Aftermath of the Great War

The Great War devastated the countries involved, both winners and losers. Nearly ten million soldiers were killed and another twenty million were wounded, not counting civilian deaths due to the war of another 7, 700,000. Battlefields became ugly scars on the land, and the emotional reaction to the war was equally scarred. Nearly the only reason for optimism after the war was the hope that it would be the last war of history, the war that ended all wars.

Because they called for an armistice before enemy soldiers had crossed the borders of their land, Germany and Austria (along with their allies Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) expected to approach the negotiating tables as equal partners with the Allied nations. Instead, Britain and France were determined to make their wartime enemies suffer, to make them pay the cost of the war. Meetings were scheduled in five suburbs of Paris, France: German representatives were sent to Versailles, Austrian to Saint Germain, Hungarian (being separated from Austria) to Trianon, Bulgarian to Neuilly, and Ottoman to Sevres. All these nations lost territory. All were required to reduce the size of their military strength. Germany and Austria in particular were required to pay penalties—reparations—to Britain and France. These large financial payments not only crushed the economies of Germany and Austria in the short term; they also hindered their ability to rebuild after the war for the long-term benefit of their citizens.

What could the representatives of these governments do? They were unable to return to the battlefield and continue the fight. Given no option, they signed the agreements they were handed and returned home. In the following months, the Ottoman Empire ended in civil war, producing the modern country called Turkey. Many of their west Asian possessions were put under the control of Britain and France. Meanwhile, leaders from the United States were equally disappointed by the injustice of the treaties written by Britain and France. The only American goal that was accepted in Europe was the concept of the League of Nations, an institution where nations could bring international problems for reconciliation without warfare. Britain and France and Italy all joined. Germany and Austria and the Soviet Union eventually joined. Most of the other countries in the world joined the League. But the United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty that would have included the United States in the League of Nations. Partly, the Senators’ refusal stemmed from disapproval of the negotiations. Largely, they resulted from “Isolationism,” determination not to become entangled in the problems of other nations. Ironically, the one American proposal that was accepted in Paris and put into practice by much of the world was refused and renounced by the government of the United States

Another aftermath of the Great War was an influenza pandemic. A new variety of the flu virus arose in the central agricultural section of the United States, probably in Nebraska or Kansas. Conscripted soldiers carried the virus into training camps, from which it spread to American cities. Then the soldiers brought the disease to the European battlefields, from which the new form of flu traveled to all the countries of the world. The disease, which became known as the Spanish Flu, killed more people than the war killed. It remains the most serious and deadly spread of disease in modern times.

The Great War also contributed to the Russian Revolution which produced the Soviet Union. Russian government had reformed after a revolution in 1905, but the war destabilized the Russian economy and politics, enabling a second revolution. Karl Marx had predicted that workers would rise against industrialization and capitalism, beginning where those phenomena had first appeared. Instead, the first Marxist government was formed in Russia. Lenin first called his party the Bolsheviks, which means majority (although they did not include, by far, a majority of the Russian people). They later changed their name to the Communist Party. They offered, not Communism, but Socialism, with a Marxist dream that sometime in the future the government would disappear and true Communism would emerge. The Revolution was not over in Russia when the Great War ended; fighting extended in some parts of Russia into 1923. By that time, even Lenin was willing to reconsider some of the socialist grabs of economic power and to allow some private ownership of property. But after Lenin died, Joseph Stalin emerged as a stronger and bolder leader. He placed the Soviet Union on a track of centralized government control, one of several totalitarian states established in Europe due to the aftermath of the Great War.

In general, the Great War led to an economic decline that was difficult to reverse. The pain was not felt at first in the United States, which benefited greatly from wartime sales of material even before American formally entered the war. A decade later, the United States also fell into Depression, a consequence of overproduction of materials for a world that was unable to buy what America had to sell. But the Great Depression was more than an economic upheaval. Depression of various kinds struck human society through the catastrophic destruction of the Great War. J.

Holy Week and Easter in the time of pandemic

Last April, Holy Week and Easter were marred by the fire in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and by terrorist attacks upon churches in Sri Lanka. This month, Holy Week and Easter seem overshadowed by the COVIN-19 pandemic. Good stewardship of our own health, and love for our neighbors prompting concern for their health, keeps most Christians from gathering for services during these very special days. Neither violence nor disease can mar or overshadow the meaning of these days. Christ has redeemed us from sin and death. Christ has rescued us from all evil. Christ has risen from the dead; he lives and reigns to all eternity.

Sin resembles a communicable disease. It spreads throughout the world, and none of us are immune from its infection. Sin separates us from one another. Sin builds barriers that keep us from loving each other as we should love. Sin isolates us. Sin even separates us from the God who created us. The wages of sin is death, and this death comes in a variety of forms, each of which is a separation. Separation from God is spiritual death. The soul’s separation from the body is physical death. Combined, they result in eternal death. Every sinful separation is a kind of death. Sin can separate members of families. Sin can sever friendships. Because of sin, each of us is divided internally; none of us is in touch with the holy person God meant us to be.

Jesus, the Son of God, came into this wilderness of sin and death. Like a shepherd, Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost. In the wilderness he battled the devil, overcoming Satan’s temptations. In all his days, Jesus led a sinless life, obeying all his Father’s commands, fulfilling perfect righteousness. Jesus then faced the ugliness of sin and death in their fullness. He was betrayed, denied, accused, convicted, mocked, tortured, and killed. He deserved none of these things. Because evil is unfair, good people suffer in this world. Because evil is unfair, the one perfect Person suffered and died. Because evil is unfair, God himself became unfair, granting us the rewards earned by his Son’s righteousness and placing the burden of our guilt upon Him.

Good stewardship of our health and love for our neighbors will keep us in our homes this Good Friday and this Easter. We still live in a sin-polluted world, a world infected by evil and the separations evil causes. But our isolation is not permanent. Many Christians enjoy the benefit of Internet services, which allow us to join our voices in worship even though we are physically apart. All Christians have access to the Word of God, which proclaims his love and mercy and assures us of our place in his kingdom. All of us are guaranteed the love of God, which we will know in its fullness in the new creation, but which we enjoy already today. We know that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. J.

A wedding story

My daughter got married this week. She and her husband had originally intended to have their wedding May 2, but the virus crisis clearly was going to prevent that gathering. Instead of delaying the wedding until the crisis passes, they chose to be married one month early in an essentially empty church. Their guests watched the wedding on YouTube.

My new son-in-law is in his last year of seminary. In a few days, he will be told where he will begin serving as pastor. The May 2 wedding was to have taken place in the seminary chapel. When the two of them first realized that the wedding would have to be rescheduled, their families considered the possibility they would just get the license and be married at the courthouse. In other words, they nearly eloped. (A future pastor and his bride, the daughter of a pastor, eloping—that would be humorous.) They were able, however, to arrange for a church wedding at a place that was already equipped to livestream its services on YouTube.

The groom and the best man were attired in formal Scottish garb—yes, including kilts. The bride wore a traditional white wedding dress. (She nearly had to improvise: the woman doing alterations on the dress had basically closed down her business because of the virus and could not be reached by phone. I don’t know the details of how my daughter finally got hold of the dress.) The bride’s sister was maid of honor. Because she works at a hospital, she was not able to take a day off for the wedding, so it was held at 8 p.m. In his homily, the pastor who married them commented on the unusual timing of the wedding—during the season of Lent, in the darkness of night, and during a pandemic.

So there were bride and groom, best man and maid of honor, pastor, musician, and one other woman who helped the bride and took part in the singing. They began with a traditional evening liturgy, then sang a hymn. We rushed around the house gathering hymnals and got to join in singing the fourth and fifth verses of the hymn. The pastor read from Genesis 2, delivered his homily, and then conducted the wedding ceremony. During the exchange of vows, the bride and groom had their hands bound together with a strip of cloth—another Scottish tradition.

As the father of the bride, I watched from the den. I was sitting in the same chair where I sat to watch the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. (We are never getting rid of that chair.) I was wearing a t-shirt, sweat shirt, blue jeans, and slippers. Other family members were present, as was the family cat. Popcorn was served.

This is not an April Fools prank. This is not First Friday Fiction. This is part of how the pandemic is rewriting life’s scripts for us all. I hope that you and those you love are well. J.