Arthur Conan Doyle on War, the Day Washington Burned, and Is Power Evil?

What is leadership without power?

Those cheeky Brits!

3 The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name.

Ex 15:3

The BBC News Magazine ran a piece yesterday on “Arthur Conan Doyle’s eerie vision of the future of war“.  He wrote a propaganda piece in 1914 called “Danger! Being the log of Captain John Sirius”, a fictional account of a fictional country (but appears to be a reference to Germany) surrounding the British Isle with submarines so that the Brits are starved into submission.

Long story short, the piece as propaganda failed.  Not many were convinced.  What is interesting is that much of it sooner or later actually came true.  For example, Germany actually did try to blockade Britain a couple of times, and of course the predictions about attacking neutral commercial ships like the Lusitania actually came true.

Admiral William Hannam Henderson added: “I do not think that territorial waters will be violated, or neutral vessels sunk. Such will be absolutely prohibited, and will only recoil on the heads of the perpetrators.”

Of course, the British were always a group that seemed attracted to the idea of rules for war.  During the Vietnam War, there was a lot of talk about guerrilla tactics, but in reality American rebels were considered in the same vein by disciplined British troops who performed in all sorts of strict engagement that actually tied their own hands rather than the enemies’.  That isn’t to say they were anything to make light of, as in spite of that, the breakaway rebels could have easily lost, and almost did on more than one occasion.

What this means is that Henderson’s comment isn’t the first time the notion that rules of war should be followed, and it wasn’t the last.  Americans were once the rule breakers, but now it seems that we too tie our own hands in various conflicts (many of which our involvement is questionable to begin with, BTW).

Of course, the American Revolutionary War wasn’t the last war between Britain and the United States, either.

The Forgotten Anniversary

If you asked the average American, including myself previously, what 24 August was the 200th anniversary of, what sort of responses do you think you would get?  What response would you give?

In 1812, relations between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the United States were so bad, and the grievance list was long, that Washington declared war on Britain and started the War of 1812.  Oddly enough, neither side was really prepared for such a war.

The war was unpopular with many Americans, and instead of beefing up the regular (very small) army to do the fighting, President James Madison created a voluntary militia, many of whom objected to fighting outside of their own state.  The militia was not well trained or disciplined, and financing was a real issue.

The UK was tied up with Napoleon Bonaparte for control of the Iberian Peninsula of southern France, Spain and Portugal.  In the US, the War of 1812 is seen as a separate war, but in Europe it is often viewed as part of the Napoleonic wars.

Regardless, when Napoleon was defeated in 1814, it freed up Britain to prosecute war against the US.  Prior to this, they had mostly been playing a defensive game.

What is interesting is just how hard it was to set the Capitol building on fire.  It was the only really noteworthy building in Washington at the time.  So, it was an obvious target, but it was not without its difficulties.

MG Ross and RDML Cockburn were confronted a number of times while on horseback surveying the torching of the President’s Home during the time which a great storm arose unexpectedly out of the southeast. … Throughout the events of that day, a great storm blew into the city the night of 24 August 1814, and it continued to get worse, even tornadoes came down from the sky, terrifying the troops who felt God was not happy about what was happening in Washington City.”

The Capitol was noted by many contemporary travelers to be the only building in Washington “worthy to be noticed.”[12] Thus, it was a prime target for the invaders, both for its aesthetic and symbolic value. After looting the building, the British found it difficult to set the structure ablaze, owing to its sturdy stone construction. Soldiers ended up gathering furniture into a heap and igniting it with rocket powder, which did the trick.

~ Wikipedia, “Burning of Washington

The British Embassy tweeted out the lead picture of a cake showing the Capitol building and sparklers on the side to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington. “Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning of the White House. Only sparklers this time!” Some took offense, so they followed up with another tweet saying it was meant as a joke. Just some more of that cheeky British humour, I suppose!

Is War Always Wrong?

We all look forward to the Kingdom, which will be a time of unprecedented peace on earth. It will be a time when even the nature of animals will be changed.

So, it is worthwhile to ask if war is always wrong.

While war is never desirable, God did tell Israel to go in and create war in Canaan.  Granted, this was due to their hardheartedness and rebellious spirit, but the fact remains that God commanded them to go to war.  God also said He Himself would be at war with Amalek, as I’ve written about recently.

Finally, consider the “Day of the Lord”.  Will Christ not come and war with the already warring humans?  Yes, it will be in order to put down rebellion and stop the extinction of mankind, but the fact remains that it will be war.

So, we cannot make a blanket statement that war is always wrong.  In fact, throughout Israel’s history, they had quite a few battles and wars, and it was generally used as a means of punishment.  Just like corporal punishment hurts the child, the pain of war is used by God to teach mankind lessons.

In fact, God uses other painful means to get people’s attention and punish them when warranted.  It is also worthwhile to note that these means are the last resort type of punishment.  However, we cannot dismiss that God sometimes causes pain for the greater good, of which we cannot always immediately see.

God is in control, and He uses His power.  In reality, that is what war is: a show of power.

Is Power Wrong?

Americans in particular have a funny attitude towards power.  In an odd way, it is stranger than our attitude towards money.  Sometimes that funny attitude even comes from professing Christians.

10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

1Ti 6:10 (HCSB)

This is often misquoted and misconstrued (and mistranslated), but notice it is not money that is the root of evil, but it is the love of money that is at the root of many types of evil.  It comes in various and different ways, yet things like the black market would not exist if this were not so.

And, what is money, anyhow?  Did Adam and Eve have money?  I doubt if even Cain, Abel and Seth knew about money, at least not until the human race became large and scattered.  After all, the whole notion behind money is that you don’t have to herd your cow to the dentist’s office in order to pay for your oral surgery.  When the human race was all one small family, however, it probably operated much like any other family where people chipped in and did whatever was necessary at the time.

Yet, isn’t money simply a tool?  Yet, it is more than a tool.  Money itself is power.  Just ask any politician.

Is power wrong?  Again, power is just a tool.  Anyone who is in power has a certain amount of power.  Without it, there is no authority.  Rightly used with right judgment, and it is not wrong to force a criminal into a cell, to force a thief to repay his or her debts to the victim, to exact fees and fines for various offenses, and even to put to death a murderer.

This was brought home to me when I watched Eric Liu on a TED Talk called “Why ordinary people need to understand power“.  Granted, I don’t endorse everything he says, but he comes at the angle that power is what is used to get things done.  When you think about it that way, it makes a certain amount of sense. “[Power] seems inherently evil. But, in fact, power is no more inherently good or evil than fire, or physics. It just is.”

Power cannot be inherently evil, for God holds all power, and God is anything but evil. Christ promised the Church would become kings and priests in the Kingdom — that is, we would become beings of power. In fact, spirit is power concentrated in ways we find hard to imagine, for it is not made up physical substance but energy.

However, the love of power, like the love of money, is another matter.  That is why Jesus gave us an upside-down model of power.

42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.

43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:

44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.

45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Mk 10:42-45

Jesus did not want us to lust for power or set up huge hierarchies. In fact, He wanted it flatter than a huge monolith of bureaucracy. This was foreign to His audience then, and it is foreign to us today. We all can go directly to the Father, with no man in-between other than Christ Himself.

Would God give unlimited power to beings who cannot control their lust for more power?

Lucifer had great power. He was likely only one of three great archangels who covered God’s own throne with his wings.

Eric Liu defined power as the capacity to make others do what you would have them do.  That is a good definition, but that begs a question.  What would you “have them do”?

While his talk was interesting, it is missing the most important dimension.  If we do not have as our power base what God wants but only what we want, then it is all doomed to fail.  Likewise, if we do not govern and exercise our authority as God would want us to do, then the outcome will not be good either.

Power in an ideal world would only be used as a last resort because it would be a world built upon common goals and with willing cooperation.  Yet, I look at churches like PCG, and do I see the proper use of power?  No, I see a satanic occupation with controlling every moment of a member’s life.  I see a lust for power, and I see all kinds of evil.

Liu does a pretty good job of identifying a large part of American society’s problem, where power is contracted out to “professionals”.  I have long argued that career politics should be sharply limited.  We do not need professional politicians.  That is a large part of the cause of the mess we are in.  It is a recipe for corruption.

Our present training is in humility, for we really will be great (powerful) leaders in the World Tomorrow, and we need to exercise it judiciously and fairly.  Leaders exercise power, and in this case we are talking about great power.  However, he who in this world selfishly seeks great power will not do so in the World Tomorrow.  Godly leadership is about serving, and power is used when it benefits (serves) the greater group or society.

Interesting how Liu ends his talk with people writing narratives about exercising civic power and how they changed something.  How they used values, what systems they used, and what skills were involved.  He pretty much wants a curriculum of studies in civic power.

What is interesting is that we Christians have a curriculum: the Bible.  Are we studying it?  Are we evaluating the examples within for the strengths and weaknesses?  Are we learning from them how to be godly leaders?


  1. Great questions in your final paragraph! I think we’ve got a lot more studying to do!

    • Yes, we all have a lot more studying to do. I think we tend to get lopsided in our thinking and even our beliefs because we don’t really study the whole book (and I include myself, naturally).

      There are such rich examples to learn from. King David left behind some “unfinished” business that it was up to Solomon to take care of. What sort of unfinished business will we leave behind? How would any of dealt with a son like Amnon, keeping in mind he was firstborn and heir to the throne? How about a son like Abimelech? We will have to judge harder cases in the Millennium, no doubt.

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