Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” This has been a family motto so long I had to do a google search to find out who originally said it. My father in particular is a history buff. All our family vacations included trips to local historical sites. I loved it. So when my dad suggested I read Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub I did. Even though I already had a full docket of books waiting in the wings.
I am not familiar with WWI though I did write a paper on how it started in the fifth grade. So parts of the book were a little difficult. Weintraub refers to different units like the Westphalians and I wasn’t sure which side he was talking about. But what struck me was that this truce started in the trenches. Normal soldiers who had been shooting at each other coming together to bury the dead, talk, exchange gifts and get to know each other. Once the higher ups found out about this unofficial truce they were furious. We can’t have the men talking. Then they might like each other, refuse to fight and the war would be over. Then what would we do? Is my paraphrase of their thinking.
Yes these officers wanted the war to continue so much that they threatened court martial of officers in the field whose men had “fraternized” with the other side. They also reassigned units that talked with the enemy. The commanding officers (and the powerful elite that wanted the war in the first place) knew that only if the men saw the other side as caricatures would they be willing to fight. They used propaganda and spread lies about the other side. But if the men met and talked they might actually like each other and lose their will to fight. There were already stories of soldiers who when commanded to shoot across no man’s land at the men they had talked with, played soccer with and celebrated Christmas with the day before they shot intentionally high.
So the surprising parallel that I discovered in reading this book is that today in this “culture war” if we knew each other, if we spent time with each would there still be a will to fight? Who is trying to prolong the war and stir up hate? Who is trying to make sure that the two sides do not talk, do not meet in no man’s land? Is this war really a war of ideals (remember all wars are billed as wars of ideals by the protagonists) or one about money and power (what wars are really about)?
When I was attending College at an all Women Catholic College one day my work supervisor–Sister Margery–told me we would have a new worker in the library. Her name was Ummi Abeeha, a Muslim whose family had migrated to Kenya. We spent many hours talking in the the archives of our college–sharing stories, asking about each other’s past and religions. She was the first Muslim girl I had met and not at all like the caricatures I had seen and heard about.
I love the Casting Crowns song, “Jesus Friends of Sinners.” My favorite line is “No one knows what we’re for only what we are against when we judge the wounded. What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and loved like you did?” Each side has their trenches. The lines that they will not cross. We are expecting politicians and leaders to lead the way. We need to learn from history. If we want a peaceful end to the war it starts in the trenches. Let’s meet in No Man’s Land. Action step, find someone who would be considered an enemy according to today’s culture war and get to know them, just for the sake of knowing them. Maybe find something to celebrate. Let’s #StartFraternizing.