Today is not the day for politics. Let's try peace. Last December 25th, I wrote about the "Christmas Truce" of 1914. Its worth repeating this year, because 2016 did not bring us any closer; nor is Christmas 2017 likely to find us there either. Here's the story:
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'Last year, on the 100th anniversary of the "Christmas Truce of 1914," Time magazine published a story about that World War I pause in fighting. Reflecting on the state of the world today, one wonders if such a thing could happen now.
'From Time magazne, Dec. 24, 2014: "Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914," by Naina Baiekal:
"On a crisp, clear morning 100 years ago, thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with their German enemies along the Western front. In the hundred years since, the event has been seen as a kind of miracle, a rare moment of peace just a few months into a war that would eventually claim over 15 million lives. . . ."'The idea had been suggested by the pope, but it was officially rejected by the commanders. Yet, somehow, the troops themselves initiated the truce on their own.
"To this day historians continue to disagree over the specifics: no one knows where it began or how it spread . . . . [S]ome two-thirds of troops — about 100,000 people — are believed to have participated in the legendary truce.
"Most accounts suggest the truce began with carol singing [by German soldiers] from the trenches on Christmas Eve . . . . The next morning . . . . allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. . . . Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on 'no man’s land,' the ground between opposing trenches. . . .
"And of course, it was only ever a truce, not peace. Hostilities returned . . . . for many at the time, the story of the Christmas truce was not an example of chivalry in the depths of war, but rather a tale of subversion: when the men on the ground decided they were not fighting the same war as their superiors. . . . Indeed, one British soldier, speaking in 1930, said: '. . . if we had been left to ourselves, there would never have been another shot fired."
* * *'This 1914 story reminds me of the poetry of Wilfred Owen, the British poet who was killed in battle in France one week before the 1918 armistice. Unlike poets who glorified the heroes, Owen wrote of "the pity of war" and the tragedy of such human loss. His poetry was immortalized in Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," one of the most poignant arias being a duet between tenor and baritone soloists, representing a British and a German soldier who meet in the afterlife and sing, together, of their battle, ending with: "I am the enemy you killed, my friend. . . ." And then the consoling, beatific line that is repeated, again and again, shifting back and forth between tenor and baritone: "Let us sleep now . . . let us sleep now."
'This Christmas Truce occurred in 1914, before the United States entered the war; so we were not part of that Christmas Truce. War today, 100 years later, is very different. It's unlikely such a thing could happen at the ground level. But let us take heart. It has mostly been flying under the news radar, but high level talks are being held now about a cease fire in Syria.
'It's too complex a geopolitical situation for the simplistic answers being brayed about by Republican candidates, any of whom would only make a terrible situation even worse with their febrile apocalypticism, to use Josh Marshall's felicitous phrase.
With a heavy heart lacking much optimism, my Christmas wish this year would be for a lasting truce and, eventually, peace.'
Dec. 25, 2015