Chris McDonnell: A Cold War is being reheated

A Cold War is being re-heated

February 12 2022 Chris McDonnell,

La Croix International

Albert Einstein’s famous statement -“I know not with what weapons World War 3 will be fought but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones”- does indeed give food for thought.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in ‘89 and the collapse of the Eastern block of countries in Europe, so closely aligned to the Soviet Union, the Iron Curtain that had been in place since the late 40s passed into memory. The break-up of the Soviet Union itself eased the threat of Communistic dictatorship and for a while we smiled again. The significance of the role played by John Paul II has yet to be determined but there can be little doubt that he played no small part.

Many other problems still faced us but the spirit of co-operation that was about at that time heralded new circumstances and a brighter prospect.

Now, over thirty years later, the skies are again clouded over Ukraine and threatening words disturb the peace. Military power has once more become chips stacked on the poker table where world leaders gather to play a dangerous game.

We would do well to remind ourselves of the role individuals played in those difficult years that led to this re-formation of Europe, the years when the Peace Movement became recognised not as the home of cranks but as an expression of honest, sincere people whose voice crying in the wilderness alerted others to the utter futility of nuclear conflict.

In the States, the priests Dan and Phil Berrigan, the street protests (and subsequent imprisonment) of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement and the actions of protest over the war in Vietnam in Catonsville of Jim Forest, set the scene. A new book on Dan Berrigan, written by Jim Forest was published recently –  At Play in the Lions’ Den. Another voice often overlooked is the one-time archbishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen who trod a lonely path in the cause of peace. His biography – A still and quiet conscience – is a tribute to an outstanding man of conviction.

Here in England, Bruce Kent has been chaplain and vice president of Pax Christi, for over fifty years, a strong Christian voice for peace. At this distance of time, it is easy to forget the women of Greenham Common, whose protest at the perimeter fence outside the airbase for US Cruise missiles in Berkshire week in, week out, in fair weather and foul was an example of dogged fortitude and determination.

Now we are again at risk, for should conflict break out in Ukraine it is unlikely to remain within the confines of that land on the Eastern edge of Europe. With Russia led by a man who mourns the loss of Soviet power, we are passing through nervous times.  Don’t think for a moment that neither China nor Russia have fallen asleep. They are formidable players on a world stage. The accidental wrong-stepping of one or the other could have catastrophic consequences.

Writing in war time Poland, Tadeusz Borowski pointed out,

“Whatever will be left of us is scrap iron

And the muffled sneer of generations.”

That was written in 1942. Subsequent times have been changed by the events in Japan in the early days of August, 1945. We have seen the outcome of a nuclear attack.

The present face-off with a worry of words and an exchange beyond reason, where an argument is easily lost in personal pride, is dangerous.

We have in Pope Francis a man whose commitment to peace and his unending willingness to proclaim it is assured. His recent words in Colombia are testimony to that. We should be eternally grateful for his presence in the See of Rome. Arguments for a ‘just war’ wear thin given the weapons that are likely to be involved should armed conflict break out. That is where Einstein’s words are truly prophetic for we would indeed be reduced to sticks and stones in any subsequent disagreement.

In each diocese and in each parish, the current crisis, for that is not too strong a word to describe where we find ourselves, should be included in Bidding Prayers, find a space for reference in sermons and get a mention in Bulletins.

Living on this planet is perilous enough without the threat of war as days of hurricane and forest fire have shown us. We need to keep the balance of economic greed and care of our home planet finely tuned.

Just as it is dangerous to re-heat certain foods in the microwave, so it might be a huge risk to return to the stand-off of the Cold War years. “Peace, peace will come, let it begin with me” sang Tom Paxton. Not a bad place to start.



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  1. Soline Humbert says:

    Chris McDonnell:A Cold War is being reheated.

    Thank you Chris for your words.
    On the brink of the abyss, let us pray for peace, to be delivered from the evil of war.

  2. Soline Humbert says:

    Feb13th Chris McDonnell:A Cold War is being reheated.

    A very tragic day today with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I wept when I heard the news. A time to redouble our prayers for peace, mindful of the terrible evil of violence and suffering unleashed.

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