The Common Good

Peace in the trenches

Sojomail - January 3, 2002



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Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"And now let us welcome the new year,
full of things that have never been."

             - Rainer Maria Rilke


H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
Christmas in the trenches

by Jim Wallis

One of the gifts my wife, Joy, gave me for Christmas is a
recently published book, "Silent Night," by Stanley

It's the story of Christmas Eve 1914 on the World War I
battlefield in Flanders. As the German, British, and French
troops facing each other were settling in for the night, a
young German soldier began to sing "Stille Nacht, Heilige
Nacht." Others joined in. When they had finished, the
British and French responded with other Christmas carols.

Eventually, the men from both sides left their trenches
and met in the middle.  They shook hands, exchanged gifts,
and shared pictures of their families.  Informal soccer
games began in what had been "no man's land." And a
joint service was held to bury the dead of both sides.

The generals, of course, were not pleased with these
events. Men who have come to know each other's names and
seen each other's families are much less likely to want to
kill each other. War seems to require a nameless, faceless

So, following that magical night the men on both sides
spent a few days simply firing aimlessly into the sky. Then
the war was back in earnest and continued for three more
bloody years. Yet the story of that Christmas Eve lingered -
a night when the angels really did sing of peace on earth.

Folksinger John McCutcheon wrote a song about that night 
in Belgium titled "Christmas in the Trenches," from the 
viewpoint of a young British solder. Several poignant
verses are:

"The next they sang was "Stille Nacht," "Tis 'Silent
Night'," says I. 
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky
"There's someone coming towards us!" the front line sentry
All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain
so bright
As he bravely strode unarmed into the night.
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that
wondrous night
"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace
were sung
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work
of war
Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore."

My prayer for the New Year is for a nation and world where
people can come out of their trenches and together sing
their hopes for peace. We here at Sojourners will carry on
that mission, and we invite you to continue on the journey
with us.

Blessings to you and your families.

(For the complete lyrics to John McCutcheon's song, see


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*Anti-terror moves worsen Somalia food crisis

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*Foreign donors throw lifeline to struggling Congo

The idea of flowing millions of dollars into a riven country
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*Inviting future terrorism

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B o o m e r a n g

Ruth Musgrave of London, England, writes:

I have been receiving SojoMail since Sept. 11, and
circulating it at work (a Centre for Conflict Resolution
in East London in a multicultural area with a large Muslim
population.) At a post-Sept. 11 prayer vigil one of our
volunteer mediators came up with the idea of non-Muslims
sharing one day of fasting in Ramadan. Our local bishop
told us that you were also encouraging fasting during Ramadan.
We found your background material very useful to us.
We circulated it to as many people as we could and I thought you
might like to know that on Dec. 2 there were one-day fasts
held in many parts of the UK. Our own local fast was
broken at one of the local mosques where a group of about
100 people shared the Iftar meal and had some time talking
together about ways we can promote further connections
between us. Thanks for what you are doing.


Ganya Kordas of Brisbane, Australia, writes:

I would like to thank you very much for the service you
have provided which I became aware of after Sept. 11. The
biased and limited viewpoints that were being offered in
Australia were a source of angst until I was alerted to
your Web site. This has been beneficial in providing
information to assist in formulating an opinion that
resonated with my own position on peace, nonviolence, and
justice as being the way for the future. For future
reference is there somewhere in Australia - preferably
Brisbane, Queensland - where contributions could be made
that were part of a greater sum?

*Ed. note:  Can any Australians point Ganya in the
right direction? His email: ""


Mark E. Roberts of Tulsa, Oklahoma, writes:

David Batstone writes in "Why does the Arab world mistrust
us?" (Dec. 19, 2001) that America "eviscerates [its] moral
standing and makes enemies out of potential allies" with its
"lack of support for democracy...blind support of Israel
and almost complete disregard of the plight of dispossessed

What naïveté! Name one Arab nation that demonstrates its
cherishing of democracy. The only truly functioning
democracy in the Middle East is Israel. Name one Arab
country that welcomes 20% of its citizenry to be Jews: That's
precisely the percentage of Israeli citizens who are Arab!

Our ability to help Palestinians is limited by the
terrorist mentality that hijacks and holds hostage responsible
Palestinian state-building. Keep in mind that Arab nations
don't even show the State of Israel on their official maps.
Without major changes on the part of Palestinian leadership,
Israel has no choice but to defend itself against death-
dealing terror by whatever means it must. It appears,
unfortunately, that "moral standing" in the Islamic mind is
achieved only by power, not gestures of peace and good will,
which Islamists interpret as weakness. The highest
good in Islam is the building of an Islamic state governed
by Shariah law - achieved by whatever means necessary - not
love of God and neighbor, as is the case for Judaism and

Our support of Israel is not blind. It sees clearly the
tiny David still breathed down upon by Arab-Muslim Goliaths
from Gaza to Baghdad and Damascus. Civil political
negotiation, yes; but in the necrotic breath of terror,


Alan Hatfield of Florey, ACT, Australia, writes:

Thanks to David Batstone and his recent commentary, "Why
does the Arab world mistrust us?"

As a non-American not living in America it is a source of
constant amazement to me how most Americans seem to be
totally unaware of their negative impact on the rest of
the world. It is refreshing to see occasional indications,
like this one from Batstone, that this is not universally


Preston Enright of Denver, Colorado, writes:

The philosopher John Dewey said, "Democracy begins in
conversation." People need to keep this in mind as they
wonder what to do regarding various political challenges
we face. To reach a wide audience of the "unconverted,"
progressives may want to pick up their telephones and call
into AM radio talk shows. Here in Denver, a handful of
activists have been doing that and reaching audiences of
thousands of people. Sometimes we have to jump in on
diversionary topics and steer them in another direction.
Other times we challenge reactionary positions on serious
subjects. With each call, we've been able to share thoughts
and suggest resources not typically heard on that powerful
medium. Some of the hosts are not unlike Humpty Dumpty.

The Buddhists say, "Mind is the forerunner of all things."
The public relations industry certainly understands this
truism, and moves on it. We need to interrupt the
"programming" of the corporate media and use the openings
it provides. The intelligence of Sojourners' readership
can have a tremendous effect on our nation's discussion.
After years of hearing that "talk is cheap," we need to
remember the value of the spoken word.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of
views. The views expressed are not necessarily
those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice
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