Neutrality in a Mixed-up World
EXACTLY 40 years have passed since November 1, 1939. On that date, The Watchtower published a leading article under the title “Neutrality.” How timely that information proved to be!
Just two months earlier, on September 1, the Nazi juggernaut had launched an unprovoked attack on Poland. In the space of five weeks, and aided by a Soviet invasion from the east, Germany had crushed that country. In the meantime, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and France had declared war on Germany. But for seven months there was quiet on the Western front, with little military action. It came to be called the “phony war.”
It was during this period that many young men gave close attention to the Bible and the material presented in that Watchtower article on “Neutrality.” In view of the gathering clouds of World War II, what stand should the Christian take? Should Christian young men on either side of the battle lines go forth to slaughter those on the other side, even though clergymen, Catholic and Protestant, on both sides declared that this was a person’s duty before God? If the world should go to war, were these young men duty bound to share in the bloodshed on whatever side they happened to live? Many of them recalled Jesus’ words, such as: “These things I command you, that you love one another. . . . You are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”—John 15:17-19; 17:14, 16; 18:36.
As a result of a diligent study of God’s Word, these young Christians were able to make a decision. No one else made this decision for them. They were able to make it individually, on the basis of each one’s Bible-trained conscience. Their decision was to refrain from acts of hatred and violence against their fellowmen of other nations. Yes, they believed in, and wanted to share in, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s well-known prophecy: “They will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isa. 2:4) These young men of all nations did just that.
FRUITS OF NEUTRALITY
Thus it was that, during those six tumultuous years that followed, never did one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in any nation kill his Christian brother of another nation. Many Protestants were slain by Protestants, and many Catholics by Catholics, but never could any bereaved person lay the slaying of her husband or son at the door of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Imagine the result if all Catholics, Protestants, yes, and Jews throughout the world had taken a similar stand! There simply would have been no war. And if Pope Pius XII had excommunicated Catholic Hitler, as he was urged to do, what bloodshed and sorrow might the world have been spared! That is, if it had stopped Hitler and his military collaborators.
However, World War II ran its course. And what was its toll? The World Book Encyclopedia tells us: “World War II killed more persons, cost more money, damaged more property, affected more people, and probably caused more far-reaching changes than any other war in history. It opened the Atomic Age, and brought sweeping changes in warfare.” Some 16 million soldiers and two and a half times that many civilians died as a result of the war. It “cost more than $1,150,000,000,000. More than 50 countries took part in the war, and the whole world felt its effects.”
Indeed, it was a world war, and the world reaped a distressing harvest. But what of those who followed Jesus’ admonition to be “no part of the world”? Actually, in some ways it was harder for these than it was for those who went along with the world. It is one thing to show bravery in a foxhole, in the heat of battle; it is quite a different matter to stand courageously by one’s Bible-trained conscience, through reproach and ridicule, surviving in often vermin-infested prison cells, and at times in the shadow of a firing squad or the guillotine. These neutrals of World War II were no pacifists. They were fighters in a spiritual sense, well trained in the use of “the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word.” (Eph. 6:17) They were integrity-keepers. And often they sealed their integrity with their lifeblood. They were not afraid to die for a righteous cause.
This was borne out in the case of many young Christians whose lives were snuffed out by Hitler and his henchmen. As the 1974 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported: “The numerous executions that took place [in Germany] during the Third Reich take a special place in the history of persecution. At least 203 brothers and sisters, according to incomplete reports, were either beheaded or shot. This figure does not include those who died from starvation, disease and other brutal treatment.” All of this was in line with Jesus’ words: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you. . . . If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”—John 15:18-20.
Note here some reports concerning integrity-keepers:
Shortly before his execution on November 9, 1940, a young man wrote his father: “Now I, too, have been given an opportunity to prove my faithfulness to the Lord unto death, yes, in faithfulness not only up unto death, but even into death. My death sentence has already been announced and I am chained both day and night—the marks (on the paper) are from the handcuffs—but I still have not conquered to the full. Remaining faithful is not made easy for one of Jehovah’s witnesses. . . . My dear father, in spirit I call to you, remain faithful, as I have attempted to remain faithful, and then we will see one another again. I will be thinking of you up until the very last.—Your son Johannes. Auf Wiedersehen!”
A Christian wife described the culmination of months of bitter trial in these words: “On October 11, 1941, my husband was beheaded. In his last letter, which he was permitted to write just a few hours before his execution, he said: ‘When you get this letter, my beloved Maria and my four children, Christa, Walter, Waltraud and Wolfgang, everything will already be over and I will have won the victory through Jesus Christ and my hope is that I have been a conqueror. From my heart I wish you a blessed entry into Jehovah’s kingdom. Remain faithful! Three young brothers, who will be going the same way that I am tomorrow morning, are here beside me. Their eyes are aglow!’”
And many more examples are documented.
TRULY, “NO PART OF THE WORLD”
In describing the stand taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi concentration camps, the Polish sociologist Anna Pawelczynska wrote as follows in her book of Values and Violence in Auschwitz, published first in 1973:
“This little group of prisoners was a solid ideological force and they won their battle against Nazism. The German group of this sect had been a tiny island of unflagging resistance existing in the bosom of a terrorized nation, and in that same undismayed spirit they functioned in the camp at Auschwitz. They managed to win the respect of their fellow-prisoners . . . , of prisoner-functionaries, and even of the SS officers. Everyone knew that no Jehovah’s Witness would perform a command contrary to his religious belief and convictions or any action directed against another person, even if that person was a murderer and an SS officer. On the other hand, he would perform every other job, even the most obnoxious, to the best of his ability, if it was morally neutral for him. The political prisoners struggled actively in the camp, organizing resistance and battling for the survival of their fellow inmates. The Jehovah’s Witnesses waged passive resistance for their belief, which opposed all war and violence.” (Italics added)
However, not only in Germany, but also in all the warring nations around the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses were united in placing God’s command to “love your neighbor” above the world’s demand to hate one’s fellowman. (Matt. 22:39; Acts 5:29) Depending on the country in which they lived, their punishment ranged from the death penalty to months, and even years, of detention. In one prison, a man who was serving a life sentence told one of the Witnesses: “I’m ‘in’ for killing a policeman, and you’re ‘in’ because you refuse to kill. It’s kind of odd, isn’t it?” But whether or not it seemed “odd” to others, Jehovah’s Witnesses were pursuing the Bible-based course of being “no part of the world” or of its orgy of bloodshed.
In his widely known Sermon on the Mount, the Leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses, namely, Jesus Christ, said, among other things: “Happy are the peaceable, since they will be called ‘sons of God.’ . . . You heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You must not murder; but whoever commits a murder will be accountable to the court of justice.’ However, I say to you that everyone who continues wrathful with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice; but whoever addresses his brother with an unspeakable word of contempt will be accountable to the Supreme Court; whereas whoever says, ‘You despicable fool!’ will be liable to the fiery Gehenna.” Gehenna figuratively pictured eternal destruction, for Jesus later said to his disciples: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matt. 5:9, 21, 22; 10:28) Consequently, the witnesses of Jehovah have always sought to be peaceable in a mixed-up world and have always avoided murderous tendencies even in wrathfulness and violent speech.
So their warfare has been of a spiritual kind that does not violate peaceableness, for the apostle Paul said to his fellow Christians of the first century: “For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things. For we are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God; and we are bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4, 5) In this way Jehovah’s Witnesses have avoided bloodguilt.
Bloodguilt contributed to the downfall of ancient Israel, and in this connection it is interesting to note the course of King Manasseh. Of him, it is written: “And he went on to build altars to all the army of the heavens in two courtyards of the house of Jehovah. And he himself made his own sons pass through the fire [as human sacrifices] in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and practiced magic and used divination and practiced sorcery and made spiritistic mediums and professional foretellers of events. He did on a grand scale what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah, to offend him.” (2 Chron. 33:5, 6) Later during his 55-year reign, Manasseh repented of his bad course and took action to remove idolatrous worship from Jerusalem. But bloodguilt remained, for “there was also innocent blood that Manasseh shed in very great quantity, until he had filled Jerusalem from end to end.” (2 Ki. 21:16) This shedding of blood had been self-willed. It had not been shed in righteous warfare commanded by Jehovah.
The bloodguilt incurred by Manasseh was not canceled with the passing of that king. It remained as a stain on Israel. There had been no satisfying of justice so as to remove it. Hence, Jehovah sent Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, as His executioner against Jerusalem. “It was only by the order of Jehovah that it took place against Judah, to remove it from his sight for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done; and also for the innocent blood that he had shed, so that he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and Jehovah did not consent to grant forgiveness.”—2 Ki. 24:1-4.
The modern-day counterpart of faithless Jerusalem is Christendom, within whose realm the two bloody world wars of our century erupted. Thus Christendom, too, has sacrificed countless ‘sons and daughters’ to the god of war. (Jer. 7:31) What bloodguilt Christendom carries, totaling into the tens of millions of souls! If Manasseh’s bloodguilt could not find forgiveness, how much less that of Christendom! Religious organizations that have supported the violence of the two world wars, and of other wars of this century, must share in that bloodguilt. Christendom forms a major part of “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion, described by the apostle John as “drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” It is no wonder that the “voice out of heaven” cries out to lovers of righteousness: “Get out of [Babylon], my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues. For her sins have massed together clear up to heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind.”—Rev. 17:5, 6; 18:4, 5.
Though Christendom is doomed, because of her idolatry and her bloodguilt, hundreds of thousands of sincere persons have come out of that system, repented of their past connections and gained a clean standing before God and the Lamb, Christ Jesus. (Rev. 7:9, 10) They include many thousands who have fought as soldiers in the world wars and other conflicts of this century. These repentant ones can be confident of God’s forgiveness of their past course. (1 John 1:9, 10; Isa. 1:14) His blessing will be with them as they now prove themselves to be disciples of the “Prince of Peace,” who said on the occasion of his own arrest and trial: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought.” (John 18:36; Isa. 9:6, 7) They, too, must henceforth be “no part” of this bloodguilty world. They must remain under Christ’s protection.—Compare Numbers 35:11, 32.
NEUTRALITY A PROTECTION
Many Christian witnesses of Jehovah in Nazi Germany and elsewhere lost their lives in maintaining neutrality. As they faced death they drew comfort from Jesus’ words: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna [eternal death].” (Matt. 10:28) Their resurrection is assured. (1 Cor. 15:22, 23; Heb. 11:35) The neutrality of others has also served as a protection, often under unusual circumstances.
Take, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Africa. In the villages, these are hospitable people, and they have provided meals at their homes for any individual stranger who may have come along. However, they drew the line at serving in or on behalf of any factional organization. On one occasion, when guerrilla soldiers called an indoctrination meeting for local villagers, the neutral Witnesses declined to attend. So, when opposing forces moved in on that meeting, machine-gunning down 105 persons in attendance, the Witnesses’ absence meant survival for them. With the intensification of hostilities, the position of the Witnesses became more difficult, but always they showed themselves to be “no part of the world.”
During the oncoming “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Har–Magedon, the neutrality of Jehovah’s people will again work toward their salvation. (Rev. 16:14, 16) Being “no part of the world,” they will be free of its bloodguilt. On the other hand, God will execute on bloodguilty Christendom (and indeed on the entire world) the kind of judgment that befell ancient Jerusalem, of which Ezekiel prophesied: “This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: ‘O city that is shedding blood in her midst till her time comes, and that has made dungy idols within herself in order to become unclean, by your blood that you have shed you have become guilty, and by your dungy idols that you have made you have become unclean. . . . Look! I have struck my hand . . . over your acts of bloodshed that have proved to be in the midst of you . . . , and I will destroy your uncleanness out of you. And . . . you will have to know that I am Jehovah.’”—Ezek. 22:3, 4, 13-16.
“The great day of Jehovah is near”! (Zeph. 1:14) Very soon, an entire bloodguilty world will go down in destruction. But to those who fearlessly “are no part of the world,” Jehovah will extend the invitation: “Go, my people, enter into your interior rooms, and shut your doors behind you. Hide yourself for but a moment until the denunciation passes over. For, look! Jehovah is coming forth from his place to call to account the error of the inhabitant of the land against him, and the land will certainly expose her bloodshed and will no longer cover over her killed ones.” (Isa. 26:20, 21) After Jehovah has reckoned with the bloodguilty world, his clean people will emerge from their miraculously provided place of hiding to enjoy eternal peace on an earth that will never again be stained with the blood of wars and violence. (Ps. 46:8, 9) Then, those who were “no part of the world” that perished will remain in God’s new order, doing his will forever. (1 John 2:17) Thus, for themselves, they will have contributed to a blood-free history of Christian neutrality in a mixed-up world.