I presume there will be future seasons, but this first season introduces us to the early advances of the Nazi’s with their invasion and occupation of Poland, and then their subsequent invasion of France and the devastation that these invasions caused.
The series also helps to reveal the something of the evil of the Nazi threat and ideology.
On Remembrance Sunday, when remember those who fought and died in the second world war, we often speak of expressing our gratitude because they fought for our freedom. But what exactly do we mean when we say that. What is the shape of this freedom that they fought for, and how can we honour the legacy they have left for us?
As one reflects on a TV series like World on Fire, it reminds us of the kind of freedom they fought for:
Firstly the freedom that they fought for was a freedom from living in a society based on intimidation and fear. In the World on Fire series one sees how ordinary German citizen's, many of whom had a distaste for Nazi ideology were forced and coerced in submission through fear and intimidation. In the series we see how neighbours were made to spy on neighbours and workers on their fellow workers and colleagues and then reporting back to the Nazi authorities.
The freedom that soldiers fought for was a freedom from living in a society based on intimidation and fear.
It is indeed a very worrying aspect of the current state of British politics where politicians on both sides of the Brexit debate are being intimidated on the streets and receiving hate mail and death threats. It reveals that the seeds of Nazi ideology were not something peculiar to the German people, but in fact live in the hearts of every human being who uses fear and intimidation to get their way. If we are to preserve the freedom that soldiers fought and died for, we need to nurture a political landscape that is free from fear and intimidation. The kind of society I believe that Christ invites us to create is one where we win people over with our love and good deeds rather than by coercion, intimidation and fear.
Secondly when one reflects on the story of World on Fire, it reminds us that those who sacrificed their lives on our behalf fought for a world where might is not right. In the TV series one sees how Nazi ideology was built on the theory that might is right, that somehow, having power meant that the felt justified using that power in whatever way they pleased, killing with impunity, even people who posed no threat to them.
The freedom that soldiers fought for was a freedom to live in a world where might is not right.
It is not right that anyone should dominate another simply because we are stronger. It is not right to invade another country just because one has the power to do so. It is not right to impose one’s own system of values on another simply because one has the power to do so or to use violence against another because one disagrees with them.
Our passage from Luke’s Gospel gives us a vivid picture of this when Jesus and the disciples face opposition from the Samaritans. James and John are working on the principal of might is right. If someone opposes you, then you have the right to use violence against them. Inspired by one of the Old Testament stories of Elijah, they say to Jesus, should we call down fire from heaven upon them to destroy them. But Jesus is not interested in their culture of violence and domination. The text tells us that Jesus rebukes them. One translation says he corrected them. Jesus corrected them and they simply went on to another village.
Jesus lived for a world where violence and dominance would be no more. The hope as expressed in the Old Testament where the weapons of war would be beaten into agricultural implements.
Henri Nouwen, a popular Christian writer wrote: “For Jesus there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved.”
Thirdly, reflecting on the World on Fire series, I believe that soldiers who fought and died in world war 2 fought for a world where it is ok to display weakness and where people who live with weaknesses and disabilities can be honoured and protected. The Aryan pursuit of racial perfection meant that Nazi ideology looked with disdain on all who were weak, even to the extent of feeling it was ok to exterminate them. In the TV series, we encoutner an ordinary German family whose daughter had epilepsy. Over the course of the series it becomes apparent that any children with some form of disability or weakness were identified for special medical treatment. But what this really meant was that they were identified to be euthenased in order to protect the Aryan gene pool from weakness.
The apostle Paul reminds us that the way of Christ is a way that honours weakness. That somehow it is in our weaknesses that God’s strength and power are displayed. And in the words of Leonard Cohen, it is often through the cracks of our imperfection that the light is able to shine through.
Jesus powerfully demonstrated the way where might is not right as he sacrificed himself in crucifixion. In the light of the cross we discover that there is something about human weakness and vulnerability that is saving and redeeming in a way that the way of violence can never be.
Fourthly, the TV series World on Fire reminds us that those who sacrificed their lives in the second world war fought for a world where no racial group or nationality should consider itself superior.
In the TV series, we are reminded of the Nazi ideology of the superiority of the Aryan race. And from this so-called position of superiority, they believed that they could act with disdain and impunity against any they considered inferior, whether Polish, French, Jewish or people of African descent.
The Nazi superiority complex and their obsession with strength grew out of the ashes of German humiliation at the end of the First World War and in the treaty of Versaille. What ever the origins of this Nazi Superiority complex, it had devastating consequences, not just for the Jews, but for anyone who they considered inferior. In fighting against the evil of Nazi ideology of Aryan superiority, those who died in the second world war were in effect fighting for a world where no race or nationality should claim superiority over others. In Galatians, Paul asserts that the message of Christ is one where we are called to go beyond the human distinctions we make between different people, a world in which we are no longer bound between the false distinctions of Jew and Gentile, Male and Female, Slave and Free, a world in which we see every human being as someone equally precious in God’s sight and for whom Christ died.
Lastly, I believe those who gave their lives in world war 2 fought for a world in which our differences should be honoured.
In the most recent episode we watched one sees the Nazi obsession with social control, right down to trying to control what kind of music people could listen to. As they invade Paris the Nazi's begin to shut down jazz-clubs and arrest jazz musicians. Jazz was outlawed for a number of reasons. It was seen as undisciplined and advocating individualism, as well as being 'black' people's music. On the World on Fire, we see also that jazz was outlawed because jazz musicians plucked their stringed instruments thus supposedly causing harm to their instruments.
Those who gave their lives in World War 2 fought for a world in which our differences should be honoured. Where we do not have to agree on everything. Where we do not have to all listen to the same kind of music. Where we can affirm the right of others to hold differences of opinion and practice.
The issue of same-sex marriage is understandably a hot-topic in Northern Ireland, and particularly in light of the implementation of the Westminster legislation a week or so ago. On BBC radio ulster about a week ago, there was a discussion between a number of religious leaders, which happened to include the Rev. Chris Hudson, the current moderator of our own denomination who many will know has long advocated for the LGBT+ community. It was good to hear him affirming that not everyone in our own denomination is of one mind on the issue. But it was the voice of a spokesperson from the Evangelical Alliance however which really stood out for me. While he affirmed the fact that he remains diametrically opposed to same-sex marriage, he also affirmed the right and freedom of others, like Chris Hudson to hold and practice a view different from his own, because in doing so it was affirming the right to religious freedom for himself as well. I felt that there was a lot of courage and wisdom in his statement. We fight for the religious freedom of others even when we disagree with them, because in doing so we fight for our own religious freedom as well.
The alternative is to lay the seeds of a new kind of Nazi-ism where one group seeks to impose their own opinions on others.
Ellen de Generes in the context of a very divided America was recently criticised for hanging out with George W. Bush. She responded with the following statement: ““Here’s the thing, I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different. And I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different. When I say, ‘Be kind to one another’, I don’t mean only the people who think the same way that you do, I mean be kind to everyone. Doesn’t matter.”
And so today, we honour those who fought for the freedoms we have today. The freedom to respectfully disagree. The freedom to enjoy jazz music if that is our preference. But also the freedom from a world of fear, intimidation and domination based on someone’s notion of their own superiority. A world where we are free to honour the weaknesses and disabilities in ourselves and in others, and where we do not need to hide our weaknesses and disabilities out of fear of others.
And it all begins with you and me: Gandalf, in the Lord of the Rings says the following: “Some believe that is it only GREAT POWER that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small every day deeds of ordinary folk that keep darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”