On not forgetting: extending the truce beyond Christmas

By staff writers
December 31, 2014

Before we leave 2014 and the centennial remembrance of the 1914 Christmas truces behind, and as we approach the Twelfth Night, here are some final words on the subject from former Irish president Mary McAleese.

They point to the difficulty and challenge of extending the spirit embodied in the truces in such a way as to thwart and challenge the war-making imperative, and they also highlight the spiritual component of this material task.

"Further along the Western Front, Lieutenant Colonel George Laurie, a great grandson of Dr Charles Inglis, a Donegal man and the first Bishop of Nova Scotia, was thinking of home.

"On St Stephen’s Day [Boxing Day], Laurie reported that the German soldiers refused to take up their arms again and, although they did not have the authority to extend the truce on their side, the 1st Royal Irish Rifles decided to shoot over the Germans’ heads to avoid casualties...

"A truce, maybe – or was it more than that? – could it not also have been a simple but forceful admonition to earthly powers and posterity to remember the power of the transcendent, a desperate hope that somehow the commandment to love one another would, could, cut through the hopelessness of war, if not now then sometime?

"The jingoism, the patriotic flag waving, the marching bands and rallying songs that puffed up the call to heroism, had all given way to a very personal and individual journey into the self, into fear, obedience, discipline, resentment, courage, homesickness, into this impossible reality all around them, this life over which they had so very little control and for which they could not possibly have had much love.

"An appeal earlier that month by Pope Benedict XV for an official truce had been officially rejected. The war continued descending into what the Pope described as 'the suicide of civilised Europe'.

"The shared memories the tentative goodwill, evoked on both sides of the trenches that Christmas 1914 were not enough to counteract the imperial political imperatives and warmongering realpolitik of the day. Within days many of those same young men had killed one another, willingly or otherwise.

"Yet somehow that strange musical interlude that gave each of them the very same holy night, calm and bright, has become a stellar memory, perhaps the stellar memory among so many of the triumph of simple humanity."

The whole article can be read here: http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/mary-mcaleese-the-christmas-t...

Mary McAleese, a Catholic, served as the eighth President of Ireland from 1997 to 2011. used her time in office to address issues concerning justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation. She described the theme of her Presidency as "Building Bridges". This included attempts to reach out to the Protestant and unionist community in Northern Ireland.

McAleese incurred criticism from some of the Irish Catholic hierarchy by taking communion in the Church of Ireland (Anglican) Cathedral in Dublin. She has continued to advocate for a transformative Christian approach to life, including supporting the full inclusion of LGBT people and women in her church.

* More on the Christmas truces from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/

* Make 'Christmas truces' permanent, says think-tank (25 December 2014): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21213

* Ekklesia appeal to further active work on nonviolence: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21032

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.