Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Fatima Candle - Part Two

Since August of 1914, the major powers of Europe had been at war with one another. In Western Europe, Germany had struck the first blow by overrunning Belgium and invading France. French and English troops halted the German advance and the conflict bogged down into trench warfare. In Eastern Europe, Germany and its ally Austria squared off against Tsarist Russia. The war extended against Italy, and in the Caucuses Mountains and the Middle East with the Ottoman Turks. But the scenes of the bloodiest fighting were on the Western Front.

In 1917, Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France, conceived a plan for a massive offensive to break the German lines. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, was wary of Haig’s plan and the casualties it would inevitable produce. By the spring of 1917, some 250,000 British soldiers had been killed in action. For the sake of comparison, consider how much the American public’s support for the war in Iraq has waned after some 2,900 dead. Adding to Lloyd George’s hesitation, the French army in 1917 had been crippled by mutinies and would be unable to provide much assistance to Haig’s proposed offensive. But while the Virgin Mary was busy speaking to children in the Portuguese countryside in order to further world peace, Lloyd George relented in the face of Haig’s obstinacy. And so the stage was set for one of the bloodiest battles of World War One.

The main objective of Haig’s offensive was to seize the high ground held by the German army in Flanders. In order to overcome the well fortified German positions, Haig relied on massive artillery barrages to smash the German forward positions. As military historian John Keegan describes it in his book “The First World War”, Haig’s “first objectives had been fixed six thousand yards away from the British start line, within supporting field-gun range. Once those had been taken, the artillery was to be moved forward and the process recommenced, until, bit by bit, the German defenses had been chewed through, the enemy’s reserves destroyed, and a way opened to the undefended rear area.”

After fifteen days of bombardment and the firing of FOUR MILLION shells, the Second and Fifth British armies attacked at 3:50 A.M. on July 31, 1917. Writes Keegan, “By late morning…the familiar breakdown of communication between infantry and guns had occurred; cables everywhere were cut, low cloud cover prevented aerial observation” and the only news of the assault “was by runners, who sometimes took hours to get back, if indeed they ever did.”

At two in the afternoon, the Germans counterattacked and beat back the British troops. To add to their misery, in addition to the rain of German artillery shells, the summer rains began to fall and turned the dry earth to mud. The British persisted in their offensive as the rain continued to fall. On August 4, a British artillery commander wrote “The ground is churned up to a depth of ten feet and is the consistency of porridge…the middle of the shell craters are so soft that one might sink out of sight.” In the aftermath of another attack on August 27, a British officer named Edwin Vaughan described how “dozens of men with serious wounds…crawled for safety into new shell holes, and now the water was rising about them, and powerless to move, they were slowly drowning.”

All throughout the summer of 1917, the attacks continued. In September, the British army inched forward bit by bit with their bite and hold strategy. But the Germans adapted to the British tactics. Knowing that massing their troops in the front lines would simply expose them to death from the British artillery, the German general Erich Ludendorff ordered that the forward positions should be thinly manned, with the bulk of the army kept to the rear to counter-attack. Thus a pattern would develop. The British artillery would shell the German forward positions. The British attackers would occupy the German forward positions. The German artillery would then shell the British attackers and the Germans would counter-attack and reoccupy the forward positions.

By mid-October, the British army had been fought-out, and Haig had to rely on the relatively unscathed Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZAC. On October 12, 1917, the ANZAC troops were ordered to take the remains of the town of Passchendaele. Writes Keegan, “Caught in front and flank by machine gun fire, the ANZACs eventually retreated to the positions from which they had started their advance on that sodden day. So wet was the ground that shells from their supporting artillery buried themselves in the mud without exploding, and the New Zealanders alone suffered nearly three thousand casualties in attempting to pass through uncut wire.”

The next day, October 13, the “Miracle of the Sun”, was allegedly witnessed by approximately 70,000 people in Portugal. It would be the last of the Fatima visions. General Haig’s Flanders offensive would continue for another month, coming to an end on November 10, 1917. In considering the arguments pro and con over the offensive, called the Third Battle of Ypres, Keegan writes, “What is unarguable is that nearly seventy thousand of [Haig’s] soldiers had been killed in the muddy wastes of the Ypres battlefield and more than 170,000 wounded. The Germans may have suffered worse - statistical disputes make the argument pointless - but, while the British had given their all, Hindenburg and Ludendorff had another army in Russia with which to begin the war in the West all over again.”

In my two part series on Noah’s Ark, I described God’s unleashing of a destructive flood as punishing humanity the Rube Goldberg way. The Fatima visions could be described as God trying save humanity the Rube Goldberg way. It takes quite a feat of mental compartmentalization for ardent Catholics to believe that the Virgin Mary’s alleged appearance to children in rural Portugal was a beautiful and miraculous event while hundreds of thousands of young men were killed on the battlefield of Flanders. Why didn’t the Virgin Mary appear to General Haig and General Ludendorff, or Lloyd George and Kaiser Wilhelm? Why didn’t the Miracle of the Sun happen over Passchendaele on October 12, thereby potentially saving the lives of thousands of people, rather than dazzling tens of thousands of people a day later in a country far removed from the conflict? A Supreme Being who makes the sun dance around in the sky does not impress me. A Supreme Being who stops the pointless slaughter of tens of thousands of human beings? Now that would be a miracle that deserved remembering with a candle.

12 comments:

Stardust said...

Why didn’t the Virgin Mary appear to General Haig and General Ludendorff, or Lloyd George and Kaiser Wilhelm? Why didn’t the Miracle of the Sun happen over Passchendaele on October 12, thereby potentially saving the lives of thousands of people, rather than dazzling tens of thousands of people a day later in a country far removed from the conflict?

Good points, tommy. Interesting how these "miracles" are only shown to those who want to believe in this stuff and are usually distanced from larger populated areas. Like the claimed ascension of Jesus to heaven: Why didn't resurrected Jesus show himself at midday at the center of Rome and ascend to heaven in front of those who crucified him? Also, if an all powerful god existed, and it is so important for all to believe in and worship him, all it would take is to show himself to everyone instead of playing hide and seek games and allowing all this warring and killing to go on. If an omnipotent and all-loving god existed and he was concerned about the well-being of his creatures, and if this god possessed such divine wisdom, surely this god could come up with a way to end the violence and evilness in the world in the blink of an eye.

JohnF said...

The god of the bible (both testaments) is hardly one who is caring and protective of its creations, so why bother ending any wars at all? It probably sits back with a cup of fresh coffee and enjoys the whole spectacle of human suffering.

By the way, that post is one of the best I've read on your blog, Tommy. The contrast between the horrors of WWI warfare and the rather feeble and ineffective "miracle" apparently showing the limit of this god's power was quite moving, I feel.

Tommy said...

Thanks John!

Yeah, if there are intelligent beings watching over us, we probably provide as much bloody entertainment for them as the gladiator games in the Colosseum did for the people of Rome.

Stardust said...

tommy, here's an interesting news item that was on Yahoo this morning about a halo of colored lights appearing in North Korea.

Heavens above! North Koreans marvel at giant halo

SEOUL (Reuters) - A great halo observed near the North Korean capital left admirers revelling in the marvellous sight that occurred a day before a major anniversary, official media reported on Monday.

KCNA said Saturday's mysterious phenomenon of nature occurred a day before the anniversary of leader Kim Jong-il's assumption of the top military post.

"The day was rather cloudy with soft hail falling. At about 9, there appeared an unprecedentedly great halo in the sky to the side of Pyongyang to the admiration of the watching people," KCNA said.

"The big ring around the sun stayed for 30 minutes, throwing bright rays of seven colours, and, when it disappeared, the hail stopped and not a speck of cloud was seen," it said.

Kim, the only son of the country's founding president Kim Il-sung who died in 1994, marked the 15th anniversary of his assumption of the supreme commandership of the Korean People's Army on Sunday.

In addition to the post, Kim also holds several other top positions, such as the general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and the defence committee chairman. His father has been declared the eternal president of the communist country.


So, these people think that Kim Il-sung is sending a message from the same place as the Virgin Mary?

Tommy said...

Thanks Stardust. That certainly seems to back up one of the theories mentioned in the Wikipedia article.

Maybe Kim-il Sung was the second coming of Christ and nobody noticed. I guess that would make Kim Jong-il God's only grandson?

Sable Chicken said...

Happy New Year Tommy,
Interesting post, I have seen a rainbow around the sun once when I was a kid. I didn't realise that it was considered a "sun miracle" at the time.

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on! You ask for a Supreme Being to stop the pointless slaughter of tens of thousands of human beings? Who on earth started that damned war? Who the heck had the power to stop the war? Oh, for Christ's sake, we man start killing each other and then we cry out for someone to stop the killing because we are unable to do it? Would we have understood if this supreme being stopped the war? Or, rather, had the war been stopped by the supreme being, wouldn't we have thrown ourselves at each other's throat as soon as s/he had turned back to her/his own dealings? Are we unruly children who need constant supervision to avoid getting us killed? If so, who the heck will work on creating new worlds trying to correct the mistake done in this one, then?

Let us grow up and take responsibilities for what we do.

Another comment: you ask why didn’t the Virgin Mary appear to General Haig and General Ludendorff, or Lloyd George and Kaiser Wilhelm. Are you so naive to really believe that they would not rationalize it, the way atheists love to do, and actually stop their insane doings? I bet they would curse the apparition, or at best, believe it was telling them they were doing the right thing.

Poor blind atheists. Asking for miracles they are more than ready to refute...

Anonymous said...

Hello, anonymous,

I don't know if the generals were atheists and would have ignored or rationalized a supernatural visitation, and neither do you. Heck -- why bother trying to impress the generals? Why not just prevent the shells from firing? As difficult as that would be, it would certainly be easier than making the sun dance. And whether I were able to refute that miracle or not, thousands of lives would have been spared (in contrast to the "Miracle of Fatima", which accomplished what, exactly, except for confirming the faith of the faithful and the scorn of the scornful?).

You seem to be the one with the rationalizations, for why Jehovah or the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Flying Spaghetti Monster didn't intervene in Belgium. We atheists (some of whom are quite well off and have excellent vision, by the way) don't have to make excuses for our god, because we haven't got one.

Don't you think that if there actually were an all-powerful being who took an interest in human affairs, it should be obvious to everyone? Miracles would happen frequently and there would be no plausible alternative explanations. But as it is, your god acts like he never existed in the first place.

-- Peter N.

Anonymous said...

OK, I apologize for being a little provocative at my last comment, especially in the last paragraph. That was not really helpul. I respect, although I may not agree, with the atheists (and of course other ideologies') opinions.

That notwithstanding, I stand by my comments. Many of the world's evils (wars, poverty, discriminations, intolerance, etc) are of our own making, so let us adress them ourselves. Doesn't it make sense? That alone would make the world a much better place to live for all of us.

As for what happened in Belgium (and in many other places, too), it is indeed horrible. But I think we can all deal by ourselves with random and local acts of violence or destruction, as terrible as they may be. Some of them may be avoidable, and so let's try to avoid it. If others are not, we'll have to accept them and try to live the best we can. The key here is what Jesus said: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31).

One more thing, since I find it important. I wasn't clear when I said the generals wouldn't accept an apparition telling them they were wrong. I wasn't saying they were atheists, or christians, or muslims, or budhists, or whatever. What I said (implicitly) was that they were fanatical, and wouldn't accept signs they were wrong. Either they would curse the apparition away, or distort what s/he said.

Anyway, my whole point is: let's not wait for Someone to fix everything we did wrong, but rather let's fix it ourselves.

Regards.

HC

Anonymous said...

HC,

I see that we are in almost complete agreement after all. It is certainly the atheist/humanist position that our society is responsible for, and capable of correcting, problems of its own making. When nations and individuals appeal to god, they often come in conflict with people who have a different view of god, and that can be a major source of strife and suffering all by itself -- therefore, I say, please leave god out of it.

There is a remarkable essay by Dennis Obverby on the New York Times website, that makes the point that science (or, more broadly, "secular reason", as Jerry Coyne puts it) offers more than just a good way to get things done, it is a useful moral center: "That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view." Read the whole piece here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/science/27essa.html?_r=2&ref=science

-- Peter N.

Tommy said...

HC wrote:

Oh, for Christ's sake, we man start killing each other and then we cry out for someone to stop the killing because we are unable to do it?

Did somebody pee in your cornflakes this morning?

Of course we, collectively, start wars and commit all sorts of atrocities.

I am not crying out for some force to stop us. But then again, I am not someone who claims that God or the Virgin Mary intervenes at various times in human history. The point of my post is that if a Christian, particularly a Roman Catholic, expects me to believe that the Virgin Mary visited some kids in the Portuguese countryside and that I should find it to be a beautiful thing, then it is perfectly legitimate for me to ask why the Virgin Mary couldn't actually do something useful, like try to stop a pointless battle.

Another comment: you ask why didn’t the Virgin Mary appear to General Haig and General Ludendorff, or Lloyd George and Kaiser Wilhelm. Are you so naive to really believe that they would not rationalize it, the way atheists love to do, and actually stop their insane doings? I bet they would curse the apparition, or at best, believe it was telling them they were doing the right thing.

Oh puhleeze! If the Virgin Mary actually spoke to the generals and leaders of the warring powers, and told them "Tomorrow I will make a sign in the sky so that you will know the truth of my words," I am fairly confident it would have had a tremendously powerful effect on them. Lives could have been saved.

That is of course, if there really was a Virgin Mary who could appear to people.

Listen, Catholics can't have it both ways. If you can believe that the Roman Emperor Constantine really received a sign from God to put the Chi Rho on the shields of his soldiers before the battle of Milvian Bridge, or that the Virgin Mary miraculously appears in a stain under a highway overpass, or speaks in person to kids in the Portuguese countryside, then you can't suddenly turn around and tell me "You can't expect the Virgin Mary to prevent a World War One battle and save thousands of lives!"

What I said (implicitly) was that they were fanatical, and wouldn't accept signs they were wrong. Either they would curse the apparition away, or distort what s/he said.

You can't possibly know that they would ignore a visitation from the Virgin Mary.

Anyway, my whole point is: let's not wait for Someone to fix everything we did wrong, but rather let's fix it ourselves.

I totally agree. Because as an atheist, I accept the fact that we are responsible for our actions and that only we have the power to fix things.

Again, because I don't believe in the existence of the Virgin Mary, I don't expect that it should have stopped the slaughter on the Western Front. My point is that if YOU believe that the Virgin Mary intervenes at various times in human history, what do YOU believe would be a greater miracle, the VM talking to some kids in the Portuguese countryside, or talking the leaders of the warring powers and potentially stopping the mass slaughter of Passchendaele? You already know what my answer is.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

TK

Tommy said...

Peter, thanks for bringing the article to my attention, though unfortunately your link does not work.