Simmons

The sacrifice

The awe-inspiring field of poppies at the Tower of London to commemorate the 888,246 British and Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War is a vivid reminder of the cost of war, or perhaps the cost of freedom.  And even more civilians than soldiers were killed.  What an incredibly immense price to pay.  We are deeply indebted to those men and women, and their grieving families.

The consequences

The demand for a lasting peace, to make that war “the war to end all wars”, led to the establishment of the League of Nations. The demand for a lasting peace, to make that war “the war to end all wars”, led to the establishment of the League of Nations.  In the UK, the recognition of the sacrifice of so many helped to bring about universal suffrage.  But elsewhere the reactions were less positive.  In Russia, the war was seen as a struggle against despotism, fuelling the Communist revolution without which the Cold War with all its tragic consequences and wars would not have happened.  In Germany, the war, and especially the Treaty of Versailles which followed it, was seen as a deep and punitive humiliation, enabling the rise to power of a brutal totalitarian regime, without which the Second World War and the Holocaust would not have happened.  What lessons have we learned from this hideous irony?

The rebuilding

 So much of Coventry was annihilated that the Germans coined the term “koventrieren” – to “Coventriate” – meaning “to reduce to rubble”Last week, at Coventry Cathedral.  The Dean of Coventry recalled the Blitz, during which so much of Coventry was annihilated that the Germans coined the term “koventrieren” – to “Coventriate” – meaning “to reduce to rubble”.  The city’s, and the cathedral’s, response was, and remains, a remarkable expression of the triumph of restorative over retributive justice; Coventry has come to symbolise not annihilation but forgiveness and restoration.


The restoration

Justice is often narrowly understood to mean retributive justice.  Retributive justice looks at what laws or rules have been broken, and focuses on making the offender pay.  Punishment is backward-looking, seeking not to achieve future social benefits such as reducing crime or preventing the outbreak of further conflict, but to atone for damage already done.  This interpretation of justice was presumably in the minds of those who gathered in the Hall of Mirrors to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Anyone who has been the victim of a crime can attest, forgiveness is a much more positive and powerful emotion than revenge. 

Restorative justice on the other hand looks at what relationships have been broken, and focuses on the damage done.  It asks what obligations perpetrators have to amend for their violations, a process which requires the perpetrators to confront and acknowledge their wrongdoing.  This reduces the risk of re-offence, and can lead to a cathartic process involving forgiveness and closure, as was seen in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  And as anyone who has been the victim of a crime can attest, forgiveness is a much more positive and powerful emotion than revenge. 

The challenge

Justice in the Bible is synonymous with mercy, with compassion, with doing what is right, with love.  It is often referred to in the context of justice for the poor and the oppressed; justice means treating people with dignity.  And yet all over the world, people are trapped in poverty and conflict because they have not been treated with dignity All over the world, people are trapped in poverty and conflict because they have not been treated with dignity..  We are compelled by compassion to relieve their suffering and to do what we can to meet their immediate needs.  We are compelled by our desire to make a difference to address the root causes of conflict and poverty, through whatever practical means we can, and as creatively and sustainably as possible.  And we are compelled by our desire to correct injustice, and restore dignity and hope, to bring people opportunities to transform their lives and their communities.

The learnings for Cord
That is why next year’s Sustainable Development Goals, and particularly Cord’s peacebuilding approach, which recognises that these goals are based on restorative, relational justice, are so crucial.  If we can get that right, if we can address the social, economic and environmental injustice in which so much violent conflict is rooted, then maybe the tragic deaths which those poppies commemorate may not have been entirely in vain.


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