Third of 7 parts
IS humanity marching toward another world war?
This third part of our Lenten reflection on who Jesus is ponders whether there's any chance amid rising war rumblings that the world would hear and heed our Lord's words of peace and fraternity, expressed in the March 12 Mass readings for the Third Sunday of Lent and the third of his Seven Last Words on the Cross.
As our February 19 column headline warns, "The big powers are nudging closer to world war" with the threat of Western forces directly battling Russia's in Europe and feared conflict over Taiwan between China and America as early as 2025 (https://bit.ly/3kS4HiM).
This face-off pitting Russia and China against the United States-led blocs, which our country joined with nine Philippine bases for US use, now roils the leading regions of Eurasia and North America.
Compounding tensions and threats are expanding arms, and armies with rival powers brandishing the most fearsome weapons in history, including nuclear warheads more destructive and unstoppable than ever after Washington and Moscow scrapped decades-old pacts limiting atomic weapons.
Plus secret biological and chemical arsenals banned by international law, but probably stockpiled by nations to retaliate against germ and gas attacks. Alleged bioweapons projects include Ukraine labs funded by Washington and targeted by Moscow, and Wuhan gain-of-function research said to have received US funding, too — and spawned the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Even more worrisome than escalating arms spending is actual war and war preparations with the year-old Ukraine conflict intensifying and, it's feared, possibly drawing US and European forces into the fray.
Moscow has mobilized and equipped some 700,000 troops — the largest and most powerful since the Second World War — while the Washington-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), already arming Ukraine, is pondering direct combat despite low readiness due to decades of limited defense spending.
And in Asia, America and Japan are gearing up to counter a feared Chinese invasion if Taiwan moves toward independence. Tokyo has put all its forces on rapid-deployment mode, and Washington is beefing up missile batteries in Okinawa and getting set to deploy aircraft, vessels, rockets and troops out of nine Philippine bases.
The red Horseman rides
To Scripture prophecy scholars, the worldwide race to build up arms and armies, now burning over $2 trillion a year since 2021, and led by top defense spender and weapons exporter Uncle Sam, may seem to fulfill the unleashing of the Second Horseman of the Apocalypse or Revelation, symbolizing war and riding a scarlet steed in the last volume of the Bible, attributed to Saint John the Evangelist:
"When he [the Lamb, signifying Jesus Christ] opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, 'Come!' And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another; and he was given a great sword." (Rev 6:3-4).
War seeks to dominate or destroy enemies, not dialogue with them. None of the banter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in the March 12 Mass Gospel reading. Asking for water, our Lord cut through centuries of animosity between Jews and Samaritans, prompting the woman at the well to wonder: "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?"
Plainly, instead of harmony and understanding, the red-riding Horseman prods nations to expand arsenals with bigger guns, nastier bombs and otherwise far more fearsome and harder-to-stop weaponry than their enemies have. That inevitably sparks an interminable arms race among adversaries striving to outgun each other.
Thus, just weeks after visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin got nine bases to use in the Philippines, on top of American and Japanese military upgrading in Japan, China announced a hefty 7-percent increase in its defense budget, and Russia tested its Kalibr submarine missile in the Pacific, in range of Japan, Guam and the Philippines.
Plus: months after Secretary Austin urged continued war in Ukraine last April, despite initial peace talks then, with Washington's express goal of degrading Russian forces so they cannot invade again, Moscow quintupled its troops in and around Ukraine, set to crush the country's army and face off with NATO if the alliance intervenes.
Brethren or breathless?
This armed escalation in Europe and Asia makes any call for dialogue and harmony sound naïve, quixotic and dumb. Until one pauses and ponders where more armaments and no talking would lead, especially with rival alliances bristling with nuclear, biological, chemical, hypersonic and cyberspace weapons.
By his Passion and Death, Christ showed how deathly and despicable military power was. The Jews who rejected him for not being the all-conquering messiah they hoped for saw their city Jerusalem destroyed and their nation dispersed by Roman troops in the year 70. Rome itself was sacked in 410, leading to the end of the western half of its empire in 476, suffering the fate of countless potentates through the ages.
As our Lord admonished during his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, "all who take the sword will perish by the sword." Against man's ultimately self-destructive urge to wage war, the third of Jesus' Seven Last Words extolled universal fraternity, giving his mother Mary to all humanity, just as he taught us to pray to one Father in heaven: "'Woman, behold your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother'!"
The same call to worldwide family as redeemed children of God and brethren of His Son emerges in the second Mass reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8): "... the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly."
Pray our world heeds our crucified Lord and not laugh at him all the way to the grave.
(Parts 1 and 2 were published on February 23 and March 2, downloadable at: https://www.manilatimes.net/author/ricardo-saludo/page/1.)