A chocolate cake was covertly slipped into the British trenches- a startling gift from those who were supposed to be the enemy. Tiny lit Christmas trees, the tannenbaum, decorated the tops of the German trenches- they provided visual beauty to share with the British lines. They say it made those fighting on the other side from India think of the sparkling magic of Diwali and its festival of lights.
This was the Christmas truce of 1914; an event organically blossomed by men who had reason to hate. They were freezing during this unusually harsh winter on the horrific Western front. They spent their time in dugout trenches, often amongst their dead. It was the “war to end all wars”, but deep down the men experienced discord over this mandate. One would probably be hard pressed to find anyone at that time who could verbalize why this war was happening, other than spitting out government sanctioned hype that had been fed to them prior to being sent out to kill.
The propaganda didn’t take completely, though- a spontaneous plea for a cease fire issued from the men, often but yards away from their foe. Perhaps they realized that their deprivations were equal to what their enemy was experiencing and felt empathy. It’s difficult to know. But when holiday treats began arriving, for whatever reason, the German and British lines opted to share and fraternize during that holiday truce. They exchanged gifts, laughs, and allowed the other to bury their dead without fear of snipers. Of course the British high command didn’t approve. But they were 27 miles behind the front in luxury accommodations; they weren’t on site to snuff it out immediately.
Inherent decency seems to always get hijacked, however, and the men were soon back to fighting with appropriate goading from the elite of the military as well as the politicians of the day. They knew that those fighting men had more in common with each other than they did with those in charge of their own nations. This could not stand. But some units dragged their feet and very little fighting occurred until the next year.
I give Thomas Paine his due credit when he so aptly stated “Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man”. Did these men cast out the words whispered by the cruel and bloodthirsty gods- those of the supernatural, and those of the political realm?
Perhaps they heard this Christmas carol in their heart, if not their head. “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.”
Who knew carols could be so radical?
I don’t hold much hope in my heart for organized religion, but I find it astounding that such a blind eye is cast on this type of message by the “religious” of today. America is fat with religion, but it is a nightmare creation, thick with puritan self-denial and heapings of thoughtless greed- perhaps the most effective crazy-maker out there. I highly doubt that the lyrics above, from John Sullivan Dwight’s version of “O Holy Night” will be sung in their mini-mall churches this season. Existentialist commune dwellers from over 150 years ago tend to pen songs lyrics that don’t fit well with that worldview. How about reading from “The Secret” instead?
Those men in 1914 with all their pain and loss (and probably many barely 20 years old) could embrace a humanity that would certainly be branded unpatriotic should American troops ever engage in it. A pepper spray vegetable proclaimer on Fox news would be concerned about the skewed values. Do they know how garish they are, pitching hate in hiked up miniskirts on those cable news channels as the plastic men guffaw in allegiance?
Truly they taught us to despise one another; their law is greed and the gospel is war. Chains shall we make, for the inmate is our profit; and in that name all compassion shall cease.
So much of what Americans feel defines their collective identity does not hold up to scrutiny. This may be obvious to many of us, but overall most Americans haven’t begun to sort through any of this. The ideals that were indoctrinated into the pure minds of children – that our nation is a fair one, that it provides for decent, humane treatment of others—Sadly, of course, it’s not the case, but it’s no accident that these were the themes pushed most readily. There is a basic desire for equity and fairness, and when you get down to core needs, humans would rather play than fight. It takes master manipulation to draw out the bloodshed and looting. A foundation of common ideals is proclaimed, only to be perverted beyond recognition. Walls of subterfuge completely block out what our hearts know to be right. It’s a maze to navigate…”but how can the deeds be so incongruous?” the newly aware ponder this.
I’m not saying that sociopaths don’t exist and make up an irredeemable portion of the populace, but we’ve elevated them to power and made their hateful talk accepted as they infect others. They get Frank Luntz to phrase it in a palatable manner.
But after a lifetime of these mixed messages, the majority doesn’t know what went wrong. For many what is there to do but self medicate with big Pharma items, or succumb to unbridled hate of others? Americans try to fill the emptiness with whatever is handy, be it throw away material goods or even substance abuse. The aching sadness from being a part of all this-it will be dealt with in some manner. But really, all we want is love and fairness. Like that of a child. Like boys on that absurd battlefield. They still frolic and share with each other in my dreams. And they never fired another shot at each other again.
But now….in our unique moment of space and time…what manner of numbness causes an individual to not notice the panic and desperation of a single mom with two kids trying over and over to get food stamps? And the countless missed moments of empathy that are too painful to even contemplate? And we know what the nicks and cuts to our humanity leads to.
There are choices, though- these moments belong to us, not the powerful who have boys slaughter each other. They don’t want our humanity extended because it provides evidence of their hollow and bloodthirsty essence.
Many of us know about their game and how they play it. It is our duty to scream this out to those who still don’t understand. To yell out from the trenches. All that is left now is to tear down their false walls as we play together and share that chocolate cake- as well as our love. Peace on Earth.
Kathleen Peine writes out of the US Midwest and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org