~ A Christmas Truce, World War 1 ~

This is a book review in the wild sociology genre. I am reading between two potent books simultaneously. One is The Powers That Be - theology for a new millennium, by Walter Wink. The other is Silent Night - the story of the World War I Christmas Truce, by military historian, Stanley Weintraub. This reading experience in the midst of the current political climate, is keeping me breathing, bringing a frequent and sudden onset of tears (sweet relief), and pushing me out of the door and into the forest to walk, to feel, to breathe some more (in keeping with what Gregg Braden calls 'the 6 parameters of life'). I needed this encouragement, this unexpected, extraordinary multi-dimensional 'read.'

In The Powers That Be, the author demonstrates how we have been raised to believe in the concept of "redemptive violence" - ultimately only violence can save us, and, even if we entertain other possibilities, we see violence as the unavoidable last resort. This cultural belief plays out in cartoons, video games, books and movies. He speaks of the "rabid patriotism that scorns democratic restraints or public accountability." Over and over in our entertainment mediums, a character like 'Dirty Harry' takes the law into his own hands and proves again that this is the only effective way justice is served.

"The first person who attempts to squelch an act of courage is often a family member" precisely, he says, because the family is enmeshed in the 'Domination System'. Walter Wink has the ability to speak to such things whilst affirming what we cherish about family and community. There's a beautiful passage from Angie O'Gorman's book, The Universe bends to Justice, in which she describes the scene of a nighttime intruder in her bedroom. She is terrified of course but she has three thoughts, the third of which she believes saved her life (the other thoughts were violent visions/fears): "I realized with a certain clarity that either he and I made it through this situation safely - together - or we would both be damaged. Our safety was connected. If he raped me, I would be hurt, both physically and emotionally. If he raped me, he would be hurt as well. If he went to prison, the damage would be greater. That thought disarmed me." A conversation ensues, tension and danger dissipates, he sleeps downstairs and leaves in the morning.

Reading this released something in me. I am made stronger through such stories, more able to be present and open to potentials and possibilities. Walter Wink's historical involvement in the movement to end apartheid in South Africa is also a truly heartening read.

Silent Night - A soldier writes home from the Great War trenches "I am keeping well in spite of the large number of Christmas parcels received." Rations and ammunition deliveries are suspended for 24 hours to allow 355,000 Princess Mary Christmas tins to be delivered to soldiers on the Front Line who live daily with friends being killed, and lying dead and de-composing all around them. An officer complains that the area is now "scattered with lumps of plum pudding (from the Christmas gifts) simply chucked away. It's pearls before swine to try to treat some men as human beings." Polite society insists that it is necessary for us to commit atrocities in the name of king or country, not be changed by it, not speak of it, not be upset, brutalized or traumatized by it.

The truce across 'enemy' lines arose from the ranks, from a basic and core sense of humanity. This detailed account of the "collective indiscipline" is precious beyond words. As the war dragged on, thousands of men were court-martialed and some were served death sentences for refusing to return to the futile killing on the Front Lines, but no one can change the fact that a magical truce sprang up independently at countless posts all along the Front Line, and this event continues to live in memory and, since 1999, has a permanent memorial, near Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium.

The author quotes Graham Greene, saying, "the enemy has to remain a caricature if he is to be kept at a safe distance...an enemy should never come alive." In the spontaneous Christmas truce of 1914, the British were astounded, after all the propaganda of "Teutonic bestiality", that the Germans were fundamentally no different from them in their hopes, dreams, fears, and families.

At a time when we are once again being fed 'caricatures' of yet another 'enemy', this book is a timely treasure. As the author writes: "what began as "the wonderful day" to its participants remains a potent stimulus to the creative memory. Christmas 1914 evokes the stubborn humanity within us, and suggests an unrealized potential to burst its seams and rewrite a century."
-Corrina McFarlane.

The Powers That Be - theology for a new millennium, Walter Wink hardback, Galilee Doubleday 1998 (paperback 1999) Silent Night - the story of the World War I Christmas Truce, Stanley Weintraub. The Free Press (division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2001)

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