Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the World War 1 Museum in Kansas City. It began as a memorial, with a 217-foot tower that was dedicated only 8 years after the war ended.
The Liberty Memorial Tower offers a great view of KC, but even more importantly, it stands as a reminder of the enduring effects, 100 years later, of WW1. The stunning visual that the tower offers is matched by the breath-taking statistics associated with “The Great War.” Millions were killed, and millions more injured. For example, the Battle of Somme, which lasted from June-November 1916, resulted in massive casualties: 419,000 British, 194,000 French, and 650,000 German.
Or how about this: by 1917, there were more soldiers who were POWs than there had been soldiers, period, before the war began.
All of these men were in need of care. Folks like Marie Curie stepped up to help. She devised a mobile x-ray ambulance which she took out to the battlefields. She also took along her seventeen-year-old daughter to work with her.
And so many who served, who sacrificed, and who saved lives were a part of a goal of seeing the end of war as we know it. As the writer H.G. Wells put it: the Allies are fighting to gain “a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing forever. It is the last war!”
Despite H.G. Wells’s optimism, that day has yet to come. Instead, “the war to end all wars” came at the beginning of a century that, by one estimate, resulted in 187 million deaths as a result of war.
If you ever get the chance to visit the WW1 Museum, make sure you walk around to the “backside” — where there is a sculpture that must not be missed. Spanning 148 feet, it depicts the progression of humanity from war to peace. It has four panels. All four quotes are scripture, or scripture-based, including this one: “What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Embedded in the memorial, and in the memory of the war, is the hope and longing for war to come to an end. And rightfully, it points to scripture for this hope. For when we reach for words to express our basic human longing, these words are found most clearly in the Bible; in a book that tells us about a Prince of Peace, and a day when Peace will win, and will reign forever.
We need places like The National WW1 Museum and Memorial. It reminds us of the devastation of war, the brokenness of humanity, and the courage and compassion that arises in times of need. It reminds us that war, sadly, comes easily — while peace, sadly, comes hard.
But come it does. In acts of justice and mercy and humility. And the Christian hope is that justice, mercy, and humility will one day overcome injustice, cruelty, and death. That’s why Jesus came, and that’s why he’s coming again.