new French film,
brings the 1914 Christmas truce, that moment when a world of peace could
be imagined, to a wider audience.
An article on the
truce and the film from the Telegraph has this nugget:
Some viewers might
find a certain sentimental excess in the scene in which a Scottish
bagpiper spontaneously joins in when German soldiers began singing
Stille Nacht (Silent Night). There are records of such an
event. “All the acts of fraternisation had one thing in common: music and
song,” says Carion. “I loved the idea that these could stop a war for a
Perhaps we should
learn something from this experience about the importance of music to
peace. After all, the '60s peace movements were infused with song, whereas
today's movements are silent. Music and song can unite, they can inspire,
but they also can soothe. Movements for peace need all three.
The Telegraph article continues to point out that the reality of
peace is beyond what audiences can believe:
The film also features
a foraging ginger cat adopted as a mascot by both the French and the
Germans. The cat existed, and, in real life, it was arrested by the
French, convicted of espionage and shot in accordance with military
regulations. "It was an era of madmen," says Carion, who filmed this scene
-- to the great distress of his extras -- but decided not to include it in
case his audience didn't believe it.
A Scottish bishop's
sermon, which includes references to a "crusade" and a "holy war," seems
like a thumpingly obvious effort to find parallels with more recent
discourses about Iraq. In fact, these words were, Carion says, taken
directly from a sermon preached by an Anglican bishop at Westminster
Abbey. Here, too, the truth was toned down: Carion excised the real
bishop's references to German soldiers "crucifying babies on Christmas
Day" in order to make it credible.
Perhaps the propensity
toward war is aided by our unwillingness to imagine the depths to which
people can sink when captured by the lure of war, the fantasy of perfect
union with the state, that idealized perfect mother, and the ability to
extrude all evil onto the enemy, that poisonous cannibalistic bad mother.
As Christopher Hedges points out in
War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, in more normal times we
disown this desire for union and extrusion and cannot remember or imagine
how destructive it can be.
Perhaps this dynamic also helps explain people's passivity toward
the threats to democracy facing us in the United States today. For
those identified with their country, to truly accept the danger puts the
evil, the bad, inside the union, where it is especially terrifying.
A resolution for many is the demonization solution, to view George W.
Bush and his administration as absolute evil, destroying the country and
the world. While tempting, and certainly not without evidence, the problem
with this outlook is that it is the mirror image of that attitude which
leads us into the nightmare. To those adopting this view, evil resides in
Bush, in Cheney, in the Republicans. If only they could be removed,
impeached, tried, the world would be saved. The problem with this notion
is that it encourages only destruction of the enemy, not construction of
something better. History has repeatedly demonstrated that movements
guided by hatred do not end up producing a better world.
The Christmas truce, in its magnificence, gives us a tiny glimpse of a
true alternative, a world in which we are all simply human, in which that
which we have in common is greater than that which divides us. For the
brief moment of that truce, lasting days or weeks, the soldiers on all
sides embodied the wisdom of peace through union, a union without an
all-bad enemy (though the officer class trying so hard to restore their
respective killing machines surely could have qualified). A union of fun,
of games, and of song. A world dominated by eros.
The challenge, so far unsolved, is how to take such a moment and make
it last, or at least not turn into its opposite, a renewed carnage of
destruction. This challenge, as pacifists and nonviolent activists have
repeatedly discovered, requires us to find a way to accept and tame the
capacity for destructiveness in each of us, so as not to need to attribute
it to an enemy. At the same time, we need to find a way to continue peace
and unity in more normal, less extraordinary times, beyond the moment of
fusion. For eventually the excitement fades and we remember all our
irritations, our gripes and our fears. To bring peace into daily life is
the need upon which the future of the human race may well depend.
This is the utopian challenge for our day.
Peace on Earth! Goodwill to Men and Women!
For more information on the 1914 truce, see the book
Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by
Peace on Earth! Goodwill to Men and Women!
is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and
faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Violence of the
School of Psychoanalysis.
He is a member of
Neighbors for Peace and Justice
and founder of
Peace and Justice.
and Resistance Report
web page and
and Society blog.
He can be reached at:
Articles by Stephen Soldz
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