By Perry Diaz
In 1914, more than a century ago, the German Army was advancing into French territory along a 27-mile stretch of land known as the “Western Front.” The French and the British armies were fiercely defending French territory in trenches along a 200-foot narrow strip called “No Man’s Land” that separates them from the Germans who were dug in on the other side. Firing at each other incessantly, they seemed to be oblivious of what was going on in their countries: people were celebrating Christmas.
Then on Christmas Eve the firing stopped and one of the most incredible events in history took place: the Germans started placing candles on “No Man’s Land.” Suddenly in those dark hours, “No Man’s Land” became a beautiful landscape full of “Christmas” trees.
The Germans began singing Christmas songs and the French and British responded by singing too, which then turned the entire “No Man’s Land” into a symphonic Christmas celebration. Then the Germans proposed a “Christmas Truce,” which the French and British troops gladly accepted.
In his book, “Silent Night,” Stanley Weintraub narrated that memorable event: “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.”
The following Christmas morning, soldiers from both sides filled the “No Man’s Land” and started fraternizing with one another, sharing rations, exchanging gifts, singing together, playing soccer, and… solemnly buried their dead.
When the generals heard about the “Christmas Truce,” they 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. But in some sectors, the truce continued until New Year’s Day.
On November 21, 2005, Alfred Anderson, aged 109, the last veteran of that “Christmas Truce,” died at his home in Angus, Scotland. Anderson was decorated with France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur. He never forgot that moment in his life when he celebrated Christmas with his enemies. Indeed, it was a singular moment in history that has yet to be repeated.
World at war
This year, the world is at war again but on a scale much bigger than the battle along the “Western Front.” Instead of warring soldiers firing their rifles at each other, weapons of mass destruction – deadly cruise missiles fired from ships and submarines, bombs dropped from supersonic bombers, and suicide bombers targeting civilians including women and children – are used. The “No Man’s Land” along the “Western Front” doesn’t exist anymore. But today, the entire world is a “No Man’s Land.”
With rogue states like Russia, China, and North Korea threatening to use their nuclear ballistic missiles against their enemies, no one is safe anymore and there are no safe havens. With mad men having the ability to launch their nuclear ballistic missiles at will, the world is at risk of total annihilation. Yes, Dr. Strangelove is alive and the “Doomsday Clock” is just a minute away to midnight, which makes one wonder: When will there ever be peace on Earth?
In 1955, in the midst of the Cold War, Jill Jackson Miller, an American singer and actress, and her husband Sy Miller, wrote a song that has captured the hearts of many people. It’s all about peace. Titled “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” this classic song is popularly sung during the Christmas holidays.
The song begins: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God as our Father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.
“Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow. To take each moment and live each moment with peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
Indeed, peace begins with each of us. And only then can harmony be achieved. The “Christmas Truce” during the Great War in 1914 was a manifestation of what the song suggests. All it took was for a German soldier to put up a sign that said, “YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT,” and everybody took the cue and stopped firing. It’s the power of persuasion of one man that did it.
But it was the generals who forced their soldiers to break the truce, but only after the “brothers” – Germans, French, and British soldiers – walked in perfect harmony in “No Man’s Land,” without fear of shooting at each other. And to this day, we remember how easy it was to make peace… even for just a day.
Perhaps if the generals gave the truce a chance to keep the peace for a longer time, they probably would come to the realization that peace can hold while the warring powers negotiate a permanent peace, which they eventually did on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. Known as “Armistice Day,” the date is commemorated in my allied countries that also coincide with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day.
Give peace a chance
In 1969, John Lennon, of Beatles fame, wrote a song titled, “Give Peace a Chance.” The song became the “anthem” of the American anti-war movement during the 1970s. On January 27 1973, the U.S., North Vietnam, and South Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accord, which ended direct U.S. military combat, and temporarily stopped the fighting between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. But it took another two years before the war actually ended with the fall of Saigon.
Today, with all the wars going on in several flashpoints around the world, one wonders if peace would ever be achieved in our lifetime. With the war in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and the specter of war looming Asia, the world is in the brink of World War III. But this time around, the scope and magnitude of World War III would cause the end of civilization and the extinction of the human species.
Change the world
Perhaps it’s time to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask: How can I change the world to achieve peace? And we see ourselves in the mirror looking back at us, reminding us of what Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
This reminds me of a Chinese monk who lived 1,000 years ago. He said: “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”
One shouldn’t give up because he’s old. It’s never too late to change. Change is not the exclusive domain of the young; it is the covenant of every human being who occupies a space on planet Earth.
May the spirit of Christmas be with you all and may there be peace on earth.