Archbishop says war is the ‘abject failure of humanity’

Commemoration of war ‘cannot be spiritually separated’ from Gaza and other contemporary trouble spots

The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke: “In the Great War, we see heroism and cruelty standing side by side.” Photograph: Arthur Allison

The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke: “In the Great War, we see heroism and cruelty standing side by side.” Photograph: Arthur Allison

 

War must always represent the abject failure of humanity, the head of the Anglican church in Ireland has said. Archbishop of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke said commemoration of the first World War could not be spiritually separated from carnage in Gaza and other contemporary trouble spots.

He addressed a Belfast service marking Britain’s declaration of hostilities against Germany. The Duke of York read a lesson and lit a candle.

“War must always represent the abject failure of the human spirit and of humanity itself,” Dr Clarke said. “It can never be other and we should never pretend it is other.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, First Minister Peter Robinson and Irish Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys, were among those attending the service at the Church of Ireland St Anne’s Cathedral in the city centre.

Young people lit five candles, each representing a year of the war. The Royal British Legion raised two standards and an act of remembrance was introduced by dean of Belfast John Mann.

Dr Clarke added: “Without being guilty of the worst kind of religious escapism, we cannot spiritually separate the violence, the carnage and the suffering of the innocent that is under our gaze today – whether in Gaza, in Israel, in Syria, in Ukraine or in Iraq – from our memorialising of the beginnings of the first World War.”

The church’s construction began in 1899 and in 1924, its west front was designated a memorial to Northern Ireland men and women who died during that war. Eight volumes of books in the cathedral record the names of those from across Ireland who fought and died during the 1914-18 war.

“In the Great War, we see heroism and cruelty standing side by side, we see cynical disillusionment and moral determination intertwining and we see hope and despair in equal measure and on every side,” Dr Clarke said.

“This was the first time that the weaponry of war could be fully industrialised and it was, also for the first time, that the phrase ‘total war’ was coined to indicate that civilians were to be regarded as being as much part of the war as the military.”

He said extinguishing lights throughout the UK, a reminder of words used to characterise the outbreak of war by then British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey, was an appropriate memorial.