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Did They Die In Vain?

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When nations fight, soldiers die. Is any war worth the cost in human life? The Bible explains why we fight, and what the future will be for those who have given their lives in the service of their country.

Iraq? Just where is Iraq?" would have been many Americans' question before September 11, 2001. Very few would have been able to identify Iraq's capital, Baghdad.

Today, after the U.S.-led coalition invasion, both Iraq and Baghdad are part of our daily vocabulary—along with the constant tragic reports of death and destruction. Who would have thought that four years later, as of June 1, 2007, more than 3,470 American soldiers would have given their lives for a purpose many did not understand—and that most Americans do not understand today. Sadly enough, to that figure must be added more than 25,200 young American soldiers who were once healthy and strong, filled with hope and dreams for a future they will never have, and are now on the list of the wounded—most of them for life.

Why? That question has been asked millions of times throughout history, but has remained unanswered, and will continue to remain unanswered as long as people disdain the true Way of Life guided by love, God's love. In the interim, under Satan's surreptitious rule, we are reaping the fruits of man's inhumanity against man.

I was not born a U.S. citizen. I acquired my citizenship after my immigration nearly five decades ago. I counted it then—as I still do—a great privilege and blessing to be an American. "The United States is the melting pot where people of all nations form one nation," I was told when I passed the test for my citizenship. Today, with the constant degeneration of our culture and the degrading of our values, that saying is hardly true. The melting pot is not melting anymore. In many ways, we are divided among ourselves.

Have you ever seen an American cemetery abroad? There, the divisions do not seem so great. Do you know that there are a few American cemeteries in Europe, where thousands of young American soldiers are buried thousands of miles away from their homes, their families and their friends—almost forgotten by those for whom they sacrificed their lives?

Nearly 20 years ago—in April 1988—I returned to Europe as an editor of the Plain Truth magazine, and visited one of those cemeteries, located in Saint-Avold, France, not far from Germany. The article I wrote then about my visit was titled, "Did They Die in Vain?" That question remains as meaningful today as it was then, and to this day, I can hardly control my emotions when thinking of the immense sacrifice those American soldiers made.

Only the dull fall of a light rain broke the silence at the American cemetery at Saint-Avold in northern France, as I stood on top of the main stairway of the Memorial Building.

The cemetery grounds cover 113.5 acres and contain 10,489 headstones—nearly all in the shape of a cross, except for 200 that are in the form of the traditional Star of David, for the dead who belonged to the Jewish faith.

The grave area consists of nine plots laid out about the axis of a symmetrical pattern divided by carved paths. The headstones, made of white Italian marble, are set in straight lines in each of the plots.

What a moving and imposing sight!

This was my first visit to the largest American cemetery in Europe, the "home" of brave American foot-soldiers and pilots, most of whom lost their lives during the campaign along the German frontiers during World War II.

What do you say—what can you say—at a time like this? How do you contain your emotions when thousands of headstones look at you in silence? So many lives, mostly young, once full of dreams and hopes, now lay buried under these headstones!

"Why wars?" is perhaps the question most asked by visitors as they witness this tragic site.

Of course, there are other American cemeteries in Europe. And there are numerous other cemeteries around the world, containing the burials of soldiers of all nationalities and races. They too have given up—for peace and freedom—the most precious gift they had: their lives!

Peace and freedom? What a paradox—what euphemisms! Who would have thought, back in 1945, that more than 150 more wars would be fought in less than 50 years following the end of World War II? Who would have believed that millions of other soldiers of all nationalities would also die—and they still die today—for peace and freedom?

But where is peace? And what is the freedom or liberty for which people are willing to die? At Saint-Avold, directly in front of the Visitors' Building, to the west, the range of hills contains part of the fortifications of the Maginot Line.

Most Tomorrow's World readers are probably too young to remember the major role the Maginot Line was supposed to play in France's defense after World War I. Many might not even know that it stood as a pillar of peace, an impenetrable barrier that no army could cross or tear down! Yet the Maginot Line fell—just like the soldiers who were assigned to defend it!

West of the Memorial forecourt pylons is the Chapel and Memorial Building. Inside the building, beneath the five sculptured figures that represent the seemingly eternal struggle for freedom, typified by religious and military heroes, is inscribed: "Our fellow countrymen—enduring all and giving all that mankind might live in freedom and in peace. They join that glorious band of heroes who have gone before."

As I meditated upon these words, I wondered what all these heroes—who "died for peace and freedom"—would now have said if they could speak!

On the north wall are color photographs of six other American military cemeteries in Europe, and above the photographs are General Dwight Eisenhower's words: "Here we and all who shall hereafter live in freedom will be reminded that to these men and their comrades we owe a debt to be paid, with grateful remembrance of their sacrifice and with the high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live."

Meaningful words, indeed! A solemn resolution! But where are we today?

History Speaks

Since the beginning of mankind, wars have become more cruel and costly with the advance of civilization.

A few years ago, a Dutch professor took time to calculate the cost of an enemy soldier's death at different epochs in history. He estimated that during the reign of Julius Caesar, to kill an enemy soldier cost less than one dollar. At the time of Napoleon, it had considerably inflated—to more than $2,000. At the end of World War I, it had multiplied several times to reach the figure of some $17,000. During World War II, it was about $40,000. And in Vietnam, in 1970, to kill an enemy soldier cost the United States $200,000.

Washington economist Scott Wallsten recently calculated that the cost of the U.S. war in Iraq will exceed $1 trillion! Linda Bilmes, a public policy expert at the Kennedy School of Government, puts its cost as greater than $2 trillion, after figuring the many indirect costs of war. One would suppose that no nation would ever be able to afford another war! Why then is the whole world preparing for one?

In Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, the combined heat and blast of the atomic bomb pulverized everything in the immediate vicinity. It generated spontaneous fires some distance away, produced winds that fanned the flames in Hiroshima's craterlike configuration so powerfully that they burned almost 4.4 square miles of the city. That bomb—with its yield of only 12 kilotons—killed at least 80,000 people, besides injuring more than 70,000 others.

A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, on August 9, 1945. It killed at least 40,000 people, injuring a like number, and devastated 1.7 square miles.

It is sad to say but despite the testimony of history, human beings have not learned that wars cannot solve problems; they never have. One evil added to another evil equals two evils—they do not eliminate each other. Wars destroy. They do not construct.

The Cause of Wars

Why then do we have wars? Why do individuals or nations fight? Nearly everyone agrees that wars must cease, but no one has discovered yet a way to eliminate them. The numerous conferences of peace—most of which have been held during the 20th century—have neither prevented wars nor slowed down their pace.

How strange! Throughout history, human beings have sought—in vain—to understand the real cause of wars. They have failed to find it because they have not turned to the right source: the Bible. The Apostle James wrote, "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:1–3).

Quarrels and wars are by-products of human, carnal, selfish sentiments of jealousy, lust and envy. Human nature is first of all interested in its own comfort—in its own gain to the detriment of its neighbor's.

Before God, all human beings are equal. But equality can only be achieved if we all walk together—led by the same loving spirit—regardless of race and nationality.

What will the end be? If wars in the past have left behind winners and losers, the fact remains that during World War III, there will only be losers—no winners or victors.

Governments are aware of this. Military experts, in turn, are warning the world of what may be ahead! Perhaps you remember the powerful words of General Douglas MacArthur spoken right after World War II, when he said:

"We have had our last chance. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advance in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2,000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh."

History repeats itself because people do not learn their lessons. They continue to live the way they want to live, to seek peace after their own understanding, to practice justice according to their carnal reasoning. We all reap what we sow.

Indeed, history repeats itself because people do not turn away from sin! Ever since the beginning, humanity has followed the way of rebellion. And today, after nearly 6,000 years of civilization, human beings still prefer to follow the way of rebellion.

Why? Because, just as General MacArthur warned, the change has not been of the spirit.

The word discipline is not liked today; it never was. Young and old, men or women, nearly everyone seeks freedom without wanting to respect the rules that govern it. Most do not seem to realize that true freedom is the right to do what God's law permits.

Freedom is synonymous with obedience to God's law. We enjoy freedom when we submit our will to His. The Apostle James calls God's law a perfect law of liberty: "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25).

As a reader of Tomorrow's World, you should know that, according to Bible prophecy, we are now living in the last days of civilization as we know it. We have long passed the point of no return, and unless God intervenes—miraculously—human life will be wiped out from the face of the earth.

How memorable were the words of a French newspaperman who wrote, "If men fail to find the way of cooperation and goodwill, their awesome inventions will end by becoming the ingenuous elements of a gigantic industry of death!"

Regrettably, there is no indication that the present civilization will ever find the way of goodwill and cooperation.

Many ask: "Can't religion help us solve our problems? Can't religion put an end to wars?"

Just what do you mean by "religion"? There are today, far more religions than nations—and traditional Christianity itself is composed of several hundreds of sects and denominations, all of which claim to proclaim the truth.

Throughout history, men and women have been massacred, hanged, burned alive and tortured in the name of religion. Why? Because mankind has created and conceived its own religions, its own beliefs, and turned its back to revealed eternal truth. Consequently, neither mankind's efforts nor its religions can bring peace on earth. "Destruction and misery are in their ways," God says, "and the way of peace they have not known" (Romans 3:16–17).

The Dead Shall Arise

The 10,489 foot-soldiers and pilots buried under the white marble headstones at Saint-Avold will one day be brought back to life—and they will write a new chapter in history.

But this time the history they write will not be made of wars; it will be made of peace—universal peace! Together with the millions and millions of other soldiers who also died "for peace and freedom," they will be resurrected to live in a new world, an entirely different world where the change will finally be of the spirit.

You are living today in a dying world. A new civilization will soon arise where all people will be taught to respect God's laws and teachings.

A miracle? Yes, but it will take place because Jesus Christ Himself will be King of kings and Lord of lords on earth. He will "judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Micah 4:3).

This is the gospel Jesus Christ brought—the ultimate hope of all mankind. In the wonderful world tomorrow, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). At Saint-Avold, during that rainy day, as I stood in silence looking at the 10,489 headstones, my thoughts dwelled on those words.

The story of these soldiers—just like the story of all soldiers around the world who died for peace and freedom—is not finished. They will live again, after the resurrection. And what they were unable to accomplish by their death "for peace and freedom," they will be able to accomplish by their life for peace and freedom—true peace and liberty in Christ.

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