Today, as I remember six uncles who served in the Great War, half of whom never came home, I marvel at their faith. Many call it folly, but there was no radio, let alone television or internet in 1914. Whatever we may think of World War I in hindsight, those who fought did so with a genuine belief that they were defending all that was dear to them.
As the years have passed and our cynicism increased, the numbers of men (and to a lesser extent women) who have risked and sacrificed their lives for a cause have diminished somewhat, but the twentieth century is full of examples of such commitment. Before Europe was torn apart by a second world war, thousands would cross the Pyrenees to join the International Brigades in Spain. The conflict there was admittedly less black-and-white than it is often portrayed, but these so-called ‘premature fascists’ were the vanguard of a desperate and worthy fight against a movement that within the decade would murder six million Jews as well as millions of others. Personally, I don’t think it is ever ‘premature’ to be anti-fascist, but in a time when we take for granted that we will live long and healthy lives I can see how the passion of these anti-fascists is interpreted as naïve and foolhardy.
Even in my own lifetime, there were volunteers who exchanged home comforts for the privations and dangers of the battlefield, who could not bear to sit on the other side of the world and watch tanks with the Communist red star of Yugoslavia roll into Croatia and Bosnia. And today there are many Jews who make aliyah and serve in the IDF amid incessant attacks on Israel.
Sadly, there is also a disturbing number who volunteer to fight for an ignoble cause, men whose faith is intense but directed towards the slaughter of the innocent. Their hatred of the ‘other’, whether Jews or Yazidis, or ‘Nazarenes’ (Christians), or Muslims of a different ilk, is also grounded in a faith of sorts.
So we find ourselves caught between the faithful and the faithless, a false dichotomy that pits the fervent against the apathetic. Freedom-fighters and terrorists are thrown into the same basket (and often mislabelled one as the other). Detachment and disinterest have been made into virtues. But faithlessness is no antidote for the delusional faith of those who wish to impose their beliefs and way of life on everyone else, by whatever means necessary. Sharing cute cat pictures and ignoring ‘Israellycool’ posts on Facebook doesn’t counter the lies of self-interested politicians and journalists-cum-propagandists.
The refusal to take a stand only encourages faithful enemies and discourages faithful friends.
I am not suggesting we should emulate the blind faith of our forebears. I am a firm advocate of doing things with eyes wide open. But, as we remember and mourn those who had enough faith to fight and die for our freedom, let us also remember that all that is good is worth fighting for. Our future depends on us having faith in the good and actively opposing all that is evil.
Our greatest enemy is our own apathy.