Another Holiday in Harm’s Way

 

Christmas Truce Headline in the Seattle StarChristmas Truce 1914

 

Frank Stem was a faithful American patriot, an ardent fan of John Wayne, and someone who knew a thing or two about the harshness of winter below the 38th parallel. By the time I came to know this tough, seasoned Cold War combatant, the boys at the Pentagon had already moved our contest against communism from the frigid Korean peninsula to the soggy, steaming jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. And Frank Stem had long since swapped out his M-1 Garand and Colt sidearm for a wooden pointer and a felt eraser. This soldier turned teacher now faced the daily threat posed by the longer hair and shorter skirts that filled the rows of desks at a fairly liberal leaning coed Catholic high school in northern New Jersey.

It was September of 1969 when I took my assigned seat in Mr. Stem’s classroom. While this tested warhorse would often espouse the benefits of military service, there was this soft side to his nature like that of the English headmaster, who worried about the fate of his own adolescent charges during the First World War, in the film Goodbye, Mr. Chips. And having acquired ample knowledge of American history along with a good dose of common sense, Frank Stem was probably a bit more inclined to heed the advice of those who had cautioned against getting involved in a land war in Asia. So in a schoolroom upon whose walls might hang a picture of the Duke on horseback, Neil Armstrong on the Moon, or Jimi Hendrix on the stage at Woodstock, this older warrior and his young aspiring activists would often find some middle ground. Unfortunately, in today’s political climate–that middle ground has become our own frightful version of no man’s land!

In the days leading up to Christmas in 1914, soldiers on both sides of the conflict abandoned their trenches and ventured onto that deadly stretch of ground along the Western Front–not for the want of war, but for the possibility of peace. As history has borne out on so many other occasions, there are wiser men among the ranks even when there are only fools at the top. And that simple fact holds true both on and off the battlefield.

I have no idea how Frank Stem would view the current standoff  at the 38th parallel. But my recollections of this intelligent, decent man lead me to believe that he, like myself, would be immensely concerned that the fate of so many lives are dependent upon the diplomatic skills of Donald Trump or Dennis Rodman.

In keeping with those other Christmases past, we at American Public House Review raise a glass to all our  men and women in the armed forces of the United States. We pray for their protection and safe return–and we look to that day when none of our soldiers will have to spend another holiday in harm’s way!

This haunting and poignant piece by John McCutcheon continues to capture that sentiment best.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

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Another Christmas in the Trenches

The Christmas Truce of 1914

On December 1, 2009 another President of the United States went in front of the American public to make a case for war, in this instance a continuation and escalation of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Within seconds of the completion of his speech at West Point, the usual banal chatter, speculation, and political posturing flooded all avenues of electronic communication.

During my nearly six decades of life almost every sitting Commander-in-Chief  has had to justify to our citizens the need to commit troops to combat. Being a person who has watched The Magnificent Seven no less than fifty times, I certainly believe that the good guys should always save the village from the evil bandidos. And having fallen the Camelot spell  on a number of occasions, I tend to align myself with the Arthurian tradition of “might for the cause of right.” So like many of my fellow citizens, I consider myself a peaceful man with a gunslinger’s heart.

On balance though, we as a nation or species have very little to show as a result of our armed squabbles. For most of mankind there has been  little cause for celebration since the end of the Second World War. In the wake of our brutal and bloody  ideological struggles there has been nothing but broken bodies, broken minds, broken souls, broken communities, and broken promises. The current nature of warfare does not seem to allow for clear-cut winners and losers, just days with a bit less bloodshed and a few less casualties. Perhaps this frustrating realization might cause all  participants in the folly to finally make a case for peace…or at least a very long truce.

The staff and writers of  American Public House Review raise a glass to all our  men and women in the armed forces of the United States. We pray for their protection and safe return–and we look to that day when none of our soldiers will have to spend another Christmas in harm’s way.

This haunting and poignant piece by John McCutcheon continues to capture the sentiment best.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

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