the Christmas truce of 1915

December 24, 2011

I’ve heard the story lots of times; surely you have too.

I believed it, and then doubted. But, in this case, it turns out that belief was right and doubt was wrong.

It did happen: Christmas first arrived in the trenches of the “great war”. The soldiers — along one section of the western front – stopped shooting.  Artillery and machine-guns fell silent. Their horrible racket was replaced by Carols.

All this took place about sixty years before I was born, so take this picture with its deserved grains of salt:

Men are caked in frozen mud, most traumatized towards ruin, the others doomed to be likewise soon.

The artillery, far behind the lines, must have stopped their noise first.

Did some one solider begin to sing?… I doubt it. I imagine that a gaggle, huddled against that miserable winter, was already begun singing to comfort themselves.  A mirror image, was doing the same in the enemy trench.
In sad pause, half-deafened ears of infantry-men overheard the carols of the enemy. In an act of odd rebellion, enemies began to take turns. I would have been startled with delight. There must have been laughter.

That wonderful moment lasted into that night. Indeed, it grew more bizarre still.

The wisest (and bravest) of souls began a football game… a magic exchange: a ball took the place of bullets, shells and poison gas.

Of course, all nights end. The magic dissolved back into violence. That was the Christmas of 1914.

The following year, a British solider suggested that they repeat whole affair. He was put up against a wall and shot. That was the Christmas truce of 1915.












happy nude

June 26, 2011

circa 1993

socks No.1

April 2, 2011

circa 1994

Depressed, I do not want anyone to tell me that:

  • life is a gift for which god is to be thanked.
    Life is a curse.
    If god gave it to me, then I want to give it back.. along with a punch in the nose.
  • life is eternal.
    I desperately wanted life to reach an end.
    The worst part of life was that it felt like an eternity. The only comfort was the faith that it would, someday, cease.
  • god loves me.
    No one, I believed, could love me. And I was no fan of love.
    Love was many things:
    a(nother) arena in which to fail… a lie brandished by those who wished that they were happy, a taunt flouted by those who really are, the untrustworthy reach of others towards myself.
    If love is a lie, it is a cruel one. If love is real, only a fool would extend it to me. (If there a god, it seems odd that he would be a fool).
    …To be with church-people — apparently comforted or even joyful in the faith that god loves them — is excruciating. Depending on the moment, it is a reminder that I am unlovable, or a reminder that they have something which I lack…


The solar radiation which hits the earth per day is roughly equal to the world’s current energy consumption – per year.

10Amusements: No.1&2

December 16, 2010

There have been complaints that I lack a sense of humour.

I do dislike comedy. This is because I dislike failing to find something funny, especially when surrounded by an hysterically thrilled audience.  The results of these moments are miserable: having grumpiness reaffirmed, highlighting alienation from social convention or common-sense.

I am – I try to remember to remember – capable of laughing.

At what?

Somewhere in the boredom of truck-driving school, the teacher was telling us stories to emphasize the importance of load-security. Most freight is stolen by hooking onto an entire trailer, but some is snatched the back of pryed-open trailers. The particular story: a couple of kids were breaking into the back of trailers to find something worth stealing… eventually, they found themselves confronted with an entire load of cookies.

In 2008, another in a long series of ships was seized by pirates.  The Faina was carrying Ukrainian freight to the SPLA in southern Sudan (via Kenya). To their amazement, this cargo turned out to be weaponry: including 32 battle-tanks.

A bit of sober thought makes it clear that Somali sea-pirates would have not actually had any use for the tanks… it was improbable that they would be able to make it to any port at which the 80,000 pound bohiemeffs could be unloaded. They were, as always, interested in collecting a ransom (they ended up being handed $3.2 million for their haul).  But such sober second thought – which would have spoiled some of my fun – comes after the giggles.


Tender Comrade

November 12, 2010

What will you do when the war is over
tender comrade
When we lay down our weary guns
When we return home to our wives and families
and look into the eyes of our sons.

What will you say of the bond we had
tender comrade
Will you say that we were brave
as the shells fell all around us
or that we wept and cried for our mothers
and cursed our fathers…

(Billy Bragg)

I do not wear a poppy

November 11, 2010

This week she’s taken the word “remember” as a new favourite. It’s on your lips, unprompted. You seem satisfied to coax me into saying it too… and then it’s there again a little later.

I don’t think I’ve read her the word from any book.
Where did it come from?
Did she notice the old man offering plastic poppies from a donation-box?

To my delight, she’s chosen such a word which is a bit abstract, certainly mysterious…   and at this time of year, impressively ambiguous.

She will notice, someday, that I do not wear a poppy.
Don’t think that I consider memory as unimportant. Rather I’ve lost the ability to remember what, and the way, I was taught.

The somber mood of Remembrance Day has always been a veneer, glossing — but never really concealing — an occasion to pay homage to the military dead, to look up to the flag, to reinforce a distorted version of the past.  I wasn’t always bothered by the rhetoric at the cenotaph… I can’t stomach it any more.

Remember that November 11th was created to commemorate the ending of the First World War (1914-1918). Most of our Cenotaphs — at which we are urged to gather — were erected in mark the same conflict.  At the time, it known as the “Great War”. It may have been great — in sense of enormous or  astounding) but was nothing to be proud of.

In that horrible decade, the “world” (essentially Europe and its colonial possessions) stumbled -perhaps hurled- themselves into a pointless bloodbath. You can spend an eon studying and you will learn about causes, but there is no purpose to be found.
The fighting was lead by officers who were incompetent and horrifyingly callous. Befuddled by the newly invented machine-gun, officers sent wide lines of men marching to their deaths. Enemies (especially on the Western Front) spent most of those four years in a muddy stalemate… terrorizing each other with ceaseless artillery barrage and trying to figure out innovative tactics of slaughter.
Conscripts were supplemented with hundreds of thousands of volunteers. These men were whipped up with a suite of lies.  Millions of men temporarily emboldened with blind patriotism, tragic gullibility and naivety marched obediently off to hell.

There were 10,000,000 military deaths during the “Great War”… (including 65,000 Canadians)

When the war ended, almost nothing had been accomplished. A few colonies changed hands — one pair of greedy hands for another and similarly, the maps of the Balkans and the Middle East were redrawn with lines which are still causing conflict. The equally guilty forced Germany to accept the blame for starting the war… and punished it by slicing into its territory and imposing reparations and restrictions. This settlement lead to the war resuming about twenty years later… this time called “the Second World War”, even more bloody than the first.

Now look at the inscriptions of the average cenotaph. A small handful of quite typical examples:

“The Glorious Dead”  (London, England — 1920)

“Erected in commemoration of the men and women of this city who died on the field of honour in war that Canada might maintain her heritage of freedom”.   (Port Arthur, Ontario — 1925)

“In glorious memory of those of this City and District, who, at the call of King and Country, adventured forth and gave their all for the cause of Right and Freedom, 1914-1918.”   (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — 1929)

These are monuments of which we should be embarassed.

Additional wars — and their own mythologies — have been added to the cenotaphs since they were built.  Each of these — WW2, Korea and (now) Afghanistan — should not be times to be remembered without their own shame. Offense left for another day.

The ceremonial rhetoric with which I grew up (I hope, but doubt, that you’ll be any more fortunate) was in tune. From the webpage of the Royal Canadian Legion (the veteran’s organization which dominates what is said on Nov 11th) explains that Remembrance Day should be  “the one distinct observance that the nation pay tribute to those “who gave their lives that freedom might prevail”.

Let’s leave the crap of glory and freedom behind.
Remember that Nov11th is dedicated to the memory of only the military dead, and further, only those who died wearing the right uniform. Somber reflection is not offered to those — conscripts and fools — who were killed fighting for the other side.  Neither is it offered to the millions of civilians who were killed… by “accident”, out of negligence, or entirely deliberately.

4,000,000 died fighting on the other side of WW1.
WW1 caused the death of at least 7,000,000 civilians.
WW2 caused the deaths of about 50,000,000 civilians
Korea caused the deaths of at least 2,000,000 civilians
So far, an estimated 15,000 to 35,000 civilians have died as a result of the (latest) Afghan war.

I must stop myself from going on and on… but just one last point:

I bristle at occasions which push us towards prescribed ritual, attitude and perspective. Dissent is never simple, but on days like Nov11th it is cast as the height of disrespect.
There is no place for me at a cenotaph. Their words make my angry.
I know that I am likely to offend… especially those of my Grandmother’s generation (I can’t rid my memory of  her facial expression). Those who lived through something like the world wars do not want to be confronted with someone who is not grateful for their sacrifice.
I can be somber while wondering why so many went to their deaths believing the lies they were fed.
I can be somber while wondering what foolish policies led to conflict beginning in the first place.
I can be somber while struggling to imagine how terrible war is.
I can be somber thinking about occasions when violence is right… and regretting that it’s so difficult to find any such thing in Canada’s history.


Finally, to be fair… there do exist cenotaph inscriptions which do not make me cringe.  The words on the cenotaph in Brantford Ontario (1923)  reads:

“Let those who come after
see to it that their names
be not forgotten”.

Sometimes vagueness is the best we can do.

for fear of dissent

November 6, 2010

Never forget that it was illegal to teach a slave to read or write.