Churchill’s Forlorn Hope — No Peace in Our Time

I composed most of this blog post on Friday, before the terrible atrocities in Paris.  It seems even more, as our hearts are again torn by tragedy, that now is the time to post it, to understand why peace always fails.

Churchill’s Hopes

In the 1920s, Winston Churchill wrote his history of World War I, The World Crisis.  In Volume IV, The Aftermath, he laid out his hopes for the future of world peace.  I was struck by the following paragraph at the close of chapter 8,  in which he discussed the Covenant of the League of Nations:

Many minds had made their contribution to the Covenant of the League.  Phillimore, Robert Cecil, Smuts and Hurst are names which for ever link the British Empire with its institution.  Some errors and imperfections arose inevitably from the haste and pressure under which the Covenant was prepared.  Nevertheless the base of the new building was set upon the living rock; and the mighty foundation stone, shaped by the innumerable chisellings of merciful men the world over and swung into position by loyal and dexterous English pulleys, will bear for all time the legend:  ‘Well and truly laid by Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America.’  Who can doubt that upon and around this granite block will ultimately be built a dwelling-place and palace to which ‘all the men in all the lands’ will sooner or later resort in sure trust? (emphasis added)

Who could doubt, indeed?  Was the League of Nations built “upon the living rock” that would stand for all time, a dwelling place to which all people of all lands could “resort in sure trust”?

Churchill’s last chapter is titled, ‘The End of the World Crisis,’ and he closed with the following:

…Discarding all ideas of a dual arrangement between Great Britain and France to counteract the power of Germany, Mr. Austen Chamberlain embarked resolutely upon the policy of a threefold pact of mutual security between France, Germany and Great Britain, in which Great Britain would be solemnly pledged to come to the aid of whichever of the other two States was the object of unprovoked aggression.  The histories may be searched for a parallel for such an undertaking.  Nevertheless, it was from the outset steadfastly endorsed by all classes and parties in Great Britain.  The great enterprise was pressed forward by the experience and skill of M. Briand, and by the astonishing civic courage of Herr Stresemann and other leaders.  It received at the culminating point the reinforcement of the whole strength of Italy, wielded by the far-seeing realism of Mussolini.  Innumerable difficulties were overcome.  Processes of agreement which might well have required a decade of perseverance were accomplished in the negotiations of a few months.  The cooperation of the smaller Powers was procured; and on October 16th, 1925, by the waters of a calm lake, the four great Western democracies plighted their solemn troth to keep the peace among themselves in all circumstances, and to stand united against any of their number who broke the compact and marched in aggression against a brother land.  The eventual treaty of Locarno was signed, as was fitting, in London where the idea had originated, and was duly ratified by all the Parliaments concerned.  It had been throughout conceived in harmonious accord with the Covenant of the League of Nations, to the Council of which Germany as a consequence now brought her mighty power.  Thus was achieved the greatest measure of self-preservation yet taken by Europeans.

The Treaty of Locarno may be regarded as the Old World counterpart of the Treaty of Washington between the United States, Great Britain, and Japan, which in 1921 had regulated and ensured the peace of the Pacific.  These two august instruments give assurance to civilization.  They are the twin pyramids of peace rising solid and unshakable on either side of the Atlantic, commanding the allegiance of the leading nations of the world and of all their fleets and armies.  They form the granite cores around which the wider conceptions of the League of Nations and the idealism of the Kellogg Pact can rear the more spacious and more unified structures of the future.

The task is not done.  The greatest exertions must continue to be made over a long period of years.  The danger of war has by no means passed from the world.  Old antagonisms are sleeping, and the drum-beat of new antagonisms is already heard.  The anxieties of France and the resentments of Germany are only partly removed.  Over the broad plains of Eastern and Central Europe, with their numerous new and highly nationalistic States, brood the offended shades of Peter and Frederick the Great and memories of the wars they waged.  Russia, self-outcast, sharpens her bayonets in her Arctic night, and mechanically proclaims through self-starved lips her philosophy of hatred and death.  But since Locarno, Hope rests on a surer foundation.  The period of revulsion from the horrors of war will be long-lasting; and in this blessed interval the great nations may take their forward steps to world organization with the conviction that the difficulties they have yet to master will not be greater than those they have already overcome.

If the Treaty of Locarno was “the greatest measure of self-preservation yet taken by Europeans,” how hopeless is human self-preservation!  There was no “assurance to civilization,” and no “solid and unshakable” peace, nor was there any long-lasting “period of revulsion from the horrors of war.”

The Failure of Human Peace

Churchill’s fourth volume was published in 1929.  In 1930, one year later, the National Socialists became the second largest party in Germany, with 18% of the vote.  In 1932, Adolf Hitler took 35% of the vote in the German presidential election, and four years after Churchill wrote those optimistic words, Hitler became the German chancellor after his party became the largest party in the Reichstag with 44% of the vote.  By 1934, when Hindenburg died, Hitler’s power in Germany was virtually absolute.

In 1936, only seven years after Churchill wrote of Locarno providing a “surer foundation” for Hope, Germany formally turned its back on the treaty when it re-militarised the Rheinland, and Mussolini, described by Churchill as “far-seeing,” joined an axis with Hitler’s Germany.  In 1939, Churchill’s “period of revulsion from the horrors of war” irrevocably ended as the world was cast into war yet again.  In World War I, 17 million died, but this time, the toll would be 60 million lives lost.

The League of Nations failed.  It was the grand idea of Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president, but his country never joined it, and the League, with or without America, never had any power to enforce world peace, anyway.

As a school-boy, I remember being taught that the United Nations was better than the League of Nations, because they had learned from the failures of the League of Nations, and established a new order that would work.  If so, where is our peace?

Korea.  Vietnam.  The Falklands.  Bosnia-Serbia.  Lockerbie.  Afghanistan.  Iran.  Lebanon.  Israeli-Arab conflicts.  Kosovo.  Kuwait/Iraq.  9/11.  Afghanistan again.  Somalia.  Iraq again and still.  London, 7/7/2005.  Ukraine-Crimea.  And on, and on, and on.

And now Paris, Friday 13 November, 2015.

The last 70 years, since the end of the Second World War, has seen millions upon millions die at the hands of their fellow man.  There is no peace in our time, anymore than there was in the time of Neville Chamberlain when he returned from his conference with Hitler in Munich.  The United Nations is no more built upon a living rock than was its predecessor, and no “period of revulsion,” no peace treaties, will bring peace on earth.

A Misplaced Trust

The failure of human peace is no surprise for those who believe the Bible.  Jesus said there would be wars and rumours of wars, and thus has all history unfolded, just as He said.  It is ironic that unbelievers / atheists mock us for being unreasonable, when they continually put their trust for world peace in human institutions which fail over and over again.

No human institution is built on “the living rock” (to use Churchill’s words).  Whether founded on human good will or not, whether built by “merciful men the world over,” no human institution will ever be a “palace” of safe resort.  Well do the Scriptures tell us that which no reasonable person could fail to see:

Psalm 118:8-9

8 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.
9 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.

Here we have the first part of the problem with human treaties and institutions as the guarantor of peace.  The trust is misplaced.

No sane person would trust an unrepentant bank robber with cash, a pervert with the care of a child, a cyber-hacker with your bank details, or a terrorist with explosives.  Yet, the nations of the world, instead of turning to the only One who is trustworthy, instead of putting their reliance on the Prince of Peace, again and again trust the peace of the world to institutions founded and operated by a race, the human race, which again and again turns to conflict and violence.

They trust the wrong people.  A better solution is found in God’s Word — to seek out the One who is truly dependable, and who alone can and will bring peace.

Psalm 62:1-2

1 Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation.
2 He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved.

Isaiah 9:6-7

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

The Folly of Human Trust

To trust for peace in human beings and human institutions is simply silly, but people and nations do it, over and over again, because they don’t want to face up to the great truth of fallen human nature — the sinfulness of mankind.

Jeremiah 17:9

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Romans 3:10-12

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Mankind does not want to face up to its own sinfulness, for to do so is to acknowledge a problem it can’t solve, a problem which can find its solution only in God — and man does not want to depend on God.

But you can’t cure an infection without killing the bacteria, and you can’t properly understand the lack of peace in our world without coming to terms with the existence of sin.

The United Nations has no solution to prevent events like Friday’s, for negotiations and speeches have no impact on those whose hatred is so strong that they will gladly give their lives for the “privilege” of destroying others.  When the Evil One has used the guise of “religion” to take hold of the heart of wicked men, when he promises them paradise if they will lay down their lives in the act of indiscriminate murder and they choose to believe that, the best debating club in the world will never have an answer.

You can’t negotiate away hatred.  Friday morning, on the television show Good Morning America, President Obama said of ISIS, “We have contained them.”  But those who hate with the demonically-inspired hatred that drives ISIS cannot be contained.  They can only be appeased (for a little while), converted, or crushed.  When sin takes such control of a person, there is no solution but to recognise the power and the presence of evil and respond accordingly.

When a demagogue such as Hitler rises, one who stirs up resentments and promises glorious victories, “men of goodwill” have no answer unless they are willing to take up arms to force his defeat.  An organisation such as the League of Nations or its heir, the United Nations, simply has no real answer for the Adolf Hitlers, the Al Qaedas, and the Islamic States of this world.  Those who are driven by the lust for power or by hatred simply don’t care what these institutions might say or do.

And of course, no human institution will (for long) be controlled by men of goodwill.  Everyone knows that the veto-power in the United Nations has been used, time and again, not to protect the peace and well-being of mankind, but to protect national interests.  The Locarno Treaty in which Churchill placed such confidence included as one of its signatories the dictator Mussolini, who just a decade later joined with Hitler in his attempt to rule the world.

This, also, is the sin-problem rearing its ugly head.  Sinful people use the power they have, within human institutions, for selfish purposes, rather than the common good.

Trusting human institutions to bring peace will always fail, for it relies upon pure folly — the idea that somehow the problems of sin will be controlled.

Winston Churchill saw that the path to peace would not be easy, but his hopes and his trust in human institutions were dashed against the rocks, shattered by the harsh realities of human sinfulness, human frailty, and human unreliability.

There is no peace in our time, and there never will be, until the Prince of Peace returns to establish His kingdom.  The longing for peace that we all feel comes from God, one of the ways He teaches us to look forward to that day.

But we, as believers, should never do as the world does, and let that longing for peace draw us into a deceitful trust in human institutions.  That which man has created, whether with good or bad intentions, will never bring peace on this earth while sin is still here.  And sin yet remains, and that is a problem which no human institution can solve.

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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4 Responses to Churchill’s Forlorn Hope — No Peace in Our Time

  1. Ruth Gleason says:

    So hard to read, because the human heart so longs for human peace in this world – the ceasing of the wars that destroy millions of lives. It is not fear of godless men for as believers we know if we live or die it is of the Lord and He is one that sustains us. But, Oh the heartache in the world today across the Middle East, in Paris and the loved ones of those who lost their lives in 9/11 and the wars in the Middle East. And now our President is sending 50 (yes 50) of our brave Marines into Syria, apparently with no backup or support. Even so come, Lord Jesus.

  2. Eric says:

    “It is ironic that unbelievers / atheists mock us for being unreasonable, when they continually put their trust for world peace in human institutions which fail over and over again.”

    “But we, as believers, should never do as the world does, and let that longing for peace draw us into a deceitful trust in human institutions. That which man has created, whether with good or bad intentions, will never bring peace on this earth while sin is still here. And sin yet remains, and that is a problem which no human institution can solve.”

    Well written, Jon! Praise the Lord that the Messiah has come once, and will come again as He said, and that all will transpire as He said and will end with all the glory being ascribed to Him, not to human ingeniousness or supposed goodwill.

    I want to have the same faith as did Abraham: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Heb. 11:9-10)

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thank you for your good thoughts, Eric. I’ve always loved that statement, “a city which hath foundations.” The great works of man don’t have real foundations, they will decline and crumble, be buried under the sands of time or of the desert, or be blown to pieces one way or another.

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