Book Review: To End All Wars

Gripping. Poignant. Inspiring. Thought-provoking. Every one of these words could be used to describe Ernest Gordon’s To End All Wars. And yet, strangely enough, none of them would fully do it justice. It is a war story, to be sure: but it’s unlike any other war story I’ve ever read.

Originally published in 1963 under the title Through the Valley of the Kwai, this book is Ernest Gordon’s first-hand account of the time he spent in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.  A native of Scotland, and an officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Gordon was captured by Japanese troops at the age of twenty-four and forced, along with other Bitish prisoners, to build the infamous “Death Railway” – a 285 mile long railway stretching between Thailand and Burma. Faced by the brutality of the guards and the squalor of the prison camp, Gordon and many others gave themselves over to anger, bitterness, and despair.

But then something unexpected happened. Inspired by Dusty Miller, a fellow inmate and ardent Christian, Gordon began reading the Bible anew, and came to a saving knowledge of Christ as a result (when the war was over, he went on to become a Presbyterian minister). He organized a regular Bible study so he and the other prisoners could meet to discuss what they had read in God’s Word. A change both dramatic and profound was wrought in the attitude of the men.

Gordon writes,

As we became more aware of our responsibility to God the Father, we realized that we were put into this world not to be served but to serve. This truth touched and influenced many of us to some degree – even some of those who shunned any religious quest. Men began to smile – even to laugh – and sing.

The resurgence of life increased. It grew and leavened the camp, expressing itself in men’s increased concern for their neighbors.

But these men also faced another challenge, and one that was much more difficult: that of loving and forgiving their enemies. The Japanese prison guards were savage men who enacted countless cruelties on their prisoners without a second thought. To demonstrate love towards them exceeded the bounds of all human reason.

But since when was human reason the scale by which Christians measure their actions?

Through God’s grace, Gordon and the others found the strength to return good for evil. One particularly striking example of this occurs when the prisoners administer aid to wounded Japanese soldiers:

They were in a shocking state; I had never seen men filthier. Their uniforms were encrusted with mud, blood, and excrement. Their wounds, sorely enflamed and full of pus, crawled with maggots…

We understood now why the Japanese were so cruel to their prisoners. If they didn’t care a tinker’s damn for their own, why should they care for us?

The wounded men looked at us forlornly as they sat with their heads resting against the carriages waiting fatalistically for death…

Without a word, most of the officers in my section unbuckled their packs, took out part of their ration and a rag or two, and, with water canteens in their hands went over to the Japanese train to help them. Our guards tried to prevent us… but we ignored them and knelt by the side of the enemy to give them food and water, to clean and bind up their wounds, to smile and say a kind word. Grateful cries of “Aragatto!” (“Thank you!”) followed us when we left…

We had experienced a moment of grace, there in those blood-stained railway cars. God had broken through the barriers of our prejudice and had given us the will to obey His command, “Thou shalt love”.

Powerful stuff, indeed.

The story behind this book is one which inspired two major motion pictures, the Academy Award-winning The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957) and David Cunningham’s more recent adaption To End All Wars (2001). The former, however, is grossly inaccurate and touts the myth that the POWs gleefully assisted in the building of the railway in order to demonstrate British superiority; in reality, the POWs did all they could to sabotage the construction. The latter film remains primarily true to the book, but it’s underscored by a more pacifistic message and the Christian themes are somewhat watered-down.

If you do read this book – and I highly recommend you do – be warned that it contains some graphic subject matter. It is a POW story after all, and Gordon doesn’t pull any punches in describing the horrors endured by the inmates of the prison camps.

In conclusion, the description on the back cover of the book states that To End All Wars is an “example of the triumph of the human spirit against all odds”. But human spirit has nothing to do with it. Rather, Gordon’s story is a testament to the redemptive power of God’s grace in the most horrific of circumstances.

Flotsam & Jetsam (7/28)

John Stott (1921-2011) – Yesterday, John Stott went to be with the Lord. As Challies says in this post, “The next couple of days will undoubtedly bring many more substantial and thought-provoking tributes and remembrances. In the meantime, we do well to thank the Lord for the life of this man.”

Are All Athiests Stupid? [Caution: Mature] – A bit of humor from Dan Phillips.

What is a Biblical View of Fantasy? (Pt. 1) –  The folks at Movieology put together two short video addressing a biblical view of fantasy and fiction. Whether you’re a watcher, reader, or writer of fantasy, you should definitely take time to give these a look. When you’re finished with the first part, click here for part 2.

On Books – A neat quote from Charles Dickens.

Amorphous Ism – Josh Litton writes, “Possession of a religious ideology of some ilk is, it appears, a significant factor in the minds of a diminutive majority of Americans when they select the future Commander in Chief. Or so the Public Religion Research Institute’s new poll observes. And, it should be noted by way of furthering the point, that the particular religious ideology is not, per se, as significant as is the fact of possessing one.”

Not Even One Second In Hell – A word from Joel Garner.

Faith In Your Faith? – An excellent post shared by RT. “We are never called to be satisfied or even occupied with our faith. We are, however, called to be occupied with Christ and His objective, outside of us, finished work!”

Is the Bible Really True? (John MacArthur) – Shared by Michael Wright of Made Free.

Let’s Get Back to Basics! – From Gregg: “I read a statement a few months ago that has stayed with me in an almost haunting fashion. ‘Most believers are not equipped to do more than attend church.’ On the surface this sounds like a tremendously
over-stated exaggeration doesn’t it? Is it? I submit that there is more truth
than myth in that statement.”

Sinful Fear – Good stuff. Persis writes, “For most of my life, I was plagued with sinful fear. On paper I would say that God was all powerful. But in my mind, that power could only extend to the point where it came in contact with the free will of man or the plans of the devil. This mind-set is used to bail out God when it comes to the problem of
evil, but it’s cold comfort at best, particularly when you think you are at the
mercy of man – not God.”

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to
make man a more clever devil.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Humility In the Wrong Place

 In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton writes,

What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason… 
We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.

Is not this one of the defining spirits of our age?

Secular culture delights in relativistic thinking and revels in questioning fundamental truths. Really, such a trend shouldn’t be all that shocking. Can anything else possibly be expected of fallen man?

What’s truly unsettling is the way many Christians are following suite. Knowingly or unknowingly, they are abandoning conviction in favor of this false humility, this predilection to doubt and question anything and everything, even the most basic doctrines of their faith.

But truth – specifically God’s truth – is not negotiable. If it was, it wouldn’t be truth.

Apparently, some people didn’t get the memo.

I know we’re all pretty much sick and tired of hearing about Rob Bell, but is he not a perfect illustration of this? He wrote a 230 page book questioning the biblical doctrine of Hell. Funny thing is, his questions had already been answered. Definitively. By God Himself. In the Bible.

“Has God indeed said?”  Many Christians today would rather ponder that question instead of firmly avowing that, yes, God has indeed said. Why? Because to them, a thousand shallow questions are preferrable to a single, substantial answer.

However (and as I said in an earlier post), here’s the thing: questions are not the answer. Answers are the answer. And not  just any answers – the right answers. God’s answers. Because His are the only ones that matter.

Whether people like it or not, that’s how it is.

Flotsam & Jetsam (7/26)

This Procrastinator Good Steward – Petra of Penned Pebbles just launched a new blog, and it’s a doozy! Hop on over and take a look, and if you like what you see, do as I did… subscribe!

Jonathan Maiocco – I recently just discovered this guy, and all I can say is… wow. You’ve got to check him out. He’s seventeen, a Christian, has been composing since he was twelve, and boy, can he write music!

Grace Reigns Through Righteousness – Good thoughts from Thabiti Anyabwile. “When grace vanquishes sin, it establishes the reign of righteousness throughout the realm until eternal life is consummated.  That’s why grace and license are incompatible.  License reigns through lust and sin and death.  But we’ve been freed from that.  We’ve died to the law and died to sin.”

The Great Commandment (Pt 2) – Mike delivers an excellent continuation of his series on the Great Commandment.

The Return of the Sacred Sandwich – As one of the commenters noted, “The ‘prose’ are back with their typical monergistic farcicality.” Awesome.

Reel Quick – Click here to read my review of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007). If you enjoy a well-told science fiction story, you should definitely give it a try.

“Who is slain when time is killed?” ~ Ernest Van den Haag