by Martin Sewell, Archbishop Cranmer:
The end of prolonged conflicts can be both brutal and swift. The American Civil War ended with Sherman’s brutal ‘March to the Sea’ and the First World War ended with a near-successful German offensive followed by retreat and defeat. The seemingly impregnable Hindenburg Line did not hold; lessons had been learned and were applied with ruthless efficiency. The long conflicts were over.
Neither end brought lasting peace and reconciliation, but the years of reconstruction of the American South did end the divisions of the United States. But for more than a century the resentment of the secessionists continued, and the section of the US population freed from slavery continued to feel estranged from the promises of the Constitution, even when they moved north in large numbers. Racism was encountered there, too, and to this day both the aspirations of the black communities and the tensions between States’ rights and Federal unity remain hot political issues.
We need not linger over what followed the 1918 Armistice. It did not end well. The second victory in 1945 brought a number of problems, but when Soviet tyranny also fell, Europe entered a better phase for most of its citizens. The difference on these occasions was surely that the defeat of the ideologies was accepted and a new future began to be built upon that premise. In Russia, the promise of glasnost may still not be secure, but the lesson of history is that clinging to defeated ideology does not end well.
The Archbishop of Canterbury may not have had these specific historical examples to mind when he called on those who sought to remain in the EU to accept the result of the EU referendum, but he was surely right to flag up that in a democracy ‘moving on’ after a democratic defeat is a moral and practical necessity.