Russell and Duenes

This Cataract of Horrors

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I am grateful whenever I am reminded of what G.K. Chesterton said: The fact that all people are born evil and sinful is “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” And I usually find it proved in my reading of history.

I’m currently in the third volume of William Manchester’s (and Paul Reid’s) masterful work on Winston Churchill: The Last Lion – Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. My attention is rapt as we reach the point in WW2 when Germany invades the Soviet Union. Manchester describes the moments before the invasion:

The engines of more than 3,600 German panzers growled to life. Gunners eased high-explosive shells into the breeches of more than 7,200 pieces of artillery; officers stood ready, langyards in hand. More than 600,000 mechanized vehicles, their engines idling, spewed exhaust that drifted low through fields and woodlands along a front that stretched almost nine-hundred miles, from the Baltic, through occupied Poland, and south to the Black Sea…The German army of the east, the Ostheer, 153 divisions strong, was ready. More than three million assault pioneers and infantrymen (including fourteen divisions of reluctant Romanian infantry) crouched behind railway grades and in shallow ditches…A few miles to their rear, nearly a million pack horses – almost five thousand per division – grazed on an infinite sea of grass…Farther still to the rear, companies of Einsatzgruppen, SS killers, waited near their trucks for the word to go forth, to carry out their orders and their glorious destiny as codified by Jodl on Hitler’s order: to kill commissars, Jews, intellectuals, Bolsheviks of any age, and nationalists of any persuasion….Just before 4:00 a.m. more than 2,600 German Messerschmitts, Stukas, and Junkers medium bombers lifted off from airfields in Poland, East Prussia, and Romania…Along the entire line, almost three million German troops lunged forward. The eruption and flashes of the great guns would have been visible from space.

Almost ten million Russian soldiers and at least fifteen million Russian civilians would pay with their lives in the next four years for Stalin’s bungling. (pgs. 376-77)

Churchill would speak about the invasion over the BBC that evening. As Manchester notes, “Churchill that evening would try to convince Britain – and himself – that old differences [between England and the Soviet Union] must be put aside. The effort would tax even his oratorical skills, for in the eyes of fully half his countrymen, the godless Joseph Stalin was more fundamentally evil than Adolf Hitler.” (pg. 379) Though Churchill loathed Bolshevism, he understood that the Nazi menace was the most virulent threat to the survival of civilization. Churchill was under no illusions about Joseph Stalin, but he understood that “[t]he Russian danger is…our danger, and the danger of the United States.” (p. 380)

As I tend to do with such accounts, I began to ruminate over the numbers and to visualize specific persons being cut down. In addition to the tens, yea, hundreds of millions of people killed during peacetime in the 20th century by the Chinese, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Soviet, and North Korean regimes, one must add the millions of deaths brought about through the base contempt and lust for human life through the warmongers of WW2. I hasten to add the genocidal – and “constitutional” – designs in the killing of some 30 million of the most helpless human beings among us in our own nation. And yet we persist in some secular trance, flattering ourselves that these hundreds of millions of people put to slaughter are mere accidents of history, the product of a few especially mad or bad individuals, as the late Dallas Willard would say. One can hardly conjure a more strident denial of reality. Which I suppose is part of the wickedness. We are in the business of suppressing the truth, or walking in darkness, because our deeds are evil. My deeds are evil.

Churchill, no Christian he, had a better grasp on things. He at least had the clear-eyed courage to not mince words, proclaiming that Hitler was “‘a monster of wickedness, insatiable in his lust for blood and plunder,’ and ‘a bloodthirsty guttersnipe’ who found satisfaction ‘grinding up human lives and trampling down the homes and rights of millions of men.'” (p.379) Churchill finished his speech off with his vision of “ten thousand villages of Russia, where the means of existence was wrung so hardly from the soil, but where there are still primordial human joys, where maidens and children play. I see advancing upon all this in hideous onslaught the Nazi war machine, with its clanking, heel-clicking, dandified Prussian officers….I see also the dull, docile, brutish masses of the Hun soldiery plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts….Behind all this glare, behind all this storm, I see that small group of villainous men [who launched] this cataract of horrors upon mankind.” (p.380)

Yes, it is a “cataract of horrors,” and Hitler’s invasion of Russia was just one part of it. The effect of contemplating such human decimation becomes a kind of mental dismantling. One cannot take it in, and must avert his mental and emotional gaze. It cuts through my self-flatteries and sentimentalities about my own goodness, about our alleged “decency.” Of course, almost none of us is engaged in some kind of blatant and overt wickedness 24/7. We are, after all, human beings created in the image of God. But when I allow my mind to consider a three million man army, marching across a 900 mile front, with the goal of inflicting a bloodbath on millions of people and subjugating them under an iron yoke of oppression and murder, my illusions about “innate goodness” are burned away like the morning fog. “Progress” is a myth, if it is gauged by what really matters, namely, spiritual and moral progress. No, we are in the grip of a power ingrained in us, far beyond our ability to tame or manage. Hitler and Stalin are just two men. Their millions of ordinary soldiers and subjects were not. We deceive ourselves if we think that their weakness does not this moment run in our own souls.

We are in need of a new birth and a new power within, a power that cannot be found in any human device or plan. It must come from our Triune God, and he is a God who will freely give it. How we desperately need to be laid bare before him. May he awaken our hearts to see that we are beyond self-cure, and that the healing of the nations, healing of the utter and unspeakable brokenness of the nations, is in a wide-eyed acknowledgment of our hopeless condition, and a turning to him in repentance and faith.



Written by Michael Duenes

November 15, 2013 at 8:12 pm

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