When celebrations are linked they each evoke stories that help us to understand each day better. That is so in the case of World Science Day for Peace and Development (10 November) and Remembrance Day (11 November). The latter looks to the past and the former to the future. World Science Day also hopes to learn from the past and Remembrance Day points to the lessons we should hold in our minds as we look to the future.
Remembrance Day is held on the anniversary of the Armistice that ended fighting in the First World War. Its symbol became the blood-red poppy that bloomed everywhere in Flanders. It initially commemorated all the soldiers of the victorious armies who had died in the battle but now honours the dead of many wars. It also celebrated the longed-for peace that followed the war and the hope that there would be no more war in their time.
The poppies of the fields of Flanders also became associated in Christian minds with the flowers that Jesus spoke of which neither toiled nor spun but whose beauty was a simple gift. They exemplified the trust that brings peace, just as the stinking mud of the trenches pointed to the mistrust that causes war.
That war was hoped to end war. It did not, and many of the soldiers caught in it were dragged later into the Second World War. Since then, wars and military actions have constantly disturbed the peace, all fought in the name of peace.
World Science Day reminds us that science has not always served peace and development. In the First World War scientists put their minds to the development of poison gas, more powerful explosives, tanks and guns that multiplied death and misery. In the war that followed, more civilians died than soldiers, due to technical developments such as the use of atomic weapons that now have the power to destroy human life on earth.
Scientists clearly are not experts on peace and development. But as human beings they have much to contribute to the making of a peaceful and fertile world. The skills, gifts and advocacy they bring can serve peace in a sustainable world if used well. For that to happen, societies need to be built on respect for others and for that respect to shape relationship between citizens and between nations. Peace and development are dependent on a change of heart in hearts and politics which places cooperation over competition, reconciliation over aggression and negotiation over violence. Remembrance Day recalls the urgency of this change of heart and the costs of its lack.
We see our work at Jesuit Social Services as building small tiles in the building of peace and development, remembering the things that make for peace, storing the evidence that may lead to change, and accompanying vulnerable people on the path to good relationships. Fr Andrew Hamilton is a Jesuit priest who has contributed widely to theological and religious journals. He is currently editorial consultant of Eureka Street and a policy officer with Jesuit Social Services.