Every year, people around the world, regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliation, celebrate Christmas. For one day of the year, December 25, people reach out to each other and to friends they haven’t seen or heard from since last year or many years ago. Oftentimes, they send Christmas cards with family pictures and short notes.
Christmas is a day that Christians renew their faith in Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day, families gather and have a feast and enjoy each other’s company and exchange gifts. The festivity lasts till late at night singing their favorite karaoke songs and line dancing until they’re exhausted. And then it’s time to say goodbye, hug each other and say, “Peace be with you.”
Which reminds me of the “Christmas Truce” during the First World War 104 years ago. On Christmas Eve, 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.
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 improvised 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?
It happened again in the Korean Peninsula in 1953 when China and North Korea signed the Korean War Truce with the United Nations and South Korea, which begs the question: Why can’t it happen in the Philippines today? What is so difficult that we Filipinos cannot settle our own differences? We need a truce with the communist insurgents and Muslim separatists. It’s brother against brother and nobody is winning. What’s keeping us apart?
Periods of peace in history
The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was the first period of peace that endured for 206 years from 27 BC to AD 180. During this period, the Roman Empire achieved its greatest territorial expansion and its population reached 70 million people — a third of the world’s population at that time. The decline of the empire began during the dictatorial reign of Commodus. It marked the descent “from the kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust.”
The Pax Mongolica (Mongol Peace) was the relative peace that followed the conquests of Genghis Khan and his successors in the 13th and 14th centuries. It stabilized the social, cultural, and economic life of the people of the vast Eurasian territory under the Mongol Empire. It spanned from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, effectively connecting the Eastern World with the Western World. The famous Silk Road that linked the trade centers in Asia and Europe came under the rule of the Mongols. The end of Pax Mongolica was marked with the outbreak of the Black Death, which was spread along the Silk Road in the mid-14th century.
The Pax Britannica (British Peace) was the longest period of peace during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries when the British Empire became the sole global power. The empire’s navy controlled most of the trade routes and enjoyed unchallenged sea domination. The outbreak of World War I marked the end of Pax Britannica; however, some historians said that it was the Suez Canal crisis in 1956 that ended Pax Britannica.
Pax Americana (American Peace) refers to the period after the end of the Cold War in 1989 with the fall of the Soviet Empire. However, some historians pegged the beginning of Pax Americana at the end of World War II at which time the United States gained military and economic power unmatched by other nations. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the end of the Cold War, the US became the sole superpower. The US navy ruled the seas with 11 supercarrier battle groups and around 70 nuclear-powered submarines.
The U.S. has airbases around the world and large numbers of troops deployed to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries as well as Japan and South Korea.
Today, America’s two geopolitical rivals – Russia and China – are jockeying for position to become the next world hegemon. Indeed, China is vying to be the next world empire, Pax Sinica (Chinese Peace). Currently, China is building the new Silk Road known as “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) that would link Asia, Europe, and Africa. OBOR is the answer to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream,” which is to reshape global trade with Beijing at its core. China would then become the world’s new imperial power.
Meanwhile, Russia is competing for world dominance, too. Although not considered an economic power, Russia’s military prowess is catching up with the U.S.’s military capability. Would a Pax Russica (Russian Peace) period emerge in the future? In a post-Putin era, the U.S. and Russia could become strategic allies to counter Pax Sinica. Then what?
But why not Pax Mundi (World Peace)? The foundation for world peace was laid down when 51 countries established the United Nations (UN) in 1945 for the purpose of maintaining international peace. The UN and its 15-member Security Council operated with the goal of resolving conflicts without wars or declarations of war. But oftentimes, the Security Council failed to pass resolutions that would resolve conflicts because of the veto power vested on each of the five permanent members, to wit: United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union exercised its veto power 107 times out of the total number of 220 vetoes cast. Needless to say, a Security Council permanent member can cast a veto whenever the “national interest” of that country is threatened.
With any one of the five permanent members casting a “No” vote against a peace resolution in the Security Council, world peace is imperiled. And that’s the reason why we will never achieve Pax Mundi, which makes one wonder: While there are pros and cons about it, shouldn’t the five permanent members be stripped of their “veto” power to make the UN a truly democratic institution for world peace? Or would it lead to more global conflicts?
At the end of the day, as we celebrate Christmas, let’s give a prayer for Pax Mundi. Merry Christmas. May peace be with you all.