On Christmas Eve 1914 something special happened. German and British troops stopped fighting and killing each other for a few hours. Their actions became the stuff of legends and war stories told over and over to children, grandchildren and others. Their story was even told in a song in the late 90s. Garth Brooks popularized this bit of history with the song “Belleau Wood.”1
OneOldCop was reminded of the story this past Christmas Eve. Archbishop Timothy Dolan mentioned it during one of his annual Christmas related appearances on television.2 To this writer, the story speaks volumes about societal changes that have taken place in the last century.
One hundred years ago the soldiers of warring nations stopped fighting and shared holiday spirit for a few hours. Yes, after those few hours, the soldiers returned to battle. Still, for a short time they stopped long enough to recognize the humanity of their enemies, and honor the Christmas tradition.
Today, traditions and beliefs are being pushed aside and replaced by anger and ignorance. Additionally, the battles raging between nations, ethnic groups, and ideologies seem to render people incapable of recognizing the humanity of their neighbors, family, and friends much less their enemies.
Two years ago, OneOldCop wrote “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” It was inspired by a tragedy occurring during the Christmas season in North Texas. The essay noted that police officers and other first responders often carried the ghosts of past holiday seasons with them. Ghosts of families lost in fires. Ghosts of families lost to drunk drivers. Ghosts of people killed by friends or family because of jealousy, rage, or fear. Ghosts of coworkers lost in tragic circumstances by accident or by evil intent.
A police officer learns early in his or her career that a quiet night shift can change into a life or death struggle in an instant. Fire fighters know that someone else’s mistake can wake them from a sound sleep, and thrust them into an inferno. Paramedics and EMTs learn quickly that someone’s party spirit can drag them into a mass of twisted metal and broken bodies without warning. Yet there was a time when first responders could count on a bit of a silent night occasionally.
In years past, Christmas Eve in many areas could be quiet. A few people might have a wee bit too much eggnog at a party. Then, they might find themselves spending a few hours in a holding tank sobering up. Of course, there were always accidents, family fights, criminal mischief calls, and other miscellaneous malfeasance. Still, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning were often times of relative calm in a season of chaos. At least, that is the way it seemed.
Possibly, OneOldCop’s memory has faded a little. Maybe there were never any times of calm and peace, even at Christmas. Maybe the hatred, frustration and rage that were expressed across the country on Christmas Eve 2014 has always existed. Maybe, that is the case, but this writer doubts it.
Something has changed in this country. Whether it is the result of a festering wound that has not been healed, or a wound that certain factions make certain isn’t allowed to heal makes little difference. A battle is brewing in the United States today. It is a battle between the forces of anarchy and the forces of order. This writer trusts it will be resolved in time, but until then there will be few, if any silent nights.
Police officers and others faced Christmas Eve 2014 knowing that anything they did would be held up to massive public and biased scrutiny. They also knew that some people held more than ill will toward them. Some people wanted to do them harm, or wanted to incite others to do them harm. Either way, many officers and responders had never faced such a Christmas Eve.
Police officers and other first responders in the 1960s and 1970s faced anger, accusation, and tragedy similar to what fills headlines today. Certain groups thought cops were bigoted bullies whose goal in life was to give people a hard time. Police officers and their families felt a level of fear because of threats made by militant and activist groups. Still, it seemed there were times of informal truce when one did not feel threatened. Christmas Eve was one such time, but no more.
OneOldCop, and many others I am certain, prayed that things would not go as badly as some predicted. To some extent those prayers were answered. Christmas Eve 2014 was not a silent night, but it could have been a worse. Maybe things will be different by Christmas Eve 2015. Yes, things may be different, but I am not holding my breath.
1. The Christmas Truce as it is called apparently took place in 1914. The battle of Belleau Woods occurred in 1918. The song is a fictionalized version of the incident. The use of Belleau Woods as the location was apparently poetic license.
2. Cardinal Dolan was appearing on Fox and Friends and mentioned the so-called Christmas Truce.
© OneOldCop – January 2015