There is something extraordinary about the Christmas season this year. There is peace where there were wars not too long ago. In the Philippines, a framework agreement for the establishment of a Bangsamoro homeland was signed between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Movement (MILF) rebels who have been warring for decades in the island of Mindanao. And in the Middle East, the Israeli government and Hamas, the political entity that is in control of the Gaza strip, signed a ceasefire agreement brokered by the United States and Egypt.
Today, the truce in Mindanao and Gaza – halfway the world apart — are holding up and there are no signs that any of the parties would violate the ceasefire agreements. While this is by no means a miracle, it is a testament to man’s intrinsic desire for peace. But sometimes a conflict — or war — erupts and causes innumerable suffering to people.
But throughout history, these conflicts often end in peaceful accord only after one party loses to the other like in most wars among nations; e.g., World War I and World War II. However, there are times when no winner emerges and the war continues until a truce is arranged. Such was the case of the Korean War (1950-1953) in which an armistice agreement was signed to end the hostilities between North Korea and South Korea. Six decades later, the two Koreas have yet to reach a peace agreement; however, they continue to observe the ceasefire – with occasional violations — notwithstanding the fact that they are technically still at war.
Christmas truce of 1914
But there was one truce that was just for a day but it made a lasting impression to this day. In my article, “Give Truce a Chance” (December 23, 2005), I wrote: “In 1914, ninety-six years ago, during the Great War — or World War I as we call it today — the British and French armies were manning the 27-mile Western Front fiercely defending French territory from the advancing German Army. Across the British and French trenches, as near as 200 feet away, the Germans were dug in. What separated the opposing armies was a place called ‘No Man’s Land.’
“On Christmas Eve, one of the most incredible — and unusual — events in human history took place: the Germans started placing candles on trees on ‘No Man’s Land.’ Lit with candles, the ‘Christmas’ trees looked awesome. The Germans began singing Christmas songs and the British and French troops responded by singing too. Soon the entire ‘No Man’s Land’ turned into a symphonic Christmas celebration. The Germans proposed a “Christmas truce” and the French and British troops accepted.
“The memorable event was detailed in a book, titled ‘Silent Night,’ written by Stanley Weintraub. He wrote: ‘Signboards arose up and down the trenches in a variety of shapes. They were usually in English, or — from the Germans — in fractured English. YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT was the most frequently employed German message. Some British units impoverished MERRY CHRISTMAS banners and waited for a response. More placards on both sides popped up.’
“By Christmas morning, ‘No Man’s Land’ was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and more solemnly burying their dead. Soon they were even playing soccer, mostly with impoverished balls. According to one account, ‘proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned together and paid their respect.’
“When the generals heard about the ‘Christmas truce,’ they were aghast and ordered their soldiers to start shooting at each other. The soldiers resumed shooting but most of them — for several days — aimed their rifles at the sky and the stars. In some sectors, the truce continued until New Year’s Day. After all, how can ‘friends’ shoot at each other?
“What was ironic was that earlier in the autumn of 1914, Pope Benedict XV called for an official truce between the warring governments. The Papal plea was ignored. After the ‘Christmas Truce,’ the embarrassed British commanders vowed that a truce should not happen again. However, in 1916, an ‘Easter Truce’ happened on the Eastern Front.
“On November 21, 2005, Alfred Anderson, aged 109, the last veteran of that ‘Christmas Truce,’ died at his home in Angus, Scotland. Anderson was 18 years old on December 25, 1914, when British, French, and German troops climbed out of their trenches along the dreaded Western Front and walked across the blood-soaked ‘No Man’s Land’ to shake hands. Anderson decorated with France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, never forgot that moment in his life when he celebrated Christmas with his enemies in ‘No Man’s Land.’ Indeed, it was a singular moment in history that has yet to be repeated.”
Today, there are no more trenches and every open land is “No Man’s Land.” With the technological advances in modern warfare, our planet is constantly at risk of nuclear war. It is said that in the event of an impending missile attack on the United States, the President has only 13 minutes to make a decision whether to push the “doomsday button” that launches nuclear missiles against the attacking country. That puts the world only 13 minutes away to nuclear conflagration… or worst, total annihilation.
When the Soviet Union collapsed on Christmas Day, December 25, 1991, the Cold War ended, too. Since then, the prospect of nuclear doomsday has diminished and the United States and Russia have been at peace. However, there are several trouble spots in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia where nations could be drawn into another global conflict.
Saving the planet
As we celebrate Christmas this year, one wonders if our planet is worth saving? For one thing, there is no other habitable planet in our solar system that people from Earth can migrate to. That makes it imperative that we should – nay, must – save our planet Earth from man-made destruction.
At the end of the day, Israel and Hamas must make every effort to observe the truce while finding a way to resolve their differences. And if they can accomplish that, it would achieve for a lifetime what the “Christmas Truce” of 1914 achieved for just a day. It would be a lasting “Christmas Truce” for all mankind.
Merry Christmas to all. Shalom and salaam.