Peace and justice files

From the trenches

By SKIP MENDLER
Posted 12/21/21

Happy Merries, everyone!

I would guess that you’re already familiar with the tale of the Christmas Truce, right? (If not, stop what you’re doing right now, go to YouTube, and listen to …

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Peace and justice files

From the trenches

Posted

Happy Merries, everyone!

I would guess that you’re already familiar with the tale of the Christmas Truce, right? (If not, stop what you’re doing right now, go to YouTube, and listen to John McCutcheon’s wonderful rendition of the story, “Christmas in the Trenches.”)

Once upon a time, it seems, across the battlefields of World War I, various groups of German and Allied troops stopped trying to kill each other and celebrated Christmas together instead. It’s an extraordinary story—and I didn’t even hear about it, as I recall, until I was well into college. (I wonder why that was?)

The Christmas Truce story can convey a certain amount of hope to us in this war-weary world, but we should remember these incidents rested upon certain cultural elements that both sides had in common—things like soccer balls… carols… Christianity. It might be a little harder to imagine this kind of moment happening in Korea, say, or Vietnam, or Iraq. But even in more foreign places, awareness of our shared humanity might still overcome ideology and propaganda.

At least, one hopes.

This is a paradox that stabs me in the heart these days. Our networked, interconnected, increasingly mutually dependent world ought not to be moving, as it seems to be intent on doing, toward greater and more widespread conflict, both here and abroad. With access to more and more information about other cultures, and increased ease of communication across borders, we should be understanding each other more deeply, not succumbing to simplistic nationalisms and outdated stereotypes. We should be growing more democratic and inclusive, not more authoritarian and repressive.

We should be growing more peaceful, not more belligerent.

It seems to me that these negative trends are being imposed on us. Like the soldiers in the trenches, we are presented with situations where our options seem severely limited, in miserable conditions, but with nowhere to go but into the line of fire. But like the soldiers in the trenches, we have the opportunity provided by proximity to reach out across the No Man’s Land. The chances are very good that the folks that we are supposed to fight are just as tired of the situation as we are. They want the same things, after all—to raise their families, do their jobs, live their lives.

The commanders and generals, though—and the rulers for whom they work—are not very keen on that kind of thinking. It seems to be in their best interest to keep the fires stoked and the hatred flowing, even at Christmastime.

Take, for example, this little bit of text that just showed up in my Facebook feed (excuse the caps-locked shouting, please, but this is a direct quote):

“I AM SICK AND TIRED OF EVERY YEAR WHEN CHRISTMAS COMES AROUND; THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO TAKE CHRIST OUT OF CHRISTMAS BECAUSE IT MIGHT OFFEND SOMEONE…WELL, HOW ABOUT ALL OF THE CHRISTIANS?... WHAT ABOUT OFFENDING US BECAUSE YOU ARE TAKING OUR CHRIST OUT OF CHRISTMAS?... CHRIST IS CHRISTMAS!... IF YOU AREN’T CELEBRATING CHRIST THEN WHY ARE YOU CELEBRATING?... CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT THE BIRTH OF OUR SAVIOR!... CHRISTMAS IS ONE OF A FEW HOLIDAYS LEFT THAT CELEBRATE ‘MY’ CHRIST!... LEAVE ‘MY’ HOLIDAY ALONE!”

Have you ever heard of such folks, people who “WANT TO TAKE CHRIST OUT OF CHRISTMAS”? I don’t think I’ve ever met one, or seen one, myself, though I have heard them mentioned on right-wing media quite a bit.

So we sit, stuck in our trenches. But keep your eyes and ears open, ready for the opportunity. Maybe we’ll find some song to sing that we all know—and maybe we can find some other games to play instead.

Christmas Truce, World War I, Christmas, conflict, communication, trenches

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