This one event triggered what we now refer to as World War I, with the countries of Europe quickly falling in line with their formal alliances and organizing itself into two sides. In the end, the outcome was basically a stalemate, but there were 38 million civilian and military casualties: 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded. Two-thirds of the dead died in the war itself and the rest in the 1918 flu pandemic that swept through Europe. The loss of life during World War I was a horrific tragedy only surpassed by the over 60 million killed in World War II.
In the first year of World War I, 1914, on Christmas Day, a truce broke out at many sites along the battle lines. The men in the trenches on the front lines organized it. It was said that each side went out to no man’s land to bury their dead, awkwardly approaching each other for cigars or to share food from home or to have a Christmas drink. One enduring story that began with one soldier’s letter home even tells of his unit playing a soccer game with the Germans.
By no means did the leaders on either side approve this, nor was it universally joined in by every position on the front. “The Christmas Truce,” as it became known, has grown to mythological proportions, but it happened in enough places that it was mentioned in many letters home from many soldiers of all nationalities – even the soccer game.
Why am I bringing this up now? Well, it is a rather touching Christmas tale, of course, but, moreover, it’s also instructive to all of us in America, who are entrenched in our political positions, immobile after an unprecedented, destructive presidential election.
Here’s the thing, if the English and Germans could get out of their trenches and cross no man’s land to shake hands, drink, eat, bury their dead, and even play a soccer game, why can’t we do the same? There must be some things we can agree on, right?
Here are a few of my suggestions:
1.Can we agree that Obamacare, while well-intentioned, has been a failure and needs to be fixed or replaced? We should give a hard look at a single payer system or using a competitive system that is uncoupled from employers. Either way works for me because as long as health coverage is paid by employers, its costs will always affect employment and the end users will never understand the true cost of health care.
2.On Social Security, can we agree that this was always supposed to be a safety net for the poorest old folks in our society? Policy-making would be easy if we just recognized this simple fact. Then it would be easy to see that our payments into the system are really a tax, not a pension. To compensate for that, allow people to opt out and fund their own pensions tax free.
3.How about some consensus on education? Can’t we agree that in public schools, we need to tie teacher performance to their pay? There are just too many tired or disinterested teachers out there who have a right to tenure. This can’t be good for our kids, can it? While we’re at it, can we agree that educational policy works best at the state and local level?
4.Can we agree that the concept of “globalization,” when taken to extremes, causes serious problems in local economies and, when it comes to so called “free trade,” it’s okay to have a little bit of inefficiency for the sake of community.
5.How about illegal immigration? Can we agree that it’s okay to like the character of our country and that absorbing a huge amount of immigrants, particularly those who have gone around the legal system, is really harmful to America? Assimilation into our society has always been important and has always been addressed systematically in the past. We homogenized our people through the establishment of national holidays and the American myths, through stories about our national heroes like Lincoln and Washington. We also need to agree that we will not be deporting non-criminals and their families from America, but that the real criminals among the illegal population in our prisons must go.
Okay, so maybe they’re not perfect suggestions, but they’re my attempt to declare a truce and to cross no man’s land. I invite your critique and some suggestions of your own. We all need to be thinking about agreeable places to start and to stop the negativity and name-calling against those with whom we disagree. So I declare a Christmas Truce. We need to take a break from the anger. Let’s climb out of our trenches and make America work.
Merry Christmas to our readers!