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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Could humanity be found in war today?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

His passing went largely unnoticed. Alfred Anderson was 109 when he died last week - the last known surviving Scottish veteran of World War I. But it was a brief footnote in history that took place on Christmas Day 1914 that makes Anderson's passing important.

German and British troops had been facing each other for two months in that cold winter of 1914. Both sides were in trenches just yards apart firing machine guns and trying to gain ground. Hundreds of thousands would die in identical trenches until the truce on Nov. 11, 1918.

But something special happened on that Christmas Day in 1914. No shots were fired. Anderson said he remembered the "eerie sound of silence" on that Christmas morning. And then spontaneously, the German soldiers began singing Christmas carols. Then the British soldiers would respond in English. Each side shouted Merry Christmas. Troops in the trenches took advantage of the self-proclaimed cease-fire. They even played football in what has been called one of the most extraordinary episodes of the war.

Shortly after noon, the gunshots renewed and the killing began once again. But for a few brief hours, two bitter enemies shared the common bond of Christmas.

Fewer than 10 British veterans of World War I remain. Just three of those actually fought in the trenches of that great conflict. Their days too are numbered.

Warfare today has nothing in common with that bygone war nearly a century ago. The Christian holiday of Christmas may well be just an excuse for today's enemy to attack. We share no common bond with today's enemy and episodes like those of World War I will remain in the history books and no longer in real life.

In 1914, despite political differences that brought them to war, the Germans and the British still shared experiences of humanity. Those days no longer exist.

Unfortunately in many ways, we still wage war as if there may be yet another Christmas Day truce. As if there may be a brief moment when both sides recognize the other as equal men. As if something larger than war transcends the conflict.

But those days are long gone.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen