I have had a number of conversations lately that really drive home how different the historical and cultural context in which I now life is from my previous life experience.
Today I visited a woman who talked for an hour about the 21 boys she used to play football (soccer) with as a child, and how many of them didn't come home...and about her husband and the nightmares he had...and about a cousin who was killed during an air raid on his training camp...and about the many American soldiers she met when her mother took them in during their leave. She spoke of how she was just a teenager then, only 13 when the war broke out, and she naively thought there could never be another one like it.
I have sat in the living rooms of women who were evacuated to the countryside when they were children, and one whose family took in child evacuees. And I have sat by the bedsides of women who never married because a generation of men was lost. And I have sat around the table with women whose husbands never spoke of what they'd seen, or who felt an immense sense of unearned luck because all their brothers came home when so many didn't.
A lot of my time these days is spent with women in their 80s and 90s. These are women who lived through World War II--who bore the brunt of the reality of war both in terms of the cost at home (family lost, rationing, women in the workforce in new ways, etc) and in terms of the long-term cost of lives forever changed.
The stories are incredible--of bombs bursting in the garden, of rationing that extended well after the war was over because of the immense national cost of rebuilding, of large gaps between siblings because one parent was away at war, of sweethearts lost and found, of letters exchanged and news reports anxiously read.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are people who feel abject horror at what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. They cannot fathom that Nazis marched through the streets, or that white supremacy is an acceptable ideology.
This is not to say there is no racism in Scotland, of course. But it is to say that people who lived through the Nazis the first time, who sacrificed far more than most of us who are from North America experienced (including those who gave significantly to the war effort, once we got over enough of our own white nationalism to enter the war), cannot understand how on earth it is possible that Nazism rises again, unchecked, or even encouraged by those in power.
Today's conversation included the casual observation that the woman's husband, at age 19, had been issued a revolver with only a couple rounds of ammunition. It's purpose was to use on himself, should his plane come down behind enemy lines.
Imagine being 19 years old and given those instructions, then put into a plane with rockets, a pop gun, and a map, and told to go up just 250 feet because any higher would make their bombs less accurate.
Now imagine being that person, or their family, and seeing the images from Charlottesville.
One of many things I am enjoying about living here is the sense of freedom to speak truth even when it might be politically unpopular. I don't know if that will always be the case, but in this moment at least, no one bats an eye when I say white supremacy and Nazism is antithetical to the gospel. I have been in churches where that would be a controversial statement...and that is, frankly, an abomination. There should be no room for Nazi sympathizing. If there are people who disagree, then what they need to hear is not something that they can construe to agree with them--they need to hear the hard good news that brings them to confession and repentance. Period.
If they won't listen to Jesus, maybe they'll listen to the stories of these amazing women I've sat with over the past several weeks, and be reminded that hate does not win. It cannot win. And it cannot be allowed to even try.
***Yes, I'm aware that there's plenty of racism and xenophobia to go around. See: colonialism, Brexit, Grenfell, etc. And yet many of these women have spoken to me about those things as well, fully aware and concerned that people don't remember what they fought for. And also, honestly, racism is different here. Not better or worse necessarily, just different. Because history is different. The context of the World Wars, and of slavery, is different across the ocean....