In a year of turbulence, who can forget the world at war – South Sudan; Iraq; Somalia; Sudan; the Central African Republic; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Pakistan; North Korea and the internal struggles of a number of other countries. It was the year of Trump, Kim Jong-un; Putin; Duterte; refugees and suicide bombers. At home we have political rotating prime ministers; corruption in high places; celebrity fails; political disasters, Hanson, Dutton, Shorten, Abbott and the so called Canberra bubble. In our daily lives we are forced to tolerant illegal drugs, road trauma, road rage, violence to women, paedophilia and home invasions. It’s a list of chaos, destruction, an symphony of the inhumane.
And yet globally we become closer, more needing of each other if we are to save our world. Trump is trying to ‘Make America Great again’ and using isolation policy to achieve it, despite the fact that we need to be making the world great by sharing our riches. When we need men and women of vision to act globally, we have megalomaniacs who are demanding isolation and ‘Making America Hate again’
Through all the despair I remain an optimist. Perhaps it is because of a Christmas day in 1914, often celebrated as a symbolic moment of peace in an otherwise devastatingly violent war. Along the Western Front, a scattered series of small-scale cease fires occurred between German and British forces. This was far from a mass event: The 25th December 1914 was a day of war like any other yet what happened was no ordinary occurrence. Credible accounts suggest that men sang carols and in some cases left their trenches and met in No Man’s Land. Both sides emerged from the trenches and met in No Man’s Land to exchange gifts and play football. Was it Christmas, or some deep human sense of oneness which prompted such actions. The motivations for such events are now seen as complex, was it practical as much as ‘magical’.
In a letter from a soldier, Andrew Todd published in the Edinburgh Evening News (1914) stated, “One of the soldiers sticks a board in the air. As soon as this board goes up all firing ceases…” I like to believe what happened did so for a very specific reason. By November 1914, it had become clear that the war was not going to be over quickly. As autumn turned to winter, the last of Britain’s professional soldiers, exhausted after months of vicious fighting, settled into the routine of life in the trenches of northern France. They naturally began to think of enemy soldiers – sometimes a few feet away – doing the same. As a result of this proximity a ‘live and let live’ attitude developed in certain areas of the trench system.
Reciprocal periods of ‘quiet time’ emerged when soldiers tacitly agreed not to shoot at each other. Between battles and out of boredom, soldiers began to banter, even barter for cigarettes, between opposite sides. Informal truces were also agreed and used as an opportunity to recover wounded soldiers, bury the dead and shore up damaged trenches. In many ways, for the last of the professional soldiers, this was all part of the etiquette of war.
In short, what was parochial, became global and humanity took hold. Suddenly the human spirit prevailed and the meaning of life became more important than the devastation of war. As a consequence my Christmas wish for you is that we recapture that spirit. Not because it is Christmas but because we are global. And irrespective of the season, the desires of politicians, the greed of commerce and the hatred of one country or religion over another, we the people draw together and ‘Stick a board in the air” When the gunfire ceases you will know you have just given the world around you A Merry Christmas.
This is my Board – Merry Christmas to you all.