Several years ago I read a letter in a paper about the Christmas Truce of 1914. It was a beautiful letter written by a Korean War veteran. Oftentimes I reach out to people like this either to thank them for their service or question why they had an opinion differing from mine. I’ve conversed with people all over the world through email that were only introduced to me by a Google search because of an article or letter.
The writer of the Christmas Truce letter is still my friend today. Amazingly, as a retired history teacher, it was from him that I first heard of the truce. My schooldays were not intended to prepare me to be a brother to my fellow man as much as to be an obedient tool.
We’ve been warned to know history so it won’t be repeated. Less common is the idea of knowing it so we might emulate it.
For those who have never heard of it, the Christmas Truce happened near the beginning of World War I. German and British soldiers were in their trenches with barbed wire and a no man’s land between them. A German shouted out “Happy Christmas, British soldier.” Individual scouts went into no man’s land from either side and others followed. They shared whiskey and cigars. As British Rifleman Oswald Tilley told his parents in a letter home: “literally hundreds of each side were out in no man’s land shaking hands.” The Germans sang Silent Night and the Brits sang The First Noel.
Peace broke out spontaneously in many places along the front that night. There were even three or four soccer matches played. There was no social media prompting, just a spontaneous feeling of brotherhood. Those who survived the war would not see peace again until Armistice Day, November 1918.
Recent conversations have shown a concern for polarization in this country. It is intensified by a media that is tuned to the individual’s interest. What we perceive as news is different from what people with different sources see. Opinions are reinforced that only we have some exclusive wisdom, and the opposing views are not worth considering.
I ring the bell for the Salvation Army at Fareway. To see the broad cross-section of people who show a willingness to help those in need is eye-opening. They all share the spirit of caring at Christmas. Seeing old friends and meeting the smiling eyes of strangers makes it a beautiful experience. Sometimes a donor will say, “I read your column, don’t always agree, but it makes me think.” I reply “What don’t you agree with?” as they walk off.
The other day I was visiting with a fellow who had written something I did not agree with and who I had emailed a reasoned and courteous reply. I asked what he thought about my email. He basically said it wasn’t worth discussing, as if shooing away a fly.
It is about time we throw off the shackles of hate. I read from varied sources on purpose. I could limit it to agreeable content but as I look around, I see the hatred is mostly linked to unfamiliarity. A refusal to discuss issues will be the death of this wonderful land. The first letter to the editor I ever wrote was in defense of Angela Davis, a Black Panther and murderer. Open and civil discourse changed my mind.
Isn’t peace and prosperity the goal of all of us? Different paths to that goal have ended where we lack respect for, or interest in others. The original goal has been forgotten as the derision is now an end in itself. Read the comments sections on any news website. You would think that these people must have been expelled from middle school. Such childish closed mindedness has led to many humanitarian disasters.
Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another, right now. Happy birthday, Prince of Peace. Christmas Truce of 2018.