Summary: When will the war end?

When will the war end?

We are fighting a war in Iraq that began on March 20, 2003.

One month before that, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said “It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last 6 days, 6 weeks. I doubt six months.”

(USA Today, April 1, 2003, “Prewar Comments Haunt”)

Iraq has now continued for four years, eight months and counting.

Four days before the invasion, Vice President Cheney told NBC’s Meet the Press, “We will be greeted as liberators….it will go relatively quickly… in weeks rather than months.” (By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Saturday, March 29, 2003; Page A01)

Weeks? It has been over 200 weeks so far.

When will this war end?

It is a question that our military personnel are asking,

that parents are asking,

that our politicians are asking.

As we approach the upcoming presidential election, it is one of the key questions all Americans are asking.

When will this war end?

It is not the first time we have struggled with this question.

Many of my uncles fought in the Second World War and one of them fought at the Battle of the Bulge under General Patton. I was always proud of my uncles for their service and often begged them to tell me stories of what they did in the war. The Battle of the Bulge came just nine months before the end of the war in Europe, but if you ask my uncle what he remembers about being in that battle, to this day he will always start his answer by saying, “Throughout the entire battle, I kept wondering if this war was ever going to end.”

On June 12, 1918, the New York Times ran an article which started by quoting a letter from a German national: “Our losses in the last offensive are simply terrific. Every one must go into the front lines now, and protection is of no avail. Our sacrifices are dreadful. When will this war end?” (“Germany Is Greatly Worried Over Big Losses; Slaughter In Present Drive Admitted to be Terrific.” New York Times, June 13, 1918, page 1.)

That war would go on for just a few more months, finally ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the same year as that New York Times article – but that war, which was called the “War to end all wars” certainly was not the end of war.

Going back even further in history, in 1861, Tally Simpson wrote a letter to his sister Anna, “My dear sister, This is Christmas Day. The sun shines feeble through a thin cloud, the air is mild and pleasant, a gentle breeze is making music through the leaves of lofty pines that stand near our bivouac. I remember how one year ago, thousands of families gathered in joy and peace to celebrate Christmas. When will this war end? Will another Christmas roll around and find us all wintering in camp? Oh! That peace may soon be restored.” (

Little did he know that his war had only just begun, and would not end for nearly 4 more years.

In fact, go even further into history – to the biblical days.

Our Old Testament lesson was written by the prophet Isaiah.

It was some 400 years before the birth of Christ, and it was a time of war and violence. The kingdom was divided – Judah in the South and Israel in the North. There was civil war between the two. Judah was in revolt against super-power Assyria under King Hezekiah.

You can imagine the people of Isaiah’s time asking the same thing the people of our time ask, “when will this war end?”

Isaiah answered by recalling the words of another prophet, Joel, who some 2 or 3 hundred years earlier had called the people to prepare for war by telling them to beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears.

What Isaiah does is to lift that phrase out of the writings of Joel and he turns them around.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore.

What an idealist dream!

Imagine taking the weapons of today and recycling them as Isaiah proposed, turning guns and bullets and missiles and jets and tanks – into farming equipment, medical tools, building materials for schools.

Can there ever be a day when “nation will not take up sword against nation,” or “train for war anymore?”

When will wars end?

In our New Testament lesson, the people were asking Jesus about when the end of the age would be. That’s more than just the end of war. That’s the end of poverty, disease, injustice, racism, violence, hatred – as well as war.

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