On September 1, 1939, the Second World War officially began when France and Britain declared war on Germany. The war concluded on September 2, 1945 when the Japanese Emporer signed the surrender documents.
The collective mix of joy and relief throughout the democratic West was believed to be captured in the joy of the famous picture of a Kiss in the middle of Times Square NYC. This was about the same time the two young orphaned protagonists of the film “Grave of the Fireflies” were roaming around Japan struggling to survive. In the West, WWII was a relief and the start of America’s run as a pre-eminent superpower. In Japan, it was the start of a national reckoning and rebuild.
In a mix of hope of what could happen if they came together, and a fear of what would happen again if they didn’t, 51 countries met in San Francisco on October 24th,1945 to create the United Nations. That is a day we as UUs celebrate. On a personal level, this took place on my Dad’s 6th birthday. Not lost on anyone was the fact that World War II was a war that started less than twenty years after the end of WW1, previously named The War to End All Wars. Most of those gathered had a living memory that twenty-five years prior, at the Palace of Versailles, a similar treaty was signed.
About a decade ago, I was lucky enough to stand in that room in Versailles. In this long thin beautiful room, made up largely of mirrors, there were a few plaques and photos marking this historic moment. It was odd to see the markers, odd because nothing could have been so regal and failed so miserably. I wrote in my travel notes from that trip how hard and sad it would have been for those movers and shakers who signed off on the end of WWI to have to stare into those mirrors if they ever returned. All their hopes for a world at peace have failed. I wondered if the new leaders of the world who were dividing up the world in San Francisco that day to once again attempt peace to have to look in the countless mirrors at Versailles. I imagined the movers and shakers, the many nations and peoples who pulled together the United Nations looking in those mirrors with an anguished look and thinking, like an addict, "I just can’t do this anymore". We have to get this right, this time.
I want you to channel the energy that those people who knew that Germany's surrender at Reims, and Japan's surrender on the Air Craft Carrier Missouri had to stick. And when they knew that it had to last, do you know what they did? Just a month and a half after the war's end, they did seek to punish the Germans, as they had in WWI, or take out vengeance on the beleaguered Japanese. What they did, in addition to a few very pragmatic decisions about what countries came under whose control, was to write a document that is very similar to our 7 principles. They wrote about a “faith in fundamental human rights of all people and lifted up the dignity and worth of all humans in nations large and small.”
To me, the United Nations basically gets it, and that is why we UUs have a larger presence at the UN, larger than our tiny numbers would demand. It is also why we as a movement historically have one Sunday each fall year dedicated to the UN. Sometimes watching news from the Ukraine, or false patriots challenging our historic democratic norms, or seeing yet another school shooting we can lose faith that caring for people we disagree with might even have it out for us. It is hard. Nonetheless, the most pervasive truth in the world remains the same. If we want peace in the world, we need to work for justice. We UUs, like the UN, have a long history of believing that working for justice creates peace.
Say it with me if you dare…“creating justice creates peace.” It’s as true as anything. This is of course not a perfect recipe for creating a lasting peace, but it is sadly the only one that will work. It is impossible to get in front of every sociopath or deranged person with a gun, but both we and the UN know deep in our bones that justice is the only recipe that will work to create long-term peace. We as UUs may not be able to, like most religions, speak clearly about supernatural beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we are without faith. We UUs generally share a deep faith that If we want peace in the world, we need to create healthy, loving environments for people to grow in.
Sometimes because the work of creating peace is so slow and silent, it is hard to see the changes. It's important to remember that the first viable organization dedicated to preventing war and cultivating world peace is only 78 years old, a tiny sliver of human history. In this spirit, on the first Sunday in December, the Sunday closest to Pearl Harbor Day, Chris Tribou and Rev. Steve will, in the context of the movie “Grave of the Fireflies”, remind us of the human cost of war. We will show that movie at 7 pm on November 26th.
We encourage you to set aside a portion of your holiday season this year to pause and think about peace and justice.