Rumors of War: Diana Agabeg Apcar on Peace

The recent assassination of Qasem Soleimani has filled my news feed (and my WordPress reader) with stories about wars and rumors of wars. The nature of war having changed so dramatically in my lifetime, it is hard to imagine war will truly come, at least not anything like war as history has usually described with the armies of one states squaring off against the armies of another. Even so, the heightened consciousness about war provides a good occasion to meditate on the subject once again.

Perhaps the signal profession of Christian bloggers in moments like these is to dredge the depths for inspirational and authoritative quotes from the past meant to focus our minds on the imperative of peace. I appreciated in particular this selection from an 1897 Anglican Encyclical shared by Joel Watts:

There is nothing which more tends to promote general employment and consequently genuine comfort among the people than the maintenance of peace among the nations of mankind. But besides and above all considerations of material comfort stands the value of Peace itself as the great characteristic of the Kingdom of our Lord, the word which heralded His entrance into the world, the title which specially distinguishes Him from all earthly princes.

For my own contribution, I turn to Diana Agabeg Apcar, a figure so remarkable in her own right that it’s a little surprising that she hasn’t made an appearance here before. Apcar was a member of the Armenian diaspora, born in the 1850s in British-controlled Burma. I know her from her time spent living in Yokohama. Taken there by her husband’s family’s booming business trade, Apcar eventually became instrumental in securing Japan’s early recognition of the independence of Armenia and served as an honorary consul to Japan–one of the first women in the twentieth century to occupy a major diplomatic post.

Apcar lived in perhaps the darkest period of Armenian history, when constant conflict with the ruling Ottomans culminated in the deaths of roughly one million people in the Armenian genocide. This gave Apcar a keen understanding of the atrocity of war, a subject she wrote frequently about to the Japan Gazette while living in Yokohama. In 1912, as the genocide was just beginning to take shape, the Japan Gazette collected many of her contributions and published them under the title Peace and No Peace.

Though the cruelties of the Ottomans are never far from view for her, Apcar focuses heavily on the hypocrisy of European powers, where peace was an empty mantra as they continued to press their imperial interests around the world. Though Europe has now been eclipsed by the United States as the global meddlers, much of what Apcar has to say resonates still with eerie relevance for the present crisis.

“Peace! Peace! when there is no Peace.” Never in the history of the world has the cry of the prophet of Israel been verified as in our day: for never have the nations voiced the cry for Peace, as now, and never have the foreign policies of the governments of Europe worked so systematically to destroy Peace in the world. Let the nations cry out Peace! Peace! but the Damocles’ sword of war must ever hang over the world, ready to fall at any time, so long as the governments of Europe pursue their un righteous policies, so long as they continue to make misery and desolation outside of their own fences.

The whole argument against war was clinched for us nineteen hundred years ago in the condemnation. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence even of your lusts that war in your members?”

The lust of power and the lust of gold and the lust of territory have been the altars on which human flesh and blood, and the happiness of human life, have ever been sacrificed in our world.

If the nations will have Peace let them break the altars of ambition and greed in their own countries, and let them say to their own politicians and their own capitalists: “We will have Peace!”

The nations of Europe have cried out Peace! Peace but the cry has proceeded from their throats only, and not from their hearts; they have each and every one of them been desirous only to see the altars of greed and ambition broken down in the other men’s countries, whilst eagerly stipulating to keep their own; and if Peace must come to the world, it can only come when the cry has gone forth from the hearts of the nation.

The equation is simple. If Americans want peace, they must stop making war. They must stop feeding those dark parts themselves–the fear and the greed and the pride–that make war seem necessary and inevitable. But, since I know universal peace won’t be achieved until Christ returns, at the very least Christians must resist these impulses in themselves, cutting them away as with an offending limb. The prophetic voice of the church must declare, while the world goes to war, “We will have Peace!”

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