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Rumours of wars

Rumours of wars

The following is an exclusive column featured in our Monthly Newsletter where Chine McDonald reflects on what in this country is worth fighting for. Interested in having these blogs land straight in your inbox? Be sure to sign up to our newsletter using the link at the bottom of the page!

Last month – as wars and rumours of wars that might bring conflict closer to home circulated in the media – I found myself addressing 17 new generals of the British Army during a training course at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. We were invited by the Chaplain General to speak to them about the changing landscape of religion, belief and spirituality in the UK.  

Conflict, as we know, rages continually around the world. The war in Gaza shows no sign of letting up, neither does Russia’s war in Ukraine, nor the other many conflicts that rarely get coverage. Within the UK, it feels like we have been protected from much of the reality of war. ‘Never again,’ we say each November as we commemorate Remembrance Day. But in recent months, the prospect of war has felt a little closer to home than it has for several generations. Personally, it’s all been feeling a little too close for comfort. This feeling was perhaps exacerbated as I stood speaking to a room full of uniformed generals.  

With all this talk of war, I found myself working out, in hope, whether the men in my life – or perhaps the women? – would be too old or too young for conscription, following comments from top generals about what could happen if NATO were to go to war with Russia. In January, the head of the British Army Sir Patrick Sanders, urged politicians to take “preparatory steps to enable placing our societies on a war footing”. Meanwhile UK defence secretary Grant Shapps said that we were moving from being a “post war to a pre–war” generation.  

How on earth have we got here? And what might such a conflict look like for a nation of young people disillusioned and disenfranchised, who would neither fight for their god, nor their nation? A poll by More In Common this month found that almost half (47%) of under–45s would refuse to be conscripted into the military. It is perhaps telling that the areas in which people were least up for being conscripted were Wales, the East of England, Yorkshire and the Humber, and North–West England.  

Track this reluctance towards military conscription against voting activity and the regional correlations are striking. In the 2019 General Election, Hull had the lowest turn–out (57% compared to the national average of 69%), followed by Barnsley, Doncaster and Sunderland. Voters in Twickenham, one of the wealthiest suburbs, had the highest voter turnout at 80%.   

Perhaps one of the contributing factors to this atmosphere of disengagement is a sense of disillusionment, caused by a dearth of moral leadership globally. Our political system feels broken, our communities polarised; a world full of too many powerful people acting in their own self–interest. I lean towards pacifism, but at Sandhurst gained a new respect for army leaders who take very seriously the moral questions we would hope our leaders are asking.  

In 2011, General Lord Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army, delivered the Theos Annual Lecture and argued then that the need for soldiers and military leaders to understand and adopt high moral and ethical leadership was more critical than ever. There was “a spiritual dimension that must not be overlooked,” he said. Christian tradition has centuries of thought and wisdom that might help us find ways through moral and ethical questions: of life and death and war and what it means to love our neighbour and lay down our lives for others.  

As the Church has come under fire in recent days, regarding debates about immigration, the Rwanda bill, and so–called ‘conversions of convenience’ among asylum seekers, it’s important we hold our nerve and refuse the sidelining of religion.  

Because we need more moral leadership in our nation, not less. Perhaps that’s something we can all fight for.  


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 Photo by Specna Arms:

Chine McDonald

Chine McDonald

Chine is Director of Theos. She was previously Head of Community Fundraising and Public Engagement at Christian Aid. She has 16 years’ experience in journalism, media and communications across faith, media and international development organisations.

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Posted 26 February 2024

Patriotism, Polling, War


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