Thursday, April 21, 2005

Ignorant Armies

Reading Antony Beevor's Stalingrad, I came across some quotations that sum up the fate of man without Christ. I tell myself that without Him we are lost. I commit to it as a principle of action. But it sometimes helps to find concrete examples of what life without Him is like.

Beevor writes about the disgruntlement among German troops, bogged down in the vast Russian war-zone, as the winter of 1941 hit them:
"Samizdat discovered by Russian soldiers on German bodies demonstrates that there were indeed cynics as well as sentimentalists. ‘Christmas,' ran one spoof order,'will not take place this year for the following reasons: Joseph has been called up for the army; Mary has joined the Red Cross; Baby Jesus has been sent with other children out into the countryside [to avoid the bombing]; the Three Wise Men could not get visas because they lacked proof of Aryan origin; there will be no star because of the blackout; the shepherds have been made into sentries and the angels have become Blitzm├Ądeln [telephone operators]. Only the donkey is left, and one can't have Christmas with just a donkey."
The German satirist has aptly depicted not only the "transvaluation of all values" effected by Nazism, but done so with a biting, humorous indifference that betrays no inkling of Germany's true situation. He and his fellow soldiers were fighting to conquer Russia, not realizing that they had themselves already been conquered; this lampoon is a monumental testimony to the extent of the conquest.

Equally revealing is Beevor's translation of the comments made about the piece by Russian intelligence. "‘I do not understand,' a Red Army intelligence officer has written at the bottom of the translation. ‘Where does this come from?'" It comes from the patrimony Russia had lost a generation ago, when it too was conquered by the same enemy that had overtaken the Reich.

So the two vast war machines confronted one another, their mighty quarrel marked only by one side's apathetic perversion of Christ's message and the other's attempt to obliterate it entirely. What choice is this? How is it that men should die in the millions for such worthless causes? Because without Mercy to set the limit of evil, there is no other choice.
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

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