17 June 2019

Appeasement, compromise and silence in a D-Day for the Church

Wilberforce Academy Director, Dr Joe Boot, comments on the state of the nation and where we have gone since the Britain of the 1930s and 40s. Sadly, he says, with eroding freedoms and emptying churches, “the heart and soul of the nation [has become] disease-ridden, on life-support and on the edge of extinction.” How will history look back on this generation?

Looking back to the events of World War II is instructive for reflecting on the true price of appeasement and compromise. Despite the Munich agreement of September 1938, on September 1, 1939, the Nazi regime, under the leadership of a democratically elected Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland, triggering the start of World War II. Yet this was not the beginning of German aggression under the Nazis in Europe. By March 15, 1939, not only had Germany violated numerous elements of the Treaty of Versailles in terms of rearmament and remilitarization of the Rhineland, but German forces had marched into Czechoslovakia in the name of uniting German-speaking peoples. Taking over Bohemia and enforcing a ‘protectorate’ over Slovakia, their charge eastward demonstrated unequivocally that Hitler had lied at Munich and had no intention of keeping his word. It was at this point that the now notorious appeasement strategy of British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain was exposed for the folly that it was – a policy, as Winston Churchill memorably described it, of feeding the crocodile in the hope of being eaten last.

During the same period, from the Parliamentary backbenches throughout the 1930s, Churchill had sounded the alarm about German rearmament, Nazi ambitions and the lack of preparedness on the part of the British military in the event of a conflict. He was largely laughed at, ignored or condemned as a warmongering dinosaur. Even those within his own party frequently spoke against him as alarmist and draconian. It was only after massive pressure in the British press that in 1939 he was finally made a member of cabinet – and for that we can be thankful! It is a rare thing for cultural prophets to be heard and heeded, whether in ancient Israel, mid-twentieth century Britain or the early part of the twenty-first century in the West.

The recent high-profile commemorations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day should have been sobering for any thoughtful Christian – especially in the UK. As a Brit living in Canada, with a Dutch grandfather who fought in some of the dangerous early allied operations in Europe, I cannot help feeling a deep sense of sadness and regret at what we have become as a nation after all the faith-filled sacrifice of that era. Though by no means flawless, this was a generation deeply shaped by Christian virtues, quiet hope in God and a strong sense of the justice of their cause. They recognized that civilised society and socio-cultural order involves a covenant between past, present and future. As such they felt duty-bound to fight for the faith and freedoms that had been bequeathed to them through much sacrifice in the past and obligated to preserve that faith and freedom for their children and grandchildren.

But there can no longer be any doubt that the Britain of the 1930s and 40s, which my grandparents loved and defended, is gone. I do not just mean that the passage of time has altered the English landscape, or that the stylish modesty of 40s fashion has given way to the obvious and vulgar. Nor I am simply observing that various valuable customs, manners and traditions have all but disappeared – I remember as a boy, for example, my grandfather always raising his hat when passing a lady in the street or standing when a lady entered the room as a mark of respect. It is not only because the typical English roast dinner around the family table after church has gone the way of the dodo that I look back with grief – I would be just as happy with a family biryani these days. Rather, I mean that the heart and soul of the nation is disease-ridden, on life-support and on the edge of extinction.

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