Calling for a passionate pursuit of nonviolent peacemaking

June 28 will mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Serbian nationalist. World War I exploded just a month after the assassination – a war of untold death and destruction.


National War Memorial, Ottawa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An estimated 17 million people were killed in the “Great War,” including soldiers and civilians, and some 21 million were wounded. One in 10 Canadians who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force died – over 60,000 in total. Approximately three million women became widows and 6 million children became orphans in Europe alone. The use of deadly new weapons such as machine guns, tanks and airplanes, as well as chemical weapons such as mustard gas, added to the carnage.

Today, many analysts agree that World War I planted the seeds for World War II which occurred twenty years later. By imposing draconian penalties on the “losers” (Germany and its allies), the “winners” (Britain, France and their allies) helped to foster the resentment that led Germany to invade Poland in 1939 and to start an even more deadly global conflagration. One historian has called World War I, “nothing less than the greatest error of modern history.”[1]

Over the next months, Canada and other nations will be focusing much attention on the centenary of World War I. Despite what is now known about the terrible cost – and the folly – of World War I, Canadians will no doubt once again hear the oft-repeated refrain that World War I “made Canada a nation” or, as a Veterans Affairs publication puts it,

Nationhood was purchased for Canada by the gallant men who stood fast at Ypres, stormed Regina Trench, climbed the heights of Vimy Ridge, captured Passchendaele, and entered Mons on November 11, 1918.[2]

ON -- peace signAt Mennonite Central Committee we believe that war is wrong. Period. War is not something to be celebrated – it is something to be mourned. Our convictions are rooted in our peace church tradition and our commitment to Jesus, who calls us to love our enemies and to live peaceably with all.

This conviction is strengthened by MCC’s work among people suffering from war and violence around the world. A partner in Lebanon says it well: “Any war, anytime, anywhere [ends with] mutual defeat.”

To be sure, we in MCC mourn with Canadian families who lost loved ones in World War I (and in succeeding wars), just as we mourn for all victims of war. However, like the people at Peace Quest, we believe that the centenary of World War I should be an occasion for reflection, dialogue and debate about what is truly gained through war.

We believe all Canadians – not only those who share MCC’s religious convictions – should be asking questions like these:

  • What are the root causes of war?
  • What does war look like from the “other side”?
  • Does war build peace? Or does it perpetuate violence?
  • Who benefits when wars are fought? Who suffers?
  • How can we know truth in wartime?
  • What builds a nation? Its military might? Or the way it welcomes refugees, provides education and healthcare for its citizens, honours its treaty obligations, and nurtures values of caring and compassion for others?

The anniversary of World War I should, above all, be an occasion when Canadians commit themselves to learning about, investing in, and practicing non-violent alternatives to war. Those alternatives do exist – that much we have learned! Surely, one of the most important legacies Canadians can offer the global community during this anniversary year is a  passionate pursuit of nonviolent peacemaking.

Look for the following resources to help you, your church, your school or your group mark the anniversary of World War I.

  • MCC’s annual Peace Sunday Packet for churches. The theme this year is “God’s Vision: a World Without War.” Available on in late August 2014.
  • A Remembrance Day peace resource for teachers. The theme for this new resource is: “Is Another Way Possible?” Available on in September 2014.
  • Project Ploughshares is an agency of The Canadian Council of Churches which contributes to peace and disarmament through research, policy analysis and action.
  • Peace Quest is an organization “stimulating a nation-wide conversation about peace and our country’s role in peacemaking, reconciliation and social justice” in the context of the 100th anniversary of World War I and Canada’s 150th year as a nation.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Ottawa Office Public Engagement Coordinator

[1] Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (Basic Books, Perseus, 1999), p. 462.

[2] Government of Canada Veterans Affairs, Valour Remembered: Canada and the First World War, 1914-1918 (Government of Canada, 2000), p. 27.


3 thoughts on “Calling for a passionate pursuit of nonviolent peacemaking

  1. Esther, thanks for another well-written essay. The questions you pose for ‘all Canadians’ are excellent thought/discussion-provoking questions. I think it would be completely appropriate for leaders and teachers in our (Mennonite) churches to print those out for use during a Sunday School hour.

    You said, “At Mennonite Central Committee we believe that war is wrong. Period. War is not something to be celebrated – it is something to be mourned. Our convictions are rooted in our peace church tradition and our commitment to Jesus, who calls us to love our enemies and to live peaceably with all.” I am so thankful for MCC’s committment to this core distinctive of our faith, but I’m forced to ask another question: “Is this same statement of confession also claimed by the ‘average’ Menno?” The answer, I suspect, is ‘No.’ Or, if it is, why is it so phenomenally rare for Mennos to lend support to Conscience Canada — a tiny (but national) organization whose sole reason for existence is to have our government establish a Peace Tax Department? I’m just wondering.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks, Esther. Very good questions to ponder. I think the one that always challenges/haunts me is the “Who benefits when wars are fought?” question. I believe it to be one of the most important questions to struggle with as individuals (e.g. perhaps me, through my mutual fund investments) and as a broader society. Likely highly connected to question # 1 around the root causes of war.

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