14th November 2021

One of the most striking images, for me, in the recent evacuation from Afghanistan, was a US Marine standing on the perimeter of Kabul Airport [#slide 1]

She was holding an M27 Infantry Rifle whilst cradling a child.

The Marine, literally, held life in one hand and the means of taking it in the other.

It reminded us that war, which has the ability to kill on an industrial scale, also has a humanitarian dimension too. And getting the balance right is immensely difficult.

The balance between the need, in extenuating circumstances, to use lethal force against an enemy.

Whilst at the same time remembering, what the International jurist Friedrich Martens called, “the laws of humanity established between civilised nations”.

Today is Remembrance Sunday. When we “commemorate our military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts”.

With the possible exception of 1968, we have been at war every year since 1914 – over 100 years and approximately 50 different conflicts.

Somehow we have to bring this together, on one day, and in one Act of Remembrance.

But, despite the enormity of this task, there are some common denominators.

First, of all we remember “the rifle” – those who have had to use and confront lethal force – and the courage needed to do so.

The canvas is too vast to capture every field of battle but imagine for a moment having to leave your trench in WW1 to assault the enemy?

Or taking part in D DAY in WW2 when the gate of your landing craft opened on a contested beachhead?

Most recently, I was struck by the bravery and courage of UK Forces at the airport in Kabul.

With the enemy, literally at their gate, men and women throughout the ages have put themselves in harms’ way for the nation, often paying the ultimate price.

And we salute them all today.

We also remember those who have been wounded.

The Paralympics this year gave us a graphic reminder of the injuries caused in battle.

We were all inspired by the courage of the likes of Jaco van Gass [Micky Yule, Stuart Robinson] who competed in Tokyo.

But, whilst we, rightly admire the enormous courage of those who fight their way back to fitness, the vast majority don’t and all these lives are blighted for ever.

And we remember too, those who suffer mental injuries – injuries which cannot be seen but which can be just as severe.

All of a sudden, 100 years of Remembrance does not look like such a long time after all.

And then there are those who mourn.

Whilst the suffering of those who are killed in battle ceases with their death, those who mourn do so for the rest of their lives.

Grief, like injuries, last a lifetime – and it is incumbent on us all, not only to remember the wounded and bereaved, but to support them too – for however long it takes.

But Remembrance is about more than remembering “the rifle”, it is also about “the child” too.

In other words “laws of humanity established between civilised nations”.

First and foremost, we must remember our Christian heritage.

Because we fight, not of right, but as successors of the Just War tradition – mapped out by a Dominican Friar 800 years ago and now enshrined in International Law.

We need to constantly question whether we should fight and, if we do, whether it is just?

We must never lose sight of that.

Mercifully, this nation still feels the unease of the Iraq War.

But it is more than that, it is how we conduct ourselves too.

One of the most moving services I attended, whilst Rector of the Falklands, was the newly opened Argentinian Cemetery.

A British officer made it his life’s work to provide a dignified resting place for Argentinians killed in battle.

His wonderful work stands in stark contrast to some Empire troops who still do not have a grave to call their own.

And we must also remember those we capture.

The only soldier to be decorated by both the Argentine and British Governments in the Falkland’s Conflict was Commander Rick Jolly.

As Surgeon Commander, he told a wounded Argentinian soldier, not to worry because he was “now among friends”.

But post 9/11, and not for the first time, we seem to have lost our bearings…

Leaving aside Guantanamo Bay, in which we were complicit.

My own service was punctuated by witnessing the abuse of Iraqi Prisoners of War.

Unbelievably, I had to fight to ensure that they were treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions – which some wanted to brush aside.

The Overseas Operations Bill this year was, yet another, attempt to, subtly, undermine International Humanitarian Law.

Such conduct does us no favours.

It degrades us – as a country – as a Nation – and our Armed Forces too – we are better than that.

And so as we stand today, once again, to remember “our military and civilian servicemen and women”.

We do so with grateful hearts – saluting their courage once again, and pledged to maintain our support for them, for however long it takes.

But Remembrance is about more than the battlefield itself.

The enduring image of the Marine – with a child in one hand and carbine in the other reminds us of the complexity of war. Both lethal and humanitarian at the same time.

But we are assembled here today – in Church – and in Churches up and down the land – because, above all, we are Christian men and women.

And we need to remember, each and every year, to conduct ourselves with Christian propriety.

Our faith may permit us to wage war in limited circumstances, but this comes with a very heavy responsibility to our fellow men and women – on whichever side- and whatever race.

After all, the child we hold in our arms, is none other than the Christ Child himself.