A Christmas Opportunity For Unity
December 25, 2012 by Sam Rolley
Political tensions at home and abroad sometimes cause us to forget that as human beings — no matter our backgrounds, beliefs or ambitions — we are all in this together. Bitter partisan bickering over domestic policy has the potential to ruin families and friendships and make us hate complete strangers. And propagandized reports from abroad can lead us to view entire populations of people with disdain.
There will always be evil in the world. No amount of scientific research or religious study will ever reveal to us a definitive answer as to exactly why that is. But for the vast majority of us, life is about families, friendships and personal goals; things, in a perfect world, that would be encumbered only by the stresses of basic survival.
This, however, is not a perfect world. We are each subject to political quarreling amplified by the always-on media and sanctioned by motive-driven people in positions of power close to home and all over the world. Many of us remain engaged in a constant battle of Us versus Them which we are encouraged by leaders and pundits to live out in almost every aspect of our lives.
We are citizens versus aliens.
We are Republicans versus Democrats versus Libertarians.
We are conservatives versus liberals.
We are religious versus non-religious.
We are Americans versus non-Americans.
We are ethnicity versus ethnicity, race versus race, religion versus religion, gay versus straight, man versus woman, young versus old and everything in-between.
America is polarized and, in fact, the whole of the world is. But what should remain above all: We are all humans. The vast majority of us share the same love for those closest to us, the same pain for the loss of those loved ones and the same want for the best possible outcomes in life. We all require food, water, shelter and clothing; and we all do what we feel we must to acquire those things. Some of us seem obviously misguided in our pursuits; but in one way or another, we all are.
In the weeks leading up to the holidays, there was much anxiety throughout the Nation as people who care for one another, but often share diametrically opposed political opinions, prepared to gather for festive fun. College students will have come home, often only to turn their grandparents’ faces red with newfound liberalism. To everyone’s dismay, drunken uncles will proffer confused renditions of political talking points from the most extreme and misguided pundits of either right or leftist philosophies. Family members and friends, perhaps having imbibed one too many, may get into heated and worthless political quarrels.
But a better option would be to leave the political discussions alone — not because they are unimportant, but because they are far less important than the camaraderie of those around you. There may come a time when policies cooked up in Washington no longer matter; basic survival and cherished relationships might then be all that remain. The shift would likely move us all closer to the prospect of a more perfect world.
If you think it is impossible to lay aside staunch political beliefs, consider the often-repeated story of the remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914, at the height of World War I.
Nearly 100,000 soldiers — mostly British and German — on Europe’s Western Front allowed for one silent night in the midst of a war that would eventually claim 14 million lives.
In 2005, The New York Times compiled a series of excerpts from the letters, journals and memoirs of the men who were there:
The truce broke out spontaneously in many places. Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment recalled the scene on Christmas Eve near the French village of La Chapelle d’Armentières:
It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and about 7 or 8 in the evening there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and there were these lights -I don’t know what they were. And then they sang “Silent Night” – “Stille Nacht.” I shall never forget it, it was one of the highlights of my life. I thought, what a beautiful tune.
Rifleman Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade recalled how the mood spread:
Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air! … First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up “O Come, All Ye Faithful” the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.
The shared carols inspired Capt. Josef Sewald of Germany’s 17th Bavarian Regiment to make a bold gesture:
I shouted to our enemies that we didn’t wish to shoot and that we make a Christmas truce. I said I would come from my side and we could speak with each other. First there was silence, then I shouted once more, invited them, and the British shouted “No shooting!” Then a man came out of the trenches and I on my side did the same and so we came together and we shook hands – a bit cautiously!
The enemies quickly became friends, as Cpl. John Ferguson of the Second Seaforth Highlanders recalled:
We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by Germans – Fritz and I in the center talking, and Fritz occasionally translating to his friends what I was saying. We stood inside the circle like street corner orators. … What a sight – little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman’s cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs.
On Christmas Day, some Germans and British held a joint service to bury their dead. Second Lt. Arthur Pelham Burn of the Sixth Gordon Highlanders was there:
Our Padre … arranged the prayers and psalms, etc., and an interpreter wrote them out in German. They were read first in English by our Padre and then in German by a boy who was studying for the ministry. It was an extraordinary and most wonderful sight. The Germans formed up on one side, the English on the other, the officers standing in front, every head bared.
According to several accounts, soccer games were played in no man’s land with makeshift balls that Christmas. Lt. Kurt Zehmisch of Germany’s 134th Saxons Infantry Regiment witnessed a match:
Eventually the English brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as our friends for a time.
Second Lt. Bruce Bairnsfather of the First Warwickshires saw an even more unusual fraternization:
The last I saw of this little affair was a vision of one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civilian life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground while the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.
Not everyone was so charitable. Cpl. Adolf Hitler of the 16th Bavarians lambasted his comrades for their unmilitary conduct:
Such things should not happen in wartime. Have you Germans no sense of honor left at all?
When Gen. Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, learned of the consorting, he was irate:
I have issued the strictest orders that on no account is intercourse to be allowed between the opposing troops. To finish this war quickly, we must keep up the fighting spirit and do all we can to discourage friendly intercourse.
Inevitably, both sides were soon ordered back to their trenches. Capt. Charles “Buffalo Bill” Stockwell of the Second Royal Welch Fusiliers recalled how the peace ended early on Dec. 26:
At 8:30, I fired three shots into the air and put up a flag with “Merry Christmas” on it on the parapet. He [a German] put up a sheet with “Thank You” on it, and the German captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots into the air, and the war was on again.
We’re all in this together, regardless of what media pundits, power-hungry leaders and motive-driven lobbyists have to say.
Merry Christmas from the offices of Personal Liberty Digest™.