By Keith Pavlischek
I’m reading Eric Metaxas’ wonderful biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and ran across two passages that give some insight into both Karl Barth’s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s decidedly non-pacifist and anti-anti-war views toward confronting Nazi aggression.
Both theologians, of course, saw far more clearly and much earlier than most the evil of the Nazi regime. What was their attitude toward resistance to Nazi military aggression? We know, of course, that Bonhoeffer would eventually join the resistance and be executed for joining the plot to assassinate Hitler. But what was their attitude before Bonhoeffer formally joined the resistance?
During the Sudetenland crisis of 1937, Metaxas reminds us that it was widely thought that England and France would not stand for aggression against Czechoslovakia. He reminds us that many generals in the German high command knew it was naked aggression that would lead Germany into a world war she would lose. During this time, Barth wrote a letter to a friend (which was unfortunately made public). Barth said, “Every Czech soldier who fights and suffers will be doing so for us too, and I say this without reservation–he will also be doing it for the Church of Jesus, which in the atmosphere of Hitler and Mussolini must become the victim of either ridicule or extermination.” Barth was not, to say the least, “going all in” for appeasement and was not exactly “anti-war.”
Moreover, Metaxas tells us that Bonhoeffer and many in the German military high command were expecting that the coming invasion of Czechoslovakia would enable a military coup against Hitler. According to Metaxas, “Bonhoeffer knew a coup was imminent.” But that assumed Czech and European military resistance to the aggression. And then came Chamberlain, the “peaceful” annexation of the Sudetenland and…”peace in our time” and all that. (p. 312)
Which is something for our pacifist friends to think about.
Another passage worth pondering has Metaxas relating Bonhoeffer’s views in mid-October 1939 immediately following the Nazi invasion of Poland:
And what Bonhoeffer now knew would make him feel more alone than ever because many in the church and ecumenical world were expending great energies toward ending the war. But Bonhoeffer was not. He now believed that the principal goal was to remove Hitler from power. Only afterward could Germany negotiate for peace. Knowing what he knew, any peace with Hitler was no better than war. But he couldn’t say such things, even in ecumenical circles. (p. 350)
Again, something for our pacifist friends to think about.