Today, Feb. 19, is the 62nd anniversary of the beginning of the battle at Iwo Jima during World War II. With the recent release of two movies, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, this past year there has been attention redirected to this strategic battle for this generation that seems so unwilling to stomach war.
Recently, I listened to a message from John Piper where he referenced this battle and how it applies to the mentality of a Christian. He delivered this message on Sept. 23, 2001, just after the attacks of 9/11. Even though passions have waned since then, I think the message still is important for this day:
When I first thought of this message last summer I was reading the history of the battle of Iwo Jima, an eight-mile-square island of volcanic rock 600 miles south of Tokyo. February 19, 1945, 800 American ships amassed to assault the island with its two strategic air strips. The Marines fought a total of 43 months in the Pacific in World War II, and in this one-month assault on Iwo Jima they incurred 1/3 of their total losses. They took the island, but left behind the largest cemeteries in the Pacific: 6,800 American Marines dead, most of them were 18-20 years old.
The application that I had in my mind to this message was this – and now with the crisis we are in today it is all the more powerful and relevant: We are feeling some of the reality of what it means to be at war. I was going to point out that if Christians really saw the world for what it is, we would know and feel that we are always in war. Satan is a powerful enemy, deceiver, and murderer, and he tries to highjack every good plan and purpose of your life and use it to destroy. Our own flesh and indwelling sin are like covert, welcoming bases of operation for this evil. The casualties are not only bodies lost for time, but souls lost for eternity.
A wartime mindset and a radical vigilance and a disciplined use of our spiritual armor are essential, if we are not to be lulled into the stupor of a peacetime mentality. And the armor I speak of is not sword, or bullets, or bombs, or tanks, or grenades, but the word of the cross and prayer and love and suffering for the sake of Christ. How much more do we feel this spiritual wartime sense of urgency today!
And then I was going to ask: How did these marines do it? How did they run behind each other into the thickest machine gun fire imaginable? The second battalion sent 1,688 boys ashore into the face of those guns. 1,511 were killed. 177 left the island. 91 of those were injured. What kept them going?
Of course there is no one simple answer. But one answer that came out over and over in this book, Flags of our Fathers (New York: Bantam Books, 2000), was this: Those are my buddies, and they need me. James Bradley, the author, commented, “These boys would fight to the death for one another. And that motive made them invincible” (p. 147).