In 1944, as war rages across Europe and Asia, famine, violence and fear are commonplace. But life appears tranquil in the isolated farming settlement of Wapiti in northern Saskatchewan, where the Mennonite community continues the agricultural lifestyle their ancestors have practised for centuries. Their Christian values of peace and love lead them to oppose war and military service, so they are hardly affected by the war - except for the fact that they are reaping the rewards of selling their increasingly valuable crops and livestock. Thom Wiens, a young farmer and earnest Christian, begins to ask questions. How can they claim to oppose the war when their livestock become meat to sustain soldiers? How can they enjoy this free country but rely on others to fight to preserve that freedom? Within the community, conflicts and broken relationships threaten the peace, as the Mennonite tradition of close community life manifests itself as racism toward their ""half-breed"" neighbours, and aspirations of holiness turn into condemnation of others.
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October 15, 2001
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Excerpt from Peace Shall Destroy Many by Rudy Wiebe
CHAPTER ONE The yellow planes passed overhead swiftly and in thunder. Thom Wiens had heard their growing roar above the scrape of the plow on stones, but the trees hedged them from his sight. Then suddenly, as he twisted on the halted plow to look back, they were over the poplars, flying low and fast. The sense of the horses’ sweated trembling was in his rein-clenched hands as he stared the yellow planes out of sight to the north. Fly, you heathen, he was thinking. Fly low, practise your dips and turns to terrify playing children and grandmothers gaunt in their rocking chairs. Practise your hawk-swoops, so you can gun down some equally godless German or bury a cowering family under the rubble of their home. To get paid for killing. To be trained to kill more efficiently. If you shoot down five Germans you get a medal. If you kill twenty at once, you get a Victoria Cross and the King himself shakes your hand. What will you do when all the Germans have been killed and the only work you know is shooting men? Acclaimed murderers everywhere! They were gone, flying in a tight triangle like ducks going north for nesting. Thom slid to the earth and worked his short crow-bar under the stone which had staggered the plow just before the planes appeared. Loosened, it came easily and he walked across the plowing, holding the heavy stone against his stomach. The heap of rocks along the fence ground together as he dropped it. With the edge of his hand he knocked at the dust on the white-worn front of his overalls. Before him the fence stretched tight over the humped land. He could see a third of a mile of it bordering the open field, every post belly-deep in stones. The planes passed so quickly and, standing there with his hand raised for a last brush, Thom suddenly experienced, like a water-bucket emptied over him, the weeks and months spent gathering rocks from the field and piling them, one by one, along the fence until only enough post showed for a top wire. To grow something took a long time, and the machines for it were slow. There were no machines to pick rocks. But the machines for death were wind-swift. For a moment he felt he had discovered a great truth, veiled until now: the long growing of life and the quick irrevocableness of death. The heaped rocks recalled him, and he turned to stride rapidly towards the plow. To just stand, thinking! He glanced about, happy for the rugged world that had hidden his dreaming. Pulling his feet up hard with each step, he sensed within himself the strength of his forefathers who had plowed and subdued the earth before him. He, like them, was working out God’s promise that man would eat his bread in the sweat of his face, not pushing a button to watch a divine creation blaze to earth. As the four horses moved under his urging, he settled his broad limbs to the jolting ride. He cringed then as, with a flare of conscience, he recalled Brother Goertzen’s clipped German phrases: “We are to follow Christ’s steps, but we do not have pride. By God’s Grace we understand what others do not. As we cannot imagine Him lifting a hand to defend himself physically, so we, His followers, conquer only by spiritual love and not by physical force. Always only love: for those who love us, for those indifferent to us, for those who hate us, for those who would kill us, which is the same thing; all are included when He says, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another even as I have loved you.’” Thom could not doubt such sermons. He had grown up hearing these statements and if someone had asked him when he had first known that Christ bade His disciples love their enemies, he could no more have answered than if he had been asked to consciously recollect his first breath. All week the stentorian voice had ruled the hushed church: “Have you not heard our country